How to win friends and influence people online

3 Tips to not shoot your brand in the foot doing Influencer Outreach

I don’t need or want to spend too much time on this but I began noticing a pattern of bad influencer outreach emails and wanted to give my perspective to brands on how not to mess up your outreach.

Tip #1: Don’t automate outreach emails

I received an email inquiring about a sponsorship collaboration with an international e-comm brand. It wasn’t something I was interested in at the time but this was their subsequent reply:

It made me wonder who I could have been doing business with. So I took a quick look at their website. In particular, their company return and refund policy. Wow.

I’m pretty sure someone copy/pasted this from another website. I don’t know many e-comm brands that sell VHS tapes but it’s a safe bet this one does not and will not make a profit from VHS tapes.

Tip #2 Have a reasonable, upfront return policy

Why? Let’s get some data in here to illustrate.

A study by eMarketer found the reason why 60% of internet users hesitate when shopping online: poor customer service.

“Nearly 3 in 5 internet users worldwide are concerned with bad customer service when deciding to make an online purchase from a brand,” that’s a lot of opportunity to show the customer their business is valuable to your brand.

Tip #3: Establish a clear influencer FAQ page or affiliate program

We can’t all be Amazon but we can take a page from their Associates page. Your brand should take the time to outline clear expectations and compensation terms for participation as an online influencer, ambassador or affiliate. Ground rules are always appreciated.

When Googling “instagram influencer template” you’ll find the SERP is full of outreach templates, obviously, but my point here is, templated “collaborations” are an oversaturated approach to growing your brand.

If a brand wants to build a meaningful group of real people who in-turn deliver real revenue and growth to the brand the approach needs to be authentic.

Otherwise, in the words of Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman,” brands are making a “big mistake. Big. Huge.”


The opinions, thoughts and perspective expressed in this post are my own. While I am a representative of the company, these are not necessarily the views of my employer.

These are a few of my favorite things about Content Marketing

I get lots of questions about content marketing and how it can be improved using SEO (Search Engine Optimization). I thought I would take a moment to capture the advice I give for the questions I get asked most often on this topic.

Since there are a lot of questions that are tangentially related, I broke this post up into three main sections:

  1. Process & Strategy: Structure, Style, Tone and Keyword Research
  2. Measurement: Success Metrics, Performance Reports, Quality
  3. The million dollar question – How does Google rank content?

Grab a cup of hot chocolate, Holly’s advice starts now. 🙂

 

Process & Strategy: Structure, Style, Tone and Keyword Research

Q: How do you determine the style and tone of voice for a piece of content?

Q: Which tone or style have you seen to be most successful in past projects?

It might sound obvious but a conversational style and tone where correct grammar and punctuation are used (obviously) without sounding like a robot or where the author is writing just to obtain search engine rankings really does resonate with human beings.

In terms of what’s most effective, I’ve found educational, helpful content that solves the user’s problem is the best approach.

It takes a bit of testing and iterating but after researching what people search for that’s related to a the main topic (i.e. “weight loss” or “home entertainment system”),  answering the questions that are being asked is the most effective way to provide useful, relevant and informative content.

Solve real problems. Build trust. Sales will ensue.

Q: How do you decide which content topics to focus on and what format that content should take?

Since I always advocate a customer-focused approach, the smartest thing to do is to start by listening to what consumers in your market want. You do this by getting an understanding of the kinds of content that’s already ranking in Google when you search for your core topic. According to Google, that’s what consumers want to see.

The other variables that help you decide what to focus on are: keyword seasonality, average monthly search volume. You want to align these to your business priorities in terms of the resources you have to optimize existing content versus spending all your time creating new content. It’s faster and easier to improve upon content you already have.

For format, think about how you can make your branded content the most relevant to what consumers are seeking (this is called matching search intent). Does that mean providing a video? Maybe listing steps in a guide? This takes research and examination of the landscape digesting what’s ranking and using that information to improve your contributions.

More on format, it’s helpful to bucket content into two main types so the intent of your pages is clear:

  1. Informational (educational in nature and intent)
  2.  Transactional (which is more product focused)

In this way, your page is designed to either capture rankings for organic searches (i.e. “best queen mattresses”) when consumers are in an awareness and consideration stage. Or it could be to gain rankings for product pages focused on transaction-based searches (i.e. brand+mattress: “Serta mattress”).

Many brands try to create content that gives shopping tips & ideas.  Start by performing keyword research to see the data that’s available on a term especially the estimated monthly search volume. If you pay for an enterprise SEO tool, you can easily get this type of data. Alternatively, one of the best “free” tools available is to sign up for a Google Adwords account. This will require you to enter some form of credit card information but you don’t have to buy ads; you’re there to do research. Just be aware that your cc info is on file.

Some enterprise tools also show Seasonality data (i.e for a fluid term like “flowers” it’s at its peek in January/February due to the Valentines day holiday). This is helpful to know because it indicates the time of year of when your content is going to be the most relevant to someone searching for it online.

It also indicates when teams should begin refreshing content for upcoming seasonally relevant searches. Especially helpful if you manage an internal content team or external writers as part of your content resource.

Here are a few quick ideas of the places I check when I’m researching the landscape and brainstorming the kind of content that will be most effective.  The process involves researching metrics using several free & paid tools:

  • Identify missing topics and search intent using tools like AnswerThePublic.com and Moz Insights.
  • Check the Google SERP to see what questions appear in People Also Ask boxes.
  • Identify the first 20 short head terms related to the topic which have a significant search volume (no lower than 1K) and a second list of another 20 terms which are long tail terms. Prioritize these as tier 1 and 2.
  • Check Buzzsumo for trending topics related to the category page for opportunities to provide content competitors are not covering.

Ideally, your research and methodology needs a combination of qualitative and quantitative data. You’ll be manually evaluating the quality of your competitor’s content and using data to improve your own pages.

Q: What is a good process for proofreading?

Q: Can you describe a process for creating and updating style and copy guidelines?

My process is largely based on ensuring the content meets the user’s intent and provides value: it solves a problem with information or provides a solution that solves the problem a human is experiencing.  Bottom line, if the content is not useful the searcher will go elsewhere. There is so much “noise” online so the most effective content must deliver value.

A good process for creating or updating style and copy guidelines is similar to a gap analysis (what’s missing from our competitor pages that you can talk about) is to reference the Google Quality Rater Guidelines. Google began publishing this information in 2013 so that more webmasters would have a blueprint for what Google considers to be quality. One of the key elements is a component called E-A-T. Online content should demonstrate Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness.  It’s worth downloading a copy of the PDF and looking through it on a Sunday afternoon building the insights into your style guide to share with broader teams and writers.

Q: How would you structure a content calendar to compete with a brand’s main vertical competitors?

Q: What is the process of a competitive analysis to identify gaps and content opportunities?

Broadly speaking, every business has three main types of competitors that they compete with for consumer attention. It’s helpful to think of classifying these as:

  • direct
  • indirect
  • informational

Here is a framework for you so you can begin to group the brand names and think about a mini business SWOT analysis against your main vertical competitors:

Direct Competitors Indirect Competitors Informational Competitors
(physical retailers who offer similar products to your store’s main categories) (vertical retailers who sell similar categories your brand also sells, some may be online-only) (these are websites that publish content from a non-retail source on how to buy things your brand sells)
brand name 1

brand name 2

brand name 1…etc. brand name 1… etc.

The process for structuring a content calendar to compete with your brand’s vertical competitors takes time. Quite honestly, it’s a topic for another post. At a high level, though, it starts with research to establish a baseline of these components:

  • keyword topics
  • a gap analysis of competitor pages on a URL-to-URL level basis to determine the type of content that will be most effective against competitive pages and holds value to searchers.
  • prioritizing internal and external resources and identifying where your brand wants to invest in building out value-based content that inspires customers.
  • determine baseline performance KPIs you want to see from the published content. This will inform where and how you make future optimizations on underperforming pages.
  • building measurement dashboards using a combination of KPIs that account for user engagement and rankings.

The key to this strategy is to prioritize improving existing content so that it delivers a ton of value instead of pumping out a bunch of new content that first has to get crawled and indexed and might not give enough value. An editorial calendar designed around quality and location based searches is a unique advantage against competitors that think the answer is quantity and volume.

Onto the second question of addressing the process of a competitive analysis to identify gaps and content opportunities.  In a nutshell, here are the high level components:

  • identify your main topic keywords; the pillar content your site wants to rank for.
  • include several long tail search terms
  • assess the search intent by analyzing the top 10 organic results (5 if you have less time): are people seeking guides? how to pages? Are tips and lists surfacing most? The goal is to get a sense for the format that people want to consume content.
  • manually access how difficult it would be to rank via on page factors; what content does your page need to outperform the one that’s ranking?

I will say this, trying to rank for high search volume terms (i.e. 20K+) is largely a waste of time. For most brands, it’s better to adopt a keyword strategy that lets you create content around core terms, long tail searches that drive specific intent, and questions your brand can answer succinctly (hint: b/c Featured Snippets & Answer Boxes are as good as Position 1 of a paid search ad but you obtain them organically – $free.99, people).

 

Measurement: Success Metrics, Performance Reports, Quality

Strap in. These are some of the more hard-to-define questions.

Q: What makes content/copy “successful”?

Q: How do you know if content has performed well or not?

Q: What are the types of measurement for success analytics?

It depends 🙂

Content success metrics can be defined in many different ways. That’s the good news. The bad news is, there are many metrics to choose from.

Like any goal, the best ones clearly define when success has been achieved. They’re SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

Content is successful it’s when measured against the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you develop as your guideposts for what you want the content to achieve based on what’s important to your business and within a designated timeframe. For e-commerce sites especially, this is a balance of improving on-page content to generate revenue and improving organic rankings.

Simply put, that could mean “these 20 product pages that receive the most organic traffic in a given month will be successful if 3 out of 5 visitors makes a transaction.” Or, “these four category pages that each have a total of 10 non-brand keywords will ideally rank for upwards of 200 terms after we make the on-page optimizations over these next four weeks.”

See how the SMART framework gives a bit more definition to the term “successful” by making things measurable?

Here’s a small framework for thinking about and identifying qualitative, vanity metrics and quantitative, data-driven ones. Aim to have three total using a combination of these two types:

Vanity Metrics SEO Metrics
(These are more indicators of quality but are hard to measure b/c they don’t directly translate to contributing to a goal like sales) (These are data points are quantifiable b/c they have a number)
  • Positive or negative sentiment in blog or social comments
  • Content is so good it earns a ranking as a Direct Answer box or Featured Snippet.
  • New users acquired to the brand’s social media accounts after the content was published or revamped.
  • Engagement on Social:
    • Likes or other emoji faces
    • Re-tweets
    • Shares across social platforms
  • Mentions and backlinks from a reputable source that are generating X amount of referral traffic to the page.
  • Improving page rank (getting it onto page 1 or within striking distance of moving onto the 1st page)
  • Increasing the number of organic keywords ranking on the page. Think non-brand, generic search terms that a human being would type into Google.
  • Number of page 1 ranking URLs your brand has compared to competitors.

I know, it’s a lot. It’s helpful to determine your success metrics using a balance of qualitative input and quantitative data.

Q: After you have published your content, how would you promote it?

One of my favorite examples is from GaryVee: How to Grow and Distribute Your Brand’s Social Media Content.  It’s is a reverse pyramid where one piece of long form “pillar content” (like a video, infographic, powerful keynote or interview) is created and then repurposed by social teams into smaller pieces of content and distributed across the primary social media platforms: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Quora in a way that’s contextually relevant to users on each platform.

Seriously, re-read that last part. Contextually relevant is key to getting attention and engagement in social. No one wants to see the same message across all their platforms, that’s when your brand starts to get tuned out because your message looks like a mass media advertisement.

It’s important to continually test and evaluate which pieces of short-form content are resonating best on each of the platforms. Story features are different from IG to IGTV to FB. Keep testing in order to get the best headline that resonates with your audience.

The Million Dollar Question – How Does Google Rank Content?

Q: How does Google rank content?

Without a doubt, that is the million-dollar question.

Google has upwards of 200+ ranking factors that it uses to evaluate which 8-10 organic links get to appear on page 1. If everyone knew how Google ranked content, they’d be doing it. That’s why we have to stay curious and be aware of the clues in the data we have and structure of the SERPs.

The search engine giant doesn’t make a habit of announcing when and how it updates its algorithm but when it does, it’s usually around improving the quality of content in order to continue providing the best user experience.

There are specific content guidelines published in the Quality Rater Guidelines. Google is especially critical of websites whose business is to help people make decisions that impact their health and finances; Your-Money-or-Your-Life content (YMYL). It’s also scrutinizing what constitutes “quality” where websites are a known online authority for having topic Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) in their field.

Now, quality is even harder to measure than “successful content” because there are many factors involved. But if you’re like me and always looking for some kind of baseline, I have heard other SEO’s comment that it’s measured in links and mentions. Basically, what other authoritative websites say about your brand.

Q: What are Google’s primary algorithms relevant to content/copy writing?

Q: What doesn’t Google like in regard to content? What types of bad content practices could lead to removal or suppression in search results?

Q: Alternatively, what does Google like in content/copy, which makes it rank well in search results? What are a couple of best practices for excellent SEO and optimization for users?

Q: What tools are used for finding keywords, content opportunities and topic analysis to enhance SEO?

There are a few things to unpack here. The primary algorithms related to content are Panda and I would also name the more recent the quality updates in March, April and August (confirmed by Google) as part of their broad core update. Seems Google was busy in 2018.

Google’s Panda update was first released in February 2011. The change targeted “low-quality sites” or “sites with thin content” pushing them farther down in search results page. In particular, “content farms” lost rankings and higher-quality sites became visible near the top of the search results.

Second to making money, Google’s goal is to provide the best user experience. Pages that rank on page 1 are there because they’re considered to be relevant to the query and meet the user’s search intent.

Google does not reward pages with content that misleads users. This is what’s known as “black hat” tactics that are designed to lure people to your website. These are some of the bad tactics that lead to getting a manual penalty from Google:

  • publishing malicious, offensive or inappropriate content
  • phishing scams
  • having too many advertisements on the page
  • having intrusive pop-ups that cover the main content and are especially annoying on smaller, mobile screens
  • thin or low quality content
  • keyword stuffing on pages

This can all be avoided by creating high quality sites in line with demonstrating Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness relevant to the industry you’re in. Karma exists online too, folks. Do right by each other.

What other kinds of content does Google like to rank?  Images! In fact, according to a recent study by Spark Toro, “Google Images accounts for more than 20% of all queries American performed in 2018.” Demand for images in the SERP is huge and that’s where Google is putting them (instead of under the “Images” tab).

Lastly, in regard to tools, there are some great enterprise SEO tools on the market. The big three are BrightEdge, Conductor and Searchmetrics. Other paid tools I use regularly for topic analysis and data on search volumes are Buzzsumo, SEMRush, Moz, STAT Analytics.  I also love referencing free the website Answerthepublic.com to get a sense of how questions are being asked.

Don’t forget, the Google SERP itself is a fantastic place to identify trending content and opportunities: People Also Ask (PAA) boxes, Related Searches, and predictive searches all provide a great resource for writing content based on what. people. search. for.

The bots are going to think I’m keyword stuffing, I say it so much 😉

Q: What are some good ways to get other people to link to your content?

It sounds really simple but the key is to invest the time to make YOUR content great and worthy of being shared. Great content is memorable, helpful, insightful, inspiring, funny – it resonates with your audience. It can be hard to quantify but if you research the questions people are asking and see what information competitors are putting out there, you can fill the content gap with your content that’s better than anything else out there.

The second side of this coin are the tactics you deploy to promote your great content. This is a combination of leveraging off-site channels like as micro influencers on social media, drumming up authentic PR, and creating email marketing campaigns.

Last tip: Make sure your most fabulous content lives on your domain (.com); there’s nothing worse than driving traffic and eyeballs to a place that’s not owned and managed by your brand.

Q: Can you briefly describe best practices for internal linking and benefits for SEO?

Links are votes of confidence on the web. Internal links help visitors find content that’s related to the reason why they’re reading your blog or browsing your site.

Best practices for internal linking gets into taxonomy and site hierarchy.  A few top level things to include are:

  • submitting XML and HTML sitemaps to GSC so crawlers have a roadmap of all your site pages
  • evaluating and creating unique anchor text enhances the link value
  • running crawls on the site to evaluate which pages are strongest and should therefore link out to other internal “weaker” pages.

The benefit of having a clean, internal linking structure is an SEO benefit in two ways. Firstly, it helps search engines to crawl and index the most important pages of your website (very important when you have thousands of pages). Secondly, it contributes to a good user experience because it means humans can easily navigate your site finding and consuming content they’re interested in.

In conclusion, I now need more hot chocolate.

If you’re still reading, I love you. You deserve a cookie. Definitely a good stretch after consuming so much (great!) content. 🙂

Now it’s over to you: What did I miss? What is your $0.02 and feedback for me? How would you answer these questions differently? What was helpful or sparked some ideas for how you’re navigating SEO and content production?

Comment below and let me know.

 

Diagnosing A Drop In Traffic: 6 Data Sources to Check & Why

It’s a common scenario for an SEO Manager. You come into the office one morning, open up your SEO dashboards and notice a large drop in traffic to a core product page for your main software product.  It seemed to happen almost over night.

How do you go about diagnosing the issue?

What are some possible hypotheses for what could have caused the drop?

Before we get too far into the details. Let’s set the stage for context. Let’s suppose you do SEO for an enterprise software company that has a suite of products for developers and content managers. Your company services over 130,000 customers worldwide.  There are teams similar to yours all over the world in your primary market (English speaking) countries, i.e., Canada, Germany and Australia.

The US market represents the largest of your target markets and the .com site is ideally the one you want ranking in search engines. The size of the website on the same level as the IBM, Microsoft and Salesforce’s of the SaaS world. 

You’re an experienced SEO, and after some digging, you realize that several teams in different countries have published content that is stealing traffic away from the core US product page and this practice could also impact the rankings and performance of other products in the future.

What do you need to do to course correct with cross functional teams?

How do you go about educating teams on how to avoid this kind of issue in the future?

There is a lot to think about here. And you’ve only just finished your first cup of coffee.

Where to start looking  

First things first, diagnosing a drop in traffic means looking at a handful of data sources and formulating a hypothesis. Here are 6 areas where SEO’s should begin looking for clues, what to look for and why it’s relevant to SEO: 

  1. Google Analytics
    • Look for: Which type of traffic declined: organic, direct or referral? Did other, similar pages on the site loose rankings within this same timeframe or is this an isolated incident? 
    • SEO relevance: Knowing which type of traffic source has declined means you’ll be able to back track to the source of the issue. A decline in Referral traffic, for example, may mean some links have been broken on referral websites. A decline in Organic traffic is harder to diagnose but it largely means the source is less visibility of URLs in the SERP. 
  2. Google Search Console 
    • Look for:  Changes to the page in the Performance section. Look at data on Pages, Position, and Search Appearance. Are there any new warnings for this page that Google is flagging for you?
    • SEO relevance: This is largely where webmasters can  “communicate” with Google about their website performance so making sure primary elements like an HTML Sitemap are still visible and up to date are important to double check. 
  3. Development teams & Robots.txt
    • Look for: Ask internal dev teams when the page was last updated or scheduled to be updated (whether that’s tracking pixels, HTML code or on-page content). What was the last team that made updates to the page? Additionally, speak with the dev team leads to confirm nothing changed with the Robots.txt.
    • SEO relevance: Webmasters use the Robots.txt command to communicate crawl instructions to web robots. Bots are either allowed or disallowed from crawling the various folders of the site.  If the page accidentally were disallowed from being crawled, that’s a factor that would impact its rankings.   
  4. Enterprise SEO software tools (Searchmetrics, Conductor, BrightEdge)
    • Look for: Indications of other URLs that have begun ranking for the same term(s) that were previously ranking on your page that lost rankings. Areas like: 
    • Winner/Loser Keywords: what terms were ranking on the page before and after it lost rankings? It could be that a new, better page is in the index that Google is favoring.
    • Overall Content Relevance (E-A-T):  Some tools can measure how relevant the content is against multiple, similar pages in Google’s index. If there were any on-page content changes made recently, it’s worth investigating since it’s possible the changes were ultimately not helpful to users and the page is now underperforming. 
    • URL Rankings: Are there similar pages on the website (even other versions by country) that are cannibalizing rankings of this page? This happens frequently with large, enterprise sites. 
    • Crawl data & log files: Run a crawl to get an idea of what Google is seeing (or not seeing) on the page. Inspect log files for additional insights if available.  Also, check the backlink profile of the page. It’s possible the URL is suffering from spam and/or malicious backlinks dragging down page authority. 
  5. Competitor site performance
    • Look for: Have similar pages on your competitor sites lost rankings too? It could mean aspects of an algorithm update are affecting your industry vertical or that Google decided the page was no longer relevant for certain search queries. 
    • SEO relevance: The search intent of users changes over time. That’s why it’s important to update content to be relevant to the nature of what people are searching for and to continue improving upon existing content.  
  6. Search Engine Results Page (SERP)
    • Look for: Do a manual check to see if there new features in the mobile and/or desktop SERP (whichever device you care about getting traffic from). New elements like a carousel, more images can cause organic listings to be pushed further down the first page. 
    • SEO relevance: Simply put, Google is always looking to surface results that are based on what users want; “Google Images accounts for more than 20% of all queries Americans performed in 2018, and that’s down from a high of nearly 30% three years ago.” Research from SparkToro on 2018 search market share.

Hypothesis – Why the drop happened 

What are some possible hypothesis for the drop in traffic? 

On the whole, there are basically two sources where rankings are affected: internal and external. 

Some of the most common reasons drops in organic traffic occur are the result of external changes such as an algorithm update or the SERP landscape changing (i.e images are prioritized).  Competitor pages can steal rankings if they begin occupying better (higher) positions on the first page. Lastly, a page or site can drop if Google suspects questionable ways of gaining rankings (black or gray hat SEO tactics) are being used (this is called a Manual Penalty).

Conversely, rankings can be affected by internal factors like manual changes made to the page by different product, development or content teams. Internal page cannibalization can occur where other, existing web pages within the same domain outperform the page you want to be ranking. 

Both internal and external factors should be considered and evaluated in order to identify the source and best solution.

It’s common for enterprise level organizations to have many teams interacting with the website at any given time. Which is why it’s important for SEO leads to have open lines of communication and relationships with all teams to quickly address any imbalances.

How to prevent future drops in traffic

In this scenario, the drop was caused by internal teams where different country pages were cannibalizing rankings of the US .com page.  

How can an SEO lead go about educating cross functional, global, teams in the future to avoid this issue?

One approach is for those in SEO leadership roles to would work with internal team leads on creating an outline as a shared resource document that is referenced (almost like a checklist) by various product, content, design etc. teams when updating and publishing important core pages. The reference sheet should include any important, on-page elements that contribute to rankings and list technical SEO requirements that need to be adhered to. Things like:

  • KWs & Relevant content: listing the primary and secondary keywords/ topics for core pages which contribute to rankings. Identify region-specific content or questions that should be addressed so that the page is relevant to local searches and therefore not competitive with other URLs.
  • Technical SEO: In this case, hreflang tags should be applied to each regional page to distinguish the content meant for each region. 

It’s an ongoing combination of maintaining SEO guideline documents in a shared location, using dashboards to monitor ranking fluctuations, and educating the broader internal organization on SEO best practices to help them become more aware of the things that negatively impact rankings. 

Now, it’s back to scanning the horizon for Pandas and Penguins. 

Over to you, fellow SEOs!

Have you had to navigate a similar experience in your org? What other data sets have you used that helped you diagnose and resolve a traffic loss issue? Or, what did I miss in my list that can be added here?  Let me know by commenting below. 

The Busy Marketer’s Guide to Google’s Broad Core Algorithm Update of 8/1

Are you sitting down?

Good. Because Google just announced they made an algorithm update on August 1, 2018. They rarely confirm any kind of update let alone one having to do with their algorithm.

Still, the August announcement was made via the Twitter account from Google Search Liaison (@searchliaison).

Here is the tweet:

Google SearchLiaison on Twitter
Google SearchLiaison @searchliaison

When did the algorithm update happen?

Here’s what makes this Broad Core (BC) algorithm update special, 8/1 is the third iteration of a broad core update that’s been announced this year. Which means Google is actively communicating to webmasters about algorithm improvements.

Here’s a quick overview of the timeline from SEO industry heavyweights:

Per the Tweet above, these types of updates are done “routinely several times per year.”

More threads on Twitter expanded upon Google’s explanation around the latest 8/1 release:

Screen Shot 2018-08-03 at 10.30.38 AM

This part of the Tweet is interesting to note, “There is nothing wrong with pages that may now perform less well. Instead, it’s that changes to our systems are benefitting pages that were previously under-rewarded…”

Marketers & SEO’s shouldn’t jump to make changes to pages that may have slipped in rankings. It might be prudent to check pages that were ranking in striking distance position to page 1 (positions 11-20) to see if those pages are now ranking higher.

The speculation continued last week all the while the BC algorithm continues to roll out into the second week of August.

Screen Shot 2018-08-07 at 11.29.57 AM

What is the Broad Core Update?

So there’s “no fix” only, get better. In my opinion, the takeaway around the BC algorithm is that it is related to the types of quality updates seen with Panda (maybe even to an extent Phantom) where pages with thin content did not rank well.

It seems like a re-evaluation of pages that have good content but have been underperforming. Meeting user intent (or relevancy) is a factor. Maybe searchers have been returning to the SERPS and clicking on what they feel to be better, more relevant results, further down the page?

All in all, Google wants to provide the best results to the searcher and better understanding the human intent behind the query or keyword search helps them refine their listings.

It would seem this BC update relates to Google’s core algorithm.

Screen Shot 2018-08-07 at 11.49.53 AM

The takeaway: “This is a broader general change to the core algorithm.”

What does Google want at its core? Quality. It wants to provide the best individual user experience possible to the person asking a question or typing in a noun into their search box.

Marie Haynes, a recognized industry authority figure on algorithms, shared a few insights from here client’s data and clues about potentially affected industries:

Screen Shot 2018-08-07 at 11.51.34 AM

What industries were affected? 

Furthermore, Haynes’ data indicated the 8/1 update strongly affected sites dealing with diet products, nutrition and medical products otherwise known as YMYL (Your Money Or Your Life) sites.

  • “It is important to note that most sites that I monitor did not see any significant changes. However, the majority of those that did see changes were very strongly affected” Haynes said.
  • In her opinion, the update is primarily about trust. Many sites that were hit were sites that lacked author E-A-T, lacked reputation information, or were selling products that could be deemed untrustworthy.

I happen to agree with her completely, especially on the point of sites needing to invest in content that reflects Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness.

Large service based businesses have been known to publish lots of pages that probably have little value (or content) on them simply because at one point, everyone thought more content translated into better rankings. But it doesn’t. It marginally increases the potential to have more pages ranking because you have a higher volume of pages in Google’s index. It doesn’t mean the content is of high quality.

Assuming this BC update is based on course correcting where Google is looking for more quality signals, it does not mean webmasters need more pages; it means they need to improve upon the pages that already exist.

Another trusted resource of the SEO community is Glenn Gabe. He has compiled two extensive blog posts detailing his data and the insights he is seeing thus far from this update. Here are a few of his highlights; clues to quality and relevance factors:

Gabe’s Clues:

  • March was a global update impacting domains across categories and countries.
  • The impact was site-wide rather than at the page level.
  • “In January of 2016, we found out that Panda became part of Google’s core ranking algorithm… Panda seemed to focus more on relevance rather than hammering sites that were low-quality.”
  • The March and April updates were big. Relevance AND quality stood out.
  • Make fixes and don’t roll them back. “Google’s John Mueller has explained several times that Google wants to see significant improvement over the long-term.”

Simply put, Relevance and Quality are the keys to these broad updates happening throughout this year. It’s very possible these two factors will continue to be at the forefront of future BC updates.

What should we do?

First things first 😉

Screen Shot 2018-08-03 at 11.37.48 AM

Now that we know there’s no quick fix (hint: there never really is). Marketers & SEO’s alike should “focus on building great content.” Here’s my caveat: remain focused on building great content by improving upon what you have and provide a great website experience for users and bots that’s technically sound. If we do that, we’ll weather the upcoming iterations of Google’s broad core algorithm updates.

Reversals in organic traffic can happen (meaning your traffic dips for a time then comes back up) but webmasters should not simply wait around and do nothing. This is an opportunity to improve the elements on our web domain that are within our control. Here are the top recommendations and action steps I compiled from Gabe and Haynes:

  1. Improve your website: add useful & helpful content, address any technical SEO issues, improve the user experience, cut down on pop-up ads and boxes “join-our-newsletter requests” that obstruct the visitor from seeing your content.
  2. Don’t revert changes – Keep the fixes in place for at least several months.
  3. Analyze queries and content that lost rankings – Check the queries the page was ranking for, evaluate the on-page content with an objective eye to see if the page is relevant to the search intent.
  4. Perform real user testing – Invest in asking a handful of people to navigate your site with a goal in mind. Have them narrate the experience, record it, and make changes based on the findings. A fresh pair of eyes can help you see where to make improvements.
  5. Read the QRT – Quality Rater Guidelines and have working review sections with your team. You can download the PDF of the general guidelines updated in July.
  6. Use the GSC Index Coverage Report – This is a newer section of Search Console that helps webmasters understand which pages Google is indexing and which pages it’s not. Gabe recommends keeping a close eye on the “Excluded,” reporting. That’s where you can often find serious problems. It contains pages that Google has crawled, but decided NOT to index for some reason.
    1. GSC Location: Status>>Index Coverage>>Excluded

Continue to monitor rankings for organic search traffic (especially on mobile!) from mid July through mid August since the update is still presumed to be rolling out this week.

Could your content and website use help identifying technical SEO improvements and specific quality and content areas to address during this update?

Contact me for an SEO Site Audit by emailing me at itsmillertime0baby (at) gmail.com. Subject line: SEO Site Audit – BC Update.

Screen Shot 2018-08-03 at 11.38.43 AM

Free Digital Marketing Advice: Why You Should Care About Search Engines

The short answer is, because search engines are the gateway to paying customers.

Aside from the glaring fact that 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine and there are over two billion people online (that’s roughly 40% of the world’s population). The reality is, a majority of your customer base is hanging out online.

More to the point, I’ll answer that question with another question. Have you ever gotten lost in the woods?

Now, if you haven’t, consider yourself lucky. But if you have, you know the only thing in the world you want (aside from a cheeseburger) is to be found.

Picture yourself alone in the woods. Completely alone and lost. When it happens, you start doing everything in your power to make sure someone finds you.

You put on any bright clothing you have.

You waive your arms and shout at anything that even remotely resembles a human being.

You start trying to build a fire to make smoke signals.

You pull out something reflective from your bag to flash at airplanes.

You start building large man-made structures (AKA ducks) to attract attention.

You locate the highest point possible or try to find open space so you can be spotted.

The point is, you fight to be found.

You fight because your very life depends on it.

But it’s only when you’re in that kind of extreme situation that you fight. You’re trying to get someone—anyone’s—attention.

Attention is currency. Especially online.

Now, instead of you alone in the woods picture that it’s your business or your blog that’s trying to be found online. Your one job as a listing on the first page is to grab someone’s attention, hook them on your story, and sell to them.

The search engine results page (SERP) is your wilderness.

Screen Shot 2017-12-01 at 8.34.21 PM.png
search for “what is content marketing.”  What would you click on?

The simple fact is that search engines process questions posed by real people (who have real money too!). Google processes over 3.5 billion searches every day.

It’s time to realize what it takes to be found online. And the fight is already at your doorstep. Between Google’s Mobile First index initiative and smart, connected devices everywhere, getting found is only the beginning of surviving in the digital age.

The Secret to Great Content Marketing: Q&A with Scott Stratten

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

That’s never been more true for content marketers than it is today. Thankfully, there are unconventional marketers living and speaking (read: ranting) among us to guide the way and keep us honest about what really matters in business and to people. Scott Stratten is one of them.  Scott is the author of “UnMarketing: Everything Has Changed and Nothing is Different.” He is also a dynamic speaker.

I first heard of Scott and his work when I was interviewing a number of speakers from Content Marketing World earlier this year.  I was curious to get his perspective on how he consistently creates quality content. While I wasn’t able to meet Scott in person, he very kindly responded to my interview questions via email.

His answers delighted and informed me. I hope you enjoy his wit and wisdom too:

(HM) What information does your audience most want to read about? And how do you deliver on that?

(SS) We’re pretty unique in that we focus mainly on bad business instead of good. The UnPodcast is “The Business Show For The Fed-Up”. We’ve become the magnet for when a brand does wrong, our army of followers send it to us. You never want to be the name in the message “Did you guys see this?”

We deliver it through our weekly UnPodcast, blog (rarely), 5 books and 60 keynote talks at conferences per year.

(HM) How do you know what to write about? 

(SS) If we find it interesting, then so does our audience. We’ve always put out content we enjoyed, and then the audience qualifies itself.

(HM) How do you say current with industry trends in content marketing?

(SS) Always be consuming. To be a good content marketer, you have to be an insatiable content consumer. I never stop reading/watching/listening. That’s my only job. Strong newsletter subscriptions, Google news alerts and even smarter friends/colleagues/fans that curate great content, both directly to us and in their own feeds.

(HM) What combination of platforms are you using to curate and create content?

(SS) Weekly UnPodcast, blog, 5 books and 60 keynote talks at conferences per year. Post weekly on UnMarketing Facebook page (on average, no set frequency), tweet when we feel like it and wonder weekly why we use LinkedIn.

(HM) What are some of the problems that aren’t being addressed by larger companies in the area of content marketing?

(SS) Content is contextual based on the platform it’s published on. We uploaded a video of one of my rants. It got 250k views, which is great but should have been better. Knowing the context of Facebook video (versus YouTube) that you have to catch a potential viewer in a scroll on their news feeds, we re-uploaded the same clip, with a letterboxed view, complete with an attention grabbing headline that stayed on the video. It received over 14,000,000 views. No changes except the words on it.

(HM) What’s a common question you get asked a lot from your clients relating to content?

(SS) No idea, we have no clients 🙂

(HM) In your opinion, what is the most important element of storytelling?

(SS) There’s a reason most great stories are from humans instead of brands: companies can’t get themselves away from the mirror and realize it’s about the person consuming the story, not the one telling it.

(HM) What is your biggest content related challenge?

(SS) The debate between frequency and quality. We send a newsletter out every 6 months, but we should do it a lot more.

(HM) What does your research process look like when you’re writing about a topic you don’t know anything about?

(SS) Google 🙂

(HM) How do you see content evolving over the next 3-5 years?

(SS) Not much. Most people are predicting we’ll consume everything in VR/AR have a vested interested in it.

Bio

Scott Stratten is the President of UnMarketing. He is an expert in Viral, Social, and Authentic Marketing which he calls UnMarketing. Formerly a music industry marketer, national sales training manager and a Professor at the Sheridan College School of Business, he ran his “UnAgency” for a nearly a decade before solely focusing on speaking at events for companies like PepsiCo, Adobe, Red Cross, Hard Rock Cafe, Cirque du Soleil, Saks Fifth Avenue, Deloitte and Fidelity Investments when they need help guiding their way through the viral/social media and relationship marketing landscape. He now has over 175,000 people follow his daily rantings on Twitter and was named one of the top 5 social media influencers in the world on Forbes.com.

He has written four best-selling business books, the newest being “UnSelling: The New Customer Experience” which was just named “Sales Book of the Year” by 1-800 CEOREAD.

His passion comes out most when speaking on stage, preaching engagement and becoming one of the most sought-out speakers on the subject. Along with Alison Kramer, their UnPodcast has been signed by the CBS network as their premier business podcast to launch their new digital network.

His clients’ viral marketing videos have been viewed over 60 million times and he’s recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, USA Today, Entrepreneur Magazine, CNN.com, Inc.com and Fast Company and was named one of “America’s 10 Marketing Gurus” by Business Review USA. That plus $5 gets him a coffee anywhere in the world.


Follow UnMarketing on Facebook  or on Twitter at @unmarketing.

The Best Marketing Advice From The Most Unlikely Source: Heist Movies

Admittedly, I’m a movie buff and one of my favorite genera’s are heist movies. I’m also a big fan of well-executed marketing campaigns. Based on my real-world experience as a modern marketer, I have a few parallels to draw between heist films and creating marketing strategies that work.

The heist film…focuses on the planning, execution, and aftermath of a theft. Versions with dominant or prominent comic elements are often called caper movies. They could be described as the analogues of caper stories in film history.  Wikipedia.org – “what is a heist movie”

Why am I telling you this? It’s not that I want you to become a thief of your customer’s money. But if you want to build a great brand, you will want to consider that you have to (figuratively) steal their hearts and minds.

Think about your favorite heist movie and why you like it. For me, it’s stories like Ocean’s Eleven, Inception, The Italian Job, The Inside Man and The Usual Suspects. Using this list of great heist films as my inspiration, here are the five things marketers can learn from the best heist movies.

1. Plan all the way through to the end

Plan everything. Even if your team or co-workers only see the high level points of your strategy, open up a bottle of red wine one quiet evening and plaaaaaaan. “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Plan for failure too. What are some of the things that could go wrong with the campaign? Doing so can minimize setbacks along the way.

Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Inception (2010)
Eames: You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling. [Pulls out a grenade launcher]
Thinking through how you actually deliver a service to your customers is key. From their search needing a product or service to you fulfilling that need. I like to think about it in the sense of a treasure map. Marketer’s should make it stupid easy for people to find the treasure (i.e. your product). Savvy? Ok, sorry for the Pirates of the Caribbean reference but, planning really involves thinking through the content that’s relevant to the search your users are doing and creating content servicing that need.

2. Everyone has their own unique strengths

Combine them. That’s right, you heard me, combine them. As a marketer, it’s in your best interest to nurture a team leveraging the unique qualities of each person.  This is how you build productive teams. There’s no real process for operating a great team, the secret is letting each individual do what they do well. That’s how you win together.

Ocean's 11 (2001)
Turk Malloy: [intentionally arguing to each other extend the time needed for their balloons to block the security camera’s view] Watch it, bud. Virgil Malloy: Who you calling bud, pal? Turk Malloy: Who you calling pal, friend? Virgil Malloy: Who you calling friend, jackass? Turk Malloy: Don’t call me a jackass. Virgil Malloy: I just did call you a jackass.
3. Look out for one another

Teams are like family; they stick together and have each other’s backs. The lesson here for marketers is that brands that really care and demonstrate they understand their customers will win and retain their customer base much better than the typical “kthanksby” for your purchase experience.

Inside Man (2006)
Keith Frazier: Oh, please, do not say proposals… my girlfriend… she wants a proposal from me. Dalton Russell: You think you’re too young to get married? Keith Frazier: No, I’m not too young… too broke. Maybe I should rob a bank. Dalton Russell: Do you love each other? Keith Frazier: Yeah, yeah, we do. Dalton Russell: Then money shouldn’t really matter. Keith Frazier: Thank you, bank robber!

4. Ringleaders adapt to stay in control of the progression of events

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan (see the above section on planning for failure). And that’s OK. But the reason why we like Dominick Cobb or Danny Ocean is because they seem in control.

As marketers, we know it’s not possible to remain completely in control of the outcome with such a fragmented landscape. We have to contend with things like show-rooming where people try things in store then buy online, or worse yet they snag a discounted Groupon-type engagement with your product or service. Again, that’s why planning comes in handy. Stay in touch with the customer-facing teams, like sales and customer support, so that you can use all of the data input you have to build a story line of what’s happening. Where are your customers buying and how can you (the authentic brand) be there instead to earn the sale?

Inception (2010)

5. The masterminds always gets what they want

Don’t you just want to be that person too!? I mean, how is it that they always get what they want? Because it’s by design.

For modern marketers, this means finding your true customers and continuing to bring value to them. You can also pay it forward; doing the unexpected is…well unexpected. It can even be delightful.

But it’s all by design.

Inception (2010) directed by Christopher Nolen

The Usual Suspects (1995) - Kevin Spacey. Directed by Bryan Singer

Are Enterprise SEO’s a Dying Breed?

Imagine you’re a physician. You’re traveling home on a flight back from a week-long conference where you had to renew your certification. You met many new and old connections and came away knowing your industry is alive and well.  The plane loudly hums along through the air while you review your session notes. Then you begin to hear some commotion from the other passengers a few rows behind you.

One voice. “Can we get her some water?”

Another voice. “She’s having trouble breathing…”

The flight attendant call button sounds in the cabin “ding!” You remain seated. Ears pricked up but waiting.

Your eyes are just returning to your notes when the pilot comes over the loud speaker, “Sorry for the disturbance folks. If there is a doctor on board, please make yourself known to a flight attendant.”

Out of commitment to your field, you are obligated to get involved. Out of personal passion, you have chosen this field. Either way, you are required to help and try to restore that human being back to health. And because of this, people listen to you.

I often feel like I’m a doctor making as many helpful recommendations as I can when it comes to corporate SEO initiatives. But there are so many different parties involved; it can be hard to meet everyone’s needs equally – time involved, level of effort, impact on improving organic traffic, all while staying on top of industry fluctuations. For such improvements to make an impact site-wide, it takes a village.

My parents are both in the medical field. When I was young, I was actually dissuaded from becoming a doctor. But I still have this inherent desire to help and to fix things.

When I hear digital challenges like “why did organic traffic drop on this date,” or “why are these pages not converting” I like the investigation. I thrive on it.  I look at the symptoms the website or a page is exhibiting and I try to gauge that against what I know of Google’s standard for user experience and content that’s relevant to the intent behind the search query.

But I have to be careful not to go too deep down the rabbit hole on what factors might be the cause of the issue. Today, the algorithms are working in real time and we can never be fully confident in the knowledge that a single factor is the cause.

Which is why, we as SEO’s make recommendations to the best of our knowledge, we test and we watch. If the patient (website) improves, we know we addressed the right aspect of the problem. This is why SEO is a long term game. There are no shortcuts to quality. It’s an investment in the right things making sure you empower other teams to help you along the way.

“There is a new breed of SEO manager who is politically savvy and gifted at collaborating with and mobilizing non-SEO teams. If SEO-integration isn’t on your roadmap, you’d better hope it’s not on your competitors’ maps either–otherwise they’ll have gold, and you won’t.”  The Executive SEO Playbook, by Jessica Bowman

Why do doctors never give up? Because they care. And it might also have something to do with taking a Hippocratic Oath 😉

How can enterprise-level SEO’s be as effective? My prescription is the following:

  1. Have more productive SEO-based conversations with stakeholders.
  2. Make SEO easy to implement and actionable for each team.
  3. Foster connections with other trusted, in-house SEO’s and seek their advice regularly.
  4. Read Jessica’s book!

 

Email Marketing: A Little Known Way To Remain Relevant In Their Inbox

I thought this was a great and rather unique example of an email that aims to re-calibrate the level of engagement. Essentially proactively saying, we noticed you may need less communication: “We haven’t heard from you in a while, how can we adjust the frequency of our communication so you don’t unsubscribe completely.”

Ok, I’ll bite and open your email. I admit, I’ve been away from my personal inbox a bit more lately actively engaging in the physical world (#girlswhotrain). And also trying to be diligent about saving a bit of cash not buying every new Reebok shoe that comes on the market.

This email has a great approach because it taps into why I connect with the Spartan brand, reminding me of the mindset of never giving up. And the fact that they noticed I haven’t been clicking through to the website (clearly a diligent marketer leveraging their data & ESP). We, the brand, respect your training time and mental capacity so let’s actively provide you with a way to adjust the frequency of emails accordingly. I love how they use the illustration of buckets as a CTA to continue to engage with the brand at my own pace.

Screen Shot 2017-01-22 at 1.12.33 PM.png

How can you show your non-engaged consumers that you notice them? What can you do to ask them how they want to be communicated to or how often they want to hear from you?

4 Lessons In Online Marketing I Learned From Mom

In recent weeks, Google has officially begun phasing out the existence of its right-rail ads. As you can imagine, removing ads from one position means they’ll show up in another. Presently, this means up to four PPC ads can appear at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) thereby pushing the organic listings completely below the fold. The example below illustrates this point and shows how product listing ads (PLAs) occupy the right rail for transaction based queries.

Google removes right rail ads

While it’s not the case with this particular search above, the increase in page one real estate is very real!  In some cases, the number of organic listings on page one has decreased from ten listings to seven. That’s if users even scroll below the fold. As an SEO savvy to the consumer journey, I can’t stress how important it is to provide a seamless user experience that captures the transaction after the user moves from the SERP onto your site. Let me illustrate using my favorite, observable test subject; my mom.

It’s funny, marketers sometimes go to a lot of trouble organizing focus groups and selecting just the right individuals to represent their “target market.” But if you really want to know when and where customers are abandoning your site, watch your parents navigate the domain.

During a recent holiday with my parents, I watched my mom book tours and excursions online. The website (which will remain anonymous for this post) that my mom was attempting to book our tickets on using her tablet, provided such a poor user experience. She was unable to properly confirm the reservation had even been made (seriously, you don’t at least provide copy that says “Thank you for your reservation…”) that she proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes on the phone trying to reach a real person in the customer service department to confirm the reservation.

The frustration and confusion caused by this website’s booking design is completely unnecessary and very fixable. Here are the four highly frictional elements which nearly caused my mom not to compete the transaction:

  1. Required a login & password.
  2. Not providing the option to at least check out as a guest.
  3. Multiple information-requesting steps asking for the airline name, arrival and departure dates, even date of birth (seriously!?) prior to purchase.
  4. The website design was not formatted for a tablet device.

Don’t try be original, just be better.

As a consultant, I am constantly observing how elements on a page can help or hinder whether or not the consumer takes action. Simply doing the opposite of the four obstacles listed above will improve your user experience.  One-time visits to book tickets online or make a reservation should not require  a username/ password; it is literally too much for the customer to think about creating yet another username and password for your site that they’ll actually remember.  Which is why providing the option to check out as a “guest” is much more seamless and hassle free to the customer.

If the information requested during the time of checkout is not relevant to the actual tour, it should not be required. Ultimately, the number of steps towards completing a purchase should be as few as possible. If your business requires certain forms of information, indicate to the consumer what information is required versus what is optional. This at least ensures you get the necessary customer information all the while continuing to move them on their way towards their booking goal.

Lastly, website design should be formatted to the device (mobile, desktop or tablet). Otherwise, customers can quickly became frustrated at not being able to see how to successfully complete their transaction and may abandon the process without completing the sale.  Customer, gone.

With the increased competition for page one real estate in the Google SERP, it is imperative for e-commerce and service-oriented websites to provide an efficient online experience that quickly and securely ensures the transaction is complete and assures the customer of their purchase.

Anything less means your competitors will pick up the sale where your website left off.