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Google’s Assistant-everywhere strategy reminiscent of old site search playbook

Google Assistant “syndication” is a way to battle Amazon Alexa and expand its reach for later monetization.

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The Voice Playbook – Building a Marketing Plan for the Next Era in Computing

Posted by SimonPenson


This post serves a dual purpose: it’s a practical guide to the realities of preparing for voice right now, but equally it’s a rallying call to ensure our industry has a full understanding of just how big, disruptive, and transformational it will be — and that, as a result, we need to stand ready.

My view is that voice is not just an add-on, but an entirely new way of interacting with the machines that add value to our lives. It is the next big era of computing.

Brands and agencies alike need to be at the forefront of that revolution. For my part, that begins with investing in the creation of a voice team.

Let me explain just how we plan to do that, and why it’s being actioned earlier than many will think necessary….

Jump to a section:

Why is voice so important?
When is it coming in a big way?
Who are the big players?
Where do voice assistants get their data from?
How do I shape my strategy and tactics to get involved?
What skill sets do I need in a “voice team?”


“The times, they are a-changing.”
– Bob Dylan

Back in 1964, that revered folk-and-blues singer could never have imagined just what that would mean in the 21st century.

As we head into 2018, we’re nearing a voice interface-inspired inflection point the likes of which we haven’t seen before. And if the world’s most respected futurist is to be believed, it’s only just beginning.

Talk to Ray Kurzweil, Google’s Chief Engineer and the man Bill Gates says is the “best person to predict the future,” and he’ll tell you that we are entering a period of huge technological change.

For those working across search and many other areas of digital marketing, change is not uncommon. Seismic events, such as the initial roll out of Panda and Penguin, reminded those inside it just how painful it is to be unprepared for the future.

At best, it tips everything upside down. At worst, it kills those agencies or businesses stuck behind the curve.

It’s for exactly this reason that I felt compelled to write a post all about why I’m building a voice team at Zazzle Media, the agency I founded here in the UK, as stats from BrightEdge reveal that 62% of marketers still have no plans whatsoever to prepare for the coming age of voice.

I’m also here to argue that while the growth traditional search agencies saw through the early 2000s is over, similar levels of expansion are up for grabs again for those able to seamlessly integrate voice strategies into an offering focused on the client or customer.

Winter is coming!

Based on our current understanding of technological progress, it’s easy to rest on our laurels. Voice interface adoption is still in its very early stages. Moore’s Law draws a (relatively) linear line through technological advancement, giving us time to take our positions — but that era is now behind us.

According to Kurzweil’s thesis on the growth of technology (the Law of Accelerating Returns),

“we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years.”

Put another way, he explains that technology does not progress in a linear way. Instead, it progresses exponentially.

“30 steps linearly get you to 30. One, two, three, four, step 30 you’re at 30. With exponential growth, it’s one, two, four, eight. Step 30, you’re at a billion,” he explained in a recent Financial Times interview.

In other words, we’re going to see new tech landing and gaining traction faster than we ever realized it possible, as this chart proves:

Above, Kurzweil illustrates how we’ll be able to produce computational power as powerful as a human brain by 2023. By 2037 we’ll be able to do it for less than a one-cent cost. Just 15 years later computers will be more powerful than the entire human race as a whole. Powerful stuff — and proof of the need for action as voice and the wider AI paradigm takes hold.


So, what does that mean right now? While many believe voice is still a long ways off, one point of view says it’s already here — and those fast enough to grab the opportunity will grow exponentially with it. Indeed, Google itself says more than 20% of all searches are already voice-led, and will reach 50% by 2020.

Let’s first deal with understanding the processes required before then moving onto the expertise to make it happen.

What do we need to know?

We’ll start with some assumptions. If you are reading this post, you already have a good understanding of the basics of voice technology. Competitors are joining the race every day, but right now the key players are:

  • Microsoft Cortana – Available on Windows, iOS, and Android.
  • Amazon AlexaVoice-activated assistant that lives on Amazon audio gear (Echo, Echo Dot, Tap) and Fire TV.
  • Google Assistant – Google’s voice assistant powers Google Home as well as sitting across its mobile and voice search capabilities.
  • Apple Siri – Native voice assistant for all Apple products.

And (major assistants) coming soon:

All of these exist to allow consumers the ability to retrieve information without having to touch a screen or type anything.

That has major ramifications for those who rely on traditional typed search and a plethora of other arenas, such as the fast-growing Internet of Things (IoT).

In short, voice allows us to access everything from our personal diaries and shopping lists to answers to our latest questions and even to switch our lights off.

Why now?

Apart from the tidal wave of tech now supporting voice, there is another key reason for investing in voice now — and it’s all to do with the pace at which voice is actually improving.

In a recent Internet usage study by KPCB, Andrew NG, chief scientist at Chinese search engine Baidu, was asked what it was going to take to push voice out of the shadows and into its place as the primary interface for computing.

His point was that at present, voice is “only 90% accurate” and therefore the results are sometimes a little disappointing. This slows uptake.

But he sees that changing soon, explaining that “As speech recognition accuracy goes from, say, 95% to 99%, all of us in the room will go from barely using it today to using it all the time. Most people underestimate the difference between 95% and 99% accuracy — 99% is a game changer… “

When will that happen? In the chart below we see Google’s view on this question, predicting we will be there in 2018!

Is this the end for search?

It is also important to point out that voice is an additional interface and will not replace any of those that have gone before it. We only need to look back at history to see how print, radio, and TV continue to play a part in our lives alongside the latest information interfaces.

Moz founder Rand Fishkin made this point in a recent WBF, explaining that while voice search volumes may well overtake typed terms, the demand for traditional SERP results and typed results will continue to grow also, simply because of the growing use of search.

The key will be creating a channel strategy as well as a method for researching both voice and typed opportunity as part of your overall process.

What’s different?

The key difference when considering voice opportunity is to think about the conversational nature that the interface allows. For years we’ve been used to having to type more succinctly in order to get answers quickly, but voice does away with that requirement.

Instead, we are presented with an opportunity to ask, find, and discover the things we want and need using natural language.

This means that we will naturally lengthen the phrases we use to find the stuff we want — and early studies support this assumption.

In a study by Microsoft and covered by the brilliant Purna Virji in this Moz post from last year, we can see a clear distinction between typed and voice search phrase length, even at this early stage of conversational search. Expect this to grow as we get used to interacting with voice.

The evidence suggests that will happen fast too. Google’s own data shows us that 55% of teens and 40% of adults use voice search daily. Below is what they use it for:

While it is easy to believe that voice only extends to search, it’s important to remember that the opportunity is actually much wider. Below we can see results from a major 2016 Internet usage study into how voice is being used:

Clearly, the lion’s share is related to search and information retrieval, with more than 50% of actions relating to finding something local to go/see/do (usually on mobile) or using voice as an interface to search.

But an area sure to grow is the leisure/entertainment sector. More on that later.

The key question remains: How exactly do you tap into this growing demand? How do you become the choice answer above all those you compete with?

With such a vast array of devices, the answer is a multi-faceted one.

Where is the data coming from?

To answer the questions above, we must first understand where the information is being accessed from and the answer, predictably, is not a simple one. Understanding it, however, is critical if you are to build a world-class voice marketing strategy.

To make life a little easier, I’ve created an at-a-glance cheat sheet to guide you through the process. You can download it by clicking on the banner below.

In it, you’ll find an easy-to-follow table explaining where each of the major voice assistants (Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant, and Alexa) retrieve their data from so you can devise a plan to cover them all.

The key take away from that research? Interestingly, Bing has every opportunity to steal a big chunk of market share from Google and, at least at present, is the key search engine to optimize for if voice “visibility” is the objective.

Bing is more important now.

Of all the Big Four in voice, three (Cortana, Siri, and Alexa) default to Bing search for general information retrieval. Given that Facebook (also a former Bing search partner) is also joining the fray, Google could soon find itself in a place it’s not entirely used to being: alone.

Now, the search giant usually finds a way to pull back market share, but for now a marketers’ focus should be on Microsoft’s search engine and Google as a secondary player.

Irrespective of which engine you prioritize there are two key areas to focus on: featured snippets and local listings.

Featured snippets

The search world has been awash with posts and talks on this area of optimization over recent months as Google continues to push ahead with the roll out of the feature-rich SERP real estate.

For those that don’t know what a “snippet” is, there’s an example below, shown for a search for “how do I get to sleep”:

Not only is this incredibly valuable traditional search real estate (as I’ve discussed in an earlier blog post), but it’s a huge asset in the fight for voice visibility.

Initial research by experts such as Dr. Pete Myers tells us, clearly, that Google assistant is pulling its answers from snippet content for anything with any level of complexity.

Simple answers — such as those for searches about sports results, the weather, and so forth — are answered directly. But for those that require expertise it defaults to site content, explaining where that information came from.

At present, it’s unclear how Google plans to help us understand and attribute these kinds of visits. But according to insider Gary Illyes, it is imminent within Search Console.

Measurement will clearly be an important step in selling any voice strategy proposal upwards and to provide individual site or brand evidence that the medium is growing and deserving of investment.

User intent and purchase

Such data will also help us understand how voice alters such things as the traditional conversion funnel and the propensity to purchase.

We know how important content is in the traditional user journey, but how will it differ in the voice world? There’s sure to be a rewrite of many rules we’ve come to know well from the “typed Internet.”

Applying some level of logic to the challenge, it’s clear that there’s a greater degree of value in searches showing some level of immediacy, i.e. people searching through home assistants or mobiles for the location of something or time and/or date of the same thing.

Whereas with typed search we see greater value in simple phrases that we call “head terms,” the world is much more complex in voice. Below we see a breakdown of words that will trigger searches in voice:

To better understand this, let’s examine a potential search “conversation.”

If we take a product search example for, let’s say, buying a new lawn mower, the conversation could go a little like this:

[me] What’s the best rotary lawn mower for under £500?

[voice assistant] According to Lawn Mower Hut there are six choices [reads out choices]

Initially, voice will struggle to understand how to move to the next logical question, such as:

[voice assistant] Would you like a rotary or cylinder lawn mower?

Or, better still…

[voice assistant] Is your lawn perfectly flat?

[me] No.

[voice assistant] OK, may I suggest a rotary mower? If so then you have two choices, the McCulloch M46-125WR or the BMC Lawn Racer.

In this scenario, our voice assistant has connected the dots and asks the next relevant question to help narrow the search in a natural way.

Natural language processing

To do this, however, requires a step up in computer processing, a challenge being worked on as we speak in a bid to provide the next level of voice search.

To solve the challenge requires the use of so-called Deep Neural Networks (DNNs), interconnected layers of processing units designed to mimic the neural networks in the brain.

DNNs can work across everything from speech, images, sequences of words, and even location before then classifying them into categories.

It relies on the input of truckloads of data so it can learn how best to bucket those things. That data pile will grow exponentially as the adoption of voice accelerates.

What that will mean is that voice assistants can converse with us in the same way as a clued-up shop assistant, further negating the need for in-store visits in the future and a much more streamlined research process.

In this world, we start to paint a very different view of the “keywords” we should be targeting, with deeper and more exacting phrases winning the battle for eyeballs.

As a result, the long tail’s rise in prominence continues at pace, and data-driven content strategies really do move to the center of the marketing plan as the reward for creating really specific content increases.

We also see a greater emphasis placed on keywords that may not be on top of the priority list currently. If we continue to work through our examples, we can start to paint a picture of how this plays out…

In our lawnmower purchase example, we’re at a stage where two options have been presented to us (the McCulloch and the BMC Racer). In a voice 1.0 scenario, where we have yet to see DNNs develop enough to know the next relevant question and answer, we might ask:

[me] Which has the best reviews?

And the answer may be tied to a 3rd party review conclusion, such as…

[voice assistant] According to Trustpilot, the McCulloch has a 4.5-star rating versus a 3.5-star rating for the BMC lawn mower.

Suddenly, 3rd party reviews become more valuable than ever as a conversion optimization opportunity, or a strategy that includes creating content to own the SERP for a keyword phrase that includes “review” or “top rated.”

And where would we naturally go from here? The options are either directly to conversion, via some kind of value-led search (think “cheapest McCulloch M46-125W”), or to a location-based one (“nearest shop with a McCulloch M46-125WR”) to allow me to give it a “test drive.”

Keyword prioritization

This single journey gives us some insight into how the interface could shape our thinking on keyword prioritization and content creation.

Pieces that help a user either make a decision or perform an action around the following trigger words and phrases will attract greater interest and traffic from voice. Examples could include:

  • buy
  • get
  • find
  • top rated
  • closest
  • nearest
  • cheapest
  • best deal

Many are not dissimilar to typed search, but clearly intent priorities change. The aforementioned Microsoft study also looked at how this may work, suggesting the following order of question types and their association with purchase/action:

Local opportunity

This also pushes the requirement for serious location-based marketing investment much higher up the pecking order.

We can clearly see how important such searches become from a “propensity to buy/take action” perspective.

It pays to invest more in ensuring the basics are covered, for which the Moz Local Search Ranking Factors study can be a huge help, but also in putting some weight behind efforts across Bing Places. If you are not yet set up fully over there, this simple guide can help.

Local doesn’t start and end with set up, of course. To maximize visibility there must be an ongoing local marketing plan that covers not just the technical elements of search but also wider marketing actions that will be picked up by voice assistants.

We already know, for instance, that engagement factors are playing a larger part of the algorithmic mix for local, but our understanding of what that really means may be limited.

Engagement is not just a social metric but a real world one. Google, for instance, knows not just what you search for but where you go (via location tracking and beacon data), what you watch (via YouTube), the things you are interested in, and where you go (via things such as Flight search and Map data). We need to leverage each of these data points to maximize effect.

As a good example of this in action, we mentioned review importance earlier. Here it plays a significant part of the local plan. A proactive review acquisition strategy is really important, so look to build this into your everyday activity by proactively incentivizing visitors to leave them. This involves actively monitoring on all the key review sites, not just your favorite!

Use your email strategy to drive this behavior as well by ensuring that newsletters and offer emails support the overall local plan.

And a local social strategy is also important. Get to know your best customers and most local visitors and turn them into evangelists.

Doing it is easier than you might think; you can use Twitter mention monitoring not only to search for key terms, but also mentions within specific latitude/longitude settings or radius.

Advanced search also allows you to discover tweets by location or mentioning location. This can be helpful as research to discover the local questions being asked.

The awesome team at Zapier covered this topic in lots of detail recently, so for those who want to action this particular point I highly recommend reading this post.

Let’s go deeper

There is new thinking needed if the opportunity is to be maximized. To understand this, we need to go back to our user journey thought process.

For starters, there’s the Yelp/Alexa integration. While the initial reaction may be simply to optimize listings for the site, the point is actually a wider one.

Knowing that many of the key vertical search engines (think Skyscanner [travel], Yelp [local], etc.) will spend big to ensure they have the lion’s share of voice market, it will pay to spend time improving your content on these sites.

Which is most important will be entirely dependent upon what niche you are working in. Many will only offer limited opportunity for optimization, but being there and spending time ensuring your profile is 110% will be key. It may even pay to take sponsored opportunities within them for the added visibility it may give you in the future.

There’s also the really interesting intellectual challenge of attempting to map out as many potential user journeys as possible to and from your business.

Let’s take our lawnmower analogy again, but this time from the perspective of a retailer situated within 20 miles of the searcher. In this scenario, we need to think about how we might be able to get front and center before anyone else if we stock the McCulloch model they are looking for.

If we take it as a given that we’ve covered the essentials, then we need to think more laterally.

It’s natural to not only look for a local outlet that stocks the right model, but when it may be open. We might also ask more specific questions like whether they have parking, or even if they are busy at specific times or offer appointments.

The latter would be a logical step, especially for businesses that work in this way; think dentists, doctors, beauty salons, and even trades. The opportunity to book a plumber at a specific time via voice would be a game changer for those set up to offer it.

Know your locality

As a local business, it is also imperative that you know the surrounding areas well and to be able to prove you’ve thought about it. This includes looking at how people talk about key landmarks from a voice perspective.

We often use slang or shortened versions of landmark naming conventions, for instance. In a natural, conversational setting, you may find that you miss out if you don’t use those idiosyncrasies within the content you produce and feature on your site or within your app.

Fun and entertainment

Then, of course, comes the “fun.” Think of it as the games section of the App Store — it makes little logical sense, but in it lies a whole industry of epic proportions.

Voice will give birth to the next era in entertainment. While some of you may be thinking about how to profit from such an active audience, the majority of brands would be smart to see it as an engagement and brand awareness world.

Game makers will clamber to create hit mind games and quizzes, but those that play around the edges may well be the monarchs of this opportunity. Think about how voice could change the dynamic for educators, play the part of unbiased referees in games, or teach birdsong and the birds to which they relate. The opportunity is endless — and it will claim 25% of the overall pie, according to current usage research.

The monetization methods are yet to be uncovered, but the advertising opportunity is significant, as well as how clever technology like Blockchain may enable frictionless payments and more.

User journey mapping

So how do you tie all of this together into a seamless plan, given the complexity and number of touch points available? The answer starts and ends with user journey mapping.

This is something I find myself doing more and more now as part of the wider marketing challenge. Fragmented audiences and a plethora of devices and technology mean it’s more difficult than ever to build an integrated strategy. Taking a user-centric approach is the only way to make sense of the chaos.

Voice is no different, and the key differentiator here is the fact that in this new world a journey is actually a conversation (or a series of them).

Conversation journey mapping

While the tech may not yet be there to support conversations in voice, given the point at the beginning of this piece around the law of Accelerating Returns, it’s clear that it’s coming — and faster than we realize.

In some respects, the timing of that advancement is irrelevant, however, as the process of working through a series of conversations that a potential client or customer may have around your product or service is invaluable as research for your plan.

To go back to our lawnmower example, a conversation mapping exercise may look a little like this:

[me] What’s the best lawnmower for under £500?

[voice assistant] How large is your lawn?

[me] It’s not very big. I don’t need a ride-on.
[voice assistant] OK so would you prefer a cylinder or rotary version?

[me] I don’t know. How do I choose?

[voice assistant] If you want stripes and your lawn is very flat, a cylinder gives a better finish. If not, a rotary is better.

[me] OK, definitely a rotary then!

[voice assistant] Good choice. In that case, your best options are either the McCulloch M46-125WR or the BMC Lawn Racer.

[me] Which is best?

[voice assistant] According to Trustpilot, the McCulloch has 4.5 stars from 36 reviews versus 3.5 stars for the BMC. The McCulloch is also cheaper. Do you want me to find the best deal or somewhere nearby that stocks it?

[me] I’d like to see it before buying if possible.

[voice assistant] OK, ABC Lawn Products is 12 miles away and has an appointment at 11am. Do you want to book it?

[me] Perfect.

Where are the content or optimization opportunities?

Look carefully above and you’ll see that there are huge swathes of the conversation that lend themselves to opportunity, either through content creation or some other kind of optimization.

To spell that out, here’s a possible list:

  • Guide – Best lawnmower for £500
  • Guide – Rotary versus cylinder lawnmowers
  • Review strategy – Create a plan to collect more reviews
  • Optimization – Evergreen guide optimization strategy to enhance featured snippet opportunities
  • Local search – Optimize business listing to include reviews, opening times, and more
  • Appointments – Open up an online appointment system and optimize for voice

In developing such a roadmap, it’s also important to consider the context within which the conversation is happening.

Few of us will ever feel entirely comfortable using voice in a crowded, public setting, for instance. We’re not going to try using voice on a bus, train, or at a festival anytime soon.

Instead, voice interfaces will be used in private, most likely in places such as homes and cars and places where it’s useful to be able to do multiple things at once.

Setting the scene in this way will help as you define your conversation possibilities and the optimization opportunities from it.

What people do we need to create all this?

The one missing piece of the jigsaw as we prepare for the shift to voice? People.

All of the above require a great deal of work to perfect and implement, and while the dust still needs to clear on the specifics of voice marketing, there are certain skill sets that will need to pull together to deliver a cohesive strategy.

For the majority, this will simply mean creating project groups from existing team members. But for those with the biggest opportunities (think recipe sites, large vertical search plays, and so on), it may be that a standalone team is necessary.

Here’s my take on what that team will require:

  • Developer – with specific skill in creating Google Home Actions, Alexa Skills, and so on.
  • Researcher – to work with customer groups to understand how voice is being used and capture further opportunities for development.
  • SEO – to help prioritize content creation and how it’s structured and optimized.
  • Writer – to build out the long-tail content and guides necessary.
  • Voice UX expert – A specialist in running conversation mapping sessions and turning them into brilliant user journeys for the different content and platforms your brand utilizes.


If you’ve read to this point, you at least have an active interest in this fast-moving area of tech. We know from the minds of the most informed experts that voice is developing quickly and that it clearly offers significant benefits to its users.

When those two key things combine, alongside a lowering cost to the technology needed to access it, it creates a tipping point that only ends one way: in the birth of a new era for computing.

Such a thing has massive connotations for both digital and wider marketing, and it will pay to have first-mover advantage.

That means educating upwards and beginning the conversation around how voice interfaces may change your own industry in the future. Once you have that running, who knows where it might lead you?

For some, it changes little, for others everything, and the good news for search marketers is that there are a lot of existing tactics and skill sets that will have an even bigger part to play.

Existing skills

  • The ability to claim featured snippets and answer boxes becomes even more rewarding as they trigger millions of voice searches.
  • Keyword research has a wider role in forming strategies to reach into voice and outside traditional search, as marketers become more interested in the natural language their audiences are using.
  • Local SEO wins become wider than simply appearing in a search engine.
  • Micro-moments become more numerous and even more specific than ever before. Research to uncover these becomes even more pivotal.

New opportunities to consider

  • Increases in content consumption through further integration in daily life — so think about what other kinds of content you can deliver to capture them.
  • Think Internet of Things integration and how your brand may be able to provide content for those devices or to help people use connected home.
  • Look at what Skills/Actions you can create to play in the “leisure and entertainment” sector of voice. This may be as much about an engagement/awareness play than pure conversion or sales, but it’s going to be a huge market. Think quick games, amazing facts, jokes, and more…
  • Conversation journey mapping is a powerful new skill to be learned and implemented to tie all content together.

Here’s to the next 50 years of voice interface progress!

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The Content Marketing Campaign Playbook – Guaranteeing Success in 2016

Posted by SimonPenson


Stage One: Setting expectations and objectives

Stage Two: Audience understanding

Stage Three: Brand activation

Stage Four: Campaign plans

Stage Five: Finding the right prospects

Stage Six: Social

Stage Seven: Retargeting

Free downloadable campaign planner


“How do I know if my content campaign is going to work?”

This question is the one I get asked more than any other at present, and for good reason; creating hit content, consistently, is one of the biggest challenges in marketing.

I’m certainly not going to pretend that every piece of content I’ve ever been involved in has been a hit. In fact, the opposite is probably closer to the truth — but failure teaches you much more, and allows you to iterate faster.

The result of that heartache and frustration is a process I want to share with you today, one that’s designed to maximize the possibility of success with content campaigns.

It is also important to point out here that I’m not talking about content strategy or the wider picture, but specifically those bigger campaigns that should punctuate your wider marketing plan.

The difference between good and bad ideas

So, why did we fail so many times? Why were truly exceptional campaign ideas not hitting the mark?

The answer to these questions lay both in our ability to answer a handful of very simple questions, and understanding how to align the various marketing disciplines required to ensure you deliver.

Let’s look now at the process that has made the difference between us delivering content that, while good on the face of it, didn’t deliver the objective, and the pieces that absolutely flew.

Put another way, the process that makes the difference between a campaign asset like the one below — which smashed every one of its key objectives — and one of the many that seemed like a good idea, but just failed to “fly.”

I’m sharing this example, not because it was our best-performing piece, but simply because it was the first time we saw the benefits of getting the process right from the start.

The objective for the piece was a sampling exercise: to get a challenger brand’s condoms into hands of 5,000 targeted men with a relatively small budget.

The resulting piece was an interactive quiz designed to capitalize on the “Fifty Shades of Grey” noise, as it coincided with the film’s launch. It worked by asking the site visitor a number of questions about their sex life before presenting them with a result between 0–50. The “Greyer” you were, the higher the score.

There were then calls-to-action around social sharing, further learning, and the main “sample request” option.

The piece was so popular that all 5,000 sample requests were taken up in just two days. The Buzzfeed post on it received 2,100 views in the first week, and ten major national websites covered the concept, in addition to numerous smaller blogs.

Facebook traction was also very impressive, with more than 4,500 post “Likes,” 560 comments, and an average engagement rate of 7.4%.

So how was this made possible? Let’s walk through the same process that spawned it now…


Setting expectation and objectives

Ground Zero for any successful campaign is objective setting. The process is still overlooked by many, but before you start, you must define what success looks like.

And that MUST come topped off with a healthy serving of realism.

If your budget is a couple of thousand pounds (or dollars) for the entire piece, then you must be honest about what this may achieve — both as a standalone piece and as part of the wider content strategy it sits within.

You must also be clear about where the value is coming from. Is the piece a brand play or a performance marketing effort? Metrics that may suit each of these can be seen below:

Brand content metrics

  • Dwell time
  • Social sharing
  • Eyeballs reached
  • Sentiment
  • Visits

Performance marketing content metrics

  • Visits
  • Leads generated
  • Effect on organic search visibility
  • Citations and links earned

There are many others, of course, but for a campaign to be measurable, you should set clear and realistic KPIs against any of these relevant to the campaign.

For instance, in the earlier example we talked through, the KPIs were simple and we captured them in a format similar to the one below:

Main Objective: Obtain 5,000 product sample requests and reach 100,000 new “eyeballs.”

Secondary Objectives: Improve social engagement, gain coverage on high-profile sites, and increase traffic to the site during the campaign period.


PR Placements: 6+ high-profile site placements (notional Hitwise Traffic target of 100,000 for those pieces).

Social: Organic – Reach: 75,000; Engagement: 5,000 | Paid – Reach: 250,000; Clicks: 20,000.

Visits and actions: Doubling of traffic to the site during campaign period and 5,000 sample requests.


Audience understanding


Once these KPIs are set and agreed upon, the next phase is to center your thinking on the audience with whom you want to engage, in order to achieve those objectives.

For the example campaign, the target market was relatively broad, but ended up being focused on females in the 18–34 range. The insight from the brand was that the trialling needed to understand that, and required a process for collating all known customer information — allowing us to create Campaign Personas.

I have written previously about how you can extract data from social to inform audience understanding, and while Facebook has changed Graph Search a lot since penning the piece, there is still value in following some of that process.

Also worth a read on the wider persona process is this excellent guide by Mike King. It contains a huge amount of information on how to leverage data to build an accurate picture of your customer or clients.

Creating campaign- or distribution-specific personas allows you to focus very clearly on creating the right content, angles, and distribution plan to hit those key objectives.

To do that, however, you must first dive into the data.

The starting points for this are existing marketing insight, social data, and/or output from Global Web Index, a SAAS offering (and paid-for tool) that allows you to mine a vast swathe of Internet usage data. Many of the ad platforms you use buy this data to power their own targeting.


From social, you can extract data that helps add richness to the picture and how much time people spend on any particular platform. However, GWI aggregates that information and allows you to produce insights such as in the example below.

From this kind of data, you can plan a detailed, focused, and informed social distribution plan as part of the wider seeding strategy.

What’s also interesting to know is both the type of content this audience currently engages with and also how they believe your brand fits within that picture.

Mistakes are often made when businesses understand what the people they want to attract consume, without taking into account if the brand has the right to play in that specific space.

The good news is you can easily gain insight into both of these areas.


The starting point for this insight piece is a dive into Google Display Planner. This free tool is designed to help media planners with display ad targeting, but its data can also be used to understand which sites a select demographic may frequent.

In the example below, you can see we have entered a couple of keyword interests and a topic interest to form a target demographic.

By clicking that “Get placement ideas” button, you’re entered into the main dashboard where you can further refine everything, from age and gender to device use and back again.

A section I use quite a lot both for paid and PR targeting (as well as for initial audience insight) is the Individual Targeting Ideas > Placements > Sites drill down. This gives you a list of sites visited by your “audience,” which can be downloaded into a CSV file and sorted based on a number of metrics, including traffic, popularity, and more.

This then allows you to select a small number of sites that will most likely be visited by those thinking about your product or service for the next level of analysis.


To understand what they’re into, you must now drill into what your audience shares most on those sites. The best tools for doing that are Ahrefs’ Content Explorer and Buzzsumo.

Taking a random site from the list we created, we can now look at the most-shared content on the site.

For this specific task, we’ll use the former, selecting the “Top Content” option within the main Site Explorer:

Here, we can see the most shared and linked-to assets, and start to understand the sort of content our audience wants to engage with.

We can also make this picture even richer by then looking at a “whole-of-market” view and typing in associated topics into Buzzsumo. This then gives us a full list of the most shared content pieces in a broader sense.


Brand activation

As already discussed, however, not every brand can cover every subject, or has the right to do so — understanding this is key to success.

To get a fuller picture here, qualitative survey data is needed. To paint this picture, we will again turn to Global Web Index data. In the absence of such a tool, a quick survey of existing visitors will give you this critical insight.

Below, you can see the answer to what this target audience expects to see from the brand. This doesn’t mean specific content ideas, but rather the type of content it has the authority to produce in the eyes of the audience.

As we can see here, the brand is looked to predominantly as a source of information and knowledge sharing (great brand-as-publisher strategy opportunities!).

It is also clear, however, that they want to engage with the brand and expect relevant, timely content — an important point we will come back to later.

So, we now understand a little more about our audience’s needs and we can use this alongside existing research data and customer knowledge to create personas specific to the campaign.

In the example we’re walking through, those personas were as follows:

The image above is a simplified version and we always use our persona template, which you can download here, to ensure we paint a thorough picture.

The point here is to humanize the data. The mind processes all that information in a much more structured way if you do this, and that means you end up making more precise decisions in how and where you target the campaign.

Personas also make it much easier to scale data understanding outside the group that created them. By having a shared “face” to each segment and trying to align each one to a famous person, it makes it much easier to ensure there’s a shared understanding across the whole working group.

Once this stage is set in stone, the next phase is to move into the campaign idea itself.

Ideation – informing ideas with data

At Zazzle we use our much-publicized ideation process as the basis for this process and it is something I have written about previously for Moz.

The principle is that you create left-brain structure around the creative process to ensure you can consistently output great ideas based on the objective.

We follow a 13-step process for doing this, which starts with an underpinning of the ideas against the objective — ensuring that they will achieve it — and defining the content types (as in infographics, video, articles, etc.) relevant to the audience we want to reach.

This process will always unearth great ideas, but not always ideas that fly from a campaign perspective — and for a long time we really struggled to understand why.

It was an anomaly that perplexed us for several months and it took a session of digging into feedback from journalists at real scale, as well as work on the entire distribution process, to really figure it out.

The answer boiled down to not asking the right questions of each concept at an early enough stage, and it required a reversal in how we plan the campaign as a whole.

Testing ideas

The result was a new process that included a session at the end to ask questions of each and every idea recorded to ensure it is “fit for purpose.”

1. Why now?

The first and most important question is, “Why are we doing this now?” We learned the hard way that an idea can be the best idea in the history of content marketing, but if it hasn’t got a “news hook,” you may well be fighting a losing battle.

Such an angle can be manufactured with a little forethought, of course, so this doesn’t mean that only “newsy” content will work.

For instance, if we take a look at a piece on a subject such as finance, there’s always a way to weave a new study, political opinion, or law change into the campaign to give it that critical “run it now” message.

Without it, a journalist or blogger — almost all of whom are motivated by news and trends — will have something more important to run before your piece, and it may just get lost in the noise.

2. What’s the angle?

If your idea passes the first stage of questioning, then the next phase is to look at how you may break that news angle down into a series of angles, or exclusives.

While having one really strong “story” can be enough, it is much better to be able to present a number of different flavors on the same thing. That way, when pitching it, your PR team will be able to approach a larger number of sites with that exclusive they all hunger for.

Below you’ll see an example of how this may work. In this case, we designed a series of exclusive angles for the idea we ended up opting for (an interactive quiz based on the “Fifty Shades of Grey” hype). The data-informed rationale behind it was as follows:

  • Why now? – “Because the film is launching.”
  • Why this? – “There’s a huge existing conversation in this area and we can tap into it. The audience is also perfect.”

As you’ll see, there are a number of clearly different angles here supported by supplementary content.

This process then actually shapes the way you build the assets themselves, ensuring that you maximize potential reach.

3. Who is it for?

Once you have established it has legs as a trending opportunity campaign, the next stage is to work hard on understanding who would be interested in it, and where you may find them online.

As we now have several exclusive angles, we can go back to our personas and add an extra layer of detail to define which ones would be interested in each angle/story.

For instance, we know that the free condoms giveaway is most likely to resonate with our male persona, and so we want to push that through relevant websites and social channels more attuned to that audience.

4. Where will we find them?

There are myriad tools and ways in which to do this, enough for a post in its own right, but while I can’t share every one, it’s worth discussing the key tools we use daily to do this.

You find these distinct groups in different places on the web, so grouping those people together helps you to then understand which sites they frequent.

At this stage we often use upstream and downstream traffic data from Hitwise to inform our decision making in a more data-driven way. The platform allows you to see where visitors go before and after visiting specific sites, widening your prospecting list.


Before we get into the influencer outreach piece, you must first create a site framework for your PR team to work from.

This means creating a handful of example sites for each distribution persona, giving clear examples of where we may find them.

For example, we may find “Steve” on the main social platforms, Buzzfeed, and so on. From this, you can then build a list of similar sites.

The final list of agreed upon and approved prospects is then added into our Content Campaign Planner, which you can download for your own campaigns either via the link here, or later on at the bottom of the article.

Building campaign plans

Below you can see a screen shot of the top sheet of the plan, which captures the overall timeline of each element. The tabs below it then contain all the info on:

  • The paid social plan – Targeting, spend, target CPC, etc.
  • The PR plan – Exclusive angles, the sell, content being used, etc.
  • Prospect list – List of publications to be targeted
  • Other – A tab to capture any other activity, such as above-the-line activity, if appropriate for the campaign.

Budget distribution

Before we get into the plan details, however, one important point we always cover is budget breakdown.

Regardless of how much budget you have to play with for the overall campaign, it is important to look at wider media planning benchmarking to ensure you split it in a way that will maximize the chance of success.

We used a famous ad campaign in the UK as the basis for this decision-making process, and learn from one of the most successful going: the John Lewis Christmas campaign. It is a wildly successful TV-first creative with a tasty £7 million budget.

Critically, however, only one million of that is spent on creative; the rest is all distribution. While it wins award after award for being an undeniable hit, that budget split ensured it was always going to be successful.

“6 in every 7 campaign dollars should be spent on distribution.”

All too often we get carried away with making the creative stand out, when we should be much more focused on distribution planning.

Exact breakdown will vary, but as a guide, aim for a 70/30 split towards distribution.


Find the right prospects

Distribution is key, and in the majority of cases your PR plan should deliver the biggest impact, if executed correctly. And that makes your approach to prospecting key to the overall success of the project.

As you’ve already carried out a lot of work around target sites, the next phase is to understand who the right journalists or influencers are inside those businesses.

At this stage, there will also be further work on blogger influencer identification, to ensure that the PR plan has the breadth of targets to cover as many eyeballs as possible.

To do that, you need to look at who is already sharing your content, using a tool like Ahref’s Top Referring Content. Reaching out to those already predisposed to linking to you is a surefire way of kickstarting your PR efforts with warm conversations.

Outside of this, there are myriad ways to reach the right bloggers, and this certainly isn’t a guide on influencer outreach. If you did want to know more, I suggest checking out these resources:

From a PR perspective, we only use two tools to simplify the process as much as possible. After trawling through every process and option possible, we’ve settled on a combination of Gorkana and Linkedin. That may be a process that disappoints some of the more technically-minded, but this is based on tens of thousands of hours of experience.

And the process couldn’t be easier, because it is simply about people:

  • Take your list of sites selected as part of the audience-understanding project.
  • Enter them into Gorkana and/or Linkedin to establish the best section editor, journalist, or influencer to reach out to.
  • Note name, email address, phone number, and any previous communication notes into your planner.

Outside of this, we have been trialling JournoRequest to bolster those efforts and take the legwork out of social monitoring (an effective but labor-intensive process for finding trending opportunities from the journalists themselves).

This simple tool delivers targeted journalist content requests to your inbox and can help when it is part of an “always on” monitoring process that feeds in at the ideas stage.

The pre-pitch

A major mistake often made at this stage is to pick up the phone too early. It’s all too tempting to do that when so much work has led to this point, but before you do, it’s important to pre-plan what you’re going to say and to whom. This ensures that you maximize take-up and don’t confuse who you pitch which angles to.

This is where the prospecting list from our planner comes into its own. As you can see in the example below, it segments that process and makes it possible to scale the communication across multiple PR team members.

It can often help PRs to write a script before making the call, to ensure the sell is as strong as planned. We ALWAYS tell the journalist that we’ll follow up with all the details on email.

This not only creates an excuse to get their email address if we don’t already have it, but also ensures that it stays front-of-mind and that we make it as easy as possible for them.



PR is, of course, only part of the story. It’s important to plan around every other available channel opportunity to maximize reach.

Social is the next consideration, as it will support PR activity. We know from the initial audience piece how much time our target market spends on key platforms.

Supporting the content by creating a regular organic sharing plan across social and other owned channels is the first logical step, but there is obviously much more you can do. The chart below is a great starting point when considering how wide you can, or could, spread the net.

Which option you choose is dependent upon a) the topic of the campaign and b) what insights tell you about the audience you are targeting.

In our example, the interactive quiz was hosted on the site and was pushed organically via all key social channels, as well as being the subject of a significant PR campaign.

Organically, we ensure we can get the most out of the channel by, again, creating a number of editorial angles. In the case of the Skyn piece, this meant creating a number of quotes obtained from the survey results, memes, and so on, both to vary the messaging around the campaign and to ensure we kept it front-of-mind.

It was the paid media side that we focused on most, however, as we saw the targeting in the space as the best way to capture the attention of our audience.

That meant focusing on Instagram and Facebook with the majority of spend, but also drip-feeding it through Twitter to a really tightly-controlled custom audience created from existing customer email data.

Speaking more generally, when there is a paid social budget, our split would start looking like this, to be refined based on insight and the content subject matter:

  • Facebook 70%
  • Instagram 20%
  • Twitter 10%

For the majority of markets, with the possible exclusion of B2B, Facebook will almost always trump the rest simply due to the size of the potential audience and the quality of the targeting its ads platform offers.

And while targeting simply by interest sets will work, we almost always find that the best option here is to add the Facebook Website Custom Audience Pixel to your site, and to then use that data to create a custom audience based on those already visiting. It can also be useful to test this against a custom audience created from “lookalikes” based on uploading your email database (if you have one).

However, if the campaign were designed to attract a completely different audience, then we would look more towards modeling the targeting on interests and/or competitors.

For example, if our campaign is designed to attract men to a survey about marriage but the piece is for a wedding and engagement ring specialist, the likelihood may be that the majority of the site’s audience will be female. In this scenario, we would choose interest targeting to make sure we were reaching the right eyeballs.

The same is true of Twitter, too, although clicks here will be more expensive. Instagram is still at a very early stage in its paid lifecycle, which means that CPCs here are relatively affordable but are undoubtedly heading north as more advertisers jump on the platform.

LinkedIn is the most expensive, and hardest to target, of all options — but where there is a high average lifetime value of a customer and your product is in the B2B space, it can work.

There are, of course, several other considerations. You may also want to add other levels, such as native ad opportunities (think Taboola and Outbrain), and even paid search and/or display.



Display or retargeting can work very well as part of a wider, longer-term strategy to nurture the new visitor in the weeks after they land on your content.

The idea here is to either provide a really targeted piece of content or offer to follow up, thus feeding the whole inbound marketing strategy.

Let’s say your content was the quiz we’ve discussed throughout this piece. We’ve captured their details as part of that activity, but we want to stay front-of-mind. Here we can use retargeting to do just that. Rather than simply using it generically, you can segment to show something like a “10% Off Your Next Purchase” offer, or a follow-up piece of content on the results of the quiz, for instance.


This is where email can come in also. As well as simply promoting the campaign through an editorial newsletter, we can choose to personalize that message further, as we did with our retargeting. This only serves to strengthen the relationship you have with that individual.

Fitting it within a wider strategy

There are many, many thousands more words to write around the topic of lifecycle marketing, but that is the subject of a post for another day.

Before we finish, however, it is definitely worth touching on how that standalone campaign should sit within a wider content strategy.

This is something I have always been incredibly passionate about, as we see time and time again how larger organizations throw money at campaigns without really thinking about how they fit within the whole picture.

Getting that right is about understanding a concept I call “Content Flow,” and measuring it is a subject I have written about previously here. We even built a simple tool to enable marketers to do just that and map the output of their content strategies easily.

The point is that a “big” idea is only as good as the other content that surrounds it. Great ROI does not often flow from a singular piece, but from the overall approach to content strategy. Being able to consistently deliver is the difference between success and failure.

Free downloadable campaign planner!

Content campaigns are a hugely important part of getting that right, and if you’re not already creating them, there should now be fewer barriers in the way of your success.

If you’d like to have a go at it, you can download the campaign planner I use day-to-day by clicking on the image below.

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B2B Content Marketing Playbook: Tips to Prepare You for the Big Content Game


The 2015 B2B Marketing Report from Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs sheds a pretty bright light on the true state of B2B content marketing. While 86% of B2B marketers are using content marketing, only 8% rate their content marketing efforts as “very effective”. It’s not so different than teams participating in sports like football. Sure, everyone is playing, but who is actually really good at it?

Fundamental blocking and tackling are key for a winning football game. The same can be said for implementing a successful B2B content marketing program: mastery of the fundamentals is essential. With B2B content creation in particular, marketers must be prepared for everything from understanding the voice of the customer to developing the right mix of content assets.

For most B2B marketers, staying on top of the B2B content marketing game takes practice, practice and more practice to be successful. Drilling those basic skills can mean the difference between winning and losing the business customer acquisition game.

Here’s the good news: We’ve put this B2B Content Marketing Playbook together to provide you with all the content marketing formations you’ll need to play the B2B content game right and maybe even win a content marketing championship!


Learn the Language of Your Customer

Writing killer content for business buyers takes practice. Part of that practice involves understanding the language of the industry that you’re writing for. It is important to strike a balance between incorporating the proper industry terms while not overstuffing your content or using jargon in the wrong context.

Here are a few steps you can take to catch on to the terms you need to know:

  1. Talk to your current customers – learn their pain points, goals and the words they use to describe what’s important
  2. Review the website content of your customers and their competitors – learn to speak like a native
  3. Search for and absorb information from reputable content sources online – where do your customers discover and consume industry and solutions information? What publications, influencers and peers do they listen to and read?

Connect with the Right Content Marketing Resources

Believe it or not, sometimes you’ll need to bring in reinforcements. Determining whether you need to hire experienced industry copywriters for the short or long-term, depends on the project.

No matter how long contract copywriters or content marketing agency resources are a part of your marketing team’s efforts, learn as much as you can in the time that you’re working with them. Be wary of writers that claim to have industry expertise but don’t provide examples of their work.

When interviewing potential resources, keep the following in mind:

  • How long have they been creating content for the specific industry?
  • Have they written content for a reputable content source or company?
  • What is their process for understanding content goals, customer voice and actual content creation?

Map B2B Buyer Personas to Content

To deliver the most relevant and useful information to B2B buyers, its important to identify distinct customer segments and the stages of their buying experience. To write specifically for a group of buyers and what they care about, it’s useful to create a persona that represents their common interests, behaviors, pain points and goals.

For each persona and buying experience or journey, customers will have different types of questions depending on where they are in the process. The B2B content you create should address the needs of a specific customer persona as well as the broad to specific questions they need answered when investigating the kinds of solutions your company offers.

Let’s assume for a second that the product is a marketing automation tool and the target customer is a large brand seeking a solution to help deliver their marketing in a more structured and meaningful way. It’s important that content is created for any one of the positions/needs below:

  • Director of Marketing: Is interested in seeing if there is a better way to create, distribute and track content.
    • Stage: Awareness
    • Sample Blog Content: 10 Signs You May Need Marketing Automation
  • Marketing Manager: Has been given a directive to create a cost/capability comparison for a variety of different marketing automation solutions:
    • Stage: Engagement
    • Sample Blog Content: 5 Features & Benefits of XYZ Marketing Automation
  • VP of Marketing: Needs to determine if Marketing Automation will be a sound investment for the organization.
    • Stage: Conversion
    • Sample Blog Content: 7 Ways Marketing Automation Saves Money & Improves Efficiency

The examples above only scratch the surface in terms of potential personas, stages in the buying cycle and types of content that can be used to meet the needs of your customers.

playbook fumble

Lead Your Content with Key Points

It’s likely that the professionals searching for B2B solutions have responsibilities outside of purchasing the product that you’re promoting via content marketing (aka, they’re busy). Keep that in mind when you’re determining how to structure content.

Blog posts for example, should quickly summarize key points so that the reader can decide if they would like to continue reading. This sets the stage for what they’ll find in the blog post.

The B2B and H2H Tug of War

B2B customers desire content that meets both their personal and business needs. How can you strike that delicate balance?

  • Be specific
  • Show empathy
  • Focus on solutions
  • Inject voice and personality
  • Create content for where they live (social, mobile), not just where they work (blogs, publications)


Incorporate Multiple Types of Content

Did you know that there are well over 30 types of Content Marketing tactics? Based on the product or service that content is being created for, and the audience, there is an incredible opportunity to provide multiple content types to provide buyers with the best possible information experience. Examples of tactics that have traditionally worked well for B2B marketing include:

  • Case Studies
  • White Papers
  • Blog Posts
  • eBooks
  • Digital Newsletters
  • Email Marketing
  • Webinars and Real World Events

Also consider the “human” side of B2B marketing through social media, mobile and visually-focused content. After all, buyers are people too.

Include Calls to Action (CTAs)

B2B content should almost always include a call to action of some sort. It’s important that you always give readers direction on what to do next, whether it’s to consume another piece of content, subscribe, share or make an appointment. Here are some things to keep in mind when considering B2B content CTAs:

  • Don’t Be Shy: Your CTAs should stand out as a clear next step. Instead of burying your CTA at the bottom of the page, consider using your content header or sidebar.
  • Keep it Simple: While you may want to know everything about the person completing your CTA, you have to remove the barrier to entry. Ask for only the necessary information you need to accomplish your goal.
  • Offer Value, Again: Remind the prospect what they’re signing up for. Be sure to reiterate that they are signing up for XYZ webinar, which will help them accomplish ABC.

Experiment with Landing Pages

Landing pages create an enormous opportunity for capturing information that can be used to effectively nurture B2B leads. When experimenting with landing pages here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • There may be different levels of decision makers and different stages of the buying cycle.
  • You can increase the value of good content by requiring form completion
  • Take some time to A/B test your page content and forms
  • Always include testimonials

Why Mastering the Game of B2B Content Marketing is Essential

Jumping head-first into a game of B2B content marketing without mastering the blocking and tackling basics can quickly have you experiencing more losses than wins. In order to create successful B2B content, understand who your customers are, what they care about and how the product that you’re marketing helps solve their business problem. Speak to your target buyer using their language, using the kinds of content they prefer and with offers that will be the most compelling for them to take action.

In football, it’s often said that the best defense is a good offense. Stay on top of your B2B content marketing game by incorporating the basic rules from this B2B Content Marketing Playbook into your content routine.

Photos via Shutterstock: FirstSecondThirdFourth

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Three Lead Generation Card Tips from the @TwitterSmallBiz Playbook

Posted by akmercog

Last August, we launched the
Lead Generation Card to all advertisers on Twitter. Since then, we’ve been impressed with the many small and medium businesses who have integrated the Lead Generation card into their marketing strategy, and seen powerful results.

We thought it would be valuable to share a page from our own playbook and offer a behind-the-scenes look at how the @TwitterSmallBiz team has been using Lead Generation Cards to accomplish our goals. Below, we’ll discuss what a Lead Generation Card is, and the three keys to success that we’ve uncovered through our experience using the product.

What is a Lead Generation Card?

A Lead Generation Card is simply a link that allows you to gather new customer email addresses directly within a Tweet. When you tweet out this link, it pre-populates a user’s full name, @username and email address (previously entered in their Twitter account settings) into the expanded area of your Tweet, replacing the need for a traditional, more cumbersome form.

In addition to a person’s contact information, the expanded Tweet includes other elements as well:

  • Short description: A statement that provides context and explains the value people will get from sharing their information with you.
  • Image: A visual cue that represents your business and generates interest in your offer.
  • Call to action: The action you want people to take, along with the benefits of doing so.

Here is what a Lead Generation Card looks like when included in a Tweet:

For step by step instructions on how to set up a Lead Generation Card, you can visit our dedicated
support page

Our three keys to success with Lead Generation Cards

Our @TwitterSmallBiz team did a lot of testing and learning before we landed on our current strategy for Lead Generation Cards. Here are three tips for your own Lead Generation Card campaigns:

1. Streamline your campaigns

Twitter Ads enables you to set up multiple campaigns within your account and provides a view into performance at both the aggregate and individual campaign level. 

If you plan to include Lead Generation Cards in your Promoted Tweets, we recommend
setting up a separate campaign that includes all of your Tweets aimed at Lead Generation. This allows you to adjust your bid independently from Promoted Tweets that have other goals, such as generating engagement, driving website traffic, etc.

Within each campaign, you can also view performance at the individual Tweet level, which allows you to understand which Tweets are the biggest contributors towards your goals. When you include multiple Promoted Tweets with Lead Generation Cards in the same campaign, you can more easily compare performance across various combinations of Tweet copy and Lead Generation Card creatives.

Once you determine which Lead Generation Cards and types of Tweet copy are driving the best results, you can allocate more of your budget towards those combinations and away from the ones that aren’t performing as well.

2. Less isn’t always more

The goal behind testing and learning is to then optimize your campaigns to be as effective as possible. The more you test, the more quickly you can learn which features and combinations are most effective at helping you reach your goals. The sooner you start the testing process, the better.

When you first start using Lead Generation Cards, try anywhere from five to seven different Cards across 20-30 variations of Tweet copy. A few days into your campaign, your Twitter Ads analytics will provide you with a clear view into which combinations are performing better than others so you can focus your efforts moving forward.

Here’s an example of how we used a similar testing framework for a recent campaign to collect email addresses around a new content offer:

Lead Generation Cards:

Copy for Promoted Tweets:

Option #1:

Lead Generation Cards make it easier than ever to generate leads on Twitter – find out how they can help your biz in this guide:

Option #2:

Did you know you can capture a lead in a Tweet? Download our free guide to find out how:

Option #3:

Have you seen a Lead Generation Card before? Now you have. We’ll teach you how to use them for your business in our new guide:

Option #4:

Would 1700 leads in a week look good to your boss? Download our guide to find out how
@rockcreek accomplished this w/ Lead Generation Cards

3. Follow up

When someone submits their email address through a Lead Generation Card, that person is expressing interest in your business. This creates an opportunity for you to follow up when potential customers are more likely to be receptive to your message. If you don’t follow up with people after they submit an email address, they may not remain as interested or be as receptive to hearing from you.

For this reason, it’s important to develop a plan for how you will follow up with new leads after they submit their email address. That follow-up plan will often vary depending on the offer used for your Lead Generation Card.

For example, if your offer included a new piece of content, you may want to include the email addresses you collect in an existing newsletter or email campaign list that shares similar types of content. Alternatively, if you offered event registration through your Lead Generation Card, you might want to add those email addresses to an event mailing list so that you can send additional event information or materials that were presented at the event. No matter what type of follow-up plan you choose, it should create opportunities for you to continue communicating with new leads and, ultimately, convert them into paying customers.

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The Exact Match Domain Playbook: A Guide and Best Practices for EMDs

Posted by stuntdubl

Exact match domains have always been the source of a lot of contention among SEOs. For quite some time, EMD’s have offered a competitive advantage for SEO’s who understood how to use them. In the early days of search when relevance algorithms were rather weak, many folks used “double dashed” domains because they were cheap to buy, and easy to rank. $ 6 to rank for a 3 word phrase. Sold. However, when you see best-online-seo-company.biz in your search result, you start to question the weighting of relevance factors. This is, in large part, how EMD’s got a bad rep to start with.

Despite the debate and obvious abuse, EMD’s represent what SEO’s do best – Seize Every Opportunity!

seize every opportunity - sincerely stuntdubl

I’ve always been a pretty big fan of EMD’s, and I agree with Elliot Silver that  EMD domains can be brands. High value keyword domains have been a commodity since the internet became a commercial marketplace. 

Matt Cutts (esteemed Google engineer) has made this comment in the past (about 2 years ago):

"We have looked at the rankings and weights that we give to keyword domains and some people have complained that we’re giving a little too much weight for keywords in domains. And so we have been thinking about adjusting that mix a little bit and sort of turning the knob down within the algorithm so that given two different domains, it wouldn’t necessarily help you as much to have a domain with a bunch of keywords in it."



Types of EMD’s

Exact match domain best practices

I think it’s important firstly to qualify the different types of EMD. The major factors in identifying quality domains, to me, includes:

  • TLD extension (.com/.net/.org/.other)
  • Number of keywords
  • Dashed or non-dashed
  • Domains with “stop words” only qualify as “partial match domains”

Let’s start with dashed domains. It has been proven statistically that domains with more than a single dash are very likely to be spam. Multiple dashes in a domain was an early spammer trick because of the low barrier to entry with cost. This rules these out.  Don’t bother with a double dash domain. 

It is very common to see domain names that include a single hyphen, but when two, three, or more hyphens are present, this is often an indication that these domain names are associated with companies that are attempting to trick search engines into ranking their web pages more highly.

From this amazing patent post by Bill Slawski regarding EMD's and detecting commercial queries.

Even though there is plenty of evidence that a single dash domain can rank just fine, I would avoid this technique as well. Many of the single dash EMD’s that rank are old existing domains. It is my opinion that a single dash EMD still really provides very little advantage over a non-keyword domain with all things considered. Skip the dashed domains as well.

The next question is how many keywords in a URL is too many. I would answer 2-3 for a .net/.org and 3-4 for a .com. BestBusinessCreditCards.com may be long, but I think it is still effective and too the point. Four words is pushing it, but I think you can still make a valid argument for a 4 word .com domain in certain spaces where most all the domains are taken, and there are some very niche commercial products worth targeting specifically. While .net/.org domains are still very credible, there are more of them available, so I think you have to reduce by a word. 4 words max for .com, 3 words max for .net/.org.  3 word .com or 2 word .net/.org is the best idea.

.net/.org keyword domains have proven to be very effective as a tool for bootstrapping a website. I think this is valid strategy. Instead of flickr.com, start with onlinephotos.net or even onlinephotogallery.org. I understand the value of a brand, but I think there’s also value in embracing “bootstrapper traffic.” There's definitely a lot of value to a startup in some highly relevant long tail traffic from your targeted keyword phrase set.  .net/.org domains are generally priced at about 10% of the value of a .com domain. This can be of great value in competitive verticals where most of the domains have been registered for many years. 

Find the BEST two-word .net/.org within your category, and buy it in the aftermarket if it is available. For buying your EMD – see the advice below. This can be great for your mainsite, microsite, or just to keep your competitor from getting it. At worst, think of it as a defensive strategy for your most important phrases. Just don’t think you’re going to dominate the SERPS spending less than three or four times what you paid for the domain in the first place. A crappy microsite  that costs half of what you paid for the domain will get you a one way ticket to Nowhereville these days.

Search engine filters - SERP Nowheresville

Stop words in keyword domains

Domains that include stopwords don’t truly qualify as an EMD, but can be mildly effective. It probably wouldn’t be my first choice, but if you can get theDetroitRoofer.com for $ 6, it will probably be a decent bet you’ll have some decent signals at your advantage in ranking for your targeted term for the relatively reasonable future. There is the potential for some brand confusion here though if someone owns detroitroofer.com

The most significant benefit of an exact match domain is that it makes it much more easy to develop targeted keyword anchor text from authority sites. Anchor text as an SEO tool is in decline, but it has always been a very significant factor, and will likely remain this way to some extent. It’s much easier to get someone to link to your site with the domain name, than it is to tell them “link to me with these keywords." This is probably the major competitive advantage over non-EMD domains. 

Offsite optimization is more than just links these days with the increasing importance of social mentions. Smart money speculation says it will be easier to get keyword rich social mentions for an EMD than for other types of domains as well.

So with all the talk of EMD’s, what the people really want to know is: what should we do? For those of you in this camp, let me offer you my best practices with keyword domain names. Unfortunately, I can make no guarantees to the amount of time these will hold true in the ever shifting tides of SEO change, but this is where I think we're at as of the time of posting:

EMD and domain best practices

  1. Always be willing to spend 10-15% of your overall budget on the BEST domain name you can get. It will make a big difference in both the short and long run. Dive into the aftermarket, and send some emails.
  2. Skip the second level TLD’s – .mobi / .travel / .info isn’t worth it.
  3. No more than one dash in your domain (better to just skip dash domains altogether)
  4. 3-4 words max for .com EMD’s
  5. 2-3 words max for .net/.org EMD’s
  6. Best to build a Brand site on a keyword domain so you get both brand mentions and generic intent keywords (see Toys.com owned by ToysRus.com and associates)
  7. Geo-local EMD’s are great to own, and offer lower barriers to entry
  8. You're going to have to focus some efforts on "de-optimization"

Marauder Sport Fishing

As the proud owner of MiamiFishing.com (no, I’m not a retired fisherman, but thanks for asking) and other exact match domains, I can say that there are both pros and cons to EMD's. I saw a few sites of my own pay the price for “over optimization” during Penguin. It's hard to always know how aggressive to be, and how far G is going to turn the "filter knobs," In a time where disavowing, delinking, and de-optimization seem to be the valid strategies, it's safe to say you should probably take a more conservative approach to your organic ranking strategy.

SEO factors aside, there's something valuable about having your domain name "say on the box" exactly what you do when you put it on a hat, t-shirt, or sign. There's a lot of implied credibility in a .com EMD (and even to some extent .net and .org).

After years of being an SEO, it’s sometimes difficult to maintain a TAGFEE mentality and put my own site up on the chopping block for public criticism, but it’s a site I’m also very proud of, and I think really stands up to the other websites in the vertical in delivering value to our users. Please be gentle.  I do believe the Moz has great tenants, but it can be very frightening to put your site up in the crosshairs for people to take aim and fire at, especially when you haven't accomplished everything you'd like to do with it sometimes. Being optimized or optimal means getting the most you can from the resources at your disposal, and sometimes this isn't always enough to create the perfect website (I have others that aren't nearly as pretty).

EMD’s do have their advantages, but they have some disadvantages as well.

Pros of an EMD

  • Great for a startup to gather some relevant longtail traffic
  • Easier to get targeted anchor text
  • Easier to get social mentions with keywords
  • Can dominate a single niche (IE: “Category Killer”)
  • Good for targeting variations in the long tail keyword phrase set
  • Brand mentions and keyword mentions become one in the same
  • They can be very effective for generic commercial intent queries
  • They can be very effective in local search
  • Great way to build startup “bootstrapper” traction
  • Can be an effective strategy with a well built microsite to target a single niche.
  • Some businesses have very limited keyword sets – this is a decent approach in these areas.

Cons of an EMD

  • Limits future brand expansion
  • Can create “brand confusion”
  • You don’t get the same “credit” for brand mentions.
  • Your brand can come off as “generic”
  • It can be harder to claim social media profiles
  • It can be more difficult to associate mentions with your brand
  • Hatorade on your site quality if you outrank competitors
  • More chance of “over-optimization” (seriously, does anyone else hate this phrase as much as I do?)
  • There are a limited amount of them
  • They can be very expensive
  • The effectiveness of the advantages are slowly being neutralized

EMD's and Brand Confusion

One of the main problems facing EMD's is the brand confusion that can come with a keyword domain. It’s HARD to own a very sought after generic commercial intent keyword. Google really doesn't want someone to own a keyword, and for good reason.

Keywords are the new brand. Someone in every vertical is trying to own their generic commercial keywords. Think about the big brands Staples and Office Max; do they really DESERVE to rank better than a well built OfficeChairs.com or OfficeFurnitureOnline.com ?

Generic commercial intent keywords are hard to come by; there’s really not a ton of them around, and they are VERY sought after when you start looking at the search demand curve. It doesn't make sense to for a SE to allow only one advertiser own the keyword when several can compete to drive prices to a point of maximum profit for G and diminishing returns for advertisers. There will always be competition to be the brand associated with the generic commercial intent keyword. Logic follows that value in the associated domains should stay pretty strong as well.  

This is probably beyond the scope of this post, so I may leave this discussion of "branding" keyword domains for another day, but it is at the crux of the EMD debate. I’ll leave the solutions to the commenters ;) . We all know that G is expecting much more out of a website to allow it to remain on their first page these days.

Think there’s a lot of keywords with generic commercial intent? Consider the main ones in each of these categories where G makes the majority of their ad revenues.  The list might not be as long as you think. I'm willing to bet most consultants and agencies here in the Moz community have at least a client or two in each of these major verticals.

So what was the “solution” to the EMD relevance “problem?”

Google engineers have always attempted to “level the playing field” for webmasters. They do a great job in many cases, and provide lots of fantastic tools these days with Google Webmaster Tools. Unfortunately, I don’t really think EMD’s are inherently a bad thing. They were just too large of a competitive advantage for some competitive niches where it was difficult to get targeted keyword anchor text. It's still going to remain difficult to get targeted anchor text in these niches (though it's now much less valuable to do so). EMD’s became a goldrush landgrab for optimizers and domainers when they saw the advantages they provide, and the tactics got used and abused and started to create some relevance problems.

As with all landgrabs, people got greedy. Speculators starting creating sites that gave EMD’s a pretty bad rap.Competitors start reporting these websites go Google as S.P.A.M (sites positioned above mine), and users start to complain that the SERPs suck. Speculators started putting up 1 page garbage microsites and ranking for large 2 and 3 word phrases with 3 crappy directory links and a page of outsourced content. The EMD's started to look like those old double dashed sites, even though the barriers to entry for top search rankings were a bit higher. Those barriers continue to get raised.

You can’t cry about your rankings when you didn’t deserve them in the first place, and honestly you never deserve rankings. You earn rankings, and often lose them. It’s part of the love, joy, and pain that is SEO.  As John Andrews says in “You’re Free to Go Home”  "That’s alot like SEO. You win, you get traffic. You don’t win, you don’t get traffic. It doesn’t matter how you play."

The real issue with EMDs

The main issue originally posed by suffering relevance was not EMD’s, but the amount of influence that keyword anchor text wielded over the search relevance algorithm. EMD’s just benefitted disproportionately from advantages with targeted anchor text. Anchor text carried too much influence without that added benefit. It’s a whole lot easier to get a link that says “Real Estate” when you’re RealEstate.com than it is to get one when you’re  Zillow.com. The same can be said right down to Buy-my-crappy-spyware-cleaner-software.com.

It was much more important to fix the overall issues associated with the anchor text relevancy problems, than it was to fix the EMD “problem,” and that’s why we saw the anchor text issues being remedied first with Panda and Penguin (which fixed a slew of other issues as well), before directly fixing EMD issues. There is a lot of potential collateral damage that can occur when making the decision of if a keyword domain has enough "brand signals" or "quality factors" to be near the top of the search results for a phrase, so I imagine it's a pretty difficult search relevance area to tackle. The simple fact is many EMD's ARE good valuable sites that deliver a quality experience to their end users. Can you really take a way all their advantage that they were wise enough to gain from paying top dollar for a great domain?

As with most important signals, optimizers found a way to take full advantage of benefits that inbound keyword anchor text provided. As with the rest of the history of SEO, we’ve seen a major shift in the importance of anchor text that has sent a lot of SEO’s reeling. If you didn’t see the writing on the wall, you either didn’t pay attention, or didn’t care. Either way, SEO’s who ignored the impending anchor text over-optimization warning bells are now paying the price, and trying to fix mistakes.

Panda and Penguin cured most of the major EMD relevance issues by forcing EMD websites to earn their rankings through achieving acceptable engagement metrics. Think of Panda as a beast that eats sites who don’t give their users what they want. If you don’t hold up the the “relative engagement metrics” within your SERPs, your site gets eaten.

If I were to play “if I were a search relevance engineer” (one of my favorite games), I think would just set the barriers to entry higher for EMD’s to rank in the short and medium tail keyphrases. I would also validate with user metrics the fact that they deserve to be there. Long ago (in 2005), Google introduced the “sandbox” (or trustbox) The “trustbox” made new websites “guilty until proven innocent” with regards to their page authority unless they demonstrated sufficient signals to be let into the index. 

The principles and ideas associated with the trustbox are still very much in effect today. Value to your users creates trust and credibility verifying engagement metrics like high time on site, multiple page views, low bounce rate, repeat visits, and new websites are let into the index more quickly, but the barriers to entry for commercial intent high dollar short and medium tale queries are much higher. Essentially, your user engagement metrics must validate your rankings. 

mom's spaghetti

Yes, that was an “Eminememe”, and as Eminem says: “you get one shot, never miss your chance to blow.” When you get your “audition phase” in the top of the search results, your site needs to perform well against other sites in that keyphrase set. Make sure you pass your “audition” instead of puking on your visitors sweater and telling them it’s value. Positive engagement metrics during your audition phase is equivalent to the importance of quality score in you PPC campaigns; it can really have an effect on the outcome of your webpage's success.

Positive engagement metrics

  • High time on site
  • Multiple page view
  • Repeat visits
  • Low bounce Rates

Not every industry requires 10 minute time on site, and 50% repeat visitors, but some do. These metrics reflect brands and brand signals, which is what G has repeatedly mentioned as their priority for providing quality and relevant sites to users in the search results.   

What are the solutions to my exact match problem?

It’s obviously a bit troubling times for EMD owners. No one likes to be at the center of an SEO witch hunt. It’s all fine and good to do spam reports, until it hits your site, or targets your niche or competitive advantage. One of the best competitive advantages has always been the ability to stay under the radar and keep your mouth shut (though I sometimes fail to fail at what I preach).

The solutions are the same as to many of the problems with Panda and Penguin. It’s a tough time to be a site owner, and admit that you were “over-optimized” and start back peddling a bit, but it’s G’s world – we just play in it. How many times has Google said it? Focus on the user. You may have always scoffed at doing “what’s good for the user,” but with engagement metrics that suggestion has turned into a requirement. We'll continue to focus on both how to make our websites better for users and Google with more actionable execution taking advantage of how user's interact with our sites via search engines. 

There’s still plenty of advantages to EMD’s, and we should continue to see instances of their success, but it’s hard to build a generic commercial intent keyword brand. You gotta have the chops to back it up!

We all know ranking for generic commercial intent phrases is valuable, or we wouldn’t be targeting them.  In order to stand up to the scrutiny, you’re going to have choose your favorite EMD’s, and let those other pipe-dream microsites die their slow painful death. It’s important to know when to pull the plug on a losing web property. Any good web entrepreneur has plenty of failures on their resume.

A few things to consider for solving problems with EMD sites:

  1. Disavow all public knowledge of SEO
  2. De-optimize
  3. De-link
  4. Prioritize your SEO efforts – you can’t win the battle on all fronts anymore
  5. Focus on quality of quantity (with site indexation)
  6. Redesign and Rebrand (maybe it’s time to get a mascot for your .org)
  7. Innovate ways to improve user engagement metrics
  8. Develop a social presence and improve your social mentions
  9. Diversify your backlink profile
  10. Diversify your anchor text
  11. Okay – I’m (kind of) kidding on rule #1 – #3

no such thing as seo

You know who hates on good EMD's most? The people who don't own them. You know why? Because they've always carried an advantage with them. While this advantage is diminishing, there is still a tactical advantage in spending some money up front for a great exact match domain name that describes exactly what you do and acknowledges the generic commercial intent of your visitor.

seo hatorade

 EMD's will always receive lots of hatorade because the majority of people don't own them. Toolman at webmasterworld said it best: S.P.A.M = Sites Positioned Above Mine. There’s plenty of SEO’s who could make Silky Johnson look like Tony Robbins. Don't participate in the hate, and don't feed the trolls.

silky - seo hater

Very few people are going to come out of the woodwork, and “extol the virtues” of an exact match domain, and put their website under the ever scrutinous eyes of search engineers, and a community that often prefers to focus on failure instead of offering opinion for improvement. As usual, I enjoy being the exception to the rule, and figured I’d pitch in my two cents. 

How to find and buy an EMD (and avoid being a hater)

  1. Type in whois.sc/yourkeyword.com/.net./org (this will redirect you to domaintools whois search for the targeted phrase)
  2. Identify if the domain is owned by a domainer or owner and do some further research
  3. If there is no established website – Write an email and ask if the domain is for sale.
  4. If you get a response – offer approximately 40% of the asking price, or propose one high enough to not offend the seller.
  5. Meet in the middle if .com is worth it.  if .net/.org offer 2-10% of your .com price
  6. If there is an established site, check the other metrics, and be prepared to pay much more.
  7. After EMD “death” be prepared to pay more for domains in the aftermarket after their “rebirth”

For more on domaining, check out the domainer myths.

Take my opinion on EMD’s with a grain of salt. No, I didn't test my theories like Pete. This is just my experience. I have bought a fair share of them thinking they were a great buy for future projects, or just to invest in and sell in the aftermarket at a later date. We’ve been warned of the “death of EMD’s” for a long time. I just hope EMD's continue to suffer the same type of death that SEO constantly battles with: one that is curable with creativity, innovation, and execution.


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