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A Look Back at a Great 2017: 5 Major Moz Product Investments and a Sneak Peek Into 2018

Posted by adamf

It’s hard to believe that 2017 is already past. We entered the year with big ambitions and we’ve made some great strides. As has become tradition, I’ve compiled a rundown of some of the most interesting updates that you may have seen (or missed) this past year. We’ve intentionally focused on significant product updates, but I’ve also shared a little about some newer programs that provide value for customers in different ways.

TL;DR, here are some of the larger and more interesting additions to Moz in 2017:

  1. Keywords by Site: Keyword Explorer adds site-based keyword research and competitive intelligence
  2. Site Crawl V2: Overhauled Site Crawl for better auditing and workflow
  3. Major investments in infrastructure: Better performance and resilience across the Moz toolset
  4. New instructor-led training programs: Targeted classes to level-up your SEO knowledge
  5. Customer Success: Custom walkthroughs to help you get the most out of Moz
  6. Bonus! MozPod: Moz’s new free podcast keeps you up to date on the latest industry topics and trends

Big updates

This year and last, we’ve been spending a disproportionate focus on releasing large infrastructural improvements, new datasets, and foundational product updates. We feel these are crucial elements that serve the core needs of SEOs and will fuel frequent improvements and iterations for years to come.

To kick things off, I wanted to share some details about two big updates from 2017.


1) Keywords by Site: Leveling up keyword research and intelligence

Rank tracking provides useful benchmarks and insights for specific, targeted keywords, but you can’t track all of the keywords that are relevant to you. Sometimes you need a broader look at how visible your sites (and your competitors’ sites) are in Google results.

We built Keywords by Site to provide this powerful view into your Google presence. This brand-new dataset in Moz significantly extends Keyword Explorer and improves the quality of results in many other areas throughout Moz Pro. Our US corpus currently includes 40 million Google SERPs updated every two weeks, and allows you to do the following:

See how visible your site is in Google results

This view not only shows how authoritative a site is from a linking perspective, but also shows how prominent a site is in Google search results.

Compare your ranking prominence to your competitors

Compare up to three sites to get a feel for their relative scale of visibility and keyword ranking overlap. Click on any section in the Venn diagram to view the keywords that fall into that section.

Dig deep: Sort, filter, and find opportunities, then stash them in keyword lists

For example, let’s say you’re looking to determine which pages or content on your site might only require a little nudge to garner meaningful search visibility and traffic. Run a report for your site in Keyword Explorer and then use the filters to quickly hone in on these opportunities:

Our focus on data quality

We’ve made a few decisions to help ensure the freshness and accuracy of our keyword corpus. These extend the cost and work to maintain this dataset, but we feel they make a discernible difference in quality.

  • We recollect all of our keyword data every 2 weeks. This means that the results you see are more recent and more similar to the results on the day that you’re researching.
  • We cycle up to 15 million of our keywords out on a monthly basis. This means that as new keywords or terms trend up in popularity, we add them to our corpus, replacing terms that are no longer getting much search volume.

A few improvements we’ve made since launch:

  • Keyword recommendations in your campaigns (tracked sites) are much improved and now backed by our keyword corpus.
  • These keyword suggestions are also included in your weekly insights, suggesting new keywords worth tracking and pages worth optimizing.
  • Coming very soon: We’re also on the cusp of launching keyword corpuses for the UK, Canada, and Australia. Stay tuned.

A few resources to help you get more from Keywords by Site:

Try out Keywords by Site!


2) Site Crawl V2: Big enhancements to site crawling and auditing

Another significant project we completed in 2017 was a complete rewrite of our aging Site Crawler. In short, our new crawler is faster, more reliable, can crawl more pages, and surfaces more issues. We’ve also made some enhancements to the workflow, to make regular crawls more customizable and easy to manage. Here are a few highlights:

Week-over-week crawl comparisons

Our new crawler keeps tabs on what happened in your previous crawl to show you which specific issues are no longer present, and which are brand new.

Ignore (to hide) individual issues or whole issue types

This feature was added in response to a bunch of customer requests. While Moz does its best to call out the issues and priorities that apply to most sites, not all sites or SEOs have the same needs. For example, if you regularly noindex a big portion of your site, you don’t need us to keep reminding you that you’ve applied noindex to a huge number of pages. If you don’t want them showing your reports, just ignore individual issues or the entire issue type.

Another workflow improvement we added was the ability to mark an issue as fixed. This allows you to get it out of your way until the next crawl runs and verifies the fix.

All Pages view with improved sorting and filtering

If you’re prioritizing across a large number of pages or trying to track down an issue in a certain area of your site, you can now sort all pages crawled by Issue Count, Page Authority, or Crawl Depth. You can also filter to show, for instance, all pages in the /blog section of my site that are redirects, and have a crawl issue.

Recrawl to verify fixes

Moz’s crawler monitors your site by crawling it every week. But if you’ve made some changes and want to verify them, you can now recrawl your site in between regular weekly crawls instead of waiting for the next crawl the start.

Seven new issues checked and tracked

These include such favorites as detecting Thin Content, Redirect Chains, and Slow Pages. While we were at it, we revamped duplicate page detection and improved the UI to help you better analyze clusters of duplicate content and figure out which page should be canonical.

A few resources to help you get more from Site Crawl:


3) Major investments in infrastructure for performance and resilience

You may not have directly noticed many of the updates we’ve made this year. We made some significant investments in Moz Pro and Moz Local to make them faster, more reliable, and allow us to build new features more quickly. But here are a few tangible manifestations of these efforts:

“Infinite” history on organic Moz Pro search traffic reports

Okay, infinite is a bit of a stretch, but we used to only show the last 12 months or weeks of data. Now we’ll show data from the very inception of a campaign, broken down by weeks or months. This is made possible by an updated architecture that makes full historical data easy to surface and present in the application. It also allows for custom access to selected date ranges.

Also worth noting is that the new visualization shows how many different pages were receiving organic search traffic in context with total organic search traffic. This can help you figure out whether traffic increase was due to improved rankings across many pages, or just a spike in organic traffic for one or a few pages.

More timely and reliable access to Moz Local data at all scales

As Moz Local has brought on more and bigger customers with large numbers of locations, the team discovered a need to bolster systems for speed and reliability. A completely rebuilt scheduling system and improved core location data systems help ensure all of your data is collected and easy to access when you need it.

Improved local data distribution

Moz Local distributes your location data through myriad partners, each of which have their own formats and interfaces. The Local team updated and fine-tuned those third-party connections to improve the quality of the data and speed of distribution.


4) New instructor-led training programs: Never stop learning

Not all of our improvements this year have shown up in the product. Another investment we’ve made is in training. We’ve gotten a lot of requests for this over the years and are finally delivering. Brian Childs, our trainer extraordinaire, has built this program from the ground up. It includes:

  • Boot camps to build up core skills
  • Advanced Seminars to dig into more intensive topics
  • Custom Training for businesses that want a more tailored approach

We have even more ambitious plans for 2018, so if training interests you, check out all of our training offerings here.


5) Customer Success: Helping customers get the most out of Moz

Our customer success program took off this year and has one core purpose: to help customers get maximum value from Moz. Whether you’re a long-time customer looking to explore new features or you’re brand new to Moz and figuring out how to get started, our success team offers product webinars every week, as well as one-on-one product walkthroughs tailored to your needs, interests, and experience level.

The US members of our customer success team hone their skills at a local chocolate factory (Not pictured: our fantastic team members in the UK, Australia, and Dubai)

If you want to learn more about Moz Pro, check out a webinar or schedule a walkthrough.


Bonus! MozPod: Moz’s new free podcast made its debut

Okay, this really strays from product news, but another fun project that’s been gaining momentum is MozPod. This came about as a side passion project by our ever-ambitious head trainer. Lord knows that SEO and digital marketing are fast-moving and ever-changing; to help you keep up on hot topics and new developments, we’ve started the Mozpod. This podcast covers a range of topics, drawing from the brains of key folks in the industry. With topics ranging from structured data and app store optimization to machine learning and even blockchain, there’s always something interesting to learn about. If you’ve got an idea for an episode or a topic you’d like to hear about, submit it here.

Join Brian every week for a new topic and guest:


What’s next?

We have a lot planned for 2018 — probably way too much. But one thing I can promise is that it won’t be a dull year. I prefer not to get too specific about projects that we’ve not yet started, but here are a few things already in the works:

  • A significant upgrade to our link data and toolset
  • On-demand Site Crawl
  • Added keyword research corpuses for the UK, Australia, and Canada
  • Expanded distribution channels for local to include Facebook, Waze, and Uber
  • More measurement and analytics features around local rankings, categories, & keywords
  • Verticalized solutions to address specific local search needs in the restaurant, hospitality, financial, legal, & medical sectors

On top of these and many other features we’re considering, we also plan to make it a lot easier for you to use our products. Right now, we know it can be a bit disjointed within and between products. We plan to change that.

We’ve also waited too long to solve for some specific needs of our agency customers. We’re prioritizing some key projects that’ll make their jobs easier and their relationships with Moz more valuable.


Thank you!

Before I go, I just want to thank you all for sharing your support, suggestions, and critical feedback. We strive to build the best SEO data and platform for our diverse and passionate customers. We could not succeed without you. If you’d like to be a part of making Moz a better platform, please let us know. We often reach out to customers and community members for feedback and insight, so if you’re the type who likes to participate in user research studies, customer interviews, beta tests, or surveys, please volunteer here.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


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Google debuts giant new look for Local Inventory Ad product search in Knowledge Panels

A search bar and multiple product listings are part of the update.

The post Google debuts giant new look for Local Inventory Ad product search in Knowledge Panels appeared first on Search Engine Land.



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The new design is simpler to use, more visually appealing and offers more content and context.

The post Google News gets a cleaner look, new features to make it ‘more accessible’ appeared first on Search Engine Land.



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What to look for in a paid media campaign management tool

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What it Takes to Leave the Corporate World (and Not Look Back)

he-bye-bye-corporate

Today’s guest on Hack the Entrepreneur is the founder and CEO of Small Business Trends, an award-winning online publication, which offers breaking news and advice for small business owners.

She is a former corporate attorney that left that corporate life and founded her own company in 2003.

She is considered an authoritative voice on small business issues and has been noted and quoted in respected publications (such as the Wall Street Journal).

Her name has appeared in multiple “top” lists, and she was featured as one of Hubspot’s 100 Most Powerful Women on Twitter.

Now, let’s hack …

Anita Campbell.

In this 35-minute episode of Hack the Entrepreneur, host Jon Nastor and Anita Campbell discuss:

  • How sticking with things can be good for entrepreneurs
  • Why it’s necessary to measure your progress over the long-term
  • If you don’t know how to do something, don’t do it
  • Understanding that we all work for someone, whether we like it or not
  • The hard part of identifying your core competency

Click Here to Listen to

Hack the Entrepreneur on iTunes

Click Here to Listen on Rainmaker.FM

About the author

Rainmaker.FM

Rainmaker.FM is the premier digital marketing and sales podcast network. Get on-demand business advice from experts, whenever and wherever you want it.

The post What it Takes to Leave the Corporate World (and Not Look Back) appeared first on Copyblogger.


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What to Look for in a Professional Content Writer

poodle with glasses sitting at a desk

Every business needs content. Not the bland, me-too nonsense that so often clutters up our in-boxes and feeds, but genuinely useful, interesting content.

Content that lets a business stand out amid the clutter and noise. Content that moves prospects closer to a sale. Content that can become a powerful differentiator for your company.

And increasingly, businesses are having a tough time finding the writers who know how to create that kind of content over time.

According to some recent research by Content Marketing Institute, the demand for content writers has grown by 320 percent … just over the past year.

And while in the past, about 10 percent of companies struggled to find qualified professionals, that’s risen to 32 percent this year.

One of the reasons I think organizations struggle is, they don’t always know what qualities will make for a genuinely productive, profitable hire. And as you might guess, I have a few strong opinions about that.

So here’s what I think you should look for, when you’re looking for a content professional to create the marketing that will move your business forward.

First: A strong, confident writing voice

This is the big gun.

Strategy, marketing, and persuasion techniques can be taught (that’s what we’re here for). Voice, on the other hand, develops over time and needs to come from within a creative, intelligent, sensitive human being.

While a solid writing voice can be developed over time (here’s how), your writer won’t ever get there without a lot of passion and commitment. Talent doesn’t hurt, either.

Look for a writer whose work is interesting, funny, smart, perceptive, and convincing. Look for someone whose writing you just like to read.

Some have it and some don’t. Insist on hiring the one who does.

Solid spelling, grammar, and usage

There are a few amazing writers out there who need a professional proofreader — but unless you have the bandwidth to add such a person to your team, your writer needs to have a solid grasp of usage, spelling, and all those mundane issues that can make us look silly when we get them wrong.

Your writing candidates should get their feathers ruffled when someone uses it’s for its. Every writer makes a typo once in awhile — but for a professional, that should be rare.

Finds the intriguing angle

Well-crafted content is important — but if it’s not wrapped up in a fascinating package, it probably won’t get read or shared.

Strong content writers are capable and creative. They think about your topic in interesting ways. (Mainly because professional writers think about their topics all the time. Occupational hazard. Probably why we’re such odd birds.)

A pro knows how to deliver the usefulness that audiences need, but also wraps it up in unusual hooks and angles that will capture attention and engage curiosity.

Understands the elements of content that sells

There are plenty of writers out there who can write a pleasing sentence or paragraph.

But a content professional also understands how content can move prospects smoothly down the path from stranger to interested prospect to delighted customer.

They understand headlines, and why content gets shared. They know what kind of content works well in blog posts, and what’s better saved for a landing page or an email message.

A professional content writer lives and breathes strategy. Which brings me to my next point. A good writer …

Can articulate why they’re using a particular content strategy

If you have a writer working for you, that person should be able to tell you precisely why she’s taken a particular angle with a blog post, video script, or white paper.

She can explain how your content program ties into your search strategy and why she’s using the number 8.4 in the headline, rather than rounding it up to 9.

Give her a chance and she’ll talk your ear off about the structure of bullet point fascinations, benefits over features, and the call to action.

The people who revel in this stuff are the ones who create compelling marketing content that builds your business. Whether or not you find it exciting, your writer needs to.

She needs to be able to tell you why, so your entire organization moves in the same direction.

(And on your part, you need to take the time to listen to those explanations. Don’t hire a pro and then second-guess every move she makes. If you want great content, you need to give your writer the space to craft that greatness.)

Commitment to professionalism and ongoing education

If content is important to your business, you need a professional, not an interested amateur. (Or an admittedly adorable fluffy poodle, like the one illustrating this post.)

And one of the hallmarks of the professional is commitment. Commitment to getting better over time, to staying on top of developments in the field, to a lifetime of learning.

Raw talent to write is important, and an understanding of strategy is important. But you also want to find someone who takes the profession seriously — as a profession — and continues to sharpen and refine his skills.

From search algorithms to social platforms to what kinds of headlines are performing well these days — professional writers need to stay plugged in to what’s changing in our profession.

A serious content professional also takes the initiative to become an authority in the topics he writes about. Interviewing experts (some of whom might be within your company), doing independent research, poring over industry journals, and talking with customers.

You can find that from a dedicated freelancer who specializes in your industry, but you can also build a long-term relationship with a strong content generalist who takes the time to develop that depth of knowledge about your individual company.

What you don’t want is a pennies-a-word person from one of the cheap freelance sites. They simply can’t make the commitment to learning your topic the way a true pro can.

Where do you find these people?

I cheated when I wrote this post — because I went to the guidelines for our Certified Content Creator application evaluations.

These are the qualities we look for when we’re assessing the work of writers seeking our certification — and these are the qualities you’ll find in the writers who earn that badge.

We have a whole page of them (growing weekly) — some serving specific niches like real estate or healthcare, and others who write across several industries.

A member of the Copyblogger editorial team takes a close look at the writing of each applicant. (I’m on the evaluation team as well.)

We look for the qualities I talked about above — a great writing voice first and foremost, but paired with strategy, professionalism, and straight-up marketing chops.

If you’re looking for a serious content professional, this is where you’ll find her, or him. But don’t wait too long. Remember, the demand for this kind of writer has grown by 320 percent in this year alone.

The perfect writer for your business would love to get started making your content program more successful … don’t let her slip away to some other company.

Click here to view Copyblogger’s Certified Content Writers

Flickr Creative Commons Image via Francisco Martins.

About the author

Sonia Simone

Sonia Simone is co-founder and Chief Content Officer of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Sonia on Twitter and .

The post What to Look for in a Professional Content Writer appeared first on Copyblogger.


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SearchCap: Bing Safety, Yandex Earnings & Bing Ads New Look

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web. From Search Engine Land: Bing Ads Is Getting A Slick New Look That Will Feel Familiar Bing is unveiling a new look that will start showing up in the web interface next week. The new…



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Want a Viral Hit? Here Is an Inside Look at Our Ideation Process

Posted by KelseyLibert

This post was co-authored by Kristin Tynski, VP Creative at Frac.tl and Kelsey Libert, Director of Promotions.

The importance of the idea

When it comes to creating viral content, if you don’t have an exceptional idea, you are dead in the water. Even if you’re able to execute production at a very high level and promote your content with the best of them, if the idea doesn’t check all the boxes of viral content, you’re toast. So, given you understand what a viral idea might look like, how do you bridge the gap between theory and actually coming up with one of these truly viral ideas? What follows is the process we use here at Fractl to come up with ideas that we feel confident will find viral success.

Defining parameters

We approach our ideation task as we would a riddle. Think of it this way: You are given a set of known parameters, and you must find an answer that elegantly satisfies all of those parameters. The difference here is that there’s more than just one correct answer. In fact, there are usually many answers that’ll fit. So what are your primary defining parameters? In nearly all cases the primary parameters I follow include:

  1. The idea must play well with the brand/product/service topic area. It must also fit the constraints of the client. Decide beforehand if your ideas can be broadly related to a niche or topic area, or if they must be more constrained.
  2. The idea must contain an emotionally compelling hook as described in my last post. More specifically, it must evoke feelings of surprise and interest, which are generally essential to a successful viral idea.
  3. The idea must contain something original or new, and it’s even better if it’s newsworthy. From a content promotion and syndication perspective, having an idea that presents new information will make it much more likely to be picked up by mainstream blogs and news sites.
  4. The related concepts should have some proof of past viral engagement. Can you point to some other piece of content and use it as a basis for predicting the success of your own content?

Be sure to keep these questions in mind as you begin your brainstorming; you will use them to keep your ideation on track.

Step 1: The research dump

It just so happens I have some ideation to do for one of Fractl’s clients, Rehabs.com, so I’m going to use it as an example to bring you through my research techniques and ideation process. The vertical/topic area we’re going after this time is “eating disorders.” From talking with this client, I know they are willing to stretch the topic area to a certain extent, so my ideation will keep this in mind, and I might go a bit broader in terms of how closely the content I come up with relates exactly to eating disorders.

Generally, the best way to begin ideation for any viral content marketing project is to first spend the time to gather all you can about the topic area and collect what sorts of things are currently buzzworthy or have been in the past. Begin by understanding your topic area in a general way, and then use that topic area as a basis for your ideation. I usually make a list of possible ideas by finding as many popular news stories and blog posts around my general topic area as I can.

I copy down this research in the first tab of my ideation document.

I go to the places online that allow for both content curation and the ability to organize that content by what has already been popular. The places I usually use are as follows:

  1. Reddit: Try doing a simple search for about 3 to 5 keywords related to your topical area. In this case I would try eating disorders, body image, bulimia, and anorexia. For each keyword, I would organize the Reddit results by “top” and set the date range to “all-time,” giving me a curated list of content that’s ranked from most engaging to least. I then look through each list and pull out the stories that seem like they might be at least marginally interesting. Additionally, when I do these searches, I take note of the subreddits that pop up, often you will find niche communities related to your topic, go to each of these subreddits, and organize by top-all-time, to find the stories that have been most popular within these sub-niches as well. For example, searching “body image” on reddit showed me a subreddit called r/bodyacceptance, which I never knew existed, but seems quite active. Many of their top stories are a great place to start for viral content ideas.
  2. Google: Try searching for (Viral + Keyword) and look for other instances of viral campaigns that have been successful. Add as many of these as you can find to your list.
  3. Trendhunter: Trendhunter does a good job of picking up on trending concepts and ideas that can be searched by keywords. Try searching for your keywords and then list the interesting URLs in your brainstorming dump list.
  4. BuzzFeed: BuzzFeed does a good job with conceptualizing viral ideas. They also have an effective search tool to find these posts. Put these in your list, too.
  5. Latest research: Try searching Google Scholar or Pubmed Search. You can segment your search by date, so try to use content from the past year for fresher stories.
  6. Latest news: Google News, organized by date, can yield a good overview of what newspapers and online news sites are covering most around your topic area.
  7. Datasets: Listing all possible datasets out there would take a long time, but I usually check out this Quora post to see if there is anything that jumps out to me as being applicable to the topic area I’m looking at. Also, https://explore.data.gov/ is a great place to do a few keyword searches to see if anything pops up as well. Reddit also has an active dataset subreddit that is worth looking at. You can also try a search at ZanRan.com, which can sometimes give some good results as well.

Still stuck?

Here are a few other places you can go if you are still having trouble filling out your research dump:

Step 2: extracting themes

Once you have done a considerable amount of research and feel you’ve found the bulk of the most talked about stories related to your topic, you’re ready to begin an overview analysis of the specific common sub-topics that seem to have a unique potential for further investigation. Go through each of the examples you have listed in your research dump and try to boil them down and label them under general subtopics. You will likely start to see several subtopics that seem to be the most talked about. These should be the subtopics you ideate around. For our example with Rehabs.com, the common subtopics I found were:

  • Men and eating disorders
  • The role of mass media in body image
  • The role of marketing and advertising in body image
  • Eating disorders as represented in Internet culture
  • Real life stories of the afflicted
  • Body image and happiness
  • Eating disorder and body image memes

Step 3: ideating laterally on extracted themes

Using the extracted themes, the next step is the actual ideation phase, where we look to explore the different content ideas that will fit within each of these subtopic areas that we have identified as buzzworthy candidates. While doing ideation, I pay particularly close attention to ideas that fit my predefined set of parameters that were clearly defined before starting the ideation process.

As I mentioned in my last post, strong emotional reactions of interest and surprise are absolutely essential in creating a viral effect. In order to activate these emotions, your goal should be to come up with an idea that presents something unexpected, counterintuitive, or completely novel.

Coming up with ideas of this sort requires what is known as “lateral thinking.” This type of creative thinking happens when we are able to connect seemingly disparate ideas in new ways. It also happens when we realize how innovations in one area could also be applied to another area. Fortunately, there are several ways to prime your brain to think in this sort of way. I’m going to switch gears and move on from the Rehabs.com example in order to illustrate these brainstorming methods. I’ve found it can be effective to “warm up” your brain by thinking creatively on other topics first, before moving on to your actual ideation task.

1. Connecting Random Ideas

You can begin your warmup with nearly any topic area. I prefer a seemingly mundane topic for warmup, so that when I switch back to my actual ideation task, it feels easier. So, lets start with something seemingly boring, how about lighting equipment. For this exercise in lateral thinking, we’ll select either three random objects around the room or three random words from a dictionary. For this example, let’s go with a soda bottle, which is currently sitting next to me on my desk. Our goal now is to try to come up with ideas that connect a soda bottle with our general topical area of lighting equipment in a way that makes sense and is unexpected, counterintuitive, or novel.

Let’s start with the soda bottle. How does it relate to lighting? At first you might not think it does, but keep thinking and start asking questions. Could a bottle be somehow used as a light? Hmm … the answer is yes! After a quick Google search, we find this gem. It turns out that water bottles are being used effectively in the third world as makeshift skylights, and it works incredibly well! Now we can extrapolate on this idea. Keep asking questions. What are the implications of this innovation? What does this mean for populations that prior to this innovation had no lighting? The article says it might actually save lives by reducing the fire risk associated with these populations being forced to use candles. Could we create a piece of content that attempts to quantify the benefits of this innovation in some way?

Keep going by taking another tack; ask more questions. For instance, are there other types of lighting implements that utilize trash like empty soda bottles? Let’s find out! Yep, there sure are. But this isn’t an original idea, so how can we make it original? Keep asking questions. How were these created? How could we add value here? What if we created content that showed how to do these types of projects yourself? Make sure to write down your ideas, but keep going until you have exhausted all the ideas associated with your original item (the water bottle).

The truth is that your mind is inherently extremely creative—all you need to do is give it the fuel, and it will begin working on its own. Give your brain two things to connect, and it will start figuring out how it might be done.

2. Provocation technique

This lateral thinking technique relies on opening your mind to new possibilities by abandoning your assumptions and asking, “What if?” Your goal here should be to think widely and in an exaggerated way that steps outside of what is logically possible. By doing this, you can create a bridge to unexpected connections and extremely innovative ideas. This can be done in 5 primary ways:

Escape: Negate what you have taken for granted about the topic.

Reversal: Reverse something you have taken for granted about the topic.

Exaggeration: Is there a numerical or quantitative element you can play with to arrive at new ideas?

Distortion: Try to distort one piece of something you take for granted about the topic.

Wishful thinking: Suggest a fantasy you know isn’t possible that relates to your topic.

As you go through these exercises, remember to keep asking yourself questions. You can use the following checklist as you go:

  • What would the consequences be?

  • What would the benefits be?

  • What special circumstances would make it a sensible solution?

  • What principles are needed to support it and make it work?

  • How would it work moment-to-moment?

  • What would happen if a sequence of events was changed?

Let’s try this technique with our example of lighting:

Escape: We take for granted the permanence of indoor lighting. What if it wasn’t permanent? What if the U.S. was subjected to the rolling blackouts seen in many developing countries? What would the impact be? Could we create a piece of content that would explore this scenario? Can we extrapolate on current research about the importance of consistent electricity to make it more accessible to audiences that expect it as a given? Asking questions from our checklist might send us down paths to even more new areas of possibility. For example, could we create a piece of content that looked at the implications of what would happen if all the lights suddenly went out? What would be the benefits of this happening? The consequences? If all the lights in the world went out simultaneously, what exactly would happen?

Reversal: Another assumption we take for granted about lighting is that for most of us, the cost of lighting is pretty static. Let’s try reversing that. What if it was free or what if it was 10 times as expensive? This would lead us to questions about how the cost of lighting effects our habits. Perhaps we could create an interesting piece of content that tried to answer these hypothetical questions.

Exaggeration: Is there a numerical value associated with the topic that you take for granted that could be adjusted up or down? For example, we take for granted the speed of light. What would happen if we changed this number? Alternatively, we take for granted the brightness of our sun, so what would happen if our sun suddenly got brighter or dimmer? What if the number associated with lighting elements themselves changed. For instance, what if light bulbs lasted forever? What if they only lasted a day? Then go back and ask yourself questions from the checklist again and see if anything compelling floats up.

Distortion: Let’s try to adjust something we take for granted about lighting. How about the idea that lighting is almost always in the form of lamps or ceiling lighting. What are some other ways we could light a room in an unexpected or innovative way. What if our lighting came in another form; what might that look like?

Wishful Thinking: Try to ask yourself questions like, “Wouldn’t it be nice/cool/interesting if…” and list as many of these statements as you can with regards to your topic area. For example, wouldn’t it be awesome if there were lights that did more than just light a room? What if lights could be projectors? What if they could display information around a room? What if they could be used as cameras? What if they could be used to improve our health or beam us knowledge? Don’t be afraid to be outlandish—it might lead to an amazing idea.

To be sure, these examples are just some of the many techniques that can be used to help you think laterally. I love beginning my ideation sessions by doing a few exercises like the ones I’ve mentioned above, even if it’s on a subject that’s different from the one I’ll be doing ideation for. It opens my mind and gets me thinking of the possibilities that might exist when I let go of my preconceptions. In my experience, this type of creative thinking is most conducive to coming up with potentially viral ideas. This is because these types of ideas aren’t generated in a typical, logical way but are instead created by using unexpected ways of thinking that deviate from the norm.

I would recommend the work of Edward de Bono if you are looking for more ways to improve your lateral thinking skills. Another great way to switch your brain into lateral thinking mode is to simply do some riddles. Try these before you begin your brainstorming session.

Step 4: vetting ideas against a rubric

I usually try to do 2 to 3 ideas for each subtopic/theme area before moving on to ideation vetting. When vetting, I typically like to get feedback from at least 4 people (other than myself) who are familiar with the client, who know the parameters the content needs to meet, and who have a good understanding of the contributing factors of viral content. I ask them to assign a score to each idea based on the following factors:

  1. The idea’s adherence to set parameters
  2. The idea’s originality
  3. The idea’s newsworthiness
  4. The idea’s emotional impact (more specifically, does it create surprise and interest)

Step 5: choosing the idea

This is the easiest part—simply take your culled list and let the client choose! If it’s left up to you, any of the top 2 to 3 ideas should be perfect candidates. Perhaps decide based on factors unrelated to its potential for success. Consider cost, timelines, ease of execution, and whether or not the content is evergreen.

Check out the second and third tabs of my Rehabs.com ideation to see this part in action.

Conclusions

Great viral content ideas come from a combination of creativity and hard work. By cultivating a mindset that lends itself toward the ability to think laterally, and by following a process of investigation, brainstorming, and careful vetting, you can greatly increase your chances of a viral hit.

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A First Look at Raven’s New Content Marketing Tools …

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Running the data for Copyblogger Media is no small task, so we’re big fans of tools that make our lives easier. At the top of that list is Raven Tools’ marketing software.

And yes, we love them even more for the fact that Raven’s Content Manager tightly integrates with our Scribe content marketing software system … but that’s just one of many reasons.

Like us, the Raven team is constantly working to improve their software and to make sure it meets the needs of the ever-evolving content marketing industry.

I just found out that they’re about to update their Raven Content Manager in a major way, and I couldn’t be more excited.

What’s ahead for Raven, and — more importantly — what does it mean for you?

First, the entire Raven site has been redesigned for simpler and faster navigation. This new design helps content creators focus on the most important thing — getting what you need and getting back to work.

Jon Henshaw, co-founder of Raven, recently told me:

It’s such a simple change, but it’s significant. When we moved the main navigation from the top of our software to the left, all of a sudden there was a lot more room in the browser window. We took advantage of that space to show more data in one view.

Through a little begging and pleading, Jon provided me with a few exclusive screenshots of their redesigned Content Marketing tools, and said we could share them with you …

This is what the current (old) Content Manager looks like:

 

And here’s what the new Content Manager will look like:

 

They also gave us a sneak peek at their PR Newswire press release order form — another powerful Raven content marketing tool that’s been updated with the new design:

 

Raven also reorganized the 30+ tools in its platform into logical sections that reflect how our industry is evolving. To make everything easy to find and use, they’ve segmented their tools into these categories:

  • Campaign
  • Research
  • SEO
  • Social
  • Content
  • PPC
  • Reports

Raven plans to launch the new, simpler Raven — along with a new rankings tool and report — in early August. If you want to be the first to find out when it’s ready, jump on the Raven email list right here.

And, if you’re feeling a little weird about waking up every morning for the next week or so and hitting refresh on your Raven account, hoping to see the new design, know that you’re not alone.

I’m clicking that button right there with you. ;-)

About the Author: Jessica Commins is Copyblogger Media’s Executive VP of Operations, and a connoisseur of iced tea. Following her on Twitter or Google+ might be the easiest thing you do all day.

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