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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.

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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

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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!

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Lifting A Manual Penalty Given By Google (Personal Experience)

Posted by Lewis Sellers

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.

On the 15th of August 2012, our agency’s website (which was in the middle of a complete redesign) was hit with a manual penalty by our friends over at Google. This came completely out of the blue to us, as we’re a fairly small agency that has never taken part in any unorthodox link building techniques. We offer link building services to our clients and pride ourselves on carrying out only high quality and white hat work.

I should point out at this point that our clients have never received any unnatural links warnings. Since we lifted our penalty, we’ve also helped many new clients get manual actions revoked and back into Google.

Unnatrual Links Detected

We straight away knew that we had been hit by Google’s Panda 3.9.1 update (see comments for updated algorithm information)

After looking at a lot of experts discussing this issue on the Internet, I could see a mixed bag of suggestions on what people would recommend we do. I first of all started by sending in a reconsideration request explaining that I believed there was a mistake. As the majority of our work comes from word of mouth, we’ve never taken part in any SEO, but this was something we were planning on starting very shortly.

I later received a reconsideration request response that said the following:

“Dear site owner or webmaster of http://www.pinpointdesigns.co.uk/, We received a request from a site owner to reconsider http://www.pinpointdesigns.co.uk/ for compliance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. We’ve reviewed your site and we still see links to your site that violate our quality guidelines. Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes. We encourage you to make changes to comply with our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results. If you find unnatural links to your site that you are unable to control or remove, please provide the details in your reconsideration request. If you have additional questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.

Sincerely, Google Search Quality Team.’

In hindsight, I should have realised that this was never going to work.

I read many articles on the Internet from top SEO experts and looked through the SEOMoz guides on how to clear up link penalties, but the general opinion was that if you had been hit by a manual penalty, that there was a very slim chance of having this reversed.

I then decided to look at our backlinks using OSE (Open Site Explorer). By doing this, we were able to see a list of all of the anchor text variants and types of links coming back to our website. It became clear fairly quickly why we had been hit.

Silly mistakes

When developing websites for clients, we always include links in the bottom right footer of the client’s website. Usually, this is something along the lines of “Web Design Yorkshire | Pinpoint Designs”. These two blocks of text include links to the homepage of our agency’s website. When looking at the webmaster guidelines, it’s pretty obvious that we should never have been doing this, and most likely the cause of our penalty.

At this time, we had around 65 domains pointing at our site, with over 1500 links showing anchor text that was similar to “Web Design Yorkshire”, “Website Design In Yorkshire” and so on.

Luckily, we manage the majority of our clients’ websites, so it has been very easy for us to remove these. We updated the footer of each website to remove the anchor text “Web Design Yorkshire” and saved the changes. We also created a Google Docs file that included the URL of each website along with the changes we had made so that we could include this in our next reconsideration request. 

The second reconsideration request we sent had a lot more time spent on it. Instead of telling Google what they had done wrong, we wrote a long request that had the following structure:

  • Who we were and what we do
  • Why we believed we had been hit
  • What we had done to rectify the issue (a link to the Google Docs file was attached)
  • How we knew it wouldn’t happen again
  • An apology
  • My name / contact details

Note: If you are sending in a request because an SEO company has managed to get you banned, it’s wise to let Google know the company’s name and the work they’ve carried out. Any information you want to provide them should be added in a Google Docs document and a link attached.

At this point, we had just launched our brand new website, so I explained to Google that we had just relaunched and that we were pushing quality content out to all of our users.

The second reconsideration request came back unsuccessful, and my hopes started to fade as to how we were going to get back into the search engines. I then decided that I would contact SEOMoz via a private question to ask for further clarification and any more tips they could provide. I received a response from Carson Ward, an SEO Consultant from Distilled, who helped by providing a little more information.

Carson said that footer links were indeed the problem. There were a ton of links that said “web design yorkshire” and similar, and this triggered the Penguin penalty. He recommended using more branded and varied anchor text, avoiding site-wide links, and, as a last resort, either removing or nofollowing footer links on sites we had designed.

To minimize your risk, you can do a few things:
  • Use branded anchor text the majority of the time. It looks a lot more natural to link back using your brand name. The safest example would be “Web design by Pinpoint Designs“. The slightly riskier “Web design by Pinpoint Designs” can be a bit more beneficial.
  • Mix up the anchor text – use different variations so that no single anchor is overwhelmingly common.
  • Avoid site-wide links, especially with exact-match non-branded anchor text.

Now that you’ve already been flagged, you could try doing the above and seeing if that’s good enough for Google. You could also just nofollow or remove the links. These footer links are already devalued, but you’ll lose a little bit of ranking power by nofollowing/removing them.

He also indicated in a second email that Google has sometimes been stubborn on reinclusion requests, and that it might be necessary to jump through some hoops to get back in their good graces.

It became clear that I would have to up my game If I wanted to ease Google’s fears of us spamming them, so I got to work in trying to clear everything up properly. I decided to spend a month getting my head down and working on removing everything. Before setting all the links to no follow, I wanted to give it once more chance.

We wanted to avoid the Disavow tool at all costs, as the links pointing to our website were not bad quality.

What worked

We logged into Google Webmaster Tools and looked at the links pointing to our site, we then went through each of these sites to make sure that any anchor text pointing to us was only brand based keywords. It occurred to me that during this point, the only links we really had were from clients websites, so Google wouldn’t really see us as a website worth promoting.

I then started writing articles for our website’s blog - these revolved around social media, SEO and website launches for our clients. I wanted to build quality content on our website and had a positive attitude of trying to write engaging articles. We decided not to write articles every day, but longer length articles that were posted out once per week or so.

Once this has been sorted, we started pushing our Twitter page. We followed local design agencies and people that we personally found interesting. We always try to engage with people and tweet about articles that we believe are interesting. We even wrote an article on our blog about social engagement and tried to provide useful information to people where possible. It was obvious this was working, as our Twitter account started growing very quickly and we were getting favourites, retweets and replies to our posts!

Finally, we decided that we should start doing some actual SEO work on our website in the same way we do for our clients. We’re a big fan of guest blogging on sites that are related to your industry, so we started out by writing articles about subjects we are interested in. This includes email marketing, social media, SEO, user interface design and so on. We then used some great web tools to find guest post opportunities and got in touch with the blog owners.

An important point here is that we only linked back to our website using variations of our brand name. This was either ‘Pinpoint Designs’, ‘Pin point designs’ or our domain name. We wrote around 15-20 very high quality blog posts and submitted them to different guest blogs varying from PR2 – PR6 domains. We only posted to higher quality blogs, and made sure that they were reputable (as some blog owners only want your articles to boost their ranks for affiliate purposes).

All sites were checked out by domain authority, PageRank and a visual check to make sure they didn’t look ‘spammy’. We also made sure that the niche fitted our website as best as possible.

Useful websites

Citation Labs – Garrett’s tools are fantastic. I really cannot express how easy It is to find quality blogs. We used the Link Prospector tool in order to find high quality blogs that were related to our industry.

Blogger LinkUp Again, this website is amazing for a site that is free of charge. Enter in your email address and once a day (or once every couple of days) you will receive an email with guest post opportunities. You can then email the authors of the sites to write guest posts for them.

We then went for reconsideration request number three. I put together a fairly short reconsideration request that was based around our previous request. I explained that we had worked on building quality content up across the Internet and that we were interacting with people on social media. I explained that we realised that we’d made silly mistakes and also included a link to our previous work. By this point, a lot of our links had updated in Webmaster Tools and the percentage of non-branded anchor text to branded anchor text had decreased which was positive.

Only three days later, we received the following email:

Google Manual Spam Action Revoked

Summary

Starting out as a fairly small company, our website wasn’t the site we wanted it to be. In 2012, we decided that we would revamp our website and start promoting ourselves across the UK. We’ve been growing quickly year on year, but we very rarely acquire work via our website. Just as this had happened, we received a penalty from Google.

After working with some companies who have received penalties from doing blackhat work, I would recommend the following tactics:

  1. Start by building up a list of all the links pointing to your website – This is extremely easy. Login to Open Site Explorer, Google Webmaster Tools and use other websites such as Ahrefs or Majestic SEO. Pull together a list of URLs and Anchor text pointing to your website and try to make sure that you always have more branded anchor text than non-branded. In the Google Panda updates, it should become apparent fairly quickly why you’ve been struck with a penalty.
     
  2. Work to remove those links hard! – Removing links isn’t easy, there are numerous sites out there that will help remove links from you, but it’s a fairly slow process. One of our clients had been using SENuke to build links to forums. We wrote a small script that logged into all of these forums using the username and passwords which luckily they had, and updated the info box to remove the links to their site. Unfortunately, if you don’t have the luxury of having the passwords to hand, you’ll have to contact the owners one by one.
     
  3. If you can’t remove links – If you can’t remove links, use the Google Disavow tool. That being said, don’t use it unless absolutely necessary. If you’re having to use the disavow tool on thousands of links, then you’re in trouble!
     
  4. Write good quality content - Show Google that you can write good content! Make sure that all the content on your website is unique, up to date and interesting. Spend some time working out anything you are not happy with and show them that you are an authority site that they should promote. Get involved with the community, grow your social media accounts organically and tidy up your image.
     
  5. Spend time on your reconsideration request – Google must receive hundreds, if not thousands, of reconsideration requests each and every week. Rather than sending in a paragraph, spend some time telling them what you’ve done wrong and most importantly, be honest. Tell them why you think you’ve been targeted, what you’ve done to rectify it and how it won’t happen again. Apologise for the mistake(s) and hold your hands up if you’re in the wrong. Add in information from Google Docs to show what links you’ve cleared off and let them know why you’re worth it!
     
  6. Don’t get involved in the first place! – This is always easy to say in hindsight, but don’t get yourself into the position where you need to clean up your websites rankings in the first place. We were initially targeted because of a bad choice of anchor text. Once we were targeted, we had to make sure we were squeaky clean before having the penalty revoked. Only stick to ethical link building practices and stay on Google’s good side!

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SEO from a Newb’s Perspective

Posted by HappyBrooke

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.

Author’s note: I’m new to the SEOmoz community and super excited to be contributing – but frankly, I’m a little intimidated by all the expertise on this blog. Gulp. Read and critique with love and understanding for my beginner status, please. Here we go!

What is SEO?

For all of you search engine optimization gurus out there, I hope my perspective is a fresh one for you. Sometimes it’s fun to temporarily place yourself back in the mindset of an ignorant beginner. You probably can’t remember the day before you understood SEO backwards and forwards, can you?

Well, I’m still there. (Yes, thank you for the supportive smiles and knowing looks.) I still don’t understand it all – BUT I’m on my way, and I’m making progress.

Stereotypes about SEO

In college, my understanding of “search engine optimization” was that it was for “techie” people, a hybrid hobby of computer science and math. Where I gained this impression, I don’t remember, but I truly thought SEO could only be done by the guys who knew JavaScript and wrote code. That person wasn’t me. As an English creative writing major, I spent my time writing sonnets, short stories, and articles for the school newspaper.

I loved the blogosphere, but beyond blogging and typical Internet usage, I never considered learning more about the inner workings of the web. To me, SEO seemed like a highly complex field easily comprehended only if you’d successfully hacked into something in your lifetime – which, as you can probably guess, I hadn’t. 

When I graduated in 2012, I realized:

  1. The journalism market was shutting like a Venus flytrap,
  2. I would suffer daily psychotic breakdowns if I had to teach English to adolescents, and
  3. I didn’t want to dish out money for grad school.

So I started applying for every kind of job that involved words – techie or otherwise.

I still thought careers in SEO were for people who solve Rubik’s cubes for fun, take computers apart and put them back together, and keep their scientific calculators in their back pockets – people who live in a programmed, digital world of computer gibberish, glowing screens, and Internet forums. 

Complex Rubik's Cube

Then, as luck would have it, I got hired to do SEO.

At first, I was bewildered. Why would anybody want me to do SEO?

However, my boss told me that my present skill set as a writer would actually be a good fit for the role. Besides, he made SEO sound really exciting. As I started to research and gain a more accurate impression of SEO, I was pleasantly surprised to learn I could actually like this. 

Yes, I was unaware of how fascinating the field of SEO is today. This new era of content creation and ethical linking has my head spinning. Now that I’m doing SEO, I’m so excited about all the possibilities SEO has to offer anyone who goes about it!

Conversion from skeptic to supporter

The first thing I did after I interviewed for my online marketing job at Happy Dog Web Productions was to download the SEOMoz Pro’s “Free Beginner’s Guide to SEO” (THANK YOU, GUYS). I took copious notes. I looked things up. I read it slow. Then I went hunting around the Internet for more information about this strange new acronym.

As a frequent “Googler” myself, it was not news to me that people flock to the Internet like children to the candy aisle. The idea that Google is a diamond mine for marketing departments is completely logical. I already understood that traditional advertising and marketing efforts are no longer “how we do things” after reading books like Paul Arden’s It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be, and Seth Godin’s Purple Cow, among others. The way we reach audiences has changed. Everybody is on the Internet, looking for answers, information, reviews, e-commerce, you name it. With the short patience of the average search engine user, companies have to be easy to find and rank for the right search queries – otherwise, well, tough luck!

I began to understand the necessity of SEO in giving companies online credibility. Visibility and respect is a hard thing to achieve when the Internet is overstuffed with information, and even if you have an amazing, relevant website, Google or Bing or Yahoo! may not see it that way, making it impossible for people to find you. But optimizing your online presence for the search engines and the user alike, both off-site and on-site, will eventually, over time, convince the search engines to reward your quality website with a higher ranking.

(Whew! See how much I’ve learned?!)

The part of SEO I’m still coming to terms with is how Google figures out rankings – with its rules and algorithms and valuing certain practices over others. Thankfully, I’m not the only one trying to understand –even the most seasoned professionals are constantly hopping trying to keep up with rapid-fire change in the way search engines compile rankings.

News alert: You, too, can join the fun

Overall, I understand now that good, ethical SEO concepts are not too complicated to grasp – and good, ethical SEO concepts are vital in helping companies get noticed, marketing their brand, and encouraging conversions. If your website content is online but nobody can find it, why even have it?

You don’t have to be a brilliant computer hacker to grasp SEO and how to go about it – one of my most valuable takeaways to date. Yes, you have to be able to follow Google’s algorithmic updates and understand statistics, and having a solid research and analysis process is crucial, but there’s more to SEO than the numbers. 

Impossible? No! Possible!

SEO professionals should be fairly

  • Techie,
  • Internet savvy, and
  • Marketing-minded.

But the surprising job qualifications for the SEO person?

  • Have outstanding social skills. All this guest blogging and link earning requires respect, a polite demeanor, and the ability to connect with people.
  • Be strategic. Strategy goes a long way with SEO – like setting attainable goals for keyword optimization, creating pages for SEO purposes, and brainstorming what users will want to read and find.
  • Think creatively. SEO is about attracting people with great content. I never realized before how user-geared current SEO practices are, which means the SEO expert juggles marketing, public relations, and advertising hats, too!
  • Write well. You don’t have to be at a Pulitzer level, but you do have to express ideas logically and write effectively for your intended audience.

When I learned that today’s great SEO has a lot to do with creating awesome content for the user, I immediately realized that this field was a good fit for me because I like words, and I’m a writer. Yay! I know I have a ways to go with the analytics and research, but I really enjoy my current role on the SEO team.

It’ll be a slow trek to reach the level of some of you Mozzers! But I’m excited about SEO and hope you enjoyed hearing from my perspective as a newb.

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

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Introducing Moz Reader!

Posted by Nick Sayers

After the demise of Google Reader, we decided to rise to the challenge. Moz Reader is our answer. We can honestly tell you that this is the best thing to happen for Moz Reader, since Moz Reader. Just call us!

 

Moz never expected to get into the reader business. Ever. That is until one man cornered Rand at the annual “Executives Meet at the Top of a Tower” conference. Behind wafting cigar smoke and the thick stench of brandy, Jon White appeared. Jon (seen in the announcement video) came from British-controlled Colonial Hong Kong with news of an emerging fad: feeds and current events read to customers over the phone. “Bloody genius,” he called it. Rand figured if Hong Kong was doing it, we should, too. The rest is history.

Here we are 25 years later, and finally launching Moz Reader.

On a side note, Jon is only fluent in British and Cantonese, so he hasn’t quite learned how to write American yet. That’s why the Communications Team (Elijah and I) decided to give the “jolly ol’ chap” a hand with the video and announcement.

Without further ado…check out the Moz Reader features!

Moz Readers

Are you ready for a crack team of professional voices to read you content until your heart is content? Meet the Moz Reader team. After you experience our voices, you won’t be able to read a blog post on your own again.

Each and every one of the team may or may not have benefits enjoyed by most first-world companies! As independent contractors, they have the freedom to choose their own benefits and doctors without any “corporate strings attached.” No HR suit is going to tell them how to obtain their own medical coverage!

Real Celebrity Voices

That’s right, folks! We have friends in low…err, high places. Do you want your blog read by Keanu Reeves, Oprah, Ahnuld, Whoopi Goldberg, or Nic Cage? Well, you’re in luck. Just request one of our celebrity contributors, and get your feed read to you with class, grit, or drama.

Nic Cage at SEOmoz

Content Filtering

Like listening to your favorite blogs with the whole family? Well, with a new uber-complex-algorithmic-math-formula our Big Data team engineered, you can keep your mind at ease. The little ones will never hear any naughty words. Just tell your reader that you don’t want artistically-crafted content and would rather we filter it!

Notifications

No more waiting for your computer to start or opening a battery-draining app on your coveted RAZR! As soon as something pops up in your RSS feeds, we’re going to call you on every number we can dig up to read you what you need to hear. Busy the minute we call? We will call you two minutes later! Persistence is our middle name. That’s right, Moz Persistence Reader.

Easy Sharing

Want to share something we read to you? Give us your closest friends’ phone numbers and we will give ‘em a call! Heck, we will even save their phone numbers in a social database for other companies to access and offer them once-in-a-lifetime deals.

If this doesn’t have you doing back flips out of sheer excitement, then you’re probably in a coma! Well, that’s enough from us. Happy reading!

If you have feedback for Moz Reader, please call your Moz Reader Specialist of Director Relations Customer Liaison and talk over them as they read your feeds! Don’t worry, we will log your feedback and take it into account when we cycle through our current Moz Reader contractors.

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

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The Marketing Value of YouTube

Posted by PhilNottingham

One of the earliest questions considered by any business, large or small, investing in video marketing will certainly be, “Should I have a YouTube channel?”

The answer: probably.

…..but it depends on the type of business you are, the kind of content you’re creating and the goals you have for your videos.

In this post, I’m going to expand on that answer and outline the core values most businesses can hope to gain from YouTube as a marketing channel – detailing how those values can best be achieved, and by inference, when YouTube is an appropriate platform to host your videos.

What can YouTube do for me?

YouTube is an interesting beast to varying degrees: a search engine, a hosting service, an advertising platform, a social network, and a community site.

Yet, it’s identity from a user perspective is that it’s much less convoluted. The main reason people go to YouTube: to find and watch videos on the internet.

YouTube is like “Inbound TV.”

No matter how users get to YouTube – through Google universal search, via social media or by navigating directly to youtube.com in their browser – the intent is the same: watch a video.

By and large, people don’t go to YouTube to find products or services to buy; they don’t go there to get news, restaurant recommendations, or travel directions. They go there for one reason – to watch a video, with the goal of finding something informative or entertaining.

Search Term Global Monthly Search Volume – Google Global Monthly Search Volume – YouTube
Insurance 55,600,000 9,000
Funny Cats 368,000 349,400

In order to get benefit from having a presence YouTube as a marketer, your strategy needs to harness the nature of user intent, rather than work against it. 

This means you either need to serve user intent by creating content that will inform, instruct, or entertain; or support user intent by creating ads which can be served as preroll content to users watching videos relevant to your business.

The primary value your business can gain from investing in such content:

With the right content, those watching informational/entertaining videos can get to know your brand better and in a positive light; while ads, in precisely the TV advertising vein, can improve brand recall, perceived legitimacy, and overall reputation.

There are also some secondary, smaller benefits a presence on YouTube can provide.

Social network integration

Google+, Facebook, and Twitter all integrate YouTube embeds into their platform framework, allowing users to watch videos directly from their feeds without having to leave the social networks themselves.

Video remarketing opportunities

If you’re running a PPC campaign, having a YouTube channel allows you to remarket to individuals who have watched your YouTube videos with ads on YouTube and across the Google Display Network (GDN).

More effective PR campaigns

Video news releases (VNR’s) can be a great way of getting coverage and links from high authority news sites, as the added media element helps to ensure that your press release makes it to the top of a journalist’s pile. YouTube is the ideal platform with which to provide video news releases, since the majority of journalists and editors are familiar with how YouTube works, know how to embed YouTube videos, and are typically happy including YouTube videos on their site.


What kind of content should I be creating for YouTube?

As YouTube is as much a community site as a search engine, successful video content needs to be created for the platform, not just simply uploaded there by default.

If your company are creating videos and the default position is that all your videos (irrespective of content type or target audience) automatically get uploaded to YouTube, then you’re doing it wrong and potentially cannibalizing the benefit you should be getting from your videos. 

As Greg Jarboe aptly indicated in this post about the channel-ization of YouTube, “In order to be successful on YouTube in 2013, you need a coherent channel strategy.”

Really great YouTube campaigns are generally not comprised of one-hit wonders and a lot of supporting content that hasn’t done as well. Great channels (e.g. The Slow Mo Guys and  Old Spice) have successful release after successful release, building upon quality video after quality video. Your channel strategy should essentially mirror a blogging strategy. Successful blogs like SEOmoz are not built off the back of a single quality post and then filled with mediocre content the rest of the way; the readership compounds over time with continued quality over time.

Google is also trending towards ranking more “channel results” in the YouTube and Google universal search (e.g. this SERP for “downhill mountain biking”), as well as ranking individual video pages. This channel-focused ranking means that If you have videos that aren’t performing, then they will be dragging down the perceived algorithmic value of the rest of your channel and preventing it (and the videos held within) from ranking as well as they should. Your YouTube channel should, therefore, be “lean and mean,” containing only content relevant and interesting for users who don’t necessarily have prior knowledge of your brand. If you integrate this principle into a wider video marketing strategy, it should look something like:

  • Content that you want your site to rank for (conversion focused) is self hosted/hosted with a paid online video platform.
  • Content that you want to share with those who aren’t yet part of the conversion funnel (branding focused) is be placed on YouTube.

Your YouTube channel needs to have series of content that people will actively seek out and want to watch. This could take any of the following forms:

1. Thought leadership

Display your company as thought leaders in a specific industry by offering free information that demonstrates your skills/intelligence and provides genuine value for users. This can be done either by presenting strategic, academic thought leadership content (such as speeches/seminars), or by offering tips about a given field of knowledge, as demonstrated in this example from Sophos offering quick 1 minute IT security tips.

Has someone in your company recently delivered a presentation at a conference? Try running a Google+ hangout on air to run through your presentation again, specifically for wider remote audience. All it takes is a laptop and a webcam.

2. Tutorials and how-to’s

YouTube is a fantastic place to find how-to’s and many people prefer to get instruction from a video, rather than a text-heavy blog post. As with the thought leadership example, if you have specific and uncommon knowledge within your organization that others would likely benefit from learning about, simple tutorials can be a fantastic asset.

This channel from PartSelect is a fantastic low-budget example. PartSelect sell parts for appliances, and they’ve given away tons of in-depth tutorials about how to install said parts for consumer appliances, alongside some wider advice for maintenance. While the content is closely related to what they sell, the videos are relevant for anyone trying fix a consumer appliance, not only their customers. This makes it appropriate and valuable for an audience on YouTube.

3. Ads

Paying for video views through YouTube advertising is a completely legitimate way to generate traction on YouTube. Paid views will increase your overall view count, and while this won’t help your content to rank better, it can help to make your channel appear more authoritative and well-trafficked than it would have been without the ad spend. Bear in mind that, dependent on the type of ad placement, users will be able to skip pre-roll ads at 5, 15, or 30 seconds, so ensure your video captures the imagination and attention of your audience. If you have a video that takes a couple of minutes to get going before the core message is reached, then it’s not going to be suitable for this sort of advertising placement.

4. Creative stories attached to your brand

This definition relates to what is perhaps more commonly referred to as “viral” content within marketing circles, but i dislike this phrase because content that goes viral but provides no positive reinforcement of a message around your brand, and ultimately won’t convert to sales or revenue. 

As a business, you should not be trying to replicate the success of Rebecca Black’s “Friday” or “I want to hug every single cat” since there would be no commercial benefit from you doing so. “Going viral” is only beneficial if you can attach your brand to the messaging, but to actually make the content sharable, there will need to be a story integrated, too. Check out this example from Air New Zealand:


So, how do I know if my business should have a YouTube channel?

If your customers, or the influencers of your customers are watching videos on YouTube related to your industry, then you should have a YouTube channel.

Every company has something to be gained from building their brand, notoriety, and reputation. YouTube can be a fantastic channel to help achieve that goal, but only if you have a great idea for content that a specific brand-agnostic user group will genuinely value.

If you’re doing paid search, YouTube can be valuable addition to an integrated campaign; if you’re doing PR, YouTube can help you get to the top of the pile on a journalist’s desk; and if you’re engaging with users through social media, YouTube can help to boost the engagements with your posts and campaigns.

When is YouTube not the appropriate platform for my videos? 

  • When the content is heavily “product focused” and the videos only really make sense in the context of users who are, at least, initially familiar with your business and are therefore part of the way through a conversion funnel, it might not make the best video content.
  • When you wish to get video rich snippets for any commercially focused page on your site. YouTube videos will often outrank your site in universal search, which cannibalises your potential traffic and splitting potential link equity between YouTube and your site.
  • When your main goal is to build links or social shares directly back to pages on your own site through video embeds. Embedded YouTube videos only link back to YouTube.

In all such instances, you’re better off hosting your videos yourself or with a paid online video platform that will allow you to restrict where your videos can be embedded, and thereby drive all traffic and links back to your own site.


How do I measure the success of my YouTube marketing campaigns?

The single, most important indicator of success for a YouTube campaign is: branded search volume.

This is true whether you are running an ad campaign through YouTube Advertising, whether you’re seeding the content socially to generate traction amongst your community, or whether you’re doing YouTube SEO to try and optimize the rankings of your video in YouTube and Google organic search results. 

If individuals are getting to know your business and are specifically searching for you in Google and Bing more frequently than before, you’ll know your videos have had a positive effect. Unfortunately, (not provided) will skew your ability to accurately measure the amount of traffic your site gets from branded keywords. However, by tracking percentages increases in branded traffic, movements on Google trends, and looking at “search queries” in Google webmaster tools, you should be able to get a flavour for any positive trends. Alternatively, if you’re doing PPC for your brand name (which you probably should be), then ensure you’re buying unlimited exact match impressions for your brand name and look for an increase in impressions over time.

Brand mentions should also be tracked. This can be done elegantly with the new Fresh Web Explorer. Enterprise-level companies can even run brand recognition surveys and aim to see an increase in unprompted recall.

There are some secondary indicators of success, which should predate any notable increase in branded traffic or branded search volume. These include: 

Referring traffic from YouTube

Any referring traffic you do get from YouTube will almost certainly be a very small number compared with the individuals who have watched your videos. Nonetheless, it can be a small indicator of the traction and interest your videos are providing, since users who actively leave YouTube to explore a different site have clearly been intrigued by the offering in your video content.

There’s three ways you can include links back to your site from YouTube videos:

  • Include a link in the description, just as a naked URL with no anchor text.
  • Set up the content for advertising and get an Ad overlay link.
  • Get approved YouTube partner status (by allowing preroll ads form other companies on your videos) and then include links back to your site within your annotation.

Engagement on YouTube

YouTube Analytics has a “Relative audience retention” report, which gives you a snap shot into how good Google thinks your video is, based on how many people have started watching your video and then continued all the way to the end.

This graph is one of the major ranking factors which Google/YouTube use to determine the placement of a video in the search engine results, and you should continually be improving and optimising your content to try and minimise the drops and thereby retain as many viewers as possible to the end of your video. Your goal here is to see the “average view duration” percentage remaining high across all your uploads.

If you have some videos which have dramatically lower average view duration than others, it’s  a pretty clear indicator this content is not up to scratch, and you should, therefore, think about removing that content to boost the overall relative performance of your channel. 

Don’t measure views. No, really, don’t measure views.

YouTube view counters are essentially the equivalent of “hits” on a website and are triggered when someone loads up a video, whether or not they actually watch the content through.

In judging the performance of our own sites, we’ve moved away from measuring website hits to look at more meaningful metrics of success, such as unique non-bouncing visits, time on site, and conversion rate. For some reason, the majority of us seem to subconsciously assume that YouTube videos should be judged based on the number of views in the counter. Raw views have not been a significant ranking factor on YouTube for years and they don’t indicate anything other than a page load. As such, they are a vanity metric that we use to replace “audience numbers” from the traditional TV model.

The YouTube “estimated minutes watched” report  and “average view duration” figures are a a much more useful indicator of overall success that counts for bouncing visits.


FAQ about YouTube and video marketing

“Can’t YouTube also drive a lot of traffic to my site, as well as help to build my brand?”

An anonymous Distilled client, who had set up advertising annotations, put links in the video descriptions and included annotations on the video linking back to their site – all with the goal of driving traffic from YouTube. They recently got  415,000 views across all their videos for the month of December 2012. From these views, they received a grand total of 19 referrals from YouTube.com, which comes in at a click through rate of 0.005%. This is, admittedly, a relatively extreme example, but I am yet to see an example of a channel that gets greater than 1% click through rate.

So, yes, YouTube can drive some traffic, but it’s almost always going to be a secondary value to the branding and reputation built through video views.

Hosting video on YouTube with the specific goal of driving traffic is, therefore, likely a poor strategy and one where where securely hosting your content with a paid provider and submitting a video sitemap to get your videos indexed with rich snippets on your own site is likely a better option. 

“Google owns YouTube. Therefore, is embedding YouTube videos on my site, rather than self-hosting my videos better for SEO? Will having YouTube videos embedded on my site help me to rank better?”

No, I don’t think so, as there is no barrier to entry to embed YouTube videos. If one person can embed a video, then anyone can embed said video – and the methods currently in place to determine “ownership” of YouTube videos with regards to a specific site are fairly rudimentary.

YouTube videos are, by and large, embedded in iframes since this is a lightweight, reliable, and mobile-friendly solution. When reading iframes, Google attribute the content to the original source if this page is indexable (i.e. not blocked via robots.txt).

Therefore, when You embed a YouTube video, you should essentially think of it as like a “vote,” or a link to that video on YouTube.com. There are many reasons why this is a good thing. Since embeds and links are definitely a ranking factor on YouTube, meaning embedding your YouTube videos will help them to rank better in YouTube and in Google universal search….but for the youtube.com URL, and not your own site.

I don’t see this trend changing any time soon. Google want marketers to use YouTube to host all their videos, but so they can drive more traffic to (and thereby serve more ads from) their own properties, rather than your website.

Conversely, when you use a secure third party video hosting provider (e.g. Wistia) or choose to self host your videos, embedding restrictions will allow you to ensure the video is only visible on your site and thereby show off “unique content” to Googlebot, especially when a crawlable encapsulated version of your video file is referenced in the content_loc tag of a video sitemap. Through such a process, you can defacto “canonicalise” your own page with regards to a specific video embed, which you are unable to do using free social video platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, etc. 

That’s not to say that either self hosting or hosting with YouTube is “better for SEO,” but rather that Google has much more to gain from ranking their own platform in the SERPs, rather than ranking a user’s own website. However, that doesn’t mean YouTube is inherently “preferred” in the search results and self-hosted videos can rank just as well as YouTube videos, provident that they’re embedded on a fairly strong page and a video sitemap is submitted. If you want to drive traffic back to your site through rich snippets in the search results, then self hosting or securely hosting is undoubtedly the way to go.

“YouTube is the world’s second biggest search engine. If I decide YouTube is not a good platform for me, am I not cutting off a huge potential customer base?”

There is a common misconception rooted in the fact that YouTube has 1 billion unique visitors per month. The myth is that if you don’t have any content on YouTube, you’re missing out on marketing to a demographic three times the size of the population of the entire United States.

The argument above is a complete misnomer. The “YouTube community” is not a discrete bunch of individuals who only spend time on YouTube, but rather a wider spread group of general web users watching videos on the website.

While lacking a YouTube presence may be prevent you from marketing through this specific channel, it does not prevent you from marketing to a specific demographic. Especially since the Google account integration with YouTube last year, the overwhelming majority of YouTube users are also Google users, and visa-versa. In layman’s terms, not being on YouTube doesn’t prevent you from marketing to a certain group of people, but it does prevent you from marketing to them in this specific way. 


I hope you found this post useful. If you have any other questions I haven’t covered about YouTube or the wider field of video SEO and video marketing, please do feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to help you out.

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Another March Mozscape Index is Live!

Posted by carinoverturf

We’re happy to announce the second Mozscape index for the month of March is now live! Data has been refreshed across all SEOmoz applications – Open Site Explorer, the MozbarPRO campaigns, and the Mozscape API.

I know you’re all thinking – but wait, you just launched an index last week?! This was one of our fastest indexes to finish processing – taking only 11 days! But processing overlapped slightly for this index and our previous March index. However, the good news is that it just means lots of fresh data for you!

As you can see from the crawl histogram, a large volume of the data in this index was crawled in the beginning of March and the oldest data dating back to about the first week of February. 

Crawl histgram for March 28th Mozscape index

Here are the metrics for this latest index:

  • 81,359,307,805 (81 billion) URLs
  • 12,256,956,717 (12.2 billion) Subdomains
  • 149,419,721 (149 million) Root Domains
  • 774,927,201,776 (775 billion) Links
  • Followed vs. Nofollowed

    • 2.18% of all links found were nofollowed
    • 54.51% of nofollowed links are internal
    • 45.49% are external
  • Rel Canonical – 15.80% of all pages now employ a rel=canonical tag
  • The average page has 75 links on it

    • 64.04 internal links on average
    • 11.03 external links on average

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

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

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

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

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5 Steps to Facebook Authority – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by LaurenV

Facebook advertising has taken the marketing world by storm. But with so many advertising options available within Facebook, how do you know where to start the campaigns that will best support your goals and objectives?

In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Lauren Vacarello outlines the different ad types on Facebook and walks us through getting started with Facebook advertising. We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! 

Video Transcription

“Hi, I’m Lauren Vacarello, the Senior Director of Online Marketing for Salesforce.com, and today we’re going to talk about 5 Steps to Facebook Advertising. In the next 5 or 10 minutes, we’ll talk about how to get started with advertising on Facebook.

So before we really dive into it, let’s talk about the different types of ads there are on Facebook. I’m sure everyone’s familiar with something that mildly resembles this with your news feed on Facebook. There are actually three real main types of ads on Facebook. Everything else falls under those categories.

First, there’s going to be your marketplace ads. So your marketplace ads are the ads that you’re most familiar with. They’re the ads on the right-hand side of your Facebook feed. What makes these different from, say, a premium ad is both the cost of these ads and the different options that you have. With marketplace ads, all you’re really going to get is that little, tiny image and a little bit of copy to the right-hand side.

With your premium ads, sometimes they’ll show up on the right, but they’ll also show up in the center of your Facebook page as well, with one of the big example of premium ads being your sponsored stories. Now, sponsored stories are a newer ad type that Facebook is really testing out right now. So you’re going to see it as part of your Facebook feed. Some people are getting a little unhappy about seeing these larger ads in their feed, but Facebook is now a publicly traded company and they need to make money, and to do that they need to start selling more advertising.

The thing about premium ads that is really interesting is there are these different types of premium ads that you can actually have. So one of the types of premium ads is going to be video ads. That’s when you’ll see a video embedded into an ad unit, lots of different copy. If you see a poll, if you see someone pitching an event, those are all going to be part of premium ads.

One of the really cool things that Facebook is doing right now is something called custom audiences. Think of it this way. Say you have an email list and you have an email list of 10,000 potential customers. You can work with Facebook to build something called a custom audience. You give them these 10,000 email addresses. They’ll match it to people’s Facebook accounts, and now you’re able to build a really targeted ad campaign just to those 10,000 people that you may have in your lead nurturing program at the same time.

What also really differentiates premium ads from marketplace ads is the cost. Now, premium ads, you have to buy on a CPM basis. You also have to buy through a Facebook account team. Marketplace ads, super easy, self-service, you can sign up for them with a credit card. Anyone can advertise on marketplace ads.

Your premium ads are going to have about an $8.50 CPM. You have to talk to a person to sell them, and in a lot of instances, you don’t actually have the control over the ads, your Facebook account team is going to have to set them up for you.

Definite advantages, you’ve a lot higher response rate with your video ads. You can do a lot more with polls and the sponsored stories in the center of the feed. You’re going to get the most interaction with those types of ads. But at the same time, the costs are going to be anywhere from two to four times as much as you’d pay using marketplace ads.

Then there’s also something that’s been getting a lot of press right now, which is FBX or Facebook retargeting. Facebook retargeting is really interesting, and Facebook is finally trying to start to monetize their audience base. They’ve been experimenting with new ad types. Facebook retargeting is Facebook saying, “I’m not going to try to come up with my own ad type. I’m going to take something that works for everybody else.” It’s been really, really profitable for them.

So think of it the same way that you think of retargeting. I think there’s been a recent Whiteboard Friday on retargeting. Very similar principles apply, but instead of just retargeting people who come to your website as they browse random places on the web, you’re retargeting them as they go onto their Facebook page. So really, really interesting possibilities there.

So now that you’ve had a quick primer on what the types of Facebook advertising are, let’s actually talk about how you’d use it and about getting started with this. Before you really do any type of Facebook advertising, before you do any advertising in general, it starts with identifying what your goals are. So I’m going to walk you through a scenario of let’s say we’re going to sell SEOmoz to small businesses using Facebook advertising.

The first thing you want to do is identify your goals. In this situation, we want to sell SEOmoz to small businesses. Let’s figure out exactly what we want to do with those goals. Are we trying to get new people that we’ve never spoken to? Are we trying to nurture existing people in the SEOmoz database, or are we trying to go after existing SEOmoz customers to get them to buy a larger, more expensive product?

So start by figuring out exactly what your goals are. Also identify do you want them to buy after seeing that ad, or do you want the ad to be part of a brand awareness play, where you’re just trying to introduce your product to them and then eventually get them to buy? Start by identifying what your goals are.

So we’re going to identify our goals. Let’s say we want to sell SEOmoz to new people. Perfect. So who are we trying to sell this to? Set your targets. You have to know your audience with this. Facebook is amazing when it comes to targeting capabilities. With a lot of behavioral targeting on the web right now, it’s all assumptions people make. Because I go to ESPN and Golf Digest and Harvard Business Review, then I must be a CEO of a company, and I must be a man in between these ages.

What’s really cool about Facebook is it’s not assumptions that people are making based on what actions someone may or may not be taking on the Internet. We self-identify on social media really, really well. We tell people who we are and what we’re interested in. We tell them what school we went to. We tell them our jobs. We tell them who we’re friends with. Because we know all of that information, it’s really easy to target these people as a marketer. You’re not guessing what people are interested in. They’re actually telling you what they’re interested in, and you can see what they’re talking about, and that gives Facebook incredible targeting options. Not even using Facebook retargeting, but just through their marketplace ads and their premium ads, you have a lot of really great options.

So let’s set our targets for this scenario. Let’s say SEOmoz wants to target small businesses to buy the SEOmoz product. But not just small businesses, who in small businesses? Do we want to target the marketing team? Do we want to target CEOs? Do we want to target CMOs? Do we also want to think a little bit differently and target based on what people are interested in? Great targets in this scenario.

Facebook does something really cool and lets you target the friends of your fans. So we’re going to make the assumption if I’m a fan of SEOmoz and I’m friends with 500 people on Facebook, the average number of friends that someone on Facebook has, I believe, is 500. I think most people watching this probably have more than 500 friends. So be happy you have a lot of Facebook friends, but great for SEOmoz. We’re going to target my friends and fans on Facebook because we’re going to make the assumption, if I’m a fan of SEOmoz, there’s a good chance we might want to sell to my friends, because I’m friends with like-minded people. So the first target is going to be friends of fans.

You might be asking yourself, “Lauren, why aren’t we targeting SEOmoz fans if we want to sell SEOmoz to more people?” Well, maybe a lot of SEOmoz fans are already customers, so you’re going to need to find that out. Whether it’s for your business, SEOmoz or even for Salesforce, it’s really important to know who your fans actually are. It’s as simple as doing a quick SurveyMonkey survey just to ask your fans who they are and if they’re already a customer.

So let’s say we target friends of fans, we target fans. Now, small business itself is a really big audience on Facebook. Tens of millions of people fall into the small business audience, so you might want to narrow that down a little bit more. Facebook gives you a lot of different clusters, which is really just a cluster of different keywords and different interests to build a larger group of people. So maybe it’s small business, maybe we want to think differently. Think about who these people, who your target buyer actually thinks about, who they care about. Maybe it’s small business, maybe it’s people interested in marketing or in the Internet.

The Internet is a target audience on Facebook, because I am a fan of the Internet. Think about all of your targets and build out each individual line for your targets. Think of it the same way if anyone’s run a paid search campaign or a display campaign. You have your account. You have campaigns, and you have ad groups. Think of this similar to how you’re going to think of your ad groups, because if you’re going doing a marketplace ad, you want to have a different type of ad for each one of these different target audiences, really similar to how you’re going to have a different paid search ad to a different ad group.

So if you’re Salesforce and we’re advertising CRM and we’re also advertising customer support application, it’s going to be two different ad copies. Really similar, if you’re advertising to friends of fans and to people that are identified as interested in marketing, you need different ad copy. So start by having different ad copy. Perfect.

The next part, you need to determine what content you’re going to use, and you need to post that content. So two different options here. Let’s start with marketplace ads. You get this little 50 x 50 image, and you get about 135 characters over here in the ad. You can treat this really similar to how you treat, say, paid search or display and come up with different ad copies, work with the different the stakeholders within your organization to post these.

But if you’re going to do some of the premium ads and you’ve got this big, sponsored story over here, this is what gets really interesting. With sponsored story, it’s going to be something you post on your company’s Facebook page. So think of this as your company’s Facebook page. You post something, you want to get that piece of content in front of a lot of people.

Let’s say I am going to draw Roger really poorly right now. Let’s say we’ve got a great post. This is the SEOmoz page. We’ve got this great post with Roger talking about all the new features that SEOmoz is coming out with. So now we say, “Okay, here’s this piece of content. This piece of content needs to almost serve two masters.” We need to make all of our fans and followers happy and show them this content, but let’s try to take this content and get it outside of the SEOmoz audience.

So now we want to take this piece of content, and we want to get people in the small business segment to care about this. So we can’t get a new piece of copy if we’re using a sponsored story. We have to take an existing story on the SEOmoz page, but we want to get it in front of small businesses, people in marketing, fans, friends of fans. So you build all of your different targets, and you choose to sponsor this story. But with this, you have less control.

So two options, but the great thing about Facebook, honestly, you want to do both. It’s not an if-then. You can use your marketplace ads to really customize and put the custom content in front of all these audiences. But with sponsored stories, you’re taking up more real estate. You’re in the center of the page,so it’s a really good way to attract people’s attention. If you are using friends of fans and advertising to friends of fans and any of these people comment, it’s going to have that little bit of the extra engagement over there. So try sponsored stories and look into marketplace ads as well.

If you’re using marketplace ads, the Facebook interface is still being developed, so it’s a little bit hard to clone ads. It’s not super easy to use. So you can end up – I will do the Salesforce pitch – using a tool like Salesforce marketing cloud because it lets you start to clone these ads. So instead of making 50 different ads for 50 different targets, you take one ad, you clone it and make changes. It just helps you move a little bit more quickly. There are lots of different options for doing that as well.

We figure out our content and we post our content. So for sponsored stories, we put a great piece of content front and center on the page. We promote it to all of our different fans and followers, but know that it’s going to show up in the center of their feed as an option. Also build your marketplace ad campaign where you’ve got individual ads for each target.

Here’s an interesting trick that people don’t think about, and it’s my one, major tip for everyone. If you are doing premium content and you do have this sponsored story over here, say you have content that you don’t necessarily want your fans and followers to see. Say you really just want to post your great piece of content to advertise to people in marketing. You’re okay if your fans and followers see it, but it’s not really for them, it’s really advertising content. You could actually backdate that story so that your fans and followers don’t really see this unless they scroll all the way back, which some of your fans and followers might. But backdate your content so that this doesn’t show up on your main company page, but you can still use it in advertising to some of your different audiences. So that’s my one tip for you.

Once you determine and post your content, so let’s say we’re going to do sponsored stories and marketplace ads. Perfect. Then the next and most important step is testing and optimization. No one’s going to get everything right on their first try, and that’s okay. You’re not supposed to get everything right. You just need to move really, really quickly, and the larger your budget, the more quickly you should be able to test and optimize.

Now, with Facebook ads, we find out that the ads actually burn out pretty quickly, so that if you’re using a sponsored story and you’re advertising to the same audience, first of all, make sure you set up frequency caps when you work with your Facebook team, because you don’t want to show the same person an ad 15 times in the middle of their feed. That really does get kind of irritating, and the effectiveness of your ads starts to decrease. So you don’t want to do that. So set frequency caps and also start to rotate your content, especially on the marketplace ads on the right-hand rail. Start to rotate out the image. Start to rotate out your copy.

Depending on how much advertising you’re doing and the size of your budget, it could be as little as two days. You might be able to get away with a week or two. But as long as you’re monitoring results, you’ll start to see performance over here. Let’s say you’re tracking leads. You’re tracking leads, so leads start to go up, and then they start to peak and fall off as impressions go up. You want to find that point where your impressions are going up but your performance is dropping. Once you reach that point, it’s time to switch out your ad because people have seen it. Anyone who’s going to respond to it already has. So make sure you know when to pull your ad copy, and that’s really reporting, doing your analysis and the whole time, what you should be doing is testing and optimizing.

Think of it the way you think of paid search. You’re advertising to friends and fans. You don’t want to just give them one ad. You want to rotate through different titles, different images, different copy, different offers to see what’s really going to perform best, same way you’re going to do this with, let’s say, a paid search campaign or a display advertising campaign. So make sure you test and optimize. Let’s say lots of testing. We like testing.

Then this is the thing that’s really different with Facebook advertising. We’re going to think all the way back – and everyone will make fun of me for making this statement – think about when TV first came out, because I was alive when TV first came out. It’s a joke. Picture when TV first came out, and people all go home and they’re sitting and watching their three channels on television. But you have to make money, so they started putting commercials.

People hated commercials on television. People hated it, and they would complain about commercials interrupting television. But you have to have commercials on television or else television couldn’t exist in the early days of TV, because they needed a way to make money. Now we have cable, and you have to pay for channels, which is a whole different model. But when TV first came out, people hated commercials. Even when email first came out, even email now, a lot of people really hated getting emails and were complaining about emails. It became a little easier with email because there was the option to unsubscribe.

Now think about Facebook. We’ve spent years on Facebook without really having to deal with a lot of advertising. Their right-hand rail started. This in the middle of your feed is really just coming out. So people in general are very taken aback by this. They’re not sure what to do about ads in their feed, and not everyone’s going to like having ads in their feed, the same way not everyone likes receiving an email from a potential company they’re going to buy from, the same way people hated commercials when television first came out.

The biggest difference with this is, because you can comment on this, you’ll start to see how much people don’t like advertising. It won’t necessarily be about your product. It will be that they don’t like that Facebook is offering advertising. Facebook has to make money. They’re a publicly traded company, and they’re going to try to figure out different ways they can make money. But you need to know that this might impact your ads.

If you run a TV commercial and someone doesn’t like it, there’s not a lot they can do about it. If you send an email and someone doesn’t like it, they can unsubscribe. If you run an ad and it shows up in someone’s feed and they don’t like it, they can write a comment about it. If you’re doing a lot of advertising, you might start to see a lot of negative comments.

What’s really fun about these is you’ll also get a lot of likes. You’ll get a lot of shares, and if the content is engaging and people care about the content, if you’re advertising to SMBs or people in marketing and you’re giving them content that tells them how to help their business and really gives them useful information, you’ll get a lot of likes, and you’ll get a lot of shares and people will be really happy with it. But you can’t make everyone happy, and some people will just start to leave negative comments.

As a company, before you really launch this type of campaign, you need to think about what you’re going to do about those negative comments. Are you going to engage with them? Are you going to respond? What’s your threshold? What are you comfortable with? If people start having a lot of negative comments about your ad, do you pull the ad? Do you try to talk to all of these people? Do you say, “You know what? I don’t care about negative comments?” What’s your threshold?

So figure out your engagement strategy and how you’re going to monitor that before you launch the campaign. Otherwise, you’ll launch all of this, you’ll run this sponsored story, you’ll make tons and tons of money, hopefully, from all of the advertising that you’re doing. You’ll sell shoes, you’ll sell Moz licenses, you’ll be really successful, but then you’ll see all these negative comments and then suddenly maybe you won’t be as successful and maybe this is a bigger deal for your business of having all those negative comments than the potential upside.

So think about that first and know what you’re willing to deal with, what you’re comfortable with, and then what your engagement and response strategy is before you launch. If you do that and you start off with goals, you go after those targets, you optimize, because maybe some of these targets don’t work. Maybe people who like the Internet don’t like SEOmoz. It’s weird. You think they would, but what if they don’t? You have to know which lines you’re willing to get rid of, which comes from the optimization piece. If someone’s not happy, if you’ve got a great community team that’s really engaging, you can start turning some of those negative comments into real sales opportunities.

So that’s my how to get started with Facebook advertising. A few quick steps to go, but for anyone who’s looking to try it, you can sign up for marketplace ads with a credit card, give it a shot – a lot of times they offer a little bit of free Facebook money – and see what happens and see what works for your business.

Thank you, everybody. I am Lauren Vacarello. Take care.”

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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5 Steps to Facebook Advertising – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by LaurenV

Facebook advertising has taken the marketing world by storm. But with so many advertising options available within Facebook, how do you know where to start the campaigns that will best support your goals and objectives?

In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Lauren Vacarello outlines the different ad types on Facebook and walks us through getting started with Facebook advertising. We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! 

Video Transcription

“Hi, I’m Lauren Vacarello, the Senior Director of Online Marketing for Salesforce.com, and today we’re going to talk about 5 Steps to Facebook Advertising. In the next 5 or 10 minutes, we’ll talk about how to get started with advertising on Facebook.

So before we really dive into it, let’s talk about the different types of ads there are on Facebook. I’m sure everyone’s familiar with something that mildly resembles this with your news feed on Facebook. There are actually three real main types of ads on Facebook. Everything else falls under those categories.

First, there’s going to be your marketplace ads. So your marketplace ads are the ads that you’re most familiar with. They’re the ads on the right-hand side of your Facebook feed. What makes these different from, say, a premium ad is both the cost of these ads and the different options that you have. With marketplace ads, all you’re really going to get is that little, tiny image and a little bit of copy to the right-hand side.

With your premium ads, sometimes they’ll show up on the right, but they’ll also show up in the center of your Facebook page as well, with one of the big example of premium ads being your sponsored stories. Now, sponsored stories are a newer ad type that Facebook is really testing out right now. So you’re going to see it as part of your Facebook feed. Some people are getting a little unhappy about seeing these larger ads in their feed, but Facebook is now a publicly traded company and they need to make money, and to do that they need to start selling more advertising.

The thing about premium ads that is really interesting is there are these different types of premium ads that you can actually have. So one of the types of premium ads is going to be video ads. That’s when you’ll see a video embedded into an ad unit, lots of different copy. If you see a poll, if you see someone pitching an event, those are all going to be part of premium ads.

One of the really cool things that Facebook is doing right now is something called custom audiences. Think of it this way. Say you have an email list and you have an email list of 10,000 potential customers. You can work with Facebook to build something called a custom audience. You give them these 10,000 email addresses. They’ll match it to people’s Facebook accounts, and now you’re able to build a really targeted ad campaign just to those 10,000 people that you may have in your lead nurturing program at the same time.

What also really differentiates premium ads from marketplace ads is the cost. Now, premium ads, you have to buy on a CPM basis. You also have to buy through a Facebook account team. Marketplace ads, super easy, self-service, you can sign up for them with a credit card. Anyone can advertise on marketplace ads.

Your premium ads are going to have about an $8.50 CPM. You have to talk to a person to sell them, and in a lot of instances, you don’t actually have the control over the ads, your Facebook account team is going to have to set them up for you.

Definite advantages, you’ve a lot higher response rate with your video ads. You can do a lot more with polls and the sponsored stories in the center of the feed. You’re going to get the most interaction with those types of ads. But at the same time, the costs are going to be anywhere from two to four times as much as you’d pay using marketplace ads.

Then there’s also something that’s been getting a lot of press right now, which is FBX or Facebook retargeting. Facebook retargeting is really interesting, and Facebook is finally trying to start to monetize their audience base. They’ve been experimenting with new ad types. Facebook retargeting is Facebook saying, “I’m not going to try to come up with my own ad type. I’m going to take something that works for everybody else.” It’s been really, really profitable for them.

So think of it the same way that you think of retargeting. I think there’s been a recent Whiteboard Friday on retargeting. Very similar principles apply, but instead of just retargeting people who come to your website as they browse random places on the web, you’re retargeting them as they go onto their Facebook page. So really, really interesting possibilities there.

So now that you’ve had a quick primer on what the types of Facebook advertising are, let’s actually talk about how you’d use it and about getting started with this. Before you really do any type of Facebook advertising, before you do any advertising in general, it starts with identifying what your goals are. So I’m going to walk you through a scenario of let’s say we’re going to sell SEOmoz to small businesses using Facebook advertising.

The first thing you want to do is identify your goals. In this situation, we want to sell SEOmoz to small businesses. Let’s figure out exactly what we want to do with those goals. Are we trying to get new people that we’ve never spoken to? Are we trying to nurture existing people in the SEOmoz database, or are we trying to go after existing SEOmoz customers to get them to buy a larger, more expensive product?

So start by figuring out exactly what your goals are. Also identify do you want them to buy after seeing that ad, or do you want the ad to be part of a brand awareness play, where you’re just trying to introduce your product to them and then eventually get them to buy? Start by identifying what your goals are.

So we’re going to identify our goals. Let’s say we want to sell SEOmoz to new people. Perfect. So who are we trying to sell this to? Set your targets. You have to know your audience with this. Facebook is amazing when it comes to targeting capabilities. With a lot of behavioral targeting on the web right now, it’s all assumptions people make. Because I go to ESPN and Golf Digest and Harvard Business Review, then I must be a CEO of a company, and I must be a man in between these ages.

What’s really cool about Facebook is it’s not assumptions that people are making based on what actions someone may or may not be taking on the Internet. We self-identify on social media really, really well. We tell people who we are and what we’re interested in. We tell them what school we went to. We tell them our jobs. We tell them who we’re friends with. Because we know all of that information, it’s really easy to target these people as a marketer. You’re not guessing what people are interested in. They’re actually telling you what they’re interested in, and you can see what they’re talking about, and that gives Facebook incredible targeting options. Not even using Facebook retargeting, but just through their marketplace ads and their premium ads, you have a lot of really great options.

So let’s set our targets for this scenario. Let’s say SEOmoz wants to target small businesses to buy the SEOmoz product. But not just small businesses, who in small businesses? Do we want to target the marketing team? Do we want to target CEOs? Do we want to target CMOs? Do we also want to think a little bit differently and target based on what people are interested in? Great targets in this scenario.

Facebook does something really cool and lets you target the friends of your fans. So we’re going to make the assumption if I’m a fan of SEOmoz and I’m friends with 500 people on Facebook, the average number of friends that someone on Facebook has, I believe, is 500. I think most people watching this probably have more than 500 friends. So be happy you have a lot of Facebook friends, but great for SEOmoz. We’re going to target my friends and fans on Facebook because we’re going to make the assumption, if I’m a fan of SEOmoz, there’s a good chance we might want to sell to my friends, because I’m friends with like-minded people. So the first target is going to be friends of fans.

You might be asking yourself, “Lauren, why aren’t we targeting SEOmoz fans if we want to sell SEOmoz to more people?” Well, maybe a lot of SEOmoz fans are already customers, so you’re going to need to find that out. Whether it’s for your business, SEOmoz or even for Salesforce, it’s really important to know who your fans actually are. It’s as simple as doing a quick SurveyMonkey survey just to ask your fans who they are and if they’re already a customer.

So let’s say we target friends of fans, we target fans. Now, small business itself is a really big audience on Facebook. Tens of millions of people fall into the small business audience, so you might want to narrow that down a little bit more. Facebook gives you a lot of different clusters, which is really just a cluster of different keywords and different interests to build a larger group of people. So maybe it’s small business, maybe we want to think differently. Think about who these people, who your target buyer actually thinks about, who they care about. Maybe it’s small business, maybe it’s people interested in marketing or in the Internet.

The Internet is a target audience on Facebook, because I am a fan of the Internet. Think about all of your targets and build out each individual line for your targets. Think of it the same way if anyone’s run a paid search campaign or a display campaign. You have your account. You have campaigns, and you have ad groups. Think of this similar to how you’re going to think of your ad groups, because if you’re going doing a marketplace ad, you want to have a different type of ad for each one of these different target audiences, really similar to how you’re going to have a different paid search ad to a different ad group.

So if you’re Salesforce and we’re advertising CRM and we’re also advertising customer support application, it’s going to be two different ad copies. Really similar, if you’re advertising to friends of fans and to people that are identified as interested in marketing, you need different ad copy. So start by having different ad copy. Perfect.

The next part, you need to determine what content you’re going to use, and you need to post that content. So two different options here. Let’s start with marketplace ads. You get this little 50 x 50 image, and you get about 135 characters over here in the ad. You can treat this really similar to how you treat, say, paid search or display and come up with different ad copies, work with the different the stakeholders within your organization to post these.

But if you’re going to do some of the premium ads and you’ve got this big, sponsored story over here, this is what gets really interesting. With sponsored story, it’s going to be something you post on your company’s Facebook page. So think of this as your company’s Facebook page. You post something, you want to get that piece of content in front of a lot of people.

Let’s say I am going to draw Roger really poorly right now. Let’s say we’ve got a great post. This is the SEOmoz page. We’ve got this great post with Roger talking about all the new features that SEOmoz is coming out with. So now we say, “Okay, here’s this piece of content. This piece of content needs to almost serve two masters.” We need to make all of our fans and followers happy and show them this content, but let’s try to take this content and get it outside of the SEOmoz audience.

So now we want to take this piece of content, and we want to get people in the small business segment to care about this. So we can’t get a new piece of copy if we’re using a sponsored story. We have to take an existing story on the SEOmoz page, but we want to get it in front of small businesses, people in marketing, fans, friends of fans. So you build all of your different targets, and you choose to sponsor this story. But with this, you have less control.

So two options, but the great thing about Facebook, honestly, you want to do both. It’s not an if-then. You can use your marketplace ads to really customize and put the custom content in front of all these audiences. But with sponsored stories, you’re taking up more real estate. You’re in the center of the page,so it’s a really good way to attract people’s attention. If you are using friends of fans and advertising to friends of fans and any of these people comment, it’s going to have that little bit of the extra engagement over there. So try sponsored stories and look into marketplace ads as well.

If you’re using marketplace ads, the Facebook interface is still being developed, so it’s a little bit hard to clone ads. It’s not super easy to use. So you can end up – I will do the Salesforce pitch – using a tool like Salesforce marketing cloud because it lets you start to clone these ads. So instead of making 50 different ads for 50 different targets, you take one ad, you clone it and make changes. It just helps you move a little bit more quickly. There are lots of different options for doing that as well.

We figure out our content and we post our content. So for sponsored stories, we put a great piece of content front and center on the page. We promote it to all of our different fans and followers, but know that it’s going to show up in the center of their feed as an option. Also build your marketplace ad campaign where you’ve got individual ads for each target.

Here’s an interesting trick that people don’t think about, and it’s my one, major tip for everyone. If you are doing premium content and you do have this sponsored story over here, say you have content that you don’t necessarily want your fans and followers to see. Say you really just want to post your great piece of content to advertise to people in marketing. You’re okay if your fans and followers see it, but it’s not really for them, it’s really advertising content. You could actually backdate that story so that your fans and followers don’t really see this unless they scroll all the way back, which some of your fans and followers might. But backdate your content so that this doesn’t show up on your main company page, but you can still use it in advertising to some of your different audiences. So that’s my one tip for you.

Once you determine and post your content, so let’s say we’re going to do sponsored stories and marketplace ads. Perfect. Then the next and most important step is testing and optimization. No one’s going to get everything right on their first try, and that’s okay. You’re not supposed to get everything right. You just need to move really, really quickly, and the larger your budget, the more quickly you should be able to test and optimize.

Now, with Facebook ads, we find out that the ads actually burn out pretty quickly, so that if you’re using a sponsored story and you’re advertising to the same audience, first of all, make sure you set up frequency caps when you work with your Facebook team, because you don’t want to show the same person an ad 15 times in the middle of their feed. That really does get kind of irritating, and the effectiveness of your ads starts to decrease. So you don’t want to do that. So set frequency caps and also start to rotate your content, especially on the marketplace ads on the right-hand rail. Start to rotate out the image. Start to rotate out your copy.

Depending on how much advertising you’re doing and the size of your budget, it could be as little as two days. You might be able to get away with a week or two. But as long as you’re monitoring results, you’ll start to see performance over here. Let’s say you’re tracking leads. You’re tracking leads, so leads start to go up, and then they start to peak and fall off as impressions go up. You want to find that point where your impressions are going up but your performance is dropping. Once you reach that point, it’s time to switch out your ad because people have seen it. Anyone who’s going to respond to it already has. So make sure you know when to pull your ad copy, and that’s really reporting, doing your analysis and the whole time, what you should be doing is testing and optimizing.

Think of it the way you think of paid search. You’re advertising to friends and fans. You don’t want to just give them one ad. You want to rotate through different titles, different images, different copy, different offers to see what’s really going to perform best, same way you’re going to do this with, let’s say, a paid search campaign or a display advertising campaign. So make sure you test and optimize. Let’s say lots of testing. We like testing.

Then this is the thing that’s really different with Facebook advertising. We’re going to think all the way back – and everyone will make fun of me for making this statement – think about when TV first came out, because I was alive when TV first came out. It’s a joke. Picture when TV first came out, and people all go home and they’re sitting and watching their three channels on television. But you have to make money, so they started putting commercials.

People hated commercials on television. People hated it, and they would complain about commercials interrupting television. But you have to have commercials on television or else television couldn’t exist in the early days of TV, because they needed a way to make money. Now we have cable, and you have to pay for channels, which is a whole different model. But when TV first came out, people hated commercials. Even when email first came out, even email now, a lot of people really hated getting emails and were complaining about emails. It became a little easier with email because there was the option to unsubscribe.

Now think about Facebook. We’ve spent years on Facebook without really having to deal with a lot of advertising. Their right-hand rail started. This in the middle of your feed is really just coming out. So people in general are very taken aback by this. They’re not sure what to do about ads in their feed, and not everyone’s going to like having ads in their feed, the same way not everyone likes receiving an email from a potential company they’re going to buy from, the same way people hated commercials when television first came out.

The biggest difference with this is, because you can comment on this, you’ll start to see how much people don’t like advertising. It won’t necessarily be about your product. It will be that they don’t like that Facebook is offering advertising. Facebook has to make money. They’re a publicly traded company, and they’re going to try to figure out different ways they can make money. But you need to know that this might impact your ads.

If you run a TV commercial and someone doesn’t like it, there’s not a lot they can do about it. If you send an email and someone doesn’t like it, they can unsubscribe. If you run an ad and it shows up in someone’s feed and they don’t like it, they can write a comment about it. If you’re doing a lot of advertising, you might start to see a lot of negative comments.

What’s really fun about these is you’ll also get a lot of likes. You’ll get a lot of shares, and if the content is engaging and people care about the content, if you’re advertising to SMBs or people in marketing and you’re giving them content that tells them how to help their business and really gives them useful information, you’ll get a lot of likes, and you’ll get a lot of shares and people will be really happy with it. But you can’t make everyone happy, and some people will just start to leave negative comments.

As a company, before you really launch this type of campaign, you need to think about what you’re going to do about those negative comments. Are you going to engage with them? Are you going to respond? What’s your threshold? What are you comfortable with? If people start having a lot of negative comments about your ad, do you pull the ad? Do you try to talk to all of these people? Do you say, “You know what? I don’t care about negative comments?” What’s your threshold?

So figure out your engagement strategy and how you’re going to monitor that before you launch the campaign. Otherwise, you’ll launch all of this, you’ll run this sponsored story, you’ll make tons and tons of money, hopefully, from all of the advertising that you’re doing. You’ll sell shoes, you’ll sell Moz licenses, you’ll be really successful, but then you’ll see all these negative comments and then suddenly maybe you won’t be as successful and maybe this is a bigger deal for your business of having all those negative comments than the potential upside.

So think about that first and know what you’re willing to deal with, what you’re comfortable with, and then what your engagement and response strategy is before you launch. If you do that and you start off with goals, you go after those targets, you optimize, because maybe some of these targets don’t work. Maybe people who like the Internet don’t like SEOmoz. It’s weird. You think they would, but what if they don’t? You have to know which lines you’re willing to get rid of, which comes from the optimization piece. If someone’s not happy, if you’ve got a great community team that’s really engaging, you can start turning some of those negative comments into real sales opportunities.

So that’s my how to get started with Facebook advertising. A few quick steps to go, but for anyone who’s looking to try it, you can sign up for marketplace ads with a credit card, give it a shot – a lot of times they offer a little bit of free Facebook money – and see what happens and see what works for your business.

Thank you, everybody. I am Lauren Vacarello. Take care.”

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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