Tag Archive | "Don’t"

Why It Can Pay to Get Links from Domains that Don’t Always Rank Highly – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Contrary to popular belief, the top ranking pages aren’t always the best targets for your link building efforts. There are good reasons to chase those links, sure, but there are also drawbacks — as well as some hidden alternatives you may not have considered trying. This Whiteboard Friday delves into the pros and cons of targeting high-ranking sites for links and why you should consider a link intersect strategy, targeting sites that rank for broader topics, and earning links from publications ranking beyond page one of the SERPs.

Why It Can Pay to Get Links from Domains that Don't Always Rank Highly

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re chatting about why it may not actually pay to get links expressly or exclusively from the websites and pages that are ranking highly for your keywords. There’s a bunch of reasons why behind this. There’s a corollary to it, which is high-ranking websites may not always be the best link targets.

Are these the *best* links you can get to rank for “target keyword(s)”?

So okay, let’s start with this question of when you’re trying to rank for a target keyword, let’s say you’re trying to rank for “stylish sofas.” You’ve decided you want to replace your couch, and you want something stylish. So you search for “stylish sofas.” The results that come up, we’re not talking about the paid results. That would be a mistake to try and get links from those. They’re pretty commercially focused. They probably don’t want to link to you, and I’m not sure it’s all that valuable, necessarily, at least from an SEO perspective. But are these links, the ones that rank in the organic results top five, are they necessarily the best links you could possibly get? There are some reasons for and some reasons against.

In favor:

Let’s talk about in favor of why these are good link targets. The first one is pretty simple and pretty obvious.

A. These pages get lots of real visitors interested in this topic who may click on/visit your site (if it’s linked-to here)

These pages get a lot of search volume, get a lot of search visits from this query. If you’re somewhere in this page, if my website is linked to here, that’s actually a really nice thing. Maybe someone will click on the top result and then they’ll find me and they’ll click on it and they’ll go to my page instead. That would be great. So if it’s linked to there, you could get direct traffic from those pages, so nice link to have.

B. Google has put some trust/indication of authority in these pages and sites

Google has put some sort of trust and a signal of authority for this keyword by ranking it here. It’s saying, “Hey, you know what? This top result and these top results are all highly relevant and authoritative for this particular query.”

So those are absolutely true things, but I think they bias SEOs and link builders to think in terms of, oh, if I want to rank well for this, these are the only things I should be looking at or the first things I should be looking at or the best places to get links from.

Against:

Here’s why that’s not necessarily the case, so some points against.

A. Ranking is not actually an explicit signal from Google that these are the best quality links

By putting a page here, in the top of the results, Google is saying, “We, Google, believe that this page will do a great job of solving the searcher’s query,” not, “We, Google, know that if you get a link from here, you have a very good chance to rank for this keyword.” That’s not explicitly or implicitly said. It’s not an implication. Google has never stated that publicly. I don’t think it’s necessarily the smartest thing to do in their ranking algorithm to have this recursive system that looks at who that already ranks is linking to someone else and replace them. That would be poor for Google’s own user experience for a bunch of reasons.

B. Google and searchers expect that these pages that rank here are going to solve the searcher’s query themselves (not force another click)

Not they’re going to link to something that’s going to solve the searcher’s query, at least certainly not necessarily, and definitely that they’re not going to force you to make another click. Google wants to rank pages here that solve the searcher’s problem directly. So saying, “Oh, well, I don’t think they do that and maybe they should link to me to solve this aspect of the problem,” this is a spurious connection.

C. Of course, earning links from these pages, incredibly difficult

These people, especially if they’re ranking for a commercial, non-branded query, like “stylish sofas,” they really, really don’t want to link to one of their competitors, to someone who’s trying to actively outrank them. That would be pretty challenging.

I recognize that many times when link builders go about this, they look at, okay, this page is ranking. Let me see if I can find another page from this domain from which I can get a link. That’s not terrible logic. That’s a totally reasonable way to go about link building. But whether it’s the best or the only one is what I’m going to challenge here. I don’t think it is necessarily the best or only way that you should go about doing your link building for all these reasons we’ve just talked about.

Alternatively, links like these may be more achievable and provide more ranking value:

Now, what are the alternatives? You might be asking yourself, “Well, Rand, show me where should I be doing this if not from here?” I’m going to present a few alternatives. There’s obviously an infinite number of link building tactics you could pursue, but I think some of the smarter ones would be to think about some alternatives like…

1. Sites and pages that link to multiple high-ranking targets

For example, if one and three and four are all linked to by SiteA.com, SiteA.com seems to carry, not necessarily for sure, it could be correlation and not causation, but it’s certainly worth looking at as to whether Site A is relevant and provides high-quality links and could conceptually link to you and whether that’s a good resource. I think that link intersect concept is a really good one to start with. In fact, I think, from a logic perspective, it makes more sense that sites and pages that tend to link to these top results probably provide more potential power to your ranking authority than just the pages that are already ranking.

2. Sites and pages that rank well for what I’d call broader keywords/broader topics related to the space you’re in

So if it’s “stylish sofas,” you might look at keywords like, well, who’s ranking for “interior design” or “interior design magazines” or “interior design events” or perhaps it’s “decoration ideas.” If I can find the people who are ranking for those sorts of things, that probably is going to say those are the types of places that will link out to other resources that have more specific targeting, like targeting “stylish sofas,” and probably provide a lot of value there.

3. Influential publications and resources in the topic space that may not be doing good keyword targeting or SEO

I like going and trying to find influential publications and resources, that are in the topic space, that might not actually be doing good keyword targeting or good SEO, which means it’s hard to use Google to find them. You may find them ranking on page two, page three, or page four. You may need to do some other types of research, like look on Instagram and see what companies or what publications are using these hashtags and have lots of followers in this interior design or decoration or furniture space.

From there, that will lead you to influential publications in the space that maybe have lots of readership, lots of engagement on social channels or on their website, but haven’t done a particularly great job in Google. Those influential publications, I think Google is doing a very good job of identifying, “Hey, wait a minute. Here’s a bunch of publications that are in important in space X and they are all linking to this website, which is doing a good job of targeting these keywords. So, therefore, that’s who we should potentially rank.”

So hopefully, this Whiteboard Friday will help you to expand your link building opportunities and also to recognize why the top ranking pages might not always be and certainly aren’t necessarily the best link targets.

Thanks everyone. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Don’t Be Fooled by Data: 4 Data Analysis Pitfalls & How to Avoid Them

Posted by Tom.Capper

Digital marketing is a proudly data-driven field. Yet, as SEOs especially, we often have such incomplete or questionable data to work with, that we end up jumping to the wrong conclusions in our attempts to substantiate our arguments or quantify our issues and opportunities.

In this post, I’m going to outline 4 data analysis pitfalls that are endemic in our industry, and how to avoid them.

1. Jumping to conclusions

Earlier this year, I conducted a ranking factor study around brand awareness, and I posted this caveat:

“…the fact that Domain Authority (or branded search volume, or anything else) is positively correlated with rankings could indicate that any or all of the following is likely:

  • Links cause sites to rank well
  • Ranking well causes sites to get links
  • Some third factor (e.g. reputation or age of site) causes sites to get both links and rankings”
    ~ Me

However, I want to go into this in a bit more depth and give you a framework for analyzing these yourself, because it still comes up a lot. Take, for example, this recent study by Stone Temple, which you may have seen in the Moz Top 10 or Rand’s tweets, or this excellent article discussing SEMRush’s recent direct traffic findings. To be absolutely clear, I’m not criticizing either of the studies, but I do want to draw attention to how we might interpret them.

Firstly, we do tend to suffer a little confirmation bias — we’re all too eager to call out the cliché “correlation vs. causation” distinction when we see successful sites that are keyword-stuffed, but all too approving when we see studies doing the same with something we think is or was effective, like links.

Secondly, we fail to critically analyze the potential mechanisms. The options aren’t just causation or coincidence.

Before you jump to a conclusion based on a correlation, you’re obliged to consider various possibilities:

  • Complete coincidence
  • Reverse causation
  • Joint causation
  • Linearity
  • Broad applicability

If those don’t make any sense, then that’s fair enough — they’re jargon. Let’s go through an example:

Before I warn you not to eat cheese because you may die in your bedsheets, I’m obliged to check that it isn’t any of the following:

  • Complete coincidence - Is it possible that so many datasets were compared, that some were bound to be similar? Why, that’s exactly what Tyler Vigen did! Yes, this is possible.
  • Reverse causation - Is it possible that we have this the wrong way around? For example, perhaps your relatives, in mourning for your bedsheet-related death, eat cheese in large quantities to comfort themselves? This seems pretty unlikely, so let’s give it a pass. No, this is very unlikely.
  • Joint causation - Is it possible that some third factor is behind both of these? Maybe increasing affluence makes you healthier (so you don’t die of things like malnutrition), and also causes you to eat more cheese? This seems very plausible. Yes, this is possible.
  • Linearity - Are we comparing two linear trends? A linear trend is a steady rate of growth or decline. Any two statistics which are both roughly linear over time will be very well correlated. In the graph above, both our statistics are trending linearly upwards. If the graph was drawn with different scales, they might look completely unrelated, like this, but because they both have a steady rate, they’d still be very well correlated. Yes, this looks likely.
  • Broad applicability - Is it possible that this relationship only exists in certain niche scenarios, or, at least, not in my niche scenario? Perhaps, for example, cheese does this to some people, and that’s been enough to create this correlation, because there are so few bedsheet-tangling fatalities otherwise? Yes, this seems possible.

So we have 4 “Yes” answers and one “No” answer from those 5 checks.

If your example doesn’t get 5 “No” answers from those 5 checks, it’s a fail, and you don’t get to say that the study has established either a ranking factor or a fatal side effect of cheese consumption.

A similar process should apply to case studies, which are another form of correlation — the correlation between you making a change, and something good (or bad!) happening. For example, ask:

  • Have I ruled out other factors (e.g. external demand, seasonality, competitors making mistakes)?
  • Did I increase traffic by doing the thing I tried to do, or did I accidentally improve some other factor at the same time?
  • Did this work because of the unique circumstance of the particular client/project?

This is particularly challenging for SEOs, because we rarely have data of this quality, but I’d suggest an additional pair of questions to help you navigate this minefield:

  • If I were Google, would I do this?
  • If I were Google, could I do this?

Direct traffic as a ranking factor passes the “could” test, but only barely — Google could use data from Chrome, Android, or ISPs, but it’d be sketchy. It doesn’t really pass the “would” test, though — it’d be far easier for Google to use branded search traffic, which would answer the same questions you might try to answer by comparing direct traffic levels (e.g. how popular is this website?).

2. Missing the context

If I told you that my traffic was up 20% week on week today, what would you say? Congratulations?

What if it was up 20% this time last year?

What if I told you it had been up 20% year on year, up until recently?

It’s funny how a little context can completely change this. This is another problem with case studies and their evil inverted twin, traffic drop analyses.

If we really want to understand whether to be surprised at something, positively or negatively, we need to compare it to our expectations, and then figure out what deviation from our expectations is “normal.” If this is starting to sound like statistics, that’s because it is statistics — indeed, I wrote about a statistical approach to measuring change way back in 2015.

If you want to be lazy, though, a good rule of thumb is to zoom out, and add in those previous years. And if someone shows you data that is suspiciously zoomed in, you might want to take it with a pinch of salt.

3. Trusting our tools

Would you make a multi-million dollar business decision based on a number that your competitor could manipulate at will? Well, chances are you do, and the number can be found in Google Analytics. I’ve covered this extensively in other places, but there are some major problems with most analytics platforms around:

  • How easy they are to manipulate externally
  • How arbitrarily they group hits into sessions
  • How vulnerable they are to ad blockers
  • How they perform under sampling, and how obvious they make this

For example, did you know that the Google Analytics API v3 can heavily sample data whilst telling you that the data is unsampled, above a certain amount of traffic (~500,000 within date range)? Neither did I, until we ran into it whilst building Distilled ODN.

Similar problems exist with many “Search Analytics” tools. My colleague Sam Nemzer has written a bunch about this — did you know that most rank tracking platforms report completely different rankings? Or how about the fact that the keywords grouped by Google (and thus tools like SEMRush and STAT, too) are not equivalent, and don’t necessarily have the volumes quoted?

It’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of tools that we use, so that we can at least know when they’re directionally accurate (as in, their insights guide you in the right direction), even if not perfectly accurate. All I can really recommend here is that skilling up in SEO (or any other digital channel) necessarily means understanding the mechanics behind your measurement platforms — which is why all new starts at Distilled end up learning how to do analytics audits.

One of the most common solutions to the root problem is combining multiple data sources, but…

4. Combining data sources

There are numerous platforms out there that will “defeat (not provided)” by bringing together data from two or more of:

  • Analytics
  • Search Console
  • AdWords
  • Rank tracking

The problems here are that, firstly, these platforms do not have equivalent definitions, and secondly, ironically, (not provided) tends to break them.

Let’s deal with definitions first, with an example — let’s look at a landing page with a channel:

  • In Search Console, these are reported as clicks, and can be vulnerable to heavy, invisible sampling when multiple dimensions (e.g. keyword and page) or filters are combined.
  • In Google Analytics, these are reported using last non-direct click, meaning that your organic traffic includes a bunch of direct sessions, time-outs that resumed mid-session, etc. That’s without getting into dark traffic, ad blockers, etc.
  • In AdWords, most reporting uses last AdWords click, and conversions may be defined differently. In addition, keyword volumes are bundled, as referenced above.
  • Rank tracking is location specific, and inconsistent, as referenced above.

Fine, though — it may not be precise, but you can at least get to some directionally useful data given these limitations. However, about that “(not provided)”…

Most of your landing pages get traffic from more than one keyword. It’s very likely that some of these keywords convert better than others, particularly if they are branded, meaning that even the most thorough click-through rate model isn’t going to help you. So how do you know which keywords are valuable?

The best answer is to generalize from AdWords data for those keywords, but it’s very unlikely that you have analytics data for all those combinations of keyword and landing page. Essentially, the tools that report on this make the very bold assumption that a given page converts identically for all keywords. Some are more transparent about this than others.

Again, this isn’t to say that those tools aren’t valuable — they just need to be understood carefully. The only way you could reliably fill in these blanks created by “not provided” would be to spend a ton on paid search to get decent volume, conversion rate, and bounce rate estimates for all your keywords, and even then, you’ve not fixed the inconsistent definitions issues.

Bonus peeve: Average rank

I still see this way too often. Three questions:

  1. Do you care more about losing rankings for ten very low volume queries (10 searches a month or less) than for one high volume query (millions plus)? If the answer isn’t “yes, I absolutely care more about the ten low-volume queries”, then this metric isn’t for you, and you should consider a visibility metric based on click through rate estimates.
  2. When you start ranking at 100 for a keyword you didn’t rank for before, does this make you unhappy? If the answer isn’t “yes, I hate ranking for new keywords,” then this metric isn’t for you — because that will lower your average rank. You could of course treat all non-ranking keywords as position 100, as some tools allow, but is a drop of 2 average rank positions really the best way to express that 1/50 of your landing pages have been de-indexed? Again, use a visibility metric, please.
  3. Do you like comparing your performance with your competitors? If the answer isn’t “no, of course not,” then this metric isn’t for you — your competitors may have more or fewer branded keywords or long-tail rankings, and these will skew the comparison. Again, use a visibility metric.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you’ve found this useful. To summarize the main takeaways:

  • Critically analyse correlations & case studies by seeing if you can explain them as coincidences, as reverse causation, as joint causation, through reference to a third mutually relevant factor, or through niche applicability.
  • Don’t look at changes in traffic without looking at the context — what would you have forecasted for this period, and with what margin of error?
  • Remember that the tools we use have limitations, and do your research on how that impacts the numbers they show. “How has this number been produced?” is an important component in “What does this number mean?”
  • If you end up combining data from multiple tools, remember to work out the relationship between them — treat this information as directional rather than precise.

Let me know what data analysis fallacies bug you, in the comments below.

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You Don’t Need to Be a Brand Publisher to Win at Content Marketing

Posted by ronell smith

“Man, I’m sorry. You guys weren’t ready to adopt the brands as publisher mindset. I suspected you’d never be ready to do it successfully. I knew it; I could sense you knew it. I wish I’d spoken up when I saw the intra-departmental debates waging. That’s on me. My bad.”

Those were my words to the executive of a midsize lifestyle brand I worked with in 2014. It took me months to get up the nerve to reach out and make it right, even though I’d done nothing wrong. 

He seemed to understand. But he did have a question that stopped me in tracks and continues to haunt me.

“If
we couldn’t get it right, with all of our resources, what does it say about the feasibility of becoming a brand publisher?” he inquired. “Does that make content marketing [in and of itself] a bad idea?”

A fair question, to be sure, and one I did not have a sufficient answer for. But in looking back, I realized this exec, like so many others before him, made the mistake of thinking he could do quickly what he had not yet learned to do well. Content marketing wasn’t the missile that sank his boat. The decision to do content marketing at warp speed and with little direction was his brands’ albatross.

Four things doomed his efforts from the start, and each was self-induced:

  1. He drank the brands-as-publishers Kool-Aid
  2. He chose the wrong goals for his brand
  3. He attempted to execute a plan that wasn’t meant for his business
  4. He attempted to do content marketing by skipping the small but important steps

Any one of these could have led to failure. Facing them all at once is akin to content marketing suicide. I see these same four elements dooming content marketers so frequently that I’ve resorted to naming them the four horsemen of content marketing failure.

For the purposes of this post, I want to illuminate how attempting to be a brand publisher is a lofty, needless goal for all but a handful of brands. Then I will highlight how to make steps 2, 3, and 4 work for your brand, not against it.

Before I begin, however, I want to make one thing abundantly clear: The ideas shared in this post have been formed through working with hundreds of brands over more than a decade, either as a writer, business strategist, content strategist, product marketing consultant or in a PR/media relations capacity.

I’m under no illusion that each (or any of them) will apply to everyone, but experience has shown me that these elements play an invaluable role in the success (or failure) of most brands embarking on the content marketing journey.

Where content marketing went off course


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The web is rife with examples of marketers sharing the “wisdom” of brands becoming publishers, and no less common are the examples of brands who’ve done just that, adding content publisher to the laundry list of services they already provide. Here’s the problem with that logic: You’re not a publisher, and attempting to become one is fraught with risks that more often than not lead to failure.

The logic of brands as publishers

Brand publishing refers to brands attempting to behave as media companies, specifically with regard to content breadth and frequency. Also, and most important, it requires a mindset wholly different from that of a typical content marketer: These brands view publishing as part of their business model.

That’s where the confusion comes in. A lot of very 
knowledgeable people say any brand that publishes blog posts or adds updates on social media is a brand publisher. But that’s akin to saying anyone who runs is a marathoner. It’s about scale. While content marketing’s goal is to attract and retain customers through the creation and distribution of content, being a brand publisher means you have layers of staff, strategic insight, vision, resources to build platforms for sharing new content and, most important, the ability to produce content at a rate that rivals, well, publishers.

If content marketing is a single-family dwelling, brand publishing is a city of one-million-plus. 

It’s not that being a brand publisher is a bad idea all by itself. It’s that too many companies, who are barely ready to do content well, now think being a publisher is a sound idea.

As brands continue to bite off more than they can chew, the realities are tough to stomach, and have led to some interesting conclusions:

  1. Brands who have and who can successfully make the transition to being a publisher can be very successful (e.g., seeing increased links and traffic, greater organic visibility, a significant lift in paid search and enviable social traction).
  2. The number of brands who can successfully pull off being publishers is miniscule.

After months spent developing content strategies for clients looking for content marketing help, I decided that, in good conscience, I would never again that brands become publishers.

Instead, I adopted a strategy that’s as far away from one-size-fits-all as possible.

Good for business doesn’t mean good for your business

First, I refrained from using the term brand publisher. Next, I became a vocal proponent of the good-for-business-doesn’t-mean-good-for-your-business philosophy, which meant that in meetings with managers, directors and C-Suite execs, I had the courage of my convictions in sharing that while content marketing is a sound practice, becoming a full-fledged publisher is something that requires a minimum of three things to be successful:

  • Near-limitless resources: Take a look at the companies crushing it as true brand publishers, and you very quickly see why there aren’t many like them. Red Bull, consistently singled out as the leading brand-as-publisher, invests in the full gamut of content, including movies, books, TV shows, magazines and more. The privately held company doesn’t release figures related to those activities, but it’s likely in the tens of millions. “[The expense is] something we grapple with on a daily basis,” says Werner Brell, head of Red Bull Media House, the content arm of the brand. “It’s obviously expensive.”
  • Come-hell-or-high water commitment:  If you choose the brand-as-publisher route, understand that you’ll get up close and personal with the word commitment. Aside from the financial commitment, including staff and the cost of producing content, you’d better be prepared for publish or perish to become part of your brand’s DNA. There is no “This isn’t working. Let’s change tactics.” This is your horse and you’ll keep riding it. It’s the lot you’ve chosen.
  • A change in your brand’s overall corporate philosophy: This is the big, hairy gorilla that (fortunately) saves many brands from dooming themselves from choosing the brand publisher route. Few C-Suite denizens are willing to disrupt their corporate model and add publishing to their mantle. And if you’re the VP of content or CMO, you’re wise to accept this level of restraint.

If your company is ready to shoulder such a commitment, then by all means dive right in. If not, there’s a better way to do content marketing, one that is no less effective but does not require you to mortgage your future in the process.

A better way: content marketing for your brand

Instead of attempting to become a publisher, or even a content marketer, focus your efforts on becoming a brand that consistently creates content that puts the needs of prospects and customers first, while simultaneously providing meaningful solutions to their problems.

I’ve been a very vocal haranguer of content marketing, though not because of its inefficacy.

I’m simply not a proponent of brands thinking of themselves as anything other than
what they are in the minds of their prospects and clients.

Hopefully, at the core of your business is a product or service customers clamor for, not a content engine.

That’s why becoming a customer-first brand that has meaningful content as part of its DNA is the safest, surest, easiest-to-adopt model for brands with the desire to do content marketing right but who aren’t willing to re-org the business to get it underway.

In this way, you keep the
main thing the main thing. That main thing in this case is serving your core audience.

At this point, I’m hoping you see the light, realizing that becoming a brand publisher isn’t necessary for your company to be successful at content marketing.

If you’re ready to chart a solid, more reliable path to success, it begins with turning away the four horsemen of content marketing failure.

We’ve banished the first horsemen. Let’s do the same with the other three.

Choose the right goals for your business

Whenever I sit down with a prospect to discuss their business, I open up my notebook and write down the following three phrases, including a checkbox next to each, on a sheet of paper:

  • “…Be successful.”
  • “…Rank No. 1 in Google.”
  • “…Increase…conversions.”

Then I ask “What are your goals for the business?” all the while knowing full well the answer will be one of the three things I’ve written down.

The followup question, too, is canned: “What are you doing to get there?” That answer, too, is typically never a surprise: “That’s what you’re here for, right?”

Wrong!

After I’ve apprised them that the shortest path to failure is not
having a clear view of their goals, I have their attention and they are ready to begin the goal-setting process.

Here’s the catch: Only you and your team can decide what those goals are/should be. It’s important that the goals take into account the entirety of the business, not just SEO, content, social media, etc.

Also, I’ve found it helps if the metrics assigned to measure a business’s success toward their goals are meaningful (e.g., a sincere help to the overall business) and clearly communicated (e.g., everyone involved is aware of what they’re working for and being judged against).


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No matter what specific goals you decide on, applying the principle of “HAS,” as in holistic, adherable (er, sticky) and sustainable, can be a huge help:

  • Holistic—Content marketing success requires that a lot of moving work parts in unison. Your goals must take into account the entirety of the business, though not all at once.
  • Adherable—How likely are you to stick with the goals, seeing them through to fruition? It won’t matter how sound your goals are if they don’t make sense for your business, or don’t make sense for your business at a given time.
  • Sustainable—Will you be able to maintain the needed level of effort for the goals to reach maturity?

I’ve found that keeping these principles top of mind helps to order a brand’s steps, ensuring that everyone is aware of the goals and of their role in working toward them.

As an example, let’s say you’re a small business ready to jump into the murky waters of content marketing, but you don’t yet have a website.

The right goal would be to launch a new website. To make the goal as HAS-friendly as possible, you could assign a timeframe—say, 90 days—then break out the associated tasks by order of importance (see image below).


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I’d even suggest keeping a checklist in a Google Doc where team members can stay abreast of what’s going on, in addition to seeing who’s responsible for what and having a better understanding of where the team is in terms of completing each task related to their goals.

Execute a plan that’s right for your business

If I had to single out the No. 1 reason content marketers I’ve worked with have failed it would be that they based their goals on what the competition was doing instead of what’s best for their own business.

Seeing a competitor rank higher for their main keywords; having thousands of web pages indexed by Google; spending mad cash on paid media; and having brand pages on Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, these businesses attempt to do the same.

Sounds comical, right, until you realize it happens all the time and to businesses of all sizes.

Problem is, no two businesses are entirely alike and, well, “You aren’t them,” as the saying goes.

Aside from having little idea of how much real success the competition is enjoying from their search, social and content efforts, these brands are taking their eyes off the main prize: their own business.

An approach that works well and is easy to carry out entails taking an inventory or where you are in relation to where you want to be while keeping a keen eye on the competition.

With your goals solidly in hand, begin by sketching out a plan based not on where you are, or on what the competition is doing, but on those actions that would likely lead to success for you.

(image created by author)

In the graph above, created in Google Docs, you can see that I mainly focused on the content-related activities that would have the biggest impact over the next 90 days. (Caveat: This is simply a high-level overview of one area of the business, but it’s plenty thorough enough for a team to begin working from.)

The key is to take the time to get to know (a) what success looks like for your business, then (b) focus on specific, actionable elements that can be done in the allotted timeframe.

Sweat the (seemingly) small but important stuff


(image 
source)

“Why do you hate content marketing?” I get asked these words at least once a month. The answer is always the same. I don’t hate content marketing. I hate most brands’ approach to content marketing.

There is so much more to the making it a success than we’re typically led to believe there is.

The focus is always on produce, produce, produce. Outreach, outreach, outreach. Produce more. Outreach evan more. Rinse and repeat.

As marketers, we’ve seemingly trained a generation of brands that the focus should be on doing fast (and often) what they barely know how to do at all.we never learn to do well.

Yeah, I know it works…for some. But is it scalable over the long-term? Better yet, will it remain scalable into the future?

If you want to position your brand for success in content marketing, make sweating the small but oh-so-important steps a priority. 

This process starts with clarity.

  1. Begin by defining who you are and who you desire to be in the minds of your prospects and clients. I can see the eye-rolling. But without answers to these questions, you’re wasting your time and, likely, money. Devote the time to having weekly brainstorming sessions with your core team. During these meetings, keep the air open, relaxed and free-flowing, allowing ideas to bounce freely around the room. The goal is to start  each meeting with a big question. Then let it “breathe.” Your first big question should be “Who are we?” followed by “Who are we to our customers?” Put on your introspection hats, viewing yourselves through the words and interactions of prospects and customers, who have likely shared comments via email, phone, text, and your website.
     
  2. Ask “why” a lot. During Mozcon 2014, Wil Reynolds dropped a slide that gave me goosebumps:


                                                                       (image 
    source)
     

    Simple. Brilliant. What I loved about this slide and the line of thinking is it helps brands (and the staff who work for those brands) stay the course, focused on their already-defined objectives. For example, once you know who you are and who you are in the minds of your core prospects and customers, any actions you take should be done with this information in mind. 

    Therefore, if the team begins to get distracted by shiny-things syndrome, anyone has the right to ask “Why are we doing this?” or “Why does this…make sense?” 

    Nothing like forcing someone to defend a bad idea to provoke clarity.

  3. Get to know your audience. The better you know your audience, the easier it is to market to them. Even if you cannot afford the fancy tools and platforms Mike King has previous talked about to develop personas, you can have staff members spend an hour each per week scouring social media, forums, discussions boards and sundry websites’ comments sections looking for people who are likely interested in the products/services your business offers. Gather as much information (e.g., age, income, occupation, etc.) about these people and their needs as possible, in addition to what sites they frequent, how often and for what. In this way, you’re developing personas without it feeling like an onerous task. Keep copious notes, which can be entered into a Google Doc and shared with teammates.
     
  4. Build a community. I hate the term secret sauce, mainly because no such thing exists. However, if a brand wants to set itself apart from the competition, they should adopt this mentality: Get to know your audience, but build a community.  An audience might read your blog, consume and share your information, and recognize your content from the rest of the pack. A community, however, is engaged and passionate, actively seeking out your content, sharing it broadly and fervently, and is easily willing to help in the creation of content for your business   (e.g., YouMoz) Have your team keep a watchful eye on out for engaged, visible members of your audience, especially via social media. Share their content, answer their questions and, as resources permit, surprise them with personaliized GIFs or mail them skotskes. The audience-to-community threshold is smaller than you likely think.
     
  5. Create and share meaningful content. Notice that I saved content creation until last. That’s no accident. Content marketing is cruelest to those who dive in headfirst without clear goals, lacking a plan of action and who’re content to simply “be on social media” or to “share some blogs.” If you’re committed to creating and sharing meaningful content, there are three areas you must focus on:
    • Inspire. People want to feel good about themselves and the work they’re doing. Why not use your content to help them and generate buzz for yourself in the process? For example, if your business sells email solutions for small business, a sizable portion of your content should cater to helping business owners “take back a part of your day.” When creating content, put yourself in the shoes of your customers, and ask yourself “What can I create that’ll inspire and compel them?” In this way, it’s less about the action you need them to take and more about tapping the emotion needed to bring that action to reality.
    • Immediacy. While evergreen content certainly deserves a spot in your quiver, make certain to offer content that speaks to the immediate needs of the community. This is when a sincere effort at thinking like a publisher comes in handy, especially if you have experts in-house who can speak, with your brand’s voice, to these needs. A great example is the job Eric Enge and Mark Traphagen are doing at sharing information regarding Google’s updates and important social media news. Look for ways your brands can contribute in a similar fashion. 
    • Indispensability. Your content needs an I-can’t-do-without-this component. It’s the surest path to ensure your content gets read and shared; your website retains steady traffic; your blogs always have significant eyeballs; and your brand is sought-after online. Look at the job the Buffer folks are doing in educating their community on all things social media, time management and productivity hacks. Their posts are read and shared by thousands daily, with many (including myself) seeing the blog as can’t-do-without material. Same for the excellent work the Bruce Clay, Inc. content team, whose comprehensive resources add a layer of “stickiness” to the brand that’s hard to beat. How can you do the same? Commit wholeheartedly to learning the needs of your community, especially those needs associated with pain points they desperately need removed. Creating content around these areas/topics is the easy part.

I can’t say for certain that, if you refrain from attempting to be a brand publisher, you’ll be a successful content marketer. I also cannot promise that going all-in with the three points outlined above ensures your success. 

What, however, I can say is the vast majority of brands would do better if they banished “I want to be a brand publisher” from their lexicon and decided to focus on the right goals, executed a sensible plan and made the small things part of the main things.

What about you? Are you ready to do content marketing wisely? Dive into the discussion in the comments below.

(main image: licensed by the author )

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You Don’t Need to Be a Brand Publisher to Win at Content Marketing

Posted by ronell smith

“Man, I’m sorry. You guys weren’t ready to adopt the brands as publisher mindset. I suspected you’d never be ready to do it successfully. I knew it; I could sense you knew it. I wish I’d spoken up when I saw the intra-departmental debates waging. That’s on me. My bad.”

Those were my words to the executive of a midsize lifestyle brand I worked with in 2014. It took me months to get up the nerve to reach out and make it right, even though I’d done nothing wrong. 

He seemed to understand. But he did have a question that stopped me in tracks and continues to haunt me.

“If
we couldn’t get it right, with all of our resources, what does it say about the feasibility of becoming a brand publisher?” he inquired. “Does that make content marketing [in and of itself] a bad idea?”

A fair question, to be sure, and one I did not have a sufficient answer for. But in looking back, I realized this exec, like so many others before him, made the mistake of thinking he could do quickly what he had not yet learned to do well. Content marketing wasn’t the missile that sank his boat. The decision to do content marketing at warp speed and with little direction was his brands’ albatross.

Four things doomed his efforts from the start, and each was self-induced:

  1. He drank the brands-as-publishers Kool-Aid
  2. He chose the wrong goals for his brand
  3. He attempted to execute a plan that wasn’t meant for his business
  4. He attempted to do content marketing by skipping the small but important steps

Any one of these could have led to failure. Facing them all at once is akin to content marketing suicide. I see these same four elements dooming content marketers so frequently that I’ve resorted to naming them the four horsemen of content marketing failure.

For the purposes of this post, I want to illuminate how attempting to be a brand publisher is a lofty, needless goal for all but a handful of brands. Then I will highlight how to make steps 2, 3, and 4 work for your brand, not against it.

Before I begin, however, I want to make one thing abundantly clear: The ideas shared in this post have been formed through working with hundreds of brands over more than a decade, either as a writer, business strategist, content strategist, product marketing consultant or in a PR/media relations capacity.

I’m under no illusion that each (or any of them) will apply to everyone, but experience has shown me that these elements play an invaluable role in the success (or failure) of most brands embarking on the content marketing journey.

Where content marketing went off course


(image 
source)

The web is rife with examples of marketers sharing the “wisdom” of brands becoming publishers, and no less common are the examples of brands who’ve done just that, adding content publisher to the laundry list of services they already provide. Here’s the problem with that logic: You’re not a publisher, and attempting to become one is fraught with risks that more often than not lead to failure.

The logic of brands as publishers

Brand publishing refers to brands attempting to behave as media companies, specifically with regard to content breadth and frequency. Also, and most important, it requires a mindset wholly different from that of a typical content marketer: These brands view publishing as part of their business model.

That’s where the confusion comes in. A lot of very 
knowledgeable people say any brand that publishes blog posts or adds updates on social media is a brand publisher. But that’s akin to saying anyone who runs is a marathoner. It’s about scale. While content marketing’s goal is to attract and retain customers through the creation and distribution of content, being a brand publisher means you have layers of staff, strategic insight, vision, resources to build platforms for sharing new content and, most important, the ability to produce content at a rate that rivals, well, publishers.

If content marketing is a single-family dwelling, brand publishing is a city of one-million-plus. 

It’s not that being a brand publisher is a bad idea all by itself. It’s that too many companies, who are barely ready to do content well, now think being a publisher is a sound idea.

As brands continue to bite off more than they can chew, the realities are tough to stomach, and have led to some interesting conclusions:

  1. Brands who have and who can successfully make the transition to being a publisher can be very successful (e.g., seeing increased links and traffic, greater organic visibility, a significant lift in paid search and enviable social traction).
  2. The number of brands who can successfully pull off being publishers is miniscule.

After months spent developing content strategies for clients looking for content marketing help, I decided that, in good conscience, I would never again that brands become publishers.

Instead, I adopted a strategy that’s as far away from one-size-fits-all as possible.

Good for business doesn’t mean good for your business

First, I refrained from using the term brand publisher. Next, I became a vocal proponent of the good-for-business-doesn’t-mean-good-for-your-business philosophy, which meant that in meetings with managers, directors and C-Suite execs, I had the courage of my convictions in sharing that while content marketing is a sound practice, becoming a full-fledged publisher is something that requires a minimum of three things to be successful:

  • Near-limitless resources: Take a look at the companies crushing it as true brand publishers, and you very quickly see why there aren’t many like them. Red Bull, consistently singled out as the leading brand-as-publisher, invests in the full gamut of content, including movies, books, TV shows, magazines and more. The privately held company doesn’t release figures related to those activities, but it’s likely in the tens of millions. “[The expense is] something we grapple with on a daily basis,” says Werner Brell, head of Red Bull Media House, the content arm of the brand. “It’s obviously expensive.”
  • Come-hell-or-high water commitment:  If you choose the brand-as-publisher route, understand that you’ll get up close and personal with the word commitment. Aside from the financial commitment, including staff and the cost of producing content, you’d better be prepared for publish or perish to become part of your brand’s DNA. There is no “This isn’t working. Let’s change tactics.” This is your horse and you’ll keep riding it. It’s the lot you’ve chosen.
  • A change in your brand’s overall corporate philosophy: This is the big, hairy gorilla that (fortunately) saves many brands from dooming themselves from choosing the brand publisher route. Few C-Suite denizens are willing to disrupt their corporate model and add publishing to their mantle. And if you’re the VP of content or CMO, you’re wise to accept this level of restraint.

If your company is ready to shoulder such a commitment, then by all means dive right in. If not, there’s a better way to do content marketing, one that is no less effective but does not require you to mortgage your future in the process.

A better way: content marketing for your brand

Instead of attempting to become a publisher, or even a content marketer, focus your efforts on becoming a brand that consistently creates content that puts the needs of prospects and customers first, while simultaneously providing meaningful solutions to their problems.

I’ve been a very vocal haranguer of content marketing, though not because of its inefficacy.

I’m simply not a proponent of brands thinking of themselves as anything other than
what they are in the minds of their prospects and clients.

Hopefully, at the core of your business is a product or service customers clamor for, not a content engine.

That’s why becoming a customer-first brand that has meaningful content as part of its DNA is the safest, surest, easiest-to-adopt model for brands with the desire to do content marketing right but who aren’t willing to re-org the business to get it underway.

In this way, you keep the
main thing the main thing. That main thing in this case is serving your core audience.

At this point, I’m hoping you see the light, realizing that becoming a brand publisher isn’t necessary for your company to be successful at content marketing.

If you’re ready to chart a solid, more reliable path to success, it begins with turning away the four horsemen of content marketing failure.

We’ve banished the first horsemen. Let’s do the same with the other three.

Choose the right goals for your business

Whenever I sit down with a prospect to discuss their business, I open up my notebook and write down the following three phrases, including a checkbox next to each, on a sheet of paper:

  • “…Be successful.”
  • “…Rank No. 1 in Google.”
  • “…Increase…conversions.”

Then I ask “What are your goals for the business?” all the while knowing full well the answer will be one of the three things I’ve written down.

The followup question, too, is canned: “What are you doing to get there?” That answer, too, is typically never a surprise: “That’s what you’re here for, right?”

Wrong!

After I’ve apprised them that the shortest path to failure is not
having a clear view of their goals, I have their attention and they are ready to begin the goal-setting process.

Here’s the catch: Only you and your team can decide what those goals are/should be. It’s important that the goals take into account the entirety of the business, not just SEO, content, social media, etc.

Also, I’ve found it helps if the metrics assigned to measure a business’s success toward their goals are meaningful (e.g., a sincere help to the overall business) and clearly communicated (e.g., everyone involved is aware of what they’re working for and being judged against).


(image
source)

No matter what specific goals you decide on, applying the principle of “HAS,” as in holistic, adherable (er, sticky) and sustainable, can be a huge help:

  • Holistic—Content marketing success requires that a lot of moving work parts in unison. Your goals must take into account the entirety of the business, though not all at once.
  • Adherable—How likely are you to stick with the goals, seeing them through to fruition? It won’t matter how sound your goals are if they don’t make sense for your business, or don’t make sense for your business at a given time.
  • Sustainable—Will you be able to maintain the needed level of effort for the goals to reach maturity?

I’ve found that keeping these principles top of mind helps to order a brand’s steps, ensuring that everyone is aware of the goals and of their role in working toward them.

As an example, let’s say you’re a small business ready to jump into the murky waters of content marketing, but you don’t yet have a website.

The right goal would be to launch a new website. To make the goal as HAS-friendly as possible, you could assign a timeframe—say, 90 days—then break out the associated tasks by order of importance (see image below).


(image 
source)

I’d even suggest keeping a checklist in a Google Doc where team members can stay abreast of what’s going on, in addition to seeing who’s responsible for what and having a better understanding of where the team is in terms of completing each task related to their goals.

Execute a plan that’s right for your business

If I had to single out the No. 1 reason content marketers I’ve worked with have failed it would be that they based their goals on what the competition was doing instead of what’s best for their own business.

Seeing a competitor rank higher for their main keywords; having thousands of web pages indexed by Google; spending mad cash on paid media; and having brand pages on Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, these businesses attempt to do the same.

Sounds comical, right, until you realize it happens all the time and to businesses of all sizes.

Problem is, no two businesses are entirely alike and, well, “You aren’t them,” as the saying goes.

Aside from having little idea of how much real success the competition is enjoying from their search, social and content efforts, these brands are taking their eyes off the main prize: their own business.

An approach that works well and is easy to carry out entails taking an inventory or where you are in relation to where you want to be while keeping a keen eye on the competition.

With your goals solidly in hand, begin by sketching out a plan based not on where you are, or on what the competition is doing, but on those actions that would likely lead to success for you.

(image created by author)

In the graph above, created in Google Docs, you can see that I mainly focused on the content-related activities that would have the biggest impact over the next 90 days. (Caveat: This is simply a high-level overview of one area of the business, but it’s plenty thorough enough for a team to begin working from.)

The key is to take the time to get to know (a) what success looks like for your business, then (b) focus on specific, actionable elements that can be done in the allotted timeframe.

Sweat the (seemingly) small but important stuff


(image 
source)

“Why do you hate content marketing?” I get asked these words at least once a month. The answer is always the same. I don’t hate content marketing. I hate most brands’ approach to content marketing.

There is so much more to the making it a success than we’re typically led to believe there is.

The focus is always on produce, produce, produce. Outreach, outreach, outreach. Produce more. Outreach evan more. Rinse and repeat.

As marketers, we’ve seemingly trained a generation of brands that the focus should be on doing fast (and often) what they barely know how to do at all.we never learn to do well.

Yeah, I know it works…for some. But is it scalable over the long-term? Better yet, will it remain scalable into the future?

If you want to position your brand for success in content marketing, make sweating the small but oh-so-important steps a priority. 

This process starts with clarity.

  1. Begin by defining who you are and who you desire to be in the minds of your prospects and clients. I can see the eye-rolling. But without answers to these questions, you’re wasting your time and, likely, money. Devote the time to having weekly brainstorming sessions with your core team. During these meetings, keep the air open, relaxed and free-flowing, allowing ideas to bounce freely around the room. The goal is to start  each meeting with a big question. Then let it “breathe.” Your first big question should be “Who are we?” followed by “Who are we to our customers?” Put on your introspection hats, viewing yourselves through the words and interactions of prospects and customers, who have likely shared comments via email, phone, text, and your website.
     
  2. Ask “why” a lot. During Mozcon 2014, Wil Reynolds dropped a slide that gave me goosebumps:


                                                                       (image 
    source)
     

    Simple. Brilliant. What I loved about this slide and the line of thinking is it helps brands (and the staff who work for those brands) stay the course, focused on their already-defined objectives. For example, once you know who you are and who you are in the minds of your core prospects and customers, any actions you take should be done with this information in mind. 

    Therefore, if the team begins to get distracted by shiny-things syndrome, anyone has the right to ask “Why are we doing this?” or “Why does this…make sense?” 

    Nothing like forcing someone to defend a bad idea to provoke clarity.

  3. Get to know your audience. The better you know your audience, the easier it is to market to them. Even if you cannot afford the fancy tools and platforms Mike King has previous talked about to develop personas, you can have staff members spend an hour each per week scouring social media, forums, discussions boards and sundry websites’ comments sections looking for people who are likely interested in the products/services your business offers. Gather as much information (e.g., age, income, occupation, etc.) about these people and their needs as possible, in addition to what sites they frequent, how often and for what. In this way, you’re developing personas without it feeling like an onerous task. Keep copious notes, which can be entered into a Google Doc and shared with teammates.
     
  4. Build a community. I hate the term secret sauce, mainly because no such thing exists. However, if a brand wants to set itself apart from the competition, they should adopt this mentality: Get to know your audience, but build a community.  An audience might read your blog, consume and share your information, and recognize your content from the rest of the pack. A community, however, is engaged and passionate, actively seeking out your content, sharing it broadly and fervently, and is easily willing to help in the creation of content for your business   (e.g., YouMoz) Have your team keep a watchful eye on out for engaged, visible members of your audience, especially via social media. Share their content, answer their questions and, as resources permit, surprise them with personaliized GIFs or mail them skotskes. The audience-to-community threshold is smaller than you likely think.
     
  5. Create and share meaningful content. Notice that I saved content creation until last. That’s no accident. Content marketing is cruelest to those who dive in headfirst without clear goals, lacking a plan of action and who’re content to simply “be on social media” or to “share some blogs.” If you’re committed to creating and sharing meaningful content, there are three areas you must focus on:
    • Inspire. People want to feel good about themselves and the work they’re doing. Why not use your content to help them and generate buzz for yourself in the process? For example, if your business sells email solutions for small business, a sizable portion of your content should cater to helping business owners “take back a part of your day.” When creating content, put yourself in the shoes of your customers, and ask yourself “What can I create that’ll inspire and compel them?” In this way, it’s less about the action you need them to take and more about tapping the emotion needed to bring that action to reality.
    • Immediacy. While evergreen content certainly deserves a spot in your quiver, make certain to offer content that speaks to the immediate needs of the community. This is when a sincere effort at thinking like a publisher comes in handy, especially if you have experts in-house who can speak, with your brand’s voice, to these needs. A great example is the job Eric Enge and Mark Traphagen are doing at sharing information regarding Google’s updates and important social media news. Look for ways your brands can contribute in a similar fashion. 
    • Indispensability. Your content needs an I-can’t-do-without-this component. It’s the surest path to ensure your content gets read and shared; your website retains steady traffic; your blogs always have significant eyeballs; and your brand is sought-after online. Look at the job the Buffer folks are doing in educating their community on all things social media, time management and productivity hacks. Their posts are read and shared by thousands daily, with many (including myself) seeing the blog as can’t-do-without material. Same for the excellent work the Bruce Clay, Inc. content team, whose comprehensive resources add a layer of “stickiness” to the brand that’s hard to beat. How can you do the same? Commit wholeheartedly to learning the needs of your community, especially those needs associated with pain points they desperately need removed. Creating content around these areas/topics is the easy part.

I can’t say for certain that, if you refrain from attempting to be a brand publisher, you’ll be a successful content marketer. I also cannot promise that going all-in with the three points outlined above ensures your success. 

What, however, I can say is the vast majority of brands would do better if they banished “I want to be a brand publisher” from their lexicon and decided to focus on the right goals, executed a sensible plan and made the small things part of the main things.

What about you? Are you ready to do content marketing wisely? Dive into the discussion in the comments below.

(main image: licensed by the author )

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For Writers Only: Secrets to Improving Engagement on Your Content Using Word Pictures (and I Don’t Mean Wordle)

Posted by Isla_McKetta

“Picture it.”

If you’re of a certain generation, those two words can only conjure images of tiny, white-haired Sophia from the Golden Girls about to tell one of her engaging (if somewhat long and irrelevant) stories as she holds her elderly roommates hostage in the kitchen or living room of their pastel-hued Miami home.

Even if you have no idea what I’m talking about, those words should become your writing mantra, because what readers do with your words is take all those letters and turn them into mind pictures. And as the writer, you have control over what those pictures look like and how long your readers mull them over.

According to
Reading in the Brain by Stanislas Dehaene, reading involves a rich back and forth between the language areas and visual areas of our brains. Although the full extent of that connectivity is not yet known, it’s easy to imagine that the more sensory (interesting) information we can include in our writing, the more fully we can engage our readers.

So if you’re a writer or content marketer you should be harnessing the illustrative power of words to occupy your readers’ minds and keep them interested until they’re ready to convert. Here’s how to make your words
work for you.

Kill clichés

I could have titled this piece “Painting a Picture with Words” but you’ve heard it. Over and over and over. And I’m going to propose that every time you use a cliché, a puppy dies. 

While that’s a bit extreme (at least I hope so because that’s a lot of dead puppies and Rocky’s having second thoughts about his choice of parents), I hope it will remind you to read over what you’ve written and see where your attention starts to wander (wandering attention=cliché=one more tragic, senseless death) you get bored. Chances are it’s right in the middle of a tired bit of language that used to be a wonderful word picture but has been used and abused to the point that we readers can’t even summon the image anymore.

Make up metaphors (and similes)

Did you know that most clichés used to be metaphors? And that we overused them because metaphors are possibly the most powerful tool we have at our disposal for creating word pictures (and, thus, engaging content)? You do now.

By making unexpected comparisons, metaphors and similes force words to perform like a stage mom on a reality show. These comparisons shake our brains awake and force us to pay attention. So apply a whip to your language. Make it dance like a ballerina in a little pink tutu. Give our brains something interesting to sink our teeth into (poor Rocky!), gnaw on, and share with out friends.

Engage the senses

If the goal of all this attention to language is to turn reading into a full brain experience, why not make it a little easier by including sensory information in whatever you’re writing? Here are a few examples:

  • These tickets are selling so fast we can smell the burning rubber.
  • Next to a crumbling cement pillar, our interview subject sits typing on his pristine MacBook Air.
  • In a sea of (yelp!) never ending horde of black and gray umbrellas, this red cowboy hat will show the world you own your look.
  • Black hat tactics left your SERPs stinking as bad as a garbage strike in late August? Let us help you clear the air by cleaning up those results.

See how those images and experiences continue to unfold and develop in your mind? You have the power to affect your readers the same way—to create an image so powerful it stays with them throughout their busy days. One note of caution, though, sensory information is so strong that you want to be careful when creating potentially negative associations (like that garbage strike stench in the final example).

Leverage superlatives (wisely) and ditch hyperbole

SUPERLATIVES ARE THE MOST EFFECTIVEST TOOL YOU CAN USE EVER (until you wear your reader out or lose their trust). Superlatives (think “best,” “worst,” “hairiest” – any form of the adjective or adverb that is the most exaggerated form of the word) are one of the main problems with clickbait headlines (the other being the failure to deliver on those huge promises).

Speaking of exaggeration, be careful with it in all of its forms. You don’t actually have to stop using it, but think of your reader’s credence in your copy as a grasshopper handed over by a child. They think it’s super special and they want you to as well. If you mistreat that grasshopper by piling exaggerated fact after exaggerated fact on top of it, the grasshopper will be crushed and your reader will not easily forgive you.

So how do you stand out in a crowded field of over-used superlatives and hyperbolic claims? Find the places your products honestly excel and tout those. At Moz we don’t have the largest link index in the world. Instead, we have a really high quality link index. I could have obfuscated there and said we have “the best” link index, but by being specific about what we’re actually awesome at, we end up attracting customers who want better results instead of more results (and they’re happier for it).

Unearth the mystery

One of the keys to piquing your audience’s interest is to tap into (poor puppy!) create or find the mystery in what you’re writing. I’m not saying your product description will suddenly feature PIs in fedoras (I can dream, though), but figure out what’s intriguing or new about what you’re talking about. Here are some examples:

  • Remember when shortcuts meant a few extra minutes to yourself after school? How will you spend the 15-30 minutes our email management system will save you? We won’t tell…
  • You don’t need to understand how this toilet saves water while flushing so quietly it won’t wake the baby, just enjoy a restful night’s sleep (and lower water bills)
  • Check out this interactive to see what makes our work boots more comfortable than all the rest.

Secrets, surprises, and inside information make readers hunger for more knowledge. Use that power to get your audience excited about the story you’re about to tell them.

Don’t forget the words around your imagery

Notice how some of these suggestions aren’t about the word picture itself, they’re about the frame around the picture? I firmly believe that a reader comes to a post with a certain amount of energy. You can waste that energy by soothing them to sleep with boring imagery and clichés, while they try to find something to be interested in. Or you can give them energy by giving them word pictures they can get excited about.

So picture it. You’ve captured your reader’s attention with imagery so engaging they’ll remember you after they put down their phone, read their social streams (again), and check their email. They’ll come back to your site to read your content again or to share that story they just can’t shake.

Good writing isn’t easy or fast, but it’s worth the time and effort.

Let me help you make word pictures

Editing writing to make it better is actually one of my great pleasures in life, so I’m going to make you an offer here. Leave a sentence or two in the comments that you’re having trouble activating, and I’ll see what I can do to offer you some suggestions. Pick a cliché you can’t get out of your head or a metaphor that needs a little refresh. Give me a little context for the best possible results.

I’ll do my best to help the first 50 questions or so (I have to stop somewhere or I’ll never write the next blog post in this series), so ask away. I promise no puppies will get hurt in the process. In fact, Rocky’s quite happy to be the poster boy for this post—it’s the first time we’ve let him have beach day, ferry day, and all the other spoilings all at once.

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What New SEOs Don’t Know Unless You Tell Them: A Reminder from Outside the Echo Chamber

Posted by RuthBurrReedy

SEO experts spend multiple hours a week reading blogs, social media and forums to stay abreast of the latest search engine developments; we spend even more time testing and measuring tactics to figure out what works best for our sites. When you spend so much of your time thinking, talking and learning about SEO, you can get lost in the echo chamber and take your eyes off the prize of growing your clients’ businesses.

It’s easy to get excited about the new and shiny developments in search and to hang on Google’s latest announcements, but there’s no point in switching a site from HTTP to HTTPS if it doesn’t even have appropriately keyword-rich title tags. There’s no reason to run a button-color conversion rate optimization test on a site that’s still using the manufacturer’s default description on product pages. Sometimes your traffic is plummeting because you haven’t checked for new 404 errors in 6 months, not because you’ve been hit with a penalty.
Think horses, not zebras, and don’t forget one important fact: Most people have no idea what we’re talking about.

What clients don’t know

Running a business, especially a small business, is way more than a full-time job. Most business owners these days understand that they need to be doing something for their business online, but once they get beyond “have a website” they’re not sure of the next step.

Puzzle

Photo via
Pixabay

Moving back into agency work after several years in-house,
I was surprised by just how many businesses out there have never gone beyond that first step of having a website. The nitty-gritty of building a search-friendly website and driving traffic to it still aren’t that widely known, and without the time or inclination to become experts in marketing their websites, most small business owners just aren’t spending that much time thinking about it.

Hanging out in the SEO echo chamber is a great way to stay on top of the latest trends in digital marketing. To win and keep our clients, however, we need to step out of that echo chamber and remember just how many website owners aren’t thinking about SEO at all.

The good

Relatively few people know or understand digital marketing, and that’s the reason we all have jobs (and most of us are hiring). The strapped-for-time aspect of business ownership means that once someone decides it’s time to get serious about marketing their business online, they’re likely to call in an expert rather than doing it themselves.

There are some really competitive industries and markets out there, but
there are also plenty of niche and local markets in which almost nobody is focusing on SEO in a serious way. Take a look at who ranks for your target keywords in your local area, using an incognito window. If the key phrase isn’t appearing consistently on the search results page, chances are nobody is targeting it very strongly. Combine that with an absence of heavy-hitting big brands like Amazon or Wikipedia, and you may have a market where some basic SEO improvements can make a huge difference. This includes things like:

  • Adding keywords to title tags and page copy in an intentional, user-friendly, non-keyword-stuffed way
  • Claiming local listings with a consistent name, address and phone number
  • Building a few links and citations from locally-focused websites and blogs

It may not seem like much (or seem like kind of a no-brainer), but sometimes it’s all you need. Of course, once the basics are in place, the smartest move is to keep improving your site and building authority; you can’t rely on your competitors not knowing their stuff forever.


Even in more competitive markets, a shocking number of larger brands are paying little to no attention to best practices in search
. Many businesses get the traffic and rankings they do from the power of their brands, which comes from more traditional marketing techniques and PR. These activities result in a fair amount of traffic (not to mention links and authority) on their own, but if they’re being done with no attention given to SEO, they’re wasting a huge opportunity. In the coming years, look for SEO-savvy brands to start capitalizing on this opportunity, leaving their competitors to play catch-up.

From inside the echo chamber, it’s easy to forget just how well the fundamentals of SEO still really work. In addition to the basic items I listed above, a website should be:

  • Fast. Aim for an average page load time of under 5 seconds (user attention spans start running out after 2 seconds, but 5 is a nice achievable goal for most websites).
  • Responsive so it can be viewed on a variety of screens. Mobile is never getting less important.
  • Well-coded. The Moz Developer’s Cheat Sheet is as good a place to start as any.
  • Easy to navigate (just as much for your customers as for Google). Run a Screaming Frog crawl to make sure a crawler can get to every page with a minimum of errors, dead ends, and duplicate content.
  • Unique and keyword-rich, talking about what you have in the language people are using to search for it (in copy nobody else is using).
  • Easy to share for when you’re building awareness and authority via social media and link building.

So life is good and we are smart and there’s a lot to do and everything is very special. Good deal, right?

The bad

SEO being a very specialized skill set has some serious downsides.
Most clients don’t know much about SEO, but some SEOs don’t know much about it either.

There are a ton of great resources out there to learn SEO (Moz and Distilled U come to mind). That said, the web can be a ghost town of old, outdated and inaccurate information, and it can be difficult for people who don’t have much experience in search marketing to know what info to trust. An article on how to make chocolate chip muffins from 2010 is still useful now; an article on PageRank sculpting from the same time period is much less so.

Outdated techniques (especially around content creation and link building) can be really tempting for the novice digital marketer. There are a ton of “tricks” to quickly generate low-quality links and content that sound like great ideas when you’re hearing them for the first time. Content spinning, directory spam, link farms – they’re all still going on and there are gobs of information out there on how to do them.

Why should we care?

So why should we more experienced SEOs, who know what we’re doing and what works, care about these brand new baby n00b SEOs mowing through all this bad intel?

confused

Photo by
Petras Gagilas via Flickr

The first reason is ideological – we should care because they’re doing
bad marketing. It contributes to everything that’s spammy and terrible about the internet. It also makes us look bad. The “SEO is not spam” battle is still being fought.

The second reason is practical. People billing themselves as SEOs without knowing enough about it is a problem because

clients don’t know enough about it either
. It’s easy for someone engaging in link farming and directory spam to compete on price with someone doing full-scale content marketing, because one is much, much more work than the other. Short-term, predictable results feel a lot more tangible than long-term strategies, which are harder to guarantee and forecast. Not to mention that “X dollars for Y links” guy isn’t going to add “There is a risk that these tactics will result in a penalty, which would be difficult to recover from even if I did know how to do it, which I don’t.”

How can we fix it?

SEOs need to educate our clients and prospects on what we do and why we do it. That means giving them enough information to be able to weed out good tactics from bad even before we make the sale.
It means saying “even if you don’t hire me to do this, please don’t hire someone who does X, Y or Z.” It means taking the time to explain why we don’t guarantee first-page rankings, and the risks inherent in link spam. Most of all, it means stepping out of the echo chamber and into the client’s shoes, remembering that basic tenets of digital marketing that may seem obvious to us are completely foreign to most website owners. At the very least we need to educate our clients to please, please not change the website without talking to us about it first!

Since terrible SEO gives us a bad rep (and is annoying to fix), we also need to actively educate within the SEO community. Stepping out of the echo chamber in this case means we need to spend some time talking to new SEOs at conferences, instead of just talking to each other. Point brand new SEOs to the right resources to learn what we do, so they don’t ruin it for everybody – for heaven’s sake, stop calling them n00bs and leaving them to learn it all from questionable sources.

As SEO content creators, we should also take time on a regular basis to either update or take down any outdated content on our own sites. This can be as simple as posting a notification that the info is outdated or as complex as creating a brand new resource on the same topic.
If you’re getting organic search traffic to a page with outdated information, you’re passively hurting the state of SEO education. A declared stance on providing up-to-date information and continually curating your existing content to make it the highest quality? Sounds like a pretty strong brand position to me, SEO bloggers!


Some people are going to read this post and say “well, duh.”
If you read this post and thought it was basic (in every sense of the word), go out right now and fix some of your blog posts from 3 or 4 years ago to contain the latest info. I’ll wait.

The takeaways

  • There are still a ton of markets where just the basics of SEO go a long way.
  • Don’t get distracted by the latest developments in search if the basics aren’t in place.
  • Brands that are getting by on their brand strength alone can be beaten by brand strength + SEO.
  • Old/bad SEO information on the web means people are still learning and doing old/bad SEO, and we’re competing with them. Branding and positioning in SEO needs to take this into account.
  • Clients don’t know who to trust or how to do SEO, so we have to educate them or we’ll lose them to shysters (plus it is the right thing to do).
  • Bad SEO gives all of us a bad reputation, so education within our community is important too.

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Dear Google, Links from YouMoz Don’t Violate Your Quality Guidelines

Posted by randfish

Recently, Moz contributor Scott Wyden, a photographer in New Jersey, received a warning in his Google Webmaster Tools about some links that violated Google’s Quality Guidelines. Many, many site owners have received warnings like this, and while some are helpful hints, many (like Scott’s) include sites and links that clearly do not violate the guidelines Google’s published.

Here’s a screenshot of Scott’s reconsideration request:

(note that the red text was added by Scott as a reminder to himself)

As founder, board member, and majority shareholder of Moz, which owns Moz.com (of which YouMoz is a part), I’m here to tell Google that Scott’s link from the YouMoz post was absolutely editorial. Our content team reviews every YouMoz submission. We reject the vast majority of them. We publish only those that are of value and interest to our community. And we check every frickin’ link.

Scott’s link, ironically, came from this post about Building Relationships, Not Links. It’s a good post with helpful information, good examples, and a message which I strongly support. I also, absolutely, support Scott’s pointing a link back to the Photography SEO community and to his page listing business books for photographers (this link was recently removed from the post at Scott’s request). Note that “Photography SEO community” isn’t just a descriptive name, it’s also the official brand name of the site. In both cases, Scott linked the way I believe content creators should on the web: with descriptive anchor text that helps inform a reader what they’re going to find on that page. In this case, it may overlap with keywords Scott’s targeting for SEO, but I find it ridiculous to hurt usability in the name of tiptoeing around Google’s potential overenforcement. That’s a one-way ticket to a truly inorganic, Google-shaped web.

If Google doesn’t want to count those links, that’s their business (though I’d argue they’re losing out on a helpful link that improves the link graph and the web overall). What’s not OK is Google’s misrepresentation of Moz’s link as ”inorganic” and “in violation of our quality guidelines” in their Webmaster Tools.

I really wish YouMoz was an outlier. Sadly, I’ve been seeing more and more of these frustratingly misleading warnings from Google Webmaster Tools.

(via this tweet)

Several months ago, Jen Lopez, Moz’s director of community, had an email conversation with Google’s Head of Webspam, Matt Cutts. Matt granted us permission to publish portions of that discussion, which you can see below:

Jen Lopez: Hey Matt,

I made the mistake of emailing you while you weren’t answering outside emails for 30 days. :D I wanted to bring this up again though because we have a question going on in Q&A right now about the topic. People are worried that they can’t guest post on Moz: http://moz.com/community/q/could-posting-on-youmoz-get-your-penalized-for-guest-blogging because they’ll get penalized. I was curious if you’d like to jump in and respond? Or give your thoughts on the topic?

Thanks!

Matt Cutts: Hey, the short answer is that if a site A links to spammy sites, that can affect site A’s reputation. That shouldn’t be a shock–I think we’ve talked about the hazards of linking to bad neighborhoods for a decade or so.

That said, with the specific instance of Moz.com, for the most part it’s an example of a site that does good due diligence, so on average Moz.com is linking to non-problematic sites. If Moz were to lower its quality standards then that could eventually affect Moz’s reputation.

The factors that make things safer are the commonsense things you’d expect, e.g. adding a nofollow will eliminate the linking issue completely. Short of that, keyword rich anchortext is higher risk than navigational anchortext like a person or site’s name, and so on.”

Jen, in particular, has been a champion of high standards and non-spammy guest publishing, and I’m very appreciative to Matt for the thoughtful reply (which matches our beliefs). Her talk at SMX Sydney—Guest Blogging Isn’t Dead, But Blogging Just for Links Is—and her post—Time for Guest Blogging With a Purpose—helps explain Moz’s position on the subject (one I believe Google shares). 

I can promise that our quality standards are only going up (you can read Keri’s post on YouMoz policies to get a sense of how seriously we take our publishing), that Scott’s link in particular was entirely editorial, organic, and intentional, and that we take great steps to insure that all of our authors and links are carefully vetted.

We’d love if Google’s webmaster review team used the same care when reviewing and calling out links in Webmaster Tools. It would help make the web (and Google’s search engine) a better place.

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4 Conversations That Don’t Involve Rank Reports – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by Dana DiTomaso

With personalization and (not provided) keywords, there’s been plenty of debate in recent months over the value of keyword rankings in today’s world of marketing. It’s important to remember, though, that there are many ways of showing success without even mentioning keyword rankings.

In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Dana DiTomaso tells us about a few important conversations we can have regardless of our (or our clients’) opinions on rank reports.









For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard:

Video transcription

Howdy Moz fans. I’m not Rand today. I’m Dana DiTomaso from Kick Point, and I presented at MozCon about next-level local SEO tactics. One of the things that I talked about and one of the things people asked me about, I said, this was a little throwaway comment, “Don’t have conversations with your clients that end in rank reports, because it ends up in a bad conversation, and it focuses on the wrong kind of metric.” People at the party afterwards said to me, “That’s nice, Dana, but seriously we have clients, and they want rank reports. So what are we supposed to do?”

So today I am doing a Whiteboard Friday on conversations with clients that don’t end in a rank report, because I feel like this is a really important way for our industry to move. It’s a really important conversation you need to learn how to have, and if you come armed with all this stuff, when you go meet with a client, eventually when you get to the end and you drag them through this process, they’re going to love you forever. I promise. I promise. If it doesn’t work, then I will send you Smarties, which are delicious chocolate treats from Canada. I promise, just e-mail me.

So we’re going to start with things that we talk to clients about when we start working with them. The first thing is I say to them, “How much new business do you want?” Before they say to me, “Oh, I’m not showing up in the map, or I’m not ranking for these phrases,” I say, “How much new business can your company take in, say, the next month?”

These are actually real numbers from one of our real clients. So this isn’t me just making up some crap. So they said to me, “I can take 200 new customers.” It’s a service-based business. So they really do have an upper ceiling on how much new business they can take before they run out of people and they have to hire again. Okay, so 200.

Now I say, “So how many calls and people walking in,” and it’s a medical industry. It’s not a lot of people who walk in, but they mostly get phone calls. How many new calls do they get now? They said, “Well, we track.”
They’re good at tracking. If your client isn’t good at tracking, then get them good at tracking. Then they say, “Okay, we got a 148 calls now.”

So I know that from the number of people who sign up with them, I say, “How many people who call actually make an appointment?” They say, “Well, it’s about 80%.” Okay, so that means that you have 118 new leads.

Okay, so you have 118 new leads that you get, and they look in their numbers and they say, “Yeah, that seems about right. That seems cool.” So then I take a look at their website visits for the previous month, for the previous time period, unique, not all visitors, just unique visitors, and I say, “This is how many you unique visitors you got. It was 3,904. So that means that you have about a 3% conversion rate from the number of people who go to your website to the number of people who sign up for your stuff.”

So now we have a number that we can work with. Then I say, “Okay, so if you want to hit 200 pieces of new business, that means that you have to get 250 calls or walk-ins”—perhaps another business, not this one—”which means that you need to get 6,700 visits to your website.”

So this is when we say, “Based on the amount of budget that you’d like to give with us, we don’t recommend that you’re going to hit this number in this first month.” So then we can figure out a plan with them and say,
“Okay, so next month we’re going to start with PPC. We’re going to do some AdWords, because that’s going to convert really well for you, and you really want to get new business in right away. So let’s do some AdWords.”

Then the next month, we’re working on the map stuff in the meantime, and then we can create a plan for them on when we think we’re going to hit these 6,700 visits, when we think that number’s going to happen. Then they know how many months to expect of return.

Then we can also find out from them, “How much is each one of these 118 people worth to you? How much are you willing to spend per lead to get those people in the door?” Then you can also take the math and break that out and determine your ROI for your business. So if you charge them a certain amount each month, which is how we do it, it’s a monthly retainer type project, then we know the exact ROI and the exact cost per lead. So we can say to the client, “Hey, we’re actually making you money.” Then they just keep paying the bills because we’re actually making them money. We’re not costing them any money.

The second part of this is what you report on. So how do you get to these 6,700 visits? We break out all of our reports into five channels. We say how much organic traffic you got, how much paid, how much referral, how much social, how much direct. We show them just the unique visitor counts, and then we try to break down the conversions, although not every website has strong conversions.

Sometimes we can’t say, “Okay, you got X number of calls via social.” We don’t necessarily know that. If we have call tracking set up, we can tell some of that. But it’s not foolproof, obviously, like maybe somebody came via your Facebook page, and then they bookmarked the site, and then they called later. So of course it’s only going to reflect as a social visit, but whatever. So that’s why these raw numbers are so important. You can’t track everything, but you can try to track most of the things.

The other part of social, specifically, actually is a lot of really small businesses say, “Yeah, this social thing, I don’t understand. It’s boring, it’s stupid, and only kids are on Facebook. My clients aren’t on Facebook, and I don’t need social.” So we start reporting on social, and there’s a really nice piece of regex that you can use to break out your social visits. Do not include them in the referral traffic. Make sure to break them out as their own separate channel.

Make sure that when you report on social, if you’re getting a lot of social visits, just tell them about it and say, “Hey, I know you’re not doing anything on social right now, but you’re getting a lot of social traffic.”
Or maybe if they’re a home builder, for example, maybe they’re getting Pinterest traffic, or from House.com, which is new house new social network. You say to them, “I know you’re not on any of these places, but people are already coming to your website from it, and they’re converting. So maybe we can put some effort in. Just imagine the amount of business that you would get.” You say, “It would be this much extra each month for us to help you with your social strategies.” This is a good business development tip for you.

Then the last thing that pulls all of this together, and this is another throwaway in my presentation, a lot of people say, “Well, advertising agencies, how do I work with these people?” Part of it is just helping them be better at their job and helping them show that what they’re doing is actually making money.

So you don’t want to go into a client and say, “That advertising company you’re paying all that money to, that stuff is crap. Forget them. You’ve got to go with this SEO stuff instead.” Then you make enemies instead of making friends.

So what we do is we say, “Tell us about all the advertising you’re doing right now, all your print ads, all your radio. Who is doing it? How are you tracking it?” They’ll say, “Well, we have a print ad in the local newspaper, and we do a radio ad on this radio station, which is right in with our demographic.” ‘I’ll say, “That’s great. What I would like to do is I would like to put some call tracking around that, so when you have the ad, and this is, ‘We’re awesome, you should call us, visit our awesomecompany.com, or call number,’” instead it would say, “Visit our awesomecompany.com/radio station name, or this magical call tracking number.”

So people do call from radio. I know they’re usually in their car, totally breaking the law that you’re not supposed to use your cell phones. But they do call. If they visit the website, set up a landing page. It doesn’t have to be like a crazy PPC landing page, where you rip out the navigation and everything else. Just a landing page that says, “Hey, radio station listener.”

In our hometown we have Sonic, so if it’s like our awesomecompany.com/sonic, that’s like a new alternative rock station. So if they visit Sonic, then we know the type of listener who’s coming, and then we can write the content in a way that makes sense to that listener. We know how the DJs are on that radio station, so we can match the tone of the content to match the tone of the person who probably came because they heard the ad on Sonic. We know you’re not listening to classical. You’re listening to Pearl Jam. So we know the kind of music that you like, what type of person that you are, and we can write that content for you. It says basically, “Howdy, Sonic listener, here’s the stuff that we think you should know in order to call. Here’s the information you want to arm yourself with. Hey, give us a call, or fill out this form.” There’s your conversion tactic there. So we can see how many visits we got to that web page.

Then what you do is you talk to your radio rep or your media buyer, or whoever else the client is working with, and you say, “Can I get the media blocking chart?” This tells you when the ad is running. If it’s from the radio station, for example, they can tell you after it’s been done or what hours it was played in. So maybe they decided to only run the ad from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., for example. Then in that case, you can take a look at your analytics on an hourly basis and compare: Did we get more direct and organic visits—this is typically the two that radio converts to—during those times?

You can’t tell with a direct visit if they didn’t go to that fancy URL, if they just typed in the main URL, or if they organically typed in the name of your client and then went to the site. So maybe it’s a brand new visit. More likely it’s just not provided for this particular client, where these numbers in the example, they’re actually up to 50% of not provided now, and I think it’s just a lot of cell phone visits.

So we take a look at these metrics. We compare it to the hours in their media blocking chart, and then we know approximately how much benefit they’re receiving as a result of radio. Then you look good, because you’re able to take an offline piece of advertising and turn it into an online metric, that is a conversion metric for the client, and the radio station looks great, because, “Hey, look at this, now we actually know how much benefit you’re getting from radio, which is a really difficult thing.”

Then because the radio station likes you, radio station reps are actually super friendly. You should make friends with them. They usually have like free swags and stuff and tickets to things. But the other thing is that they work with a lot of small businesses who first turn to radio. They’re not calling you, they’re calling the radio station because they think radio works, and for some clients it does. It really depends.

But that radio rep will say, “Hey, do you have a website? We want to mention your website in the ad.” The company will say, “No, I don’t know about this web thing.” The radio station will say, “I’m working with this amazing company, and they have done this great tracking for one of our other clients, and look at what they’ve done, and look at the stuff they can report on.” They’ll say, “That’s amazing. I clearly need to spend all my money on these services, except for the money we’re going to spend on radio.” Then you get new business out of it.

Somebody asked on the last day, “How do you get a seat at the table with the advertisers?” It’s by playing nice with them. It’s by saying to them, “Look, I know that you can’t do this level of tracking with the offline advertising to the actual leads, but I bet you can, and I’m going to teach you how. But I’m also going to show everything and how it relates to the client, all the pieces and how it all comes together.” Then when you, as the business, as your consultant, when you report on this, that turns into this complete marketing reporting for the client, and they love this. They get really excited about it. Like when I give a client a report and I say, “Look at this, your cost per lead went down two bucks,” that’s really exciting for a client.” They think, “Wow, this company is making even more money for me. What would happen if I gave them more money? Then what happens when I refer my friends to them to make more business?” It’s a way to make a rapport that turns into a business building tactic for you.

I hope you find this helpful. Again, if you didn’t, e-mail me and I’ll give you some Smarties. Thanks.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Why Local Businesses Don’t Need Big Budgets for Their Content Marketing

Posted by MatthewBarby

Time and again we hear the same old argument that we shouldn’t be building links, but that we should be focusing on developing exciting and unique content that encourages organic linking all by itself. I completely agree with this statement, but I see businesses misinterpret this far too often.

If you run a local business and have a relatively small budget for your online marketing, is spending that money on a flashy infographic going to be the best use of your resources? More often than not, it isn’t.

Big brands vs. local businesses

The marketing goals for local business and multinational brands are often quite similar in basic principle—they want to establish their brand name as a leader within their field and the geographic areas that they serve. The big difference here is that a local business is looking for large levels of brand exposure to their customers on a micro-level (i.e. they want to reach their customers within the local area that they serve). Major brands also want maximum brand exposure to their customers but on a macro level—they want to be recognised the world over, and to do this they need to spend big on reaching everyone.

This is where the content of these two types of businesses becomes different.

Content is EVERYTHING

When we think of “content,” we typically think of articles, webpage text, and imagery. This is one of the greatest reasons for failure within content marketing campaigns. Having a very linear and restricted view of what content is will only restrict and inhibit results.

  • Content is the staff within your business.
  • Content is the design of your shop/office.
  • Content is your products and services.
  • Content is the menus on your tables.
  • Content is your company values.
  • Content is your customers.
  • Content is EVERYTHING.

Let me elaborate a little on the points I’ve made above. Let’s take the example of a local coffee shop (you can take a look at the discussion I had on inbound.org about this as well).

Turning your staff into content

Most local businesses are heavily focused around delivering a high level of customer service to gain positive feedback for their business. Herein lies an amazing opportunity for content that will boost the awareness and reach of your brand.

Within a coffee shop business, the staff are just as important as the food/drink itself. In some cases they are more important. If you have built in strong customer service that sets you apart from your competitors then, believe it or not, people will talk about you. Considering the work that goes into building local citations and reviews for SEO, utilising your staff to encourage these makes sense.

Getting creative with your staff

source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hootersgirls/7735589086/in/set-72157630960120760

For years, major international brands have been looking at ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Just look at the likes of Hooters; everyone knows about them because of their staff and the outfits that they wear. One simple thing that has got them where they are today, and that has become one of the most iconic pieces of content within the restaurant industry is the Hooters uniform.

I’m not saying that you should start making all your staff wear hot-pants and revealing tops—as fun as that might sound, but what I’m saying is that you can give your staff a unique edge that makes them a piece of creative content. For example, I visited a coffee shop a few weeks back and some of the staff had aprons on with a big QR code on the front that said “zap me for a 10% discount.” When you scanned the QR code you had to like their Facebook page and the member of staff would give you a discount there and then… awesome!

Turning your shop/office into content

Like with your staff, your business premises can become an awesome content example. With the example of a local coffee shop, it’s easy to get creative on a small budget to gain attention—create a unique style and do something different. Also, make it easier to tie in your offline presence with your online presence. For example, you could have your Twitter handle stenciled onto the wall. If you want to get really creative then you could have a chalkboard where you write out your recent tweets as they happen in chalk—this would certainly engage your customers within the shop and I can guarantee it would get people talking about you.

Design your space to be unique and it could become one of the best evergreen content assets that your business could have. The above photo is one that I took whilst visiting the Shakespeare and Company vintage bookstore in Paris. I read somewhere that this is one of the most photographed bookstores in the world – you will see why when you step inside!

Photo: by http://www.camenzindevolution.com at http://mz.cm/17CDwr4
(used with the copyright holder’s permission)

This is just what many major international brands do—the above image is from the Google Tel Aviv office, and yes, that’s a slide! I remember when I visited the Burberry offices in London a couple of years ago and they had a catwalk in the lobby area with models walking down it all day—that certainly got me talking. These ideas are completely relevant and applicable to local businesses, and they don’t necessarily need to involve huge slides or catwalks!

Your products are content

The products and services that you offer can both be used within other content or as creative content in their own right. You don’t need to have the most unique product in the world, and sometimes this isn’t actually possible within standardised product industries. Let’s look at a coffee shop, for example.

We might say that our coffee shop sells a range of different coffees, some sandwiches and a selection of cakes/pastries. The first thing you would think of to make them stand out from the competition is quality. The only problem here is that it’s hard to show the quality of these products to someone who hasn’t actually tasted them; plus, when all of your competitors claim to have the “best quality products,” it can be hard to stand out. With this in mind, why not try something a little different…

source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/krobison/3346410954/

I know, pretty awesome isn’t it? Apparently “latte art” is pretty popular, and to be honest, if that was served in front of me, the first thing that I’d do would be to take a picture and share it on Facebook/Twitter.

source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamieanne/3991004528/

Seasonal product themes can be another fantastic way to augment your current product offering and turn it into creative content. At the local coffee shop that I go to, they create crazy cupcake variations on Halloween and decorate the whole shop. That’s just asking to be talked about on social media and can result in some tasty links as a byproduct.

Your product/service collateral can be content

I’m guessing that you can see where I’m starting to go with this idea that anything can be content, no matter how boring it is. Let’s take some food and drink menus as an example. In its purest form, a menu should deliver the goal of displaying what your business has to offer to your customers. Now, when we bear in mind that over 90% of the customers in a coffee shop are going to take a look at this menu, there is a huge opportunity to get creative.

The above video shows how the Global Mundo Tapas restaurant in the North Sydney Rydges Hotel has replaced all of its menus in favour of actual iPads. The customer can view the whole menu, get more information on each of the different dishes and they can actually place their order live on the tablet. There could be huge potential for linking this in with social media and really connecting the link between online and offline interactions with customers.

Another great example is from Duo restaurant in New York. Their menus actually light up when you open them, which makes them look pretty awesome. Again, this has resulted in the restaurant being mentioned on several niche-relevant blogs that will boost their rankings and give them a wider reach for their brand (it made me notice them, and I’m on the other side of the world!).

The branding of your business is content

The values, culture and vision of your company says a lot about your brand. Multinational brands use their slogans as one of their most valued content assets. If I mentioned “Just Do It” or “They’re Gr-r-r-eat!” then you would know exactly which companies/products I’m talking about—this can be the same for local businesses, but on a different scale.

One hilarious example of some amazing branding was from a local sofa company near the place where I grew up, called “Sofa King.” They drove around in these big white vans every day that had “Our prices are Sofa King Low!” written on them. They got loads of press coverage from this because they were told they had to remove them and actually got a mention on the TV as well. This may not be the most transferable example but I love telling this story to people because it’s just so funny!

Another great way that a lot of cafes and restaurants can use their company values to build content is by partnering up with higher welfare suppliers and institutions. If we look at the likes of the Rainforest Alliance, an international charity focused around conserving biodiversity and improving the working conditions of third-world suppliers. They actually offer a way to certify your business as being Rainforest Alliance approved. This can then be used to build some positive PR around the business, especially within local publications.

Your customers are content

Yes, that’s right… your customers are content too. If you run a local business then you’re likely to be customer-facing a lot of the time—why not take advantage of that?

I worked on a recent campaign with a UK restaurant chain where we ran a competition to eat free for a year at the restaurant. All you had to do to enter was like the Facebook page, send a tweet (that we had pre-defined) and also give some feedback on their experience at the restaurant. We ended up with over 10,000 entries into the competition and the Twitter account was going crazy for weeks. We ended up driving back some good quality links to the website in the process by running an effective link prospecting campaign alongside this, but more importantly we grew the social following dramatically and had loads of people talking about the brand.

Another tactic that I’ve used in the past, and a tactic that could be used within the coffee shop example, is to bring in a group of bloggers and let them eat for free in exchange for writing up a blog on their experience. It’s important to keep things impartial here, but getting a write up from a respected blogger can do wonders for your brand and will be an awesome link back to your website—it doesn’t cost a lot either.

Content is EVERYTHING

As you’ve probably now realised, content doesn’t just mean blog articles or infographics. Content can come in the shape of all sorts of things, both online and offline. The important thing is to understand the end goal of your content marketing strategy and how this then ties in with your social media and SEO campaigns.

When run on their own, content marketing, SEO and social media can be very expensive for local businesses, but when you integrate these together and take full advantage of the resources at your disposal, it will be both cost effective and bring in far greater results.

This doesn’t need to apply to just local businesses either. A perfect example of this is with the post that I wrote for Moz a short while ago that was a case study on the link building campaign that I carried out for my travel blog. Case studies are a fantastic way to squeeze out more links to your website and can be awesome pieces of content that can apply to blogs, major brands and small businesses alike.

A few actionable content ideas for local businesses

Your staff:

  • Have your staff wearing unique uniforms that will get people talking about your brand.
  • Encourage your staff to interact through social media with customers.
  • Record videos of your staff at work that shows off their expertise (this could be a tutorial video on “how to bake the perfect cupcake,” or “how to spray your car bumper”). It doesn’t have to be amazing production work; an iPhone will often do the job here.
  • Leverage your highly skilled staff within the business to become well-known figures within their niche. This can be through holding small meetups with the local community, through answering questions within niche-relevant forums/social media groups or putting together weekly recipe cards.
  • Run themed events on-site and have your staff live tweet with updates throughout.
  • Encourage creativity from you staff and create a working environment that promotes spontaneity—take a look at this article to see what I mean.
  • Have your staff speak at local events.

Your premises:

  • Create a funky design to your office/shop that is going to invoke conversation.
  • “Socialise” your shop front by including your social media accounts within the décor. For example, having your Twitter handle stenciled on the wall.
  • Offer free WiFi to customers on the condition that they “like” your Facebook page.
  • Go old school and have a chalkboard Twitter feed that your staff will write updates on by hand throughout the day.
  • Have a live feed of the shop/office running all day on your website.
  • Run themed nights where you decorate the whole place up in a unique style. Make sure you take loads of photos and share them across your FB/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest.

Your products:

  • Offer discounts on your products when a customer shares them via social media.
  • Differentiate them in a way that will invoke an emotional response from your customers; for example, latte art.
  • Create seasonal product range themes that will get mentioned.
  • Send out free samples of your products for review to bloggers.
  • Run small focus groups to get feedback on your products/services. Record the whole focus group and post the video through your YouTube channel. Even better, run a live Google Hangout focus group and do the whole thing online.
  • Run some promotional coupons and submit them to coupon/discount offers directories.
  • Run product giveaway competitions that require social engagement to enter. You can also do these to gain feedback on products and then share your results within a short blog.

Product/service collateral:

  • Spice up your menus and include social media links within each of them.
  • Add QR codes to the bottom of your till receipts.
  • Create 101 guides and eBooks that are related to your niche.
  • Your Branding, Values and Culture:
  • Do something controversial. It doesn’t work for everyone but it can be one of the quickest ways to get your brand out there.
  • Partner with local charities and schemes.
  • Sponsor local events.
  • Create a unique and recognisable slogan for your business.
  • Create mascots for your business and give them a full back-story. You can even go to the length of giving them a social media account and start tweeting as them. Look at Roger Mozbot as an example.

Your customers:

  • Run surveys and polls with your customers and publish the results on your website and social media accounts.
  • Encourage customers to engage with your brand on social media whilst they’re with you for an incentive.
  • Run weekly giveaway competitions on Facebook that involve your customers having to tag a friend in the comments of the post and sharing it to their friends. When they receive their free product/service—get a photo of them and post it across your social media page.
  • Have a ‘customer of the week’ that you single out and give a freebie to or record a special thank-you video for their custom.
  • Invite a group of bloggers into the shop for some free product testing and ask them to blog about their experiences.
  • Run a weekly/bi-weekly/monthly live Google Hangout with some of your loyal customers (you may have to incentivise them) to get feedback on their experiences and post it to your YouTube channel.

Some comments from our Inbound.org discussion

Victor Pan:

Content for content’s sake doesn’t work. ‘Doing’ SEO without knowing what you’re doing doesn’t work. However, both methods work when executed correctly. It’s not whether or not it is done, but rather how it is done.

Time is scarce for small businesses. They don’t have time to learn the ‘how’ and execute it correctly on their first try. All too often, they visit the wrong neighbourhood on the web and do what they’ve learned… or hire the wrong people.

Bad blogging (scraping/plagiarism/panda) can get you penalized just as well as bad links (irrelevant neighbourhoods/fishy anchor text/penguin) – so I wouldn’t be so quick to say one is better than the other, or that you need both.

Have you run into a business that has gone through the hands of a rogue SEO who did low quality content spun from a competitor and a list of comment links from forums? I have. It’s not pretty.

If I had to choose, I’d say it’s easier for small businesses to be smart about content generation. SEO? That’s not part of their core business – it’s inefficient for them to learn it beyond the absolute fundamentals.

Martin Harris:

Whilst the above analogies are great, i think the point here is how to get the best out the client’s time. Ultimately it’s what going to be getting them more traffic and if (like most of my clients) you pay an hourly rate; 3-4 hours a month of SEO specific time, content marketing, won’t cut it.

But here lies the problem; they should be treated as separate entities.

Put it this way: would creating great promotional and traffic relevant content on social media drive more traffic or would ranking for a targeted niche relevant term?

It’s both.

For small businesses, getting natural links from content marketing should be a by-product not a SEO strategy.

Slava Rybalka:

1) as for me, content marketing involves both, and first of all, it’s like you said, being creative and notice what is going on in your daily business operations and what you can turn into content

2) I have seen the same effect, however, I tend to focus more on content rather than links, because: 1. Links tend to disappear over time, whereas your contents stays on your site, you don’t have control over your links but you have control over your content 2.if you have content that resonates with you target audience, great links will come naturally and recently we have seen the cases when few links can make a difference in search results, since Google is focusing more on quality of links. There are other things that come to my mind but these are 2 main points.

View the full discussion here: http://www.inbound.org/articles/view/content-marketing-the-ultimate-seo-office-discussion

TL;DR

  • Leveraging the assets of your business through content marketing, and tying this in with your SEO and social media campaign can yield awesome business results.
  • Big brand content strategies have similar goals to local businesses but they differ completely in execution.
  • Get all your staff to wear Hooters outfits to work, jazz up the morning coffees with some latte art and install a slide into your office.

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Don’t Buy Link Rich Advertorials (Unless You’re Google)

I understand Google’s desire to have a clean editorial signal & not wanting people to manipulate the web graph.

But Google once again isn’t following the best practices they dish out for others.

Both of the following are not one-off articles, but are part of a “series” of advertorials for various Google products with direct followed links to AdWords, Google Analytics, Chromebook, & Hangouts.

Check the date on this next one: February 19th, the same day Interflora was penalized by Google. This is something that is an ongoing practice for Google, while they penalize others for doing the same thing.

Is using payment to influence search results unethical unless the check has Google on it?

None of those links in the content use nofollow, in spite of many of them having Google Analytics tracking URLs on them.

And I literally spent less than 10 minutes finding the above examples & writing this article. Surely Google insiders know more about Google’s internal marketing campaigns than I do. Which leads one to ask the obvious (but uncomfortable) question: why doesn’t Google police themselves when they are policing others? If their algorithmic ideals are true, shouldn’t they apply to Google as well?

Clearly Google takes paid links that pass pagerank seriously, as acknowledged by their repeated use of them.

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