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Taking Local Inventory Online: An Interview with Pointy’s Mark Cummins

Posted by MiriamEllis

Let’s go back in time 20 years so I can ask you the question, “How often do you look at a paper map every month?”

Unless you were a cartographer or a frequent traveler, chances are good that your answer would be, “Hmm, maybe less than once a month. Maybe once or twice a year.”

But in 2019, I’d wager there’s scarcely a day that goes by without you using Google Maps when planning to eat out, find a service provider, or find something fun to do. That web-based map in your hand has become a given.

And yet, there’s one thing you’re still not using the Internet for. And it’s something you likely wonder about almost daily. It starts with the question,

“I wonder who around here carries X?”

A real-world anecdote

After the tragic fires we’ve had this year in California, I wanted to wet mop all the floors in my house instead of vacuuming them, due to my concerns about particulate pollution in the air. My mother recommended I buy a Swiffer. I needed to know where I could find one locally, but I didn’t turn to the Internet for this, because the Internet doesn’t tell me this. Or at least, it hasn’t done so until now. Few, if any, of the local hardware stores, pharmacies, or big box retailers have reliable, live online inventory. At the same time, calling these places is often a huge hassle because staff isn’t always sure what’s in stock.

And so I ended up going to 3 different shops in search of this particular product. It wasn’t a convenient experience, and it was an all-too-common one.

The next big thing in local already exists

My real-world anecdote about a wet mop is exactly why I’m so pleased to be interviewing Mark Cummins, CEO of Pointy. 90% of purchases still take place in physical stores and it’s Mark who has seen this gap in available online knowledge about offline inventory and has now set out to bridge it.

I predict that within a few years, you’ll be using the Internet to find local inventory as frequently and easily as you’ve come to use its mapping capabilities. This chat with Mark explains why.

The real-world roots of an existing local need

Miriam: Mark, I understand that you were formerly a Google Search Team member, with a background in machine learning, but that your journey with Pointy began by walking into retail shops and talking face-to-face with owners. What did these owners tell you about their challenges in relation to offline/online inventory? A memorable real-world anecdote would be great here.

Mark: I started thinking about this problem because of an experience just like your story about trying to find a Swiffer. I’d recently moved to a new country and I had to buy lots of things to set up a new apartment, so I had that kind of experience all the time. It felt like there was a huge gap there that search engines could help with, but they weren’t.

I had been working at Google developing what became Google Lens (Google’s image recognition search feature). It felt strange that Google could do something so advanced, yet couldn’t answer very basic questions about where to buy things locally.

So I started thinking about ways to fix that. Initially I would just walk into retailers and talk to them about how they managed their inventory. I was trying to figure out if there was some uniform way to bring the inventory information online. I quickly learned that it was going to be hard. Almost every retailer I spoke to had a different method of tracking it. Some kept records on paper. Some didn’t count their inventory at all.

My first idea was a little crazy — I wanted to build a robot for retailers that would drive around the store every night and photograph all the shelves, and use image recognition to figure out the inventory and the prices. I spent some time seriously thinking about that, but then landed on the idea of the Pointy box, which is a much simpler solution.

Miriam: Can you briefly describe what a typical Point of Sale system is like for retailers these days, in light of this being technology most retailers already have in place?

Mark: Well, I would almost say that there isn’t a typical Point of Sale system. The market is really fragmented, it sometimes feels like no two retailers have the same system. There’s a huge range, from the old-style systems that are essentially a glorified calculator with a cash drawer, up to modern cloud-connected systems like Clover, Square, or Lightspeed. It’s very disruptive for retailers to change their POS system, so older systems tend to stay in use for a long time. The systems also differ by vertical — there are specialized systems for pharmacies, liquor stores, etc. Dealing with all of that variation is what makes it so hard to get uniform local inventory data.

A simple inventory solution is born

Miriam: So, you spoke with retailers, listened to their challenges and saw that they already have Point of Sale systems in place. And Pointy was born! Please, describe exactly what a Pointy device is, how it solves the problems you learned about, and fits right in with existing Point of Sales technology.

Mark: Right! It was pretty clear that we needed to find a solution that worked with retailers’ existing systems. So we developed the Pointy box. The Pointy box is a small device that attaches to a retailer’s barcode scanner. Basically it links the barcode scanner to a website we create for the retailer. Whenever the retailer scans a product with their barcode scanner, we recognize the barcode, and list the product on the website. The end result is live website listing everything in the store — here’s an example for Talbot’s Toyland, a toy store in San Mateo. They have over ten thousand products listed on their site, without any manual work.

The experience is pretty much seamless — just plug in Pointy, and watch your store website build itself. The Pointy box connects directly via the cell phone network, so there’s really nothing to set up. Just plug it in and it starts working. New products automatically get added to your store page, old products get removed when you no longer sell them, item stock status syncs automatically. We did quite a bit of machine learning to make that all automatic. Once the site is live, we also have some SEO and SEM tools to help retailers drive search traffic for the products they sell.

Miriam: My understanding is that the Pointy Team had to do a ton of legwork to put together various product catalogues from which data is pulled each time a product is scanned so that its information can be displayed on the web. I’m not familiar with this concept of product catalogues. What are they, what types of information do they contain, and what did you have to do to pull all of this together? Also, is it true that your team hand-reviews all the product data?

Mark: If you’re working in shopping search, then product catalogs are really important. Every mass-market product has a unique barcode number, but unfortunately there’s no master database where you can enter a barcode number and get back the product’s name, image, etc. So basically every retailer has to solve this problem for themselves, laboriously entering the product details into their systems. Pointy helps eliminate that work for retailers.

There are some product catalogs you can license, but each one only covers a fraction of products, and errors are common. We built a big data pipeline to pull together all of this product data into a single catalog and clean it up. We automate a lot of the work, but if you want the highest quality then machine learning alone isn’t enough. So every single product we display also gets approved by a human reviewer, to make sure it’s accurate. We’ve processed millions of products like this. The end result for the retailer is that they just plug in a Pointy box, scan a product, and their website starts populating itself, no data entry required. It’s a pretty magical feeling the first time you see it. Especially if you’ve spent countless hours of your life doing it the old way!

Where real-time local inventory appears on the web

Miriam: So, then, the products the retailer scans create the brand’s own inventory catalogue, which appears on their Pointy page. What tips would you offer to business owners to best integrate their Pointy page with their brand website? Linking to it from the main menu of the website? Something else? And do these Pointy pages feature SEO basics? Please describe.

Mark: Some retailers use Pointy as their main website. Others have it as an additional profile, in the same way that they might have a Facebook page or a Yelp page. The main thing Pointy brings is the full live inventory of the store, which generally isn’t listed anywhere else. To integrate with their other web presences, most just link across from their main sites or social media profiles. A few also embed Pointy into their sites via an iframe.

We work a lot on making these pages as SEO-friendly as possible. The queries we focus on ranking for are things like “product name near me” or “product name, location.” For example, a query like “rubber piggy bank san mateo” currently has the Pointy page for Talbot’s Toyland in #1 position. We have an engineering team working on this all the time, and we’ve actually discovered a few interesting things.

Miriam: And how does this work when, for example, a product goes out of stock or goes on sale for a different price?

Mark: We keep that information updated live. The stock status is updated based on the information from the Pointy box. We also handle price data, though it depends on what features the retailers is using. Some retailers prefer not to display their prices online.

See What’s In Store: Google totally sees the opportunity

Miriam: I was fascinated to learn that Pointy is the launch partner for Google’s See What’s In Store feature, and readers can see an example of this with Talbot’s Toyland. Can you explain what’s involved for retailers who want their inventory to appear in the SWIS area of the Google Business Profile (aka “Knowledge Panel”) and why this represents such an important opportunity? Also, does the business have to pay a commission to Google for inclusion/impressions/clicks?

Mark: This is a pretty exciting feature. It lets retailers display their full product catalogue and live inventory information in the Business Profile on the Google search page. It’s also visible from Google Maps. I’m guessing Google will probably start to surface the information in more ways over time.

It’s completely free for retailers, which is pretty interesting. Google Shopping has always been a paid service, so it’s notable that Google is now offering some organic exposure with this new feature.

I think that this is going to become table stakes for retailers in the next year or two, in the same way that having your opening hours online is now. Consumers are simply going to expect the convenience of finding local product information online. I think that’s a good thing, because it will help local businesses win back customers that might otherwise have gone to Amazon.

We’ve worked a lot with Google to make the setup experience for local retailers very simple. You just link your Pointy account to Google, and your live inventory appears in the Google Business Profile. Behind the scenes we do a lot of technical work to make that happen (including creating Merchant Center accounts, setting up feeds, etc). But the user experience is just a few clicks. We’ve seen a lot of uptake from Pointy users, it’s been a very popular feature. We have a bit more detail on it here.

What about special retail scenarios?

Miriam: So, basically, Pointy makes getting real-world inventory online for small and independent retailers who just don’t have the time to deal with a complicated e-commerce system. I understand that you have some different approaches to offer larger enterprises, involving their existing IT systems. Can you talk a bit about that, please?

Mark: Yes, some larger retailers may be able to send us a direct feed from their inventory systems, rather than installing Pointy boxes at every POS location. We aim to support whatever is easiest for the retailer. We are also directly integrated into modern cloud POS systems like Clover, Square, Lightspeed, Vend, and others. Users of those systems can download a free Pointy app from their system’s app store and integrate with us that way. And for retailers not using those systems, they can use a Pointy box.

Miriam: And what about retailers whose products lack labels/barcodes? Let’s say, a farm stand with constantly-changing seasonal produce, or a clothing boutique with hand-knit sweaters? Is there a Pointy solution for them?

Mark: Unfortunately we’re not a great fit for those kind of retailers. We designed the experience for retailers who sell barcoded products.

Miriam: You’re a former Google staffer, Mark. In local search, Google has become aggressive in taking a cut of an increasing number of local consumer actions and this is particularly hard on small businesses. We’ve got Local Service Ads, paid ads in local packs, booking buttons, etc, all of which struggling independent businesses are having to pay Google for. Right now, these retailers are eager for a competitive edge. How can they differentiate themselves? Please, share tips.

Mark: It’s true, lots of channels that used to be purely organic now have a mix of organic and paid. I think ultimately the paid ads still have to be ROI-positive or nobody will use them, but it’s definitely no fun to pay for traffic you used to get for free.

On the positive side, there are still plenty of openings to reach customers organically. If small businesses invest in staying ahead of the game, they can do very well. Lots of local product searches essentially have no answer, because most retailers haven’t been able to get their inventory online yet. It’s easy to rank well for a query when you’re the only one with the answer. There’s definitely still an opening there for early adopters.

“Pointing” the way to the future

Miriam: Finally, Pointy has only been available in the US since 2016, and in that short amount of time, you’re already serving 1% of the country’s retailers. Congratulations! What does the near future look like to you for retailers and for Pointy? What do you see as Pointy’s mission?

Mark: We want to bring the world’s brick-and-mortar retailers online and give them the tools they need to thrive. More than 90% of retail goes through brick and mortar stores, so there’s no reason they shouldn’t have an amazing technology platform to help them. The fragmentation and difficulty of accessing data has held everyone back, but I think Pointy has a shot at fixing that.

Miriam: Thank you, Mark. I believe Pointy has what it takes to be successful, but I’m going to wish you good luck, anyway!

Summing up

In doing this interview, I learned a ton from Mark and I hope you did, too. If a local retailer you market is seeking a competitive advantage in 2019, I’d seriously be considering early adoption of Google’s See What’s In Store feature. It’s prime Google Business Profile (formerly Knowledge Panel) real estate, and so long as SWIS is free and Pointy is so affordable, there’s a pretty incredible opportunity to set yourself apart in these early days with a very modest investment.

I’m feeling confident about my prediction that we’re on the verge of a new threshold in user behavior, in terms of people using local search to find local inventory. We’ll all have the enjoyment of seeing how this plays out over the next couple of years. And if you heard it first at Moz, that will be extra fun!

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CMWorld Interview: Path to 1M Monthly Readers Has No Shortcuts, Says J.P. Medved

In her introduction to The Ultimate Guide to Conquering Content Marketing, Content Marketing Institute’s Cathy McPhillips draws several commonalities between content marketing and video games: the interactivity, the trial-and-error learnings, the camradery.

But, while many marketers have their own personal “cheat codes” that help them gain an edge, there are no true hacks in content. Certain video games allow you to tap in a series of commands and gain invincibility, or jump ahead to the next level. Content marketers, however, cannot magically produce an audience or monetization out of thin air.

As the Content Director for Capterra, and also an avowed lover of gaming, J.P. Medved understands this reality. His company’s industry-specific blogs have grown to 1 million monthly readers, and it wasn’t because of any secret elixir.

Instead, Capterra’s success owes to a proven, adoptable strategy tethered to the fundamentals of organization, goals, promotion, and experimentation. Medved will explain this formula in-depth during his Content Marketing World session, Better Than Hacks and Schemes: A Proven Approach to Building Your Audience, and was also kind enough to share some insights with us ahead of the September event.    

Medved has a reputation for being sharply honest and entertaining, and those traits definitely came through during our interview with him. Keep reading to find his thoughts on silent content, scalability, documenting strategies, and content marketing lessons learned from his experience writing fiction.

 

What does your role as Content Marketing Director at Capterra entail? What are your main areas of focus and key priorities?

My day-to-day as a Content Director involves a lot of email and meetings, at this point. We’ve grown to a team of nine writers, six of whom I manage directly, so a lot of my time is devoted to supporting them. I join monthly topic planning meetings with all of them, as well as frequent check-ins with the editors and the marketing folks that support the content we produce. I also now spend a fair amount of time in our analytics and various content management systems just checking in and tracking things.

As we’ve grown—and I suspect this is common in most roles—I’ve transitioned away from being a content producer, to being a content manager. I no longer write content myself, and we centralized editing early last year so I no longer edit individual pieces either. Instead I spend more time coordinating long-term content plans and calendars with other teams in the business, managing content experiments or helping new projects get off the ground, and working with the folks on my team to help advance their career goals.

 

Why should content marketers beware of “hacks” and shortcuts when it comes to growing their audience and impact?

The content marketing world, and the digital marketing space more generally, loves the idea of the Cinderella story. That blog that hits everything just right and experiences exponential, “hockey stick” growth and also there’s a royal wedding involved somehow. But our experience, and that of the vast majority of successful content marketing operations I’m aware of, is actually a lot more boring.

Jimmy Daley of the great animalz.co blog calls it “silent content;” that company that has just been plugging away and producing and refining great content for years, and grown a consistent, large audience and strong search position.  

With Capterra’s content, we’ve grown to a million readers a month, writing in an ostensibly boring, B2B software space, and we never had a breakout “viral” hit, or flashy media coverage, or exponential traffic growth (it’s all been linear). We’ve just been working away at it since 2013, publishing consistently and getting a little bit better each month.

I think if you waste all your time and energy chasing new “hacks” and shortcuts sold to you by whatever case study is making the rounds on YouMoz that week, you never get really good at the fundamentals of content marketing; the block-and-tackle of creating and promoting really great, helpful—if unassuming—content. As a result your growth, though it may experience the occasional spike, will actually slow and it’ll take you more time to build a sustainable traffic base in the long-run.


If you waste all your time and energy chasing new “hacks” & shortcuts, you never get really good at the fundamentals of content marketing. @rizzleJPizzle #CMWorld
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What are the most pivotal roles in developing an effective and scalable content strategy?

Scalability is still something we struggle with, having grown the team 6X in the last four years. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is actually to bring on/promote other managers earlier than you think you need it. Assuming an average writer production schedule of two, 1,500 word articles a week, a full-time manager can effectively manage and edit 3-4 writers. If they’re not editing (you bring in a centralized editing team, or use a round-robin method, or delegate to senior writers), that number goes up to 6-7.  

But you should have someone in place to help you well before you hit that number, not only to give them time to ramp-up and learn management skills, but also to allow you to plan effectively for new hires and content coverage growth.


The biggest lesson content I’ve learned is actually to bring on/promote other managers earlier than you think you need it. @rizzleJPizzle #CMWorld
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Why is experimentation so critical in the content creation process?

Most of our content fails. Like, over 90% of it. And that’s not at all uncommon in the content marketing world. If everyone knew the exact ingredients to a “viral” content piece, that’s all anyone would produce. But we don’t know. Pieces I think will do really well, more-often-than-not sink without a trace, and pieces that seem like throwaways can take off because they’ve tapped into some pent-up need in the marketplace of ideas.

So we try to test a lot. 50% or more of our content is trying out new topics or channels or formats, and the other 50% is either updating successful past content, or scaling up a content type that our previous testing has discovered works.

I differ here from the current received-wisdom in the content marketing industry. Right now it’s hip to say content marketers need to produce fewer pieces of longer, higher quality content. But I actually argue you should produce a higher volume of content (at least early on) to discover what “hits” with your particular audience, so you can scale that later.

Brian Dean of Backlinko is often the poster-child of the “publish less, publish higher-quality” model, and I love his content and he’s obviously been very successful. But might he have been more successful publishing weekly instead of monthly? Could he have sacrificed a little bit of length to experiment with a broader range of topic ideas earlier on before scaling the ones that worked? I think it’s possible.


You should produce a higher volume of content (at least early on) to discover what “hits” with your particular audience, so you can scale that later. @rizzleJPizzle #CMWorld
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What are the most common mistakes you see individuals and companies make when developing and launching a blog?

The biggest one is not taking content marketing seriously. That manifests itself in two major tactical mistakes: not hiring someone to do content full-time, and trying to squeeze direct revenue out of content in the first year.

If no one’s doing content full-time, then content just becomes a side project for someone at your company who may-or-may-not get to it once they finish their “real work” for the day. We tried this model for years and never got any traction with our content until someone owned it full-time and could devote themselves to thinking about it strategically and producing content consistently.

And you should not try to monetize your content in the first year. It will distort your writing, even if you think you can guard against it, and result in lower-quality, less helpful, more salesy content. Focus on creating content that is genuinely helpful for your audience first, and you will build reader trust for any kind of monetization scheme you want to implement later down the road.


If no one’s doing content full-time, then content just becomes a side project for someone at your company who may-or-may-not get to it once they finish their real work for the day. @rizzleJPizzle #CMWorld
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Why is it important for businesses to have a documented content strategy, as opposed to an intangible framework?

I think people get intimidated when you say, “You need to have a documented content strategy” because they envision this 30-page document written in corporate buzzwords that will take a month to create. But we literally started with nothing more than a two-page Word doc with some bullet points listing our short and long-term goals/metrics, the type of content we wanted to create, and who was responsible for what aspects.

The benefits to us of even something that basic have been huge. Actually writing it down forced us to think through the specifics and showed us where the gaps in our plan were, having agreed-upon goals and timelines upfront made for easier team and executive buy-in, and it gave us something to refer back to when we had questions about whether a new content idea fit our overall goals.

 

What have you learned in your ‘side hustle’ as a fiction novelist that applies to your day job as a content marketer?

For writing fiction I spent a lot of time studying story structure, and plot architecture, and all the elements that make a story really “flow” and feel effortless to people reading it. What struck me is how many of the same principles apply to a content piece.

You want to start off with a strong “hook” that introduces an element of mystery and makes the reader want to know more, your “climax” needs to deliver a memorable experience or information, and the dénouement has to be satisfying. A novel that doesn’t tie up loose ends in the last few chapters is as unsatisfying as a blog post that doesn’t include a concrete next step or call to action in the last few paragraphs.

 

Which speaker presentations are you looking forward to most at Content Marketing World 2018?

I love video games, so I’m excited to hear Jane Weedon of Twitch give her talk. I’ve also always been fascinated by the science behind online behavior, so Brian Massey’s talk on Behavioral Science for Content Marketers is high on my list as well.

Find Your Path to Content Marketing Greatness

Consistency, experimentation, and getting better each month: They might not be the stuff of Cinderella stories, but in the real world these techniques work and Medved’s team serves as living proof.

He is one of many CMWorld speakers who contributed to The Ultimate Guide to Conquering Content Marketing, so as we look forward to seeing them on stage in Cleveland, make sure to soak in all their awesome advice by clicking through the slides below:


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CMWorld Interview: Peter Krmpotic on Optimizing the Content Supply Chain

Content personalization is no longer a dream that marketers have for leveling up engagement with their audience, it’s become an essential combo for winning the content marketing game. Need proof? According to a study from Marketo, 79% of consumers say they are only likely to engage with an offer if it has been personalized. And Salesforce estimates that by 2020 51% of consumers will expect that companies will anticipate their needs and make suggestions, before contact.

But how can enterprise brands scale personalization efforts in a way that is efficient and effective?

Peter Krmpotic, Group Product Manager at Adobe, has focused heavily throughout his career on scaling personalization. He alo references the content supply chain (which is a framework for viewing content production, management and scalability) as a granular way to break down different structural elements and make them more manageable.

Applying personalization to an entire content marketing operation, especially at the enterprise level, might feel overwhelming. But applying it individually to different aspects of the process, piece by piece? This feels more feasible.

Peter will be joining other high-scoring content marketing experts at 2018’s Content Marketing World in Cleveland, OH this September. In anticipation of this awesome event, we sat down with Peter for the first interview in our series leading up to the event and asked him more about his role at Adobe, the importance of content personalization and the impact of technology on personalization.  

What does your role as Group Product Manager at Adobe entail? What are your main areas of focus and key priorities?

At Adobe, I focus on content marketing, digital asset management, and personalization at scale.

Throughout my career, I’ve developed a passion for customers, their use cases and building scalable software for them.

Specifically, my interests include next-generation technologies, evolving organizational structures, and industry best practices.

You’re a big believer in the importance of personalization. Where do you see the biggest opportunities for content marketers to improve in this regard?

First and foremost, personalization is a group effort which cuts across all functions of the content supply chain: strategy, planning, creation, assembly, and delivery.

Establishing and aligning these functions with each other is the first block in a strong foundation.

What we are doing here is leveraging the centuries-old concept of “divide and conquer,” where we break personalization down into manageable stages.

Once everything is in place, the biggest opportunity lies in providing relevant data that is actionable at each of the content supply chain functions.

While we all talk a lot about data-informed and data-driven content marketing, I still see addressing this data gap as the biggest opportunity by far.

Which prevalent pitfalls are preventing content from connecting with its audience, from your view?

We have the people, the data, and the tools to create engaging content at scale, yet we often jumpstart the process of creating content without the required thoughtfulness on the initial critical steps.

It is essential to be clear which audiences we are targeting and subsequently to define clear goals for the message we are creating.

To this day, most brands need to improve at this stage, otherwise the best content marketer in the world cannot create an effective piece of engaging content.

Developing scalable ways to create and personalize content has been a key area of emphasis in your career. How can marketers think differently about scaling for efficiency and impact?

Similar to what I said earlier of “divide and conquer,” break the problem into manageable pieces and thus build a content supply chain.

Then, optimize each piece of the supply chain as opposed to trying to improve the whole thing all at once.

Where do you see the biggest influences of technologies like machine learning and automation in the world of content?

Currently, many mundane tasks, such as gathering and analyzing data or making sure content is optimized for each channel, take up a lot of time and effort in content marketing, preventing us from doing what matters most.

Things that take weeks and months will gradually be performed in the background.

By eliminating these mundane tasks, the human capacity for creativity and intuition will be magnified and reach new levels that were unimaginable before.

Which aspects of marketing SaaS products and services could and should be instilled for pros in other verticals?

Marketing software has received the kind of attention and focus that very few verticals have ever received, and as a result, we now benefit from a variety of software options that is unparalleled. This has led to a lot of AI being developed for marketing first that will be deployed in other verticals later.

A result of this fierce competition is that marketing software tends to be the more flexible and user friendly than others, adapting to a multitude of use cases, which has set new standards across all verticals.

Lastly, even though software in general does not integrate well with each other, given its variety and busy ecosystem, marketing software has trail-blazed integration best practices, which other verticals will benefit from.

Looking back, is there a particular moment or juncture in your career that you view as transformative? What takeaways could other marketers learn and apply?

Joining Adobe was truly transformative, because it allowed me to engage with customers across the entire breadth and depth of digital marketing, as well as with colleagues across different products and solutions who are truly world-class at what they do.

My recommended takeaway is to look beyond your current scope of work — which is not necessarily easy — and to figure out ways to connect with people who can help you understand adjacent functions and disciplines.

Seeing the entire picture will help you with solving your current challenges in ways that you could not have imagined before.

Which speaker presentations are you looking forward to most at Content Marketing World 2018?

I’m looking forward to quite a few sessions, but here are 5 sessions I am particularly excited about:

  • Joe Pulizzi’s keynote on Tuesday. I am sure I am not the only one interested to hear his take on the industry and where it is headed.
  • Then Gartner’s Heather Pemberton Levy and her workshop on their branded content platform, Smarter With Gartner, which I am a big fan of.
  • Michael Brenner’s workshop on how to create a documented content marketing strategy, which I know a lot of brands struggle with.
  • And then two sessions that talk about leveraging data during content creation: Morgan Molnar and Brad Sanzenbacher on Wednesday, and Katie Pennell on Thursday.

Ready Player One

Big thanks to Peter for his enlightening insights. His final takeaway — “Seeing the entire picture will help you with solving your current challenges in ways that you could not have imagined before” — is at the heart of Content Marketing World, which will bring together a diverse set of voices and perspectives to broaden your view of this exciting yet challenging frontier.

Tap into some of the unique expertise offered by CMWorld speakers by checking out the Ultimate Guide to Conquering Content Marketing below:

 

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Digital Marketing Spotlight: An Interview With Ursula Ringham, Head of Global Influencer Marketing, SAP

Influencer Marketing Interview Ursula Ringham

Influencer Marketing Interview Ursula Ringham

They say curiosity killed the cat, but in Ursula Ringham’s case, curiosity is her special gift—both personally and professionally.

“I’m a fiercely curious person who loves storytelling,” Ursula told me. “I guess it’s my hidden talent; I can strike up a conversation with a stranger and get them to tell me their full life story. I’ll talk to anyone. I want to know people and how they think.”

Her curiosity and “love of story” have guided her throughout her marketing career—from early positions at Adobe and Apple to self-publishing a thriller novel to her latest role as Head of Global Influencer Marketing at SAP*.

“I’m no millennial, but I have the millennial mindset,” she says. “You have to go after what you want. You can’t let fear decide your future. And I know if I put my mind to something, I can do it.”

As influencer marketing booms and social media marketing experiences a quasi midlife crisis, I sat down with Ursula to talk misconceptions, tools, and tips on both marketing fronts.

Q&A with SAP’s Ursula Ringham

Ursula Ringham, Head of Global Influencer Marketing, SAP1. Tell me about yourself. How did you come into the digital marketing space and eventually join SAP?

I was in the right place at the right time. As you know, I worked at Adobe and Apple, so I had a career in high-tech early on. I actually left Apple right before the first iPhone came out, and I stayed at home with my kids for about eight years.

When it was time to get back in, honestly, no one would hire me. They’d say: “You have great experience from back in the day, but you can’t compete.” Things had changed.

But even when I was at home, I was always doing something—I did some consulting and also worked on my passion for writing. That’s when I wrote and self-published my thriller novel, “Privileged Corruption.” I took creative writing classes, attended conferences and events when I could—and this is still something I do today; attend events to continue to develop because I still have several books in me.

Then in 2012, I was talking with a girlfriend and she said she needed someone to write customer success stories. And while I didn’t have the exact experience, I could write and I thought: “I can do anything if I put my mind to it.”

So, I got a job as a contractor; someone took a chance on me. And that someone was at SAP.

2. You have extensive experience with social media. What have you found to be the universal truths of social? (The things that stay the same no matter what platform or algorithm changes occur.)

Authenticity and storytelling; you need to own your brand—but you need to do it strategically.

As an individual on social or through your brand channels, you need to share the truths about who you are in a way that connects with your audience.

For me, these are the “five truths” I share with my following:

No. 1: My work.

Tell a story that enables people to come with you on the journey. Your audience doesn’t want to hear that your company just released a new product or service. They want to know how you’re solving problems or making a difference.

No. 2: My family.

I don’t give every detail here—just sprinkle some things in. This is how people see a different side and get to know me. You have to give something personal.

No. 3: My passion.

You have to share something you love. Dogs, skiing, Star Wars, poetry—the list goes on. Share something you’re passionate about because you’ll be able to form connections with people who have the same passions.

No. 4: Sports.

Whether you’re a sports fanatic or simply tolerate them, it’s something everyone can connect with and discuss—whether it’s your child’s little league baseball game or the NBA Finals.

No. 5: Third-party voices.

It could be an article from my favorite journalist or the latest commentary on the royal wedding. The point is to share things that you and your audience find interesting.

The bottom line here is: Be authentic. Be yourself (or your brand). But be strategic.

[bctt tweet="As an individual on #socialmedia or through your brand channels, you need to share the truths about who you are in a way that connects with your audience. - @ursularingham" username="toprank"]

3. What do you think is most misunderstood about influencer marketing?

For one, people often think that influencer marketing is all about celebrities hocking a product. It’s truly not about that—especially in the B2B realm. It’s about highlighting experts who have real experience on the business challenges a brand’s audience faces.

Secondly, it’s not always about the number of followers or connections an influencer has. Some people think: “Oh my God. We have to work with this person. They have a million followers.” Your influencers have to be able to relate to your audience and that skill isn’t necessarily determined by a large following.

Thirdly, influencer marketing is not a one-and-done tactic. You want it to be for the long haul, so influencer relationships are everything. You need to dig deep to learn who your influencers are and the expertise they bring, and build a relationship by consistent and thoughtful engagement.

Lastly, influencers can be found within your own company. Your employees can be influencers. People often forget this. You can and should combine internal and external influencers.

4. What’s one “influencer marketing must” that marketers often overlook?

You must have a call to action. What’s the point? What’s your end goal? How are you defining success? Where are you sending them?

Whether your goal is brand awareness or lead gen, if you’re telling a story that has people on the edge of their seat, you need to give them a natural next step to continue their journey.

[bctt tweet="Regardless of your goal, if you’re telling a story that has people on the edge of their seat, you need to give them a natural next step to continue their journey. - @ursularingham #InfluencerMarketing" username="toprank"]

5. Let’s say you’ve run into a long-lost marketer friend who’s considering working with influencers. Where do you tell them to start? What do you tell them to be cautious of?

The main thing is: If you want to succeed, you have to be in it to win it. You have to be on social media, you have to be engaged, you have to follow influencers, you have to engage with them, and you have to read, watch, or listen to their content. And all of this is before, during, and after you reach out for the first ask.

When it comes to vetting who you want to work with, start by digging into their social channels.

Twitter is a great place to learn about the topics and types of content they’re interested in. LinkedIn is great for this, too, but that’s where you can really vet whether they have the expertise and background to make a partnership a good fit. Facebook and Instagram are where you can see if you really want to work with them since you’re typically able to see more personality there.

As for something to look out for, as you’re viewing their social posts, see if they’re just sharing the same things on every channel. A post on Instagram with 10 hashtags will not work on Facebook. Every channel is different and if you keep seeing the same post, it’s like: Where are you? Where’s the authentic side?

Finally, you should be very selective on who you work with. You need to make sure they’re a good fit. Sometimes I’ll actually reach out to a mutual connection or a colleague at a different company to see if they’ve worked with an influencer before and get their read on them.

[bctt tweet="If you want to succeed at #influencermarketing, you have to be in it to win it. You have to commit. - @ursularingham" username="toprank"]

6. Where do you think GDPR and data privacy as it relates to social media and influencer marketing will have biggest impact on how brands engage? (What do brands need to consider?)

GDPR is going to be the stake in the ground for all data privacy—bar none. As GDPR kicks off, we’ll start to see lawsuits and controversies in the news and people will become increasingly aware and engaged. In the U.S., we’re already becoming more aware of data privacy issues, especially after Cambridge Analytica.

But bottom line, GDPR will be really important. And as a result, our influencers will become even more important and valuable. They’re going to be our trusted brand ambassadors; our trusted voices. They’ll be a huge asset because people don’t trust brands outright—they trust people.

[bctt tweet="In light of #GDPR, influencers will become even more important and valuable. They’re going to be our trusted brand ambassadors; our trusted voices. - @ursularingham #InfluencerMarketing" username="toprank"]

7. What’s in your social media marketing toolbox? (What platforms, tools or best practices are your must-haves for success?)

On the personal front, I’m on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. A key best practice for me here is tailoring the content and the messaging for each platform because my audience is different for each.

In addition, I post in the moment, every day. Authenticity is important, so I rarely use scheduling tools.

Now, for the brand marketers out there, you absolutely need a social media scheduling and management tool. You need help. And there are so many tools out there like Hootsuite or Buffer, but do your research and select one that meets your brand’s needs from a management and budgetary perspective.

8. How about your influencer marketing toolbox?

Brands engaging in influencer relations and marketing need a tool to help organize, identify, and manage relationships with influencers. A spreadsheet won’t get you very far. Tools can help you keep up with what your influencers are doing and sharing, so you can regularly engage and continue to build relationships.

Like with social media management tools, there are several options like Traackr or Onalytica, so do your research and pick one that’s the best fit.

9. Finally, what are you most excited for in your new role as Head of Global Influencer Marketing for SAP?

Building a world-class influencer program that helps SAP become a Top-10 brand. And we’ll do it through innovative storytelling. We make incredibly innovative products, so we need to tell our stories in innovative ways. And working with influencers will help us do that.

I love pushing the envelope. I love innovative content. And I’m excited about what can happen when we think a little differently.

10. Any final words for other marketers out there?

In marketing, story is everything. But in order to tell a compelling story, you have to be immersed. Bring empathy and understanding, bring purpose, and bring insight—the latter of which influencers can certainly help with.

Finally, embrace curiosity, think and do things differently, and embed yourself in your craft if you want to innovate.

[bctt tweet=".@ursularingham's message to #marketers: Embrace curiosity, think and do things differently, and embed yourself in your craft if you want to innovate." username="toprank"]

Ready to Take the Influencer Marketing Dive?

As Ursula so eloquently said, in order to succeed at influencer marketing, you have to be in it to win it. You have to commit. So, why not start with immersing yourself in influencer marketing tips, tactics, and strategies.

Check out some of these helpful posts to get you more in the know and help you make the leap:

Finally, a big thank you to Ursula for sharing her story and insights. You rock! If you want to connect with Ursula, follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Disclosure: SAP is a TopRank Marketing client.

The post Digital Marketing Spotlight: An Interview With Ursula Ringham, Head of Global Influencer Marketing, SAP appeared first on Online Marketing Blog – TopRank®.

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How to Boost Bookings & Conversions with Google Posts: An Interview with Joel Headley

Posted by MiriamEllis

Have you been exploring all the ways you might use Google Posts to set and meet brand goals?

Chances are good you’ve heard of Google Posts by now: the micro-blogging Google My Business dashboard feature which instantly populates content to your Knowledge Panel and individual listing. We’re still only months into the release of this fascinating capability, use of which is theorized as having a potential impact on local pack rankings. When I recently listened to Joel Headley describing his incredibly creative use of Google Posts to increase healthcare provider bookings, it’s something I was excited to share with the Moz community here.


Joel Headley

Joel Headley worked for over a decade on local and web search at Google. He’s now the Director of Local SEO and Marketing at healthcare practice growth platform PatientPop. He’s graciously agreed to chat with me about how his company increased appointment bookings by about 11% for thousands of customer listings via Google Posts.

How PatientPop used Google Posts to increase bookings by 11%

Miriam: So, Joel, Google offers a formal booking feature within their own product, but it isn’t always easy to participate in that program, and it keeps users within “Google’s walled garden” instead of guiding them to brand-controlled assets. As I recently learned, PatientPop innovated almost instantly when Google Posts was rolled out in 2017. Can you summarize for me what your company put together for your customers as a booking vehicle that didn’t depend on Google’s booking program?

Joel: PatientPop wants to provide patients an opportunity to make appointments directly with their healthcare provider. In that way, we’re a white label service. Google has had a handful of booking products. In a prior iteration, there was a simpler product that was powered by schema and microforms, which could have scaled to anyone willing to add the schema.

Today, they are putting their effort behind Reserve with Google, which requires a much deeper API integration. While PatientPop would be happy to provide more services on Google, Reserve with Google doesn’t yet allow most of our customers, according to their own policies. (However, the reservation service is marketed through Google My Business to those categories, which is a bit confusing.)

Additionally, when you open the booking widget, you see two logos: G Pay and the booking software provider. I’d love to see a product that allows the healthcare provider to be front and center in the entire process. A patient-doctor relationship is personal, and we’d like to emphasize you’re booking your doctor, not PatientPop.

Because we can’t get the CTAs unique to Reserve with Google, we realized that Google Posts can be a great vehicle for us to essentially get the same result.

When Google Posts first launched, I tested a handful of practices. The interaction rate was low compared to other elements in the Google listing. But, given there was incremental gain in traffic, it seemed worthwhile, if we could scale the product. It seemed like a handy way to provide scheduling with Google without having to go through the hoops of the Maps Booking (reserve with) API.

Miriam: Makes sense! Now, I’ve created a fictitious example of what it looks like to use Google Posts to prompt bookings, following your recommendations to use a simple color as the image background and to make the image text quite visible. Does this look similar to what PatientPop is doing for its customers and can you provide recommendations for the image size and font size you’ve seen work best?

Joel: Yes, that’s pretty similar to the types of Posts we’re submitting to our customer listings. I tested a handful of image types, ones with providers, some with no text, and the less busy image with actionable text is what performed the best. I noticed that making the image look more like a button, with button-like text, improved click-through rates too — CTR doubled compared to images with no text.

The image size we use is 750×750 with 48-point font size. If one uses the API, the image must be square cropped when creating the post. Otherwise, Posts using the Google My Business interface will give you an option to crop. The only issue I have with the published version of the image: the cropping is uneven — sometimes it is center-cropped, but other times, the bottom is cut off. That makes it hard to predict when on-image text will appear. But we keep it in the center which generally works pretty well.

Miriam: And, when clicked on, the Google Post takes the user to the client’s own website, where PatientPop software is being used to manage appointments — is that right?

Joel: Yes, the site is built by PatientPop. When selecting Book, the patient is taken directly to the provider’s site where the booking widget is opened and an appointment can be selected from a calendar. These appointments can be synced back to the practice’s electronic records system.

Miriam: Very tidy! As I understand it, PatientPop manages thousands of client listings, necessitating the need to automate this use of Google Posts. Without giving any secrets away, can you share a link to the API you used and explain how you templatized the process of creating Posts at scale?

Joel: Sure! We were waiting for Google to provide Posts via the Google My Business API, because we wanted to scale. While I had a bit of a heads-up that the API was coming — Google shared this feature with their GMB Top Contributor group — we still had to wait for it to launch to see the documentation and try it out. So, when the launch announcement went out on October 11, with just a few developers, we were able to implement the solution for all of our practices the next evening. It was a fun, quick win for us, though it was a bit of a long day. :)

In order to get something out that quickly, we created templates that could use information from the listing itself like the business name, category, and location. That way, we were able to create a stand-alone Python script that grabbed listings from Google. When getting the listings, all the listing content comes along with it, including name, address, and category. These values are taken directly from the listing to create Posts and then are submitted to Google. We host the images on AWS and reuse them by submitting the image URL with the post. It’s a Python script which runs as a cron job on a regular schedule. If you’re new to the API, the real tricky part is authentication, but the GMB community can help answer questions there.

Miriam: Really admirable implementation! One question: Google Posts expire after 7 days unless they are events, so are you basically automating re-posting of the booking feature for each listing every seven days?

Joel: We create Posts every seven days for all our practices. That way, we can mix up the content and images used on any given practice. We’re also adding a second weekly post for practices that offer aesthetic services. We’ll be launching more Posts for specific practice types going forward, too.

Miriam: Now for the most exciting part, Joel! What can you tell me about the increase in appointments this use of Google Posts has delivered for your customers? And, can you also please explain what parameters and products you are using to track this growth?

Joel: To track clicks from listings on Google, we use UTM parameters. We can then track the authority page, the services (menu) URL, the appointment URL, and the Posts URL.

When I first did this analysis, I looked at the average of the last three weeks of appointments compared to the 4 days after launch. Over that period, I saw nearly an 8% increase in online bookings. I’ve since included the entire first week of launch. It shows an 11% average increase in online bookings.

Additionally, because we’re tracking each URL in the knowledge panel separately, I can confidently say there’s no cannibalization of clicks from other URLs as a result of adding Posts. While authority page CTR remained steady, services lost over 10% of the clicks and appointment URLs gained 10%. That indicates to me that not only are the Posts effective in driving appointments through the Posts CTA, it emphasizes the existing appointment CTA too. This was in the context of no additional product changes on our side.

Miriam: Right, so, some of our readers will be using Google’s Local Business URLs (frequently used for linking to menus) to add an “Appointments” link. One of the most exciting takeaways from your implementation is that using Google Posts to support bookings didn’t steal attention away from the appointment link, which appears higher up in the Knowledge Panel. Can you explain why you feel the Google Posts clicks have been additive instead of subtractive?

Joel: The “make appointment” link gets a higher CTR than Posts, so it shouldn’t be ignored. However, since Posts include an image, I suspect it might be attracting a different kind of user, which is more primed to interact with images. And because we’re so specific on the type of interaction we want (appointment booking), both with the CTA and the image, it seems to convert well. And, as I stated above, it seems to help the appointment URLs too.

Miriam: I was honestly so impressed with your creativity in this, Joel. It’s just brilliant to look at something as simple as this little bit of Google screen real estate and ask, “Now, how could I use this to maximum effect?” Google Posts enables business owners to include links labeled Book, Order Online, Buy, Learn More, Sign Up, and Get Offer. The “Book” feature is obviously an ideal match for your company’s health care provider clients, but given your obvious talent for thinking outside the box, would you have any creative suggestions for other types of business models using the other pre-set link options?

Joel: I’m really excited about the events feature, actually. Because you can create a long-lived post while adding a sense of urgency by leveraging a time-bound context. Events can include limited-time offers, like a sale on a particular product, or signups for a newsletter that will include a coupon code. You can use all the link labels you’ve listed above for any given event. And, I think using the image-as-button philosophy can really drive results. I’d like to see an image with text Use coupon code XYZ546 now! with the Get Offer button. I imagine many business types, especially retail, can highlight their limited time deals without paying other companies to advertise your coupons and deals via Posts.

Miriam: Agreed, Joel, there are some really exciting opportunities for creative use here. Thank you so much for the inspiring knowledge you’ve shared with our community today!


Ready to get the most from Google Posts?

Reviews can be a challenge to manage. Google Q&A may be a mixed blessing. But as far as I can see, Posts are an unalloyed gift from Google. Here’s all you have to do to get started using them right now for a single location of your business:

  • Log into your Google My Business dashboard and click the “Posts” tab in the left menu.
  • Determine which of the options, labeled “Buttons,” is the right fit for your business. It could be “Book,” or it could be something else, like “Sign up” or “Buy.” Click the “Add a Button” option in the Google Posts wizard. Be sure the URL you enter includes a UTM parameter for tracking purposes.
  • Upload a 750×750 image. Joel recommends using a simple-colored background and highly visible 42-point font size for turning this image into a CTA button-style graphic. You may need to experiment with cropping the image.
  • Alternatively, you can create an event, which will cause your post to stay live through the date of the event.
  • Text has a minimum 100-word and maximum 300-word limit. I recommend writing something that would entice users to click to get beyond the cut-off point, especially because it appears to me that there are different display lengths on different devices. It’s also a good idea to bear in mind that Google Posts are indexed content. Initial testing is revealing that simply utilizing Posts may improve local pack rankings, but there is also an interesting hypothesis that they are a candidate for long-tail keyword optimization experiments. According to Mike Blumenthal:

“…If there are very long-tail phrases, where the ability to increase relevance isn’t up against so many headwinds, then this is a signal that Google might recognize and help lift the boat for that long-tail phrase. My experience with it was it didn’t work well on head phrases, and it may require some amount of interaction for it to really work well. In other words, I’m not sure just the phrase itself but the phrase with click-throughs on the Posts might be the actual trigger to this. It’s not totally clear yet.”

  • You can preview your post before you hit the publish button.
  • Your post will stay live for 7 days. After that, it will be time to post a new one.
  • If you need to implement at scale across multiple listings, re-read Joel’s description of the API and programming PatientPop is utilizing. It will take some doing, but an 11% increase in appointments may well make it worth the investment! And obviously, if you happen to be marketing health care providers, checking out PatientPop’s ready-made solution would be smart.

Nobody likes a ball-hog

I’m watching the development of Google Posts with rapt interest. Right now, they reside on Knowledge Panels and listings, but given that they are indexed, it’s not impossible that they could eventually end up in the organic SERPs. Whether or not that ever happens, what we have right now in this feature is something that offers instant publication to the consumer public in return for very modest effort.

Perhaps even more importantly, Posts offer a way to bring users from Google to your own website, where you have full control of messaging. That single accomplishment is becoming increasingly difficult as rich-feature SERPs (and even single results) keep searchers Google-bound. I wonder if school kids still shout “ball-hog” when a classmate refuses to relinquish ball control and be a team player. For now, for local businesses, Google Posts could be a precious chance for your brand to handle the ball.

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Interview: Content Strategy Words of Wisdom from Kristina Halvorson #CMWorld

KH---interview-header-V2

When it comes to content strategy for the web, Kristina Halvorson wrote the book. Literally. Now in its second edition, Content Strategy for the Web is widely recognized as the go-to resource for content strategists all over the world. Kristina is also the CEO and Founder of Brain Traffic, and the founder of the Confab conference series.

We sat down with Kristina in advance of her upcoming keynote presentation at Content Marketing World (September 8-11) for her no-nonsense, no-holds-barred-or-prisoners-taken opinion on the current state of content marketing. Read on for her thoughts on challenges content marketers face, how to really listen to customers, and why a sensible marketing approach is better than a sexy one.

When you first founded Brian Traffic, were you planning on becoming a content strategist?

No, I started out as a freelance copywriter. The reason I picked Brain Traffic.com was there were too many ways to misspell KristinaHalvorson.com. So my only goal was to figure out how to make a living as a freelance web copywriter. My, how things have changed!

What are you passionate about in regards to content marketing and content strategy?

I’m really interested in advocating for going beyond “we’ve got to deliver valuable content to build a customer relationship.” I think we need to take several steps back and find out what the customer wants from us.

Everyone is so enthusiastic about content marketing that it can be difficult to ask the tough questions. But I think we need to be really brave about asking those questions and willing to hear what the answers are. It’s easy to get excited about tactical stuff, and start executing without asking really tough questions about what is and is not something we should be spending money on.

What are some of the top-line measurement opportunities that warrant a lot of attention? What metrics should content marketers be concerned with?

Well, first I should say my work as a content strategist is not only in marketing. We work with folks all across the board, so marketing is only one part of what we do. But no matter what industry you’re in, there is always an end user. There’s a customer, even if it’s an internal customer or an employee.

So the shared metric across the board is customer satisfaction, for me. I think we need to look at sales support as part of the equation. We should be retrieving and reviewing ongoing customer feedback to really measure our content success.

I think customer satisfaction is very difficult to measure on the very front end of customer engagement when we’re still doing awareness and discovery phases. It becomes about getting people’s attention or getting the referral. So the follow-up needs to go beyond the lip service we sometimes pay to sales support.

What does content success mean to our customers?

I think that it only falls into a couple of categories. One is post-sales support. By that I mean ongoing customer relationship support, not just “engagement.” It’s a huge area we sometimes miss as purveyors of content. There are no blanket strategies or tactical initiatives that make sense for everyone.

Like, we often hear “there is no marketing left but content marketing.” That’s a blanket statement which may not apply to every single brand. Like, if my kid has a toothache, I’m not going to Crest.com to read about what to do. But at the same time, if I’m shopping at Banana Republic, I sure do want to read an article.

What are some of the challenges facing organizations as they develop a content strategy?

There is a lot of pressure to go after the next big thing: You’ve got to be on Facebook; you’ve got to be on Twitter; you’ve got to be on Vine. People are scrambling from thing to thing. Then suddenly you have content in a lot of different places and you haven’t touched it in years.

Our company infrastructures are not set up to deal with our websites, let alone any gigantic content marketing commitment. Sometimes, people rush after new opportunities without really cleaning house first. Businesses can end up spread thin across the content marketing landscape. And who decided that was what their customers wanted?

What does a successful situation look like, where someone is approaching content with a customer in mind?

I think that a real opportunity and one that is really difficult to get is going and asking customers “what do you want?” Because oftentimes the answer is either critical of what we’ve been delivering, or it has nothing to do with what we have been marketing.

And I also think it’s easier to listen to more things we could build versus more things we could fix. A lot of the stuff we should be doing for customer support is just not that sexy. Marketers are aspirational, we want creative opportunity, we are curious individuals who want an outlet for brand expression, and to represent what we spend day-in and day-out doing. And if our customer says, “put your coupon offer on your home page” versus “your fancy Instagram account,” that’s not as sexy. But that’s the kind of feedback we need to hear to be effective.

What’s the most common advice you find yourself giving in a marketing context related to content strategy?

Talk to your users. Over and over and over. Talk to them. Don’t run a poll. Don’t do “social listening.” Because then you’re only going to hear the super unhappy or the super happy people, not the people who don’t really care, whose attention we’re trying to get. Go out and just talk to them.

I think the number one reason we don’t talk to our customers is we’re really afraid of what they’re going to say. The number one thing they might say is “I don’t care.” But that’s exactly what we need to know.

Who comes to your mind as a great example of an organization listening to customers and taking action in the way they’re creating content?

Speaking as a consumer, somebody who has delivered useful content since way before the internet is USA Egg. I would expect based on their bundle of services and their niche market that they would be delivering very custom, targeted, educational content. And that comes in the form of their magazine. I still get their print magazine. They’re one of the original content marketers.

Room & Board send their people on the delivery trucks into people’s homes to find out how they live, what they want, what makes them happy. They’re seeing in a real setting how people use their products.

Would you say content strategy is more important than ever, with the content production overload that exists today?

Oh yes. The role of a content strategist is to help launch a scalable, sustainable content marketing program within your organization in context of everything else you’re already committed to, keeping in mind the skill-sets you have. Or, maybe after you do an analysis, you decide to make less of a commitment because there are other priorities.

The role of a content strategist is ensuring that business goals are very clearly articulated, that user needs and what they want from your product/service have been clearly articulated. We help identify scalability, internal capability, realistically what it’s going to take to make this happen. And then helping organizations to make decisions not only about what they are going to do, but what they’re not going to do. It’s making sure the content plan is in line with what, ultimately, the end user wants and needs.

Reserve your space at Content Marketing World (September 8-11) to hear Kristina Halvorson’s keynote, as well as insights from over 200 content marketing thought leaders.

For more content marketing strategies that don’t require booking a flight to Cleveland, read the full eBook, The Big Picture of Content Marketing Strategy.


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The post Interview: Content Strategy Words of Wisdom from Kristina Halvorson #CMWorld appeared first on Online Marketing Blog – TopRank®.

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Interview with Brian Clark: How Customer Experience Maps Help You Develop a Smarter Content Strategy

The Lede Podcast logo

Well isn’t this a pleasant surprise.

After we published the third installment of our three-part series on content strategy, Brian Clark informed me that he had the perfect follow-up topic for the next episode.

Sure, Mr. Clark, I think we can make room for you in the schedule. ;-)

Consider this a bonus fourth episode in the content strategy series — and it goes next-level.

Empathy is essential because it allows you to feel what your audience members feel, but what if you could get inside their hearts and walk a few steps in their shoes as well?

You can. Here’s how …

In this episode, Brian Clark, Demian Farnworth, and I discuss:

  • What is a customer experience map?
  • How customer experience maps and empathy maps help you develop an audience-first content marketing strategy
  • How to use a customer experience map if you have several customer personas
  • Getting started: Do you review the current customer journey or the ideal customer journey?
  • How do you get data to make a customer experience map meaningful?
  • The speaker lineup for the Authority Rainmaker 2015 conference
  • Why Henry Rollins is the perfect fit for the closing keynote at Authority Rainmaker 2015

Listen to The Lede …

To listen, you can either hit the flash audio player below, or browse the links to find your preferred format …

React to The Lede …

As always, we appreciate your reaction to episodes of The Lede and feedback about how we’re doing.

Send us a tweet with your thoughts anytime: @JerodMorris and @DemianFarnworth.

And please tell us the most important point you took away from this latest episode. Do so by joining the discussion over at Google+.

The Show Notes

The Transcript

Click here to read the transcript

Please note that this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.

The Lede Podcast: Interview with Brian Clark: The Next Step After Empathy Maps

Jerod Morris: Welcome back to The Lede, a podcast about content marketing by Copyblogger Media. I’m your host, Jerod Morris.

Over our last three episodes, Demian and I have been talking about content strategy. Specifically, we have discussed the importance of understanding your audience’s worldviews, mapping out a narrative with storyboarding, and using empathy maps to feel what your audience is feeling.

Consider today’s episode a bonus fourth installment of the content strategy series, and we have a special guest on hand to enhance the discussion. You may have heard of him. It’s Brian Clark.

All right, Brian. Welcome to The Lede. It’s always a pleasure to have you on the show, and even though neither Demian nor I have a voice with that voice-of-God quality like Robert Bruce, I hope you’ll still feel comfortable talking with us.

Brian Clark: You’re all right. Demian, I don’t know.

Demian Farnworth: I’m fired. (Laughter from everyone.)

Demian: I’m just here. I won’t go away.

What is a customer experience map?

Jerod: After our last episode on empathy maps, Brian, you told me that you had the perfect follow-up topic for us. So let’s dive in. What are customer experience maps, and how do they build upon empathy maps?

Brian: We’re a content-first, audience-first company, and a lot of people trying to get into content marketing have to reverse engineer that mindset. They have separate marketing teams, sales team, and then after the sale at the enterprise level, generally, they have a customer experience team.

The customer life cycle, here, is viewed from the brand’s perspective. What steps does the customer take in relation to the company?

It’s all completely disjointed, and the really forward-thinking CMOs right now at the enterprise level are trying to make it all customer experience.

A customer experience map is mapping segments of that whole life cycle, but it’s from the customer’s perspective, as it should be.

I got into this, and I found this really cool thing that customer experience people do when they’re trying to get marketing to use the same process, and we already kind of do this, but it’s a really interesting way to make it tangible for people.

I looked at a few examples of customer experience maps, and we’ll explain this a little bit more, but the first aspects that jumped out at me were “thinking, doing, and feeling.” They’re all the same elements of an empathy map.

Here’s an easy way to think about this: We talk about the buyer’s journey or the customer’s journey — they’re the hero. We’re the mentor. Our promise is to be helpful and to provide solutions. You empathy map in order to literally put yourself in their shoes.

And then a customer journey map is various segments of what people often do — from unaware potential customer to initial purchase. That could be one segment, an aspect of the overall life cycle or journey.

You understand what it’s like to be in their shoes from empathy mapping, and then from customer experience mapping, or customer journey mapping, you walk in their shoes, from their perspective, and understand the hurdles they face.

What challenges do they face? Where are points where they feel great, where you want to give them a good job, a high-five? All of those different phases.

How customer experience maps and empathy maps help you develop an audience-first content marketing strategy

We’ve been talking for years about buyer’s journeys, customer journeys — they’re the hero. We talk about Joseph Campbell and esoteric stuff that makes sense to us because we live it.

But the process of empathy mapping plus customer journey mapping is a process that allows you to make this very tangible and develop a content marketing strategy if you’re just getting started.

Remember that article Michael King wrote for us about filling the gaps in your content strategy?

He talks about customer experience maps in that article, and I went back to that after I kind of rediscovered the concept, and it’s solid. It really works.

Demian: In an article by Chris Risdon from Adaptive Path, he writes that the experience map is “an artifact that serves to illuminate the complete experience a person may have with a product or service.”

Now my question for you, Brian, is this: Why not a company? Why not a complete experience a person has with a company?

Brian: I think that’s the goal of the customer experience map, except that again, going back to this kind of enterprise terminology, which is weird for people to hear from us, but customer life cycle, again, is from the brand’s perspective. It’s the entire thing.

Instead of a funnel, the customer life cycle is what’s replacing the traditional sales funnel. Because it doesn’t end at the transaction. We know that. Remember how we represent our view of our audience with concentric circles?

Coldest, out there at the edge, is social media, all the way in to the red-hot center, which is customers. Repeat and recurring customers are at the very center. That’s how we view audience.

They don’t stop being our audience when they buy, right?

The audience-first mentality and the customer experience, holistic view of marketing all the way through customer service are completely congruent.

It’s just that we use content, when a lot of enterprise customer experience people do not. And I see it as a perfect match.

In customer experience, they talk about touch points and moments of truth, where you interact with the customer and you’re either going to fulfill your brand promise or you’re going to fail.

We do that with delivering our products, our services, and our support, but we also do it with content.

With the Rainmaker Platform, for example, when you complete the design phase of building your site, you’re congratulated with the affirmation, “Good job. Here’s what to do next.”

Or if you get hung up trying to build a membership site, then you’re prompted to go look at the membership site building guide. That’s within a SAS environment, and that’s customer success, which is a discipline that’s related.

But again, isn’t the success of our customers and clients the goal?

Whether we’re providing hands-on service, or we’re selling products and we want them to buy more, or we’re doing something recurring, customer success is the goal.

We’re going to talk more about this, and Demian, I want you to write the magic customer experience post that is better than the Adaptive Path post. Which is going to be tough, because that’s a great post.

Demian: It is a good post.

Brian: It really is.

How to use a customer experience map if you have different customer personas

Demian: What if you have more than one ideal customer? What if you have several persona profiles?

What if a customer first get exposed to us through social media. Then they go into the posts. They subscribe. They get a few e-mail newsletters, and they say, “Oh my gosh! This is a great little community here.”

Then they join Authority. Maybe they come to the Authority Rainmaker event, and they end up becoming a Rainmaker.

But then you have another type of customer — the StudioPress guy, who comes to it from a totally different path. If you have multiple persona profiles, how does somebody then go about with the experience map?

Brian: Well, that’s a good point because just within our company, our customers range from the StudioPress design-oriented person to the content marketing freelance writer, or someone who might go to our certification program versus maybe a pure entrepreneur.

But go back to the empathy mapping process. You have to look at those segments. Do you take it to buyer personas next?

You know who’s going on that particular journey, and if their experiences are that, the path is different for sure. We know that. But if the experience of the path is different based on who that person is, then I think you have to take that into account.

See how tangible that is compared with these very esoteric, philosophical principles? You really have to take it down and you go step-by-step, and you’re forced to think about what they’re thinking right now. What are they doing?

Is this a challenge? Is this a motivating moment, or is this a success moment already? How do we make them all into success moments?

Demian: Say someone has three ideal persona profiles, and they invest the time to create these experience maps.

How did someone make this experience map not philosophical and esoteric? In other words, what’s the take-away? Why invest all of this time into experience maps? What should they be walking away with?

Brian: I think when we talk to some people about The Hero’s Journey and the prospect as Luke Skywalker, you’re Obi-Wan. Some people get that right away. They just get it, and they run with it, and they start mapping.

They effectively do the same exercise on their own, and I think other people are like, “Okay, I get that conceptually, but what do I do with it now?”

I think we’re at that spot where people get it conceptually but they need a process.

And you know me, for years I’ve been trying to get people to do things like I do, and as Sonia likes to point out, I’m a big freak.

I do a lot of stuff in my head that other people don’t. Even when I write, I don’t really do the typical first draft.

I kick a lot of stuff around in my head, and then I come to you guys and I’m like, “Okay, here’s what we’re doing,” and you guys are like, “What?” (Laughs.)

So even in our case, this is a process where it’s a collaborative effort where we can all sit down together, and I might have gotten started, and we’ve got a rough outline, but then you fill in the gaps and you’ve got this very concrete process.

And I think any organization, from the single solo freelancer who does content marketing strategy and implementation all the way up to an agency, or a software company like us, can really get some serious insights by following these processes.

Empathy mapping came from the design world more than the marketing world, and customer journey mapping has been typically used after the sale instead of part of a holistic, integrated marketing experience.

What we bring to the table with our philosophy is this whole idea of “it’s an audience.”

Whether you’re a prospect, or you’re a customer — a transactional customer, a repeat customer, a recurring customer — you are all part of an audience.

It’s kind of like the group hug thing. The ones nearer to you are obviously more intimate, and the Twitter people out here, you’re like, “Come on in! Come on in!”

With the concentric circle approach, each step is an act of conversion — a greater degree of belief that you are the solution to the problem.

Getting started: Do you review the current customer journey or the ideal journey?

We did that short, little podcast with Tom about what belief really means and how it precedes trust. Both internally, but also from a teaching perspective, I think we’ve got processes now.

And it’s funny because we discovered empathy maps as a way to explain something important, and we’ve discovered customer experience maps as a way to make use of what we find out about people, and I think we will start using them in-house and get it out of my head.

Jerod: For people who want to take the next step and start doing this, specifically this journey mapping, where should people look first — what is the journey now or what the ideal journey is?

Do you need to have two of these different maps so you can see where you are, see where you want to go, and then obviously start to make the changes that you need to get there? Where is the first place you should look?

Brian: That’s an excellent question, because you have to be honest and see what the journey is from their perspective right now, and you may not like what you see. But if you don’t figure that out, how can you fix it?

Once you see it from their perspective, then you have the ability to fix it through content, through better customer service or product or service improvement. The initial map is designed to identify reality and then alter it to benefit them, which benefits you.

You don’t just map it out and that’s it, because often you’ll find that’s not the greatest experience for people.

Demian: What does that actually look like? Is it a drawing? Is it a story? Should they have a five-foot poster on their wall of this experience map? Is it design? Is it just words?

Brian: It’s a design. It’s a visual mapping strategy. Again, I confess that even when I get things out of my head, I do it in narrative format because that’s the way I think, and I’m not saying you can’t do it that way.

But it’s collaborative and a visual experience you get everyone to look at on a whiteboard. In the show notes, we’re going to have a couple of great examples that we found in the last few weeks.

They’re great examples of customer experience maps that actually worked in the real world, so people will understand.

But it’s striking that I’ve never seen anyone mention empathy maps used in conjunction with experience maps, and yet they are completely congruent. One is a person, and one is the path.

How do you get data to make a customer experience map meaningful?

Jerod: In Chris Risdon’s article, he mentions that you need both qualitative and quantitative information data for this map to truly be meaningful.

He uses the example of Rail Europe surveying 2,500 people. And for us at Copyblogger, we can do a big survey like that because we have a big audience. We have a survey coming out in a couple of weeks.

But for the single guy or the small agency that doesn’t have that built-in audience, it can be a little bit intimidating to think about the cost to do that research.

How can they get the quantitative data, then, that will help them make this journey map meaningful?

Brian: I think for the most part that’s going to be something you incorporate into your service offering, and then you tap into the client’s customer base. That’s typically how it works.

But you mention a pretty smart thing, because we’re talking about using this for your own marketing.

For example, for content marketing freelancers, consultants, or small agencies, what you do to get clients is exactly what you do for clients except, obviously, the context of the strategy changes from you to them.

When you don’t have that initial audience, you have to dig deeper.

The great thing about doing this type of work is even if you don’t have that direct access to an audience yet, you can still go out and research, and you almost have access to too much information.

Look at the work Lee Odden and Jay Baer have done, and they both have those business models. There’s a lot of best-of-breed information out there that you can extrapolate from, so that’s what I would do.

But once you get going and have direct contact with an audience, there is no better method than going directly to them.

And you know, we do a lot of listening more than we do asking because sometimes you can figure things out that you might not have found out if you asked.

Demian: And Brian, this is your case with Copyblogger.

Maybe it’s your story that is the customer experience, because a lot of the products we have built are because of your experience. If you’re just the solo freelancer or small business owner, you can start with your own story.

And that will mirror a lot of experiences already out there as far as that product, and that will resonate and attract that audience. So that’s a good place to start, too.

Brian: That’s an interesting point, because that’s another variation of The Hero’s Journey. You have the reluctant hero, which is you. “I learned this, and I didn’t really want to share it, but I felt like I should,” and then they become the hero and you become the mentor.

Look at the entire body of work of Star Wars, even though it’s painful to look at the prequels. Originally, Yoda was Obi-Wan, the mentor, and then Obi-Wan went on the journey, and then he became Skywalker’s mentor.

That’s a good point. It doesn’t apply in every context, though it happens to apply in ours.

Jerod: Well, as usual with these Lede conversations, the 20 minutes have absolutely flown by. Demian, I’ll actually give you the pleasure of asking the final question, if you’d like to.

Authority Rainmaker 2015

Demian: All right, so let me set this up.

In May 2015, we’ll have Authority Rainmaker 2015 — our second conference, our second live-gig public conference.

I think it’s safe to say the first one was a success. We sold out 400 tickets five months before the event. People who were there loved it. We loved it. So it was a good success.

My question for you is, last year’s keynote speaker was Seth Godin. This year’s closing keynote speaker, I think, is pretty peculiar. It’s this guy named Henry Rollins, right?

Can you explain why you chose Henry Rollins for this event? What does the spoken poet, punk rocker, aggressive, angry guy have to tell other content marketers and business owners?

Brian: Well, thanks for the question, Demian, because no people in the company who don’t know why Henry Rollins is there get to come. So we just saved ourselves a plane ticket right there. (Laughter from everyone.)

Demian: Can you explain the choice to the audience, then? I know. (Brian laughs.) Not only am I fired, but I’m prohibited from the conference now.

(Brian and Jerod laugh.) “Just write content for us, Demian, that’s all we really care about.”

Brian: It’s all working out perfectly. (Laughs.)

Demian: Yeah.

Brian: That’s actually a good question. So of course Henry is our closing keynote. He’s the guy who will kick you in the ass on the way out the door and make sure you go do the work, considering the things you’ve just learned.

We also have Daniel Pink, who will be our opening keynote, and Sally Hogshead, who has done amazing work with her fascination and positioning studies — all of these great things that are relevant to content marketing.

I wanted Henry to close, number one, because I’m a big fan, not just from his Black Flag days.

In the ’80s I heard Black Flag, and I was like, “Who are these angry people? I like this!”

But that was about it. I became a bigger fan later with the Rollins Band and then with his spoken word career, and when he started his own publishing company.

Black Flag basically produced their own records, put on their own shows, and went on their own tours. These were the original DIY media people. And that’s another way to think about content marketing.

You’re not getting a deal with a media company, you are a media company to the degree that you’re making and gauging content and building an audience.

Henry did all those different things pretty much on his own, and then he went to mainstream radio and television and film afterwards.

To me, he’s just the epitome of a guy who works hard — he’s generous, he’s true to himself, he’s the epitome of authenticity.

Who better to hear from after you’ve ingested all of this amazing information to make sure that you go off and do the work? And that’s really what we’re hoping for. But we’re just about to announce the full lineup.

We’ve got people like Danny Sullivan. Ann Handley is the only non-company person who’s returning because we’ve just got to have Ann. Bernadette Jiwa, Michael King, Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing Institute are other speakers.

We’ve got a really strong show from the educational standpoint. We’ve got some really strong, on-point in the traditional sense, keynote speakers, and then we’ve got Henry, who will beat you up if you don’t go do it.

Demian: Is there any connection between the Black Flag logo and the Rainmaker logo?

Brian: I don’t know. You tell me, Demian. (Laughs.) We may have to do a visual demonstration of that at the conference.

It’ll be like a video introduction with the Rainmaker logo bars going down, and then it’ll shift to the Black Flag logo, and we’ll go, “coincidence?”

Now here is the actual, honest truth: I told Rafal, our brilliant designer, “Here’s the name, and I need a logo.” I did not tell him anything else.

Then he came back with that. And I sent him the Black Flag logo, and said, “Rafal, this is my favorite graphic design of all time, and you just made this.” And he was like, “I’m good.” (Laughter all around.)

He’s getting cocky! (Laughs.) Rafal’s been in America too long. He’s starting to get cocky. He’s been hanging out with you guys.

Jerod: Oh, that’s awesome.

Demian: Well, I’m looking forward to hearing about the event after it’s over.

Brian: (Laughs.) We’ll let you come, Demian.

Jerod: I’ll send you a postcard.

Brian: Don’t worry.

Demian: I’ll follow you guys on Twitter. (Brian laughs.)

Jerod: And for anyone else who is interested, Go to AuthorityRainmaker.com to get all the information about the conference.

The super early-bird price is still in effect, too. So I wouldn’t wait. Go check that out, and get all the details because it is going to be a great event.

Brian, thanks for coming on the show with us. We appreciate it, and hopefully we can have you on some future episodes as well.

Brian: Yeah, no problem at all, and we’ll be talking about customer mapping in a little bit more detail. If this didn’t make total sense, don’t worry, of course we will elaborate.

Jerod: Demian’s got a great post coming out on it soon.

Brian: Exactly.

Jerod: All right, everybody. Talk to you guys soon.

Brian: Bye.

Jerod: Thank you for listening to this episode of The Lede.

To get more information about Copyblogger’s 2015 conference, which features keynote speakers Henry Rollins, Daniel Pink, and Sally Hogshead, go to AuthorityRainmaker.com. The super early-bird pricing is still in effect, so don’t wait.

If you enjoyed this episode of The Lede, please consider giving the show a rating or a review on iTunes. We always appreciate it when you do.

And finally, since a few of you have asked me on Twitter, be sure to bookmark Copyblogger.com/lede to access new episodes every two weeks, plus the show notes and transcripts for each episode.

Demian and I will be back in two weeks with a new episode. Thanks for listening. Talk to you soon, everybody.

# # #

*Credits: Both the intro (“Bridge to Nowhere” by Sam Roberts Band) and outro songs (“Down in the Valley” by The Head and the Heart) are graciously provided by express written consent from the rights owners.

About the author

Jerod Morris

Jerod Morris is the VP of Marketing for Copyblogger Media. Get more from him on Twitter or . Have you gotten your wristband yet?

The post Interview with Brian Clark: How Customer Experience Maps Help You Develop a Smarter Content Strategy appeared first on Copyblogger.

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Jim Boykin Interview

Jim Boykin has been a longtime friend & was one of the early SEOs who was ahead of the game back in the day. While many people have came and went, Jim remains as relevant as ever today. We interviewed him about SEO, including scaling his company, disavow & how Google has changed the landscape over the past couple years.

Aaron: How did you get into the field of SEO?

Jim: In 1999 I started We Build Pages as a one man show designing and marketing websites…I never really became much of a designer, but luckily I had much more success in the marketing side. Somehow that little one man show grew to about 100 ninjas, and includes some communities and forums I grew up on (WebmasterWorld, SEOChat, Cre8asiteForums), and I get to work with people like Kris Jones, Ann Smarty, Chris Boggs, Joe Hall, Kim Krause Berg, and so many others at Ninjas who aren’t as famous but are just as valuable to me, and Ninjas has really become a family over the years. I still wonder at times how this all happened, but I feel lucky with where we’re at.

Aaron: When I got started in SEO some folks considered all link building to be spam. I looked at what worked, and it appeared to be link building. Whenever I thought I came up with a new clever way to hound for links & would hunted around, most the times it seems you got there first. Who were some of the people you looked to for ideas when you first got into SEO?

Jim: Well, I remember going to my first SEO conference in 2002 and meeting people like Danny Sullivan, Jill Whalen, and Bruce Clay. I also remember Bob Massa being the first person “dinged” by google for selling links…that was back in 2002 I think…I grew up on Webmasterworld and I learned a ton from the people in there like: Tedster, Todd Friesen, Greg Boser, Brett Tabke, Shak, Bill, Rae Hoffman, Roger Montti, and so many others in there over the years…they were some of my first influencers….I also used to hang around with Morgan Carey, and Patrick Gavin a lot too. Then this guy selling an SEO Book kept showing up on all my high PR pages where I was getting my links….hehe…

Aaron: One of the phrases in search that engineers may use is “in an ideal world…”. There is always some amount of gap between what is advocated & what actually works. With all the algorithmic changes that have happened in the past few years, how would you describe that “gap” between what works & what is advocated?

Jim: I feel there’s really been a tipping point with the Google Penguin updates. Maybe it should be “What works best short term” and “What works best long term”….anything that is not natural may work great in the short term, but your odds of getting zinged by Google go way up. If you’re doing “natural things” to get citations and links, then it may tend to take a bit longer to see results (in conjunction with all you’re doing), but at least you can sleep at night doing natural things (and not worrying about Google Penalties).  It’s not like years ago when getting exact targeted anchor text for the phrases you want to rank on was the way to go if you wanted to compete for search rankings. Today it’s much more involved to send natural signals to a clients website.  To send in natural signals you must do things like work up the brand signals, trusted citations, return visitors, good user experience, community, authors, social, yada yada….SEO is becming less a “link thing”…and more a “great signals from many trusted people”, as well as it’s a branding game now. I really like how SEO is evolving….for years Google used to say things like “Think of the users” when talking of the algorthym, but we all laughed and said “Yea, yea, we all know that it’s all about the Backlinks”….but today, I think Google has crossed a tipping point where yes, to do great SEO, you must focus on the users, and not the links….the best SEO is getting as many citations and trusted signals to your site than your competitors…and there’s a lot of trusted signals which we, as internet marketers, can be working on….it’s more complicated, and some SEO’s won’t survive this game…they’ll continue to aim for short term gains on short tail keyword phrases…and they’ll do things in bulk….and their network will be filtered, and possibly penalized.

Every website owner has to measure the risks, and the time involved, and the expected ROI….it’s not a cheap game any more….doing real marketing involves brains and not buttons…if you can’t invest in really building something “special” (ideally many special things), on your site to get signals (links/social), then you’re going to find it pretty hard to get links that look natural and don’t run a risk of getting penalized.  The SEO game has really matured, the other option is to take a high risk of penalization.

Aaron: In terms of disavow, how deep does one has to cut there?

Jim: as deep as it needs to be to remove every unantural link. If you have 1000 backlinks and 900 are on pages that were created for “unnatural purposes (to give links)” then all 900 have to be disavowed…if you have 1000 backlinks, and only 100 are not “natural” then only 100 need to be disavowed… what percent has to be disavowed to untrip an algorthymitic filter? I’m not sure…but almost always the links which I disavow have zero value (in my opinion) anyways.  Rip the band-aid off, get over it, take your marketing department and start doing real things to attract attention, and to keep it.

Aaron: In terms of recoveries, are most penalized sites “recoverable”? What does the typical recovery period look like in terms of duration & restoration?

Jim: oh…this is a bee’s nest you’re asking me….. are sites recoverable….yes, most….if a site has 1000 domains that link to it, and 900 of those are artificial and I disavow them, there might not be much of a recovery depending on what that 100 links left are….ie, if I disavow all link text of “green widgets” that goes to your site, and you used to rank #1 for “green widgets” prior to being hit by a Penguin update, then I wouldn’t expect to “recover” on the first page for that phrase….. where you recover seems to depend on “what do you have for natural links that are left after the disavow?”….the time period….well…. we’ve seen some partial recoveries in as soon as 1 month, and some 3 months after the disavow…and some we’re still waiting on….

To explain, Google says that when you add links to the disavow document, then way it works is that the next time Google crawls any page that links to you, they will assign a “no follow” to the link at that time…..so you have to wait until enough of the links have been recrawled, and now assigned the no follow, to untrip the filter….but one of the big problems I see is that many of the pages Google shows as linking to you, well, they’re not cached in Google!….I see some really spammy pages where Google was there (they record your link), but it’s like Google has tossed the page out of the index even though they show the page as linking to you…so I have to ask myself, when will Google return to those pages?…will Google ever return to those pages???  It looks like if  you had a ton of backlinks that were on pages that were so bad in the eyes of Google that they don’t even show those pages in their index anymore…we might be waiting a long long time for google to return to those pages to crawl them again….unless you do something to get Google to go back to those pages sooner (I won’t elaborate on that one).

Aaron: I notice you launched a link disavow tool & earlier tonight you were showing me a few other cool private tools you have for working on disavow analysis, are you going to make any of those other tools live to the public?

Jim: Well, we have about 12 internal private disavow analysis tools, and only 1 public disavow tool….we are looking to have a few more public tools for analyzing links for disavow analysis in the coming weeks, and in a few months we’ll release our Ultimate Disavow Tool…but for the moment, they’re not ready for the public, some of those are fairly expensive to run and very database intensive…but I’m pretty sure I’m looking at more link patterns than anyone else in the world when I’m analyzing backlinks for doing disavows. When I’m tired of doing disavows maybe I’ll sell access to some of these.

Aaron: Do you see Google folding in the aggregate disavow data at some point? How might they use it?

Jim: um…..I guess if 50,000 disavow documents have spammywebsite.com listed in their disavows, then Google could consider that spammywebsite.com might be a spammy website…..but then again, with people disavowing links who don’t know what they’re doing, I’m sure their’s a ton of great sites getting listed in Disavow documents in Webmaster Tools.

Aaron: When approaching link building after recovering from a penalty, how does the approach differ from link building for a site that has never been penalized?

Jim: it doesn’t really matter….unless you were getting unnatural/artificial links or things in bulk in the past, then, yes, you have to stop doing that now…that game is over if you’ve been hit…that game is over even if you haven’t been hit….Stop doing the artificial link building stuff. Get real citations from real people (and often “by accident”) and you should be ok.

Aaron: You mentioned “natural” links. Recently Google has hinted that infographics, press releases & other sorts of links should use nofollow by default. Does Google aim to take some “natural” link sources off the table after they are widely used? Or are those links they never really wanted to count anyhow (and perhaps sometimes didn’t) & they are just now reflecting that.

Jim: I think ~most of these didn’t count for years anyways….but it’s been impossible for Google to nail every directory, or every article syndication site, or every Press Release site, or everything that people can do in bulk..and it’s harder to get all occurances of widgets and mentions of infographics…so it’s probably just a “Google Scare….ie, Google says, “Don’t do it, No Follow them” (and I think they say that because it often works), and the less of a pattern there is, the harder for Google to catch it (ie, widgets and infographics) …I think too much of any 1 thing (be it a “type of link”) can be a bad signal….as well as things like “too many links from pages that get no traffic”, or “no clicks from links to your site”. In most cases, because of keyword abuse, Google doesn’t want to count them…links like this may be fine (and ok to follow) in moderation…but if you have 1000 widgets links, and they all have commercial keywords as link text, then you’re treading on what could certainly turn into a negative signal, and so then you might want to consider no following those.

Aaron: There is a bit of a paradox in terms of scaling effective quality SEO services for clients while doing things that are not seen as scalable (and thus future friendly & effective). Can you discuss some of the biggest challenges you faced when scaling IMN? How were you able to scale to your current size without watering things down the way that most larger SEO companies do?

Jim: Scaling and keep quality has certainly been a challenge in the past. I know that scaling content was an issue for us for a while….how can you scale quality content?….Well, we’ve found that by connecting real people, the real writers, the people with real social influence…and by taking these people and connecting them to the brands we work with…..so these real people then become “Brand Evangelist”…and getting these real people who know what they’re talking about to then write for our clients, well, when we did that we found that we could scale the content issue. We can scale things like link building by merging with the other “mentions”, and specifically targeting industries and people and working on building up associations and relations with others has helped to scale…plus we’re always building tools to help us scale while keeping quality. It’s always a challenge, but we’ve been pretty good at solving many of those issues.

I think we’ve been really good at scaling in house….many content marketers are now more like community managers and content managers….we’ve been close to 100 employees for a few years now..so it’s more how can we do more with the existing people we have…and we’ve been able to do that by connecting real people to the clients so we can actually have better content and better marketing around that content….I’m really happy that the # of employees has been roughly the same for past few years, but we’re doing more business, and the quality keeps getting better….there’s not as many content marketers today as there was a few years ago, but there’s many more people working on helping authors build up their authorship value and produce more “great marketing” campaigns where as a bi-product, we happen to get some links and social citations.

Aaron: One of the things I noticed with your site over the past couple years is the sales copy has promoted the fusion of branding and SEO. I looked at your old site in Archive.org over the years & have seen quite an amazing shift in terms of sales approach. Has Google squeezed out most of the smaller players for good & does effective sustainable SEO typically require working for larger trusted entities? When I first got into SEO about 80%+ of the hands in the audiences at conferences were smaller independent players. At the last conference I was at it seemed that about 80% of the hands in the audience worked for big companies (or provided services to big companies). Is this shift in the market irreversible? How would you compare/contrast approach in working with smaller & larger clients?

Jim: Today it’s down to “Who really can afford to invest in their Brand?” and “Who can do real things to get real citations from the web?”….and who can think way beyond “links”…if you can’t do those things, then you can’t have an effective sustainable online marketing program…. we once were a “link building company” for many, many years…. but for the past 3 years we’ve moved into full service, offering way more than what was “link building services”…. yea, SEO was about “links” for years, and it still is to a large degree….but unless you want to get penalized, you have to take the “it’s way more than links” approach… in order for SEO to work (w/o fear of getting penalized) today, you have to look at sending in natural signals…so thus, you must do “natural” things…things that will get others “talking” about it, and about you….SEO has evolved a lot over the years….Google used to recommend 1 thing (create a great site and create great things), but for years we all knew that SEO was about links and anchor text….today, …today, I think Google has caught up with (to some degree) with the user, and with “real signals”…yesterday is was “gaming” the system….today it’s about doing real things…real marketing…and getting you name out to the community via creating great things that spread, and that get people to come back to your site….those SEO’s and businesses who don’t realize that the game has changed, will probably be doing a lot of disavowing at some time in the future, and many SEO’s will be out of business if they think it’s a game where you can do “fake things” to “get links” in bulk….in a few years we’ll see who’s still around for internet marketing companies…those who are still around will be those who do real marketing using real people and promoting to other real people…the link game itself has changes…in the past we looked a link graphs…today we look at people graphs….who is talking about you, what are they saying….it’s way more than “who links to me, and how do they link to me”….Google is turning it into a “everyone gets a vote”, and “everyone has a value”…and in order to rank, you’ll need real people of value talking about your site…and you’ll need a great user experience when they get there, and you’ll need loyal people who continue to return to your site, and you’ll need to continue to do great things that get mentions….

SEO is no longer a game of some linking algorithm, it’s now really a game of “how can you create a great user experience and get a buzz around your pages and brand”.

Aaron: With as much as SEO has changed over the years, it is easy to get tripped up at some point, particularly if one is primarily focused on the short term. One of the more impressive bits about you is that I don’t think I’ve ever seen you unhappy. The “I’m feeling lucky” bit seems to be more than just a motto. How do you manage to maintain that worldview no matter what’s changing & how things are going?

Jim: Well, I don’t always feel lucky…I know in 2008 when Google hit a few of our clients because we were buying links for them I didn’t feel lucky (though the day before, when they ranked #1, I felt lucky)….but I’m in this industry for the long term…I’ve been doing this for almost 15 years….and yes, we’ve had to constantly change over the year, and continue to grow, and growing isn’t always easy…but it is exciting to me, and I do feel lucky for what I have…I have a job I love, I get to work with people whom I love, in an industry I love, I get to travel around the world and meet wonderful people and see cool places…and employee 100 people and win “Best Places to work” awards, and I’m able to give back to the community and to society, and to the earth…those things make me feel lucky…SEO has always been like a fun game of chess to me…I’m trying to do the best I can with any move, but I’m also trying to think a few steps ahead, and trying to think what Google is thinking on the other side of the table…..ok…yea, I do feel lucky….maybe it’s the old hippy in me…I always see the glass half full, and I’m always dreaming of a better tomorrow….

If I can have lots of happy clients, and happy employees, and do things to make the world a little better along the way, then I’m happy…sometimes I’m a little stressed, but that comes with life….in the end, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than what I currently do….and I always have big dreams of tomorrow that always make the trials of today seem worth it for the goals of what I want to achieve for tomorrow.

Aaron: Thanks Jim!


Jim Boykin is the CEO of the Internet Marketing Ninjas company, and a Blogger and public speaker. You can find Jim on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

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Facebook Graph Search: Interview with Kelvin Newman

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Wordtracker: How is Facebook Graph Search going to benefit businesses?

Kelvin: The key to Facebook Graph Search (FGS) is that you get a far more personalized set of results than is possible on Google. So for lots of businesses where a personal recommendation is a big part of the decision-making process it can be very valuable.

So, say I’m looking for hotels in London. Searching on Google will tell me what the best hotels in London are (or their interpretation of that). Whereas on Facebook I can search for hotels in London that my friends have stayed in, or hotels in London that my friends like. Which helps businesses rise up within FGS, and potentially that assessment of what’s best is really good because it tells you what your friends like.

So, for businesses where personal recommendations are important, then FGS has huge potential. Now, what’s important about FGS is that it’s not a search engine in that it returns websites. It’s more of a search engine that presents what is contained within Facebook. So, if you’re not playing within the Facebook ecosystem you’re probably not going to appear in the search results.

So it’s more about how your presence within Facebook will be a little more accessible to the users of Facebook.

Wordtracker: Any tips on how to get seen on the Graph?

Kelvin: The key to appearing in the Graph is that the person searching has some sort of connection to you as a brand, and that can be several steps away.

So it’s all about getting people to connect to you in some shape or form: in most cases that means liking your business page. But it could also mean checking in, for instance.

There are all sorts of new types of connections Facebook are creating. For example, they’ve recently launched the ability to drink a certain drink or eat a certain food, or have lunch, instead of having to check in. Driving these connections to people is really powerful, so it’s all about Facebook marketing and appreciating that the more types of connections a user can send to Facebook about your business the better. It’s all about encouraging interaction, really.

Wordtracker: Do you need people to just like your brand or do you need to provoke more engagement than that?

Kelvin: At the moment there’s an algorithm in place. So say I search for hotels in Paris: there could be 10 results there, just from my friends liking Paris. Facebook uses an algorithm to determine what appears in FGS, and the order the results appear in.

In many cases in Facebook there aren’t a lot of results: there’s not the huge amount of competition you have on Google. But where there is competition, the level of engagement is going to be important. In some cases it’s pure volume. So if I’ve got five people who have been to a certain pub, that pub will appear more frequently. It’s not that far-fetched to believe that the algorithm already works like that and will do to a greater extent in future. So it’s a case of which friends are your better friends, or which hotels have had more total check-ins rather than the likes and comments on their news feed.

So it’s not quite there yet, but as competition heats up it’s going to be fair to assume that those types of signals will be important.

Wordtracker: Is Facebook better for customer acquisition or retention?

Kelvin: I think it’s really early days to know in terms of the data, but my gut feel on it all is that it’s going to be about discovery. Where it will change is that there are going to be particular types of search queries that you can’t do on Google but you can on FGS, and I think that that’s where the value will be.

Just yesterday, a friend of mine was recruiting for a digital marketing role in Amsterdam. What I did was make a search on FGS for friends of friends who work in Amsterdam who work in internet businesses, and I got results for that.

I can do some of that stuff in LinkedIn already but the ability to do it within Facebook is pretty powerful, particularly because on location (where people live and where people have lived) Facebook have much better data than LinkedIn, and loads better data than Google.

Wordtracker: Are there any privacy issues we should be concerned about?

Kelvin: Like everything with Facebook there is the danger that people don’t know exactly what they’re doing and how public that can be.

There have been lots of examples in FGS: for example, where people have searched for people who work for Google but like Facebook – jokey things like that. Or more malicious ones where people have liked Facebook groups that are a bit unprofessional.

For example, you can search for people who like local government who like UKIP or fans of organizations that they shouldn’t. Things a person in public office shouldn’t be a fan of. Certainly there’s a kind of an education that’s going on there, but in Facebook’s defense they aren’t sharing anything that wasn’t already shared in public. The problem is that people don’t realize that what they’ve said can be made public.

I think there are going to be all sorts of messy, gray areas around what is public and what isn’t, and Facebook are going to be at the heart of that. Not because they’re super-malicious but because they’re the most successful social network. They’re a focus of the criticism because they’ve got so many users and not because they’re doing anything that’s much worse than any of the other social networks.

Yes, they perhaps don’t have the “Do No Evil” attitude of other internet companies but I certainly don’t think they’re out to trick anyone. The problem is that the engineers and the people behind Facebook are perhaps more public and far more comfortable about being public than the usual member of the public would be.

Summary

That concludes our interview with Kelvin. It’s going to be fascinating to see how Facebook Graph Search develops in future, what ingenious methods marketers come up with to discover prospects using it, and how businesses will be able to get themselves seen on it.

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The New Science of Web Psychology: Interview with Nathalie Nahai

Posted by Erica McGillivray

Nathalie NahaiWe all want to influence our customers and our clients to follow the path to conversion. But what if that path fails to draw them in? That’s where Nathalie Nahai, the web psychologist, comes into play. She helps nudge your audience toward the right path and make your goals in Google Analytics happy, not to mention your boss or clients.

Nathalie recently authored the new book Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion. We were so impressed with Nathalie that we invited her to speak at this year’s MozCon, July 8th-10th in Seattle. Get your ticket today because you don’t want to miss this:

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How’d you get your start working in inbound marketing as a psychologist?

I have a mixed background in psychology, the arts, and web design, and it wasn’t until I met some of the digi/tech entrepreneurs in East London that I even considered applying my psychology to online interaction. I became curious about how we’re influenced online and started looking for books on the subject. When I realised that there was a huge gap in the market, I decided to write the book myself. That was the real launching point.

Those of us working with data sometimes have to fight “common wisdom.” What web psychology optimization tip always shocks people?

I think the most obvious one is based around a comfortable assumption regarding website visitors, to which my response is always, “If you think you know your target audience, you’re wrong. Where’s your research?” No matter how well you think you know your audience, you should always research them, and never assume that the knowledge you have about them is carved in stone. People change — so must your strategy.

What’s your favorite social media medium to engage in?

I’d have to say Twitter, or Instagram when I’m travelling. Though recently there have been so many genuinely fascinating updates running through my Facebook feed, including my favourite, I Fucking Love Science, that a lot of my productivity has been lost to that particular black hole.

You recently wrote a post about why people troll online. How do you recommend dealing with trolls?

Honestly? I usually write a polite, reasoned response back, and if they retort with something obnoxious (which thankfully happens fairly rarely), then I ignore the thread. There’s no point fuelling the fire.

” …given that a great proportion of our communication is non-verbal [8], and that we rely heavily on facial recognition to connect with and understand one another, it may be that losing eye-contact online actually cuts out our main avenue for empathetic communication – without which we become emotionally disconnected and more predisposed towards hostile behaviour.”

Now for some fun stuff, what’s inspired you lately?

I went to an incredible gig by Susheela Raman, an extraordinary Tamil-London musician whose skill and smouldering charisma make for spellbinding, trance-inducing performances. I’ve loved her music for years, and every time I go to one of her shows, I end up on a high for days. If you ever get the chance to see her live, grab all your friends and go. She’ll blow your mind.

Susheela Raman performs “Kamakshi.”

Okay, since I know you’re a Trekkie (I’m one too), what was your favorite non-spoilery part of Star Trek Into Darkness?

I LOVED the new Star Trek!

My favourite bit was the tribble cameo. It was a cheeky nod to one of my favourite episodes, “The Trouble With Tribbles,” where someone sneaks a tribble onto the Enterprise and they multiply so fast they clog up the whole ship.

Thank you so much, Nathalie, for sharing a bit about web psychology, some beautiful music, and a couple types of geekiness with us. :)

If you’re interested in seeing more from Nathalie, she’ll be at this year’s MozCon, July 8th-10th, talking about “How Gender and Cultural Differences in Web Psychology Affect the Customer Experience.” You can also follow her on Twitter @TheWebPsych and read her book, Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion.

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