Publicly Jason claims to be ignorant about SEO because it allows him moral flexibility and makes Google less likely to torch his site (even though he is blatantly violating their search quality guidelines, and has for *years*).
It includes a slide which highlights how well Mahalo Answers questions rank in Google titled "SEO value," as well as the following statements (followed by my comments):
Questions are imported from Partners’ Answers Community into Mahalo Answers, enabling 100% share of voice and high SEO value. (filling Google with duplicate content)
Category Selection Based on Keyword Intelligence and Customer Goals (doing keyword research, an SEO service)
Community seeded with high-value questions and answers (does the word "seeded" mean asking fake questions?)
By carefully policing the site, Mahalo keeps out inappropriate content, thus increasing engagement and utility. (no mention of the half million+ pages indexed in Google which contained scraped 3rd party content?)
We can help our partners increase their search engine rankings with these high quality pages. (that is the actual text from their slide titled "HowTo")
Mahalo’s team of editors will find the most highly-trafficked search terms and keywords for your brand, industry or product and build corresponding high-quality pages that will rank well. (isn't that exactly what "scummy" SEO companies do Jason?)
Recently SEOmoz posted about running a test that proved their thesis that nofollow PageRank sculpting still works (while actually only proving issues with sample size & methodology). But the issue of "proving" things with SEO publicly is typically a misguided one.
It is so hard to control variables in tests, and even if you could set up a control set many test types would be isolated to fictional words. But the issue with that is that the relevancy algorithms can change based on your location, the location where a particular keyword is commonly searched from, how many other competing results there are for that query (and what those other sites are changing while you test), and whatever algorithm shifts happen in Google while your test is going on (like promotion of certain vertical databases, baking in new pieces to the relevancy algorithms, improvements in related vocabularies, introduction of new penalties and filters), etc etc etc
But lets ignore all the above and pretend there is a way you can isolate variables or you notice something new and different and important. What happens when you mention it? Typically people tell you that you are full of crap, even when you are right.
Even if the test they did was legitimately scientifically valid they still likely would have got mocked for their efforts, just like I did in the above image (when I was right).
And the more data you share to "prove" your case all you are doing is lessening your competitive advantage over other market competitors. Lets say I wrote a blog post about "5 surprisingly strong links you can use to spam Google with great results" ... well after I publish that the same day Google engineers will torch those link sources. The net effect of such efforts would be:
wasting my time and money and competitive advantage
harming a business model, business, and/or website that was helping me
making Google look stupid (and having them dislike me)
wasting your time (and a link source you could have used)
In what other "science" could reporting your results instantly alter/destroy them?
One conference I went to a while ago I only went for 1 day instead of 2. And then I saw on Twitter someone complained about me not showing up. Then I looked and saw that one of their sites competed with one of our sites. Was I really going to benefit by speaking on a panel where I give a direct competitor (with VC backing, decades of cumulative experience, more algorithmic leeway, etc.) any SEO tips? As an SEO that also does publishing you are only sacrificing your future revenues and your future net worth if/when you review competing sites and tell them how to compete better against you.
In the SEO industry it is hard to land 5 figure clients. But it is easy to build websites that make that recurring. You just have to put the time and effort in. But the only reason to share new and useful tips publicly is self-promotion. But even that is often a misguided effort because earning money servicing the SEO market is a bit like squeezing water out of a rock. People have free in their mindset and are irrationally stuck on free rather than the benefits of spending to save time and grow and earn more. Sorta self-defeating and certainly misguided if you take it too seriously, which is why I have been looking to build out other sites in other fields too. ;)
I used to dislike misinformation in the SEO industry, but I have since come to realize that the more misinformed the public is the more opportunity there is for me. If it wasn't abstract and full of misinformation then someone overseas would be doing it for $5 a day and I would lose most of my income. So I say lets see some more bogus scientific studies. Let there be published book authors telling you that the best backlinks to get are the ones which are shown in the Google link: search.
If the end value is $10's of Billions but the market sets a price of free, then misinformation is a big piece of the price...that is basic economics. ;)
The money doesn't care how it got into your bank account (as long as it was legal). And you don't have to spend a lot of time backsolving everyone else's success ... a lot of that time would be better spent building your own success. Truthfully most people who are successful can't even tell you why they themselves are successful. Worse yet, the "scientific" case study earns nothing while the non-scientific site with tons of traffic (built through small incremental daily improvements by an amateur) can earn a lot of money.
Years ago I gave away so many valuable tips that simply just created competition for myself. (And eventually I woke up to that when some of the people who would contact me begging me for discount SEO services while claiming they were broke also sent buy requests into other sites I ran that they didn't know I owned). There are lots of other issues like non-disclosure agreements that mean nothing when someone has access to your stats + owns competing sites, fake investors who try to scam you for your information, etc etc etc.
I still love this site as though it is a child...it was the first site that really helped build me into a position where I had more options and opportunity than time. And due to our current pricing point filtering out most of the SEO market the forums are still a great place for me to learn more :D
But, truth be told, in the SEO industry (as a service provider) almost everyone who comes to you likes to pretend that they are poor. They want to discount the price to nothing to help discount risk, but rarely (if ever) do they want to remove all risk and give you a piece of the upside for the millions of Dollars worth of extra profits you create for them.
But the cool thing with search is you can start off small and grow to compete. Sure it is always getting more competitive, but publishing tools are improving rapidly. If a person could read the archives of this blog for years and not be able to make money from search it simply means they lacked effort. Search offers so much opportunity that even without talent eventually anyone can stumble into something that works for them.
And that is the thing about SEO. Search offers so much opportunity that even without talent eventually anyone can stumble into something that works for them.
But they have to have the right mindset to succeed.
Dear sirs explain me all link buildings method are crucial to make me riches. Is very important Aaron Walls personally answers me this free and promptys ... well that is not the right mindset, is it?
Lots of the most interesting bits that you learn are from accidents that happen with experience. Accidentally blocking a part of your site in robots.txt, doing something weird with a redirect, having your host go down and getting your site crawled in a weird state, etc etc etc. Screwing up is where you learn a lot because that is where a lot of the surprises are. And it is far easier to learn when you are working on a number of sites at various stages of development...it gives you lenses through which to view search.
What works for one site might not work for the next. What works for one person might not work for the next. But there are many models that work and paths to success. Some people succeed because they are simply the best, or they love what they do, or they show up every day for years and years and years. Others succeed due to their irrational bias and ignorance. And some people were just early to the market and sorta fell into success.
One company spreads hyped up misinformation to an audience of ignorant drones who spread the misinformation, the next buys old domains that are heavily linked to and then pours garbage content into them using an assembly line sort of production model, the next has a person who does black public relations and tries to take down other industries (while learning their business models and working to clone them).
And yet other people are popular just because they are popular. Or because they were born rich and launched a sex tape on the web (complete with bogus fake legal stuff just to suck in more press coverage and "build the brand").
Is SEO scientific? Yes, in the same way that sociology, psychology, and economics are scientific. But economics is referred to as the dismal science. ;)
Anything that involves understanding human behavior and trying to influence it is not just science. It is also an art.
Here is to hoping you have a healthy, happy, profitable, and ARTISTIC 2010 :D
I am still behind on a couple major writing projects, but one of the writing projects that was hardest for me was trying to write something for Seth Godin's new project - What Matters Now. A killer PDF full of ideas from some of the leading thinkers in technology*
*and me ;)
When I got started online I ended up having to get a job because I had plenty of debt and no experience. But I learned somewhat quickly, and had a habit of taking pictures of things that I thought were interesting. After reading Andrew Goodman's guide to AdWords I saw he referenced Seth Godin, and so I devoured almost every (marketing) book Seth had published to that point and noticed there was the ability to buy a bunch (20?) of his Purple Cow book as an admission fee to see him speak live at his office.
I did the bulk purchase. So late after work one night I drove most of the way to Seth's place and slept in my car at a rest station about 20 miles from his business. When I woke up in the morning I went to his office a bit early, finished reading another book while anxiously sitting there, and then finally everyone showed up. His enthusiasm was great. And he taught just how much marketing is becoming art.
But what he did (that really made my day) was he grabbed a bunch of products that he thought were great examples of marketing and put them on a table. One of them was a Yorkie candy bar. I had just took a picture of one of those on my camera, and somehow when I saw that on Seth's table it made me think that maybe I knew what was going on. It was like some sort of validation or test. Like scoring an A on a pop quiz. That and reading his books really made a lot of things just click on the marketing front.
That night there was also a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert back up near where I lived (silly that I had money for concert tickets when I was broke...but I think I needed inspiration more than anything back then), so I had a long drive ahead of me...but on the ride to the concert I think I was far more excited about feeling like the web and marketing were falling into place than about going to see the great live music.
I was on salary and my boss viewed extra hours from me as free labor. And I was trying to learn online stuff while working about 70 hours a week at my job. It was going to Seth's office that helped give me the confidence to put in my notice that I was going to quit my job to play on the web. I did it way before I had enough cashflow to do so, but it worked out ok in the end :D
6 years later, to have seen Seth speak at Elite Retreat this year was great because it was a reminder how far I had come since I first started out. And to have him ask me to contribute to his new project was totally killer, and a bit humbling. It was so hard to write though because of the awe factor. It was too hard to condense SEO into 200 words, and then when you think of similar topics how can you write on hyperlinks when you see David Weinberger wrote a killer entry on that front. So I had to think long and hard about what to write about...and finally decided that the best thing to write about would be how you don't have to be perfect to get started online. I certainly was not, and still have a long way to go. ;)
Google recently announced their fade in homepage. From a marketing perspective I think it is interesting to try to figure out why they did that. Marissa Mayer wrote:
the variant of the homepage we are launching today was positive or neutral on all key metrics, except one: time to first action. At first, this worried us a bit: Google is all about getting you where you are going faster — how could we launch something that potentially slowed users down? Then, we realized: we want users to notice this change... and it does take time to notice something (though in this case, only milliseconds!). Our goal then became to understand whether or not over time the users began to use the homepage even more efficiently than the control group and, sure enough, that was the trend we observed.
I think there are 3 big reasons to consider such a test
it is now impossible for any competitor to win by being viewed as more minimalistic (on the homepage, anyhow)
as Google noises up their search results with various verticals (from their universal search) they want to remind searchers how beautiful and minimalistic and elegant Google is
to get people to pay more attention to the ads below the search box (making them appear a second later makes them POP much more than if those directed ads were there right off the start...and as Google enters more verticals with new features they will use that announcement area on the homepage much more often)
The blank page conveys simplicity even as Google dominates new verticals by becoming more complex.
Such initial perceptions matter a lot in marketing. You see people quote your site as being advanced or basic or some such, and when some such statements skew in the direction that is opposite reality that comes down to mis-perceptions.
We are planning on doing a new site design soon(ish) because while our site design was perfect for what it was back then (a personal blog about SEO) as our site has bolted on so many pieces (training + community +newsletter + tools) that I think the design doesn't fit all the stuff we have added to it. If you shift with the market but do not shift your design it is a bit of mixed messaging, and anything that increases doubt or confusion is a tax on conversion.
Search marketers know that if the title of the ad matches the searchers keyword query, they stand a good chance of getting the click.
This mirroring strategy works for obvious reasons. The visitor already has a psychological attachment to the phrase - after all, they typed it in!
Making Sure You Get The Click
A lot of SEO strategy talks about how to achieve rankings.
Whilst important, the SEO pro knows ranking is only half the battle won. While it's true to say most searchers will click on the top results in preference to results lower down the page, they will also scan across the various titles displayed. All links on the results page compete for the click, and a compelling title may win out over a higher ranking position.
If the user doesn't find what they want when they scan, they will likely rephrase their search and try again. So the way you phrase your title tag is not only important in terms of helping attain a ranking position, it is also important that it stands out.
But how do you know which phrases will work?
What You Can Learn From Adwords
Actually, the answer is right in front of us.
Google rewards top performing Adwords advertisers with the top positions i.e. the advertisers who are achieving the highest click thru rates. The copy and titles you see in the top PPC ads are proven.
If the advertiser has been in that position for some time, it is highly likely s/he is making a positive return on their spend. Their approach is, therefore, working.
That's a lot of valuable information.
Look at the copy the advertisers are using. What words are they using in the title? Try emulating their approach. Emulating their description is a little more tricky as Google uses snippets. However, if the phrase the user is searching for also appears in your meta description tag, Google will tend to display the tag snippet instead.
Of course, SEO's have to balance ranking considerations, too, but if you can get these factors aligned, you're in a great position. Given that most people - estimated to be around 70-80% - will click on a natural search result, as opposed to an advertisment, if you can occupy the top few spots using a similar phrasing as the PPC advertiser, you are more likely to get the click.
Don't stop there.
Check out the landing pages used by the top advertisers. If they are occupying top positions over a long period of time, they are either carelessly blowing through a lot of cash, or, more likely, their PPC campaign is making money.
Whilst it's not advisable to copy exactly what they do - and it's probably against the law - you can use their approach as a guide. How are they structuring their landing pages? Where are they placing their offer? What language are they using? What titles are they using? How is the copy structured?
Use a similar approach in your SEO campaign.
One thing to be careful of is to understand that SEO and PPC often have a different focus. PPC tends to be driven by ROI and other profit per visitor type metrics. Once a PPC advertiser pays for the click, they try to move the visitor to desired action quickly.
SEO, on the other hand, can afford to be less specific as there is little jeopardy in only appealing to a tiny fraction of visitors who click. SEO can afford to go wide and broad. Engagement and brand metrics come into play a bit more in SEO.
By The Way.....
Because SEO can afford to go broad, and has the added task of ranking for keywords based on the content of your page, Google's Wonder Wheel is a great tool for finding related phrases which you can integrate into your copy.
If you haven't heard of the Wonder Wheel, here is how to find it:
1. Conduct a search. Click on "Show Options..."
2. Click on "Wonder Wheel" (shown on the list at the right hand side)
3. Click on a few of the spokes....
4. Integrate any relevant, related keyword terms in your copy....
I use this tool a lot as it's great for picking up on long tail searches that still relate to your chosen keyword term. If any of these terms prove worthwhile, you can then develop separate pages to target them specifically.
Do you ever think that SEO is "obvious"? "Common knowledge"? "Pretty easy, really"?
In this video, "Scott" from Google asked 50 people on the street if they knew what a browser was.
Less than 8% of people surveyed did.
Many people confused a browser with a search engine. Google Chome - or Google "Crown" as one woman put it - was unheard of.
I bet you're feeling smarter than you did before you watched that video! Fact is, if you're reading this site, you're already waaaay ahead of most people in terms of internet knowledge and how it all hangs together. Pat yourself on the back.
There is a downside, however.
The Distorted Lens Of Familiarity
We see the internet through our own lens, a lens that has been honed over the years by focusing on a specific thing. We study search engines, we experiment with algorithms, we hang on Matt Cutts every word - they should have asked the people if they knew who Matt Cutts was - "Matt Coutts?", we upload sites, we research keywords, we study user behavior, we build links, and more.
Such attention to detail can provide clarity, but can also distort our view.
We need to keep in mind that most people don't see the internet as we do. Most people don't know what a browser is. Most people cannot tell a paid search result from a non-paid one. People certainly do not understand that the site they are seeing in first position may only be there because some smart SEO has helped ensure that happens.
What is "spam" to the trained SEO eye may be perfectly acceptable to the end user, so long as the user gets the answer they want.
normal people can't tell the difference between AdSense style ads and all the other links on most web sites. And almost the same number don't know what "sponsored results" on the Search Results Page are either. It's just a page of links to them. They click the ones that look like they'll get them what they want. It's that simple
Beyond the tiny web-savvy crowd, these people are your market. So it pays to put yourself in their shoes, especially when making decisions about how your site functions and displays information.
According to research conducted by the Nielsen company, the average internet user now spends 68 hours online per month. That may sound like a lot, but it only comes out to an average of about two and a quarter hours a day
You have a tiny window of opportunity. There are so many other activities, and web sites, demanding a visitors attention. The fact someone has even arrived at your site should be seen as something special.
Here a few points I've found to be true.
1. When Designing A Site, Make It Stupidly Easy To Use
Internet users spend less than one minute per page while surfing. You have roughly four seconds to get their attention. The average time spent on a page is falling, indicating that if people don't find what they want immediately, they will go elsewhere, and they can, because the supply of websites is endless. Ignore design rules predicated on the notion of information scarcity.
A user won't wrestle with your site. Web design, particularly navigation, is not the place to get clever. Web design should be no more complicated than book design. You might notice every book shares the exact same user interface. As do cars. As do bicycles. I have no idea how my car works. People have explained the workings of the internal combustion engine to me, and I nod sagely, but really, I don't have a clue. Nor do I need to know. I just turn the key and hit the pedal.
Your website design should ask nothing more of the user than a car does. Assume nothing, other than the user will point and click something obvious.
If you make your money via Adsense, then place Adsense prominently on your pages. If you make money selling subscriptions, make a huge button that says "sign up for a subscription here". Place it where everyone can see it on their first - and possibly only - visit. If you want people to donate to your charity, make the donate button big and bold and place it prominently on every page.
Pretty obvious, right.
But it's amazing how many sites bury what they want a user to do.
So, decide what is the one thing you want users to do, and relegate - or remove - all other distractions. The exception is a site to which users return to time and again. Make more features available to power users, but ensure there is always a clear, simple path for the first time user.
Language can also get in the way of conversions. Assuming people know everything that you do (including acronyms and industry jargon) is an easy way to passively lose sales every day. ;)
3. SEO - You Don't Need to Sweat The Small Stuff
There are people who spend their life finding and exploiting gaps in the algorithms, gaps that often exist only temporarily. I'm not one of those people. Neither is Aaron.
I think SEO is most effective when approached holistically i.e understanding how the different stages of attracting the visitor then converting them to desired action relate to one and other.
Identify the target market - keyword research and visitor profiling - and work backwards from there.
When the visitor who - and lets remember, s/he most likely doesn't know what a browser is - searches for "lemon law" - what do they really want to achieve? Do they want to find information about this topic? Do they want to buy something? Do they want to compare one service provider with another? What's really on their mind?
Sift through a list of related keywords until you can determine intent. Once you've figured out the intent, give the people the content they desire. Publish crawlable pages addressing that topic and intent, get the pages linked from other pages related to that topic and intent, and advertise your pages anywhere where your target market resides, either by buying space on high ranking sites or publishing your views, and links, on those sites. Read this.
That's SEO in a nutshell. Leave the minutiae to the hackers, unless you are one!
4. The Most Successful Stuff Replicates Something The User Already Does
Email is a killer app because it enables a user to do something they already do more easily - write letters to people.
Search is a killer app because people have always looked for information, and search makes that process more efficient.
The computer games industry is huge because people have always played games.
Facebook and Twitter are huge because they are essentially txt messaging in another format. Txt messaging is a replacement for calling people on the phone.
Skype. Amazon. Ebay. All the big, successful internet plays took an everyday task the user already undertakes, and puts that task in an online context.
These services don't ask the user to do something genuinely new. Most applications that ask users to do something genuinely new - a lot of Web 2.0 applications, for example - fail miserably for this reason. Most users don't want to do anything genuinely new.
The people who do - radical early adopters - are highly unlikely to be your target market.
Try to frame whatever you do in terms of a task a visitor already knows well. Demonstrate, quickly and clearly, how you make that task easier or more efficient.
5. Even Google Users Are Not Typical
Studies suggest that Google users tend to be wealthier than average, and have more experience with the internet than users of MSN and Yahoo. The longer people have been using the Internet, the more likely it is that Google will be their search engine of choice, are more likely to have household incomes above US$60,000 than people who use competing search engines.
Whilst these numbers are probably getting more mainstream as Google grows their market share, it pays to remember that your target market may not be using Google at all! One of the secrets of search marketing is that the conversion rates from MSN and Yahoo can blow Google conversion rates out of the water, especially if you're in the market of providing goods and services to the average punter.
A good example of this was when Aaron recently shared ad click-through rates per visitor for some large sites...with Bing in the clear lead...nearing double the rate of Google users.
In summary, the key to internet marketing is to know your audience. Really know them. It is not that people are stupid, it is that they are likely to be unfamiliar.
And remember that the average internet user is not you :)
Many of the people who become successful only do so after falling hard. And some of the people who never fell before becoming successful often let success slip away because they lack appreciation for where they are and what they have. Shoemoney recently published his monthly email newsletter revealing his personal story...and I thought it was well worth sharing.
I am hearing a lot of great stories from people who have gone through my free shoemoneyx.com course and doing some neat things generating revenue. Please keep sending me your stories. I love hearing them! That is why I made the program!
Now I don't mean to pee in your cheerios but I want to talk to you and share something with you. Something I feel is really important. Making money online is easy. Profiting from it over the long haul IS NOT.
Eventually everyone's ship comes in. When your ship comes in what will you do? Maybe your ship just came in?
This is my personal story and dealing with my first big success and how I was able to position myself for the best outcome.
I hit rock bottom about 8 years ago. I was 420 lbs, smoked 2 packs of cigarettes a day, about 60k in credit card debt, and just had lost my job. I also sleeping on my friends couch.
Its important to know what rock bottom feels like. Its important to know what its like to really be hungry. Its important to know what it feels like to drive a 1990 rusty van with no muffler. Its important to know what having massive amounts of credit card debt and what appears to be no way out feels like. Its important to have that feeling that you are a failure at life and maybe that's all you will ever be.
Now I say that its important but to me it was ABSOLUTELY crucial in developing my mindset for success.
I am guessing you have seen the image of me and the Google AdSense check for 132,994.97 for one month.
Its actually hard to search for anything related to making money on the internet and NOT see it...
The one thing I have never really talked about was the back story on WHY I took a picture of me and that AdSense Check for 133k before taking it to the bank to cashing it.
As I am sure you know Google AdSense is run on your website and you get money when visitors click on your AdSense ad. Almost all of my traffic was coming from Google so I felt it was really a house of cards. If Google felt my website was no longer relevant for the keywords they were sending me traffic then over night I was done!
At the time I was totally new to making money on the internet and I never thought it was going to last.
I took the picture because I always thought that if my websites disappeared tomorrow I could leverage that picture into a book or something... I didn't really know...
I always had in the back of my mind what rock bottom felt like and I never wanted to experience that again.
In hind site it was even more brilliant then I ever thought it was going to be. Especially that that month was the last month that Google ever sent out paper checks for over $10,000.00 so really nobody will ever have a check.
But I never took my success for granted and I diversified my website income into many other forms instead of just Google AdSense.
I learned how to make money from donations, affiliate programs direct banner sales, selling my own products, and subscription. Within a few months my subscription revenue, Direct banner sales, and affiliate revenue each by themselves dwarfed my Google AdSense revenue.
So I have all this money coming in from the website im all diversified but I still did not really feel safe.
So I started the ShoeMoney blog (originally on googleninja.com before I obtained shoemoney.com) basically just talking about the ins and outs of making money.
Because I had the Google AdSense Check for 133k and some pretty other large screenshots of revenue that I could use to make points on what I was talking about the blog VERY quickly became an authority in the space of making money online. So much so that in its first year that we implemented advertising on shoemoney.com we did over 2007 $100,000.00 in revenue.
In 2008 we boosted that to $490,000.00
in 2009 shoemoney.com will make over $750,000.00 probably closer to 1m in revenue.
But lets take a step back. Because we had built this authority we were able to leverage our audience into starting our own conference called the elite retreat. We started the event in 2006 and have sold out events every year since. Even at a price tag of $5,000.00 per person.
In 2007 we leveraged the blog audience and our contacts and started our own advertising network called Auctionads. Auctionads is truly an amazing success story and one of my proudest accomplishments. We took a company from 0 to 25k active publishers doing over 3 million per month in revenue in less then 4 months and sold the company. That is simply unheard of. It would not have been possible without leveraging our previously accomplishments and taking them to the next level.
So what drives me to keep doing more things?
I can remember that feeling of hitting rock bottom like it was yesterday.
ONLY now the steaks are MUCH bigger. I am now married and have 2 kids. I also have 20 employees that I am responsible for.
So why am I telling you all this.
I want you to recognize what you have and not take it for granted.
I had to hit rock bottom to find myself and really develop a work ethic and drive for more. Maybe you don't?
Always be leveraging your current position and looking for your next thing.
I have no doubt that everyone reading this will come into money/success eventually. If you love what you do and you keep trying then its just the law of averages. Eventually its going to work. But when it does what will you do?
On the surface, this seems like a great article...until you realize that it's really just like most tweets--a total waste of time. If you wanted to really provide something valuable, you'd show me how you directly measure your social marketing campaign...Oh wait, you can't. Why? First, cause you've probably never run one and you're just regurgitating what other people have told you. And second, because ROI really doesn't translate for most Internet campaigns. There's just no way to directly measure it because there are so many random variables. And I challenge anyone to prove that it can be
Thanks for the response, Fearless Advisor!
Really, social media marketing is no different to other forms of marketing in that it must eventually demonstrate value and be accountable.
The "Why" Question
One of the points I made in the previous article was that a lot of people seem to confuse the medium with the message. They are using a communication channel - in this case Twitter & Facebook - without first deciding why they are doing it.
Sometimes, the answer might be no more complicated than "because it's new", "because it sounded good" or "because everyone else is doing it". However, if a marketing campaign is to be successful, and repeated, it must be measured. How would you know if it was a success, or be worth repeating otherwise?
The fist step should be to ask "why"? The same question applies to any marketing campaign, be it search marketing, radio, television, or anything else. Why does this website exist? Why am I doing this and what result am I trying to achieve?
Is it to boost traffic? Is it to make more money? Is it to cut costs in other marketing activities by replacing one with another? Is it to grow the RSS subscriber base? Get more links? Grow the mail list? A combination of all these things? And how do these relate back to the purpose of the site?
Without that knowledge, the exercise is one of faith.
The top social media marketers, just like the top search marketers, can create enormous value. And they can show it.
If clients aren't demanding it now, they soon will. Back when I was doing search marketing for clients, I was in a sales meeting with a large mobile telecommunications company. I was doing my best to sell them on the benefits of search marketing and from the nods I was getting, I thought I was doing ok. At the end of the meeting, they said I was the first search guy who had talked to them in terms they could relate to - i.e. I was talking marketing, as opposed to hype and technology.
Social media marketing is going through the same growing- up phase that search marketing did. As search marketing clients got more savvy and gained experience with the new channel, they started to demand more traditional metrics - meaningful metrics related to the underlying business objectives - that could be analysed alongside their other marketing campaigns.
Measurement depends on the aims of the campaign.
Here are a some common measurements used in marketing campaigns, and apply equally to social media as they do other marketing channels. Not all these measurements are appropriate, or achievable, but should serve as a starting point when considering measurement.
1. Increased Revenue
This measurement is straightforward. What was the level of business the client was doing before the social media campaign, and what is the level they are doing afterwards? Has it dropped, stayed the same, or risen?
2. Competitive Advantage
Has the client gained competitive advantage?
Do a before/after comparison against competitors. Is the client doing better in Compete/Alexa/etc than their competitors after they ran the social media campaign?
Have the competitors run social media campaigns? Can you do a similar before/after comparison on their success, or lack thereof?
3. Increased Visitor Numbers
Are there more visitors now than there were before the campaign started? Break the visitors down by channel using referral data. Who are they? Where are they from? Are they the right demographic?
4. Reach/Spreading The Word
Perhaps the most difficult aspect to measure. Research companies, like Neilsen, use Buzz Metrics and Blog Pulse to measure how many people are talking about a brand or company.
Similarly, Google Trends can be used to pinpoint spikes in attention across the net. Is your message/brand mentioned more often after the campaign? Are there more mentions across blogs, Twitter, Facebook, mainstream media?
5. Search Activity
Do more people search on a clients brand after the social media campaign? Do they use queries relating to the clients message, products or services?
6. Primary Market Research
Big companies tend to do this more so than smaller companies. Run field studies, focus groups, and interviews to determine the level of brand awareness.
Has the client received more links? This is one of the huge value propositions of social media, especially when combined with SEO. Social media can be such a powerful link building method, second to none.
Yeah, But How?
Perhaps the social media gurus can tell us? :)
These are the types of metrics clients will demand. If I were buying social media marketing services - and might well be in the near future - these are the metrics I'd demand. No one, except the clueless, will be impressed by follower numbers.
There is no one tool that can measure and track all this data. Hey, perhaps there is a market opportunity for someone! But while we're waiting for such a tool to emerge, measurement is a multi-disciplinary approach, combining both tools and techniques.
Consider analytics, behavior tracking, dedicated tracking codes for links, coupon codes that can only be seen on Facebook or Twitter, unique phone numbers used to track just that one campaign, customer surveys after they have bought something.
I'm sure social media professionals have got a wealth of techniques and tools they use. It would be great if you could share your knowledge with the community in the comments :)
Why A Social Media Marketer Should Do This
The end result is that clients will spend more, on an ongoing basis, if they can see demonstrable value.
A company may do a one-off campaign for fun, as an experiment, or because they think it is trendy to do so, but they'll soon move on to the "next big thing" unless social media can demonstrate how it helps them achieve their marketing goals.
Some of the above is easy, some is difficult. It depends on the client and their goals. There will always be intangible rewards when it comes to brand building and raising awareness, but you can't know if you're winning the game if you don't keep score.
I know some social media marketers already do this. Like the top search marketers, they will be the only ones left standing, and prospering once the hype dies off.
Marketing taps into our emotions, as Rory Sutherland shares in this great TED speech
Online any good idea that works well is quickly cloned by competitors. Both the larger competitors with piles of money AND those who are driven by money so much that they would sell their own mothers for a nickel.
This fierce competition for attention forces continuous (perceived) value add. Some of that is created through innovation and/or branding. But it also encourages sustainable margin creation by criminals through outright fraud. As long as there is an optimized conversion funnel, someone will step in and connect supply and demand. Take, for instance, the rise of fake security software:
"They'll take your credit card information, any personal information you've entered there and they've got your machine," he said, referring to some rogue software's ability to rope a users' machine into a botnet, a network of machines taken over to send spam or worse.
TrafficConverter.biz, which has been shut down, had boasted that its top affiliates earned as much as $332,000 a month for selling scam security software, according to Weafer.
I am not so sure if earned was the right word. Stole, maybe? But when the product is layer upon layer of fraud, it is easy to pay out a high bounty for customers, especially when you use their computers to set up bot nets to further spread spam.
Worse yet, any level of popularity or credibility you gain with a legitimate business needs to be protected because people will trade off it. Yesterday in our support section Brian Menhennett wrote
Do you know or know of a Mr ____ ___ who claims to be associated with seob____.net and takes money for search engine optimization in your name
If you do can you please advise me of a contact email address.
And, after hearing my response that I did not know the guy, I got this back
Thank you for your reply.
Unfortunately if I cannot find or contact ____ ___, whom I paid $10000 to do a SEO job that was not completed, then I have no alternative than to spread the word on a campaign of facebook, twitter, myspace and other social media pages and blogs to advise potential customers of the situation. Again, unfortunately, as your company name was used to procure the $10,000 contract so your company will be included in the campaign.
If you have any information on this person it would be greatly appreciated.
So people register similar domain names, point them at legit sites, and then start selling to people who can't tell the difference. And then rather than taking the opportunity to learn from the honest person, such ignorant people want to smear your brand for their own ignorance and stupidity. As though lashing out at me will get him his money back or cure him of his ignorance.
For every person who wants to learn to earn and become an expert there are hundreds or thousands looking for free money. And so they buy hyped scams from career con men...the only people willing to service them selling a "dream" package (with no substance) at the price they are willing to pay.
A similarly polluting marketing strategy that harms legit sales strategies is the sell the "anyone can do it" angle. When you sell the story of "mentally ill blind grandmother who just got an 8080 computer last week accidentally unlocks unbelievable secret blueprint to make millions per month, working 1 hour per day, printing cash from the nursing home, with one hand amputated" there is a segment of the population that will buy into such pitches. And that type of desperate / gullible / greedy / intellectually lazy person is often the easiest to influence by advertising.
They are the 8% of the web that clicks 85% of display ads. And once they buy one scam they will buy another. And then another. They are caveman clickers who buy buy buy. They tend to have thousands of Dollars of revolving credit card debt and a pile of useless junk they don't need. Debt slaves thinking that "this time is different."
This is why Bing traffic converts better than Google does. And this is why AOL traffic often converts better than Bing does. Stereotypes can be bad, but demographics are visible in conversion statistics, just like they are in ad click-through rates. See the following chart built from millions of ad impressions and hundreds of thousands of ad clicks
Automated ad networks syndicate whatever ads have the highest yield. When a product is layer upon layer of fraud it is easy to pay out a high bounty for customers - so ads promoting scams deliver a high yield, and are thus distributed everywhere. This is why the Fox News article blasting SEO as a scam carried the following wonderful advertisements by scumbag affiliates who set up fake newspapers to carry fake advertorials
Where this becomes a problem for marketers is when you come up with an unbelievably good promotion that is honest. Why? Well people are going to become more skeptical of the altruistic offer, especially if they do not know you. We did one such promotion recently that failed because affiliates pushing offers like the above "security software" simply polluted the space with junk. A once remarkable formula now creates something that is either unremarkable or unbelievable - due to a proliferation of scams that (at first glance) look somewhat similar. A friend who launched a cool free software tool recently had the same problem - people asking "what's the catch?"
The modern day robber baron bankers and slimy affiliates who whore out anything that makes a Dollar create an economic environment where people become more cynical and less trusting. Which makes it that much harder to give away value and hope for eventual returns to come in. If the publicity never comes then you just end up giving away money and getting nothing in return - a failed business strategy.
Years ago a professor did not want to link to one of my sites because he thought it was too pure with no ads. It was simply too good to be true. If I dirtied up the site with ads it would have been more linkworthy to him! And in the years to come, as the lines between media and advertising continue to blur, many people will become more like that savvy professor.
What is the solution? There are a couple options IMHO. You either need to dirty up your strategy to make it look less altruistic OR you need to be well known by the community BEFORE you launch a major promotion. Publishing becomes more about developing and maintaining relationships in the industry.
Online marketers will need to be good at 1 or more of the following to remain profitable...
promoting scams (or carry ads from 3rd party networks that promote scams)
building an economic reward system directly in the distribution channel (like the often hyped internet marketer product launches)
leveraging ego-bait marketing (a type of payment that costs ~ $0, except for when it backfires!)
mastering conversion and value-add sales techniques
One of our commenters, WebsterJ, recently made the astute observation:
So Derek calls out SEO as a scam while touting social media - a field that is quickly cornering the market on snake oil. Fast talking social gurus charging boring clients with nothing interesting to say big $$$ to make Twitter profiles, blogs and Facebook pages that will bring in zero return. They just make the client feel like they are "doing social media."
Social Media Guru Snake Oil
Social media, used as a means to make money, is - mostly - useless.
Now, before a gaggle of unemployed social media gurus accuse me of doing the same thing as Powazek, I'm going to hedge my rant.
But first, let's have some fun.
Why $ocial Media Doesn't Work
Social media - and by social media I'm mostly talking about Facebook & Twitter - doesn't work for many businesses, and never will, because the medium is not the message.
Yet that is how a lot of social media marketing is approached.
Companies are being encouraged to create Facebook pages and open Twitter accounts to announce to the world they have nothing to say. Well, that would happen if anyone was actually listening.
Which they're not.
People aren't listening in the same way they're not reading email newsletters they signed up for a few years back and can't remember why. They'd unsubscribe, only that would require effort.
Likewise, most Tweets and Facebook entries dissolve into the ether, unread and unloved.
Obviously, just using the medium is not communicating, building brand, or creating engagement. That requires reflection, strategy, focus and having a story worth listening to. If a person or company has nothing to say, then creating a social media channel isn't going to help.
First, they must have something worth saying. Then they must say something people want or need to hear, and say it in a way that resonates with the audience.
The problem is....
Many People Have Nothing To Say And Few People Are Listening
In the past few minutes, I've seen the following tweets:
"Head hurts. Going to bed early..."
"Trying out tweetie2"
Riveting stuff, certainly.
Sure, I'm being facetious. Selectively pulling out the personal stuff. So how about people doing social media business?
If you're a masochist, or a psychologist examining the growing problem of delusions of grandeur amongst generation Y, you could do a lot worse that following a few social media gurus on Twitter:
"Marketing is a vulgarized concept. That's why we see so many brands lacking credibility in the digital world. Windows, not mirrors folks"
That's almost as bad as some of mine! And to think, some people are worried that Twitter will get innane when it becomes mainstream.
Here's a good example of implementing a social media channel with seemingly little thought given to the message or the audience: huskerchevrolet.com
Something worth saying? Erm....
There's not a lot of strategy behind much of this stuff.
Show Me The Money
Count up the hours you spend on Twitter or Facebook, then figure out how much money you made for each of those hours of effort. I'm guessing the result for most people is somewhere around zero. Now deduct your hourly rate - and other opportunity costs - for each of those hours.
But wait, I hear some people say. "Social media is about attention! About getting noticed! Getting on radar!"
They didn't really say that. I just made that up. The only person here is me. But it sounds like something a social media guru might say, especially if they were charging by the hour at the time.
People place a lot of importance on getting attention. They point to the number of followers as if that metric means something. It doesn't, of course. The important metric is how many of those followers are paying attention and then engaging in a way that contributes to the bottom line.
How many social gurus are measuring the bottom line, I wonder?
Argument By Selective Observation
But wait, some imaginary social media guru interjects, pausing only to push his sunglasses onto the top of his head:
"What about Spunk2PointZero.com? They killed with their recent social media campaign that netted $1,000,000,000,000 in two hours!"
No matter how inane, publicity stunts can work. Once. Early adopters can benefit from being first - they are remarkable simply because they are first. But once the followers arrive, the stunt is no longer remarkable, and the technique is no longer repeatable. The medium was the message, but not for long.
Social media has grown past the stage of being remarkable for its own sake.
Also, what works in one area may not translate to other areas. Wired companies can use leading edge communication channels because that's where their customers are. These communication channels might not work so well if you're selling cheese to housewives. I know this sounds weird, but they probably still listen to the radio.
The rule "go where your customers are" still applies.
Join The "Conversation"
Is it possible to have a conversation in Twitter or on Facebook?
Perhaps, on a superficial level, but mostly it's quick blast of - and I use this phrase loosely - information.
A lot of people who wrote some really interesting, deep, valuable stuff in forums and on blogs migrated to Twitter, used it a bit, then stopped. I think that happened because there was no value in it for the writer. Conversation didn't happen. Relationships weren't being built.
A temporary shot in the dark.
Perhaps that is why people update social media channels so often. Social media only exists in the now, and if you're not posting right now, you don't exist.
But is there anything worse than the compulsive updater? "Going to Reno tonight! Feeling pumped!". Millions of people saying nothing to millions of people who aren't interested.
Pretending To Work
Social media is mostly a waste of time.
And that's exactly why I have a Twitter account :)
We all do. Why? It's fun. It can be fascinating. Useful, even. But for most people, even most business people, it's not really about doing business and making money. It's about being, well, social and pretending to work.
When Social Media Works
Ironcly, social media works wonders when combined with that other well-known scam, SEO.
When you have content that becomes popular on sites like Digg, Reddit, or Delicious, you get in front of the largest body of linking individuals on the web. Most journalist, media, and bloggers/webmasters watch the front page of these top social news and bookmarking sites to get current and popular content to use for their own site, magazine, newspaper, or show.
By having your content in front of this group of people, you are likly to get a lot of natural links to your content. Sometimes you can get links up to a PR9 level such as TBS, MSNBC, AOL, Wired, Huffington Post, all of which i have personally received off of successful campaigns.
How many social media gurus talk about this angle?
Ever listen to Chris Winfield speak? That guy can create a brand from scratch. And that is the other area social media works well: brand building.
Much social media theory is nothing new. It's regurgitated brand theory. You create value by recognition and having customers engage and spread the word. It helps get the message out. Driving brand awareness, particularly with youth and wired demographics.
Building brand, and the benefits that come from that - engagement, word of mouth, connection - are where social media can excel if executed as part of a coherent strategy. It's cheap. It's cheerful. It's fun.
All good stuff.
The trick is to....
Find out how social media translates to your bottom line. If your social media guru can't demonstrate that, s/he is a waste of space. Social media must either increase sales, or cut costs, or both. If it doesn't, it's not business, it's just time wasting. If it can't be measured, then there's a good chance it isn't happening.
Do you measure your return on social media?
Abuse, constructive or otherwise, in the comments please :)