Archives
Category Archive
for: ‘SEO’

How to Build an Online Community for Your Business

Posted by Mackenzie Fogelson

Every day, things are changing in SEO. If you’re not already working on adapting, today’s the day.

It’s time.

It’s not that SEO is dead or that links are obsolete, or whatever all that crazy talk is that’s been going around. It’s that there’s a way to integrate all the pieces into the big picture of building a better company by building an online community around it.

There are lots of benefits to building a community around your company, but if I had to choose a few, here are my top five:

  1. It will help you weather Google’s algorithms

    Building an online community is one of the best ways to weather Google’s algorithms. If you’re continually chasing the algorithm, you’re putting all of your power in what Google’s going to do next. If you’re building a community around your business, you’re putting the focus where it belongs: on your business. Building a strong company and brand isn’t something that Google can take away.
     
  2. It will add equity and value to your business

    When you build online community, you have to do a bunch of stuff to better serve your customers like creating quality content and resources, enhancing your product or services, and improving your systems and processes. Doing these things adds equity and value to your business and attracts the right customers to your community.

     
  3. It will help you have purpose

    There’s a lot of effort involved in building a community around your brand, and it’s not just about creating content or being on social media just because everyone else is doing it. When you’re strategic about community building, it forces you to identify goals and put a solid purpose behind your efforts.

     
  4. It will help you stand out

    If you’re committed to the process of building a community, you are going to be doing a great deal of self-discovery (which often times can be pretty uncomfortable). During this process you’ll determine what you’re all about, what you love to do, and what it’s going to take to help you stand out among the competition.

     
  5. It will put the focus on goals, not tools
    
Building an online community isn’t a bunch of fluffy stuff. It’s the seamless integration of tools like SEO, social media, content marketing, email marketing, and all kinds of other important stuff (like hard work and passion). But in order for the tools to be effective, they’ve got to be driven by a strategy that is rooted in the goals of your whole business.

In the last year, Mack Web has been working on building our own community (and helping our clients to build theirs). What we’ve found (through a whole lot of trial and error, joy and pain, sunshine and, well, you get the point) is that building community means building a better business. It’s a necessary online component for growth as it forges and fosters relationships that are essential to building a business online as you would in person. 



A present for you

For the past several months, I have been writing a lot about community. How to build it with value, how to identify it, and how to attract customers to it. And now, lucky for you, I’d like to share our process for how to build an online community for your business. 

What follows is a super awesome infographic and the play-by-play breakdown of each step in the process. I’m thinking it might come in handy (you can even listen to my webinar for the full effect).

Whether you’re building a community from scratch, or you’re working to grow an existing one, you can use this process to get your community rolling or optimize and leverage what you already have.

The order in which you attack this may differ depending on the size of your organization, your goals, and the stage you’re in as a company. I encourage you to take this process and meld it into what works best for you.

Here we go!

 


And, in case you want to steal this, here’s the embed code (‘cuz we’re nice like that).
<p><center><img src=”http://www.mackwebsolutions.com/img/mozimages/how-to-build-communities.jpg” width=”540″> <br/>An infographic on <a href=”http://www.seomoz.org/blog/how-to-build-an-online-community-for-your-business”>How to Build an Online Community</a> by the team at <a href=”http://mackwebsolutions.com/”>Mack Web Solutions</a></center></p>


Let me break that down into stages for you:

[1] Define your business objectives

Define your objectivesLet’s start this entire process out right by thinking about your goals. What you want to focus on here is defining objectives for your entire business, not just for SEO, social media, content, or marketing. Stay focused on the whole picture of what you want to do with your company.

Keep in mind that there’s a lot more to defining business objectives than just writing down a bunch of goals. So before you do that, think about this:

  1. What makes your company unique?

    Especially when you’re a new business (but this happens with old ones, too), it’s easy to feel like you need everyone to be your customer. But the fact is, what you really need are the right customers.



    Take Coke and Pepsi; Hershey and Dove; and Chipotle and Qdoba. All companies who sell similar products, but attract very different customers to their brand and their communities.

 Both are good (and to many people, taste the same). So what’s the difference? Why would someone be attracted to, say, Chipotle over Qdoba?



    Chipotle’s food has integrity. They serve sustainably-raised food. They support local farmers. They respect the environment. Because of these values, Chipotle attracts people who have similar philosophies and approaches to food and life. 



    Qdoba is about quality ingredients. These are very similar things, but the difference is something that people find common ground with, feel strongly about, and want to stand behind. It’s not just about the food. It’s what they believe in. It’s what makes them unique. And people want to be a part of that.



    So, determine what your unique selling proposition (USP) is. Do an analysis of your competition. What do you do differently than them (no matter how small)? How is that remarkable? Why does it make you special? That’s your USP. Own this and make it part of everything you do. On and offline.
     

  2. Why do you care?

    Simon Sinek can probably say this a whole lot better than I can, but here it is: what is it that makes you care about your business? What keeps you pushing forward (especially when you want to quit)? The reason that you care has nothing to do with money, so besides that, what’s important?



    That passion that you feel for your business is not only a significant differentiator, but it’s part of your story and it’s far more motivating than money. Keep this sucker in your back pocket. You’re gonna need it.

     

  3. What do you want to build?

    What’s your vision for your company? Think six months, eighteen months, and three to five years. What is it that you really want to do? Dream some of that stuff up and start making a list. You may even want to write down things that are currently on the horizon. Big changes, events, product launches, stuff like that. This will help you to begin defining the goals you have for your business both short and long term.

     
  4. Who do you want to build it for?

    This is the part where you get really clear about who your customer actually is. What are their fears, concerns, and challenges? What are the problems (big and small) they would like to solve? Talk to them. Survey them. Ask them.



    Organize your audiences into groups. Build some personae around them so that they are real, live, tangible people (find a photo for them and everything). These are your targets.



    It will also help to understand your conversion funnel and how that relates to your audience. What do your customers need during the different stages of the funnel? All of this good stuff is going to help inform your strategy (and eventually you’re going to want to create the content and resources to serve those needs).

    

Just remember that every person on the web is not your customer. Go back to that USP that you’ve just defined. Focus on that and the people who resonate with it, and do whatever it takes to keep the emphasis on them.


The answers to all of these questions will help get to the root of what you’re working so hard for in the first place. From there, you can determine what you really want to do with your company. Then you can identify the goals you’d like to work toward (start with just a few). Once you have those defined, let’s talk about your team.




[2] Elect your team

Elect your teamWe’ve been around the block a time or two on this community building thing, and there are many things that can become roadblocks. Team selection is one of them.

Here’s a few tips for getting the right team in place so that you can start working toward achieving your goals:

  1. Understand the roles

    Building community is no joke. There’s a lot of work to be done and many roles that will need to be filled. If you work with an outside agency, they will bring most of the power, but you play an integral role. Keep in mind that an agency is meant to be your collaborative partner, and not just your mask. It’s your company, after all, so it’s important that you’re present.



    If you’re among the brave souls who are going to tackle all of this hard work internally, here’s a run down on some of the typical roles that your team may need to execute: (Please note that I’m not suggesting that you hire someone to fulfill each of these roles. I’m simply providing an overview of the different roles that are part of the community building process. Within your team, there will be individuals who can take on several of these roles).

    • 
Project management: Someone to keep all of the peeps on schedule and on task

.
    • Community management: Someone who can represent your company on social media, monitor, and manage the rest of your team who’s on there as well (pro tip: read Marty Weintraub’s book on community management).
    • Design: Someone who can create any graphic assets that you need and make you look really good.


    • Content: Someone who can write (like the dickens).


    • SEO: Someone who loves research, analysis, keywords, and Google so that they can properly and effectively manage the optimization of all content. Ideally you want this dude to be more than passingly familiar with strategy as well.

    • Email marketing: Someone who can design, develop, and coordinate email marketing campaigns to deliver the value your team is creating in relationship to your strategy.


    • Reading & learning: Several someones who are continually reading and learning about your industry and looking for good stuff to pass around your community (that isn’t about you)

. More on this below, but this reading and learning stuff is incredibly imperative to success.
    • Outreach: Several someones who are developing relationships and helping to keep those people and your community involved in what you’re doing (so that they can partake and benefit, too).
       

    As you can see, this is a lot of weight for one person to carry, so ideally, if you don’t have the resources in-house, or you’re a freelance SEO, piece together a reliable team that can help fill in the gaps. It’s not that one person can’t do all of this work, but in that case both efforts and results will probably be slower to come to fruition.



    Also, because building community is a long-term, ongoing process, I wouldn’t recommend assigning the really integral roles (like community manager) to short-timers or interns. Of course, many companies have limited resources, so do what you can with what you have and just be consistent as possible with your efforts.

     

  2. Elect, don’t just assign

    Thing is, especially if you’re a smaller company, you’ve got to work with what you have. Not every company has the luxury of bringing on an outside agency or hiring additional people to share the load of all of this stuff. But if you want these efforts to be successful, you’ve gotta have a team of people who are passionate and committed to seeing this thing through, even when it’s tough and you want to give up.



    Instead of just assigning tasks and dumping a bunch of (usually un-welcome) work on people, elect people for your implementation team who are committed to the success of the organization and are passionate about things like your company, social media, content, SEO, and communication.

 Oh, and humans. 

You’ve got to have people on this team who want to be there or your efforts will fail. Make it a selection process so that the team feels honored to be part of this whole thing (because it really is a movement).

     

  3. Work together as one, big, happy family
    
Whether you’re working with internal and external teams, a whole bunch of interdepartmental teams, or a mix and match of both, do whatever you can to come together as a unified team (more on this below). Whatever you do, don’t silo. Collaborate and be friends. It will make all of the difference in the end.



Keep in mind that this team you’re putting together isn’t just going to be working on your marketing; they’re going to be playing an integral role in transforming your business. Do what it takes to be sure everyone is on the same page and working together to make things happen.


[3] Develop your strategy


Develop your strategyDeveloping a strategy is what will actually help you to achieve your goals. A good strategy will assist you in breaking those high level goals down into actionable, chewable pieces that you can work towards and even measure.



Think about strategy in three pieces: the what, the when, and the how.

  1. The what: campaigns

    Campaigns are where your goals meet your ideas. What is it that you’re going to need to create in order to actually accomplish your goals? Everything from your tangible assets like blog posts, videos, and infographics; to webinars and events like tradeshows, conferences, speaking engagements, and meetups.

    

If one of your goals is to become a trusted resource in your industry (a thought leader), then you’ve got to figure out what it’s going to take to accomplish it. Maybe it’s a four-part series that involves a mix of instructional videos that are integrated into blog posts, in-person lunch-and-learns or meetups, and maybe a speaking engagement at a conference. Whatever it ends up being, your campaigns need to break down all of the nitty gritty (and creative) detail of what is going to happen to take this bigger picture to fruition.



    But whatever you do, don’t plan the campaigns in your strategy for 12 consecutive months. It really makes it hard for the team to be agile and embrace stuff that comes up. We have found that every few months, it’s time to develop a new strategy (based on the data we’ve collected and the stuff that we’ve observed).

    Figure out what’s working and put your efforts (and your money there). Things are going to happen. Your business will change, you’ll have a big victory that you want to explore further, you’ll discover an opportunity that you didn’t realize existed. So keep the higher level, 12-month plan in mind, but plan campaigns for 2-3 months at a time. 
     

  2. The when: execution calendar

    Once you know exactly what you want to do, you’ve got to figure out how long it’s going to take. Develop a high level execution calendar that illustrates the coordination of all assets and vehicles over a two to three month period (long enough to collect some data, but, again, short enough to be agile and change direction).

 Your calendar may look something like this:

    Sample Execution Calendar - Mack Web

    You’ll also want to take all of those high level ideas and break them down to assign them to actual people with real due dates. We do this in Basecamp and Gcal, but anything that allows you to assign deadlines will do the job.

     

  3. The how: ongoing efforts
    
The how is your plan for everything that needs to happen and continue to happen to make your efforts a success (people, assets, actionables). The biggest thing ongoing is to keep your commitments and stay accountable for the stuff that has to get done. But a really big (and important) part of ongoing efforts is continual analysis of your efforts and goals to make sure you’re always headed in the right direction (more on measurement and analysis below). 



    Thing is, there is no formula. You’ve got to be creative, try things out, and do what works for your business. Throw some stuff out there and see what happens. Make some educated decisions about that data and go from there. After a few campaigns you’ll get to know what works for your community and you’ll start to gain some traction. It’s all part of the process.


[4] Empower your team


Empower your teamOnce that you’ve figured out what, you’re going to do to work toward your goals (with your super awesome strategy). Before you jump into go-mode, take some time to set the team up for success. 


Do not skip this step.



I repeat. This step is important. Don’t skip it.

Depending on the climate (and culture) of your company (or the company you’re working with), there’s going to be some fear, concerns, and even resistance that you’ll get from your team (even if you think everything is A-OK). Rather than ignoring it and pushing through, hit it head on. Talk about it. Get it out in the open. You’ll be glad you did.

You can empower your team for success by addressing a few simple questions:

  1. Why are we doing this?

    Here’s your chance to build confidence and trust. The biggest source of resistance we run into is with teams who are afraid of the online space and of being on social media. 

Help your team understand that building an online community is not just about social media. It’s about working toward the goals that you have for your company. Social media is just one of the vehicles. If you use it effectively, you’re going to learn a ton of stuff, meet some really cool people, and turn up some pretty amazing opportunities. 

     
  2. How much work is involved?
    
When people have a sense of purpose, they are more inclined to put the effort forth. Is there going to be a lot of work involved? Yes. Is it going to be hard? You betcha. 



    That being said, now’s your chance to reassure your team that you’ve taken the time to identify goals for the company and have developed a strategy that’s going to help achieve those goals. You have a purpose.

    Explain how the campaigns that have been developed in the strategy align with your specific goals.

 Also, let your team know that there is a learning curve for all of this and that you don’t expect them to know what they’re doing right off the bat. Integrate training for your team as an ongoing thing. Training that focuses on skills as well as approach. This will motivate them and help them to feel useful and powerful. 

     

  3. When will we see results?
    
Let me be very clear about this. You can measure ROI in community building, but it’s not as simple as measuring a cell phone case purchase in a shopping cart. You’ve got to be creative about what and how you measure and know that it takes time to see results. And sometimes the stuff that brings ROI cannot be easily measured. 



    When discussing expectations about results, be realistic. Don’t sugar coat it. Building (or growing) a community takes time (and a lot of work). And so does accomplishing goals. Especially big ones. It’s important that you have open communication with the team about what can be expected in the long and also the short term. 



    We like to talk about examples of what the little victories look like. Like getting recognized for a good piece of content with a retweet on Twitter. Or a lead that was generated through a good conversation you had with someone on Google+. Again, it’s the same stuff you do when you’re building your business in person. You’re just doing it online.



    For the long term, we focus on realistic timeframes for their goals based on the steps we’re taking with their strategy. If the goal is thought leadership, and depending on the stage the company is currently in (are we starting from scratch?), there will be a whole lot of leg work (and foundational work) that has to be done. Like many goals, this stuff doesn’t happen overnight.

    Discuss KPIs (that you all can agree on) that will provide the proof that your efforts are working. Maybe it’s a series of actions like downloading a whitepaper, attending a webinar, or being asked to speak at a conference. If these are the actions, determine how you’re going to track them (in Google Analytics or wherever else you want to collect the data), and then you’ll have the data to report on each month (more on communicating measurement below).



    One last thing on results. Remember that you may not ever reach the goals you set out. But certainly what can happen along that journey can be even more rewarding. Stay present and pushing forward.


The biggest thing to remember with empowering your team is that you have to help them disrupt their routine. Building community is about learning, growing, and pushing your company into new spaces. You can’t do this by tacking all of this new work onto the same routine you’ve been using for the last 5 years. You’ve got to start new. Disrupt your routine and start new. And then get ready for the long haul.



[5] Learn your industry


Learn your industryYou can’t grow a business in a vacuum. If you want to stand out and be successful, you’ve got to be learning and growing.

All. The. Time. 



One of your number one priorities in marketing your business online is providing the best possible customer experience. And you can’t do that if you’re not learning continuously.

You can start by identifying your community and determining the blogs you want to be sure to read, the people you want to get to know, and companies that you will want to keep tabs on.

Embracing the knowledge in your industry is going to push you to be more creative, innovative, and agile. It’s going to open up opportunities that you didn’t even realize existed. But that won’t happen if you don’t dedicate the time to it on a consistent basis.

Learning takes place everywhere. So step away from your computer and meet some people (for Dr. Pete’s sake). Make new friends, find people who have a strength that you need to work on and ask them to mentor you. Build friendships with super cool people and companies. This is really the most important part.

Then go back to your computer and read a lot. More than you ever have in your whole life. Read the good stuff inside of your industry and outside of your industry. You’re going to see some cool stuff that will open up your world (that, my friends, is why it’s called the world wide web).  

All of this stuff is what manifests serendipity and although that’s the hardest stuff to measure, it’s also what ends up making the biggest difference when building a community (and a business).


[6] Create the value

Create the valueOk, now we’re getting to the real good stuff. Value is what your community is built upon, whether that’s “tangible” stuff like blog posts, videos, resources, and tools; or an approach, perspective, or virtue that is the basis for common ground.  Value that focuses on your customer and their experience is what attracts people to your business, your brand, and your community.

In general, there are two types of content that will help build your community: foundational and community building.

Foundational content is the more static stuff on your website (like your about and services sections), like pages that explain who you are and what you do. The problem with most foundational content is, let’s be honest, that it kind of sucks. It’s really focused on self-promotion (as it should be; it is, after all, your website) instead of being geared toward the needs of your customer.

The challenge with foundational content is to listen to your customer. Observe their needs, the things in life that they struggle with, and then communicate how your products or services address those things. Use video and resources and case studies and infographics to provide an engaging and value-packed experience and make your foundational content worth reading (and worthy of links).

Community building content is the stuff that’s more dynamic in nature and usually lives on your blog. It’s the content that is less about what you do and more about what you know.

Community building content is the easiest stuff to make all about your customer because the purpose of building it is to help them understand your knowledge and expertise. This type of content indirectly promotes your brand, establishes trust and credibility, and really helps to foster relationships.

Just like your foundational content, this stuff needs to be full of your personality. Show who you are, what you believe in, and how you approach stuff. Balance your content with risky stuff and things that may help you stand out a bit. All in an effort to help your customers (current and potential) learn so that they’ll pass it around to their friends and come back later for more.

Here’s a few more things to remember when you’re generating your content:


  1. It’s not about you

    Make your content about your customer, not about you. Focus on their needs. And don’t just guess, ask them. Do an email survey, or make a phone call, or take them to lunch. Listen and figure out how you can better serve them and then actually apply the feedback to the content and resources you’re creating.

     
  2. Don’t forget about SEO

    SEO is an integral piece when building community and content. Certainly your content will be part of your well-planned strategy, but before you create it, don’t forget to find out what’s already out there. Does what you’re about to write already exist (in some form)? If so, find a way to do it better so that Google has a reason to index it and present it as the best option when someone conducts a search.



    Don’t forget the importance of covering your SEO bases and doing the basic on-page stuff. Do some keyword research and properly integrate it into your content so that people can actually find your stuff. 

     

  3. Use pre-outreach

    Thanks to this tip from Rob Ousbey, pre-outreach has been one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal. Getting the word out about good stuff you’re doing is a lot harder if you don’t involve your audience in the process. Before you even create your content, think about who you could talk to, interview, survey, engage with online, and get valuable feedback that could help make your content more purposeful and more successful.

[7] Share the valueShare the value

You may have heard me mention this once or twice, but the way in which you share the value that you (and others) create, is one of the most important pieces (and accelerators) when building community and your business.

It works like this: 80% of the time, share other people’s great stuff. But don’t just retweet it or hit the share button and place it on your feed. Read it. Internalize it. And then curate it. Tell people why it’s good. This helps you learn and also keeps the focus where it belongs: on the value that you’re providing for the reader.

20% of the time, share your own stuff, but make it remarkable. This is the community building stuff that we just talked about. The stuff that provides a wealth of knowledge that people will thank you for.

And remember that just building something amazing, doesn’t guarantee that people will see it. That’s why there’s outreach (so do it, dude).

Outreach is code for making friends and being an authentic human before you even think about asking for anything. Build relationships with people online as you would in person. Then, when you’ve got good stuff to get out, they’re going to be excited to spread the word.

 Whatever your ratio is: 60/40, 70/30, 90/10, remember that it’s not about you. Stay focused on your customer and test out what works best for your community.


[8] Build and foster growth

Build and foster growthThis is the part that never, ever ends (that’s a good thing). Building and fostering community is synonymous with building and growing your company. You’ve got to work at it. All the time.

There are lots of things that you can do to foster and grow your community. Here’s just a few:

  1. Get in there

    Remember that you are a member of your community. You and your entire team. Get in there. Play an active role. Contribute and engage on a genuine level. It’s an extension of your company and your brand and it’s important to the growth of your community.

     
  2. Embrace offline efforts
    
It’s so important to cultivate relationships with people in person. It’s an integral piece to growing your community. When you form a bond in person, it’s even more powerful online. 

So go to events and hold events. Ask people to coffee. Go to meetups and conferences. Embrace the offline, in-person, human stuff as much as you do with your work online. Meet people face-to-face and learn more about them. It will really help to build your community and your business.

     
  3. Acknowledge and show appreciation

    Don’t forget that a community comprises living, breathing people who are supporting you. There are lots of great ways to show your appreciation, so make sure you set the time aside in your routine to acknowledge the humans in your community. 



    Of course you can always give them stuff. Providing free swag at events or sending it out as a thank you or just because is a great way to show appreciation and turn your members into your brand ambassadors.



    Be on the lookout for community members who are doing great things in their own businesses or lives. Recognize their good news and hard work and give them a virtual pat on the back.

 Engage with your community members and ask them if there’s anything you can do to help them. It’s a great way to create the content and resources they need that will also benefit others.


[9] Measure and analyze (and communicate)

Measure and analyzeThis is the juicy part (and just because this is listed as the last piece in the process doesn’t make it any less significant). In fact, you’ll want to make sure that you’re thinking about measurement and analysis all the way through.


Measurement and analysis is an ongoing process when building community. Everything you do will include testing, feedback, measurement, analysis, adjustments, rinsing, and repeating. And then, you’ve got to communicate this data to your team (and/or your client).  

Here’s a few thoughts about measurement & analysis, but also ongoing, old-fashioned communication:

  1. Weekly stand-ups

    When we’re helping clients build their communities, it’s a very collaborative process. There are lots of things that we do on their behalf, but there’s also some integral pieces that we need them to execute consistently and timely.

    We hold stand-ups every day as a team, and they work so well that we thought we’d try them out (once a week) with our clients. We don’t talk metrics at these meetings. Just a quick 10 minute meeting to get on the phone, a G+ hangout, or via Skype so that we can get connected for the week. This has really helped to boost motivation and keep the momentum of the strategy that we’re all working to implement.

     

  2. Bi-weekly pushes
    
In addition to the weekly standups, we also do a little electronic pushing over email every two weeks. This is really just a collective here’s what’s going on reminder to again, keep the momentum.

 We used to do these in a document, but that wasn’t getting the response we needed, so we switched to a straight up email with a little “action required” nudge in the subject line.
     
  3. Monthly reports
    
Monthly reports tend to be the best way to communicate all of the hard work you’ve been doing, but also prove that you’re making some headway on those goals you’ve set forth. In those reports, showcase the data that you’ve collected and then present it in a way that is meaningful to the client so that they can easily see how this is affecting their business.

    

Your goal with monthly reports is to illustrate the value you’re providing and the progress you’re making. But don’t just send these reports via email. Take the time each month to review (face-to-face) what’s been going on, and talk more specifically about how efforts are helping to reach goals (which equates to ROI). 



    Remember that it’s your job to provide the analysis. What does this mean to their business? Are efforts (and dollars) being spent in the right places? If you’re experiencing victories, share them. If the data doesn’t look good, tell them why and then what you’re going to do about it. That’s what the data is for. Analyze it and then use it to make decisions about your efforts moving forward.

     

  4. Quarterly strategy

    At quarter’s end, take a higher level look at what’s going on. Can you spot trends in content, social behavior, traffic? How does that affect efforts and what needs to be done with the strategy to adjust?

Just make sure you’re always bringing this stuff back to goals. Assess the journey and then figure out what needs to be done to change course and put a new plan into action.


Now it’s your turn

As you take this process and work to implement it into your company or with your clients, keep these final things in mind:

  1. This is about building a brand

    At the heart of building community is becoming the company you’ve always wanted to be. Stay rooted in your passion for your business and remember that your efforts go far beyond your marketing. You’re working to build a brand and a company that you can be proud of and that people want to be associated with.

     
  2. Stay grounded in your goals

    Whether you’re a one-person band, or a humungo company, there’s a lot to tackle with all of this good stuff. That’s why a strategy is so important. But you won’t have a strategy to stand on if you haven’t clearly defined your objectives for your business. Make sure you always come back to your goals. These are the foundation for all of the hard work you’re doing. Always put your focus on goals, not tools.

     
  3. Don’t give up

    The number one question in all of this is when are we going to see results? How long does it take before something really great happens? Unfortunately there’s no formula with this stuff so there’s no straight way to answer these questions.

    What I do know is that results come in different forms and different sizes for every company.

    For Mack Web, it took us about a year of working through this process for our company before we started to gain traction, but that was after we’d already been in business for 10 years. If you want to achieve results, you’ve got to be willing to fail for a long time before you start seeing the wins. But if you can stick with it, you won’t be sorry (this is what happened to Mack Web’s traffic in just a 10 month period of facilitating this process for our company).Mack Web Traffic

What have I missed? What great things are you doing to build your brand and your community? I would love to hear more in the comments below.

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

Read More

Foolishly Viral: Lessons from a Million Pageview Day

Posted by Jacob Klein

There comes a moment in every webmaster’s career when the proverbial planets seem to align. A moment when the standard cavalcade of “what ifs,” “yes, buts,” and “if/thens” that claw at the soul of any self-aware web marketer are, however briefly, appeased. For this humble webmaster, that day came April 1st, 2013; a day for fools, some say.

It started as a simple gag designed to target what I assumed at the time to be a very niche set of potential readers and influencers. I wasn’t expecting much more out of the prank beyond a few chuckles from those who were already within our modest sphere of influence. But April Fool’s Day was fast approaching, and after several revisions and second guesses, I just went for it.

[Yadda, yadda, yadda…]

As the one millionth visitor rolled in, I was conflicted. This was a story of great success, right? A fantastic win seasoned with the most exquisite of spices: total unexpectedness. But with great successes come great expectations for the future. It’s hard not to wonder: was this just a fluke? A lucky draw? Is this a pinnacle that will never be seen again by the likes of me? Determined not to allow this achievement to become a one-and-done type situation, I did what any analytically-minded Distiller might do:

I took notes.

These notes are the impetus of the takeaways I’m about to share with you all, the SEOMoz community. At the risk of turning this into a 2,500 word humblebrag, I’m going to refrain from rambling off share numbers or listing all of the links we amassed that day. If we get hung up on those, neither of us will benefit on our next endeavor. As a fatalistically future-oriented personality, I figure what would be most valuable to you are the high-level strategy lessons that I’ll be taking with me forevermore.

Here are a few items to consider when putting together a piece of content that you think has the potential of going viral.

A loose plan is better than no plan

You’re planning something big, aren’t you? This piece of link bait is about to redefine the meaning of the word “viral.” Sometimes web creators can be guilty of over-planning, while other times we’re sorely lacking a real plan at all. I’d tend to err on the side of the former rather than the latter, but we all know that time and personal energy are finite resources. At a minimum, here are a few things I’d have in order before I took another swing for the fences.

Get it done early. This gives you time to have others you trust give you their opinions. Allow yourself several nights to “sleep on it” to make it tighter, catchier, funnier, more relatable, etc. Good things come to those who value think-time.

Pick your targets. Who might link to this? Which user persona might share this? Thinking about this ahead of time will help you shape your piece. Have influencer’s contact info on standby.

Find out if it’s already been done before. No one likes a re-post. Well, except Reddit.

Give it the Golden Test’ of social media. Would you share this with your friends, family, or co-workers? If the answer is no, then go back to the drawing board and make it so.

…and most importantly.

Timing is everything critical

Like wind to a sailboat, it is surely possible for a skilled sailor in command of an amazing machine to prevail against the will of the wind. But even an experienced mariner would see more success with more favorable gales.

The success of the Game of Thrones April Fool’s joke can be largely attributed to timing. The season premiere had just aired the night of March 31, and the bleary-eyed Knights of Westeros just weren’t prepared for a heart-crushing April Fool’s joke on their Facebook feed the morning of April 1st.

Hopefully you’re intimately familiar with your own industry enough to understand when the moons might align for your piece of content.

Take a second look at the calendar and ask yourself, “Are we dropping this piece at the best possible time for success, or are we putting this out the day after our team just so happened to finish the project?”

It only takes one (influencer)

Every journey begins with a single step, and every piece of viral content begins with a single share. You all know all of that “relationship building” Distillers and Mozzers have been annoyingly harping about for the past few years? Now is your chance to cash in.

I sent an email out to a handful of other webmasters in the Game of Thrones community letting them in on the joke and asking kindly for a share. These are real relationships with people that we respect and that have built over the years, so your mileage may differ. However, if you’ve really got something worth sharing, I think you’ll find that your closest contacts will come through for you.

In our case, we even joked around via Twitter to get things going:

Maximize your own relationships and try your hand at making some new ones. It often only takes a single influencer in the right position at the right time for something to spread like wildfire.

A certain percentage of your “readers” will not read

I am not a cruel man. When I decided on this particular prank, I was fully aware of the angst and rage it would elicit from a community that I consider myself to be very much a part of. I decided that the article couldn’t just be a straight up lie which read like a genuine news story. I had to give a few clues along the way so that anyone who really thought about it would see right through it as an April Fool’s day joke.

Those who fell for it clearly only read the first two paragraphs, because surely they would have balked after reading this gem:

“The producers also noted that, in an effort to maintain continuity, Warwick Davis’ face will be digitally transposed over Mr. Dinklage’s in all future releases of Game of Thrones on DVD and Blu-Ray.”

Or this…

“We felt that Warwick’s experience and star power was well worth the investment,” Weiss said. “We’ll be seeing a lot less of the dragons and direwovlves due to the new budgeting that will have to be done to compensate. But in the end, it’s a small price to pay for this kind of acting gravitas.”

If you believed those zingers, I’ve got some text link slots available on whitehouse.gov that I’d like to sell you. There were several other troubling discrepancies, as well. I’ll give a few passes to those whose first language isn’t English. But as for the rest of you? No.

Lesson learned: a certain percentage of the human race will not read beyond the fold. A smaller percentage won’t even read beyond the headline. We already take great care in crafting headlines, but this little social experiment reaffirms the obvious for me. Just something to keep in mind.

Not all referrals are created equal

While the joke received nods from the likes of Huffington Post, Vanity Fair, and Mashable, these links passed a surprisingly slim amount of traffic back to the site itself. I know you’re all rocking IDIFTLJ tattoos (I Did It For The Link Juice). I am aware of the benefit stemming from these links beyond direct referrals. But I was personally surprised to see that most visitors came from social networks and not the heavy-hitting publications with literally millions of subscribers. Take a look at the top 15 referrals to the article and note the differing visit durations, bounce rates, and pages per visit (organic traffic edges them all out).

For reference, here are the same metrics for organic visitors site-wide:

When another article mentions your piece in reference, the user treats it as such. They might click on it for verification or to curb their curiosity, but ultimately, they’re just looking to get back to their original “Top April Fools Jokes of 2013” list which was the article they were reading in the first place, or they’ll simply settle for the linking publication’s description of your piece.

The virility doesn’t stem from the traffic entering via a link from The New York Times (a common misconception, I think). That exponential, explosive power comes from the users who share your piece from there. And a percentage of those readers will be influencers who may link again from there. The copy-cat effect is truly impressive particularly in the “entertainment news” niche.

The lesson here is that, in addition to being linkable and referenece-able, your content also needs to be shareable in order to go viral. As powerful as a link from a major newspaper might be, it will never get you the eyeballs (and potential life-long readers) that a social powerhouse like Facebook will.

Which reminds me; I’ve been meaning to tell everyone to…

Bow before the power of Facebook

I have a working theory on Facebook and how its power to push content is vastly superior to other social networks. If you look back at the list of referrals, Facebook traffic cleanly decapitates any other social network. And this isn’t for lack of diverse social connections by the content creator. The post was shared on our Google Plus page with over 13,000 encircled and also tweeted to our 20,000 twitter followers. Compared to the (at the time) 3,000 Facebook followers, do a bit of math and you’re starting to see the real relative value of a single Facebook fan vs a Twitter follower.

I think this has to do with the way Facebook is integrated into our lives. As marketers and web-savvy individuals, we all have our Tweet Deck’s fully loaded with our Google Plus and Facebook notifications, causing our phones to buzz all day long. But the average user with a Twitter account probably checks their account most often when they’re getting notifications and may rarely take the time to check a finely-tuned feed. The average Google Plus user? …well.

Compare this with a Facebook user. She might check her phone/tablet/desktop feed several times a day for updates from people she actually knows – family, friends, and coworkers. A share on Facebook is not only more visible to friends and fans, but is also perceived as much more of a personal endorsement from the sharer.

I’m sure others (myself included) have had great success on both Twitter and Google Plus, so this point is debatable. But the relative size of Facebook absolutely isn’t. The potential to go viral on Facebook, or at the very least the boundaries of that success, are simply more impressive on Mr. Zuckerberg’s social platform.

This all feeds upon itself as well, because after the dust settles and you’re counting your pageviews, dollars, and new Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus fans, you’re going to get much more residual value out of those 3,000 new FB page likes than you will with the same number of Twitter followers.

I think part of the reason this particular piece worked so well on Facebook is because users were apt to share the joke in an attempt to trick their own friends, which is a process that works much more smoothly on Facebook.

Design content that’s packaged with a shiny red bow and ready to be shared with real people.

There’s always room for more outreach

No matter your perceived initial success, there is always room for more outreach. Sure, I could have kicked back and watched the links roll in on Linkstant (which I most certainly did). But with content that has an expiration date, you’ll want to break out that little black book of contacts.

One of the most common link-types this article picked up were “Top April Fool’s Jokes of 2013.” These began going live as early as 8AM on April 1st. Some of them included our link, while others didn’t. I sent out a dozen or so emails to various authors with a link to our post asking for consideration. Several of them obliged and thanked me for the submission.

You could also, again, utilize your current relationships by pinging contacts you’ve touched base with before.

Viral traffic converts at a much lower rate

Not all traffic is created equal. A user who does a few refined searches and eventually lands onto your page for the correct answer to her query is much more likely to “convert.” Whether that means signing up for a mailing list, purchasing a product, or clicking on advertisements, these visitors are not really “on the hunt” for content in the same way a search engine visitor might be.

These visitors have simply been referred to the site through Facebook, Reddit, or some other site that has not qualified the user as needing your services the same way Google’s algorithm might. Literally and figuratively: they’re much more likely to bounce.

Here are the bounce numbers from that week:

The AdSense ToS forbids publishers from sharing any real data, but here’s our Click Through Rate graph sans values:

 

I recently wrote about AdSense basics on the Distilled blog, but for those wondering: CPC (cost per click) also took a hit for the following week as the AdSense algo wasn’t very happy about the reduced CTR. Google most likely wanted to protect advertisers from what it interpreted as a drop in qualified/convertible traffic.

Viral visitors bounced at a much higher rate as well: ~91% for the April Fool’s article vs a ~60% site-wide average.

I’d expect e-commerce sites to see similar results from viral traffic (if not worse). So, in some ways, it is mostly about the link juice and brand exposure.

Brace for impact! Monitor your CDN and server

Is your server ready for 1,000,000 visitors today?! You’d think that my little site would have been crushed under the stampede of exposure, but just weeks before, I had clairvoyantly set up a CDN with Amazon’s CouldFront. This took most of the weight off of our main server and delivered content more quickly for international readers. I was feeling great about myself. My Google page speed score shrugged at 1 million visitors like so much dirt off of Jay-Z’s shoulder.

And then I checked my CloudFront bill…two days later.

Considering that a normal day of CloudFront usage for us is about 80 cents, I was shocked at first (see picture above for actual facial expression). But then I started doing the math…if a “normal day” sees about 30,000 visitors and this day brought about 1,000,000, then this day should cost about 33 times more than normal. Needless to say, 33 X $0.80 should have left me with about $30 in overage charges.

Something didn’t feel right. So to my dismay, I went back to the page itself and checked the image file sizes. For some reason, I’d forgotten to downsize the images within the article itself, so that these were each 250KB (!!!) each. Needless to say, they could have easily been (and now are) 25KB each, a rookie process I nearly always implement…on every article aside from this one.

In the end: a splendid $100 lesson learned, I guess! But more than that, I get to share that lesson with you all who will hopefully avoid the same mistake in the future. For those especially concerned about this, check out the WordPress plugin Smush.it.

I also can’t recommend Amazon’s CloudFront enough (in spite of the nasty bill above). They charge only for what you use, so most sites would see major speed increases for pennies a day. I have no doubt that the site would have simply gone down had it not been on a CDN. I’ve seen a huge decrease in page timings, more pages per visit, and lower bounce rates after switching to a CDN. Set it up and just leave it off when you’re not in need. You can always switch it back on as the storm approaches.

Fortune favors the bold

Just ask Ser Barristan. At the end of the day, there is always an element of luck underlying any great venture. What if a different Mashable editor were on staff that April 1st? What if that “just one” influencer mentioned above called in sick? There are several variables at play that are out of your control. But this isn’t necessarily an excuse for failure.

On March 31st, I was very nervous about launching this April Fool’s article. How would the mainstream media react? How would George RR. Martin feel about it? Would my readers come for my head? Is this even funny? I was very close to pulling the thing, to be honest. But at the end of the evening, I logged in and scheduled the post for 1AM, April 1st.

In my experience, fortune seems to favor those who take chances. “Luck” comes to those who do things that aren’t completely, 100% guaranteed to work. If there were zero risk to what you were doing and it were as easy as putting together a blog post, then someone would have done it already. The barriers to entry on content are so low these days that sometimes content creators just have to be brave to get noticed. Bravery on your part also helps ensure that your competition can’t easily duplicate what you’ve done.

Residual benefits and great expectations

At the end your day of 1 million visitors, it’s tempting to kick your feet up, count your earnings, and sip away at that frosty Miami Vice you’ve surely earned. But don’t get too comfortable. Your brand is now on the radar of several major news outlets that you may have even spoken to personally (see the outreach section above). Your social network ranks may have swelled, indefinitely giving you more exposure for your future works. People are listening now, and much is expected of you. Now may be just the time to make even more bold moves.

This isn’t a post about “how to get one million visitors in a single day.” I find those to be about as helpful and genuine as posts about “how to make a million dollars in a single year.” This is an anecdotal post about how it happened in one very specific instance. But hopefully you’ve been able to glean a nugget or two of enlightenment that will save you some time and effort in the future…or just net you a bit more beer whiskey money.

At the very least, I hope that a few of you put down your iPads, look out the window pensively, and think:

Oh, and my sincerest apologies to anyone who may have had their day/week/life ruined by the April Fool’s joke. It was a very Joffrey Baratheon thing to do. Seven save me.

Need further recompense? AMA below.

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

Read More

Foolishly Viral: Lessons from a Million Pageview Day

Posted by Jacob Klein

There comes a moment in every webmaster’s career when the proverbial planets seem to align. A moment when the standard cavalcade of “what ifs,” “yes, buts,” and “if/thens” that claw at the soul of any self-aware web marketer are, however briefly, appeased. For this humble webmaster, that day came April 1st, 2013; a day for fools, some say.

It started as a simple gag designed to target what I assumed at the time to be a very niche set of potential readers and influencers. I wasn’t expecting much more out of the prank beyond a few chuckles from those who were already within our modest sphere of influence. But April Fool’s Day was fast approaching, and after several revisions and second guesses, I just went for it.

[Yadda, yadda, yadda…]

As the one millionth visitor rolled in, I was conflicted. This was a story of great success, right? A fantastic win seasoned with the most exquisite of spices: total unexpectedness. But with great successes come great expectations for the future. It’s hard not to wonder: was this just a fluke? A lucky draw? Is this a pinnacle that will never be seen again by the likes of me? Determined not to allow this achievement to become a one-and-done type situation, I did what any analytically-minded Distiller might do:

I took notes.

These notes are the impetus of the takeaways I’m about to share with you all, the SEOMoz community. At the risk of turning this into a 2,500 word humblebrag, I’m going to refrain from rambling off share numbers or listing all of the links we amassed that day. If we get hung up on those, neither of us will benefit on our next endeavor. As a fatalistically future-oriented personality, I figure what would be most valuable to you are the high-level strategy lessons that I’ll be taking with me forevermore.

Here are a few items to consider when putting together a piece of content that you think has the potential of going viral.

A loose plan is better than no plan

You’re planning something big, aren’t you? This piece of link bait is about to redefine the meaning of the word “viral.” Sometimes web creators can be guilty of over-planning, while other times we’re sorely lacking a real plan at all. I’d tend to err on the side of the former rather than the latter, but we all know that time and personal energy are finite resources. At a minimum, here are a few things I’d have in order before I took another swing for the fences.

Get it done early. This gives you time to have others you trust give you their opinions. Allow yourself several nights to “sleep on it” to make it tighter, catchier, funnier, more relatable, etc. Good things come to those who value think-time.

Pick your targets. Who might link to this? Which user persona might share this? Thinking about this ahead of time will help you shape your piece. Have influencer’s contact info on standby.

Find out if it’s already been done before. No one likes a re-post. Well, except Reddit.

Give it the Golden Test’ of social media. Would you share this with your friends, family, or co-workers? If the answer is no, then go back to the drawing board and make it so.

…and most importantly.

Timing is everything critical

Like wind to a sailboat, it is surely possible for a skilled sailor in command of an amazing machine to prevail against the will of the wind. But even an experienced mariner would see more success with more favorable gales.

The success of the Game of Thrones April Fool’s joke can be largely attributed to timing. The season premiere had just aired the night of March 31, and the bleary-eyed Knights of Westeros just weren’t prepared for a heart-crushing April Fool’s joke on their Facebook feed the morning of April 1st.

Hopefully you’re intimately familiar with your own industry enough to understand when the moons might align for your piece of content.

Take a second look at the calendar and ask yourself, “Are we dropping this piece at the best possible time for success, or are we putting this out the day after our team just so happened to finish the project?”

It only takes one (influencer)

Every journey begins with a single step, and every piece of viral content begins with a single share. You all know all of that “relationship building” Distillers and Mozzers have been annoyingly harping about for the past few years? Now is your chance to cash in.

I sent an email out to a handful of other webmasters in the Game of Thrones community letting them in on the joke and asking kindly for a share. These are real relationships with people that we respect and that have built over the years, so your mileage may differ. However, if you’ve really got something worth sharing, I think you’ll find that your closest contacts will come through for you.

In our case, we even joked around via Twitter to get things going:

Maximize your own relationships and try your hand at making some new ones. It often only takes a single influencer in the right position at the right time for something to spread like wildfire.

A certain percentage of your “readers” will not read

I am not a cruel man. When I decided on this particular prank, I was fully aware of the angst and rage it would elicit from a community that I consider myself to be very much a part of. I decided that the article couldn’t just be a straight up lie which read like a genuine news story. I had to give a few clues along the way so that anyone who really thought about it would see right through it as an April Fool’s day joke.

Those who fell for it clearly only read the first two paragraphs, because surely they would have balked after reading this gem:

“The producers also noted that, in an effort to maintain continuity, Warwick Davis’ face will be digitally transposed over Mr. Dinklage’s in all future releases of Game of Thrones on DVD and Blu-Ray.”

Or this…

“We felt that Warwick’s experience and star power was well worth the investment,” Weiss said. “We’ll be seeing a lot less of the dragons and direwovlves due to the new budgeting that will have to be done to compensate. But in the end, it’s a small price to pay for this kind of acting gravitas.”

If you believed those zingers, I’ve got some text link slots available on whitehouse.gov that I’d like to sell you. There were several other troubling discrepancies, as well. I’ll give a few passes to those whose first language isn’t English. But as for the rest of you? No.

Lesson learned: a certain percentage of the human race will not read beyond the fold. A smaller percentage won’t even read beyond the headline. We already take great care in crafting headlines, but this little social experiment reaffirms the obvious for me. Just something to keep in mind.

Not all referrals are created equal

While the joke received nods from the likes of Huffington Post, Vanity Fair, and Mashable, these links passed a surprisingly slim amount of traffic back to the site itself. I know you’re all rocking IDIFTLJ tattoos (I Did It For The Link Juice). I am aware of the benefit stemming from these links beyond direct referrals. But I was personally surprised to see that most visitors came from social networks and not the heavy-hitting publications with literally millions of subscribers. Take a look at the top 15 referrals to the article and note the differing visit durations, bounce rates, and pages per visit (organic traffic edges them all out).

For reference, here are the same metrics for organic visitors site-wide:

When another article mentions your piece in reference, the user treats it as such. They might click on it for verification or to curb their curiosity, but ultimately, they’re just looking to get back to their original “Top April Fools Jokes of 2013” list which was the article they were reading in the first place, or they’ll simply settle for the linking publication’s description of your piece.

The virility doesn’t stem from the traffic entering via a link from The New York Times (a common misconception, I think). That exponential, explosive power comes from the users who share your piece from there. And a percentage of those readers will be influencers who may link again from there. The copy-cat effect is truly impressive particularly in the “entertainment news” niche.

The lesson here is that, in addition to being linkable and referenece-able, your content also needs to be shareable in order to go viral. As powerful as a link from a major newspaper might be, it will never get you the eyeballs (and potential life-long readers) that a social powerhouse like Facebook will.

Which reminds me; I’ve been meaning to tell everyone to…

Bow before the power of Facebook

I have a working theory on Facebook and how its power to push content is vastly superior to other social networks. If you look back at the list of referrals, Facebook traffic cleanly decapitates any other social network. And this isn’t for lack of diverse social connections by the content creator. The post was shared on our Google Plus page with over 13,000 encircled and also tweeted to our 20,000 twitter followers. Compared to the (at the time) 3,000 Facebook followers, do a bit of math and you’re starting to see the real relative value of a single Facebook fan vs a Twitter follower.

I think this has to do with the way Facebook is integrated into our lives. As marketers and web-savvy individuals, we all have our Tweet Deck’s fully loaded with our Google Plus and Facebook notifications, causing our phones to buzz all day long. But the average user with a Twitter account probably checks their account most often when they’re getting notifications and may rarely take the time to check a finely-tuned feed. The average Google Plus user? …well.

Compare this with a Facebook user. She might check her phone/tablet/desktop feed several times a day for updates from people she actually knows – family, friends, and coworkers. A share on Facebook is not only more visible to friends and fans, but is also perceived as much more of a personal endorsement from the sharer.

I’m sure others (myself included) have had great success on both Twitter and Google Plus, so this point is debatable. But the relative size of Facebook absolutely isn’t. The potential to go viral on Facebook, or at the very least the boundaries of that success, are simply more impressive on Mr. Zuckerberg’s social platform.

This all feeds upon itself as well, because after the dust settles and you’re counting your pageviews, dollars, and new Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus fans, you’re going to get much more residual value out of those 3,000 new FB page likes than you will with the same number of Twitter followers.

I think part of the reason this particular piece worked so well on Facebook is because users were apt to share the joke in an attempt to trick their own friends, which is a process that works much more smoothly on Facebook.

Design content that’s packaged with a shiny red bow and ready to be shared with real people.

There’s always room for more outreach

No matter your perceived initial success, there is always room for more outreach. Sure, I could have kicked back and watched the links roll in on Linkstant (which I most certainly did). But with content that has an expiration date, you’ll want to break out that little black book of contacts.

One of the most common link-types this article picked up were “Top April Fool’s Jokes of 2013.” These began going live as early as 8AM on April 1st. Some of them included our link, while others didn’t. I sent out a dozen or so emails to various authors with a link to our post asking for consideration. Several of them obliged and thanked me for the submission.

You could also, again, utilize your current relationships by pinging contacts you’ve touched base with before.

Viral traffic converts at a much lower rate

Not all traffic is created equal. A user who does a few refined searches and eventually lands onto your page for the correct answer to her query is much more likely to “convert.” Whether that means signing up for a mailing list, purchasing a product, or clicking on advertisements, these visitors are not really “on the hunt” for content in the same way a search engine visitor might be.

These visitors have simply been referred to the site through Facebook, Reddit, or some other site that has not qualified the user as needing your services the same way Google’s algorithm might. Literally and figuratively: they’re much more likely to bounce.

Here are the bounce numbers from that week:

The AdSense ToS forbids publishers from sharing any real data, but here’s our Click Through Rate graph sans values:

 

I recently wrote about AdSense basics on the Distilled blog, but for those wondering: CPC (cost per click) also took a hit for the following week as the AdSense algo wasn’t very happy about the reduced CTR. Google most likely wanted to protect advertisers from what it interpreted as a drop in qualified/convertible traffic.

Viral visitors bounced at a much higher rate as well: ~91% for the April Fool’s article vs a ~60% site-wide average.

I’d expect e-commerce sites to see similar results from viral traffic (if not worse). So, in some ways, it is mostly about the link juice and brand exposure.

Brace for impact! Monitor your CDN and server

Is your server ready for 1,000,000 visitors today?! You’d think that my little site would have been crushed under the stampede of exposure, but just weeks before, I had clairvoyantly set up a CDN with Amazon’s CouldFront. This took most of the weight off of our main server and delivered content more quickly for international readers. I was feeling great about myself. My Google page speed score shrugged at 1 million visitors like so much dirt off of Jay-Z’s shoulder.

And then I checked my CloudFront bill…two days later.

Considering that a normal day of CloudFront usage for us is about 80 cents, I was shocked at first (see picture above for actual facial expression). But then I started doing the math…if a “normal day” sees about 30,000 visitors and this day brought about 1,000,000, then this day should cost about 33 times more than normal. Needless to say, 33 X $0.80 should have left me with about $30 in overage charges.

Something didn’t feel right. So to my dismay, I went back to the page itself and checked the image file sizes. For some reason, I’d forgotten to downsize the images within the article itself, so that these were each 250KB (!!!) each. Needless to say, they could have easily been (and now are) 25KB each, a rookie process I nearly always implement…on every article aside from this one.

In the end: a splendid $100 lesson learned, I guess! But more than that, I get to share that lesson with you all who will hopefully avoid the same mistake in the future. For those especially concerned about this, check out the WordPress plugin Smush.it.

I also can’t recommend Amazon’s CloudFront enough (in spite of the nasty bill above). They charge only for what you use, so most sites would see major speed increases for pennies a day. I have no doubt that the site would have simply gone down had it not been on a CDN. I’ve seen a huge decrease in page timings, more pages per visit, and lower bounce rates after switching to a CDN. Set it up and just leave it off when you’re not in need. You can always switch it back on as the storm approaches.

Fortune favors the bold

Just ask Ser Barristan. At the end of the day, there is always an element of luck underlying any great venture. What if a different Mashable editor were on staff that April 1st? What if that “just one” influencer mentioned above called in sick? There are several variables at play that are out of your control. But this isn’t necessarily an excuse for failure.

On March 31st, I was very nervous about launching this April Fool’s article. How would the mainstream media react? How would George RR. Martin feel about it? Would my readers come for my head? Is this even funny? I was very close to pulling the thing, to be honest. But at the end of the evening, I logged in and scheduled the post for 1AM, April 1st.

In my experience, fortune seems to favor those who take chances. “Luck” comes to those who do things that aren’t completely, 100% guaranteed to work. If there were zero risk to what you were doing and it were as easy as putting together a blog post, then someone would have done it already. The barriers to entry on content are so low these days that sometimes content creators just have to be brave to get noticed. Bravery on your part also helps ensure that your competition can’t easily duplicate what you’ve done.

Residual benefits and great expectations

At the end your day of 1 million visitors, it’s tempting to kick your feet up, count your earnings, and sip away at that frosty Miami Vice you’ve surely earned. But don’t get too comfortable. Your brand is now on the radar of several major news outlets that you may have even spoken to personally (see the outreach section above). Your social network ranks may have swelled, indefinitely giving you more exposure for your future works. People are listening now, and much is expected of you. Now may be just the time to make even more bold moves.

This isn’t a post about “how to get one million visitors in a single day.” I find those to be about as helpful and genuine as posts about “how to make a million dollars in a single year.” This is an anecdotal post about how it happened in one very specific instance. But hopefully you’ve been able to glean a nugget or two of enlightenment that will save you some time and effort in the future…or just net you a bit more beer whiskey money.

At the very least, I hope that a few of you put down your iPads, look out the window pensively, and think:

Oh, and my sincerest apologies to anyone who may have had their day/week/life ruined by the April Fool’s joke. It was a very Joffrey Baratheon thing to do. Seven save me.

Need further recompense? AMA below.

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

Read More

Remove Unnecessary Steps &amp; Win More Links, Shares, and Conversions – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

When creating a product, website, or communication, including a simple user experience is key to success. The easier you make the A to Z process for a user, the more likely they’ll be to accomplish the plan you spent time and resources putting together piece by piece. 

In this week’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand walks us through user experience and the actions that we can remove from our processes in order to drive more conversions, earn more links, get more social shares. Simplicity, FTW!


This week, we’ve added a still image of the whiteboard for easier viewing. Do you find this addition helpful? Let us know in the comments! 

Video Transcription

“Howdy, SEOmoz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I want to talk a little bit about user experience and the actions that we can remove from our processes in order to drive more conversions, earn more links, get more social shares. Let me show you what I’m talking about.

In this first example, embed codes, a lot of websites use embed codes all over the place. SlideShare is a good example. When you get to SlideShare, you find a particular presentation, and then you can copy and embed that onto your page.

Bitly is another good example. When you go to Bitly, they’ve got a little copy and paste sector. You paste in a link. It turns into the short Bitly link. You grab that out.

All sorts of things do this. YouTube does it. Vimeo does it. Any type of infographic that’s embeddable, they all have these embed codes.

Embed codes are a phenomenal way to drive links, especially to content that people are likely to put on their own sites. The problem becomes when you make that a multi-step process. In fact, we’ve seen research and data from several sources now, saying that if you can make this a single click on here, and it says “copy to clipboard”‘ automatically, as opposed to popping something up like Bitly has started to do, or having to grab the entire embed code, Ctrl A, Ctrl C. I have to copy it myself, that actually will drive more embeds, meaning more links to the places you want with the anchor text that you want.

We remove an unnecessary step, that secondary piece, and make it so one click right in here with you cursor gets you copied to clipboard, a transitional message or a temporal message that pops up that says, “Copy to clipboard,” or says below here, “Copy to clipboard.” Now, all I have to do is paste, and I’m done. Very, very simple. Very easy.

Number two:  Shorter, more action-oriented emails. We send a lot of emails. We send emails for outreach. We send emails that are in newsletter format that are trying to drive actions back to our websites. We send emails to try and get shares from our friends or our network, those kinds of things. All of these can be made more concise and more actionable. I see a lot of challenges when we sort of go, “Oh, I’m going to start with some nice fluffy introduction. Here’s who I am. Here’s more about my company. Oh, and now here, here is the final action. This is what I was actually trying to get you to do. I felt like for some reason I had to do all of this.”

Email is a medium where heavy communication is great between people you already know, where there are lots of things to say, and you need to have that more complex dialogue. When it’s between new people, between strangers, between someone you’re reaching out to, I find that the most effective emails I ever get from an outreach perspective are, “Hey, Rand. Love what you’re doing over there at Moz. Would you send this over to someone on your product team or someone on your marketing team?” Or, “Hey, we have this app that we think would be great for your events folks. Could you make an intro?” That is something I’m likely to do very, very quickly. Or, “Just check out this new app. It does this.” Great. Really quick.

All the press release ones I get are like, “Such and such is a this type of company, and here’s all of this. Here’s their latest press release. They raised this round of funding. Would you be interested in writing about them or talking to their CEO on the phone?” Dude, all you have to do is have that CEO email me and be like, “Hey, man. I want to connect.” I’ll be like, “Hey, let’s chat. Sounds good. Sounds interesting,”‘ if it actually does sound interesting. Shorter, more action-oriented emails.

Number three:  Simpler sign-up forms. Oh, my goodness. You do not need to collect all of this data all at once. I need name. I need first name and last name. I’ve got to get this person’s address, or at least the city and state they’re in, because of this. You can collect so much of this data in the application later, as they’re using it, if they’re actually using it. You can collect some of that from IP address, location sensitive IPs, those type of things. You can tell the type of device they’re on.

The thing is, as people browse the web more and more with mobile devices, this guy right here, when I’m on here, I absolutely hate filling out forms. The most I can ever do is an email and password field. A confirm password field really gets me going. It’s just infuriating because it’s a pain to type those extra letters, especially on something that doesn’t have a full keyboard. If you can remove those and ask for that later, remember even if they get their password wrong and they forget it, you have still emailed them. You’ve got their email address, and you’ve sent them an email. It says, “Hey, click here to confirm.” If they log back in, oh now the password is wrong or they forgot, great, you can fix that later, but you’ve gotten that initial essential sign-up. That’s what you’re looking for.

Number four:  I know HTTP is a common protocol. So is GTTP, or at least I’d like to make it one. Get to the point with your content. Get to the point. A lot of the time, I see this stuff tweeted and shared on social networks, put on Inbound.org or Hacker News, where it says, “Hey, conversion rate testing shows that this performs better than that.” Cool. Then, I have to scroll and scroll. Where is that? Oh, there’s the test. There’s that test they were talking about. It’s way down deep in the content. I’m not exactly sure why, but a lot of times with blog content, with even infographics, with videos, with stuff that we should be sharing on the web and is good content, we’re trying to say, “Here’s what I want to tell you, and I’m prioritizing that for some reason above what you actually care about.”

What you actually care about should be the primary and potentially only thing on that page. If you really have stuff that you want to tell me, I will go investigate. I’ll check out your About page. I’ll check out your product pages. I want to see what your company does because it sounds interesting. You’ve got a cool brand, and you’ve got a great blog post and that kind of thing. If you really must, you can put it down here below the stuff that I actually care about. I came to your site to watch a video I was told was awesome, to check out an infographic, to see, to learn something about a test, to figure out something, solve some problem. Deliver that to me upfront, please. That will not only make me more likely to come back to your site in the future. I’ll have a positive brand association. I’ll be more likely to share that content. Just a beautiful thing.

Number five:  You actually see this a lot, and I see tremendous effectiveness when this is done, which is socially sharing links directly to what matters on the page or on an individual site. A lot of times, there will be a product tour section. Then, there’s a video, a really interesting video or a demo. I’ll see the social shares that are most effective are the ones that point directly. Sometimes, they have a JavaScript field in the URL that has a hash in it or a hash bang system or whatever it is. Those people who share direct do better than the ones who share the broad page. They’ve gotten into the process and dug around enough to share directly that piece that I care about. You can do this too.

In fact, I have recently seen a test where I essentially had been tweeting a link to something like where we were competing against another company for which company is better at this particular thing. I had been tweeting links to the page. Then you had to scroll down the page quite a ways, and then there was a little voting widget. Then I saw from the voting widget itself, there was actually some hash URL that would link directly to the voting widget on that page. When I tweeted that, it drove way more actions. In fact, like four or five times as many actions. I think something over 100 votes, whereas previously I had shared it a couple times and gotten like 15 or 20 votes from it. That is definitely a way to show that tweeting directly to the thing you want people to do, great way to socially share and to make those shares go further.

Last one, maintaining logged in state. Zappos, Amazon, all do this brilliantly well. Google actually does a pretty solid job of it as well. They maintain a logged in experience for as long as possible. Do you remember back in the day with Twitter? You used to get logged out all the time. They just weren’t maintaining cookies and session variables and all that kind of stuff. You were losing your log in. You’d have to log into Twitter, even though you clicked that Remember Me button, you’d have to log in many, many times, every time you came back.

If you have this “Please log in” system here, and it does it even though you clicked “Yes. Please, remember me” down here, remember, please remember. Check. You’re killing your conversions. I don’t just mean conversions in terms of someone who makes a purchase. I mean someone who might have left a comment, someone who might have participated in your community, someone who might have shared something, someone who might have reached content they otherwise wouldn’t have, someone who might have been a lead for you.

Moz actually did this. We have this as a conversion killer, and we can show the data. It was about 18 months ago, I think, that Casey and the inbound engineering team did a bunch of work to make sure, that most of the time, you’re logged into your account. You wouldn’t be logged out as quickly. I still find some challenges with it, but it’s way better than it used to be. The data shows. You can see more comments per post view. You can see more people checking out and filling out their accounts. All that type of activity, that UGC that’s driving long tail traffic, just a beautiful thing by maintaining this logged in state.

All of these are specific examples. The big takeaway message here is you don’t need unnecessary steps. You don’t need to be taking actions and requiring things of your visitors that they don’t need to do, especially with the rise in mobile browsing and with the advantages that we’ve seen from web page speed increasing. We know, as web users and as people who build for the web, that visitors care tremendously about accomplishing tasks quickly. They’re getting more and more used to it on their phones, on their desktops, on their laptops, on their tablets. We need to deliver that in order to be successful at marketing as well.

All right, everyone. Hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. We’ll see you again next week. Take care.”

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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

Read More

Finding and Building Citations Like an Agency

Posted by Casey Meraz

This post was originally in YouMoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of SEOmoz, Inc.

So you want to rank locally? If you have already worked hard to add a few citations, complete your on-site local optimization, acquire customer reviews, and build some locally relevant links, well, now it’s time to shift your focus. According to David Mihm, citations make-up roughly 25% of the overall local ranking factors.

Why It’s Time to Change Your Thinking…

I’ve mentioned before that it’s time to stop chasing links, and for local SEO it’s time to stop chasing citations! What do I mean by that? If your whole purpose for creating citations is to improve your local rankings, then you are probably relying too much on Google. What would happen if those rankings were to suddenly go away? Instead of viewing the process building your brand in the local ecosystem as a laborious task that needs to get done so that you can rank, then you aren’t seeing the big picture.

Each of the citation sites that you’re trying to get listed on were created with goals far beyond just helping businesses rank for Google’s local results. In most cases, they were created to provide a good customer experience and send potential shoppers to worthy vendors. Each of these sites gets their own traffic, and setting up your business listing on them is another place for potential customers to find you.

Below is a quick example from a fairly low traffic attorney site. In a one month period, they are getting traffic from other websites where their citations also reside.

Local Marketing Sources

It’s time to change your mindset and get motivated to start building citations for the right purpose. If you do that, the rankings you long for will come with it. Now, here’s how we find and get our business listed in these citations in an organized and speedy fashion at my firm.

Make Sure Your Information (N.A.P.) is Accurate.

Having accurate information that correlates across your website, Google Plus page, and local ecosystem citations is the most important part of building and fixing your businesses citations. Your business Name, Address, and Phone Number (referred to as N.A.P. format) is essential for local rankings. Make sure this information is 100% consistent before moving forward!

Below is an example of the appropriate NAP format for a Law Firm:

The Reeves Law Group 515 S Flower St Los Angeles, CA 90071‎ (213) 271-9318

You will notice that most directories display information like the example above. Some will allow you to add a link to your website, but some will not. In this case, the link is not the important information. The accurate listing of the business in the NAP format is. 

We’ve established that having accurate and consistent listing information is critical, so how do we do it?

The Easy Way May Not Be the Best Way

One easy way to get listed consistently on multiple directories is by using a service like Yext. While that can be a great option, depending on your situation, make sure you know what you are getting into. Yext, for example, will easily publish to dozens directories with the information you submit. Some will start showing instantly, and some will come up within a few days with very little work. But at over $475 a year (yes, annually) for the retail version, you might think twice about it.

If you are not looking to purchase services like Yext…

Here are Three Fundamental Steps to a Great Alternative Approach:

Prepare Your Information

I always like to start by creating a quick Google Doc with the client’s NAP information at the top. This allows me to easily copy and paste the fields if I need them while I’m building citations. It also allows me to keep the data consistent across the board. Typically, I ensure my Google Plus page is 100% accurate with my business information, and then copy and paste the information from Google Places. I will also use this same Google Doc for tracking my citation sources in one easy to use place. 

Feel free to download this free Local Citation Building Template.

In case you decide not to use the spreadsheet I created, you will see I have fields for some of the most common information that citation sources ask for- including:

  • Your Name – Your actual name or the name of business owner
  • Email Address – The Email Address that will be checked by the business
  • Company Name – The company’s exact name as it appears correctly on Google Plus
  • Address – The company’s exact address as it appears correctly on Google Plus
  • Suite or Floor Number – Only use if there is a Suite or Floor number
  • City – The company’s exact city name as it appears correctly on Google Plus
  • State- The state the company resides in
  • Zip – The zip code of the company
  • Phone Number - The LOCAL phone number of the exact business location
  • Landing Page For Location – The landing page for that office or physical location

I also added some advanced fields that I also see on some submission sites. Here are some examples: 

  • 800 Number – The 800 Number of the Business
  • Logo URL – The URL of the company’s logo hosted on your website
  • Facebook URL – The Facebook URL of the company
  • Twitter Handle - The company’s Twitter Handle
  • Places Page Link – A Link to their G+ Local Page or Google Places Page

**Below is an example of the header from my Local Citation Building Template.

The Citation Building Spreadsheet NAP Information

Citation Building Can Be a Bit Tedious, So Here’s an Easier Way…

Typing can be a bit tedious

If you’re like me and you have the attention span of a lemming, then you need some reinforcements. But when dealing with something that’s so important, how do you prevent data corruption and ensure accuracy at the same time? 

My answer is Roboform and it costs between $9.95 and $39.95. To be clear I am not affiliated in any way shape or form, it’s just the program that I found works best for me. So, I will share how I use it.

Roboform allows me to input the information about a location and have it autofill on many of the submission sites. It’s not perfect and it requires a manual review, but spending a couple of minutes setting this up is worth its weight in gold. Not only will it ensure it outputs what you put into it, but it will also store the information and you can share the data with your team. It will also integrate into your browser where you can use a drop down and select the auto fill information you want. Basically it just saves a ton of time.

How to use Roboform for Citation Building 

Once you’ve downloaded the program from Roboform.com and installed it, you can open it up and go to File > New > Identity to create a new identity. You will end up creating and naming a new Identity for each different business location you have. You can then click the edit button and spend a few minutes and fill out all of the information you want to your heart’s desire. If you’re just building citations through Roboform, then you can stick to the Person, Business and Address sections and only fill out the fields I have listed in my spreadsheet.

Start off with the Person section and fill out the following fields that are circled below including:

  • First Name – The first name you want to display on the listing. Typically, it is the same as the person registering the account. 
  • Last Name - The last name you want to display on the listing. Typically, it is the same as the person registering the account.
  • Phone - The Business Phone Number for that location (Your NAP)
  • Email - The mail address that is going to register the account and be the contact email. Use this if they’re going to be the same email. 

Roboform Person Fields You Need To Fill Out

Next Move On To the Business Section

On this page, I typically only use the company name and website. The company name will be the actual company name in your NAP format and the website will be the landing page of that physical location. Sometimes these are truncated to just the domain, but it’s always better to try and get the link you receive to go to the actual landing page for that location.  

Roboform Business Category Field To Use

Lastly, You Can Move onto the Address Section In this section you will add your address from the NAP format. 

Using the address section in Roboform

And that takes care of that part!

Now you are setup to start finding citations and knocking them out! We will use Roboform to auto fill the fields instead of typing them each time. They will still require manual review but it will save a lot of time!

Now, Let’s Get Listed on Some Local Directories, AKA: Build Some Citations

The goal of doing all of this citation is work is to make sure we end up with good data. Check it to make sure you’re not already listed before you add your listing to each of these websites. Spamming the web is not cool; even if it is unintentional. So follow this quick three step process called CHECK, FIX, ADD.

  1. Check to see if the listing is there
  2. If the listing is there, make sure the NAP is 100% accurate. If not, fix it!
  3. If the listing does not exist, add it

If you are using the free Local Citation Building Template I created, you will see a list where you can easily add the information along with notes about your new citation sources. I highly suggest keeping track of this information. Remember that you’re not just doing this to impress the search engines. You want to have access to this information in the future. What if you decide to move one day and didn’t have this?

A Screenshot from the spreadsheet:

A screenshot from my free citation building spreadsheet

At my company, I also give this information to our clients in the unlikely case that they felt we were doing a bad job and wanted to fire us. 

Make Sure You Have the Top Citations

Whether your business is brand new or old and established, I suggest you start off by adding a new listing or correcting your incorrect listing at the Top Citation Sources suggested by Getlisted.org. They worked hard to put together this list of citation sources they believe carry the most weight in different industries and geographic areas. They provide two great resources to act as a starting point:

View the Top Citation Sources by City

View the Top Citation Sources by Category

Just like with every citation source you come across, make sure to add them to your tracking spreadsheet. 

Next, Don’t Re-Invent The Wheel. Find Your Top Competitors

Do you already know who your top competition is? Check them out and see who ranks consistently for the keywords you want to rank for. 

Finding citations a year or two ago was a bit harder than it is today. These days you have some easy and affordable options to see where your competing businesses are listed. In this article I will discuss an easy way using Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder and another method for searching for them manually through Google. As with any data collection, I always recommend using multiple sources to ensure greater accuracy. 

Method #1: Using Whitespark to find your competitors citations

Start by navigating to the “Your Projects” tab. Click on the projects tab

Step 1: Create a new project. To keep things organized, I will typically create a new project by using the “+ Create new Project” button under the “Your Project” tab. It will ask you for your business Name and Phone Number and hit the Create Project button.

Create a New Project Button in Whitespark

Step 2: Find Citation Sources by Keyword – Use the option to “Search By Keyphrase” and enter the keyword information you want to rank for.

Whitespark Interface for Searching

Step 3: Wait For the Results – After starting the search, wait for a few minutes for it to compile the results. In my experience, it’s typically pretty fast. You will also get a confirmation email when the process is complete.

Whitespark Search Results

Step 4: See What Came Out and Start Getting Citations – After it’s complete, click back on the your “projects link” to see a list of your projects. Select the pink Citation Sources link to see what results came up for your listing. One of the best things about Whitespark is that they have also compiled site submission URL’s in their data.

For some listings, you can easily just click the link “Submit Your Business”. You can then just use the RoboForm drop down to autofill the information making citation building simple! You may not want to bring Whitespark home to mom because she’s so easy.

Method #2: Conduct a NAP Search in Google

You can also conduct the searches you want in a search engine, and come up with your top competitors. This is also a great way to do it because you can use the compare option to see which competitors have.

To do this, simply pull up Google and enter your competitors NAP information. Below I entered a company name, their address, and phone number that I found from their Google Plus Local page. 

Way to search competitors citation sources in google using NAP

 

With this information, I can now visit each one of these sources, and add my business to the same sources if they allow a submission. You will find some sites do not allow submissions, or are owned by the business themselves. Whitespark has a cool option to mark these as useless which makes their data very clean and accurate.  

Be Very Careful If You Outsource Citation Building

If you don’t have the time and are considering outsourcing citation building please be careful, and have some serious QA. If your people are not being meticulous with your data, you’re going to have a lot of data confusion on your hands, and spend twice the amount of time trying to fix it. On the other hand, some companies like Whitespark offer these services a la carte as well. 

Want to Learn More?

If you want to learn more advanced citation building after you have exhausted these resources, I suggest you read my write up of some tips from David Mihm’s presentation from Local U Advanced Baltimore. Better yet, if you have a chance make sure you attend the next Local U Advanced session. 

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

Read More

How to Build a Content Marketing Strategy

Posted by Stephanie Chang

Link building has fundamentally changed. Many types of link building activities that have previously been effective are now either short-term strategies or no longer considered best SEO practice. As a result, companies and clients alike are seeking to understand how certain forms of link building can be translated into longer-term content marketing campaigns. The purpose of this post is to help you develop a framework on how to start building a content marketing strategy for your or your client’s site.

Why should you care about content marketing?

According to a Content Marketing Institute (CMI) 2013 Survey, 86% of B2C (business to consumer) companies are planning to keep or increase their current content marketing spending this year. 54% of B2B (business to business) companies are planning to increase their content marketing spending in 2013. Knowing that the demand for content marketing is increasing, it’s worth investing resources to start researching and learning more about the opportunities content marketing can bring to a site. 

B2C Content Marketing Spending in 2013

B2B Content Marketing Spending in 2013

The growth of content marketing is also a concept that Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures agrees with. Content marketing continues to see growth because it is the future of online marketing. He likes to think of content marketing as “moving the message from a banner to your brand and changing the engagement from a view to a conversation.”

Furthermore, Google’s algorithm is continuously changing, meaning this pretty much guarantees that the quick win strategies that may have worked in the past will no longer work in the future. For instance, Google has announced that in the future, they will no longer be announcing/confirming Panda updates because it will be integrated into the search engine’s existing algorithm (i.e. Panda is here to stay indefinitely). We’ve also seen recently the dangers of garnering links from paid advertorials (even on respected, high domain authority websites), a tactic considered as “buying links” in Google’s perspective.

Now is definitely the time to develop a new type of strategy to garner links and traffic. 

Inspirational examples of phenomenal content

Below are some examples of companies that have created phenomenal pieces of content. Hopefully this provides ample motivation to take your site/client’s site to the level!

1. Kickstarter: Best of 2012: An inspirational take on 2012.

Kickstarter

2. BuzzFeed lists: Heartwarming content that is easily shareable.

BuzzFeed List

3. Indeed Job Trends: Data-driven content that is direct and to the point.

Indeed Job Trends

4. Shopify’s Pinterest infographic and their new E-commerce University: Content that is effectively targeted towards their demographic and developing their brand as the E-commerce authority on the web.

Shopify Infographic

Ecommerce University

5. Airbnb Neighborhood Guides: A visually stimulating take on neighborhood guides, which differentiates them from other competitor’s guides.

Neighborhood Guides

6. HBOWatch’s April Fool’s Day joke: Content with a clear understanding of target audience as determined by the high engagement metrics. It gained 1129 comments!

HBOWatch

7. Epic Meal Time: Videos targeted towards a male demographic. Topic examples include fast food lasagna and whiskey syrup bacon pancakes.

Whisky Syrup Pancakes


The content marketing strategy framework

I’ve been fortunate enough to work closely with Distilled’s Head of Outreach, Adria Saracino, who’s been absolutely instrumental in defining the below content marketing strategy framework for a number of my clients (and has, subsequently, inspired my passion for content marketing). Adria has also written a great piece on how to get buy in from your company to invest in content marketing.

Adria Saracino

Below is the content strategy framework that Adria and I have implemented together for our clients. We’ve learned that this process isn’t a quick win and that our most successful content marketing strategies have relied on dedicating at least 3 months to just research – market research, site audits, content audits, customer surveys, and customer interviews to name just a few. In addition, I’ll also showcase a few specific examples of how we’ve built out each step of the content strategy process. 

Step 1: Researching the company

The first step in developing a content strategy framework is understanding the company. The type of questions we ask our clients before we even commence the strategy is to identify the following:

  • The company’s business model

    • How does the company bring in revenue?
    • What products bring in the most revenue? Why do these products bring in the most revenue (high profit margin, high demand, branding considerations)?
    • How is the sales team structured? What metrics are they measured on? 
  • The existing customer base

    • Who are the company’s existing customers?
    • How does the company currently attract customers? 
    • If the company’s marketing team has already done a market research survey, ask to see the results.
  • Marketing considerations

    • Understanding the existing content process

      • What are the editorial guidelines (if there are any)? What is the internal process to get content approved?
      • Who decides what type of content to produce?
      • What types of content does the team currently produce?
      • What are the company’s brand considerations?

Step 2: Data collection (and lots of it)

I believe in utilizing the data that we have available to make informed decisions. This applies specifically to content; the more we understand about the site and the customers, the more we are able to make informed and strategic decisions to the type(s) of content we want to produce. In order to do this, it’s important to gather relevant data. This data can come from a variety of the following sources:

  • Competitor analysis

    • What types of content are your competitors putting together? 
    • How are users engaging with the content?
    • Comparing/contrasting SEO metrics (DA, PA, external links, etc.)
  • Keyword research

    • ​What keywords bring traffic to the traffic (excluding not provided)?
    • What are the landing pages for those keywords?
    • What type of metrics does the keyword research and landing page combination currently bring to the site?
  • Market research and customer surveys

    • The surveys may vary depending on whether the company is b2b or b2c.
    • Traditionally, some of the survey questions we’ve asked b2b clients include:

      • Demographic-related questions like occupation, industry, job title, age, and gender.
      • How long have you been a customer?
      • How likely are you to recommend our services, products, etc.
      • Specific product/service-related questions
    • The survey questions we’ve asked b2c clients are very similar, but often contain more demographic questions like: highest level of education obtained, marital status, number of kids, household salary range, and occupation.

      • We also include specific product questions, like:

        • How often do you purchase our product?
        • Why do you purchase the product?

*Important Note* Be sure to test out your survey using other individuals unrelated to the survey before releasing it. This ensures that there are no ambiguous questions or that any questions have been framed in a way that would lead to biased answers. 

SurveyMonkey has also produced a variety of survey templates to at least help you gain some understanding of the type of questions you might want to ask your target audience depending on your goals for the survey.  

Survey Examples

Having these sample surveys is an excellent content strategy technique that SurveyMonkey has employed. 

Not only are the survey questions themselves important, but the email you send out in conjunction with the survey is a big indicator of your survey’s success. Ideally, the more data you have accessible, the more likely the survey will become statistically significant. As a result, you want to make sure that the email template catches the audience’s attention and also creates an incentive for them to fill out your survey. 

Below is an actual survey template that we’ve used for a client, which has generated 917 responses or approximately 50% of the client’s email list.

Survey Template

  • Phone Interviews with Existing Customers

    • As you can see from the survey template above, individuals voluntarily opt for phone interviews because there is a guaranteed prize incentive. 
    • Questions asked in the phone interview are much more detailed (allowing us to eventually use this information for target audience persona development). Fundamentally, the type of questions you ask in the interview must help you:

      • Identify the person’s day-to-day responsibilities, likes/dislikes, frustrations/pressures, needs, concerns, and function they play in the purchasing process.

        • Function they play in the purchasing process is based on the following roles:

          • Initiator: identifies the need to purchase the product
          • Influencer: evokes influence on the individuals who can make the decision to purchase the product
          • Decision-maker: decides whether or not to purchase the product
          • Buyer: selects who to buy from and the agreements that come alongside that
          • User: utilizes the product
          • Gatekeeper: has access or supplies information to both the decision maker and/or the influencer

Persona Development

Step 3: Preparation and assessment

Now that new data has been collected from various channels, it’s important to assess/analyze the data that has just been collected and see how it correlates with the data that you already have on-hand. During this stage, it’s also critical to take a step back and make sure that the goals for the content have been clearly defined. 

  • Create a benchmark audit using analytics

    • This provides an opportunity to compare/contrast results before and after the creation of the content 
    • Important analytics to include are:

      • Traffic
      • Pageviews
      • Pages per visit
      • Average time on site
      • Entrances/exits
      • Conversion rate
      • Bounce rate
      • Linking root domains
      • Page authority
      • Rankings
  • Putting together a content audit

    • ​The purpose of the content audit is evaluate how previous content on the site has performed, as well as organize the existing content on the site to determine additional opportunities. 
    • For one of my clients, Adria and I analyzed the top 500 landing pages on the client’s site and took a look at the content from three distinct lenses:

      • Analytics metrics: engagement (bounce rate, time on site) and number of visits (to identify potential keyword opportunities)
      • SEO metrics: linking root domains, page authority, etc.
      • Content perspective: is this useful for a user? What type of user would it attract?

        • We individually analyze each content page and determine where it sits on the content funnel.

          • Awareness: Content created for this part of the funnel is designed to target an audience that hasn’t even begun to consider the company’s product/services.
          • Trigger: Content created for this part of the funnel is when a user has become aware of the product/service and has started thinking about the possibility of needing it.
          • Search: User has decided to research the product/service in-more depth.
          • Consideration: User has decided to convert, but hasn’t decided which brand to choose.
          • Buy: User decides to convert to the company’s product/service.
          • Stay: Content targeted towards retaining clients, ensuring they remain a loyal customer/brand advocate.

Content Funnel

The purpose of labeling what stage of the funnel each piece of content is associated with is to ultimately assess the distribution of content on a site and determine if there are any gaps. For instance, this particular site had 180 unique content pages and the distribution of the site’s content looked like this:

Content Distribution

In this specific case, it is apparent that a majority of the site’s content sits at the bottom of the funnel. As a result, we recommended to the client that they create more content that targets higher up the funnel. However, it is also important to bear in mind that a site is not necessarily looking for an even distribution of content at each stage of the funnel. The amount needed is determined by various factors, like keyword research and an iterative approach in which content is built that targets a specific stage of the funnel. Afterwards, these pieces of content are analyzed to determine if they proved value based on the site’s pre-determined content goals and KPIs. This closely ties into our next point, which is:

  • Clarify the goals for this content strategy. Goals should be general like:

    • Increase in conversions
    • Increase in organic traffic to the site
    • Increase in audience engagement
    • increase in brand awareness
  • However, goals/metrics should also be specifically correlated to where that content sits in the content funnel:

    • ​This great article by Jay Baer explains it in more depth:

      • Consumption metrics: How many views/downloads did your content receive? 
      • Sharing metrics: How often does your content get shared? (Tweets, Likes…etc)
      • Lead generation metrics: How often do the consumers turn into leads?
      • Sales metrics: How often do the consumers turn into sales? 
    • Ideally, the consumption metrics would be correlated to content higher up in the funnel and the sales metrics correlated to content located further down the funnel. See diagram below:

Metrics and Content Funnel

  • Develop persona buckets

    • In order to achieve this, combine all the data that was derived from the content audit, customer surveys, and customer interviews. Once you’ve done so, segment individuals into different categories, like this: 

Persona Buckets

Image Courtesy of Kissmetrics

  • Solidify the editorial process for the company

    • Who needs to be included in the content development and implementation phase? When do they need to be included? 
    • Have a clear understanding of the dependencies (i.e. how long does it typically take to get sign off from relevant departments?)
    • Determine the site’s style guide/tone of voice/engagement standards
  • Define the content strategy

    • What types of content will be produced on the site? 
    • Where does this content sit in the funnel?
    • Where would they sit on the site? In a separate category on an existing category?
    • What keywords would the content target?

Going through this detailed, research-intensive process allows a company to clearly see the opportunities at hand from a high-level perspective. When we go through this process, we identify ways to improve not only the company’s organizational structure and create standardizations on how content and pages are released onto the site (static URLs, keyword targeting, content tone of voice/length). It’s also through this process that we’ve been able to engage/integrate multiple departments and define ways to work together seamlessly.

Furthermore, we also gain a concrete understanding of the big opportunities for the site. It’s impossible to go through this much research and not be able to discern multiple opportunities related to CRO, information architecture, keyword targeting, and analytics, to name a few. 

Step 4: Prospecting

This phase of the process is identifying individuals/sites who would be interested in the type of content the company will produce and engaging them at multiple points with the goal to develop relationships with key influencers.

  • Identify and reach out to influencers

  • Keep on top of industry news
  • Keep on top of the content that competitors are creating

Step 5: Create and promote the content

In this step, the “go” is to now create the pieces of content and follow both the internal protocols and sign off processes that were established in step three of the process. Ensure that editorial standards are being followed and assess that the content being created is actually phenomenal. 

  • Create the content and consistently reassess to make sure it is meeting the following checklist:

    • Is the content credible?
    • Is the content informative?
    • Is the content easy to understand? 
    • Is the content useful?
    • Is the content exceptional?
  • Promote and outreach the content to key influencers

Step 6: Assess content performance

After the content has been released and promoted, it’s time to assess how the content has performed and any other learnings that can be taken away from the process, including:

  • How has the piece performed?
  • What learnings were taken away from it? Any changes that need to be made to the process? 
  • What data have we received from the piece of content?

The long-term vision is that the content is able to fulfill the original goals of the content marketing strategy. Overtime, each piece of content produced should systematically become easier and easier, as learnings are developed and iterated each time. Although, the process appears very resource-intensive in the beginning, overtime, the goal is that producing effective and meaningful content becomes a crucial entity for the company.


In conclusion, the most valuable benefits of having a content strategy for your site is that, from a business standpoint, your site is no longer creating content for “content’s sake” or to build “link bait.” Moving forward, the site now has a framework of creating content that serves multiple purposes: to engage with current and future customers; to establish brand awareness and authority within the industry; and to consequently garner more traffic, conversions, and links to your site.

Furthermore, by integrating multiple individuals into the development of a site’s content strategy, it automatically provides the groundwork of integrating SEO seamlessly into the other online marketing activities of the site, such as CRO, social media, and PR. 

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

Read More

How Do You Know If Your Data is Accurate? A case study using search volume, CTR, and rankings

Posted by Matt Peters

Big Data and analytics has been called the “next big thing,” and it can certainly make a strong case with the explosion of easily accessible, high-quality data available today. In the inbound marketing world, we have access to backlinks and anchor text, traffic and click stream data, search volume and click through rate (CTR), social media metrics, and many more. There is huge value in this data, if we can unlock it.

But, there’s a problem:  real world data is messy, and processing it can be tricky. How do we know if our data is accurate, or if we can trust our final conclusions? If we want to use this data to find a better way to do marketing, we have to be careful about accuracy.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to data analysis. There are some best practices, but even these can get a little murky. The most important thing to do is to put on your detective cap and dive into the data. The more familiar you are with the data, the easier it is to spot something that seems strange. More than likely, your findings will be quality issues that need to be improved.

Throughout this post, we will use a data set from Google Webmaster Tools of keyword search referrals as a case study. Here’s a snippet of the data:

We also put all of our keyword analysis code on Github so you can run our analysis on your own site’s data.

The rest of this post discusses six best practices and suggestions for ensuring your data and results are accurate. Enjoy!


1. Separate data from analysis, and make analysis repeatable

It is best practice to separate the data and the process that analyzes the data. This also makes it possible to repeat the analysis on different data, either by you or by someone else. For this reason, most data scientists don’t use Excel since it couples the data with analysis and makes it difficult to repeat. Instead, they often use a high-level statistical oriented scripting language, like R, Matlab/Octave, SAS, or a general-purpose language like Python.

At Moz, the data science team uses Python. Our Big Data team also uses it heavily, which makes it easy to integrate our algorithms with their production code.

2. If possible, check your data against another source

In many cases this step may be impossible, but if you can, it’s the best way to make sure you data is accurate. In Moz’s case, we were able to check the Google Webmaster Tools data against data from Google Analytics.

Some pieces to focus on when you’re comparing data include total aggregate counts, counts in sub-categories, or averages. In our case, we checked both the total search visits and spot check the number of visits for a few different keywords.

3. Get down and dirty with the data

This is the fun part where we get to play with the data and do some exploratory data analysis. A good place to start is by looking at the raw data to see what jumps out. In the case of the Google Webmaster Tools data, I noticed that they don’t always give the search volume in long-tail cases with only a few searches. Instead, the data has “<10″ or “-” instead of numbers that will need to be handled carefully since they will result in missing values.

This is also the time to put on your detective cap and start asking questions about the data. We looked at some keywords like “seomoz” and “page authority” that are branded, and some like “author rank” and “schema testing tool” that are not. After checking out the data, I asked myself, “Hmmm, I wonder if there is any difference in Click through rate between branded and non-branded keywords, or in average search position?”

Usually by this point I’m amped to start answering hard questions, but I try to resist the temptation to jump off the deep end until I run a few more sanity checks. Univariate analysis is a great tool to help you check yourself before going too far, especially since most software packages provide an easy way to do it and it often produces the first interesting results. The idea is to get a picture of what each variable “looks like” by plotting a histogram and calculating things like the mean.

The above chart shows an example of univariate analysis on our data. In each panel, we have plotted the distribution of one of the four variables in our data: Impressions, Average Position, Clicks, and CTR. We also included the mean of each distribution in the title. Immediately, we can see a few interesting comparisons. 

First, almost all of our keywords are “long-tail” with less then 100 searches/month. However, much of our traffic is also made up from a few high-volume keywords (>1000 searches/month). The average position is concentrated in the top 10 as expected (since results off the first page send very little traffic). This is also good check of our data. If we had seen a significant amount of keywords sending traffic at ranks lower then #10, we should investigate further. Finally, the CTR in the lower right is interesting. Most of the keywords have CTR less then 40%, but we do have a few high volume keywords with much higher CTR.

By now, I usually feel pretty comfortable with the data and can jump in. At this point, I’ve found that asking specific questions is often the most productive way to answer bigger questions, but everyone works differently, so you’ll need to find what works best for you. In the case of the Google Webmaster Tools data, I’m curious about the impact of branded vs non-branded keywords.

One way to examine this is to segment the data and then repeat the univariate analysis for each segment. Here’s the plot for impressions:

We can see that, overall, branded keywords have a higher search volume then non-branded words (means of 380 and 160, respectively). It gets more interesting if we look at average position and CTR:

We see a huge difference in Average Position and CTR between the branded and non-branded words. Most of our traffic from branded words is in the top two or three positions, with non-branded queries sending traffic throughout the top 10. The CTR is also significantly different with a few branded keywords having very high CTR (60%+).

We might also wonder about how the CTR changes with the search position. We expect that lower-ranking keywords will have a lower CTR. Can we see this in the data?

Indeed, the CTR drops off rapidly after the top five. There is an interesting bump up at position 15, but this is a data sparse region so this may not be a real signal.

4. Unit test your code (where it makes sense)

This is a software development best practice, but can get a little sticky in the data science world and often requires judgement on your part. Unit testing everything is a great way to catch many problems, but it will really slow you down. It’s a good idea to use unit test code that you think will be used again, has a general purpose outside the specific project, or has complicated enough logic that it would be easy to get wrong. It’s often not worthwhile to test code quickly written to check an idea.

In the case of the Google Webmaster Tools data, we decided to test the process that reads the data and fills missing values because the logic is somewhat complicated, but didn’t test our code to generate the plots since it was relatively simple. We used a small, synthetic data set to write the tests since it is easy to manage. Check out some of our tests here.

5. Document your process

This step can be annoying, but you will thank yourself a few months later when you need to revisit it. Documentation also communicates your thoughts to others who can check and validate your logic.

In our case, this blog post documents our process, and we provide some additional documentation in the README in the code.

6. Get feedback from others

Peer review is one of the cornerstones of the academic world, and other people’s insight is almost always beneficial to improving your analysis. Don’t hesitate to ask your team for feedback; most of the time, they’ll be happy to give it! 


Do you have any other helpful testing tips? What has worked for you and your team? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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

Read More

How I Wish Amazon Reviews Worked

Posted by Dr. Pete

This is not a post about SEO. It is, however, a post about the future of search. This surprised even me – when I started writing this piece, it really was just an idea about building a better review. I realized, though, that finding relevant reviews is a useful microcosm of the broader challenge search engines face. Specifically, I want to talk about three S’s – Social, Sentiment, and Semantics, and how each of these pieces fit the search puzzle. Along the way, I might just try to build a better mousetrap.

The Core Problem

Product reviews are great, but on a site as big and popular as Amazon.com, filtering reviews isn’t much easier than filtering Google search results. Here’s the review section for the Kindle Fire:

Kindle Fire on Amazon - 10,859 reviews

That’s right – 10,859 reviews to sort through. Even if I just decide to look at the 5 stars and 1 stars, that’s still 7,208 reviews. If I could click and skim each one of those 7,208 in about 5 seconds, I’ve got roughly 10 hours of enjoyment ahead of me (if I don’t eat or take bathroom breaks). So, how can we make this system better?

(1) The Social Graph

These days our first answer is usually: “SOCIAL!” Social is sexy, and it will solve all our problems with its sexy sexiness. The problem is that we tend to oversimplify. Here’s how we think about Search + Social, in our perfect world:

Search/Social Intersection = Sexy

Unfortunately, it’s not quite so magical. There are two big problems, whether we’re talking about product reviews or organic search results. The first problem is a delicate one. Some of the people that you associate with are – how shall I put it – stupid.

Ok, maybe stupid is a bit harsh, but just because you’re connected to someone doesn’t mean you have a lot in common or share the same tastes. So, we really want to weed out some of the intersection, like Crazy Cousin Larry…

Search/Social Intersection minus Crazy Cousin Larry

It’s surprisingly hard to figure out who we actually sit at the Crazy-Larry table. Computationally, this is a huge challenge. There’s a bigger problem, though. In most cases, especially once we start weeding people out, the picture actually looks more like this:

Real Search/Social Intersection - Very Small

Even with relatively large social circles, the actual overlap of your network and any given search result or product is often so small as to be useless. We can extend our circles to 2nd- and 3rd-degree relationships, but then relevance quickly suffers.

To be fair to Amazon, they’ve found one solution – they elicit user feedback of the reviews themselves as a proxy social signal:

20,396 people thie review helpful

This approach certainly helps, but it mostly weeds out the lowest-quality offerings. Reviews of reviews help control quality, but they don’t do much to help us find the most relevant information.

(2) Sentiment Analysis

Reviews are a simple form of sentiment analysis – they help us determine if people view a product positively or negatively. More advanced sentiment analysis uses natural-language processing (NLP) to try to extract the emotional tone of the text.

You may be wondering why we need more advanced sentiment analysis when someone has already told us how they feel on a 1-5 scale. Welcome to what I call “The Cupholder Problem”, something I’ve experienced frequently as a parent trying to buy high-end products on Amazon. Consider this fictional review which is all-too-based in reality:

The Cupholder Problem (fake review)

I’m exaggerating, of course, but the core problem is that reviews are entirely subjective, and sometimes just one feature or problem can ruin a product for someone. Once that text is reduced to a single data point (one star), though, the rest of the information in the content is lost.

Sentiment analysis probably wouldn’t have a dramatic impact on Amazon reviews, but it’s a hot topic in search in general because it can help extract emotional data that’s sometimes lost in a summary (whether it’s a snippet or a star rating). It might be nice to see Amazon institute some kind of sentiment correction process, warning people if the tone of their review doesn’t seem to match the star rating.

(3) Semantic Search

This is where things get interesting (and I promise I’ll get back to sentiment so that the previous section has a point). The phrase “semantic search” has been abused, unfortunately, but the core idea is to get at the meaning and conceptual frameworks behind information. Google Knowledge Graph is probably the most visible, recent attempt to build a system that extracts concepts and even answers, instead of just a list of relevant documents.

How does this help our review problem? Let’s look at the “Thirsty” example again. It’s not a dishonest review or even useless – the problem is that I fundamentally don’t care about cupholders. There are certain features that matter a lot to me (safety, weight, durability), others that I’m only marginally sensitive to (price, color), and some that I don’t care about at all (beverage dispensing capability).

So, what if we could use a relatively simple form of semantic analysis to extract the salient features from reviews for any given product? We might end up with something like this:

Sample Review w/ Feature Extraction

Pardon the uninspired UI, but even the addition of a few relevant features could help customers drill down to what really matters to them, and this could be done with relatively simple semantic analysis. This basic idea also illustrates some of the direction I think search is heading.  Semantic search isn’t just about retrieving concepts; it’s also about understanding the context of our questions.

Here’s an interesting example from Google Australia (Google.com.au). Search for “Broncos colors” and you’ll get this answer widget (hat tip to Brian Whalley for spotting these):

Denver Broncos Colors (Google.com.au)

It’s hardly a thing of beauty, but it gets the job done and probably answers the query for 80-90% of searches. This alone is an example of search returning concepts and not just documents, but it gets even more interesting. Now search for “Broncos colours”, using the British spelling (still in Google.com.au). You should get this answer:

Brisbane Broncos Colors

The combination of Google.com.au and the Queen’s English now has Google assuming that you meant Australia’s own Brisbane Broncos. This is just one tiny taste of the beginning of search using concepts to both deliver answers and better understand the questions.

(4) Semantics + Sentiment

Let’s bring this back around to my original idea. What if we could combine semantic analysis (feature extraction) and sentiment in Amazon reviews? We could easily envision a system like this:

Reviews with Feature Extraction + Sentiment

I’ve made one small addition – a positive or negative (+/-) sentiment choice next to each feature. Maybe I only want to see products where people spoke highly of the value, or rule out the ones where they bashed the safety. Even a few simple combinations could completely change the way you digest this information.

The Tip of the Penguin

This isn’t the tip of the iceberg – it’s the flea on the wart on the end of the penguin’s nose on the tip of the iceberg. We still think of Knowledge Graph and other semantic search efforts as little more than toys, but they’re building a framework that will revolutionize the way we extract information from the internet over the next five years. I hope this thought exercise has given you a glimpse into how powerful even a few sources of information can be, and why they’re more powerful together than alone. Social doesn’t hold all of the answers, but it is one more essential piece of a richer puzzle.

I’d also like to thank you for humoring my Amazon reviews insanity. To be fair to Amazon, they’ve invested a lot into building better systems, and I’m sure they have fascinating ideas in the pipe. If they’d like to use any of these ideas, I’m happy to sell them for the very reasonable price of ONE MILL-I-ON DOLLARS.

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

Read More

Evolution of the Local Algorithm – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by David Mihm

Remember the days when doing SEO for a local business was no different than doing SEO for any other business? We’ve come a long way since the early 2000’s, and local SEO has evolved tremendously since the beginning of online search. There are still many questions to be answered when it comes to the ever-changing landscape of local SEO: what are the factors Google is using to rank local businesses? Where should owners focus their energy? What’s the new hot thing for local rankings?

Our local expert, David Mihm, is here to shed some light on all of your burning local SEO questions. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, David discusses what factors affect ranking of local businesses, and how local algorithms within Google have evolved throughout the years. 

Video Transcription

“Hey everybody. David Mihm, the Director of Local Search Strategy for SEOmoz, here doing my very first Whiteboard Friday since joining the company, and for the very first one I thought I would start with one of the most common questions that I get asked about local search, which is:  What are the factors Google is using to rank local businesses? Where should I be focusing my energy? And also kind of how has that changed over time? What’s the new hot thing for local rankings?

So I thought I’d take you guys through kind of a brief history, from my perspective, of how the local algorithm has evolved at Google. So with the help of my handy dandy graph that I’ve sort of started to kick things off. Back in the late 1990’s, 2000-ish, when Google first came out, many of you who have been practicing SEO for that long kind of remember, hey back in those days doing SEO for a local business was no different than doing SEO for any other kind of business. Right?

You needed title tags telling what you did, where you did it, where you were located, and you needed links pointing at your site with those keywords embedded in those links, preferably from locally relevant websites. But really at that time any link that had good anchor text with location or product and service information, that’s how you ranked in those 10 blue link type search results.

Fast forward a little bit to January of 2008, many of you guys remember at that point Google introduced these 10 packs of local businesses right there in the main search results. So if you did a search for something like Portland injury lawyer, you’d see a map with 10 injuries lawyers’ business listings rather than website information.

So that was really the first point at which we saw this concept of citation start to play a role in local rankings. So Google said, “Okay, well we know that there are 22 million businesses out there in the U.S. Less than half of them even have a website at this stage, so we have no way to gauge what the title tags are on a non-existent website, and it’s not possible to send a link to a business without a website.” Right?

So Google introduced this concept of citations where they sort of tracked mentions of a business across the web. So just someone mentioning the business name with its address, with its phone number, somewhere out there on the web would count essentially as a vote for that business, just like the way links count for votes on websites. So we started to see that play a pretty big role in these rankings for 10 packs soon after they were introduced.

Again, fast forward a little bit to March 2009. We started to see these 10 packs being introduced for generic queries, queries without geo-modifiers. So instead of typing in “Portland injury lawyer,” if you typed in something like “injury lawyer,” Google associated that as being a phrase with local intent. You were looking to hire somebody in your particular market, and they showed this for a ton of different phrases, things like restaurants, pizza, bakeries, things where they knew you were looking for a business in your area.

It was really about at this time that we started to see reviews play a little bit larger role. So what people were saying about you on some of these primary websites that businesses were getting cited on, places like Yelp, City Search, Urban Spoon, these types of sites the reviews that users were leaving really seemed to start to play more of a role in rankings.

And keep in mind that it’s not like all of a sudden the importance of title tags and links went away. It’s not like the importance of citations went away. But Google sort of layered on this additional ranking factor of user reviews, and not only user reviews at third party websites, like Yelp, City Search, the ones I mentioned, but also reviews left directly at Google Places. I’ll switch sides here for just a second.

That really started to come in to importance in April 2011, when Google rolled its Hot Pot product right into Google Places. So Google launched this Hot Pot product, essentially a precursor of Google+, where Google would surface businesses that your friends had rated higher in the search results. They launched that in about November of 2010. Just about six months after that, they integrated it right into Google Places, and again this was when we started to see especially reviews left directly at Google Places really start to play a more important role.

And then everybody remembers June 2012 or actually late May 2012, when Marissa Mayer announced Google+ Local prior to leaving to take the job at Yahoo. So right there in the search results we started to see Google+ information getting surface. So the number of circles that an author of a website was in and the number of circles that a local business had in its following, those types of things started to play a role. They still don’t seem to be quite as important as some of these other more traditional factors – title tags and links, user reviews, and citation information. But we do think going forward here I’ve got this sort of . . . to represent current time and some time in the future. We do think, most of us in the local search community, that Google will start to incorporate a few more of these Google+ signals into the local rankings.

And just to speculate a little bit, because I love to speculate, going forward I also think we’re going to see Google potentially integrating some offline information into the local rankings. So what do I mean by that? As we get more and more comfortable, we as a society get more and more comfortable with things like Foursquare check-ins or Facebook check-ins, using our phones to make mobile payments, using Google Wallet, or companies like Square or LevelUp, these types of things, loyalty programs, Google has acquired a company several years ago that focused on digital loyalty cards, these types of offline signals about how we’re actually engaging with businesses in the real world, I think there’s no reason that they wouldn’t try to incorporate those into their local rankings going forward.

So keep in mind through all of this Google’s goal has been to identify what the most popular businesses are in a given category, in a given community, and what better way to gauge popularity than the number of people actually buying something at a business or actually visiting a business and checking in.

So that’s why I kind of speculate that we will start to see offline signals maybe playing a role in the future, but for right now I kind of see title tags and links, reviews, citation information, all being about equal in importance, and going forward again I think we’ll start to see Google+ play a little bit more of a role as well as potentially these offline signals.

So that’s it for me from this week, and I hope you enjoyed this brief tour of the evolution of the local algorithm at Google.”

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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

Read More

33 Link Building Questions Answered

Posted by Rhea Drysdale

This post was originally in YouMoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of SEOmoz, Inc.

This is a follow-up post to my Link Smarter, Not Harder Mozinar from last week. There was a great turnout and more than fifty questions asked. Thank you for joining!

During my Mozinar, we walked through a sample link building idea generation process. The point was to demonstrate that link development is only limited by our creativity and resources. While building a backlink to a credit card site may seem impossible, we must remember that we put a man on the moon, which means coming up with new link building methods for the credit card industry is achievable.

Creativity vs Resources

When reading through the audience Q&A questions from the Mozinar, I noticed a lot of folks who were still looking for a silver bullet for link building and SEO. This is when my brain got clogged with what I can only describe as an overwhelming pit of sadness. I recognize that SEOmoz is arguably the most recognizable publisher/tool provider in the SEO industry, which means the majority of PRO users range from beginners to seasoned experts. However, being new to the industry (or simply wanting to not listen to it) is no excuse for misinformation, the spread of spammy practices, and poor quality SEO services.

So, I hemmed and hawed about what to do. Should I take this opportunity to hammer the point of my Mozinar into everyone’s consciousness? Ultimately, I decided that it wasn’t fair to the majority of readers, so I took a different approach. This post is an opportunity to expound on some areas of the Mozinar, but more often than not, just general best practices and my philosophical approach to link building. I hope there’s value in here for everyone reading, and feel free to debate my points in the comments or hit me up on Twitter.


Link building and SEO tools

Tools mentioned during the presentation and Q&A:

Sponsored blogs

Image above taken from the Mozinar. Missing the context? Go watch it! I worked hard on that thing.

1. How does Google know if one blog is a sponsored blog vs guest blog? We only do guest blogs, because we don’t want to buy links, but many blogs these days ask for money.

Sponsored blogs are like advertorials in magazines and should be labeled as such. If someone received compensation for their review/content, this should be disclosed and, according to Google, all outbound links to the purchasing domain should be nofollowed. By comparison, a guest post doesn’t include compensation; it should be based on the merits and relevance of the content, a relationship with the guest poster, or some other qualitative (versus monetary) factor. In other words, I think it’s important that you fully understand FTC and Google Webmaster Guidelines when submitting content through sponsored or guest posts.

2. What do you think about sponsored blogs (sponsored links) vs guest blogs (unpaid links)? Does Google punish you for “link buying”?

Yes. Google will punish sites that are caught selling links, buying links, or paid links agencies/service providers. Manual action usually occurs when it’s done on a substantial scale. Of course, Matt Cutts posted the following today, which might help clear up some confusion about punishment by association (hat tip to Barry over at SERoundtable for sharing this):

3. Why is a mom’s blog post about a product a threat to get you penalized, etc., if there is no mention of a sponsorship?

If there isn’t a sponsored post, the blogger wasn’t paid for the product review, and they weren’t compensated in another form then there shouldn’t be a risk. We often cite mom blogs simply because of the large quantity of them that exist purely for giveaways and sponsored posts. This is also a community that’s heavily solicited by companies and link builders, so they’re more likely to knowingly or not link to questionable sources.

Guest posts

4. How does Google see backlinks from guest posts?

5. Do you think guest blogs will be ignored by Google in the future as they are often fairly thin content-wise?

I’ll answer both questions here. No, I don’t see guest posts as a whole being devalued by Google. The Whitehouse.gov accepts guest posts and so does every craptastic exact-match Blogspot. Google isn’t going to devalue content from the Whitehouse, just like they won’t devalue Blogspot, which also hosts incredibly authoritative communities and blogs like Google’s own Google Webmaster Central blog. Basically, we create spam websites, but that doesn’t mean Google devalues websites. The responsibility lies with search engines to develop an algorithm that determines qualitative sites vs spam. The same is now true of individual content on those sites and if my blog is hosting guest posts from payday loan, online college degree, and shoe retailer sites, it’s probably not a great blog. If the blog hosts guest posts only from wedding planners, bridal stores, and party favor sites, it’s probably still very valuable to that industry.

Agency life

Agency life at Outspoken Media

6. What’s been your biggest hurdle getting things done from an agency side? Any examples from an in-house’s perspective?

Biggest agency hurdle: Let’s actually go with my top two:

  1. Technical restrictions (often an internal dev team that’s overloaded, poor CMS, or the site is in a code freeze)
  2. Approval process (difficult to get content or methods past strict legal teams/brand guidelines)

Biggest in-house hurdle:

Politics! It’s tough to get your work prioritized, especially when another department has the ear of so-and-so. At least, that how I felt when I was in-house. There were a lot more political moves than data-driven. That doesn’t mean all organizations function this way; the best companies lose the drama/egos and focus on the data. That’s how everything should be.

7. How long is your typical link building campaign? When can clients start seeing results? Do you ask clients to make a quarterly or annual commitment or other time frame?

We typically need 6-12 months to demonstrate strong results for our clients. We start to see results in 2-3 months, but structure monthly link building retainers for long-term investment in brand development. With that said, no one is trapped in a contract. We have fairly generous cancellation policies, because if it isn’t working or something drastic changes within your organization, it’s important that you/we do what’s right.

8. I work with a client that does not create dynamic content (blog, articles, etc.). Each page of their site is about a product or technology behind a product. How else can I help build links without the ability to create fresh/unique content on a regular basis?

How are these products being used? By who? Like we discussed in the Mozinar, look at those audiences to identify potential partnerships, testimonials, case studies, product reviews, etc. If the company is purely promotional, you could arrange interviews for the founder(s), have them speak locally/nationally, or invest in an online customer service platform for the products that builds up product-specific content and long-tail queries. Those are just a few ideas off of the top of my head, but look to how they’re marketing the business and where and you will find ideas even if you’re unable to place content on the domain itself.

9. What would you advise an SEO do when they are working in a really competitive and traditionally heavily-spammed niche, and they see all of their client’s competitors are ranking consistently by using black hat tactics? Take the squeaky clean path and keep your fingers crossed that Google will smack them?

Yes. It isn’t worth your energy to focus on the competition to the detriment of your own marketing. Trust me, I’ve been there, done that. Just keep moving forward with your business and your approach. While the competitors are busy filing for reconsideration requests, you’ll be ahead of the game. If you’re focused on your mission and make a mistake, you’ll already be so far ahead of everyone else that you can recover from it. It’s part of the theory of OODA loops, which is probably loosely related, but I love to talk about OODA loops.

It’s also important to manage expectations. We work with clients every day who are champions in their business. They’re having to continually and tirelessly communicate the message that low-risk, high-quality link building will protect their brand and build the business. It’s important to reset the expectation that link quantity and anchor text isn’t the metric to measure, but link quality and your own internal performance metrics like conversions and qualified traffic are what truly matter.

10. What is best practice for linking to your own website from a client’s site? (Footer links)

Linking to your client’s sites isn’t something I do, but I know other reputable SEOs who will do this. It’s tough; in any other industry, it makes sense to list your clients. In SEO, I feel like Google looks closer at client sites when they’re affiliated with known SEOs, and more importantly, so do your competitors. I don’t want to make it that easy. If you want to know what our clients are doing, do your homework – we did!

Broken link building

11. Is broken link building still effective? Is broken link building with other relevant websites in your industry still effective?

Yes. However, I think this is a practice that is relied on too heavily. When done as a primary form of link development, I think the bigger issue is why you’ve hit a creative wall and don’t have other methods in rotation. Is this because of a lack of resources, internal/client approval, new ideas, etc.? Do broken link building, but don’t put all your eggs in this basket, because you aren’t investing the development of your brand at all.

Outreach

12. Do you think outreach is the future of link building? Should SEOs spend more time in this area?

Yes. It’s also the past and present of link building just like content is king, has been, and always will be. This is almost like saying, “Will communicating a message to someone be the best way to market your brand?” YES! Outreach is fundamentally about establishing a relationship with someone. The method and tools you take to achieve that may be different from season to season, but this will never go away.

13. How do you contact bloggers with no contact information?

If you’ve already looked up their domain information and still can’t locate a contact, then I would turn to social media. Do they have a Twitter profile? Are they active on LinkedIn? Do they accept comments? Keep in mind that they’ve limited their contact information for a reason. You’ll have to work hard to build up a relationship. Question whether you have the time and budget to invest in tracking them down, especially if they don’t want to be found.

14. Do you put time into considering the negative possibilities you want to avoid? E.g. how to be careful not to “earn” links from bad places

Yep! We have a lot of internal training and gut checking with our team on sites that don’t meet our quality standards. Those standards sometimes change for different clients and industries, but we have a lot of red flags that we avoid. I would develop your own internal list based on past experiences and industry-specific knowledge.

Link targeting

Link targeting best practices

15. Should the links go to the home page or interior pages? If interior, how many words of text should the interior pages have on average?

16. For a business with a few very specific products, is it a good idea to build links to each product’s subpage, or should links always go to the main domain?

I’ll answer both questions here. I’m all for link diversity when it comes to backlinks to the domain. You should have links to the homepage, the product pages, the categories, your about us page, etc. Think of it from the perspective of a consumer. If they’re mentioning a product online, they might link to the homepage, but they’re more likely to link to the product page if they have direct experience with it; it’s much more natural. When doing outreach for our clients we try not to dictate the location of the backlink, because it’s more natural that they select what makes the most sense for their community.

Also worth noting: do the products expire? If the products aren’t going anywhere, then invest in building links to them. If it’s a product that expires or gets discontinued seasonally, then you’ll have a lot of redirects to deal with and lost value, so building links to the homepage and categories makes more sense. This doesn’t sound like your specific situation, though.

17. Do links to specific product subpages on a site have as much power as links to the main domain?

Where the link points don’t drive “power,” it’s the link pointing to the site that drives that power and the content of the page it’s pointing to, as well as its history and other backlinks. You’ll often find that certain pages of a site that are internal can quickly overpower a homepage if there hasn’t been much link building or brand promotion to the homepage, but a product or article gets really popular. So, the links are what determines the power of a page, not the location of the page itself. However, the majority of backlinks to a site do point to the homepage, which is why 99% of the time the homepage is the most powerful page. But, this truly is a “correlation isn’t causation” lesson.

18. What are your thoughts on the link disavow tool?

The link disavow tool is a last resort. It’s a tool that helps you communicate with the search engines after all of your other efforts to remove a backlink have failed. In the past, when working on a site that had a history of paid links, we’d have to try to do the cleanup and then tell Google what percent we were able to get fixed. That meant a number of the links never got removed, but Google would hopefully devalue those if they hadn’t already.

Now, Google is making it clear that this responsibility rests with the webmaster to fully clear the offending backlinks through their manual efforts and then as a last resort, through the disavow tool. The tool shouldn’t be used to just “get rid of” any backlink that looks questionable. It should really be used only when you have a clear problem that has been communicated to you by the search engines and you need to address a particular domain or page of that domain.

19. How important is the ratio between followed and nofollowed links?

Honestly, I don’t believe there’s a threshold here, but too much of one or the other probably looks unnatural. Regardless, I don’t believe that the search engines use this as an algorithm factor. Simply think of it in terms of diversity and brand factors. If you only have followed links, this means you’ve never posted a blog comment, been featured on a news site or more established directories, received a link from Wikipedia or other high-quality article sites, etc. That wouldn’t be very natural and I’d see it as a sign that the site is overly optimized. I very rarely look at this ratio myself.

20. What would you recommend as the best strategy for a licensee of a brand with multiple licensees targeting the same keywords/keyphrases and sources for backlinks?

This sounds like a situation affiliates and resellers run into all the time. It’s a tough because you’re competing against yourselves. Without knowing more detail, I would look for a unique perspective with the licensees. There has to be something unique if this business model even exists. Is it location, industry, customer service – find what makes you unique from the rest and emphasize that. Sometimes you’ll have to invent the point of difference (POD), but inventing great customer service is the perfect way to do this! Want inspiration? It’s going to sound crazy, but watch “Bar Rescue” on Spike. I love how Jon Taffer takes an overly saturated market (bars) and always finds something special for each owner that will bring in customers. It just takes creativity and research, it doesn’t matter that the product is the same!

Algorithm updates and penalties

Google Algorithm Updates in 2012

*Picture credit: Search Metrics

21. How can you tell if your site has been hit in a negative way by some of the changes Google has made?

Check out the SMX West 2013 Google Dance recap over at Virante. Marcus Tober and Mitul Gandhi both went into great tactics on finding and assessing whether you might have been affected by an algorithm update.

Internal link building

22. You talked a lot about inbound link building, but is there a good formula for how many internal links you use and the placement of the links?

23. What about internal links? Are keyword-targeted links ok, or do you still need to be concerned about anchor text diversity there?

24. I am wondering how Google sees internal linking of the content? Does it make any difference if it is over optimized?

These three questions could be their own blog post, but my hands are thankful that John Doherty already did a great write-up that addresses many of these internal linking questions on the SEOmoz blog.

Press releases

Press release distribution

25. In your opinion, are press releases a great way to build SEO? How does your company charge?

No. I hate press releases for SEO. They’re over-saturated, and it’s rare that a press release attracts any press attention. Let me clarify: I’m speaking to press release distribution services (not the press release itself). I think that press releases as a public relations tool are incredibly important, but you should have a list of media outlets that you’re personally sending these to. Many of the distribution and wire services have been gamed so heavily that they’re virtually worthless and the press release will get buried after a few days of freshness in the SERPs.

On the second question, from my philosophy on press releases, you can probably tell that we don’t charge for this specific service, but we will work with clients to optimize strategic press releases and PR campaigns. We love coordinating with qualified PR teams! What you won’t find is Outspoken Media listed on a directory of SEO companies by a press release distribution site in their footer. That’s probably a good sign that you should run far, far away.

Social bookmarking and directories

26. Are traditional link building methods such as social bookmarks and directories no longer effective? What is your take on this?

27. Besides themed guest posting, does social bookmarking still help vary your link profile?

I’ll answer both questions here. There are still a lot of active social bookmarking sites that range from generic to special interests. Many have nofollowed backlinks at this point, but some remain followed. My recommendation isn’t to find those followed social bookmarking sites and spam them, but to recognize that if the community is active, you’re spreading your visibility and reach and that’s a good thing. This will often result in the discovery of your content that may lead to a backlink.

Personally, I don’t encourage my team to go after social bookmarks as a backlink for client work because we’re being held to a higher standard for link quality. Unless we know that link has the potential to get picked up by the community, seeding it through social channels doesn’t make a lot of sense.

When it comes to directories, these are still effective, but yes, they’re over-saturated. This means that your competitors will probably be able to easily acquire the same backlinks and the directory may have been devalued for linking out to an unusually high number of questionable domains. There are still many great directories out there though, especially industry-specific directories, so don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. When I talk to my team I look at directories in this way:

  • Get good web directories.
  • Get good social media and blog directories.
  • Get good local directories.

Directories are still a great way to find reputable websites, social profiles, blogs, and local business listings. Not being included in them is just silly and a bad business practice. You should determine your own metrics for assigning value and authority to the directories. I’m probably more picky than most would be!

Redirects

28. Scenario: site A has loads of backlinks and is 301 redirected to site B. If site A has been penalized by Google’s updates, does the penalty get carried over? What solutions can we consider to implement?

Does the penalty get carried over… honestly, there isn’t a straight answer for this. I’ve seen and read accounts of both situations: a penalty gets passed and it doesn’t. It often appears to be a matter of severity. I’d also be worried about the quantity of redirects (e.g. redirecting a network of several dozen penalized domains wouldn’t be a good idea). Doing a test with one would be less of an issue. Test it, but try to test with a domain that isn’t your bread and butter.

What I’d personally try to do: get site A unpenalized and then redirect it. Or reclaim the backlinks from site A and have those instead point to site B through outreach efforts.

29. Is it ok to buy lots of domains and do a 301 redirect to your main one?

See above! Be careful about what you purchase. I’ve seen companies invest millions into a domain just to have it turn out penalized from the prior webmaster’s questionable practices. You don’t want to wind up in that situation and have the penalty get passed. Also, simply buying up domains and redirecting them can be effective, but quantity can become a concern. I’d focus the budget on building up your brand and I know that sounds terribly naïve, but it’s worth more than the time, budget, and risk associated with just buying up domains.

Other questions

30. How do we do a backlink audit? Is it by using Fresh Web Explorer, or something else?

The backlink audit is something I first mentioned in this post on, “Does Your Board of Directors Get SEO?,” but I didn’t go into the actual process. We usually start Google Webmaster Tools, the client’s analytics solution, Majestic SEO/Open Site Explorer, and a crawler like Screaming Frog. Most important: Excel. You don’t need a whole lot more than that!

31. Any resources for link building noobs that are a must read?

Check out:

32. I live a couple of blocks from the Brownes & Co. and passed Tabatha when they were filming that show. Brown’s finally closed. That woman was awful wasn’t she?

I referenced the Online Reputation Management Case Study post during the Mozinar, and yes, it’s “reality TV” but it’s difficult to make some appear that clueless about their business without plenty of material to work with!

33. Recently we had a duplicate content because someone create a fake website and he paste some of our information. I didn’t saw anything until that one of my friend tell me this. Except Google Webmaster Tool Which tools or websites can I use for find this duplicate content?

My favorite tools: http://www.copyscape.com/, http://www.plagium.com/, Google itself, and now Fresh Web Explorer from SEOmoz.


There were a number of questions I didn’t tackle from the Mozinar that were too off-topic, but I’ll try to reach out personally to you with an answer if we haven’t already emailed back and forth. Thank you again for everyone who listened in and I hope the Q&A provides some insight as well as healthy debate!

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

Read More

Gaming