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What Types of Sites Actually Remove Links?

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Since the disavow tool has come out SEOs are sending thousands of “remove my link” requests daily. Some of them come off as polite, some lie & claim that the person linking is at huge risk of their own rankings tank, some lie with faux legal risks, some come with “extortionisty” threats that if they don’t do it the sender will report the site to Google or try to get the web host to take down the site, and some come with payment/bribery offers.

If you want results from Google’s jackassery game you either pay heavily with your time, pay with cash, or risk your reputation by threatening or lying broadly to others.

At the same time, Google has suggested that anyone who would want payment to remove links is operating below board. But if you receive these inbound emails (often from anonymous Gmail accounts) you not only have to account for the time it would take to find the links & edit your HTML, but you also have to determine if the person sending the link removal request represents the actual site, or if it is someone trying to screw over one of their competitors. Then, if you confirm that the request is legitimate, you either need to further expand your page’s content to make up for the loss of that resource or find a suitable replacement for the link that was removed. All this takes time. And if that time is from an employee that means money.

There have been hints that if a website is disavowed some number of times that data can be used to further go out & manually penalize more websites, or create link classifications for spam.

… oh no …

Social engineering is the most profitable form of engineering going on in the ‘Plex.

The last rub is this: if you do value your own life at nothing in a misguided effort to help third parties (who may have spammed up your site for links & then often follow it up with lying to you to achieve their own selfish goals), how does that reflect on your priorities and the (lack of) quality in your website?

If you contacted the large branded websites that Google is biasing their algorithms toward promoting, do you think those websites would actually waste their time & resources removing links to third party websites? For free?

Color me skeptical.

As a thought experiment, look through your backlinks for a few spam links that you know are hosted by Google (eg: Google Groups, YouTube, Blogspot, etc.) and try to get Google’s webmaster to help remove those links for you & let us know how well that works out for you.

Some of the larger monopoly & oligopolies don’t offer particularly useful customer service to their paying customers. For example, track how long it takes you to get a person on the other end of the phone with a telecom giant, a cable company, or a mega bank. Better yet, look at how long it took AdWords to openly offer phone support & the non-support they offer AdSense publishers (remember the bit about Larry Page believing that “the whole idea of customer support was ridiculous?”)

For the non-customer Google may simply recommend that the best strategy is to “start over.”

When Google aggregates Webmaster Tools link data from penalized websites they can easily make 2 lists:

  • sites frequently disavowed
  • sites with links frequently removed

If both lists are equally bad, then you are best off ignoring the removal requests & spending your time & resources improving your site.

If I had to guess, I would imagine that being on the list of “these are the spam links I was able to remove” is worse than being on the list of “these are the links I am unsure about & want to disavow just in case.”

What say you?

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SEO Book

How to Build an Online Community for Your Business

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Posted by Mackenzie Fogelson

Every day, things are changing in SEO. If you’re not already working on adapting, today’s the day.

It’s time.

It's not that SEO is dead or that links are obsolete, or whatever all that crazy talk is that's been going around. It's that there's a way to integrate all the pieces into the big picture of building a better company by building an online community around it.

There are lots of benefits to building a community around your company, but if I had to choose a few, here are my top five:

  1. It will help you weather Google’s algorithms

    Building an online community is one of the best ways to weather Google’s algorithms. If you're continually chasing the algorithm, you're putting all of your power in what Google's going to do next. If you're building a community around your business, you're putting the focus where it belongs: on your business. Building a strong company and brand isn't something that Google can take away.
     
  2. It will add equity and value to your business

    When you build online community, you have to do a bunch of stuff to better serve your customers like creating quality content and resources, enhancing your product or services, and improving your systems and processes. Doing these things adds equity and value to your business and attracts the right customers to your community.

     
  3. It will help you have purpose

    There’s a lot of effort involved in building a community around your brand, and it’s not just about creating content or being on social media just because everyone else is doing it. When you’re strategic about community building, it forces you to identify goals and put a solid purpose behind your efforts.

     
  4. It will help you stand out

    If you’re committed to the process of building a community, you are going to be doing a great deal of self-discovery (which often times can be pretty uncomfortable). During this process you’ll determine what you’re all about, what you love to do, and what it’s going to take to help you stand out among the competition.

     
  5. It will put the focus on goals, not tools
    
Building an online community isn’t a bunch of fluffy stuff. It’s the seamless integration of tools like SEO, social media, content marketing, email marketing, and all kinds of other important stuff (like hard work and passion). But in order for the tools to be effective, they’ve got to be driven by a strategy that is rooted in the goals of your whole business.

In the last year, Mack Web has been working on building our own community (and helping our clients to build theirs). What we’ve found (through a whole lot of trial and error, joy and pain, sunshine and, well, you get the point) is that building community means building a better business. It’s a necessary online component for growth as it forges and fosters relationships that are essential to building a business online as you would in person. 



A present for you

For the past several months, I have been writing a lot about community. How to build it with value, how to identify it, and how to attract customers to it. And now, lucky for you, I'd like to share our process for how to build an online community for your business. 

What follows is a super awesome infographic and the play-by-play breakdown of each step in the process. I'm thinking it might come in handy (you can even listen to my webinar for the full effect).

Whether you’re building a community from scratch, or you’re working to grow an existing one, you can use this process to get your community rolling or optimize and leverage what you already have.

The order in which you attack this may differ depending on the size of your organization, your goals, and the stage you’re in as a company. I encourage you to take this process and meld it into what works best for you.

Here we go!

 


And, in case you want to steal this, here's the embed code ('cuz we're nice like that).
<p><center><img src="http://www.mackwebsolutions.com/img/mozimages/how-to-build-communities.jpg" width="540"> <br/>An infographic on <a href="http://www.seomoz.org/blog/how-to-build-an-online-community-for-your-business">How to Build an Online Community</a> by the team at <a href="http://mackwebsolutions.com/">Mack Web Solutions</a></center></p>


Let me break that down into stages for you:

[1] Define your business objectives

Define your objectivesLet’s start this entire process out right by thinking about your goals. What you want to focus on here is defining objectives for your entire business, not just for SEO, social media, content, or marketing. Stay focused on the whole picture of what you want to do with your company.

Keep in mind that there’s a lot more to defining business objectives than just writing down a bunch of goals. So before you do that, think about this:

  1. What makes your company unique?

    Especially when you’re a new business (but this happens with old ones, too), it’s easy to feel like you need everyone to be your customer. But the fact is, what you really need are the right customers.



    Take Coke and Pepsi; Hershey and Dove; and Chipotle and Qdoba. All companies who sell similar products, but attract very different customers to their brand and their communities.

 Both are good (and to many people, taste the same). So what’s the difference? Why would someone be attracted to, say, Chipotle over Qdoba?



    Chipotle’s food has integrity. They serve sustainably-raised food. They support local farmers. They respect the environment. Because of these values, Chipotle attracts people who have similar philosophies and approaches to food and life. 



    Qdoba is about quality ingredients. These are very similar things, but the difference is something that people find common ground with, feel strongly about, and want to stand behind. It’s not just about the food. It’s what they believe in. It’s what makes them unique. And people want to be a part of that.



    So, determine what your unique selling proposition (USP) is. Do an analysis of your competition. What do you do differently than them (no matter how small)? How is that remarkable? Why does it make you special? That’s your USP. Own this and make it part of everything you do. On and offline.
     

  2. Why do you care?

    Simon Sinek can probably say this a whole lot better than I can, but here it is: what is it that makes you care about your business? What keeps you pushing forward (especially when you want to quit)? The reason that you care has nothing to do with money, so besides that, what’s important?



    That passion that you feel for your business is not only a significant differentiator, but it’s part of your story and it’s far more motivating than money. Keep this sucker in your back pocket. You’re gonna need it.

     

  3. What do you want to build?

    What’s your vision for your company? Think six months, eighteen months, and three to five years. What is it that you really want to do? Dream some of that stuff up and start making a list. You may even want to write down things that are currently on the horizon. Big changes, events, product launches, stuff like that. This will help you to begin defining the goals you have for your business both short and long term.

     
  4. Who do you want to build it for?

    This is the part where you get really clear about who your customer actually is. What are their fears, concerns, and challenges? What are the problems (big and small) they would like to solve? Talk to them. Survey them. Ask them.



    Organize your audiences into groups. Build some personae around them so that they are real, live, tangible people (find a photo for them and everything). These are your targets.



    It will also help to understand your conversion funnel and how that relates to your audience. What do your customers need during the different stages of the funnel? All of this good stuff is going to help inform your strategy (and eventually you’re going to want to create the content and resources to serve those needs).

    

Just remember that every person on the web is not your customer. Go back to that USP that you’ve just defined. Focus on that and the people who resonate with it, and do whatever it takes to keep the emphasis on them.


The answers to all of these questions will help get to the root of what you’re working so hard for in the first place. From there, you can determine what you really want to do with your company. Then you can identify the goals you’d like to work toward (start with just a few). Once you have those defined, let’s talk about your team.




[2] Elect your team

Elect your teamWe’ve been around the block a time or two on this community building thing, and there are many things that can become roadblocks. Team selection is one of them.

Here’s a few tips for getting the right team in place so that you can start working toward achieving your goals:

  1. Understand the roles

    Building community is no joke. There’s a lot of work to be done and many roles that will need to be filled. If you work with an outside agency, they will bring most of the power, but you play an integral role. Keep in mind that an agency is meant to be your collaborative partner, and not just your mask. It’s your company, after all, so it’s important that you’re present.



    If you’re among the brave souls who are going to tackle all of this hard work internally, here’s a run down on some of the typical roles that your team may need to execute: (Please note that I’m not suggesting that you hire someone to fulfill each of these roles. I’m simply providing an overview of the different roles that are part of the community building process. Within your team, there will be individuals who can take on several of these roles).

    • 
Project management: Someone to keep all of the peeps on schedule and on task

.
    • Community management: Someone who can represent your company on social media, monitor, and manage the rest of your team who’s on there as well (pro tip: read Marty Weintraub's book on community management).
    • Design: Someone who can create any graphic assets that you need and make you look really good.


    • Content: Someone who can write (like the dickens).


    • SEO: Someone who loves research, analysis, keywords, and Google so that they can properly and effectively manage the optimization of all content. Ideally you want this dude to be more than passingly familiar with strategy as well.

    • Email marketing: Someone who can design, develop, and coordinate email marketing campaigns to deliver the value your team is creating in relationship to your strategy.


    • Reading & learning: Several someones who are continually reading and learning about your industry and looking for good stuff to pass around your community (that isn’t about you)

. More on this below, but this reading and learning stuff is incredibly imperative to success.
    • Outreach: Several someones who are developing relationships and helping to keep those people and your community involved in what you’re doing (so that they can partake and benefit, too).
       

    As you can see, this is a lot of weight for one person to carry, so ideally, if you don’t have the resources in-house, or you’re a freelance SEO, piece together a reliable team that can help fill in the gaps. It’s not that one person can’t do all of this work, but in that case both efforts and results will probably be slower to come to fruition.



    Also, because building community is a long-term, ongoing process, I wouldn’t recommend assigning the really integral roles (like community manager) to short-timers or interns. Of course, many companies have limited resources, so do what you can with what you have and just be consistent as possible with your efforts.

     

  2. Elect, don’t just assign

    Thing is, especially if you’re a smaller company, you’ve got to work with what you have. Not every company has the luxury of bringing on an outside agency or hiring additional people to share the load of all of this stuff. But if you want these efforts to be successful, you’ve gotta have a team of people who are passionate and committed to seeing this thing through, even when it’s tough and you want to give up.



    Instead of just assigning tasks and dumping a bunch of (usually un-welcome) work on people, elect people for your implementation team who are committed to the success of the organization and are passionate about things like your company, social media, content, SEO, and communication.

 Oh, and humans. 

You’ve got to have people on this team who want to be there or your efforts will fail. Make it a selection process so that the team feels honored to be part of this whole thing (because it really is a movement).

     

  3. Work together as one, big, happy family
    
Whether you’re working with internal and external teams, a whole bunch of interdepartmental teams, or a mix and match of both, do whatever you can to come together as a unified team (more on this below). Whatever you do, don’t silo. Collaborate and be friends. It will make all of the difference in the end.



Keep in mind that this team you’re putting together isn’t just going to be working on your marketing; they’re going to be playing an integral role in transforming your business. Do what it takes to be sure everyone is on the same page and working together to make things happen.


[3] Develop your strategy


Develop your strategyDeveloping a strategy is what will actually help you to achieve your goals. A good strategy will assist you in breaking those high level goals down into actionable, chewable pieces that you can work towards and even measure.



Think about strategy in three pieces: the what, the when, and the how.

  1. The what: campaigns

    Campaigns are where your goals meet your ideas. What is it that you’re going to need to create in order to actually accomplish your goals? Everything from your tangible assets like blog posts, videos, and infographics; to webinars and events like tradeshows, conferences, speaking engagements, and meetups.

    

If one of your goals is to become a trusted resource in your industry (a thought leader), then you’ve got to figure out what it’s going to take to accomplish it. Maybe it’s a four-part series that involves a mix of instructional videos that are integrated into blog posts, in-person lunch-and-learns or meetups, and maybe a speaking engagement at a conference. Whatever it ends up being, your campaigns need to break down all of the nitty gritty (and creative) detail of what is going to happen to take this bigger picture to fruition.



    But whatever you do, don’t plan the campaigns in your strategy for 12 consecutive months. It really makes it hard for the team to be agile and embrace stuff that comes up. We have found that every few months, it’s time to develop a new strategy (based on the data we’ve collected and the stuff that we’ve observed).

    Figure out what’s working and put your efforts (and your money there). Things are going to happen. Your business will change, you'll have a big victory that you want to explore further, you'll discover an opportunity that you didn't realize existed. So keep the higher level, 12-month plan in mind, but plan campaigns for 2-3 months at a time. 
     

  2. The when: execution calendar

    Once you know exactly what you want to do, you’ve got to figure out how long it’s going to take. Develop a high level execution calendar that illustrates the coordination of all assets and vehicles over a two to three month period (long enough to collect some data, but, again, short enough to be agile and change direction).

 Your calendar may look something like this:

    Sample Execution Calendar - Mack Web

    You’ll also want to take all of those high level ideas and break them down to assign them to actual people with real due dates. We do this in Basecamp and Gcal, but anything that allows you to assign deadlines will do the job.

     

  3. The how: ongoing efforts
    
The how is your plan for everything that needs to happen and continue to happen to make your efforts a success (people, assets, actionables). The biggest thing ongoing is to keep your commitments and stay accountable for the stuff that has to get done. But a really big (and important) part of ongoing efforts is continual analysis of your efforts and goals to make sure you’re always headed in the right direction (more on measurement and analysis below). 



    Thing is, there is no formula. You’ve got to be creative, try things out, and do what works for your business. Throw some stuff out there and see what happens. Make some educated decisions about that data and go from there. After a few campaigns you’ll get to know what works for your community and you’ll start to gain some traction. It’s all part of the process.


[4] Empower your team


Empower your teamOnce that you’ve figured out what, you’re going to do to work toward your goals (with your super awesome strategy). Before you jump into go-mode, take some time to set the team up for success. 


Do not skip this step.



I repeat. This step is important. Don’t skip it.

Depending on the climate (and culture) of your company (or the company you’re working with), there’s going to be some fear, concerns, and even resistance that you’ll get from your team (even if you think everything is A-OK). Rather than ignoring it and pushing through, hit it head on. Talk about it. Get it out in the open. You’ll be glad you did.

You can empower your team for success by addressing a few simple questions:

  1. Why are we doing this?

    Here’s your chance to build confidence and trust. The biggest source of resistance we run into is with teams who are afraid of the online space and of being on social media. 

Help your team understand that building an online community is not just about social media. It’s about working toward the goals that you have for your company. Social media is just one of the vehicles. If you use it effectively, you’re going to learn a ton of stuff, meet some really cool people, and turn up some pretty amazing opportunities. 

     
  2. How much work is involved?
    
When people have a sense of purpose, they are more inclined to put the effort forth. Is there going to be a lot of work involved? Yes. Is it going to be hard? You betcha. 



    That being said, now’s your chance to reassure your team that you’ve taken the time to identify goals for the company and have developed a strategy that’s going to help achieve those goals. You have a purpose.

    Explain how the campaigns that have been developed in the strategy align with your specific goals.

 Also, let your team know that there is a learning curve for all of this and that you don’t expect them to know what they’re doing right off the bat. Integrate training for your team as an ongoing thing. Training that focuses on skills as well as approach. This will motivate them and help them to feel useful and powerful. 

     

  3. When will we see results?
    
Let me be very clear about this. You can measure ROI in community building, but it’s not as simple as measuring a cell phone case purchase in a shopping cart. You’ve got to be creative about what and how you measure and know that it takes time to see results. And sometimes the stuff that brings ROI cannot be easily measured. 



    When discussing expectations about results, be realistic. Don’t sugar coat it. Building (or growing) a community takes time (and a lot of work). And so does accomplishing goals. Especially big ones. It’s important that you have open communication with the team about what can be expected in the long and also the short term. 



    We like to talk about examples of what the little victories look like. Like getting recognized for a good piece of content with a retweet on Twitter. Or a lead that was generated through a good conversation you had with someone on Google+. Again, it’s the same stuff you do when you’re building your business in person. You’re just doing it online.



    For the long term, we focus on realistic timeframes for their goals based on the steps we’re taking with their strategy. If the goal is thought leadership, and depending on the stage the company is currently in (are we starting from scratch?), there will be a whole lot of leg work (and foundational work) that has to be done. Like many goals, this stuff doesn't happen overnight.

    Discuss KPIs (that you all can agree on) that will provide the proof that your efforts are working. Maybe it’s a series of actions like downloading a whitepaper, attending a webinar, or being asked to speak at a conference. If these are the actions, determine how you’re going to track them (in Google Analytics or wherever else you want to collect the data), and then you’ll have the data to report on each month (more on communicating measurement below).



    One last thing on results. Remember that you may not ever reach the goals you set out. But certainly what can happen along that journey can be even more rewarding. Stay present and pushing forward.


The biggest thing to remember with empowering your team is that you have to help them disrupt their routine. Building community is about learning, growing, and pushing your company into new spaces. You can’t do this by tacking all of this new work onto the same routine you’ve been using for the last 5 years. You’ve got to start new. Disrupt your routine and start new. And then get ready for the long haul.



[5] Learn your industry


Learn your industryYou can’t grow a business in a vacuum. If you want to stand out and be successful, you’ve got to be learning and growing.

All. The. Time. 



One of your number one priorities in marketing your business online is providing the best possible customer experience. And you can’t do that if you’re not learning continuously.

You can start by identifying your community and determining the blogs you want to be sure to read, the people you want to get to know, and companies that you will want to keep tabs on.

Embracing the knowledge in your industry is going to push you to be more creative, innovative, and agile. It’s going to open up opportunities that you didn’t even realize existed. But that won’t happen if you don’t dedicate the time to it on a consistent basis.

Learning takes place everywhere. So step away from your computer and meet some people (for Dr. Pete’s sake). Make new friends, find people who have a strength that you need to work on and ask them to mentor you. Build friendships with super cool people and companies. This is really the most important part.

Then go back to your computer and read a lot. More than you ever have in your whole life. Read the good stuff inside of your industry and outside of your industry. You’re going to see some cool stuff that will open up your world (that, my friends, is why it’s called the world wide web).  

All of this stuff is what manifests serendipity and although that’s the hardest stuff to measure, it’s also what ends up making the biggest difference when building a community (and a business).


[6] Create the value

Create the valueOk, now we’re getting to the real good stuff. Value is what your community is built upon, whether that’s “tangible” stuff like blog posts, videos, resources, and tools; or an approach, perspective, or virtue that is the basis for common ground.  Value that focuses on your customer and their experience is what attracts people to your business, your brand, and your community.

In general, there are two types of content that will help build your community: foundational and community building.

Foundational content is the more static stuff on your website (like your about and services sections), like pages that explain who you are and what you do. The problem with most foundational content is, let's be honest, that it kind of sucks. It’s really focused on self-promotion (as it should be; it is, after all, your website) instead of being geared toward the needs of your customer.

The challenge with foundational content is to listen to your customer. Observe their needs, the things in life that they struggle with, and then communicate how your products or services address those things. Use video and resources and case studies and infographics to provide an engaging and value-packed experience and make your foundational content worth reading (and worthy of links).

Community building content is the stuff that’s more dynamic in nature and usually lives on your blog. It’s the content that is less about what you do and more about what you know.

Community building content is the easiest stuff to make all about your customer because the purpose of building it is to help them understand your knowledge and expertise. This type of content indirectly promotes your brand, establishes trust and credibility, and really helps to foster relationships.

Just like your foundational content, this stuff needs to be full of your personality. Show who you are, what you believe in, and how you approach stuff. Balance your content with risky stuff and things that may help you stand out a bit. All in an effort to help your customers (current and potential) learn so that they’ll pass it around to their friends and come back later for more.

Here’s a few more things to remember when you’re generating your content:


  1. It’s not about you

    Make your content about your customer, not about you. Focus on their needs. And don’t just guess, ask them. Do an email survey, or make a phone call, or take them to lunch. Listen and figure out how you can better serve them and then actually apply the feedback to the content and resources you’re creating.

     
  2. Don’t forget about SEO

    SEO is an integral piece when building community and content. Certainly your content will be part of your well-planned strategy, but before you create it, don't forget to find out what’s already out there. Does what you're about to write already exist (in some form)? If so, find a way to do it better so that Google has a reason to index it and present it as the best option when someone conducts a search.



    Don’t forget the importance of covering your SEO bases and doing the basic on-page stuff. Do some keyword research and properly integrate it into your content so that people can actually find your stuff. 

     

  3. Use pre-outreach

    Thanks to this tip from Rob Ousbey, pre-outreach has been one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal. Getting the word out about good stuff you’re doing is a lot harder if you don’t involve your audience in the process. Before you even create your content, think about who you could talk to, interview, survey, engage with online, and get valuable feedback that could help make your content more purposeful and more successful.

[7] Share the valueShare the value

You may have heard me mention this once or twice, but the way in which you share the value that you (and others) create, is one of the most important pieces (and accelerators) when building community and your business.

It works like this: 80% of the time, share other people’s great stuff. But don’t just retweet it or hit the share button and place it on your feed. Read it. Internalize it. And then curate it. Tell people why it’s good. This helps you learn and also keeps the focus where it belongs: on the value that you're providing for the reader.

20% of the time, share your own stuff, but make it remarkable. This is the community building stuff that we just talked about. The stuff that provides a wealth of knowledge that people will thank you for.

And remember that just building something amazing, doesn’t guarantee that people will see it. That’s why there’s outreach (so do it, dude).

Outreach is code for making friends and being an authentic human before you even think about asking for anything. Build relationships with people online as you would in person. Then, when you’ve got good stuff to get out, they’re going to be excited to spread the word.

 Whatever your ratio is: 60/40, 70/30, 90/10, remember that it’s not about you. Stay focused on your customer and test out what works best for your community.


[8] Build and foster growth

Build and foster growthThis is the part that never, ever ends (that's a good thing). Building and fostering community is synonymous with building and growing your company. You’ve got to work at it. All the time.

There are lots of things that you can do to foster and grow your community. Here’s just a few:

  1. Get in there

    Remember that you are a member of your community. You and your entire team. Get in there. Play an active role. Contribute and engage on a genuine level. It’s an extension of your company and your brand and it’s important to the growth of your community.

     
  2. Embrace offline efforts
    
It’s so important to cultivate relationships with people in person. It’s an integral piece to growing your community. When you form a bond in person, it’s even more powerful online. 

So go to events and hold events. Ask people to coffee. Go to meetups and conferences. Embrace the offline, in-person, human stuff as much as you do with your work online. Meet people face-to-face and learn more about them. It will really help to build your community and your business.

     
  3. Acknowledge and show appreciation

    Don’t forget that a community comprises living, breathing people who are supporting you. There are lots of great ways to show your appreciation, so make sure you set the time aside in your routine to acknowledge the humans in your community. 



    Of course you can always give them stuff. Providing free swag at events or sending it out as a thank you or just because is a great way to show appreciation and turn your members into your brand ambassadors.



    Be on the lookout for community members who are doing great things in their own businesses or lives. Recognize their good news and hard work and give them a virtual pat on the back.

 Engage with your community members and ask them if there’s anything you can do to help them. It’s a great way to create the content and resources they need that will also benefit others.


[9] Measure and analyze (and communicate)

Measure and analyzeThis is the juicy part (and just because this is listed as the last piece in the process doesn’t make it any less significant). In fact, you’ll want to make sure that you’re thinking about measurement and analysis all the way through.


Measurement and analysis is an ongoing process when building community. Everything you do will include testing, feedback, measurement, analysis, adjustments, rinsing, and repeating. And then, you’ve got to communicate this data to your team (and/or your client).  

Here’s a few thoughts about measurement & analysis, but also ongoing, old-fashioned communication:

  1. Weekly stand-ups

    When we’re helping clients build their communities, it’s a very collaborative process. There are lots of things that we do on their behalf, but there’s also some integral pieces that we need them to execute consistently and timely.

    We hold stand-ups every day as a team, and they work so well that we thought we’d try them out (once a week) with our clients. We don’t talk metrics at these meetings. Just a quick 10 minute meeting to get on the phone, a G+ hangout, or via Skype so that we can get connected for the week. This has really helped to boost motivation and keep the momentum of the strategy that we’re all working to implement.

     

  2. Bi-weekly pushes
    
In addition to the weekly standups, we also do a little electronic pushing over email every two weeks. This is really just a collective here’s what’s going on reminder to again, keep the momentum.

 We used to do these in a document, but that wasn’t getting the response we needed, so we switched to a straight up email with a little "action required" nudge in the subject line.
     
  3. Monthly reports
    
Monthly reports tend to be the best way to communicate all of the hard work you’ve been doing, but also prove that you’re making some headway on those goals you’ve set forth. In those reports, showcase the data that you’ve collected and then present it in a way that is meaningful to the client so that they can easily see how this is affecting their business.

    

Your goal with monthly reports is to illustrate the value you’re providing and the progress you’re making. But don’t just send these reports via email. Take the time each month to review (face-to-face) what’s been going on, and talk more specifically about how efforts are helping to reach goals (which equates to ROI). 



    Remember that it’s your job to provide the analysis. What does this mean to their business? Are efforts (and dollars) being spent in the right places? If you’re experiencing victories, share them. If the data doesn’t look good, tell them why and then what you’re going to do about it. That’s what the data is for. Analyze it and then use it to make decisions about your efforts moving forward.

     

  4. Quarterly strategy

    At quarter's end, take a higher level look at what’s going on. Can you spot trends in content, social behavior, traffic? How does that affect efforts and what needs to be done with the strategy to adjust?

Just make sure you’re always bringing this stuff back to goals. Assess the journey and then figure out what needs to be done to change course and put a new plan into action.


Now it’s your turn

As you take this process and work to implement it into your company or with your clients, keep these final things in mind:

  1. This is about building a brand

    At the heart of building community is becoming the company you’ve always wanted to be. Stay rooted in your passion for your business and remember that your efforts go far beyond your marketing. You’re working to build a brand and a company that you can be proud of and that people want to be associated with.

     
  2. Stay grounded in your goals

    Whether you’re a one-person band, or a humungo company, there’s a lot to tackle with all of this good stuff. That’s why a strategy is so important. But you won't have a strategy to stand on if you haven't clearly defined your objectives for your business. Make sure you always come back to your goals. These are the foundation for all of the hard work you’re doing. Always put your focus on goals, not tools.

     
  3. Don’t give up

    The number one question in all of this is when are we going to see results? How long does it take before something really great happens? Unfortunately there’s no formula with this stuff so there’s no straight way to answer these questions.

    What I do know is that results come in different forms and different sizes for every company.

    For Mack Web, it took us about a year of working through this process for our company before we started to gain traction, but that was after we’d already been in business for 10 years. If you want to achieve results, you’ve got to be willing to fail for a long time before you start seeing the wins. But if you can stick with it, you won’t be sorry (this is what happened to Mack Web's traffic in just a 10 month period of facilitating this process for our company).Mack Web Traffic

What have I missed? What great things are you doing to build your brand and your community? I would love to hear more in the comments below.

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Twitter 101 Series: Twitter’s 5 Best Friends — TweetDeck, Bitly, TwitLonger and More

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Twitter 101 Series: Twitter’s 5 Best Friends — TweetDeck, Bitly, TwitLonger and More was originally published on BruceClay.com, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

Whether you want to more closely examine your Twitter following, view multiple accounts, shorten a link or get tweeting inspiration, we recommend these five helpful Twitter companion apps and sites.

And as part of our Twitter 101 series, we’ve made sure these sites are all beginner-friendly, while still useful for twittizens from way back.

Twitter uses will love Bitly, TweetDeck, TwitLonger, Qwitter and FollowerWonk.

To shorten a link

140 characters isn’t the biggest of spaces and when you add a link to the mix, that space shrinks dramatically. That’s where Bitly comes in handy. Give a bitly a regular link URL and it will shrink it down to a bite-size portion, leaving you valuable room to # and @ to your heart’s delight. Bitly also lets you create bitmarks—bookmarks by bitly—that you can save, group and share with friends.

Using Bitly, this post’s link changes from “http://www.bruceclay.com/blog/2013/04/twitter-101-twitter-companions/” to http://bit.ly/17tue2f. Now which would you rather tweet?

To cheat the 140 character limit

TwitLonger also understands the challenge of the 140 character limit. So they came up with a workaround. On the rare occasion that your tweet can’t possibly be compressed to 140 characters, compose your tweet with TwitLonger. Anything that goes beyond the microblog limits will be contained in a link. The link leads to a TwitLonger page that provides the rest of your expansive tweet. Tweeting multiple tweets to finish a verbose thought is bad Twitter form, so using TwitLonger is a great option for times when 140 characters just doesn’t cut it.

To view multiple Twitter accounts simultaneously

TweetDeck is an incredibly helpful dashboard that gives you a bird’s eye view of your Twitter account(s). With TweetDeck, you can easily toggle between multiple Twitter accounts and customize feeds to show streams of who has mentioned you or interacted with you, what is trending, who/what your followers are interacting with, etc. With TweetDeck, you can also schedule tweets for different times, as well as issue the same tweet from multiple accounts simultaneously.

To better understand Twitter users

Followerwonk allows users to track, sort and search your social graph. You can search analyze your followers’ locations and bios; compare your Twitter health to that of your competitors’; and match your Twitter activities to gains and losses.  explore your followers’ bios. Like TweetDeck, you can toggle between multiple Twitter accounts. FollowerWonk, which is an SEOmoz app, has a pro account and a free account.

To find great things to share

If you’re ever  looking for something to share on Twitter, Stuff To Tweet is a good source for finding things that are making waves on the Web. Stuff To Tweet aggregates the top posts on CNN, the New York Times, Youtube, Lifehacker, TMZ, Mashable, Digg, Del.iciou.us Daily Motion, Craig’s List, Amazon and more.

For more from our Twitter 101 series, check out 10 Basic Steps to Increasing Your Twitter Following from last week! Stay tuned for more of the Twitter 101 series, brought to you by @KristiKellogg via the @BruceClayInc blog.

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Remove Unnecessary Steps & Win More Links, Shares, and Conversions – Whiteboard Friday

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Posted by randfish

When creating a product, website, or communication, including a simple user experience is key to success. The easier you make the A to Z process for a user, the more likely they'll be to accomplish the plan you spent time and resources putting together piece by piece. 

In this week's Whiteboard Friday, Rand walks us through user experience and the actions that we can remove from our processes in order to drive more conversions, earn more links, get more social shares. Simplicity, FTW!

This week, we've added a still image of the whiteboard for easier viewing. Do you find this addition helpful? Let us know in the comments! 

Video Transcription

"Howdy, SEOmoz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I want to talk a little bit about user experience and the actions that we can remove from our processes in order to drive more conversions, earn more links, get more social shares. Let me show you what I'm talking about.

In this first example, embed codes, a lot of websites use embed codes all over the place. SlideShare is a good example. When you get to SlideShare, you find a particular presentation, and then you can copy and embed that onto your page.

Bitly is another good example. When you go to Bitly, they've got a little copy and paste sector. You paste in a link. It turns into the short Bitly link. You grab that out.

All sorts of things do this. YouTube does it. Vimeo does it. Any type of infographic that's embeddable, they all have these embed codes.

Embed codes are a phenomenal way to drive links, especially to content that people are likely to put on their own sites. The problem becomes when you make that a multi-step process. In fact, we've seen research and data from several sources now, saying that if you can make this a single click on here, and it says "copy to clipboard"' automatically, as opposed to popping something up like Bitly has started to do, or having to grab the entire embed code, Ctrl A, Ctrl C. I have to copy it myself, that actually will drive more embeds, meaning more links to the places you want with the anchor text that you want.

We remove an unnecessary step, that secondary piece, and make it so one click right in here with you cursor gets you copied to clipboard, a transitional message or a temporal message that pops up that says, "Copy to clipboard," or says below here, "Copy to clipboard." Now, all I have to do is paste, and I'm done. Very, very simple. Very easy.

Number two:  Shorter, more action-oriented emails. We send a lot of emails. We send emails for outreach. We send emails that are in newsletter format that are trying to drive actions back to our websites. We send emails to try and get shares from our friends or our network, those kinds of things. All of these can be made more concise and more actionable. I see a lot of challenges when we sort of go, "Oh, I'm going to start with some nice fluffy introduction. Here's who I am. Here's more about my company. Oh, and now here, here is the final action. This is what I was actually trying to get you to do. I felt like for some reason I had to do all of this."

Email is a medium where heavy communication is great between people you already know, where there are lots of things to say, and you need to have that more complex dialogue. When it's between new people, between strangers, between someone you're reaching out to, I find that the most effective emails I ever get from an outreach perspective are, "Hey, Rand. Love what you're doing over there at Moz. Would you send this over to someone on your product team or someone on your marketing team?" Or, "Hey, we have this app that we think would be great for your events folks. Could you make an intro?" That is something I'm likely to do very, very quickly. Or, "Just check out this new app. It does this." Great. Really quick.

All the press release ones I get are like, "Such and such is a this type of company, and here's all of this. Here's their latest press release. They raised this round of funding. Would you be interested in writing about them or talking to their CEO on the phone?" Dude, all you have to do is have that CEO email me and be like, "Hey, man. I want to connect." I'll be like, "Hey, let's chat. Sounds good. Sounds interesting,"' if it actually does sound interesting. Shorter, more action-oriented emails.

Number three:  Simpler sign-up forms. Oh, my goodness. You do not need to collect all of this data all at once. I need name. I need first name and last name. I've got to get this person's address, or at least the city and state they're in, because of this. You can collect so much of this data in the application later, as they're using it, if they're actually using it. You can collect some of that from IP address, location sensitive IPs, those type of things. You can tell the type of device they're on.

The thing is, as people browse the web more and more with mobile devices, this guy right here, when I'm on here, I absolutely hate filling out forms. The most I can ever do is an email and password field. A confirm password field really gets me going. It's just infuriating because it's a pain to type those extra letters, especially on something that doesn't have a full keyboard. If you can remove those and ask for that later, remember even if they get their password wrong and they forget it, you have still emailed them. You've got their email address, and you've sent them an email. It says, "Hey, click here to confirm." If they log back in, oh now the password is wrong or they forgot, great, you can fix that later, but you've gotten that initial essential sign-up. That's what you're looking for.

Number four:  I know HTTP is a common protocol. So is GTTP, or at least I'd like to make it one. Get to the point with your content. Get to the point. A lot of the time, I see this stuff tweeted and shared on social networks, put on Inbound.org or Hacker News, where it says, "Hey, conversion rate testing shows that this performs better than that." Cool. Then, I have to scroll and scroll. Where is that? Oh, there's the test. There's that test they were talking about. It's way down deep in the content. I'm not exactly sure why, but a lot of times with blog content, with even infographics, with videos, with stuff that we should be sharing on the web and is good content, we're trying to say, "Here's what I want to tell you, and I'm prioritizing that for some reason above what you actually care about."

What you actually care about should be the primary and potentially only thing on that page. If you really have stuff that you want to tell me, I will go investigate. I'll check out your About page. I'll check out your product pages. I want to see what your company does because it sounds interesting. You've got a cool brand, and you've got a great blog post and that kind of thing. If you really must, you can put it down here below the stuff that I actually care about. I came to your site to watch a video I was told was awesome, to check out an infographic, to see, to learn something about a test, to figure out something, solve some problem. Deliver that to me upfront, please. That will not only make me more likely to come back to your site in the future. I'll have a positive brand association. I'll be more likely to share that content. Just a beautiful thing.

Number five:  You actually see this a lot, and I see tremendous effectiveness when this is done, which is socially sharing links directly to what matters on the page or on an individual site. A lot of times, there will be a product tour section. Then, there's a video, a really interesting video or a demo. I'll see the social shares that are most effective are the ones that point directly. Sometimes, they have a JavaScript field in the URL that has a hash in it or a hash bang system or whatever it is. Those people who share direct do better than the ones who share the broad page. They've gotten into the process and dug around enough to share directly that piece that I care about. You can do this too.

In fact, I have recently seen a test where I essentially had been tweeting a link to something like where we were competing against another company for which company is better at this particular thing. I had been tweeting links to the page. Then you had to scroll down the page quite a ways, and then there was a little voting widget. Then I saw from the voting widget itself, there was actually some hash URL that would link directly to the voting widget on that page. When I tweeted that, it drove way more actions. In fact, like four or five times as many actions. I think something over 100 votes, whereas previously I had shared it a couple times and gotten like 15 or 20 votes from it. That is definitely a way to show that tweeting directly to the thing you want people to do, great way to socially share and to make those shares go further.

Last one, maintaining logged in state. Zappos, Amazon, all do this brilliantly well. Google actually does a pretty solid job of it as well. They maintain a logged in experience for as long as possible. Do you remember back in the day with Twitter? You used to get logged out all the time. They just weren't maintaining cookies and session variables and all that kind of stuff. You were losing your log in. You'd have to log into Twitter, even though you clicked that Remember Me button, you'd have to log in many, many times, every time you came back.

If you have this "Please log in" system here, and it does it even though you clicked "Yes. Please, remember me" down here, remember, please remember. Check. You're killing your conversions. I don't just mean conversions in terms of someone who makes a purchase. I mean someone who might have left a comment, someone who might have participated in your community, someone who might have shared something, someone who might have reached content they otherwise wouldn't have, someone who might have been a lead for you.

Moz actually did this. We have this as a conversion killer, and we can show the data. It was about 18 months ago, I think, that Casey and the inbound engineering team did a bunch of work to make sure, that most of the time, you're logged into your account. You wouldn't be logged out as quickly. I still find some challenges with it, but it's way better than it used to be. The data shows. You can see more comments per post view. You can see more people checking out and filling out their accounts. All that type of activity, that UGC that's driving long tail traffic, just a beautiful thing by maintaining this logged in state.

All of these are specific examples. The big takeaway message here is you don't need unnecessary steps. You don't need to be taking actions and requiring things of your visitors that they don't need to do, especially with the rise in mobile browsing and with the advantages that we've seen from web page speed increasing. We know, as web users and as people who build for the web, that visitors care tremendously about accomplishing tasks quickly. They're getting more and more used to it on their phones, on their desktops, on their laptops, on their tablets. We need to deliver that in order to be successful at marketing as well.

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

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Experiment Driven Web Publishing

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Do users find big headlines more relevant? Does using long text lead to more, or less, visitor engagement? Is that latest change to the shopping cart going to make things worse? Are your links just the right shade of blue?

If you want to put an end to tiresome subjective arguments about page length, or the merits of your clients latest idea, which is to turn their website pink, then adopting an experimental process for web publishing can be a good option.

If you don’t currently use an experiment-driven publishing approach, then this article is for you. We’ll look at ways to bake experiments into your web site, the myriad of opportunities testing creates, how it can help your SEO, and ways to mitigate cultural problems.

Controlled Experiments

The merits of any change should be derived from the results of the change under a controlled test. This process is common in PPC, however many SEO’s will no doubt wonder how such an approach will affect their SEO.

Well, Google encourages it.

We’ve gotten several questions recently about whether website testing—such as A/B or multivariate testing—affects a site’s performance in search results. We’re glad you’re asking, because we’re glad you’re testing! A/B and multivariate testing are great ways of making sure that what you’re offering really appeals to your users

Post-panda, being more relevant to visitors, not just machines, is important. User engagement is more important. If you don’t closely align your site with user expectations and optimize for engagement, then it will likely suffer.

The new SEO, at least as far as Panda is concerned, is about pushing your best quality stuff and the complete removal of low-quality or overhead pages from the indexes. Which means it’s not as easy anymore to compete by simply producing pages at scale, unless they’re created with quality in mind. Which means for some sites, SEO just got a whole lot harder.

Experiments can help us achieve greater relevance.

If It ‘Aint Broke, Fix It

One reason for resisting experiment-driven decisions is to not mess with success. However, I’m sure we all suspect most pages and processes can be made better.

If we implement data-driven experiments, we’re more likely to spot the winners and losers in the first place. What pages lead to the most sales? Why? What keywords are leading to the best outcomes? We identify these pages, and we nurture them. Perhaps you already experiment in some areas on your site, but what would happen if you treated most aspects of your site as controlled experiments?

We also need to cut losers.

If pages aren’t getting much engagement, we need to identify them, improve them, or cut them. The Panda update was about levels of engagement, and too many poorly performing pages will drag your site down. Run with the winners, cut the losers, and have a methodology in place that enables you to spot them, optimize them, and cut them if they aren’t performing.

Testing Methodology For Marketers

Tests are based on the same principles used to conduct scientific experiments. The process involves data gathering, designing experiments, running experiments, analyzing the results, and making changes.

1. Set A Goal

A goal should be simple i.e. “increase the signup rate of the newsletter”.

We could fail in this goal (decreased signups), succeed (increased signups), or stay the same. The goal should also deliver genuine business value.

There can be often multiple goals. For example, “increase email signups AND Facebook likes OR ensure signups don’t decrease by more than 5%”. However, if you can get it down to one goal, you’ll make life easier, especially when starting out. You can always break down multiple goals into separate experiments.

2. Create A Hypothesis

What do you suspect will happen as a result of your test? i.e. “if we strip all other distractions from the email sign up page, then sign-ups will increase”.

The hypothesis can be stated as an improvement, or preventing a negative, or finding something that is wrong. Mostly, we’re concerned with improving things – extracting more positive performance out of the same pages, or set of pages.

“Will the new video on the email sign-up page result in more email signups?” Only one way to find out. And once you have found out, you can run with it or replace it safe in the knowledge it’s not just someone’s opinion. The question will move from “just how cool is this video!” (subjective) to “does this video result in more email sign-ups?”. A strategy based on experiments eliminates most subjective questions, or shifts them to areas that don’t really affect the business case.

The video sales page significantly increased the number of visitors who clicked to the price/guarantee page by 46.15%….Video converts! It did so when mentioned in a “call to action” (a 14.18% increase) and also when used to sell (35% and 46.15% increases in two different tests)

When crafting a hypothesis, you should keep business value clearly in mind. If the hypothesis suggests a change that doesn’t add real value, then testing it is likely a waste of time and money. It creates an opportunity cost for other tests that do matter.

When selecting areas to test, you should start by looking at the areas which matter most to the business, and the majority of users. For example, an e-commerce site would likely focus on product search, product descriptions, and the shopping cart. The About Page – not so much.

Order areas to test in terms of importance and go for the low hanging fruit first. If you can demonstrate significant gains early on, then it will boost your confidence and validate your approach. As experimental testing becomes part of your process, you can move on more granular testing. Ideally, you want to end up with a culture whereby most site changes have some sort of test associated with them, even if it’s just to compare performance against the previous version.

Look through your stats to find pages or paths with high abandonment rates or high bounce rates. If these pages are important in terms of business value, then prioritize these for testing. It’s important to order these pages in terms of business value, because high abandonment rates or bounce rates on pages that don’t deliver value isn’t a significant issue. It’s probably more a case of “should these pages exist at all”?

3. Run An A/B or Multivariate Test

Two of the most common testing methodologies in direct response marketing are A/B testing and multivariate testing.

A/B Testing, otherwise known as split testing, is when you compare one version of a page against another. You collect data how each page performs, relative to the other.

Version A is typically the current, or favored version of a page, whilst page B differs slightly, and is used as a test against page A. Any aspect of the page can be tested, from headline, to copy, to images, to color, all with the aim of improving a desired outcome. The data regarding performance of each page is tested, the winner is adopted, and the loser rejected.

Multivariate testing is more complicated. Multivariate testing is when more than one element is tested at any one time. It’s like performing multiple A/B tests on the same page, at the same time. Multivariate testing can test the effectiveness of many different combinations of elements.

Which method should you use?

In most cases, in my experience, A/B testing is sufficient, but it depends. In the interest of time, value and sanity, it’s more important and productive to select the right things to test i.e. the changes that lead to the most business value.

As your test culture develops, you can go more and more granular. The slightly different shade of blue might be important to Google, but it’s probably not that important to sites with less traffic. But, keep in mind, assumptions should be tested 😉 Your mileage may vary.

There are various tools available to help you run these test. I have no association with any of these, but here’s a few to check out:

4. Ensure Statistical Significance

Tests need to show statistical significance. What does statistically significant mean?

For those who are comfortable with statistics:

Statistical significance is used to refer to two separate notions: the p-value, the probability that observations as extreme as the data would occur by chance in a given single null hypothesis; or the Type I error rate α (false positive rate) of a statistical hypothesis test, the probability of incorrectly rejecting a given null hypothesis in favor of a second alternative hypothesis

For those of you, like me, who prefer a more straightforward explanation. Here’s also a good explanation in relation to PPC, and a video explaining statistical significance in reference in A/B test.

In short, you need enough visitors taking an action to decide it is not likely to have occurred randomly, but is most likely attributable to a specific cause i.e. the change you made.

5. Run With The Winners

Run with the winners, cut the losers, rinse and repeat. Keep in mind that you may need to retest at different times, as the audience can change, or their motivations change, depending on underlying changes in your industry. Testing, like great SEO, is best seen as an ongoing process.

Make the most of every visitor who arrives on your site, because they’re only ever going to get more expensive.

Here’s an interesting seminar where the results of hundreds of experiments were reduced down to three fundamental lessons:

  • a) How can I increase specify? Use quantifiable, specific information as it relates to the value proposition
  • b) How can I increase continuity? Always carry across the key message using repetition
  • c) How can I increase relevance? Use metrics to ask “why”

Tests Fail

Often, tests will fail.

Changing content can sometimes make little, if any, difference. Other times, the difference will be significant. But even when tests fail to show a difference, it still gives you information you can use. These might be areas in which designers, and other vested interests, can stretch their wings, and you know that it won’t necessarily affect business value in terms of conversion.

Sometimes, the test itself wasn’t designed well. It might not have been given enough time to run. It might not have been linked to a business case. Tests tend to get better as we gain more experience, but having a process in place is the important thing.

You might also find that your existing page works just great and doesn’t need changing. Again, it’s good to know. You can then try replicating this successes in areas where the site isn’t performing so well.

Enjoy Failing

Fail fast, early and fail often”.

Failure and mistakes are inevitable. Knowing this, we put mechanisms in place to spot failures and mistakes early, rather than later. Structured failure is a badge of honor!

Thomas Edison performed 9,000 experiments before coming up with a successful version of the light bulb. Students of entrepreneurship talk about the J-curve of returns: the failures come early and often and the successes take time. America has proved to be more entrepreneurial than Europe in large part because it has embraced a culture of “failing forward” as a common tech-industry phrase puts it: in Germany bankruptcy can end your business career whereas in Silicon Valley it is almost a badge of honour

Silicon Valley even comes up with euphemisms, like “pivot”, which weaves failure into the fabric of success.

Or perhaps it’s because some of the best ideas in tech today have come from those that weren’t so good. (Remember, Apple’s first tablet devices was called the Newton.)
There’s a word used to describe this get-over-it mentality that I heard over and over on my trip through Silicon Valley and San Francisco this week: “Pivot“

Experimentation, and measuring results, will highlight failure. This can be a hard thing to take, and especially hard to take when our beloved, pet theories turn out to be more myth than reality. In this respect, testing can seem harsh and unkind. But failure should be seen for what it is – one step in a process leading towards success. It’s about trying stuff out in the knowledge some of it isn’t going to work, and some of it will, but we can’t be expected to know which until we try it.

In The Lean Startup, Eric Ries talks about the benefits of using lean methodologies to take a product from not-so-good to great, using systematic testing”

If your first product sucks, at least not too many people will know about it. But that is the best time to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them to make the product better. “It is inevitable that the first product is going to be bad in some ways,” he says. The Lean Startup methodology is a way to systematically test a company’s product ideas.
Fail early and fail often. “Our goal is to learn as quickly as possible,” he says

Given testing can be incremental, we don’t have to fail big. Swapping one graphic position for another could barely be considered a failure, and that’s what a testing process is about. It’s incremental, and iterative, and one failure or success doesn’t matter much, so long as it’s all heading in the direction of achieving a business goal.

It’s about turning the dogs into winners, and making the winners even bigger winners.

Feel Vs Experimentation

Web publishing decisions are often based on intuition, historical precedence – “we’ve always done it this way” – or by copying the competition. Graphic designers know about colour psychology, typography and layout. There is plenty of room for conflict.

Douglas Bowden, a graphic designer at Google, left Google because he felt the company relied too much on data-driven decisions, and not enough on the opinions of designers:

Yes, it’s true that a team at Google couldn’t decide between two blues, so they’retesting 41 shades between each blue to see which one performs better. I had a recent debate over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide, and was asked to prove my case. I can’t operate in an environment like that. I’ve grown tired of debating such minuscule design decisions. There are more exciting design problems in this world to tackle.

That probably doesn’t come as a surprise to any Google watchers. Google is driven by engineers. In Google’s defense, they have such a massive user base that minor changes can have significant impact, so their approach is understandable.

Integrate Design

Putting emotion, and habit, aside is not easy.

However, experimentation doesn’t need to exclude visual designers. Visual design is valuable. It helps visitors identify and remember brands. It can convey professionalism and status. It helps people make positive associations.

But being relevant is also design.

Adopting an experimentation methodology means designers can work on a number of different designs and get to see how the public really does react to their work. Design X converted better than design Y, layout Q works best for form design, buttons A, B and C work better than buttons J, K and L, and so on. It’s a further opportunity to validate creative ideas.

Cultural Shift

Part of getting experimentation right has to do with an organizations culture. Obviously, it’s much easier if everyone is working towards a common goal i.e. “all work, and all decisions made, should serve a business goal, as opposed to serving personal ego”.

All aspects of web publishing can be tested, although asking the right questions about what,to test is important. Some aspects may not make a measurable difference in terms of conversion. A logo, for example. A visual designer could focus on that page element, whilst the conversion process might rely heavily on the layout of the form. Both the conversion expert and the design expert get to win, yet not stamp on each others toes.

One of the great aspects of data-driven decision making is that common, long-held assumptions get challenged, often with surprising results. How long does it take to film a fight scene? The movie industry says 30 days.

Mark Walberg challenged that assumption and did it in three:

Experts go with what they know. And they’ll often insist something needs to take a long time. But when you don’t have tons of resources, you need to ask if there’s a simpler, judo way to get the impact you desire. Sometimes there’s a better way than the “best” way. I thought of this while watching “The Fighter” over the weekend. There’s a making of extra on the DVD where Mark Wahlberg, who starred in and produced the film, talks about how all the fight scenes were filmed with an actual HBO fight crew. He mentions that going this route allowed them to shoot these scenes in a fraction of the time it usually takes

How many aspects of your site are based on assumption? Could those assumptions be masking opportunities or failure?

Winning Experiments

Some experiments, if poorly designed, don’t lead to more business success. If an experiment isn’t focused on improving a business case, then it’s probably just wasted time. That time could have been better spent devising and running better experiments.

In Agile software design methodologies, the question is always asked “how does this change/feature provide value to the customer”. The underlying motive is “how does this change/feature provide value to the business”. This is a good way to prioritize test cases. Those that potentially provide the most value, such as landing page optimization on PPC campaigns, are likely to have a higher priority than, say, features available to forum users.

Further Reading

I hope this article has given you some food for thought and that you’ll consider adopting some experiment-based processes to your mix. Here’s some of the sources used in this article, and further reading:

Categories: 

SEO Book

How to Build a Content Marketing Strategy

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Posted by Stephanie Chang

Link building has fundamentally changed. Many types of link building activities that have previously been effective are now either short-term strategies or no longer considered best SEO practice. As a result, companies and clients alike are seeking to understand how certain forms of link building can be translated into longer-term content marketing campaigns. The purpose of this post is to help you develop a framework on how to start building a content marketing strategy for your or your client's site.

Why should you care about content marketing?

According to a Content Marketing Institute (CMI) 2013 Survey, 86% of B2C (business to consumer) companies are planning to keep or increase their current content marketing spending this year. 54% of B2B (business to business) companies are planning to increase their content marketing spending in 2013. Knowing that the demand for content marketing is increasing, it's worth investing resources to start researching and learning more about the opportunities content marketing can bring to a site. 

B2C Content Marketing Spending in 2013

B2B Content Marketing Spending in 2013

The growth of content marketing is also a concept that Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures agrees with. Content marketing continues to see growth because it is the future of online marketing. He likes to think of content marketing as "moving the message from a banner to your brand and changing the engagement from a view to a conversation."

Furthermore, Google's algorithm is continuously changing, meaning this pretty much guarantees that the quick win strategies that may have worked in the past will no longer work in the future. For instance, Google has announced that in the future, they will no longer be announcing/confirming Panda updates because it will be integrated into the search engine's existing algorithm (i.e. Panda is here to stay indefinitely). We've also seen recently the dangers of garnering links from paid advertorials (even on respected, high domain authority websites), a tactic considered as "buying links" in Google's perspective.

Now is definitely the time to develop a new type of strategy to garner links and traffic. 

Inspirational examples of phenomenal content

Below are some examples of companies that have created phenomenal pieces of content. Hopefully this provides ample motivation to take your site/client's site to the level!

1. Kickstarter: Best of 2012: An inspirational take on 2012.

Kickstarter

2. BuzzFeed lists: Heartwarming content that is easily shareable.

BuzzFeed List

3. Indeed Job Trends: Data-driven content that is direct and to the point.

Indeed Job Trends

4. Shopify's Pinterest infographic and their new E-commerce University: Content that is effectively targeted towards their demographic and developing their brand as the E-commerce authority on the web.

Shopify Infographic

Ecommerce University

5. Airbnb Neighborhood Guides: A visually stimulating take on neighborhood guides, which differentiates them from other competitor's guides.

Neighborhood Guides

6. HBOWatch's April Fool's Day joke: Content with a clear understanding of target audience as determined by the high engagement metrics. It gained 1129 comments!

HBOWatch

7. Epic Meal Time: Videos targeted towards a male demographic. Topic examples include fast food lasagna and whiskey syrup bacon pancakes.

Whisky Syrup Pancakes


The content marketing strategy framework

I've been fortunate enough to work closely with Distilled's Head of Outreach, Adria Saracino, who's been absolutely instrumental in defining the below content marketing strategy framework for a number of my clients (and has, subsequently, inspired my passion for content marketing). Adria has also written a great piece on how to get buy in from your company to invest in content marketing.

Adria Saracino

Below is the content strategy framework that Adria and I have implemented together for our clients. We've learned that this process isn't a quick win and that our most successful content marketing strategies have relied on dedicating at least 3 months to just research – market research, site audits, content audits, customer surveys, and customer interviews to name just a few. In addition, I'll also showcase a few specific examples of how we've built out each step of the content strategy process. 

Step 1: Researching the company

The first step in developing a content strategy framework is understanding the company. The type of questions we ask our clients before we even commence the strategy is to identify the following:

  • The company's business model
    • How does the company bring in revenue?
    • What products bring in the most revenue? Why do these products bring in the most revenue (high profit margin, high demand, branding considerations)?
    • How is the sales team structured? What metrics are they measured on? 
  • The existing customer base
    • Who are the company's existing customers?
    • How does the company currently attract customers? 
    • If the company's marketing team has already done a market research survey, ask to see the results.
  • Marketing considerations
    • Understanding the existing content process
      • What are the editorial guidelines (if there are any)? What is the internal process to get content approved?
      • Who decides what type of content to produce?
      • What types of content does the team currently produce?
      • What are the company's brand considerations?

Step 2: Data collection (and lots of it)

I believe in utilizing the data that we have available to make informed decisions. This applies specifically to content; the more we understand about the site and the customers, the more we are able to make informed and strategic decisions to the type(s) of content we want to produce. In order to do this, it's important to gather relevant data. This data can come from a variety of the following sources:

  • Competitor analysis
    • What types of content are your competitors putting together? 
    • How are users engaging with the content?
    • Comparing/contrasting SEO metrics (DA, PA, external links, etc.)
  • Keyword research
    • ​What keywords bring traffic to the traffic (excluding not provided)?
    • What are the landing pages for those keywords?
    • What type of metrics does the keyword research and landing page combination currently bring to the site?
  • Market research and customer surveys
    • The surveys may vary depending on whether the company is b2b or b2c.
    • Traditionally, some of the survey questions we've asked b2b clients include:
      • Demographic-related questions like occupation, industry, job title, age, and gender.
      • How long have you been a customer?
      • How likely are you to recommend our services, products, etc.
      • Specific product/service-related questions
    • The survey questions we've asked b2c clients are very similar, but often contain more demographic questions like: highest level of education obtained, marital status, number of kids, household salary range, and occupation.
      • We also include specific product questions, like:
        • How often do you purchase our product?
        • Why do you purchase the product?

*Important Note* Be sure to test out your survey using other individuals unrelated to the survey before releasing it. This ensures that there are no ambiguous questions or that any questions have been framed in a way that would lead to biased answers. 

SurveyMonkey has also produced a variety of survey templates to at least help you gain some understanding of the type of questions you might want to ask your target audience depending on your goals for the survey.  

Survey Examples

Having these sample surveys is an excellent content strategy technique that SurveyMonkey has employed. 

Not only are the survey questions themselves important, but the email you send out in conjunction with the survey is a big indicator of your survey's success. Ideally, the more data you have accessible, the more likely the survey will become statistically significant. As a result, you want to make sure that the email template catches the audience's attention and also creates an incentive for them to fill out your survey. 

Below is an actual survey template that we've used for a client, which has generated 917 responses or approximately 50% of the client's email list.

Survey Template

  • Phone Interviews with Existing Customers
    • As you can see from the survey template above, individuals voluntarily opt for phone interviews because there is a guaranteed prize incentive. 
    • Questions asked in the phone interview are much more detailed (allowing us to eventually use this information for target audience persona development). Fundamentally, the type of questions you ask in the interview must help you:
      • Identify the person's day-to-day responsibilities, likes/dislikes, frustrations/pressures, needs, concerns, and function they play in the purchasing process.
        • Function they play in the purchasing process is based on the following roles:
          • Initiator: identifies the need to purchase the product
          • Influencer: evokes influence on the individuals who can make the decision to purchase the product
          • Decision-maker: decides whether or not to purchase the product
          • Buyer: selects who to buy from and the agreements that come alongside that
          • User: utilizes the product
          • Gatekeeper: has access or supplies information to both the decision maker and/or the influencer

Persona Development

Step 3: Preparation and assessment

Now that new data has been collected from various channels, it's important to assess/analyze the data that has just been collected and see how it correlates with the data that you already have on-hand. During this stage, it's also critical to take a step back and make sure that the goals for the content have been clearly defined. 

  • Create a benchmark audit using analytics
    • This provides an opportunity to compare/contrast results before and after the creation of the content 
    • Important analytics to include are:
      • Traffic
      • Pageviews
      • Pages per visit
      • Average time on site
      • Entrances/exits
      • Conversion rate
      • Bounce rate
      • Linking root domains
      • Page authority
      • Rankings
  • Putting together a content audit
    • ​The purpose of the content audit is evaluate how previous content on the site has performed, as well as organize the existing content on the site to determine additional opportunities. 
    • For one of my clients, Adria and I analyzed the top 500 landing pages on the client's site and took a look at the content from three distinct lenses:
      • Analytics metrics: engagement (bounce rate, time on site) and number of visits (to identify potential keyword opportunities)
      • SEO metrics: linking root domains, page authority, etc.
      • Content perspective: is this useful for a user? What type of user would it attract?
        • We individually analyze each content page and determine where it sits on the content funnel.
          • Awareness: Content created for this part of the funnel is designed to target an audience that hasn't even begun to consider the company's product/services.
          • Trigger: Content created for this part of the funnel is when a user has become aware of the product/service and has started thinking about the possibility of needing it.
          • Search: User has decided to research the product/service in-more depth.
          • Consideration: User has decided to convert, but hasn't decided which brand to choose.
          • Buy: User decides to convert to the company's product/service.
          • Stay: Content targeted towards retaining clients, ensuring they remain a loyal customer/brand advocate.

Content Funnel

The purpose of labeling what stage of the funnel each piece of content is associated with is to ultimately assess the distribution of content on a site and determine if there are any gaps. For instance, this particular site had 180 unique content pages and the distribution of the site's content looked like this:

Content Distribution

In this specific case, it is apparent that a majority of the site's content sits at the bottom of the funnel. As a result, we recommended to the client that they create more content that targets higher up the funnel. However, it is also important to bear in mind that a site is not necessarily looking for an even distribution of content at each stage of the funnel. The amount needed is determined by various factors, like keyword research and an iterative approach in which content is built that targets a specific stage of the funnel. Afterwards, these pieces of content are analyzed to determine if they proved value based on the site's pre-determined content goals and KPIs. This closely ties into our next point, which is:

  • Clarify the goals for this content strategy. Goals should be general like:
    • Increase in conversions
    • Increase in organic traffic to the site
    • Increase in audience engagement
    • increase in brand awareness
  • However, goals/metrics should also be specifically correlated to where that content sits in the content funnel:
    • ​This great article by Jay Baer explains it in more depth:
      • Consumption metrics: How many views/downloads did your content receive? 
      • Sharing metrics: How often does your content get shared? (Tweets, Likes…etc)
      • Lead generation metrics: How often do the consumers turn into leads?
      • Sales metrics: How often do the consumers turn into sales? 
    • Ideally, the consumption metrics would be correlated to content higher up in the funnel and the sales metrics correlated to content located further down the funnel. See diagram below:

Metrics and Content Funnel

  • Develop persona buckets
    • In order to achieve this, combine all the data that was derived from the content audit, customer surveys, and customer interviews. Once you've done so, segment individuals into different categories, like this: 

Persona Buckets

Image Courtesy of Kissmetrics

  • Solidify the editorial process for the company
    • Who needs to be included in the content development and implementation phase? When do they need to be included? 
    • Have a clear understanding of the dependencies (i.e. how long does it typically take to get sign off from relevant departments?)
    • Determine the site's style guide/tone of voice/engagement standards
  • Define the content strategy
    • What types of content will be produced on the site? 
    • Where does this content sit in the funnel?
    • Where would they sit on the site? In a separate category on an existing category?
    • What keywords would the content target?

Going through this detailed, research-intensive process allows a company to clearly see the opportunities at hand from a high-level perspective. When we go through this process, we identify ways to improve not only the company's organizational structure and create standardizations on how content and pages are released onto the site (static URLs, keyword targeting, content tone of voice/length). It's also through this process that we've been able to engage/integrate multiple departments and define ways to work together seamlessly.

Furthermore, we also gain a concrete understanding of the big opportunities for the site. It's impossible to go through this much research and not be able to discern multiple opportunities related to CRO, information architecture, keyword targeting, and analytics, to name a few. 

Step 4: Prospecting

This phase of the process is identifying individuals/sites who would be interested in the type of content the company will produce and engaging them at multiple points with the goal to develop relationships with key influencers.

  • Identify and reach out to influencers
  • Keep on top of industry news
  • Keep on top of the content that competitors are creating

Step 5: Create and promote the content

In this step, the "go" is to now create the pieces of content and follow both the internal protocols and sign off processes that were established in step three of the process. Ensure that editorial standards are being followed and assess that the content being created is actually phenomenal. 

  • Create the content and consistently reassess to make sure it is meeting the following checklist:
    • Is the content credible?
    • Is the content informative?
    • Is the content easy to understand? 
    • Is the content useful?
    • Is the content exceptional?
  • Promote and outreach the content to key influencers

Step 6: Assess content performance

After the content has been released and promoted, it's time to assess how the content has performed and any other learnings that can be taken away from the process, including:

  • How has the piece performed?
  • What learnings were taken away from it? Any changes that need to be made to the process? 
  • What data have we received from the piece of content?

The long-term vision is that the content is able to fulfill the original goals of the content marketing strategy. Overtime, each piece of content produced should systematically become easier and easier, as learnings are developed and iterated each time. Although, the process appears very resource-intensive in the beginning, overtime, the goal is that producing effective and meaningful content becomes a crucial entity for the company.


In conclusion, the most valuable benefits of having a content strategy for your site is that, from a business standpoint, your site is no longer creating content for "content's sake" or to build "link bait." Moving forward, the site now has a framework of creating content that serves multiple purposes: to engage with current and future customers; to establish brand awareness and authority within the industry; and to consequently garner more traffic, conversions, and links to your site.

Furthermore, by integrating multiple individuals into the development of a site's content strategy, it automatically provides the groundwork of integrating SEO seamlessly into the other online marketing activities of the site, such as CRO, social media, and PR. 

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How I Wish Amazon Reviews Worked

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Posted by Dr. Pete

This is not a post about SEO. It is, however, a post about the future of search. This surprised even me – when I started writing this piece, it really was just an idea about building a better review. I realized, though, that finding relevant reviews is a useful microcosm of the broader challenge search engines face. Specifically, I want to talk about three S’s – Social, Sentiment, and Semantics, and how each of these pieces fit the search puzzle. Along the way, I might just try to build a better mousetrap.

The Core Problem

Product reviews are great, but on a site as big and popular as Amazon.com, filtering reviews isn’t much easier than filtering Google search results. Here’s the review section for the Kindle Fire:

Kindle Fire on Amazon - 10,859 reviews

That’s right – 10,859 reviews to sort through. Even if I just decide to look at the 5 stars and 1 stars, that’s still 7,208 reviews. If I could click and skim each one of those 7,208 in about 5 seconds, I’ve got roughly 10 hours of enjoyment ahead of me (if I don’t eat or take bathroom breaks). So, how can we make this system better?

(1) The Social Graph

These days our first answer is usually: “SOCIAL!” Social is sexy, and it will solve all our problems with its sexy sexiness. The problem is that we tend to oversimplify. Here’s how we think about Search + Social, in our perfect world:

Search/Social Intersection = Sexy

Unfortunately, it’s not quite so magical. There are two big problems, whether we’re talking about product reviews or organic search results. The first problem is a delicate one. Some of the people that you associate with are – how shall I put it – stupid.

Ok, maybe stupid is a bit harsh, but just because you’re connected to someone doesn’t mean you have a lot in common or share the same tastes. So, we really want to weed out some of the intersection, like Crazy Cousin Larry…

Search/Social Intersection minus Crazy Cousin Larry

It’s surprisingly hard to figure out who we actually sit at the Crazy-Larry table. Computationally, this is a huge challenge. There’s a bigger problem, though. In most cases, especially once we start weeding people out, the picture actually looks more like this:

Real Search/Social Intersection - Very Small

Even with relatively large social circles, the actual overlap of your network and any given search result or product is often so small as to be useless. We can extend our circles to 2nd- and 3rd-degree relationships, but then relevance quickly suffers.

To be fair to Amazon, they’ve found one solution – they elicit user feedback of the reviews themselves as a proxy social signal:

20,396 people thie review helpful

This approach certainly helps, but it mostly weeds out the lowest-quality offerings. Reviews of reviews help control quality, but they don't do much to help us find the most relevant information.

(2) Sentiment Analysis

Reviews are a simple form of sentiment analysis – they help us determine if people view a product positively or negatively. More advanced sentiment analysis uses natural-language processing (NLP) to try to extract the emotional tone of the text.

You may be wondering why we need more advanced sentiment analysis when someone has already told us how they feel on a 1-5 scale. Welcome to what I call “The Cupholder Problem”, something I’ve experienced frequently as a parent trying to buy high-end products on Amazon. Consider this fictional review which is all-too-based in reality:

The Cupholder Problem (fake review)

I’m exaggerating, of course, but the core problem is that reviews are entirely subjective, and sometimes just one feature or problem can ruin a product for someone. Once that text is reduced to a single data point (one star), though, the rest of the information in the content is lost.

Sentiment analysis probably wouldn’t have a dramatic impact on Amazon reviews, but it’s a hot topic in search in general because it can help extract emotional data that’s sometimes lost in a summary (whether it’s a snippet or a star rating). It might be nice to see Amazon institute some kind of sentiment correction process, warning people if the tone of their review doesn’t seem to match the star rating.

(3) Semantic Search

This is where things get interesting (and I promise I’ll get back to sentiment so that the previous section has a point). The phrase “semantic search” has been abused, unfortunately, but the core idea is to get at the meaning and conceptual frameworks behind information. Google Knowledge Graph is probably the most visible, recent attempt to build a system that extracts concepts and even answers, instead of just a list of relevant documents.

How does this help our review problem? Let’s look at the “Thirsty” example again. It’s not a dishonest review or even useless – the problem is that I fundamentally don’t care about cupholders. There are certain features that matter a lot to me (safety, weight, durability), others that I’m only marginally sensitive to (price, color), and some that I don’t care about at all (beverage dispensing capability).

So, what if we could use a relatively simple form of semantic analysis to extract the salient features from reviews for any given product? We might end up with something like this:

Sample Review w/ Feature Extraction

Pardon the uninspired UI, but even the addition of a few relevant features could help customers drill down to what really matters to them, and this could be done with relatively simple semantic analysis. This basic idea also illustrates some of the direction I think search is heading.  Semantic search isn’t just about retrieving concepts; it’s also about understanding the context of our questions.

Here’s an interesting example from Google Australia (Google.com.au). Search for “Broncos colors” and you’ll get this answer widget (hat tip to Brian Whalley for spotting these):

Denver Broncos Colors (Google.com.au)

It’s hardly a thing of beauty, but it gets the job done and probably answers the query for 80-90% of searches. This alone is an example of search returning concepts and not just documents, but it gets even more interesting. Now search for “Broncos colours”, using the British spelling (still in Google.com.au). You should get this answer:

Brisbane Broncos Colors

The combination of Google.com.au and the Queen’s English now has Google assuming that you meant Australia’s own Brisbane Broncos. This is just one tiny taste of the beginning of search using concepts to both deliver answers and better understand the questions.

(4) Semantics + Sentiment

Let’s bring this back around to my original idea. What if we could combine semantic analysis (feature extraction) and sentiment in Amazon reviews? We could easily envision a system like this:

Reviews with Feature Extraction + Sentiment

I’ve made one small addition – a positive or negative (+/-) sentiment choice next to each feature. Maybe I only want to see products where people spoke highly of the value, or rule out the ones where they bashed the safety. Even a few simple combinations could completely change the way you digest this information.

The Tip of the Penguin

This isn’t the tip of the iceberg – it’s the flea on the wart on the end of the penguin’s nose on the tip of the iceberg. We still think of Knowledge Graph and other semantic search efforts as little more than toys, but they’re building a framework that will revolutionize the way we extract information from the internet over the next five years. I hope this thought exercise has given you a glimpse into how powerful even a few sources of information can be, and why they’re more powerful together than alone. Social doesn’t hold all of the answers, but it is one more essential piece of a richer puzzle.

I’d also like to thank you for humoring my Amazon reviews insanity. To be fair to Amazon, they’ve invested a lot into building better systems, and I’m sure they have fascinating ideas in the pipe. If they’d like to use any of these ideas, I’m happy to sell them for the very reasonable price of ONE MILL-I-ON DOLLARS.

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When Links Go Bad

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When is a link not okay? When will you get a penalty for linking to someone else? When will you get a penalty if someone links to you?

This area grows ever more complicated.

The old-hands will know this, but those newer to SEO are justified if feeling confused.

Interflora UK

The Interflora UK site was recently dropped from top position in Google, although it looks like they’ve now returned. As we’ve seen in the past, major brands typically return quickly, because if visitors don’t see a brand they expect to see, then Google looks deficient.

According to this excellent analysis by Anthony Shapley, the Interflora site was likely dropped due to an abundance of links coming from regional newspaper sites. These sites contained “Advertorial” content that looked something like this:

Whilst similar pages don’t appear to have inbound links to Interflora UK now, it’s clear from Anthony’s analysis that they did previously. In turn, sites featuring the Advertorials appear to have suffered a decrease in PageRank. If they were selling space for the purposes of flowing PageRank then that value has likely diminished.

According to SearchEngineLand:

Google has downgraded the Toolbar PageRank scores for several dozen UK operated newspapers and news sites today. It is believed the reason Google has downgraded their PageRank scores is because they were selling links on a massive scale

But What’s This?

So, are Advertorial backlinks “evil”?

It would appear so.

Then again, maybe not, if you happen to be Google. Aaron spotted an advertorial placement – sorry, “Information Feature” – last week. Google appear to be placing content too, complete with backlinks that aren’t no-followed.

When they do it, it’s okay? Or is this simply an “unfortunate oversight” on the part of one rogue tentacle of the sprawling Google octopus? Given Google’s previous stance on such issues, it’s probably the latter. But how many webmasters, especially webmasters of minor web properties, can claim “an unfortunate oversight” in their defense? And if they do, would they receive a fair hearing?

Still, Google, as an organization have done a good job of building their brand, and like most major brands, I’m sure we’ll continue to see them at the top of search result pages. It helps, of course, that if there are any real problems in terms of penalties delivered by an algorithm, or a quality rater who has temporarily forgotten who pays her wages, someone in the search quality team can talk to someone else in the search quality team and clear up any misunderstanding.

And why not? There’s got to be some advantage in being big – and owning the show – right?

What About Guest Columns?

What’s an advertorial?

If someone guest posts on a site, and links back to their site, is that an advertorial? A lot of media websites are run that way. How would an algorithm tell the difference?

But doing so is a standard marketing 101 practice from a time before search engines existed. It’s not a crime to link to another site. It’s not a crime to place self-promotional content on another site that leads back to your own. The visitor traveling across the link is the payoff.

But SEOs know about another layer of pay-off, regardless of visitor traffic.

Google may argue that it’s safest to put a “no-follow” attribute on the link, which indicates intent i.e. “I’m not doing this because of what I read in The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine, honest guv!”, but that seems to be an arbitrary way of doing things given people in the SEO community know what a no-follow is, but most webmasters and publishers don’t. Most links won’t be no-followed, regardless of intent.

If Google don’t think the content, and link, is of sufficient quality, then why not just degrade it? Why does the publisher need to jump through arbitrary hoops that won’t apply to everyone, equally? Does the fact a page is labelled an “Advertorial” mean it receives special attention? If so, then won’t we simply see more “integrated” editorial “solutions” in future?

The line is rather blurry.

Best Practice

In the case of Interflora UK, it seems the link problem was largely due to scale. Rule #1 is don’t embarrass Google, and a lot of links coming in from near-identical, low-quality content is a sure-fire way to do so.

It was almost certainly a hand edit, as this practice has been going on for some time, so given the sites are crawled, and in the index, and rank well, as they have been doing for a while, then we can probably assume the algorithms had no issue with them, at least up until recently.

Perhaps a competitor raised the alarm?

Difficult to know for sure.

It’s a good marketing opportunity for Google in that they get to put many webmasters and SEOs on notice again. “Content placement” is not within the guidelines, and if you do it, they may hit you if we see you.

So many webmasters start to fret about where, exactly, the line is drawn.

Google issued a reminder the same day:

Google has said for years that selling links that pass PageRank violates our quality guidelines. We continue to reiterate that guidance periodically to help remind site owners and webmasters of that policy. Please be wary if someone approaches you and wants to pay you for links or “advertorial” pages on your site that pass PageRank. Selling links (or entire advertorial pages with embedded links) that pass PageRank violates our quality guidelines, and Google does take action on such violations.

Pretty clear. If you want to stay well within Google’s guidelines on this issue, don’t run Advertorial pages with links to the site that paid for them, and don’t be the target of same. As we speak, there will likely be hundreds of webmasters pulling down Advertorial-style campaigns. At very least, I’m sure SEOs will be disinclined to label them as such in future.

It raises an interesting issue, though. What’s to stop a competitor doing this? Running an Advertorial campaign on your behalf, reporting you, and taking you out. And if you’re a minor player, will you get a fair trial?

Dastardly competitors aside, the best way to avoid this type of penalty is to ask yourself “What Would Matt Cutts Do”? Matt’s blog is the model for safe linking.

A link needs to be tightly integrated with editorial. A rule of thumb is that the editorial should be closer to balanced journalism and personal opinion and further away from PR – as in press release. The interesting thing about this case is that a lot of press releases will likely fit an Advertorial definition. This is not to say you’ll receive a ban if you’re linked to from a press release, or if you carry a press release you’ll be degraded, but you probably need to be a little wary of badly “written” press releases displayed in a…cough….“systematic” way.

The other rule of thumb is “would this pass human inspection and will that human see the content as editorial”? If so, even if you don’t have a no-follow link, it should be fine. If it’s not, then most of the web isn’t okay, including many of Google’s own properties.

Those who don’t care about Google’s guidelines probably got a good case study in how well Advertorial-with-link placement can work, at least up until such time as the campaign pitches-up above-radar.

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SEO Book

Creating Effective Advertising

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The Atlantic published an interesting chart comparing print advertising spend with internet advertising spend:

So, print advertising is tanking. Internet advertising, whilst growing, is not growing particularly fast, and certainly isn’t catching up to fill the titanic sized gap left by print.

As a result, a number of publishers who rely on advertising for the lion’s share of their revenue are either struggling, going belly up, or changing their models.

The Need For More Effective Advertising

We recently looked at paywalls. More and more publishers are going the paywall route, the latest major publisher being The Washington Post.

Given the ongoing devaluation of content by aggregators and their advertising networks, few can blame them. However, paywalls aren’t the only solution. Part of the problem with internet advertising is that as soon as people get used to seeing it they tend to block it out, so it becomes less effective.

We looked at the problems with display advertising. Federated Media abandoned the format and will adopt a more “social” media strategy.

We also looked at the rise of Native Advertising, which is advertising that tightly integrates with content to the point where it’s difficult to tell the two apart. This opens up a new angle for SEOs looking to place links.

The reason the advertising gap isn’t closing is due to a number of factors. It’s partly historical, but it’s also to do with effectiveness, especially when it comes to display advertising. If advertisers aren’t seeing a return, then they won’t advertise.

Inventory is expanding a lot faster than the ability or desire of advertisements to fill it, which is not a good situation for publishers. So, internet publishers are experimenting with ideas on how to be more effective. If native advertising and social are deemed more effective, then that is the way publishers will go.

People just don’t like being advertised at.

The ClueTrain Manifesto

The Cluetrain Manifesto predicted much of what we see happening today. Written in 2000 by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger, the Cluetrain Manifesto riffed on the idea that markets are conversations, and consumers aren’t just passive observers:

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies

That seems obvious now, but it was a pretty radical idea back then. The book was written before blogs became popular. It was way before anyone had heard of a social network, or before anyone had done any tweeting.

Consumers were no longer passive, they were just as likely to engage and create, and they would certainly talk back, and ultimately shape the message if they didn’t like it. The traditional top-down advertising industry, and publishing industry, has been turned on its head. The consumers are publishers, and they’re not sitting around being broadcast at.

The advertising industry has been struggling to find answers, not entirely successfully, ever since.

Move Away From Display And Towards Engagement

In order for marketing to be effective on the web, it needs to be engaging to an audience that ignores the broadcast message. This is the reason advertising is starting to look more like content. It ‘s trying to engage people using the forms they already use in their personal communication.

For example, this example mimics a blog post encouraging people to share. It pretty much is a blog post, but it’s also an advertisement. It meets the customer on their terms, in their space and on their level. For better or worse, the lines are growing increasingly blurred.

Facebook’s Managing Editor, Dan Fletcher, has just stood down, reasoning:

The company “doesn’t need reporters,” Fletcher said, because it has a billion members who can provide content.You guys are the reporters,” Fletcher told the audience. “There is no more engaging content Facebook could produce than you talking to your family and friends.

People aren’t reporters in the journalistic sense, but his statement suggests where the revenue for advertising lies, which is in between people’s conversations. As a side note, you may notice that article is “brought to you by our sponsor”. Most of the links go through bit.ly, however they could just as easily be straight links.

The implication is that a lot of people aren’t even listening to reporters anymore, they want to know about the world as filtered through the eyes of their friends and families. The latter has happened since time began, but only recently has advertising leaped directly into that conversation. Whether that is a good thing or not, or welcomed, is another matter, but it it is happening.

Two Types Of Advertisements

Advertising takes two main forms. Institutional, or “brand” advertising, and direct response advertising. SEOs are mainly concerned with direct response advertising.

Direct-Response Marketing is a type of marketing designed to generate an immediate response from consumers, where each consumer response (and purchase) can be measured, and attributed to individual advertisements.[1] This form of marketing is differentiated from other marketing approaches, primarily because there are no intermediaries such as retailers between the buyer and seller, and therefore the buyer must contact the seller directly to purchase products or services.

However, brand advertising is the form around which much of the advertising industry is based:

Brand ads, also known as “space ads,” strive to build (or refresh) the prospect’s awareness and favorable view of the company or its product or service. For example, most billboards are brand ads.

Online, the former works well, but only if the product or service suits direct advertising. Generally speaking, a lot of new-to-market products and services, and luxury goods, don’t suit direct advertising particularly well, unless they’re being marketed on complementary attributes, such as price or convenience.

The companies that produce goods and services that don’t suit direct marketing aren’t spending as much online.

But curious changes are afoot.

What’s Happening At Facebook?

Those who advertise on Facebook will have noticed the click-thru rate. Generally, it’s pretty low, suggesting direct response isn’t working well in that environment.

Click-through rates on Facebook ads only averaged 0.05% in 2010, down from 0.06% in 2009 and well short of what’s considered to be the industry average of 0.10%. That’s according to a Webtrends report that examined 11,000 Facebook ads, first reported upon by ClickZ.

It’s not really surprising, give Facebook’s user base are Cluetrain passengers, even if most have never heard of it:

Facebook, a hugely popular free service that’s supported solely through advertising, yet is packed with users who are actively hostile to the idea of being marketed to on their cherished social network……this is what I hear from readers every time I write about the online ad economy, especially ads on Facebook: “I don’t know how Facebook will ever make any money—I never click on Web ads!

But a new study indicates click-thru rates on Facebook might not matter much. The display value of the advertising has been linked back to product purchases, and the results are an eye-opener:

Whether you know it or not—even if you consider yourself skeptical of marketing—the ads you see on Facebook are working. Sponsored messages in your feed are changing your behavior—they’re getting you and your friends to buy certain products instead of others, and that’s happening despite the fact that you’re not clicking, and even if you think you’re ignoring the ads……his isn’t conjecture. It’s science. It’s based on a remarkable set of in-depth studies that Facebook has conducted to show whether and how its users respond to ads on the site. The studies demonstrate that Facebook ads influence purchases and that clicks don’t matter

Granted, such a study is self-serving, but if it’s true, and translates to many advertisers, then that’s interesting. Display, engagement, institutional and direct marketing all seem to be melding together into “content”. SEOs who want to get their links in the middle of content will be in there, too.

You may notice the Cluetrain-style language in the following Forbes post:

Some innovative companies, like Vine and smartsy, are catching on to this wave by creating apps and software that allows a dialogue between a brand and its audience when and where the consumer wants. Such technology opens a realm of nearly endless possibilities of content creation while increasing conversion rates dramatically. Audience participation isn’t just allowed; it’s encouraged. Hell, it’s necessary. By not only providing consumers with information in the moment of their interest, but also engaging them in conversation and empowering them to create their own content, we can drastically increase the relevancy of messaging and its authenticity.

Technology Has Finally Caught Up With The Cluetrain

Before the internet, it wasn’t really possible to engage consumers in conversations, except in very limited ways. Technology wasn’t up to the task.

But now it is.

The conversation was heralded in the Cluetrain Manifesto over a decade ago. People don’t want to just be passive consumers of marketing messages – they want engagement. The new advertising trends are all about increasing that level of engagement, and advertisers are doing it, in part, by blurring the lines between advertising and content.

Categories: 

SEO Book

Happy April Fool’s Day from Google

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Happy April Fool’s Day from Google was originally published on BruceClay.com, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

It’s April Fool’s Day and that means that the Google team has been very busy planning pranks. For more than a decade, Google has been making millions laugh with fictitious products, fake announcements and make-believe services, bringing laughs to the Web every April 1st.

Among today’s gags, Google debuted Google Nose, which enables Google user to search … for smells! Google proclaims that their flagship smell search boasts a “mobile aroma indexing program has been able to amass a 15 million scentibyte database from around the world.”

Screen Shot 2013-03-31 at 12.59.10 AM

Shiver me timbers! Google Maps introduces Treasure Mode, ye mateys.

Google Maps now features Treasure Mode. After discovering a 315-year-old pirate treasure map, Google has digitized the map so searchers can “work together to decipher the clues to Captain Kidd’s buried secrets.”

Instead of searching for hot searches on Google Trends, you can search for cold searches, like ” Y2K,” “prom scrunchies” or “step-by-step Macarena.”

Then there’s Gmail Blue. This revelatory version of Gmail features—wait for it—buttons, text, lines and even the background all in blue. Engineers explain “the inspiration of Blue came from nature. Ocean, sky, blue whales. A blue that was reminiscent of nature, but better than what nature created.”

The Google team was “faced with the challenge: how do we completely redesign and recreate something while keeping it exactly the same? The answer is Gmail Blue …  It’s Gmail, only bluer.”

antoine

YouTube stars like Antoine Dodson are featured in today’s April 1st prank video announcing the end of YouTube.

And did you know today is YouTube’s last day accepting entries? YouTube (owned by trickster Google) has actually just been an eight-year contest searching after the best video ever. The competition ends tonight. YouTube released a video announcing its end, featuring some of YouTube’s greatest stars.  A staff of 30,000 technicians will review all the videos amassed over the better part of a decade. YouTube will return in 2023, when the winning video will be revealed … and will be the sole video on YouTube.

Need a little laughter in your day-to-day communications? That’s why Google came up with Google Levity. The levity algorithm optimizes content and visuals to be more appealing and fun, utilizing a repository of 50 years of comedic material from Chicago’s renowned improv group, The Second City. Drafting an email entitled “HR Memo?” Google Levity changes the title to “The New Hotness.”

emoticon

Erik Murphy-Chutney’s Google+ photo, as optimized with emoticons for photos.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is an emoticon worth? And moreover, what is the value of a picture and an emoticon—combined? No need to wonder anymore, because Google+ has added emoticons to photos.

Need Google Fiber on the go? Google has a solution. Today, they have announced Google Fiber Poles. Google Fiber technology can now be found in utility poles. Pull up, plug in and download at Google Fiber speeds. Google Fiber isn’t just for the home anymore.

And in the Googler Spotlight, a new technology has been revealed: self-writing code. That’s right. Self-writing code.

A look back … 

Google began play April Fool’s jokes in 2000, and it’s a tradition they’ve kept up every year (except 2001 and 2003). Here is a history of Google‘s gags:

Kangaroo with head camera

Last year, one of Google’s fictitious rollouts was “Google Street Roo” which equipped kangaroos with cameras in an effort to document the Outback through the eyes of a kangaroo.

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2002

2000

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