Why Be Fair

Feb 10th
posted in

We've discussed in the past about how our brand is "everything we do".

As an SEO provider, business owner, or service provider, your brand is more than your logo, website and advertising. It's also what you say, what you do, how you act, and how you treat people.

Today, let's look at the benefits of using fairness as a way to add value to your brand.

The Importance Of Reciprocation

We all know about "win-win" deals.

The best deals leave enough on both sides of the deal so both parties can prosper. A deal where one party takes all and the other party gets very little isn't desirable for many reasons, one being it just isn't fair.

Rational business theory often overlooks this point. If a client "wins" by screwing you down to the very last cent, and concludes the deal, then supposedly everything should now proceed through to delivery and conclusion. But humans are emotional. The aggrieved SEO is hardly going to act like a true partner. More likely, they'll look to reciprocate the treatment they've received.

What is the cost of negative reciprocation?

We are social animals. If someone treats us well, and is fair, we feel we should treat them likewise. If someone screws us over - well - they can't expect us to give 110%. What they can likely expect is negative reciprocation, which can manifest itself in many different ways. It's not quite "revenge", but such ill-feeling can end up costing a lot more than any savings the customer made on the deal.

The same is true of your customers.

The Process Of Fairness

It is important that your dealings with customers be:

  • Fair
  • Transparent
  • Honest

If you commit to being fair, and be seen to be fair, you can still get more out of the deal than the other party - win-win deals don't need to be, and most often aren't, 50/50 - but the other party is unlikely to resent you for it if they feel the process by which the deal was arrived at was a fair one. Psychological studies have shown people often care more about how a decision was arrived at, rather than what the final decision actually was.

Fairness of the process colors people's perception of the outcome.

What Does It Mean To "Be Fair"?

Be seen to be fair in the eyes of the person you're dealing with. This can be difficult to make concrete, but if you don't have a genuine intention to be be fair, you almost certainly won't achieve it.

In practice, it means not making arbitrary decisions, listening to all parties and considering their view. It also means making making the rules transparent. A game where only one party knows the rules breeds resentment.

An outcome should be reached where each party can see each step taken, and why it was taken. People may not even like the outcome, but they are much less likely to reciprocate in a negative manner if they feel they have been treated fairly, in a fair process. A sense of fairness runs very deep in our psyche- it's tied up with ego, self-respect, status and recognition.

This attitude of fairness can run across all aspects of business, not just in deal making and sales. It also applies to customer service. If a customer highlights a problem, how do you react? Do you see it as an opportunity to build brand? Do you seek an outcome that will advantage only you, or do you aim to arrive at a fair outcome for all? I'd wager aiming for the fair outcome is the better long-term bet.

But what happens if a customer is being unfair to you?

Of course, this can and does happen. Some people will take advantage. Again, seek to make the process fair and transparent, even though they might not like the outcome you seek.

Hard But Fair

Yes, yes - this all sounds very nice, but it's a shark-fest out there! That may be so, but you can still play hard whilst also using fair process. You've heard the phrase "hard but fair". The fairness makes the "hardness" acceptable. "Hard and unfair" tends to result in lawyers. In this respect, a fair process itself can add value, rather than destroying it by incurring extra costs.

Brand And Fairness

Proctor & Gamble have an internal set of "Ten Commandments" and the very first commandment is "Do The Right Thing". Their employees must demonstrate" rectitude, integrity and fairness". Sure, all companies say that, but the companies that actually do it build stronger on-going relationships, and strong brands. Do you return to companies who you felt treat you unfairly?

Your brand incorporates relationships with all those who you deal with, and may of those people you'll deal with over and over again. Great brands aren't just about the outcomes they achieve. They are also about how the process by which they achieve those outcomes, and if that process adds emotional value, as opposed to destroying it - by being seen to be fair - then your brand becomes stronger.

Borrowing From PPC

Nov 5th
posted in

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.

You Aren't Average

Oct 28th

Do you ever think that SEO is "obvious"? "Common knowledge"? "Pretty easy, really"?

Watch this:

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.

2. Make The Thing You Do Obvious

Once a person decides your page is roughly what they are looking for, you have a further four seconds to direct them to desired action or get them to continue reading. On the average web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.

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.

Summary

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 :)

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Social Media: The Need For Measurement

Oct 23rd

Following on from my our "Social Media Guruism: Mostly Harmless" yesterday, we received the following comment:

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.

Demonstrate Value

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 Ideas

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.

7. Links

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.

And it will.

Google & Bing Annouce Real Time Search Deals With Twitter

Oct 22nd
posted in

Marissa Mayer announces that Google has reached an agreement with Twitter to include Twitter updates in Google's search results.

We look forward to having a product that showcases how tweets can make search better in the coming months. That way, the next time you search for something that can be aided by a real-time observation, say, snow conditions at your favorite ski resort, you'll find tweets from other users who are there and sharing the latest and greatest information.

Hmmm..."product"? Obviously something a bit smarter that simply providing raw indexing and display.

This move follows Bing's recent announcement - today, in fact - they would do likewise.

We’re glad you asked that. Because today at Web 2.0 we announced that working with those clever birds over at Twitter, we now have access to the entire public Twitter feed and have a beta of Bing Twitter search for you to play with (in the US, for now). Try it out. The Bing and Twitter teams want to know what you think.

Microsoft has pulled off a similar deal with Facebook, which has six times as many users as Twitter.

With two competing deep pocketed players signing up, how long can Twitter remain unsold? Will Google build a competing version of Twitter? Much easier to crunch link data and index in real time if you can backend updates with your own systems, rather than making sense of third-party date, like Twitter, which is probably a nightmare. Some cosy integration arrangement is probably part of the deal, of course.

Read-Write-Web made the valid point that Google grew when they signed a similar deal with Yahoo. Now Twitter is doing likewise, serving their stuff to Google's massive audience. However, given Twitters notorious fail-whale flakiness, it remains to be seen if their system is ready for the roar of traffic that will soon come their way.

What Does This Mean For SEOs?

Go where the search engines do. Link to your content from Twitter. Publish excerpts and link-backs. Monitor real-time search trends, using Google's Hot Trends and trend data tools, such as TweetStats. Supply content to match demand.

It will be interesting to see if real-time search, on a Google scale, produces new business models. The traffic bursts should ample reward for being seen first for popular real time queries.

The news business relies on immediacy, and they just got a whole new wave of unpaid competition.

Social Media Guruism: Mostly Harmless

Oct 21st

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."

Heh. Indeed.

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.

Highlight. Delete.

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"

"hehehehehehehehe"

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"

Huh?

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

Twitter. Check.

Facebook. Check.

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.

Unfollow.

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.

Brent Csutoras, in a comment on SEOWorld put it well:

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....

Measure it

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.

Agree? Disagree?

Do you measure your return on social media?

Abuse, constructive or otherwise, in the comments please :)

News Alert: SEO is a Scam

Oct 14th

Derek Powazek - no, I hadn't heard of him until today either - is, according to the blurb: "one of the top 40 "Industry Influencers" of 2007 by Folio Magazine..has worked the web since 1995 at pioneering sites like HotWired, Blogger, and Technorati".

A designer, apparently.

He doesn't care much for SEO.

The fact we may never heard of him just goes to show that the web is a big place. It is quite common that the rockstars in one niche can be unknowns in an adjacent niche. It is therefore no surprise that those who spend a lot of time in separate niches may not understand each other particularly well.

Derek understands little about the value of SEO.

Read the anti-SEO rant entitled "Spammers, Evildoers, and Opportunists".

I'm sure you'll find it amusing.

If Someone Charges You For SEO, You Have Been Conned

Search Engine Optimization is not a legitimate form of marketing. It should not be undertaken by people with brains or souls. If someone charges you for SEO, you have been conned

Uh-huh.

Well, I'm sure some SEO is undertaken by people without either brains or soul, but the same could be said of web designers.

It is true to say some web designers are clueless about the web, seemingly only interested in crafting pretty pictures. In Flash. They charge clients a fortune for it, and have no idea whether their self-indulgent nonsense will add any value to the clients business. It's barely even a consideration.

That's rather misleading. It might be true, but it's still misleading. Some web designers, just like some SEOs, are pointless. That doesn't mean all SEOs or web designers are pointless. Unfortunately, Derek thinks the entire SEO industry is a con.

Judging an entire industry by what some bad actors do is wrong.

And so, like the goat sacrificers and snake oil salesmen before them, a new breed of con man was born, the Search Engine Optimizer. These scammers claim that they can dance the magic dance that will please the Google Gods and make eyeballs rain down upon you.
Do. Not. Trust. Them

Yawn.

Of course a good SEO can "make eyeballs rain down on you". We do it every day. A good SEO can take a site where a "designer" has indluged in what loosely passes for an adult version of finger painting and get it ranking under appropriate keywords. SEOs do this by identifying keyword traffic (demand) and ensuring pages (supply) meet that demand. We untangle messes made by designers and developers and we implement web marketing strategy where there was none.

Whilst Derek is wrong about SEO on a number of levels, he says some stuff I agree with, stuff we often talk about on this blog.

Make something great. Tell people about it. Do it again.

That’s it. Make something you believe in. Make it beautiful, confident, and real. Sweat every detail. If it’s not getting traffic, maybe it wasn’t good enough. Try again.

Then tell people about it. Start with your friends. Send them a personal note – not an automated blast from a spam cannon. Post it to your Twitter feed, email list, personal blog. (Don’t have those things? Start them.) Tell people who give a shit – not strangers. Tell them why it matters to you. Find the places where your community congregates online and participate. Connect with them like a person, not a corporation. Engage. Be real. Then do it again. And again. You’ll build a reputation for doing good work, meaning what you say, and building trust."

Seth Godin says the same thing. We often quote Seth.

But the problem with "making something great" is that the search engine may not think it is great. This is because a search engine is stupid. It's a machine. And like any stupid machine, it may not recognize greatness, especially if it can't crawl it, or if that greatness doesn't exist in a form it finds palatable.

SEOs help make sure the search engines don't miss greatness.

Derek appears to think SEO is mostly about crawling and hacking. Competent SEOs know that crawling is one part of the puzzle, and most have never hacked to get links. SEO is mostly about the publishing and marketing strategy that comes out of keyword research. Most designers don't understand this concept and therefore misinterpret how SEO works.

As for publishing content for Google, then - yes - guilty as charged, By making content Google wants, Google rewards you. Don't, and it won't. Content can satisfy both Google and humans. It is false to suggest content that appeals to Googles algorithms isn't what humans want to read. Google wouldn't be a business if their results didn't satisfy humans.

Web Design Is Mostly Unimportant ;)

Here's a quote Derek makes lower down in his comments section:

Also, I didn’t call SEO people “fucktards” because that wouldn’t be fair to actual retarded people.

For a "influencer", the guy sure is mature.

Let's try that with web designers to see if it is any less vacuous:

Also, I didn’t call web designer people “fucktards” because that wouldn’t be fair to actual retarded people."

Nope. Still vacuous.

I have nothing against the web design community. I use web designers - good ones - who understand a little about SEO. Good designers who understand a little about SEO are as rare as hens teeth. And even though they do understand a little about SEO, that still leaves the real SEO work to do, which is identification of traffic streams, content creation and link building.

SEO plays, like eHow and Mahalo, attract hundreds of millions in venture capital funding. SEO play About.com sold to the NYTimes for $410 million. Microsoft and Yahoo employ inhouse SEOs to advise their staff and maximize traffic to their content.

Meanwhile, content management systems are free. Great looking templates are cheap. The worlds most valuable web properties don't use "designery" design. They place most emphasis on function. The web is evolving from the crafted, fixed brochure into a platform. Perhaps custom design just isn't as important as it once was. Design has become commodity.

Now, I know that web design is about a lot more than making pretty pictures. It's about structure and interaction. Defining design narrowly as "picture making" is just as stupid as Derek's implied narrow definition that SEO is about crawling, hacking and generating low quality content intended only for Google. Such narrow definitions can lead to false assumptions and conclusions.

Danny Sullivan has also dissected Dereks rant.

Optimizing For Bing

Oct 8th
posted in

How are your referral stats looking? Noticed more traffic from Bing lately?

According to a Nielsen report last month, Bing is growing faster than any other search engine. It was reported Bing had 10.7% of the total search market, up 2% from the month before. Yesterdays report from Hitwise suggests Bing has since dropped to around 8.96 percent.

So, somewhere around 8-10% perhaps.

The new statistics, from internet research firm Hitwise, will make disappointing reading for Mr Ballmer, who has said he is willing to spend as much as $11bn on search. Earlier this week he told The Daily Telegraph: “We’re trying to give Google a little competition in the search business

Microsoft have struggled for along time to make a dent in Google's share of the search market, so it looks like they are beginning to make inroads, albeit slowly. Microsoft have done a ton of marketing to promote Bing. They've introduced cutting edge features like visual search and voice support.

This is not a battle Microsoft can afford to lose, and for search marketers, competition between engines can only be a good thing.

Is Your Site Optimized For Bing?

The thought of adopting different optimization strategies for different engines feels so antiquated now.

Years ago, there used to be a lot of talk about how to optimize for the different engines. Some webmasters would go so far as to serve differently optimized pages to each major engine.

In the past few years, SEO has been about all-Google, all the time, so the rule of thumb is to optimize for Google, and the rest pretty much takes care of itself.

This advice still stands.

Keeping Up With Bing

Google has Google Guy (Matt Cutts). Likewise, the Bing search team regularly reaches out to the SEO community. SEOs should bookmark the Bing Webmaster Centre announcements.

In particular:

NB: You need a Live Id to see those links.

Microsoft released a comprehensive document for Webmasters. Check out page 23 where they address SEO specifically.

Like Google Guy advice, it tends towards the general and is ultimately self serving, but interesting to be aware of, nontheless.

The Bing Difference: Why Bother?

In terms of search engine results pages, the two engines do produce different results. Here's a nifty tool for side-by-side comparisons.

Why should you be interested in Bing at all?

Even though usage is lower, the user demographic for Bing is different to that of Google. Ask search marketers and you'll get anecdotal evidence that Bing/Yahoo users don't tend to be as web savvy as Google users, use the web less often, are more likely to click on ads, and are more likely to be involved in online shopping, whilst Google appeals more to researchers, webheads and geeks. If you're engaged in web commerce, you need to be thinking about Bing.

Bing Ranking Tips

From the Bing Features For Webmasters document:

Because of this new way of thinking about search, some webmasters might initially be concerned that the shortened primary organic listing in the new Bing SERP might render their SEO efforts as less effective. Instead, Bing makes it easier to compete for broad terms because it surfaces more categories automatically, increasing the number of results on the page and generating more relevant content.

In reality, the same SEO strategies you use for Google apply to Bing.

1. Get Your On-Page SEO Right

Nail the basics.

Make sure your content is unique, use H tags for titles, use alt tags for images, use unique page titles and description meta tags, one topic per page and ensure your copy is free from spelling and gramatical errors. Like Google, you can sign up for MS Webmaster Center which will help you spot and troubleshoot problems.

2. Quality Inbound Linking

Bing appears to favour linking from pages that share a similar topic area.

Is Bing a theme-based engine? Think of a theme as a topic pyramind. A themed site would have the topic "cars at the top. The level beneath that would be makes of cars i.e. Ford, Ferrari, Lotus, then below then models, then components, etc. The theory goes that a site should be all on the same topic to rank well, and links should come from sites on the same topic. Themes used to get discussed a lot, but fell out of fashion when people realised Google didn't use themes.

Is Bing using themes? I don't think so. Like Google, the algorithms appear to be largely page based, as opposed to site based. Bing looks at the topic of the page linking to you. If the linking page is on a similar topic, the target page receives a boost. Have a play around with the title tag on the linking page. Try to ensure the title tag keyword on the linking page is the same as the keyword you're targetting on your optimized page.

3. Domain Age

Domain age seems to be an important factor in Bing - the older, the better. Like Google, Bing tries to establish authority, and domain age is one way it does this.

Got any tips for optimizing for Bing? Any patterns you've noticed, particularly in respect to how Bing differs from Google?

The Unexpected Success

Oct 2nd
posted in

Have you ever had an unexpected success?

For example, you may have targeted a keyword term you thought was highly important, yet a few obscure long term keywords brought you more business? Or the site you've put all your effort into lately isn't doing as much business as that throw-away site you've been neglecting?

I'm re-reading a great book called "Innovation & Entrepreneurship" by Peter Drucker. Drucker was a management consultant who wrote a lot about demographics, the importance of marketing and the emergence of the information society, with its necessity of lifelong learning.

Drucker discusses the "unexpected success", that thing that works, usually whilst you are pursuing something else.

Drucker gives the example of Macy's, which had the "problem" that it was selling too many appliances.

Why was this a problem?

Macy's considered themselves to be an upmarket clothing store, and clothing is where they had always put their effort. They took pride in it. Clothing defined who they were. Macy's actually wanted to slash their profitable appliance business because they thought it would affect their clothing business.

When Macy's management changed - management unclouded by the emotional investment of the past - they looked at the data, re-oriented around the unexpected success - the appliances - and Macy's business took off once again.

Why Does This Happen

Why does a carefully laid out plan, a plan you're executing well, and into which you have invested a lot of time and effort, not do so well, whilst some throwaway project is returning more?

It could be due to an underlying change in the market, or a section of the market you hadn't previously noticed is now revealing itself. Many people remain blind to such opportunities, even when, like Macys, it is staring them in the face.

We must always be on the lookout for these unexpected successes on the periphery of what we do.

The original IBM computers were scientific instruments meant for arcane academic research purposes. However, businesses started to buy computers for more mundane, everyday functions, like payroll. IBM reoriented their company around business machines, and the rest is history. Had IBM not tuned into what was working, rather than what their business plan said should be working, they probably wouldn't be here today.

The same thing happened with search. Search wasn't working as a business, even after Google was underway, until Google saw the massive opportunity presented by that much maligned, preposterous idea - pay per click - devised by Goto.com. Pay-per-click was working, in a business sense, in that it was a search function that delivered revenue. Google thought they were building a search engine. Remember the search appliance? Google reoriented and built the ultimate marketing machine instead.

How Do You Spot The Unexpected Success?

Sometimes the unexpected success isn't seen at all. Our frame of mind may render the success invisible. If we invest a lot of emotional energy into something, it can cloud our vision to new opportunity.

We need to be attuned to unexpected success. We need to look for those things on the edges. The obscure keywords where the traffic is growing quickly. Try not to second guess the market. Instead, measure what the market is actually doing. The market you were targeting might have moved. Or you may have discovered the edge of a new market no one else has seen.

The shift at Macy's was due to a shift in the underlying market. The market was segmenting. The market was no longer a socio-economic group of shoppers, it was a new, wider group of "lifestyle" shoppers. Had Macy's responded to data, rather than be blinded by their pre-conceptions, they would have exploited this opportunity sooner.

These opportunities lurk in the shadows. And can disappear just as easily.

Have you seen any examples of this happening in your work?

SEO: Where Is It Going?

Sep 27th
posted in

SEO came about soon after the advent of the web crawler. The commercial imperative was obvious - where there was web traffic, there was money to be made. Positioning a page first in the engines was pretty much a licence to print money.

Still is, of course.

Throughout the history of search and SEO, the predominant metaphor of the web has been one borrowed partly from publishing - the page - and partly from computer science - the domain. A domain contains pages. A domain is a silo. A domain has clear borders.

The Search Metaphor

Search forces quite a different metaphor on the web.

Search is a connector between a person and a page. Search subverts the domain structure because the visitor can dive in at the page level. In this respect, all pages become a part of the much bigger silo. In 2009, that silo is Google.

Search also strives to be the ultimate answer engine - the mind of God. Got a question? Google it. Google will provide the answers.

But search is not quite there yet. Search still returns pages - the user still digs through the page to find the answer.

But for how long?

The Slow Unraveling Of The Page Unit

Consider social media. Is a page the basic unit of Twitter? No, it's the sentence. How about Youtube? The video. Social networks? The person. All can be extracted, re-purposed and dis-intermediated without losing meaning.

Consider the semantic web:

Humans are capable of using the Web to carry out tasks such as finding the Finnish word for "monkey", reserving a library book, and searching for a low price for a DVD. However, acomputer cannot accomplish the same tasks without human direction because web pages are designed to be read by people, not machines. The semantic web is a vision of information that is understandable by computers, so that they can perform more of the tedious work involved in finding, sharing, and combining information on the web

What happens when the machine "understands" the query enough to provide a direct answer to a question, as opposed to returning a list of pages?

Black Clouds On The Content Producer Horizon, Or Opportunity?

In a recent Techcrunch interview, Eric Schmidt said something rather telling:

So I don't know how to characterize the next 10 years except to say that we'll get to the point - the long-term goal is to be able to give you one answer, which is exactly the right answer over time.

Perhaps he was quoted out of context, but that strikes me as an absurd thing to say. As if there is ever one "right" answer. Well, I guess there is if you live in some Orwellian nightmare.

More importantly, if this is where Google intend to be in ten years time, then where does this leave content producers? If Google provides "the answer", why would anyone click-thru and visit a page? Conversely, why would anyone let Google crawl their content if Google's aim is to disintermediate the producer from their content? Johnon had an excellent post on this topic.

Recently, Google released rich snippets, a feature whereby you markup you data to suit Google's display criteria.

Rich Snippets give users convenient summary information about their search results at a glance.

If the answer is "rich" enough, I guess the user doesn't even need to visit your page. Perhaps the user will get distracted by the Adwords listings, instead ;)

If Google aims to extract information and keep the visitor on Google, rather than just acting as a conduit between visitor and page, then this does not bode well for content producers.

This brings up the burning "Newspaper vs Google" argument. "How", the newspapers argue, "can we make money if Google undermines our revenue model? Ultimately, this is a question all content producers must face. Just ask those in the music industry.

Seemingly in response, Google is planning to roll out micropayments in the next year:

Google is planning to roll out a system of micropayments within the next year and hopes that newspapers will use it as they look for new ways to charge users for their content.

The question is, will micropayments and web advertising be enough to pay the bills, especially when it comes to expensive, high-risk media production, such as television and movies:

Grade’s criticisms were echoed in October by C4 chief executive Andy Duncan, who said Google had failed to invest in UK content creation. “Google takes more ad revenue out of the UK than ITV makes and it isn’t regulated. It isn’t fair [that] it’s not reinvesting that back into content and independent film production companies in the UK,” said Duncan.

Content producers are posting losses, whilst Google continues to post massive profits. What happens if content isn't worth producing anymore? What happens when revenue falls below the cost of production? Or perhaps content will still be economic, but only if production quality is sacrificed? Is it really just a case of fat media producers cutting bloated production costs?

What is Google's long term strategy as far as content producers are concerned? Besides PR fluffery, they never really say.

It's Not All Bleak

Of course, if content producers really did get disintermediated to the point where content production wasn't worth doing, Google may well collapse soon after. What would there be left to search? Wikipedia?

Where would the "answers" come from? Who would fund "answer provision"? Sufficient income must flow to the content producers, but the question still remains "how"?

And I don't really think the page is going away. The page has served humans well for thousands of years as a container of information. But if the information on pages can be aggregated in such a way that users don't need to visit the source page, where does this leave content producers? Where does this leave SEOs?

In 2009, SEO plays fall into three distinct categories.

  • Agency model: people offer services to others for a fee.
  • Affiliate model: people gather traffic and funnel it somewhere else for a performance fee.
  • Content model: people generate content and make money off advertising.

The last model is, I'm guessing, is one a lot of SEOs will pursue. Many do so now.

Check this out:

Demand Media operates based on a simple formula for success on the Web: create a ton of niche, mostly uninspired content targeted to search engines, then make it viral through social software. Demand Media has been heavily funded to carry out that mission, to the tune of $355 million. So yes, brute force - quantity of content + money/power - works more often than we'd like to think on the Web.

The aggregator wields most of the power in this relationship, unless the publisher can lock in an audience who will by-pass the aggregator.

Is Dis-intermediation Over-Rated?

On the flip-side, John Battelle argued a few years back that search dis-intermediation is overrated.

Those who fear disintermediation should in fact be afraid of irrelevance -- disintermediation is just another way of saying that you've become irrelevant to your customers. It doesn't mean there isn't a customer, or middlemen of some sort who service that customer, or that the core proposition of your business has disappeared. It just means you're in a bit of a rut, and as much as you might pine for the past, it's probably time to rethink things before it's too late.

He reasons that writers can go outside the traditional silos:

And what of the role of publisher or content creator? Increasingly, those who have the ability to create great media can get pretty far without attaching themselves to the traditional indentured servitude of a publisher, label or network. Writers, for example, are finding their own voices outside the strictures of magazines and newspaper publishers. Blogs like Boing Boing, Daily Kos and Cool Tools are drawing millions of readers each month, and their overhead is the cost of a high-speed Internet line.

However, what they're actually doing is jumping out of one silo and into another. Google is the master silo in this scenario.

So, what do you think? what is the role of SEO in the future? Will it be more about making connections, and a less about making pages? Will the page itself be subverted? Have Google gone moved beyond the idea of "organizing the world's information"?

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