Tag Archive | "Don’t"

Google: We Don’t Hand Rank Web Pages, It Would Be Impossible

Google’s John Mueller said on Twitter that Google does not manually hand rank any web page. He added the web is too big for that and if they tried, it would be impossible.


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Don’t Be Fooled by Data: 4 Data Analysis Pitfalls & How to Avoid Them

Posted by Tom.Capper

Digital marketing is a proudly data-driven field. Yet, as SEOs especially, we often have such incomplete or questionable data to work with, that we end up jumping to the wrong conclusions in our attempts to substantiate our arguments or quantify our issues and opportunities.

In this post, I’m going to outline 4 data analysis pitfalls that are endemic in our industry, and how to avoid them.

1. Jumping to conclusions

Earlier this year, I conducted a ranking factor study around brand awareness, and I posted this caveat:

“…the fact that Domain Authority (or branded search volume, or anything else) is positively correlated with rankings could indicate that any or all of the following is likely:

  • Links cause sites to rank well
  • Ranking well causes sites to get links
  • Some third factor (e.g. reputation or age of site) causes sites to get both links and rankings”
    ~ Me

However, I want to go into this in a bit more depth and give you a framework for analyzing these yourself, because it still comes up a lot. Take, for example, this recent study by Stone Temple, which you may have seen in the Moz Top 10 or Rand’s tweets, or this excellent article discussing SEMRush’s recent direct traffic findings. To be absolutely clear, I’m not criticizing either of the studies, but I do want to draw attention to how we might interpret them.

Firstly, we do tend to suffer a little confirmation bias — we’re all too eager to call out the cliché “correlation vs. causation” distinction when we see successful sites that are keyword-stuffed, but all too approving when we see studies doing the same with something we think is or was effective, like links.

Secondly, we fail to critically analyze the potential mechanisms. The options aren’t just causation or coincidence.

Before you jump to a conclusion based on a correlation, you’re obliged to consider various possibilities:

  • Complete coincidence
  • Reverse causation
  • Joint causation
  • Linearity
  • Broad applicability

If those don’t make any sense, then that’s fair enough — they’re jargon. Let’s go through an example:

Before I warn you not to eat cheese because you may die in your bedsheets, I’m obliged to check that it isn’t any of the following:

  • Complete coincidence - Is it possible that so many datasets were compared, that some were bound to be similar? Why, that’s exactly what Tyler Vigen did! Yes, this is possible.
  • Reverse causation - Is it possible that we have this the wrong way around? For example, perhaps your relatives, in mourning for your bedsheet-related death, eat cheese in large quantities to comfort themselves? This seems pretty unlikely, so let’s give it a pass. No, this is very unlikely.
  • Joint causation - Is it possible that some third factor is behind both of these? Maybe increasing affluence makes you healthier (so you don’t die of things like malnutrition), and also causes you to eat more cheese? This seems very plausible. Yes, this is possible.
  • Linearity - Are we comparing two linear trends? A linear trend is a steady rate of growth or decline. Any two statistics which are both roughly linear over time will be very well correlated. In the graph above, both our statistics are trending linearly upwards. If the graph was drawn with different scales, they might look completely unrelated, like this, but because they both have a steady rate, they’d still be very well correlated. Yes, this looks likely.
  • Broad applicability - Is it possible that this relationship only exists in certain niche scenarios, or, at least, not in my niche scenario? Perhaps, for example, cheese does this to some people, and that’s been enough to create this correlation, because there are so few bedsheet-tangling fatalities otherwise? Yes, this seems possible.

So we have 4 “Yes” answers and one “No” answer from those 5 checks.

If your example doesn’t get 5 “No” answers from those 5 checks, it’s a fail, and you don’t get to say that the study has established either a ranking factor or a fatal side effect of cheese consumption.

A similar process should apply to case studies, which are another form of correlation — the correlation between you making a change, and something good (or bad!) happening. For example, ask:

  • Have I ruled out other factors (e.g. external demand, seasonality, competitors making mistakes)?
  • Did I increase traffic by doing the thing I tried to do, or did I accidentally improve some other factor at the same time?
  • Did this work because of the unique circumstance of the particular client/project?

This is particularly challenging for SEOs, because we rarely have data of this quality, but I’d suggest an additional pair of questions to help you navigate this minefield:

  • If I were Google, would I do this?
  • If I were Google, could I do this?

Direct traffic as a ranking factor passes the “could” test, but only barely — Google could use data from Chrome, Android, or ISPs, but it’d be sketchy. It doesn’t really pass the “would” test, though — it’d be far easier for Google to use branded search traffic, which would answer the same questions you might try to answer by comparing direct traffic levels (e.g. how popular is this website?).

2. Missing the context

If I told you that my traffic was up 20% week on week today, what would you say? Congratulations?

What if it was up 20% this time last year?

What if I told you it had been up 20% year on year, up until recently?

It’s funny how a little context can completely change this. This is another problem with case studies and their evil inverted twin, traffic drop analyses.

If we really want to understand whether to be surprised at something, positively or negatively, we need to compare it to our expectations, and then figure out what deviation from our expectations is “normal.” If this is starting to sound like statistics, that’s because it is statistics — indeed, I wrote about a statistical approach to measuring change way back in 2015.

If you want to be lazy, though, a good rule of thumb is to zoom out, and add in those previous years. And if someone shows you data that is suspiciously zoomed in, you might want to take it with a pinch of salt.

3. Trusting our tools

Would you make a multi-million dollar business decision based on a number that your competitor could manipulate at will? Well, chances are you do, and the number can be found in Google Analytics. I’ve covered this extensively in other places, but there are some major problems with most analytics platforms around:

  • How easy they are to manipulate externally
  • How arbitrarily they group hits into sessions
  • How vulnerable they are to ad blockers
  • How they perform under sampling, and how obvious they make this

For example, did you know that the Google Analytics API v3 can heavily sample data whilst telling you that the data is unsampled, above a certain amount of traffic (~500,000 within date range)? Neither did I, until we ran into it whilst building Distilled ODN.

Similar problems exist with many “Search Analytics” tools. My colleague Sam Nemzer has written a bunch about this — did you know that most rank tracking platforms report completely different rankings? Or how about the fact that the keywords grouped by Google (and thus tools like SEMRush and STAT, too) are not equivalent, and don’t necessarily have the volumes quoted?

It’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of tools that we use, so that we can at least know when they’re directionally accurate (as in, their insights guide you in the right direction), even if not perfectly accurate. All I can really recommend here is that skilling up in SEO (or any other digital channel) necessarily means understanding the mechanics behind your measurement platforms — which is why all new starts at Distilled end up learning how to do analytics audits.

One of the most common solutions to the root problem is combining multiple data sources, but…

4. Combining data sources

There are numerous platforms out there that will “defeat (not provided)” by bringing together data from two or more of:

  • Analytics
  • Search Console
  • AdWords
  • Rank tracking

The problems here are that, firstly, these platforms do not have equivalent definitions, and secondly, ironically, (not provided) tends to break them.

Let’s deal with definitions first, with an example — let’s look at a landing page with a channel:

  • In Search Console, these are reported as clicks, and can be vulnerable to heavy, invisible sampling when multiple dimensions (e.g. keyword and page) or filters are combined.
  • In Google Analytics, these are reported using last non-direct click, meaning that your organic traffic includes a bunch of direct sessions, time-outs that resumed mid-session, etc. That’s without getting into dark traffic, ad blockers, etc.
  • In AdWords, most reporting uses last AdWords click, and conversions may be defined differently. In addition, keyword volumes are bundled, as referenced above.
  • Rank tracking is location specific, and inconsistent, as referenced above.

Fine, though — it may not be precise, but you can at least get to some directionally useful data given these limitations. However, about that “(not provided)”…

Most of your landing pages get traffic from more than one keyword. It’s very likely that some of these keywords convert better than others, particularly if they are branded, meaning that even the most thorough click-through rate model isn’t going to help you. So how do you know which keywords are valuable?

The best answer is to generalize from AdWords data for those keywords, but it’s very unlikely that you have analytics data for all those combinations of keyword and landing page. Essentially, the tools that report on this make the very bold assumption that a given page converts identically for all keywords. Some are more transparent about this than others.

Again, this isn’t to say that those tools aren’t valuable — they just need to be understood carefully. The only way you could reliably fill in these blanks created by “not provided” would be to spend a ton on paid search to get decent volume, conversion rate, and bounce rate estimates for all your keywords, and even then, you’ve not fixed the inconsistent definitions issues.

Bonus peeve: Average rank

I still see this way too often. Three questions:

  1. Do you care more about losing rankings for ten very low volume queries (10 searches a month or less) than for one high volume query (millions plus)? If the answer isn’t “yes, I absolutely care more about the ten low-volume queries”, then this metric isn’t for you, and you should consider a visibility metric based on click through rate estimates.
  2. When you start ranking at 100 for a keyword you didn’t rank for before, does this make you unhappy? If the answer isn’t “yes, I hate ranking for new keywords,” then this metric isn’t for you — because that will lower your average rank. You could of course treat all non-ranking keywords as position 100, as some tools allow, but is a drop of 2 average rank positions really the best way to express that 1/50 of your landing pages have been de-indexed? Again, use a visibility metric, please.
  3. Do you like comparing your performance with your competitors? If the answer isn’t “no, of course not,” then this metric isn’t for you — your competitors may have more or fewer branded keywords or long-tail rankings, and these will skew the comparison. Again, use a visibility metric.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you’ve found this useful. To summarize the main takeaways:

  • Critically analyse correlations & case studies by seeing if you can explain them as coincidences, as reverse causation, as joint causation, through reference to a third mutually relevant factor, or through niche applicability.
  • Don’t look at changes in traffic without looking at the context — what would you have forecasted for this period, and with what margin of error?
  • Remember that the tools we use have limitations, and do your research on how that impacts the numbers they show. “How has this number been produced?” is an important component in “What does this number mean?”
  • If you end up combining data from multiple tools, remember to work out the relationship between them — treat this information as directional rather than precise.

Let me know what data analysis fallacies bug you, in the comments below.

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Google: Why We Don’t Disclose Most Google Updates & Algorithm Changes

Google’s John Mueller addressed the question of why they don’t disclose most Google algorithm updates and changes in this mornings Google hangout not just once…


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We Don’t Sell Products, We Sell Change

“I actually believe that we don’t sell products, we sell change,” says Tiffani Bova, Customer Growth and Transformation Evangelist at Salesforce. Bova was interviewing legendary speaker and author Seth Godin when she made that comment.

“What great marketers and great sales people and great organizations do is only one thing, as Michael Schrage has written about, we make change happen,” responded Godin. “My favorite example of this is Harley Davidson. Harley turns disrespected outsiders into respected insiders. That’s what they do. They make half of their revenue licensing their logo, because the logo, the totum, the uniform is a symbol of the change. You don’t even have to have a motorcycle to be changed by the brand.”

This is the company’s internal marketing positioning statement that illustrates the point that Bova and Godin are making:

The only motorcycle manufacturer
That makes big, loud motorcycles
For macho guys (and “macho wannabes”)
Mostly in the United States
Who want to join a gang of cowboys
In an era of decreasing personal freedom.

Per Inc. Magazine

Godin also talked colorfully about sales, marketing and social media:

“It all comes down to what story does the sales person tell himself when he shows up at work every morning. Trust and awareness are the two key things here. What we want isn’t email, we want me-mail. What we want isn’t to hear about you, we want to hear about us. We want to hear about our dreams, where we are going. Salespeople who get that, who show up at work everyday intent on making that happen, they don’t have a social media problem.”

The post We Don’t Sell Products, We Sell Change appeared first on WebProNews.


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Google Says “Don’t Worry About Links”

Links are a topic on the mind of every webmaster, search marketer and entrepreneur, especially as it relates to ranking in Google search results. The funny thing is, Google really, really doesn’t want you to worry about links, because of course, that wouldn’t be natural.

I thought it interesting to raise up a few comments Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller made during his latest Google Webmaster Central office-hours hangout, that illustrate how much Google doesn’t want us to worry about links.

One hangout participant stated that as a teacher he gets a lot of links from random places, some that might even be considered bad neighborhoods and asked; Are these kinds of links good for me or bad for me? Is Google giving me credit for them? Is Google penalizing me for them? Is Google discounting them? Should I disavow them? Should I not worry?

“I like that last option,” said Mueller. “In general, if these are normal links, organic links, that are happening that are pointing at your content, then I would just let them be. That’s the way the internet works, people link to your content.”

He added, “If your students have blogs and they think, oh, this is actually a teacher that knows what he’s talking about, then that’s a good link. That’s not something you need to disavow just because maybe it’s a sitewide link or in the blog role. I wouldn’t worry about where people are linking from. If these are organic links that are at your site, that’s perfectly fine.”

The caller stated, “So in best case scenario, I get credit for them. In worst case scenario, Google will discount them. But nothing to worry about being paralyzed or anything like that?” Mueller answered, “Exactly.”

Another person asked, “Are you ever going to create an episode just for the discount of links? Like a hangout just for that kind of subject, because I still feel like it’s discounted. If you had, let’s say, five bad links, and that link– I think there was an example there from the “New York Times.” So that “New York Times” link will also be discounted by accident, or no, it won’t? It’s just still a gray area there with this whole discounted link thing going on.”

“Yeah, but in general, that’s not really something you need to worry that much about,” answered Mueller. “That’s kind of the way our algorithms are picking up these links and trying to figure out, how should we treat these links? And that’s something that we’ve been doing in the past as well. That’s even in the basis of PageRank, in the sense that not all links are the same, and we need to figure out how to value the individual links.”

“But that’s not something that as a webmaster you really need to worry about, because you can’t really control that,” he said. “From that point of view, it’s hard to say we could do a whole Hangout just on links, because ideally in the background, there is this big, big sign saying, you shouldn’t be playing with links. And if we’re talking the whole time about how to make links look natural, then that’s essentially contradicting the other one.”

The post Google Says “Don’t Worry About Links” appeared first on WebProNews.


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Google: Don’t Worry Too Much About Page Speed

I see so many SEOs always cite the page speed of a site when it comes to why a site may not rank that well. Truth is, from what I understand, the only way page speed impacts a site’s rankings in Google is if the site is unbearably slow…


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SMBs Don’t Prioritize SEO

According to new research from the Small Business Authority, only 17 percent of small business owners invest in SEO. This is often due to limited budgets mixed with a lack of understanding.

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A Marketer’s Plea: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Links

While many marketers view asking for links as a manipulative invitation for trouble, links are a fundamental part of digital marketing and they don’t come for free.

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You Don’t Need to Be a Brand Publisher to Win at Content Marketing

Posted by ronell smith

“Man, I’m sorry. You guys weren’t ready to adopt the brands as publisher mindset. I suspected you’d never be ready to do it successfully. I knew it; I could sense you knew it. I wish I’d spoken up when I saw the intra-departmental debates waging. That’s on me. My bad.”

Those were my words to the executive of a midsize lifestyle brand I worked with in 2014. It took me months to get up the nerve to reach out and make it right, even though I’d done nothing wrong. 

He seemed to understand. But he did have a question that stopped me in tracks and continues to haunt me.

“If
we couldn’t get it right, with all of our resources, what does it say about the feasibility of becoming a brand publisher?” he inquired. “Does that make content marketing [in and of itself] a bad idea?”

A fair question, to be sure, and one I did not have a sufficient answer for. But in looking back, I realized this exec, like so many others before him, made the mistake of thinking he could do quickly what he had not yet learned to do well. Content marketing wasn’t the missile that sank his boat. The decision to do content marketing at warp speed and with little direction was his brands’ albatross.

Four things doomed his efforts from the start, and each was self-induced:

  1. He drank the brands-as-publishers Kool-Aid
  2. He chose the wrong goals for his brand
  3. He attempted to execute a plan that wasn’t meant for his business
  4. He attempted to do content marketing by skipping the small but important steps

Any one of these could have led to failure. Facing them all at once is akin to content marketing suicide. I see these same four elements dooming content marketers so frequently that I’ve resorted to naming them the four horsemen of content marketing failure.

For the purposes of this post, I want to illuminate how attempting to be a brand publisher is a lofty, needless goal for all but a handful of brands. Then I will highlight how to make steps 2, 3, and 4 work for your brand, not against it.

Before I begin, however, I want to make one thing abundantly clear: The ideas shared in this post have been formed through working with hundreds of brands over more than a decade, either as a writer, business strategist, content strategist, product marketing consultant or in a PR/media relations capacity.

I’m under no illusion that each (or any of them) will apply to everyone, but experience has shown me that these elements play an invaluable role in the success (or failure) of most brands embarking on the content marketing journey.

Where content marketing went off course


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source)

The web is rife with examples of marketers sharing the “wisdom” of brands becoming publishers, and no less common are the examples of brands who’ve done just that, adding content publisher to the laundry list of services they already provide. Here’s the problem with that logic: You’re not a publisher, and attempting to become one is fraught with risks that more often than not lead to failure.

The logic of brands as publishers

Brand publishing refers to brands attempting to behave as media companies, specifically with regard to content breadth and frequency. Also, and most important, it requires a mindset wholly different from that of a typical content marketer: These brands view publishing as part of their business model.

That’s where the confusion comes in. A lot of very 
knowledgeable people say any brand that publishes blog posts or adds updates on social media is a brand publisher. But that’s akin to saying anyone who runs is a marathoner. It’s about scale. While content marketing’s goal is to attract and retain customers through the creation and distribution of content, being a brand publisher means you have layers of staff, strategic insight, vision, resources to build platforms for sharing new content and, most important, the ability to produce content at a rate that rivals, well, publishers.

If content marketing is a single-family dwelling, brand publishing is a city of one-million-plus. 

It’s not that being a brand publisher is a bad idea all by itself. It’s that too many companies, who are barely ready to do content well, now think being a publisher is a sound idea.

As brands continue to bite off more than they can chew, the realities are tough to stomach, and have led to some interesting conclusions:

  1. Brands who have and who can successfully make the transition to being a publisher can be very successful (e.g., seeing increased links and traffic, greater organic visibility, a significant lift in paid search and enviable social traction).
  2. The number of brands who can successfully pull off being publishers is miniscule.

After months spent developing content strategies for clients looking for content marketing help, I decided that, in good conscience, I would never again insist that brands become publishers.

Instead, I adopted a strategy that’s as far away from one-size-fits-all as possible.

Good for business doesn’t mean good for your business

First, I refrained from using the term brand publisher. Next, I became a vocal proponent of the good-for-business-doesn’t-mean-good-for-your-business philosophy, which meant that in meetings with managers, directors and C-Suite execs, I had the courage of my convictions in sharing that while content marketing is a sound practice, becoming a full-fledged publisher is something that requires a minimum of three things to be successful:

  • Near-limitless resources: Take a look at the companies crushing it as true brand publishers, and you very quickly see why there aren’t many like them. Red Bull, consistently singled out as the leading brand-as-publisher, invests in the full gamut of content, including movies, books, TV shows, magazines and more. The privately held company doesn’t release figures related to those activities, but it’s likely in the tens of millions. “[The expense is] something we grapple with on a daily basis,” says Werner Brell, head of Red Bull Media House, the content arm of the brand. “It’s obviously expensive.”
  • Come-hell-or-high water commitment:  If you choose the brand-as-publisher route, understand that you’ll get up close and personal with the word commitment. Aside from the financial commitment, including staff and the cost of producing content, you’d better be prepared for publish or perish to become part of your brand’s DNA. There is no “This isn’t working. Let’s change tactics.” This is your horse and you’ll keep riding it. It’s the lot you’ve chosen.
  • A change in your brand’s overall corporate philosophy: This is the big, hairy gorilla that (fortunately) saves many brands from dooming themselves from choosing the brand publisher route. Few C-Suite denizens are willing to disrupt their corporate model and add publishing to their mantle. And if you’re the VP of content or CMO, you’re wise to accept this level of restraint.

If your company is ready to shoulder such a commitment, then by all means dive right in. If not, there’s a better way to do content marketing, one that is no less effective but does not require you to mortgage your future in the process.

A better way: content marketing for your brand

Instead of attempting to become a publisher, or even a content marketer, focus your efforts on becoming a brand that consistently creates content that puts the needs of prospects and customers first, while simultaneously providing meaningful solutions to their problems.

I’ve been a very vocal haranguer of content marketing, though not because of its inefficacy.

I’m simply not a proponent of brands thinking of themselves as anything other than
what they are in the minds of their prospects and clients.

Hopefully, at the core of your business is a product or service customers clamor for, not a content engine.

That’s why becoming a customer-first brand that has meaningful content as part of its DNA is the safest, surest, easiest-to-adopt model for brands with the desire to do content marketing right but who aren’t willing to re-org the business to get it underway.

In this way, you keep the
main thing the main thing. That main thing in this case is serving your core audience.

At this point, I’m hoping you see the light, realizing that becoming a brand publisher isn’t necessary for your company to be successful at content marketing.

If you’re ready to chart a solid, more reliable path to success, it begins with turning away the four horsemen of content marketing failure.

We’ve banished the first horsemen. Let’s do the same with the other three.

Choose the right goals for your business

Whenever I sit down with a prospect to discuss their business, I open up my notebook and write down the following three phrases, including a checkbox next to each, on a sheet of paper:

  • “…Be successful.”
  • “…Rank No. 1 in Google.”
  • “…Increase…conversions.”

Then I ask “What are your goals for the business?” all the while knowing full well the answer will be one of the three things I’ve written down.

The followup question, too, is canned: “What are you doing to get there?” That answer, too, is typically never a surprise: “That’s what you’re here for, right?”

Wrong!

After I’ve apprised them that the shortest path to failure is not
having a clear view of their goals, I have their attention and they are ready to begin the goal-setting process.

Here’s the catch: Only you and your team can decide what those goals are/should be. It’s important that the goals take into account the entirety of the business, not just SEO, content, social media, etc.

Also, I’ve found it helps if the metrics assigned to measure a business’s success toward their goals are meaningful (e.g., a sincere help to the overall business) and clearly communicated (e.g., everyone involved is aware of what they’re working for and being judged against).


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source)

No matter what specific goals you decide on, applying the principle of “HAS,” as in holistic, adherable (er, sticky) and sustainable, can be a huge help:

  • Holistic—Content marketing success requires that a lot of moving work parts in unison. Your goals must take into account the entirety of the business, though not all at once.
  • Adherable—How likely are you to stick with the goals, seeing them through to fruition? It won’t matter how sound your goals are if they don’t make sense for your business, or don’t make sense for your business at a given time.
  • Sustainable—Will you be able to maintain the needed level of effort for the goals to reach maturity?

I’ve found that keeping these principles top of mind helps to order a brand’s steps, ensuring that everyone is aware of the goals and of their role in working toward them.

As an example, let’s say you’re a small business ready to jump into the murky waters of content marketing, but you don’t yet have a website.

The right goal would be to launch a new website. To make the goal as HAS-friendly as possible, you could assign a timeframe—say, 90 days—then break out the associated tasks by order of importance (see image below).


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source)

I’d even suggest keeping a checklist in a Google Doc where team members can stay abreast of what’s going on, in addition to seeing who’s responsible for what and having a better understanding of where the team is in terms of completing each task related to their goals.

Execute a plan that’s right for your business

If I had to single out the No. 1 reason content marketers I’ve worked with have failed it would be that they based their goals on what the competition was doing instead of what’s best for their own business.

Seeing a competitor rank higher for their main keywords; having thousands of web pages indexed by Google; spending mad cash on paid media; and having brand pages on Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, these businesses attempt to do the same.

Sounds comical, right, until you realize it happens all the time and to businesses of all sizes.

Problem is, no two businesses are entirely alike and, well, “You aren’t them,” as the saying goes.

Aside from having little idea of how much real success the competition is enjoying from their search, social and content efforts, these brands are taking their eyes off the main prize: their own business.

An approach that works well and is easy to carry out entails taking an inventory or where you are in relation to where you want to be while keeping a keen eye on the competition.

With your goals solidly in hand, begin by sketching out a plan based not on where you are, or on what the competition is doing, but on those actions that would likely lead to success for you.

(image created by author)

In the graph above, created in Google Docs, you can see that I mainly focused on the content-related activities that would have the biggest impact over the next 90 days. (Caveat: This is simply a high-level overview of one area of the business, but it’s plenty thorough enough for a team to begin working from.)

The key is to take the time to get to know (a) what success looks like for your business, then (b) focus on specific, actionable elements that can be done in the allotted timeframe.

Sweat the (seemingly) small but important stuff


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“Why do you hate content marketing?” I get asked these words at least once a month. The answer is always the same. I don’t hate content marketing. I hate most brands’ approach to content marketing.

There is so much more to making it a success than we’re typically led to believe there is.

The focus is always on produce, produce, produce. Outreach, outreach, outreach. Produce more. Outreach evan more. Rinse and repeat.

As marketers, we’ve seemingly trained a generation of brands that the focus should be on doing fast (and often) what they barely know how to do at all. We never learn to do well.

Yeah, I know it works…for some. But is it scalable over the long-term? Better yet, will it remain scalable into the future?

If you want to position your brand for success in content marketing, make sweating the small but oh-so-important steps a priority. 

This process starts with clarity.

  1. Begin by defining who you are and who you desire to be in the minds of your prospects and clients. I can see the eye-rolling. But without answers to these questions, you’re wasting your time and, likely, money. Devote the time to having weekly brainstorming sessions with your core team. During these meetings, keep the air open, relaxed and free-flowing, allowing ideas to bounce freely around the room. The goal is to start  each meeting with a big question. Then let it “breathe.” Your first big question should be “Who are we?” followed by “Who are we to our customers?” Put on your introspection hats, viewing yourselves through the words and interactions of prospects and customers, who have likely shared comments via email, phone, text, and your website.
     
  2. Ask “why” a lot. During Mozcon 2014, Wil Reynolds dropped a slide that gave me goosebumps:


                                                                       (image 
    source)
     

    Simple. Brilliant. What I loved about this slide and the line of thinking is it helps brands (and the staff who work for those brands) stay the course, focused on their already-defined objectives. For example, once you know who you are and who you are in the minds of your core prospects and customers, any actions you take should be done with this information in mind. 

    Therefore, if the team begins to get distracted by shiny-things syndrome, anyone has the right to ask “Why are we doing this?” or “Why does this…make sense?” 

    Nothing like forcing someone to defend a bad idea to provoke clarity.

  3. Get to know your audience. The better you know your audience, the easier it is to market to them. Even if you cannot afford the fancy tools and platforms Mike King has previous talked about to develop personas, you can have staff members spend an hour each per week scouring social media, forums, discussions boards and sundry websites’ comments sections looking for people who are likely interested in the products/services your business offers. Gather as much information (e.g., age, income, occupation, etc.) about these people and their needs as possible, in addition to what sites they frequent, how often and for what. In this way, you’re developing personas without it feeling like an onerous task. Keep copious notes, which can be entered into a Google Doc and shared with teammates.
     
  4. Build a community. I hate the term secret sauce, mainly because no such thing exists. However, if a brand wants to set itself apart from the competition, they should adopt this mentality: Get to know your audience, but build a community.  An audience might read your blog, consume and share your information, and recognize your content from the rest of the pack. A community, however, is engaged and passionate, actively seeking out your content, sharing it broadly and fervently, and is easily willing to help in the creation of content for your business   (e.g., YouMoz) Have your team keep a watchful eye on out for engaged, visible members of your audience, especially via social media. Share their content, answer their questions and, as resources permit, surprise them with personaliized GIFs or mail them skotskes. The audience-to-community threshold is smaller than you likely think.
     
  5. Create and share meaningful content. Notice that I saved content creation until last. That’s no accident. Content marketing is cruelest to those who dive in headfirst without clear goals, lacking a plan of action and who’re content to simply “be on social media” or to “share some blogs.” If you’re committed to creating and sharing meaningful content, there are three areas you must focus on:
    • Inspire. People want to feel good about themselves and the work they’re doing. Why not use your content to help them and generate buzz for yourself in the process? For example, if your business sells email solutions for small business, a sizable portion of your content should cater to helping business owners “take back a part of your day.” When creating content, put yourself in the shoes of your customers, and ask yourself “What can I create that’ll inspire and compel them?” In this way, it’s less about the action you need them to take and more about tapping the emotion needed to bring that action to reality.
    • Immediacy. While evergreen content certainly deserves a spot in your quiver, make certain to offer content that speaks to the immediate needs of the community. This is when a sincere effort at thinking like a publisher comes in handy, especially if you have experts in-house who can speak, with your brand’s voice, to these needs. A great example is the job Eric Enge and Mark Traphagen are doing at sharing information regarding Google’s updates and important social media news. Look for ways your brands can contribute in a similar fashion. 
    • Indispensability. Your content needs an I-can’t-do-without-this component. It’s the surest path to ensure your content gets read and shared; your website retains steady traffic; your blogs always have significant eyeballs; and your brand is sought-after online. Look at the job the Buffer folks are doing in educating their community on all things social media, time management and productivity hacks. Their posts are read and shared by thousands daily, with many (including myself) seeing the blog as can’t-do-without material. Same for the excellent work the Bruce Clay, Inc. content team, whose comprehensive resources add a layer of “stickiness” to the brand that’s hard to beat. How can you do the same? Commit wholeheartedly to learning the needs of your community, especially those needs associated with pain points they desperately need removed. Creating content around these areas/topics is the easy part.

I can’t say for certain that, if you refrain from attempting to be a brand publisher, you’ll be a successful content marketer. I also cannot promise that going all-in with the three points outlined above ensures your success. 

What, however, I can say is the vast majority of brands would do better if they banished “I want to be a brand publisher” from their lexicon and decided to focus on the right goals, executed a sensible plan and made the small things part of the main things.

What about you? Are you ready to do content marketing wisely? Dive into the discussion in the comments below.

(main image: licensed by the author )

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What New SEOs Don’t Know Unless You Tell Them: A Reminder from Outside the Echo Chamber

Posted by RuthBurrReedy

SEO experts spend multiple hours a week reading blogs, social media and forums to stay abreast of the latest search engine developments; we spend even more time testing and measuring tactics to figure out what works best for our sites. When you spend so much of your time thinking, talking and learning about SEO, you can get lost in the echo chamber and take your eyes off the prize of growing your clients’ businesses.

It’s easy to get excited about the new and shiny developments in search and to hang on Google’s latest announcements, but there’s no point in switching a site from HTTP to HTTPS if it doesn’t even have appropriately keyword-rich title tags. There’s no reason to run a button-color conversion rate optimization test on a site that’s still using the manufacturer’s default description on product pages. Sometimes your traffic is plummeting because you haven’t checked for new 404 errors in 6 months, not because you’ve been hit with a penalty.
Think horses, not zebras, and don’t forget one important fact: Most people have no idea what we’re talking about.

What clients don’t know

Running a business, especially a small business, is way more than a full-time job. Most business owners these days understand that they need to be doing something for their business online, but once they get beyond “have a website” they’re not sure of the next step.

Puzzle

Photo via
Pixabay

Moving back into agency work after several years in-house,
I was surprised by just how many businesses out there have never gone beyond that first step of having a website. The nitty-gritty of building a search-friendly website and driving traffic to it still aren’t that widely known, and without the time or inclination to become experts in marketing their websites, most small business owners just aren’t spending that much time thinking about it.

Hanging out in the SEO echo chamber is a great way to stay on top of the latest trends in digital marketing. To win and keep our clients, however, we need to step out of that echo chamber and remember just how many website owners aren’t thinking about SEO at all.

The good

Relatively few people know or understand digital marketing, and that’s the reason we all have jobs (and most of us are hiring). The strapped-for-time aspect of business ownership means that once someone decides it’s time to get serious about marketing their business online, they’re likely to call in an expert rather than doing it themselves.

There are some really competitive industries and markets out there, but
there are also plenty of niche and local markets in which almost nobody is focusing on SEO in a serious way. Take a look at who ranks for your target keywords in your local area, using an incognito window. If the key phrase isn’t appearing consistently on the search results page, chances are nobody is targeting it very strongly. Combine that with an absence of heavy-hitting big brands like Amazon or Wikipedia, and you may have a market where some basic SEO improvements can make a huge difference. This includes things like:

  • Adding keywords to title tags and page copy in an intentional, user-friendly, non-keyword-stuffed way
  • Claiming local listings with a consistent name, address and phone number
  • Building a few links and citations from locally-focused websites and blogs

It may not seem like much (or seem like kind of a no-brainer), but sometimes it’s all you need. Of course, once the basics are in place, the smartest move is to keep improving your site and building authority; you can’t rely on your competitors not knowing their stuff forever.


Even in more competitive markets, a shocking number of larger brands are paying little to no attention to best practices in search
. Many businesses get the traffic and rankings they do from the power of their brands, which comes from more traditional marketing techniques and PR. These activities result in a fair amount of traffic (not to mention links and authority) on their own, but if they’re being done with no attention given to SEO, they’re wasting a huge opportunity. In the coming years, look for SEO-savvy brands to start capitalizing on this opportunity, leaving their competitors to play catch-up.

From inside the echo chamber, it’s easy to forget just how well the fundamentals of SEO still really work. In addition to the basic items I listed above, a website should be:

  • Fast. Aim for an average page load time of under 5 seconds (user attention spans start running out after 2 seconds, but 5 is a nice achievable goal for most websites).
  • Responsive so it can be viewed on a variety of screens. Mobile is never getting less important.
  • Well-coded. The Moz Developer’s Cheat Sheet is as good a place to start as any.
  • Easy to navigate (just as much for your customers as for Google). Run a Screaming Frog crawl to make sure a crawler can get to every page with a minimum of errors, dead ends, and duplicate content.
  • Unique and keyword-rich, talking about what you have in the language people are using to search for it (in copy nobody else is using).
  • Easy to share for when you’re building awareness and authority via social media and link building.

So life is good and we are smart and there’s a lot to do and everything is very special. Good deal, right?

The bad

SEO being a very specialized skill set has some serious downsides.
Most clients don’t know much about SEO, but some SEOs don’t know much about it either.

There are a ton of great resources out there to learn SEO (Moz and Distilled U come to mind). That said, the web can be a ghost town of old, outdated and inaccurate information, and it can be difficult for people who don’t have much experience in search marketing to know what info to trust. An article on how to make chocolate chip muffins from 2010 is still useful now; an article on PageRank sculpting from the same time period is much less so.

Outdated techniques (especially around content creation and link building) can be really tempting for the novice digital marketer. There are a ton of “tricks” to quickly generate low-quality links and content that sound like great ideas when you’re hearing them for the first time. Content spinning, directory spam, link farms – they’re all still going on and there are gobs of information out there on how to do them.

Why should we care?

So why should we more experienced SEOs, who know what we’re doing and what works, care about these brand new baby n00b SEOs mowing through all this bad intel?

confused

Photo by
Petras Gagilas via Flickr

The first reason is ideological – we should care because they’re doing
bad marketing. It contributes to everything that’s spammy and terrible about the internet. It also makes us look bad. The “SEO is not spam” battle is still being fought.

The second reason is practical. People billing themselves as SEOs without knowing enough about it is a problem because

clients don’t know enough about it either
. It’s easy for someone engaging in link farming and directory spam to compete on price with someone doing full-scale content marketing, because one is much, much more work than the other. Short-term, predictable results feel a lot more tangible than long-term strategies, which are harder to guarantee and forecast. Not to mention that “X dollars for Y links” guy isn’t going to add “There is a risk that these tactics will result in a penalty, which would be difficult to recover from even if I did know how to do it, which I don’t.”

How can we fix it?

SEOs need to educate our clients and prospects on what we do and why we do it. That means giving them enough information to be able to weed out good tactics from bad even before we make the sale.
It means saying “even if you don’t hire me to do this, please don’t hire someone who does X, Y or Z.” It means taking the time to explain why we don’t guarantee first-page rankings, and the risks inherent in link spam. Most of all, it means stepping out of the echo chamber and into the client’s shoes, remembering that basic tenets of digital marketing that may seem obvious to us are completely foreign to most website owners. At the very least we need to educate our clients to please, please not change the website without talking to us about it first!

Since terrible SEO gives us a bad rep (and is annoying to fix), we also need to actively educate within the SEO community. Stepping out of the echo chamber in this case means we need to spend some time talking to new SEOs at conferences, instead of just talking to each other. Point brand new SEOs to the right resources to learn what we do, so they don’t ruin it for everybody – for heaven’s sake, stop calling them n00bs and leaving them to learn it all from questionable sources.

As SEO content creators, we should also take time on a regular basis to either update or take down any outdated content on our own sites. This can be as simple as posting a notification that the info is outdated or as complex as creating a brand new resource on the same topic.
If you’re getting organic search traffic to a page with outdated information, you’re passively hurting the state of SEO education. A declared stance on providing up-to-date information and continually curating your existing content to make it the highest quality? Sounds like a pretty strong brand position to me, SEO bloggers!


Some people are going to read this post and say “well, duh.”
If you read this post and thought it was basic (in every sense of the word), go out right now and fix some of your blog posts from 3 or 4 years ago to contain the latest info. I’ll wait.

The takeaways

  • There are still a ton of markets where just the basics of SEO go a long way.
  • Don’t get distracted by the latest developments in search if the basics aren’t in place.
  • Brands that are getting by on their brand strength alone can be beaten by brand strength + SEO.
  • Old/bad SEO information on the web means people are still learning and doing old/bad SEO, and we’re competing with them. Branding and positioning in SEO needs to take this into account.
  • Clients don’t know who to trust or how to do SEO, so we have to educate them or we’ll lose them to shysters (plus it is the right thing to do).
  • Bad SEO gives all of us a bad reputation, so education within our community is important too.

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