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Announcing the March Mozscape Index!

Posted by carinoverturf

It’s that time again – the latest Mozscape index is now live! Data is now refreshed across all the SEOmoz applications – Open Site Explorer, the MozbarPRO campaigns, and the Mozscape API.

This index finished up in just 13 days, thanks again to all the improvements our Big Data Processing team has been implementing to make our Mozscape processing pipeline more efficient. The team continues to dial out our virtual private cloud in Virginia as well as tweak, tune, and improve the time it takes to process 82 billion URLs.

We’ve been saying we’re close to releasing our first index created on our own hardware – and now we really are! Stay tuned for a deep dive blog post into why and how we built our own private cloud.

This index was kicked off the first week of March, so data in this index will span from late January through February, with a large percentage of crawl data from the last half of February.

Here are the metrics for this latest index:

  • 83,122,215,182 (83 billion) URLs
  • 12,140,091,376 (12.1 billion) Subdomains
  • 141,967,157 (142 million) Root Domains
  • 801,586,268,337 (802 billion) Links
  • Followed vs. Nofollowed

    • 2.21% of all links found were nofollowed
    • 55.23% of nofollowed links are internal
    • 44.77% are external
  • Rel Canonical – 15.70% of all pages now employ a rel=canonical tag
  • The average page has 74 links on it

    • 63.56 internal links on average
    • 10.65 external links on average

And the following correlations with Google’s US search results:

  • Page Authority – 0.35
  • Domain Authority – 0.19
  • MozRank – 0.24
  • Linking Root Domains – 0.30
  • Total Links – 0.25
  • External Links – 0.29

Crawl histogram for the March Mozscape index

We always love to hear your thoughts! And remember, if you’re ever curious about when Mozscape next updates, you can check the calendar here. We also maintain a list of previous index updates with metrics here.

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Attract Customers to Your Community with Content

Posted by Mackenzie Fogelson

Everybody’s talking about content. And everybody’s writing content. SEOs, social media specialists, agencies, marketing departments, probably even your mom. And a lot of it isn’t pretty.

Hopefully, by now, you got the memo that if you want your content to grow your business, it can’t be crap.

And hopefully you’re ready to do something about it.

There is a very tiny (yet very significant) theme — a shift in perspective — that is important to embody when you’re generating content for your website, blog, and social media outlets (oh, and offline, too):

It’s not about you.

It’s just not.

Even though you may be one of your company’s biggest fans, you are not your target audience. If you want to attract customers to your brand and your community, your content needs to reflect the fact that you understand your customer. That you’ve actually thought about and considered the challenges they face which make your product or service a necessity in their lives.

And you need to do all that without making it about you.

Try using foundational and community building content

In general, there are two types of content that you need on your website; we call them foundational content and community building content.

Foundational content is the important stuff that permanently lives on your website. It’s the inherently self-promotional stuff that explains who you are and what you do. It’s your about page, your sales pages (products or services), and it tends to be (but isn’t always) pretty static. Foundational content is the stuff that’s pretty much impossible not to make about you because it is, in fact, about you. As a result, in order to attract customers to your community with your foundational content, you’ve got to pack it full of value.

Community building content is less about what you do and more about what you know. It usually lives on your blog, is dynamic, and indirectly promotes your brand (and earns links). It’s what bolsters your online reputation as an expert. It builds trust, establishes credibility, and naturally attracts people to you. Community building content is most effective when it’s not self-promotional. It doesn’t need to say your company name. Instead, it needs to be completely focused on your customer and the value that you can provide or point them towards.

Patagonia is a really great example of providing value in both types of content. Whether it’s foundational or community building, they focus on the customer, their needs, and the experience. Let’s take a look at some examples.

Packing value into foundational content

In Patagonia’s foundational content, they focus their message not just on how cool their product looks or even how functional it is (though they don’t hide those things), but also on the broader concerns of their target audience.

This is an email marketing promotion that my husband just recently received about the Encapsil Parka:

Patagonia Encapsil Parka

Notice how instead of just bragging about the fact that this is the best down parka ever made (all about them), Patagonia is also going to show you what they mean by providing value through video (all about the customer).

If you click through to the video, the content boasts “how little is used” to make the jacket, something that is important to consumers who respect (and are drawn to) the Patagonia brand. Patagonia is balancing self-promotion with something that is useful and enhances the experience.

Patagonia Parka Video

Even though Patagonia’s intention is to sell this product, they are committed to integrating value into their foundational content so that they are serving their customer. The page is also packed with additional videos, details, social proof, customer testimonials, and the opportunity to live chat. All. Kinds. Of. Value.

What community building content looks like

About a week later, my husband also received this email from Patagonia:

Patagonia Rock Climber Tommy

This is Tommy. He climbs rocks for a living. He’s a Patagonia Ambassador (that’s code for bad-ass-rock-climber).

This email marketing promotion clicks through to a post on the Patagonia blog about Tommy. Even though it lives on the Patagonia blog, it doesn’t plug Patagonia products, it doesn’t even link to any associated Patagonia rock climbing gear. It’s all about Tommy, his (kind of scary) adventures, and his drive to be a standup guy.

Making Tommy Patagonia Blog

This is community building content (and it probably attracts a lot of links, too). It’s indirectly self-promotional. It speaks to the kind of people that Patagonia wants to attract to their community. My guess (and presumably Patagonia’s guess, too) is that people who like guys like Tommy resonate with what Patagonia stands for as a company and they want to be a part of what they’re doing (which means buy their products and join their community).

You can do this with a content strategy

You don’t have to be a ginormous brand like Patagonia to generate the kinds of content that will attract customers to your community. You just need to have a content strategy that will get you from where you are to where you’d like to be.

An ideal content strategy aligns the goals of your business with the expectations of your target audience. If you want to build a thriving community around your company, you’ve got to have a strategy that considers the people who are going to be reading your content and the experience that you want them to have.

The best place to start is with a content audit of your existing content. If you want to attract people to your community with your content, you’ve got to make it worth reading. That means over the first several months (and possibly beyond) you’re going to need to spend some time transforming what exists: improve what’s worth revising and ditch the rest.

Re-working your foundational content

When you’re auditing your foundational content, pay attention to whether it has any value or if it’s all about you. Certainly your content is going to be self-promotional (it is, after all, your website), but you can communicate what you do or sell and still be focused on the customer and their experience.

Even with your ‘about’ or ‘policy’ pages, you can use creative ways to improve the experience and add more value. You should also put some thought into the following:

  • Your why

    Have you figured out your why yet? Focus on your passion and what makes you unique in your space. Why are you different from your competition? What is it that you like to do? Get very clear about what you do well and why and then make that what you’re all about.
     
  • Your customer

    Who exactly are you targeting (remember, the whole world is not your customer)? Develop a persona around them. Get to know your semi-fictional audience members and keep them in mind as you manipulate your content.
     
  • Their challenges

    What challenges does your audience have? Define their pain points and then make sure your content addresses them.
     
  • Where they’re coming from

    At what level in the conversion funnel might your customer be visiting this page? In order to provide the best experience possible, your content should reflect this.

Balance the ‘all about me’ in your foundational content with the value that better serves your customer. Instead of having a page with a couple paragraphs of text and some bullets like this:

SAFEbuilt Foundational Page Old Example

Supplement the textual information with things like video, blog posts, case studies, infographics, and testimonials:

SAFEbuilt Foundational Page Better Example

Making these simple changes can make a big difference in your lift:

Lift in Traffic by Integrating Value in Foundational Content

Integrating value into your foundational content is really about two things:

  1. Satisfying user intent

    The purpose of your foundational content is to convert. If you don’t provide anything but a couple paragraphs that give your 30 second elevator speech, you’ve just lost the opportunity for a sale. 

     
  2. User experience
    
Making sure that you’re providing the best user experience and that it’s consistent across your website, blog, and social media outlets, as well as your offline efforts.

The more value you provide with your foundational content, the more desirable you become, the more trust you build, the more you appeal to the person who is on the other side of that search. Again, anything that is going to make it less about you and more about them.

The key is to balance all of your foundational content with some community building content and then you’ve won the internet.

The angle on community building content

First things first. Just because you have a blog, doesn’t mean you always have to write about the stuff you sell (remember the 80/20 rule?). Same goes for your social media outlets. That gets old quick and can be pretty limiting in terms of the audience you can engage. It’s ok to promote your products or services on your blog, but work to keep that to 20% of the time.

Focus on developing community building content on your blog. It’s the powerhouse that can help you reach the objectives you have for your business, and also attract (the right) customers to your community. But again, same thing applies: lay off the self-promotion.

Community building content can be blog posts like this one from SimpliSafe or infographics like this one that SEOgadget lovingly created for one of their clients:

Fastco Green Leaders Infographic

Community building content can also be video like these tech product updates from Grovo:

…or even more in-depth resources like this simple and free e-book from Portent or these guides from Pippen’s Plugins.

The bottom line with your community building content is that the focus needs to be on your customer. It’s not meant to directly promote your company. You want to generate content that indirectly communicates your strengths and illustrates your expertise and knowledge. If your customers can find alignment with what they’re searching for and the content you’re providing, chances are, they will be more inclined to not only be part of your community, but also purchase your products and services.

Before you write your community building content, consider things like:

  • The goals of your (potential) customer
    You know what your goals are for your business, but what about the goals of your target audience? What are their intentions with your content?
     
  • Depth in your content
    What can you help them learn or better understand? Can you change their mind about an industry misconception or challenge their beliefs on a particular subject?
     
  • Satisfying a need
    How can you serve their needs? Can you provide advice, ideas, instructions, suggestions, a guide? Your goal is to focus on providing quality content that that people really want (and are searching for).

As you’re creating community building content, consider following the 70/20/10 principle like Ian Lurie, Tom Cruise, and the dude from Coke do.

Portent's an advocate of the 70/20/10 principle

The basic gist is within your content strategy should look like this: 70% of your content should be a mix of mainstream stuff (knowledge, advice, and how-to type content); 20% goes along the same lines as the 70%, but with a little risk taking (controversial or attempting to attract a new audience); and 10% is the super cool stuff that may completely bomb but showcases your innovative side.

The thing about this approach is that it will help you to challenge the direction of your community building content so that you avoid just creating the same kind of stuff over and over (which will provide a more exciting experience for your users). It will both satisfy your existing customers and community members and attract new people who resonate with what you’re putting out there.

Even more importantly, the 70/20/10 principle will push who you are as a company which is really important when you’re growing a community. Your community building content needs to make a statement about your brand, showing your community what you’re capable of and what you believe in. All stuff that will attract them to you (and keep them there).

Some final pointers

A couple (ok, three) more things to keep in mind:

  1. There is no magic formula
    
It’s really important to have a content strategy that will assist you in working toward goals for your business. And it’s also really important that you create an execution plan that will help translate all of the stuff you want to accomplish into actionable, chewable pieces. But keep in mind that there is no magic number of posts that will attract customers to your business and your community. It’s the quality of your business, your content, and you.

    

As you work to develop strong content, keep in mind that this is an ongoing process that involves constant iteration. Don’t plan an execution calendar for any longer than a few months. Let your strategy drive, but listen to your content. Allow the freedom to be agile and change course based on what happens when your content is actually released. 

     

  2. Bring it back to your goals

    Allow your content to take you on unexpected journeys. Be open to new ideas, consider the feedback you’re getting in blog comments and from people who provide input in real life. If a topic in your strategy suddenly becomes urgent, move it up in your execution plan. Be flexible. Just always make sure that you bring it back to your goals. 

When you ensure that your content is always in alignment with your business objectives and what your customers need, you’re clearing the noise. You’re staying focused on producing what’s important which helps to reduce anxiety, workload, and keeps you on track.

     
  3. Good content is an investment in your business
    
Quality content is an asset that builds value in your business. Whether it’s a blog post, guide, whitepaper, case study, infographic, or video, your content is going to attract people to your business and your community (ongoing).



    Creating content that’s valuable is not always a quick and easy task. Whether you’re committing to this for your own business or you’re an agency assisting a client with content, it’s going to take some time.



    Start small. We’ve found with our clients that committing to two small (quality) posts a month is a realistic frequency (but it really depends on your goals and your strategy). If you’re developing content that’s more extensive like an in-depth guide or an infographic, reduce the frequency that month. Instead of spreading yourself thin on two, put all of your energy into one heavy hitter and give it the attention it deserves. After all, it’s an investment in your business.

Your content is meant to serve a purpose

Building and growing a community around your business can be done with an investment in a good strategy, content, outreach, and a lot of hard work. But keep in mind that your content isn’t just meant to rank, it’s intended to serve a purpose. Draw people in with your community building content, and then pack your foundational content so full of value that making the sale is the natural next step.

What interesting ways are you integrating value into your content, or have you seen other companies doing? I’d love for you to share your experiences in the comments below.

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Mathematical Ideas for Marketers

Posted by willcritchlow

I’ve been hiding from my natural geekiness recently. My last few blog posts and my most recent presentations have all been about broad marketing ideas, things that play out well in the boardroom, and big picture “future of the industry” stuff.

Although those topics are all well and good, sometimes I need to feed the geek. And my geek lives on logic and maths (yes, I’m going to use the *s* throughout – it’s how we roll in the UK and that’s where I studied). One of our most recent hires in our London office is a fellow maths graduate and I’ve been enjoying the little discussions and puzzles.

(The last one we worked on together: in how many number bases does the number 2013 end in a “3”? Feel free to share your answers and workings in the comments.)

Rather than just purely geek out over pointless things, I have been casting my mind over the ways that mathematical ideas can help us out as marketers; either by making us better at our jobs, or by helping us understand more advanced or abstract concepts. Obviously a post like this can only scratch the surface, so I’ve designed it to link out to a bunch of resources and further reading. In approximate ascending order of difficulty and prerequisites, here are some of my favourite mathematical ideas for marketers:

Averaging averages

The first and simplest idea is really a correction of a common misconception. We were talking about it here in the context of some data we were visualising for a client. The problem goes like this:

Our client had data for average income broken down by all combinations of age, location, and gender (details changed to protect the innocent). We wanted to get the average income by gender.

It’s tempting to think that you can do this from the data provided by averaging all the female values and averaging all the male values, but that would be incorrect. If the age or geographic distribution is not perfectly uniform by gender, then we will get the wrong answer. Consider the following entirely made up example:

  • Female, 25, London –  Average: 30,000 (10,000 people)
  • Female, 26, London – Average: 31,000 (11,000 people)

It’s tempting to say that the average for the whole group is 30,500. In fact, it’s 30,524 (because of the hidden variable that there are more in the second group than the first).

You will often encounter this in marketing when presented with percentages. Suppose you have a campaign that made 200% ROI in month one and 250% ROI in month two. What’s the ROI of the campaign to date?

Answer: anywhere in the range 200-250%. You have no idea where.

Try it out on this brainteaser hat-tip @tomanthonyseo:

If I drive at 30mph for 60 miles, how fast do I have drive the next 60 to average 60mph for the whole trip?

Correlation coefficients

Although the mathematical background can look scary, linear regression and correlation coefficients represent a relatively simple concept. The idea is to measure how closely related two variables are; think about trying to draw a “line of best fit” through an X-Y scatter chart of the two variables.

The summary of how it works is that it finds the line through the scatter chart that minimises the sum of the distances of the points of the scatter plot away from the line.

The great part is that you don’t even need to dig into the mathematical details to use this technique. Excel has built in functions to help you do it – check out this YouTube video showing how to do it:

Bayes

Thomas Bayes was a mathematician who lived in the early 1700s. The break-through he made was to come up with a way of analysing probability statements of the form:

“What’s the probability of event A given that event B happened?”

Mathematicians write that as P(A|B).

Bayes discovered that this = P(A and B) / P(B)

In plain English, that means:

“The probability of both event A and B happening divided by the probability of B happening.”

And also that P(A|B) = P(B|A) * P(A) / P(B)

Which means:

“The probability of B happening given A happened, times the probability of A happening, divided by the probability of B happening”

Why is this important? It’s critical to understanding the results of all kinds of tests – ranging from medical trials to conversion rate. Here’s a challenge from this great explanation of Bayesian thinking:

“1% of women at age forty who participate in routine screening have breast cancer. 80% of women with breast cancer will get positive mammographies. 9.6% of women without breast cancer will also get positive mammographies. A woman in this age group had a positive mammography in a routine screening. What is the probability that she actually has breast cancer?”

If you want to dig deeper into the marketing implications, I really like this article.

O(n) and o(n)

One of the things I did during my maths degree was write really bad code. My lecturers suggested using either Pascal or C. C sounded like “real programming,” so I chose that. It’s incredibly easy to write horrible programs in C because you manage your own memory (reminding me of this programming joke).

When you think of programs failing, you tend to think of crashes or bugs that return the wrong answer. But one of the most common failings when you start hacking on real world problems is writing programs that run for ever and never give you an answer at all.

As we get easy access to more and more data, it’s becoming ever easier accidentally to write programs that would take hours, days, weeks, or even longer to run.

Computer scientists use what is known as “big O notation” to describe the characteristics of how long an algorithm will take to run.

Suppose you are running over a data set of “n” entries. Big O notation is the computer scientists’ way of describing how long the algorithm will run in terms of “n.”

In very rough terms, O(n^2) for example means that as the size of the dataset grows, the algorithm run-time will grow more like the square of the size of the dataset. For example, an O(n) algorithm on 100 things might take 100 seconds but an O(n^2) would take 100*100 =10,000 seconds.

If you’re interested in digging deeper into this concept, this is a really good primer.

At a basic level, if you are writing data analysis programs, what I’m really recommending here is that you spend some time thinking about how long your program will take to run expressed in terms of the size of the dataset. Watch out for things like nested loops or evaluations of arrays. This article shows some simple algorithms that grow in different ways as the data size grows.

Nash equilibria

Using words like equilibria makes this sound scary, but it was explained in layman’s terms in the film A Beautiful Mind:

“Games” are defined in all kinds of formal ways, but you can think of them as just being two people in competition, then:

“A Nash equilibrium occurs when both players can’t do any better by changing their strategies, given the likely response of their opponent.”

The reason I include this bit of game theory is that it’s critical to all kinds of business and marketing success; in particular, it’s huge in pricing theory.

If you want a more pop culture example of game theory, this is incredible:

Time series

Time series is the wonkish mathematical name for data on a timeline. The most common time series data in online marketing comes from analytics.

This branch of maths covers the tools and methodologies for analysing data that comes in this form. Much like the regression analysis functions in Excel, the nice thing with time series analysis is that there is software and tools to apply the hard maths for you.

One of the most direct applications of time series analysis to marketing is decomposing analytics data into the different seasonality effects and real underlying trends. I covered how you do this using software called R in a presentation a few years ago – see slides 39+:

Prime numbers/RSA

OK. I’m getting a little tenuous now. It’s not so much that you actually need to know the maths behind factoring large numbers or the technical details of public key cryptography.

What I do think is useful to us as technical marketers is to have some idea of how HTTPS/SSL secure connections work. The best resources I know of for this are:

Markov chains

You might have come across the concept of Markov chains in relation to machine-generated content (this is a great overview). If you want to dive deep into the underlying maths, this is a great primer [PDF]

The general concept of Markov chains is an interesting one – the mathematical description is that a Markov chain is a sequence of random variables where each variable depends only on the previous one (or, more generally, previous “n”).

Google Scholar has a bunch of results for the use of Markov Chains in marketing.

It turns out that there are a bunch of great mathematical properties of Markov Chains. By removing any possibility of the outcome of the next step being dependent on arbitrary inputs (allowing only the outcomes of the most recent entries in the sequence), we get results like conditions for stationary distributions [PDF]. A stationary distribution is one that converges to a fixed probability distribution – i.e. one that *isn’t* based on previous elements in the sequence. This leads me neatly into my final topic:

Eigenvectors/Eigenvalues

OK. Now we’re talking real maths. This is at least undergraduate stuff and quickly gets into graduate territory.

There is a branch of maths called linear algebra. It deals with matrix and vector computations (see MIT opencourseware if you want to dig into the details).

To follow the rest of my analogy, all you really need to know is how to multiply a matrix and a vector.

The result of multiplying appropriate vectors and matrices is another vector. When that vector is a fixed (scalar) multiple of the original vector, the vector is called an “eigenvector” of the matrix and the scalar multiplier is called an “eigenvalue” of the matrix.

Why are we talking about matrices? And what do they have to do with stationary distributions of Markov chains?

Well, remember PageRank?

From a mathematical perspective, there are two models of PageRank:

  1. The random surfer model – where you imagine a web visitor who randomly clicks on outbound links (and randomly “jumps” to another arbitrary page with a fixed probability)
  2. The (dominant) eigenvector of the link matrix

You’ll notice that the random surfer model is a Markov model (the probability of moving from page A to page B is dependent *only* on A).

It turns out that the eigenvector is actually the stationary distribution of the random surfer Markov chain.

And not only that. The random jump factor? Turns out that is necessary to (a) make sure that the Markov chain has a stationary distribution AND (b) make sure that the link matrix has an eigenvector.

Things like this are the the things that make mathematicians excited.

I appreciate that this post has been something a bit different. Thanks for bearing with me. I’d love to hear your geek-out tips and tricks in the comments.

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Why Google Analytics Tagging Matters – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by RachaelGerson

When Google Analytics doesn’t know where a traffic source comes from, it assumes the traffic is direct and lumps it in with your direct visits. This happens frequenly with social shares, as many of us make the mistake of not tagging our links accordingly.

In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rachael Gerson sheds some light on “dark social” and explains why tagging in Google Analytics improves the accuracy of your referrals. Take credit for the work that you’re doing, and tag your links!

 

 

Video Transcription

“Hi, everyone. I’m Rachael Gerson. I’m the head of analytics at SEER Interactive. We’re a digital marketing agency in Philadelphia, although we are growing and spreading across the world. Although we’re primarily known for our SEO, we actually have an amazing paid search team and a really talented analytics team. I want to share our story with you. The timing on this story is actually really convenient because it ties with what I wanted to talk to you about.

My sister wrote a blog post last night. She has a new blog. No one ever goes to it. I think I may be the only person who knows it exists. She wrote the post. I read it this morning and went, “This is really good content. I’m going to share this.” And I put it out on Twitter.

She saw me share it, and she put it on Facebook and thought, “Okay. Let’s see what happens.” In the last 8 hours, she’s gotten 74,000 page views to this one blog post. I’m looking at the real-time traffic right now, down here. There are 1,500 people on the site. This thing is blowing up. It’s going viral.

We can see it spreading through Twitter. We can see it spreading through Facebook. We can see it being referred by random sites, but we’re also seeing a lot of traffic come in as direct. Since no one knows this blog exists, I highly doubt they’re typing in the 40 plus characters of the URL to go directly to this page. They’re not. It’s being shared socially. This is the idea of dark social.

It’s not a new idea, but it’s a fascinating idea, and that’s what I wanted to talk to you about today, was this idea of dark social, that content spreads, if it’s good content, socially, organically.

Dark social sounds like a bad thing. It’s not. It’s actually really awesome and really fun to dig into. Let’s say that someone read this post earlier, and they shared it on Twitter, Facebook, whatever. We kind of know where that came from for the most part. They may have texted it to a friend or copied a link and sent it in chat. In both cases, when the person clicks on the link and goes to the site, they come in as direct.

Direct is Google Analytics’ version of, “We have no idea what this is, so let’s call it direct and throw it in that bucket.” We know it’s not direct. That’s our dark, organic social. It’s spreading organically in all different ways, and we’re getting traffic because of it. It’s pretty amazing.

I wanted to talk to you about the analysis I’m doing on the dark social side because it’s really fun stuff. Unfortunately, in talking to a lot of people, I found they’re not there yet.

Here’s the problem. When we say direct it’s our catchall bucket and we need to look at direct to get an idea of our dark social, organic social, whatever we want to call it, if things are not tagged properly, we can’t dig into to what’s [out] to this dark social side. Actually, we can’t do anything. If things aren’t tagged properly, you’re not taking credit for the work that you’re doing.

For your paid search, for your social media, for email marketing, whatever it is, you have to tag your links. Otherwise, you’re not getting credit for the work that you’re doing.

You know what really sucks, by the way? When you work really hard on a project and, at the last second, your boss takes credit for it. That was your project. You did all the work for it. Why is he taking your credit? It sucks!

What we’re talking about right now is the digital marketing version of that. It’s the online version, where you’re giving your credit away for the work that you’re doing. Honestly, you need that credit to keep your budget, to keep your job, to get a promotion, to get any of these things. You need to prove your value.

When we talk about tagging, it’s using UTM parameters. Dark social, organic social, that’s really sexy. It’s fun. We can dig into that. UTM parameters are not sexy. They’re not fun, but they’re necessary. If you’re not doing this, you’re wasting your time and you’re wasting your money. Now that sucks.

How are you wasting your time? If you’re not doing this, you’re putting all kinds of time, hopefully, into analysis, if you’re looking at what you’re doing, but your analysis is based on data that’s not accurate. You’re putting your time into marketing efforts that may not actually be working as well as you think they are. You’re putting your money into marketing efforts. You need to know that your stuff’s actually working. Keep doing that. Make your well-informed decisions to help the business and drive it forward.

Again, time is money. You need to make sure you get all this stuff right, so you can do all the other stuff.

Let’s talk about a few examples of where tagging actually matters. If we’re looking at Twitter, if you don’t tag your links, things will still come in. You’ll see t.co showing up. In your real-time traffic, you’ll see Twitter as social coming in, and you’ll see some of that in your multi-channel funnels as well.

If you tag your links, you’re going to always know it’s Twitter. You’re going to know which campaign it was. You’re going to know all the information you put into it. You’re also going to be protected from the other side of it. That’s when people use Twitter apps. For example, HootSuite doesn’t come in as Twitter unless you’ve tagged it. People clicking on a link that you post on Twitter that’s untagged in HootSuite are going to come in as HootSuite referral usually.

If you posted on TweetDeck, they’re coming in as direct. By the way, I’m still playing with all of this, and it all changes. I’ve played with stuff that’s changed before. So if this is different by the time it comes out, I apologize. Just keep up with it all the time.

That’s our Twitter side. On Facebook, if we don’t tag our links, they’ll come in as Facebook referral. It’s nice and easy. It’s clean. We know what it is. The exception to that is if someone’s trying to open a link in Facebook, they click on the link, it doesn’t load fast enough, they’re probably going to click Open in Safari if they really care about it. Once they open in Safari, that’s a direct visit. We just lost the Facebook tracking in it.

There’re also a missing piece here, and that’s if you do tag this stuff, you get an extra level to your analysis. You can say, “This is all the same campaign. It’s the same effort, same content.” You can tie it together across all these different platforms, and that helps.

We get to email. If you’re putting time and money into your email marketing, you want to take your credit for it. If you’re not tagging your email, it’s usually going to come in one of two ways:  One as a referral from all the different mail things that can come in or as direct.

At least with the mail, where is says mail.yahoo.whatever, we know it’s mail. We can’t track it down to what you did versus what someone sent. We have some analysis on it. If it’s direct, you lose everything. So tag your email.

Paid search. It’s nice. AdWords actually makes it really easy for us to tag our paid search. We can connect Google Analytics and AdWords very easily, and they play really well together. It’s awesome. The problem is when you don’t tag your stuff. If you don’t tag your paid search, either through AdWords or through your manual tracking parameters on other platforms as well, it comes in as organic.

This actually happened to us at SEER. One of our SEO clients, we were watching their traffic, and organic traffic spiked. The account manager went, “Hey, guys, this is awesome.” To which the client responded, “Oh, we forgot to tell you we launched paid search,” and the account manager discovered they weren’t tagging their paid search. This paid search manager accidentally just gave away their credit. We don’t want to have that happen.

Let’s say you’ve actually tagged everything properly in your URLs. All this is done. These are just a few examples, but all of the other stuff is taken care of. Let’s look at the tracking on the site itself. We see this happen pretty often with paid search landing pages, where we have to put this on our checklist that this is done immediately.

We’ll create brand new landing pages that are optimized for paid search for conversion. They’re different from the rest of the site. They’re a totally new template, which means that if the Google Analytics code is in a template already for the site, it may not be in here. If we don’t have someone add it back in, what’s going to happen is paid search will drive all this traffic to the site, they’ll get to that page, go to page two. Page two has the Google Analytics code, but they don’t know where it came from. This is going to show up as direct. Paid search just gave away their credit. We can’t have that happen. You worked too hard for that credit.

I’ve also seen it where people make little mistakes with the tracking on the site. Spotify did this a few months ago, and I sent them a message to help them out with it. They were tagging all of the links on their site with UTM parameters. When visitors would hit those different links, they’d reset the visit ,and it would be a new visit with each one. Spotify, all their marketers were giving away their credit through that.

Let’s say you’ve got all this other stuff right. Good job. That’s awesome. There’s still stuff that you can’t control unfortunately. There are a lot of things that can cause traffic to come in as direct when it really isn’t. I have a short list that people have been adding to at [bitly/direct-wrong]. If you have others, keep adding them because I want to have a giant list of all the things we can tackle and fix, but the list just keeps growing.

If you look at mobile traffic, for example, iOS 6, we can’t tell if it’s search or if it’s direct. That’s a problem. For me, if I’m doing an analysis and I really need that part, or I really need to know that part for sure, I may cut that out so it’s not throwing off my data. There are different ways to deal with that, and that’s a whole other topic.

The point is control whatever you can. Where you control the spread of information, make sure you’re doing your part. If you’re sharing a link socially, tag your links. That way, if people want to share it or retweet it, the tracking is already in place there. If your posts on the site have social plugins, put the tracking in your social plugins too. It makes it easy if someone wants to hit the share on Facebook or to share on Twitter. It already has the tracking. It goes through, people get to the site, your tracking’s in place, and you can breathe a sigh of relief.

Now once you’ve done everything else up here, your tagging is right on your URLs, your tracking is right on the site, there’s nothing you messed up by accident, you’ve controlled everything you can with these other issues, you kind of have to accept what’s left. You know that there’s stuff that you can’t account for. There’s direct in there that may have been shared through a text, through a chat, through any other thing. You don’t know where it actually came from.

First off, that gets a dark social. We can now start doing our awesome analysis, like dark social or other things, because we have confidence in our data. We can trust that we’re making the right decisions for our business, and we can save our time and our money this way.

If you have questions or thoughts, hit me up on Twitter or in the comments below, because I love talking about this stuff. Maybe another time, we’ll talk about this organic social idea.”

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Creativity, Serendipity, and Championing B2B: An Interview with Adriel Sanchez

Posted by Erica McGillivray

Adriel SanchezI sat down to talk with Adriel Sanchez, Sr. Director of Demand Generation at SAP. Every day, he digs into how he can help B2B businesses and their marketers with database marketing, telemarketing, digital marketing, and campaign management services. Adriel currently leads a demand generation hub of 70+ people to support SAP’s Latin America business. You can find him on Twitter @Adriel_S or blogging at Marketing…pfft!

What’s inspired you lately?

Recently, I had the privilege of joining 60 other top marketing execs from Fortune 500 companies for a 1.5 day private event in NYC. If you can’t get inspired with that many smart people in a room, you’re either in the wrong business, or you’re a zombie. We touched on a lot of topics, but all centered around driving a culture of creativity and innovation.

Some key takeaways for me? Too many people and resource can actually stifle creativity, and when innovating, think rapid prototyping and make failure an option. You need a lot of bad ideas to get to a good one.

As a champion of B2B, you often rally against the notion that B2B is “boring” compared to B2C. What are some of your favorite B2B companies doing great inbound marketing out there?

Our CMO at SAP, Jonathan Becher, likes to say that “Big glass buildings don’t buy software. People do…” Tragically, there aren’t a heck of a lot of B2B marketing examples out there that break the ‘B to Boring’ stigma. B2B marketers need to ‘bring the sexy back.’ (Though I’m not sure we ever had it.)

That said, I love Adobe’s Metrics Not Myths campaign. Another classic example (though by a brand that’s not in existence anymore) is EDS’ building planes in the sky ad. It also broke out of that B2B creative mold. SAP is doing quite a bit around sports and entertainment these days that is anything, but ‘boring.’ We recently launched NBA.com/stats.

You wrote recently about humanizing your brand through kindness. What’s a humanizing experience you’ve had with a brand or noticed from the outside?

I love what the current White House administration has done with their brand. Regardless of your political leanings, you can’t deny that the administration focuses hard on managing that brand, from the President on down. Their response to the We The People’s petition to build a Death Star was brilliant. And best of all, their approach is backed by data. The amount of testing that went into the 2012 campaign’s email marketing program was unprecedented in any organization, public or private.

You moved in your career from being a direct marketer to a social media marketer. What do you want to bring from direct marketing into social media?

First, I wouldn’t describe myself as a ‘social media marketer.’ Any successful marketer today needs to understand social and its impact on how people engage with each other and the companies they buy from.

But my biggest lesson from direct marketing was how to align my activities to business outcomes. In a world where only 3-5% of the people you contact actually buy something, you will lose a lot of money FAST unless you’re laser-focused on business outcomes. I feel like some self-described ‘digital’ or ‘social’ marketers today lose sight of those business drivers.

Conversely, what direct marketing habit did you have to break to dive into social?

The majority of core direct marketing tenets remain true. That said, there are three areas where I’ve had to evolve as a marketer:

First, the 40/40/20 rule of list, offer creative now needs to include context. A perfectly good offer to a targeted audience may fail if it’s presented in a way that breaks accepted norms for a particular channel.

Albert EinsteinSecond, I’ve had to embrace Einstein’s quote, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” This one isn’t easy for any direct marketer, but social media permeates everything. Try to quantify its cost or how much money it’s bringing in as a stand-alone activity and you’ll wind up with an incomplete picture at best.

Lastly, while we know negative option offers will almost always outperform positive option in the short-term, in today’s world we need to err on the side of explicit customer permission.

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

Definitely blogging. Writing thoughts 140 characters at a time is fun, but it just doesn’t satisfy my appetite for writing. My favorite part about blogging is actually introspection. It helps me crystallize my point of view on a particular topic.

When you’re brainstorming for great content ideas, what are some of your favorite research or creative flow sources?

Definitely non-traditional sources. Whether I’m watching a video on a cool new gadget or reading about a groundbreaking medical development, I’m always trying to tie it back to my day-to-day challenges. Creativity is often serendipitous. If you put yourself in an environment and mindset where creativity can flourish, you’ll notice great ideas coming from the most unexpected places.

Whether it’s Grumpy Cat or the Harlem Shake, crazy social trends have caught our eye, even in the B2B space. (Heck, at SEOmoz, we did our own Harlem Shake video.) But what’s something you were shocked never caught on?

I love Axe body spray’s “Nothing beats an astronaut” campaign and am pretty surprised the spoofs haven’t come in droves. Would it kill someone to create a “Nothing beats a marketing executive” version?

What are some innovative ways that you’ve seen people get their entire staff involved in their social media efforts and content creation?

Finding people interested in social is the easy part. What’s difficult is achieving a sustained commitment to contribute in a way that adds real value to the community. This stuff takes time. The “what’s in for me” principle is alive and well. Invest the time, and “I’ll make ya famous.” There’s a company called EveryoneSocial with some interesting technology to help empower your entire workforce to be social media ambassadors.

If you’re hiring for a social media manager, what are qualities that you’d look for?

Editorial background, above all else. I’d rather hire a someone with a journalism degree for this than an MBA in marketing. Find someone who can write, with a ‘punchy’ attitude, and has their finger on the pulse of current trends, news, etc., and you have a winner. Social media best practices and the ins and outs of your company’s products are easier to teach than these other core skills.

A lot of people want more metrics from social media. What are three of your favorite analytics tools and what do you use them for?

We use Netbase for social monitoring and listening. It’s got excellent natural language processing that takes sentiment analysis beyond the basics. It also has really good multi-language capabilities that continue improving.

Then there’s a great solution offered by NextPrinciples that allows us to audit our hundreds of social media accounts across the globe against key reach and engagement metrics. It’s critical to controlling the proliferation of accounts that plagues most large companies.

Lastly, social media objectives must tie to your business KPIs. We use our own CRM to track leads and opportunities that flow from social.

If you could change one thing about the way we use social media, what would it be?

I recently heard a story about a client of a major consulting company that reviewed the Facebook profiles of the consultants being assigned to his business before approving them. The client asked that a few be replaced because of photos posted on their walls. This isn’t just an anecdote anymore. What we share in social media is public by default. Every picture, post, point of view, opinion, indiscretion. You have to work really hard to keep what’s private private. I think it’s time to consider whether private by default is the better option. Google+ goes is headed in that direction.

Thank you so much, Adriel, for a look into your world. If you’re interested in hearing more from him, he’ll be talking at the upcoming SES NY conference on the Building the B2B Social Media Machine panel.

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Behind the Scenes of Fresh Web Explorer

Posted by dan.lecocq

Fresh Web Explorer is conceptually simple — it’s really just a giant feed reader. Well, just a few million of what we think are the most important feeds on the web.

At a high level, it’s arranged as a pipeline, beginning with crawling the feeds themselves and ending with inserting the crawled data into our index. In between, we filter out URLs that we’ve already seen in the last few months, and then crawl and do a certain amount of processing. Of course, this wouldn’t be much of an article if it ended here, with the simplicity. So, onwards!

The smallest atoms of work that the pipeline deals with is a job. These are pulled off of various queues by a fleet of workers, processed, and then handed off to other workers. Different stages take different amounts of times, are best suited to certain types of machines, and thus it makes sense to use queues in this way. Because of the volume of data that must move through the system, it’s impractical to pass the data along with each job. In fact, workers are frequently uploading to and downloading from S3 (Amazon’s Simple Storage Service) and just passing around references to the data stored there.

The queueing system itself is one we talked about several months ago called “qless.” Fresh Web Explorer is actually one of the two projects for which qless was written (campaign crawl’s the other), though it has found adoption for other projects from our data science team to other as-of-yet announced projects. Here’s an example of what part of our crawl queue looks like, for example:

In each of the following sections, I’ll be talk about some of the hidden challenges to many of these seemingly-innocuous stages of the pipeline, as well as the particular ways in which we’ve tackled them. To kick this process off, we begin with the primordial soup out of which this crawl emerges: the schedule of our feeds to crawl.


Scheduling

Like you might expect on the web, a few domains are responsible for most of the feeds that we crawl. Domains like Feedburner and Blogspot come to mind, in particular. This becomes problematic in terms of balancing politeness with crawling in a reasonable timeframe. For some context, our goal is to crawl every feed in our index roughly every four hours, and yet some of these domains have hundreds of thousands of feeds. To make matters worse, this is a distributed crawl on several workers, and coordination between workers is severely detrimental to performance.

With job queues in general, it’s important to strike a balance between too many jobs and jobs that take too long. Jobs sometimes fail and must be retried, but if the job represents too much work, a retry represents a lot of wasted work. Yet, if there are too many jobs, the queueing system becomes inundated with operations about maintaining the state of the queues.

To allow crawlers to crawl independently and not have to coordinate page fetches with one another, we pack as many URLs from one domain as we can into a single job subject to the constraint that it could be crawled in a reasonable amount of time (on the order of minutes, not hours). In the case of large domains, fortunately, the intuition is that if they’re sufficiently popular on the web, then they can handle larger amounts of traffic. So we pack all these URLs into a handful of slightly larger-than-normal jobs in order to limit the parallelism, and so long as each worker obeys politeness rules, we’re guaranteed a global close approximation to politeness.

Deduping URLs

Suffice it to say, we’re reluctant to recrawl URLs repeatedly. To that end, one of the stages of this pipeline is to keep track of and remove all the URLs that we’ve seen in the last few months. We intentionally kept the feed crawling stage simple and filter-free, and it just passes _every_ url it sees to the deduplication stage. As a result, we need to process hundreds of millions of URLs in a streaming fashion and filter as needed.

As you can imagine, simply storing a list of all the URLs we’ve seen (even normalized) would consume a lot of storage, and checking would be relatively slow. Even using an index would likely not be fast enough, or small enough, to fit on a few machines. Enter the bloom filter. Bloom filters are probabilistic data structures that allow you to relatively compactly store information about objects in a set (say, the set of URLs we’ve seen in the last week or month). You can’t ask a bloom filter to list out all the members of the set, but it does allow you to add and query specific members.

Fortunately, we don’t need to know all the URLs we’ve seen, but just answer the question: have we seen _this_ url or _that_ url. A couple of downsides to bloom filters: 1) they don’t support deletions, and 2) they do have a small false positive rate. The false positive rate can be controlled by allocating more space in memory, and we’ve limited ours to 1 in 100,000. In practice, it turns out to often be less than that limit, but it’s the highest rate we’re comfortable with. To get around the lack of being able to remove items from the set, we must resort to other tricks.

We actually maintain several bloom filters; one for the current month, another for the previous month, and so on and so forth. We only add URLs that we’ve seen to the current month, but when filtering URLs out, we check each of the filters for the last _k_ months. In order to allow these operations to be distributed across a number of workers, we use an in-memory (but disk-backed) database called Redis and our own Python bindings for an in-Redis bloom filter, pyreBloom. This enables us to filter tens of thousands of URLs per second and thus, keep pace.

Crawling

We’ve gone through several iterations of a Python-based crawler, and we’ve learned a number of lessons in the process. This subject is enough to merit its own article, so if you’re interested, keep an eye on the dev blog for an article on the subject.

The gist of it is that we need a way to efficiently fetch URLs from many sources in parallel. In practice for Fresh Web Explorer, this is hundreds or thousands of hosts at any one time, but at peak it’s been on the order of tens of thousands. Your first instinct might be to reach for threads (and it’s not a bad instinct), but it comes with a lot of inefficiencies at the expense of conceptual simplicity.

There are mechanisms for the ever-popular asynchronous I/O that are relatively well-known. Depending on what circles in which you travel, you may have encountered some of them. Node.js, Twisted, Tornado, libev, libevent, etc. At their root, these all use two main libraries: kqueue and epoll (depending on your system). The trouble is that these libraries expose a callback interface that can make it quite difficult to keep code concise and straightforward. A callback is a function you’ve written that you give to a library to run when it’s done doing it’s processing. It’s something along the lines of saying, ‘fetch this page, and when you’re done, run this function with the result.’ While this doesn’t always lead to convoluted code, it can all too easily lead to so-called ‘callback hell.’

To our rescue comes threading’s lesser-known cousin, coroutines and incarnated in gevent. We’ve tried a number of approaches, and in particular we’ve been burned by the aptly-named “twisted.” Gevent has been the sword that has cut the gordian knot of crawling. Of course, it’s not a panacea, and we’ve written a lot of code to help make common crawling tasks easy. Tasks like URL parsing and normalization, and robots.txt parsing. In fact, the Python bindings for qless even have a mode that is gevent-compatible, so we can still keep our job code simple and still make full use of gevent’s power.

A few crawlers is actually all it takes to maintain steady state for us, but we’ve had periods where we wanted to accelerate crawling (for backlogs, or to recrawl when experimenting). By way of an example of the kind of power the coroutines offer, here are some of our crawl rates for various status codes scaled down to 10%. This graph is from a time when we were using 10 modestly-sized machines, and while maintaining politeness they sustain about 1250 URLs/second including parsing, which amounts to about 108 million URLs a day at a cost of about $1 per million. Of course, this step alone is just a portion of the work that goes into making Fresh Web Explorer.

Dechroming

There’s a small amount of processing associated with our crawling. Parse the page, look at some headers, et. all, but the most interesting feature of this process is the dechroming: trying to remove all the non-content markup in a page, from sidebars to headers to ads. It’s a difficult task, and no solution will be perfect. Despite that, through numerous hours and great effort (the vast majority of which has been provided by our data scientist, Dr. Matt Peters) we have a reasonable approach.

Dechroming is an area of active research in certain fields, and there are certainly some promising approaches. Many of the earlier approaches (including that of blogscape from our tools section, Fresh Web Explorer’s predecessor) relied on finding many examples from a given site, and then using that information to try to find the common groups of elements. This has the obvious downside of needing to be able to quickly and easily access other examples from any given site at any given time. Not only this, but it’s quite sensitive to changes to website markup and changes in chrome.

Most current research focuses instead on finding a way to differentiate chrome from content with a single page example. We actually began our work by implementing a couple of algorithms described in papers. Perhaps the easiest to conceptually understand is one in which a distribution of the amount of text per block (this doesn’t have a 1:1 correspondence with HTML tags, necessarily) and then finding the clumps within that. The intuition is that the main content is likely to be larger sequential blocks of text than, say, comments or sidebars. In the end, our approach ended up being a combination of several techniques and you can find out more about it in our “dragnet” repo.


All told

Fresh Web Explorer has been in the works for a long while — perhaps longer than I’d care to admit. It has been rife with obstacles overcome (both operational and algorithmic) and lessons learned. These lessons will be carried forward in subsequent iterations and future projects. There are many changes we’d like to make given this hindsight and of course we will. Refactoring and maintaining code is often more time-consuming than writing the original!

The feedback from our community has generally been positive so far, which is encouraging. Obviously we hope this is something that will not only be useful, but also enjoyable for our customers. The less-than-positive feedback has highlighted some issues of which we are aware, most of which are high on our priorities, and leaves us raring to go to make it better.

On many points here there are many equally valid approaches. While time and space don’t permit us to present a complete picture, we’ve tried to pull out the most important parts. If there are particular questions you have about other aspects of this project or why we chose to tackle an issue one way or another, please comment! We’re happy to field any thoughts you might have on the subject :)

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When It Comes to Analytics, Are You Doing Enough?

Posted by JoannaLord

We all know analytics are important. As marketers, we spend a great deal of time in the data. We all, hopefully, consider ourselves part analyst in many ways. At the foundation of a good marketing team, there is an accessible analytics platform that is set up to provide actionable insights. We should always feel that the data is just a log in away. We should feel we have the data to make great recommendations, troubleshoot issues, and forecast our efforts accurately. We should all feel totally in control of our analytics, and use them daily.

But then unicorns jump out of pink clouds and fly around our heads, because that is simply not the case. Ever.

Maybe a handful of you work on teams that are doing all they can do as it relates to analytics. Maybe some of you have even staffed your team with a handful of full-time analysts. More likely, you may all be trying to use data in your jobs, but not doing it as thoroughly or as effectively as you wish you were.

So let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about the different types of analytics and common places to start with them. I believe the number one reason marketing teams aren’t as data-driven as they should be is because data is intimidating. However, knowledge trumps intimidation. The more you know, the more comfortable you will be to put on that analyst hat. And analyst hats are cool. So let’s jump in.


What are the different types of analytics?

The goal of all data analytics is to leave us more educated than before so we can perform better in the future. Sounds simple, right? Well, not really. A common misconception among marketers is that all analysis is equal, which isn’t exactly the truth. There are actually three types of analytics; predictive, prescriptive, and descriptive. Most marketers spend the majority, if not all, of their time on only one of them: descriptive. As you can imagine, that leaves a lot of awesome data and innovation on the table.

Let’s run through the three and talk through the differences…

Descriptive analytics:

Descriptive analytics is when we data mine our historical performance for insights. Often, we are just looking to get context or tell a story with the data. This is most certainly at the heart of what most marketers do on a daily basis, particularly in their web analytics. We look at how we are doing, and we try to understand what is happening and how that is affecting everything else.

Typical questions include: “How did that campaign do?” “What sort of performance did we see last quarter?” “How did that site’s down time affect other performance KPIs?”

Predictive analytics: 

Predictive analytics takes that one step further. It’s less about the questions, and more about the suggestions. It involves looking at your historical data, and coming up with predictions on what to expect next. This is most readily used in our industry when we try to predict how next month will perform based on this month’s performance (month over month predictions or MoM). While it seems like an obvious next step for analysis, it’s amazing to me just how many marketers stop at descriptive, and fail to push into this arena of predictive analytics. Often, it’s because this involves predictive modeling which can, again, be very intimidating.

Typical statements include: “Based on the last few months of data and our consistent growth, we can expect to increase another 25%,” or, “Knowing our seasonal drop trend, we can expect to slow down by 10% in the next 6 weeks.”

Prescriptive analytics:

This is where things can get fun. Prescriptive analytics takes forecasting and predictions a step further. With prescriptive analytics, you automatically mine data sets, and apply business rules or machine learning so you can make predictions faster and subsequently prescribe a next move. Marketers tend not to think of this “as their responsibility.” That is for someone else to think about and solve. I think that is a super dangerous mindset, given we are on the hook for hitting the company’s business KPIs. Prescriptive analytics can be a very powerful catalyst for success at a company. 

Typical questions include: “What if we could predict when customers leave us before they do, what could we surface prior to that to change their minds?” “What if we can predict when they are ripe for a second purchase and suggest it along side other products?” “What if we can predict what they would be most likely to share with a friend, how would we surface that?”


So, are you doing enough?

I ask this because somewhere along the way, marketers began to believe that descriptive analytics was our job, and “that other stuff” was for someone else to figure out. At SEOmoz, we are working hard to have each team working on all three types of data analysis in a variety of capacities. It’s not easy. There is a stereotype out there that you have to break through. Data can be fun. It can be accessible, and it can be part of everyone’s job. In fact, it really should be.

Imagine this for a second: just think about how much could get done if every team felt empower to tell a story with the data, make predictions off of it, and then brainstormed ways to operationalize that data to prescribe next steps for the biggest gains.

That is what being an analyst means and I believe we are all becoming more of an analyst as this industry continues to evolve. The platforms out there make it easier than ever, and the competition is more intense then ever. Why not be part of something more than just telling a story with the data? Why not suggest the next move? Why not create crazy ways to use the data? I think it’s time we all put our analyst hat back on and had a little fun with it.

Hopefully, breaking down the types of analytics above is a great reminder that there is more than just descriptive analytics. At the very least, you can share with your team to inspire them to do more with the data in front of them. Best of luck to you fellow data lovers!

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Tips for Real-World Marketing from SearchLove and LinkLove

Posted by willcritchlow

I want to tell you a story about one of our favourite sessions – Let’s Get Real – where we have all our speakers on stage at once. In this post, I’m going to:

  • Highlight some of the incredible tips and tricks our speakers gave away at our conferences at the end of last year.
  • Give away free HD videos of Let’s Get Real from the conferences at the end of 2012 [skip to the video giveaway].
  • Share all the details of our upcoming conferences in London and Boston, along with the video deal we have running for SEOmoz PRO members [skip to the conference details].

All the speakers on stage

Some of the earliest conferences I travelled to the US to attend were SMX West and Advanced. Back then, Danny used to have a session called Give it Up that was supposed to be more like the kind of tips, tricks and stories you would normally only hear at the bar (in exchange for delegates promising not to share the stories publicly for a month). Although the formatting is a bit broken, you can get a sense of the kind of topics covered in this Marketing Pilgrim write-up from 2007. I particularly like Matt Cutts’ story:

“Alright, I’ll tell you about my favorite spammer of 06 … When you buy a domain, you own it for a year. Usually you get hosting, or park the domain … You set name server to “lamedelegation.org.” Millions of domains are marked this way. But some are marked “lame-delegation.org” with a hyphen … This spammer … registered lame-delegation.org.”

Parental advisory explicit content

I really liked the personal, conversational tone of the sessions and the glimpse behind the curtain. When we started running conferences, we used to end with similar sessions.

Over the years, we felt that the tips being shared weren’t helping our delegates improve their marketing skills (Danny has done some similar soul-searching). They were still fun (and often funny), but they were increasingly unuseful; not something you could go back to the office and implement.

As a result, we introduced the let’s get real panel where we invite all of our speakers on stage for a rapid-fire round of tips and ideas with the crucial difference: all of the tips should be the kind of thing delegate can go back to the office and use for themselves or their clients.

To give you an idea of the difference between a regular talk and let’s get real, check out what Wil looks like on stage giving a formal presentation:

Wil Reynolds - Woah there

…and what he looks like rocking at let’s get real:

Wil Reynolds - give it up

Anyway, in the run-up to our next set of conferences (in March in London and May in Boston) I thought I’d go back to last year’s tips and share the most useful with all of you. Here we go!

Let’s get real

These tips come from our most recent SearchLove conferences in London and Boston. If you’d like to watch them for yourselves, I’m giving the entire videos away for free at the end of this post. The credit for the tips goes to the individual speakers – though I’ve generally rephrased the tips in my own words – I’ve credited them as I go along:

Social Media

Beware management tools for Facebook — Jen Lopez

Jen Lopez

If you routinely use tools like Hootsuite for managing your social presence between multiple team members and across multiple platforms, beware of the potential effect on the visibility of your Facebook posts. There are two big things to be aware of:

  • Posts made via external applications suffer in Edgerank terms and so have lower “natural” visibility.
  • If you are unlucky enough to post at a similar time to others using the same application, the Facebook timeline will often group posts together under “updates from Hootsuite.”

It’s an ongoing challenge to manage multiple contributors across multiple platforms and the tools are a huge part of making that possible but it’s worth experimenting to see how your reach is affected.

Check out G+ ripples to find influencers — Jen Lopez

If you do a keyword search in Google+, the default ordering of results is heavily skewed towards heavily-shared content. By drilling into the ripples, you can find the influencers who are sharing content in any given space and who are having a particular influence on which pieces of content get widely shared.

Craig wrote an article on the power of building your filter bubble influence, and Jen’s tip is a great place to get started working out who you need to influence.

Technical SEO

Get a sample of googlebot visits in log file format — Richard Baxter

It can be tempting to spend all our time in graphical tools, but Richard pointed out one specific use-case that has brought old-school techniques back to prominence for him. As googlebot gets better at interpreting JavaScript and attempts to crawl more and more AJAX content, it also increasingly makes mistakes. He and his team saw a major publisher having huge numbers of non-existent URLs requested based on googlebot misidentifying slugs in the HTML as URLs [we’ve seen this as well] – and this led to him recommending that we get our client dev teams to provide us with samples of googlebot log file data.

Split test your SEO — Mat Clayton

Mat is in the luxurious position of having complete control and authority over a massive site that gets loads of search visits, but nevertheless, I thought his stories were interesting and useful even if you’re running smaller sites. He talked about applying the principles of conversion rate optimisation to SEO. Take user profile pages for example (they have millions of them over at mixcloud): split them into two buckets (A and B) and make a set of changes to B designed to improve their search visibility. Treat visitors from search as “conversions” in a CRO sense and test to see if A or B is statistically better.

Create site speed videos — Annie Cushing

Annie CushingA short-but-sweet tip from Annie – check out webpagetest for creating videos of your website loading alongside those of your top competitors. If you have a speed problem, this is one of the most powerful tools for getting management on-side with the (often considerable) investment needed to achieve significant speed increases.

Clean your sitemap with Screaming Frog — Annie Cushing

Remember Duane Forrester talking about how clean your sitemap should be? Annie suggests a simple way of checking (on small-to-medium-sized sites). Use the list mode of Screaming Frog to run through your XML sitemap and check the status code of the pages it contains.

CRO – Conversion rate optimisation

What nearly stopped you buying? — Stephen Pavlovich

Stephen PavlovichStephen described a simple set of three questions they include on the confirmation page at his experience days startup:

  • What’s the one thing that nearly stopped you buying from us today?
  • How could we make our website better?
  • Is there anything else you want to say?

It’s important, he says, to make the answers free-form text areas. The freedom to write what they want is a critical part of the process of getting useful feedback. The idea then is that you can check in regularly and take actions to fix common issues.

Rank for your [<brand> voucher code] search — Dave Peiris

Dave highlighted the example of Argos (a UK high-street retailer) who have a good example of an on-site page targeted to Argos voucher codes (in the US, I think “coupon” or “coupon codes” would be a more common search term). People are increasingly interrupting the checkout process to go and search for discount codes and the search results are typically terrible. If they fail to find anything relevant to your brand, they could easily be diverted to a competitor. By bringing them back to your own site, you reduce the drop-off of your checkout process.

Give your FAQ and T&C pages some love — Hannah Smith

Hannah pointed out how close to converting someone is when they check out your FAQ or T&C pages. When was the last time you read those kinds of page for fun? And yet, so many of us make those pages impenetrable to humans, give them tiny font, even make the navigation non-standard so that it’s hard to get back to the money pages. Don’t do that, says Hannah, quite rightly. (While we’re talking about it, I love the 500px terms and conditions – lawyer and human friendly.)

Email marketing

Encourage people to reply to your email marketing — Patrick McKenzie

Patrick McKenzieNot everyone knew Patrick at our conference – he’s the second-from-top-ranked user on Hacker News under the username patio11. Although his presentation covered a wide range of tips for conversion improvement, it was his email tips that stuck with me and changed our campaigns – literally as soon as I got back to the office.

His top tip was to encourage people to reply to your email marketing. There’s a temptation to think that this is a bad thing and some companies go so far as to send email marketing from a no-reply@ address. By simply ending with the line “Hit reply if you have any questions – I read them all”, you can increase engagement, sell more, get instant feedback and generally get closer to your community. I can vouch for this; we’ve been adding this to most of our emails since Patrick gave away this tip, and I can’t count the number of positive reactions it’s caused.

It’s closely related to his second tip: to give customer services a name and a face. He relates the story of a specific customer services rep who has received three marriage proposals in the last year. No one’s gone that far for me, but they have certainly seemed to appreciate the ability to chat 1:1.

Facebook retargeting with “dirty” lists — me

Everyone who’s been kicking around for a while has a bunch of email addresses they can’t use. The better you are at observing best practices for email list growth, the more you will find yourself with lists of email addresses for people who haven’t opted in to hear from you.

With Facebook retargeting, you can put those email addresses to good use. Use your list of “interested but not opted-in” to build your advertising presence.

Start your subject lines with “RE:” — Paul Madden

Paul’s tip overlapped email marketing and outreach with a suggestion to test different beginnings for your subject lines. In particular, “RE:” can garner much higher open rates by playing on the appearance of an ongoing conversation.

Send your competitors’ email marketing to Evernote — Stephen Pavlovich

Stephen has talked before about the power of Evernote for saving and browsing a swipe file. Since it offers the ability to add notes by email, he recommends subscribing to competitors’ email lists and using gmail filters to direct their emails into your Evernote account. Do this well in advance of needing it of course, and then when a particularly significant time of year is approaching (Valentine’s day for a flower retailer for example), you have a ready-made swipe file of all the things your competitors did this time last year.

Online advertising

Swap retargeting pixels — me

When you have close partnerships with other companies whose audiences’ interests overlap closely with those of your customers and clients, you can quickly grow your retargeting pool by including your pixel on their site. Add them into their own group so that you can run dedicated advertising to draw them into your own site and content.

Combine Facebook demographic targeting and retargeting — Guy Levine

Guy LevineThe demographic targeting options for Facebook advertising are well known. By running tightly-targeted adverts driving visitors to your own landing pages, you can cookie those visitors with dedicated retargeting pixels that group them into buckets of people with similar interests. This gives you a powerful weapon for future content marketing (particularly at the agency level where having this kind of retargeting pool can be reused across multiple clients).

Drive reviews with retargeting — Guy Levine

Don’t think only of retargeting being for driving conversions; it can be useful post-conversion, as well. Guy advocated adding a retargeting pixel to your confirmation page so that you have a bucket of people who have bought from you. What should you do with this information? One example use-case Guy mentioned was to ask for reviews of the product purchased to drive rich content on your site.

Better content

Use HARO to solicit content input — Wil Reynolds

You’re all familiar with Help A Reporter Out (HARO), right? Realising that the content his clients are producing is often journalistic, Wil realised that they could be the reporter as well as the user of HARO. He’s had success with soliciting content input from small business owners via HARO – especially photo / image-based content for inclusion in rich posts.

Screencast your interactive infographics — Lexi Mills

As the technology underpinning our creative work has become more modern, we occasionally trip up against news rooms stuck using outdated operating systems and browsers. In these cases, they sometimes can’t access fancy animated graphics, etc. Lexi recommended including a short screencast in your journalist pitches to make it easier to see on any platform.

Management

Individual contributor tracks — Rand Fishkin

Rand FishkinRand decided to cover some areas that are closer to the things that have been taking up his personal time recently, particularly on the management front. One of the things that he talked about was also something he has written about in the context of wider team structure; namely, the need for strong career opportunities in your company for “individual contributors.” He pointed out the need for there always to be progression opportunities for your best people other than forcing them into management if that isn’t their goal.

Reach out to your employees’ heroes — Rand Fishkin

Rand used the example of Avinash as being someone that many of his team look up to. Rand’s relationship with Avinash means that he has a chance of getting him to share great things written by the SEOmoz team. By doing this with great content and in a transparent way (“it would mean the world to X to hear that you had read their stuff”), he cements both relationships.

Some general marketing/web tips

Build your personal brand by owning a topic — Justin Briggs

Justin pointed out that, for the bigger conferences, if you pitch a session topic and that topic is chosen to be a panel, you are 99% certain to get asked to be involved. So pitch great topics with credibility. He ran through a personal example – from writing an epic blog post and using it to pitch a competitor analysis panel at a major show. If you don’t know Justin’s background, you should read his personal post first time, every time, that explains just what an incredible journey his has been. It’ll definitely make you think you can up your own game.

Run wpscan — Paul Madden

In a lightning-quick tip, Paul recommended that if you run a WordPress site, you should run WPScan against your own site to check for any vulnerabilities. With the increase in hacking for SEO alongside exploits generally for all kinds of other reasons, it’s going to be increasingly important to lock down your stuff.

Take screenshots of your competitors every day — Mat Clayton

Mat and his team built a simple script to take a screenshot of the main pages of their competitors every day. He told a story about how they actually found it easier than their competitors to know which changes were working for them. I recommend reading about webkit2png and PhantomJS if you want to try this out for yourself.

Put your best content on your about page — Mark Johnstone

As we all get better at making “big content” that is closely on-brand rather than just classic “internet bait” (something I know Mark and his team have been working on a lot recently), it makes more and more sense to integrate that great content into your normal website. In particular, try putting your top-performing content on your about page for two reasons: you drive people to your about page where they learn about your company, and potential clients wanting to learn more about your company get treated to your absolute best content.

Lisa MyersLink building and PR

Turn your link developers into content producers — Lisa Myers

Lisa described the positive results they have seen from having link developers build out rich online profiles, with posts they’ve written, authorship information, photos, and biographical information. Outreach works so much better when it comes from people who are (and seem) real.

Build hack day projects on APIs and tell the API owners — Rob Ousbey

Rob described a hackday project he built called Get Out Call. Based on the Twilio API, it is designed to let you send a text scheduling a call to your cell phone to get you out of sticky situations. The power of the API means that this was phenomenally easy to hack together but a big part of the PR value comes from the fact that it is built on a service provided by a hot startup. By letting them know that he had built it, he got their PR team to hook him (and Distilled) up with coverage.

Video marketing

Sign up for YouTube advertising — Phil Nottingham

If you do any Google Display Network video advertising, you get to include overlay links on your YouTube videos directing people to your own website. If you have an active YouTube channel, you should sign up and spend a small amount before pausing your campaign; even after you have paused, you can continue to have a clickable area on your YouTube videos. You can see this in action on the Distilled YouTube channel where we have a DistilledU video that we used to run advertising for. Even now that we’ve stopped, there is still a clickable link to the Distilled website.

Local businesses

Leave useful comments on attractions in your local area — David Mihm

David MihmDavid expanded on a tip Will Scott gives for businesses interacting on Facebook: where you can interact as a page (read: business) instead of as a person. Will talks about leaving useful comments on the stories of the local newspaper or other local entities. David expanded this tip to Google+. In the same way as with Facebook, an admin of a business page can choose to browse Google+ as that business. That means you can leave reviews as a business. This is even more useful than commenting on Facebook because it is less transient. Not only are there fewer reviews than comments, but they are on static pages and the most helpful reviews tend to rank towards the top all the time. The example he gave was that if you are a hotelier in Edinburgh, and you do a search for Edinburgh, you see Edinburgh Castle as one of the top places listed. By leaving a comment along the lines of “the top 5 things my guests love about the castle,” you gain permanent mind share on the most prominent points of interest in your town.

Giving away the videos

We record all the sessions at our conferences and make them available to buy (as well as bundling them with DistilledU subscriptions). Although I’ve included many of the tips from the let’s get real sessions above, I wanted to give you all the chance to see the whole sessions; I left out a few juicy tips for the interested reader to find and I think it’s always great to watch the dynamic of people on stage.

So, I’m giving you all access to the videos of both London and Boston absolutely free.

The way our video hosting is set up means that the only way I can get you access is by giving you 100% discount codes to “buy” them on our store. Just a heads-up:

  • (Free) registration is required on our site
  • You will be presented with a credit card form – but if you enter the code MOZREAL2013 you won’t be charged anything, and you won’t have to enter any credit card information

Incidentally, I’ve added full transcripts to both videos on our site thanks to SpeechPad.

London Let’s Get Real

Get London Let’s Get Real 2012 for free by registering for a free account and entering MOZREAL2013 at checkout.

London let's get real

Boston Let’s Get Real

Similarly, get Boston’s Let’s Get Real 2012 by registering for a free account and entering MOZREAL2013 at checkout.

Let's get real - Boston

Get tickets to see us live in London or Boston

At this point, I’m obviously hoping that you are all so excited about the great content getting shared at these conferences that you simply can’t wait to come to one.

Luckily, we have two conferences coming up (again, in London and Boston), and SEOmoz PRO members can use a PRO perk to get free videos added to any ticket purchases (see the bottom of that page).

London LinkLove, 15th March 2013

Check out the schedule and the speaker line-up and book your place here.

Buy tickets

Boston SearchLove, 20th & 21st May 2013

Check out the speaker line-up (the exact schedule will be announced soon) and book your place here.

Buy tickets

Interested in the west coast?

  • First, don’t forget that Mozcon is coming up soon (I’m speaking!).
  • We are also hoping to bring SearchLove to the West Coast – you can register your interest here.

Just in case there’s any lingering doubt in your mind, I’ll leave you with a party photo :)

Searchlove party

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UX Myths That Hurt SEO – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

User experience and SEO: friends or enemies? They’ve had a rocky past, but it’s time we all realized that they live better in harmony. Dispelling the negative myths about how UX and SEO interact is the first step in improving both the look and search results of your website. 

In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand talks about some persistent UX myths that we should probably ignore.

Have anything to add that we didn’t cover? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Video Transcription

“Howdy, SEOmoz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I wanted to talk a little about user experience, UX, and the impact that it has on SEO.

Now, the problem historically has been that these two worlds have had a lot of conflict, especially like late ’90s, early 2000s, and that conflict has stayed a little bit longer than I think it should have. I believe the two are much more combined today. But there are a few things that many people, including those who invest in user experience, believe to be true about how people use the web and the problems that certain user experience, types of functionality, certain design types of things cause impact SEO, and they impact SEO negatively. So I want to dispel some of those myths and give you things that you can focus on and fix in your own websites and in your projects so that you can help not only your SEO, but also your UX.

So let’s start with number one here. Which of these is better or worse? Let’s say you’ve got a bunch of form fields that you need a user to fill out to complete some sort of a registration step. Maybe they need to register for a website. Maybe they’re checking out of an e-commerce cart. Maybe they’re signing up for an event. Maybe they’re downloading something.

Whatever it is, is this better, putting all of the requests on one page so that they don’t have to click through many steps? Or is it better to break them up into multiple steps? What research has generally shown and user experience testing has often shown is that a lot of the time, not all of the time certainly, but a lot of the time this multi-step process, perhaps unintuitively, is the better choice.

You can see this in a lot of e-commerce carts that do things very well. Having a single, simple, direct, one step thing that, oh yes, of course I can fill out my email address and give you a password. Then, oh yeah, sure I can enter my three preferences. Then, yes, I’ll put in my credit card number. Those three things actually are more likely to carry users through a process because they’re so simple and easy to do, rather than putting it all together on one page.

I think the psychology behind this is that this just feels very overwhelming, very daunting. It makes us sort of frustrated, like, “Oh, do I really have to go through that?”

I’m not saying you should immediately switch to one of these, but I would fight against this whole, “Oh, we’re not capturing as many registrations. Our conversion rate is lower. Our SEO leads aren’t coming in as well, because we have a multi-step process, and it should be single step.” The real key is to usability test to get data and metrics on what works better and to choose the right path. Probably if you have something small, splitting it up into a bunch of steps doesn’t matter as much. If you have something longer, this might actually get more users through your funnel.

Number two. Is it true that if we give people lots of choice, then they’ll choose the best path for them, versus if we only give people a couple options that they might not go and take the action that they would have, had we given them those greater choices? One of my favorite examples from this, from the inbound marketing world, the SEO world, the sharing world, the social world is with social sharing buttons themselves. You’ll see tons of websites, blogs, content sites, where they offer just an overwhelming quantity of tweet this, share this on Facebook, like this on Facebook, like us on Facebook, like our company page on Facebook, plus one this on Google+, follow us on Google+, embed this on your own webpage, link to this page, Pinterest this.

Okay. Yes, those are all social networks. Some of them may be indeed popular with many of your users. The question is:  Are you overwhelming them and creating what psychologists have often called the “paradox of choice,” which is that we as human beings, when we look at a long list of items and have to make a decision, we’re often worse at making that decision than we would be if we looked at a smaller list of options? This is true whether it’s a restaurant menu or shopping for shoes or crafting something on the Internet. Etsy has this problem constantly with an overwhelming mass of choice and people spending lots of time on the site, but then not choosing to buy something because of that paradox of choice.

What I would urge you to do is not necessarily to completely get rid of this, but maybe to alter your philosophy slightly to the three or four or if you want to be a little religious about it, even the one social network or item that you think is going to have the very most impact. You can test this and bear it out across the data of your users and say, “Hey, you know what? 80% of our users are on Facebook. That’s the network where most of the people take the action even when we offer them this choice. Let’s see if by slimming it down to just one option, Twitter or Facebook or just the two, we can get a lot more engagement and actions going.” This is often the case. I’ve seen it many, many times.

Number three. Is it true that it’s absolutely terrible to have a page like this that is kind of text only? It’s just text and spacing, maybe some bullet points, and there are no images, no graphics, no visual elements. Or should we bias to, hey let’s have a crappy stock photo of some guy holding up a box or of a team smiling with each other?

In my experience, and a lot of the tests that I’ve seen around UX and visual design stuff, this is actually a worse idea than just going with a basic text layout. If for some reason you can’t break up your blog post, your piece of content, and you just don’t have the right visuals for it, I’d urge you to break it up by having different sections, by having good typography and good visual design around your text, and I’d urge you to use headlines and sub-headlines. I wouldn’t necessarily urge you to go out and find crappy stock photos, or if you’re no good at creating graphics, to go and make a no good graphic. This bias has created a lot of content on the web that in my opinion is less credible, and I think some other folks have experienced that through testing. We’ve seen it a little bit with SEOmoz itself too.

Number four. Is it true that people never scroll, that all the content that you want anyone to see must be above the fold on a standard web page, no matter what device you think someone might be looking at it on? Is that absolutely critical?

The research reveals this is actually a complete myth. Research tells us that people do scroll, that over the past decade, people have been trained to scroll and scroll very frequently. So content that is below the fold can be equally accessible. For you SEO folks and you folks who are working on conversion rate optimization and lead tracking, all that kind of stuff, lead optimization, funnel optimization, this can be a huge relief because you can put fewer items with more space up at the top, create a better visual layout, and draw the eye down. You don’t have to go ahead and throw all of the content and all of the elements that you need and sacrifice some of the items that you wanted to put on the page. You can just allow for that scroll. Visual design here is obviously still critically important, but don’t get boxed into this myth that the only thing people see is the above the fold stuff.

Last one. This myth is one of the ones that hurts SEOs the most, and I see lots of times, especially when consultants and agencies, or designers, developers are fighting with people on an SEO team, on a marketing team about, “Hey, we are aiming for great UX, not great SEO.” I strongly disagree with this premise. This is a false dichotomy. These two, in fact, I think are so tied and interrelated that you cannot separate them. The findability, the discover bility, the ability for a page to perform well in search engines, which remains the primary way that we find new information on the Internet, that is absolutely as critically important as it is to have that great user experience on the website itself and through the website’s pages.

If you’re not tying these two together, or if you’re like this guy and you think this is a fight or a competition, you are almost certainly doing one of these two wrong. Oftentimes it’s SEO, right? People believe, hey we have to put this keyword in here this many times, and the page title has to be this big on the page. Or, oh we can’t have this graphic here. It has to be this type of graphic, and it has to have these words on it.

Usually that stuff is not nearly important as it was, say, a decade ago. You can have fantastic UX and fantastic SEO working together. In fact, there almost always married.

If you’re coming up with problems like these, please leave them in the comments. Reach out to me, tweet to me and let me know. I guarantee you almost all of them have a creative solution where the two can be brought together.

All right, gang, love to hear from you, and we will see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.”

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Social Media Curation Guide

Posted by gfiorelli1

Last year on SEOmoz, I published The Content Curation Guide for SEO, which – even though it is still valid – I thought it needed a fresh addition. Not only does this post update some of the information shared, but it also digs deeper into an aspect of content curation that is actually the most used and, possibly, useful to SEOs and Content Marketers who must deal with more duties than just curation: social media curation.

For that reason, I gave a Mozinar last week about this topic where I explained why it is important to include social content curation in your inbound marketing strategy; how to prepare, organize, execute, and analyze your social curation activities; and what tools to use.

If you missed the opportunity to attend the live broadcast of the Mozinar, you can watch it here.

Joanna Lord does great social content curation on Pinterest! 

Audience Q&A

1. If you have many clients for which you need to curate content, you need to have so many profiles for all the social media accounts etc for their respective industries. Any good tools for managing these and managing mentions and more across all the accounts?

During the webinar, I praised Buffer for their awesome tools. However, its premium version only allows adding up to 12 social profiles and have up to two team members access the accounts. If you are doing social content curation for many clients, it might not be the best tool to use.

In your case, I would possibly use Hootsuite, whose premium plan allows you an unlimited number of admins for social profiles, a much larger number of social networks (Google+ included), and strongly social web platform like Scoop.it, Tumblr, YouTube, and others. 

2. Can you discuss your methods of not repeating content through different forms of social media (i.e. posting the same link on your organization’s Facebook and Twitter accounts)?

Ideally, to obtain the best effect from your social content curation, it is always better to craft the message accordingly to the specific nature of the social media you are going to share it. For instance, not only Twitter, Facebook , and/or Google+ have their own specific characteristics that you could miss using at your advantage with a single “standard” message, but they also present very different user behaviors, even in the case the users are the same in those three social networks.

With platforms like Buffer and Hootsuite, you can easily switch from social to social from within the same platform, which will surely help.

3. How do you stay on top of all this content? I have Google RSS feeds, Pocket, Paper.li newspapers, Flipboard, and more continuously feeding in stories on SEO, PPC, social media, etc. – and it just overwhelms me. How do you a) stay sane, and b) decide what and what not to read/create content about?

Good question! Actually, even if I like to experiment and play with as many tools I can, I don’t use many. To be honest, I use only these ones:

  1. Zite, Twitter (the selected people/sites I follow and the list I created), Google+, and the posts/comments in the blog I trust the most (i.e. SEOmoz and YouMoz) for discovering new sources
  2. Google Reader as the hub of all the sources I select with time
  3. Buffer, for the sharing process, and Bit.ly, Followerwonk, Google+ Ripples, and Facebook Insights for the analysis of my social curation activity

How do I “stay sane” and decide what and what not to read/create content about? Experience sure helps me, because with the passing of time, you learn how to easily recognize if one piece of content is so outstanding you should share it with your audience. But here few tips, which may help you:

  1. Don’t read first, but “skim” the posts in your RSS Feed. If the first paragraph (more than the title) makes you want to read more, then there’s a chance that the posts is good and interesting.
  2. Put a lot of weight in your sharing decision of the conclusions of the post. The best posts usually have amazing last paragraphs, which not only summarize the thesis of the post and its takeaways, but also make you literally say “WTF!”

4. What should the frequency of shareing blog posts be?

If by blogs we mean social shares, the frequency depends on the social network you are sharing your updates. The most common rule is to not overwhelm your audience with an excessive amount of shared content. For this reason, I am not particularly a fan of automation in social media, even if acclaimed people like Dan Zarrella are praising it. Automation, which is not the same as scheduling, takes away the human touch of a real and thoughtful human social curation, which – with the quality of the content shared – is what makes the difference.

That said, especially if your audience is spread all over the world, it is more than probable that you will need to share the same content at least twice in order to be reach the most of them when they are socially active. Luckily, social networks like Facebook and Google+ ( thanks to their Lists and Circles) offer you to make invisible these “reshares” to that part of your audience, who saw it previously.

5. How do you measure the success of content curation?

I measure it considering the two objectives I always want to reach with my content curation activities:

  1. The increment of the number of followers/fans my social profiles
  2. The number of the authors of the content I curated who thanks me and, possibly, follow me

Why social content curation

We see it everyday in the SERPs, we see it as being in the background of every Google update of late (Panda, Penguin, EMD), and we see it in people’s buying behavior: trusted brands are the entities of excellence for Google.

This positive attitude of Google toward brands is logical. In fact, people tend to trust more a recognized brand rather than some unknown one.
This is even truer online because brands tend to be considered as a reassuring “lighthouse” within the Internet, which is mostly a confused ocean of information.

Brands like Amazon, REI, CocaCola, Airbnb, and Zappos have a trust advantage that sites as onlinewarehouse.com, outdoors.com, sodabeverages.com, cheaphotels.com, and allkindofshoes.com (any reference to existing sites is purely casual) may have.

The same can be said regarding to people. We naturally tend to consider someone as the trusted reference in a specific niche as we get to know them. For instance, our own Rand Fishkin is a trusted reference in the SEO niche.

Thoughful Leaders

Just few examples of thought leaders in different areas, present and past.

As well defined by Forbes: “A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.”

More over: A thought leader is an individual or firm that significantly profits from being recognized as such.

Thoughtful leadership is the real intangible gold that makes a Brand or a Person a leader in its niche. But none is born a leader.

Throughout the past years, we have understood how inbound marketing (meant as the synergy of SEO, content, and social media marketing) is the correct strategy to use in order to obtain this so dreamt leadership. Content curation, as a facet of content marketing, can be of help in making that objective true.

How to to properly conduct a strategy of social content curation

First of all, you must make sure you’re targeting the correct audience. This section of Followerwonk is a huge help in making that goal possible, and the methodology explained by Peter Bray in this post.

However, while that methodology is useful to understand your potential audience, you also need to understand a second kind of audience: the people who are able to influence the thought leaders in your niche, because nothing is truer – especially for brands in its beginnings – than that it is easier to influence an influencer via the ones who are already influencing them (sorry for the tongue twister).

Followerwonk

Once you have determined your audience, you should map it and segment it. After these steps are complete, you can start doing Social Content Curation for real.

How can I find trusted sources of information to curate?

Resource directories and news aggregators

You can use directories like Alltop, where you can find extremely well curated list of blogs for almost any kind of topic.

You can also use curated aggregation sites like Inbound.org or Hacker News in the Internet marketing and technology fields. Sites like those exist in mostly every niche; for instance, www.mortgagenewsdaily.com is news aggregator about mortgage.

Don’t forget about how often news aggregation is conducted via newsletters, especially when it comes to very small and specific niches. Fortunately, you can rely with newsletters aggregators as Smartbrief to dig into these hidden treasures.

Finally, if you are working for an enterprise level company, you can find market content curation enterprise solutions such as Factiva by Dowjones.

Social network personalized suggestions, lists, and groups

Quality resource directories, curated news aggregation sites, newsletters aggregators, and enterprise solutions are perfect for collecting sources, but as time passes and you become more socially active, you should start paying more attention to other sources for discovering new content to curate. A few examples include?

  • Twitter Stories
  • Linkedin Today
  • Slideshare’s recommendations
  • Suggested Communities and Google+ suggestions in its Explore section
  • YouTube suggestions
  • And so on…

As you can see, all kinds of information is based on personalization factors. For this same reason, it is safer not to mix the use of what you are doing on your personal social profiles, or you can literally screw up the quality of the suggestions.

Results of personalization on YouTube

Never forget to log out when letting your kids watching videos on YouTube, or…

A site like Topsy, thanks to its very good internal search feature, is another great source for discovering new content to share with your audience, especially when you must to care also the “freshness” factor of your curation.

Lists, like the ones created by the users on Twitter and Facebook, Groups (FB), and Communities (G+) are usually overlooked. However, they are amazing sources of new and surprisingly good content. They are also an easy way to extend your own audience thanks to the conversations you can create there, and a really easy way of discovering the ones I previously defined as the influencers’ influencers.

The old school (still good) methodology: blogs commenter’s analysis

Personally, this is still the methodology I prefer the most.

It is not scalable and presents many defects in terms of time spent conducting a curation research, but – possibly – it is the best way not only to discover new amazing sources, but also for creating strong relationships with those same sources.

When I was more of a new kid on the block in this industry than I am now, I follwed this tactic. I was able to discover sites like SEOgadget, Distilled, and SEERInteractive, and I also created great relationships with people like Richard Baxter, Dr Pete, John Doherty, Mike King, and many others, all thanks being very active on the SEOmoz community.

How can I organize the sources I have collected?

“It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure,” Clay Shirky once said. And filter failure happens if you are not able to organize the sources you have collected for performing you social content curation activity.

What I am going to present is my methodology, which I do not pretend is the best one. What I know is that it gives me positive results, and therefore it may be of help to you, too.

The curator’s best friends

Google Reader and Buffer are my best allies when it comes to content curation. I use the Google Reader as the hub of all the sources I have discovered, and Buffer is the tool I prefer for socially sharing my curated content.

When curating content, it is essential to perfectly categorize the main subject of your curation interest in subtopic. For instance, I subcategorize SEO into its different facets:

  • Technical SEO
  • Local search
  • Link building
  • International SEO
  • Schema, Authorship, and G+
  • Etc., etc.

More importantly, you must maintain the consistency of this categorization in every platform you are saving sources; for your Pocket account, Diigo, or your own browser favorites, and not just in Google Reader.

This is how I categorize the SEO and social media topics in Subtopics

How do I curate things? Do you have an example?

The style and tone to use when doing social content curation varies depending on the social networks you are using for these simple reasons:

  • Every social platform offers you different “formal” opportunities for sharing content. The character limitation of Twitter is the easiest difference you can list, but others are present.
  • The users’ behavior varies a lot from a social platform to another. On Twitter, they tend to prize timely news shares; on Facebook, photos and videos; and on Google+, long forms works usually better than short ones.

What voice to use is something that you learn with the experience and the analysis of the success (or failure) of the curated content you have shared. For that reason, it is important to use shorteners like bit.ly, or to use proprietary tools like Google+ Ripples and Facebook Insights, which allow you to track the life of your shares.

You can find inspiration from people who master the art of curation. Here is a short list of “non-official curators” people and brands, who are indeed doing great social content curation:

What is the best side effect of content curation?

Relationship Marketing Venn

As I have said since the beginning, social content curation should be meant as a content marketing tactic to help you and your brand become a trusted source of information, and eventually a thoughtful leader, in your niche.

Social content curation can also be a great way to break the ice and start creating bonds, relations, and serendipity with other people, that can then result in future occasions for link building, social shares of your own original content, or even collaborations.

In this sense, social content curation is a great “tool” for what it is normally defined as relationship or influencers marketing, as it shares the same purpose: creating trust.

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