Convincing Old-School Clients that Things Have Changed

Posted by Kristina Kledzik

There’s a reason we use the terms 
“white hat” and “black hat” for SEO: it used to be the Wild West. Black hat tactics were so effective, they were almost necessary to market online. Paying a few thousand dollars to an SEO could get you to rank #1 for almost any term (before you let them go and your competitor paid them the same to outrank you). You only got a few thousand dollars in return for that ranking, though, since there weren’t many people shopping online yet.

Fast forward to today: Ranking well on Google is
insanely profitable—much more so than it ever was in the early days—and Google’s algorithm has advanced dramatically. But former SEOs and people outside our industry still hold on to that idea that a few thousand dollars of “technical SEO” can make them magically rank #1. 

So, how do you convince your old school clients things have changed?

The immediate answer

When this comes up in conversation, I have a few trump phrases that usually bring clients around:

  • “Yeah, that used to be a great tactic, but now it puts you at risk for getting a penalty.” (Really, any response that includes the word “penalty” stops clients in their tracks.)
  • “That makes sense, but Matt Cutts said…” / “Good point, but Google’s official blog recommends…”
  • “I / another coworker / another client / a Mozzer has tried that, and it had disastrous results…”

Basically, acknowledge their idea as valid so you don’t insult them, then explain why it won’t work in a way that scares the shit out of them by mentioning real repercussions. Or, you know, just persuade them gently with logic.

If you can’t persuade/scare the shit out of them, tell them you’ll do some research and get back to them. Then do it.

If that doesn’t work…

Okay, so you have answers for on-the-spot questions now. They will work anywhere from moderately well to amazingly well, depending on your delivery and the respect you’ve gained from your client. But the client may ask for more research, or be skeptical of your answer. To be really effective, the right answer has to be coupled with a lot of respect and a logical, well-delivered explanation. 

Many of you are probably thinking, “I establish respect by being right / talking professionally / offering a lot of case studies during the sales process.” That’s the sort of thinking that
doesn’t earn respect. You gain respect by consistently being:

1. Respectful, even if your clients are wrong

It’s embarrassing to be wrong. When your client says, “What meta keywords should we put on this page?” and you chuckle and say, “Gosh, meta keywords haven’t been used in so long—I don’t even think Google ever used them,” your client is going to fight you on it, not because they’re particularly invested in the idea of using meta keywords, but because you’ve made them feel wrong.


So when your client is wrong, start by validating their idea
. Then, explain the right solution, not necessarily digging into why their solution is wrong:

Client: What meta keywords should we put on this page?

You: Well, I’m going to put together some keywords to target on this page next week, but making them meta keywords won’t make much of a difference. Google doesn’t look at them because it’s so easy to spam (wouldn’t it be nice if they did?). Anyway, when I send you those keywords that we should target, I’ll also include what we need to change on the page in order to target them.

Answering like this will keep your conversations positive and your clients open to your ideas, even if your ideas conflict directly with theirs. 

2. Honest

You’re probably smart enough not to make up client anecdotes or lie about what Matt Cutts has said. Where I usually see dishonesty in consulting is when consultants screw up and their clients call them on it. 

It looks bad to be wrong, especially when someone is paying you to be right. It’s even worse to be caught in a lie or look dishonest. Here’s my mantra:
It’s not wrong to make an honest mistake. When clients tell you you’ve done something wrong, consider it a misunderstanding. Explain where you were coming from and why you did what you did briefly, then fix it.

(Note: this obviously doesn’t work if you made a stupid mistake. If you made a stupid mistake, apologize and offer to fix it, free of charge. It’ll lose you some money up front, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.)

3. Direct

This is the best outline for any answer:

  1. Brief answer, in one sentence
  2. Deeper explanation of answer
  3. Information to back it up
  4. Reiteration of brief answer

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard another consultant (or myself) not be entirely sure of an answer and ramble on for a couple of minutes before stopping to complete silence from their client. Or know the answer but think it’s too complicated and deliver an answer that only confuses their client more.

By starting with the answer, the client already knows what’s coming, so all other information you give after that will naturally support your answer as you go, rather than possibly leading them down the wrong path. Consider these alternatives:

Standard answer:

Client: How much will this increase our rankings?

You: Competition is always a huge part of the equation, so we’ll have to look into that. It’s easier to rank for, say, “yellow sapphire necklaces” than “blue sapphire necklaces” because there are more blue sapphire necklaces out there. But this is definitely what we should do to increase our rankings.

Direct answer:

Client: How much will this increase our rankings?

You: I don’t know, it’s not something that we can definitively say in SEO, unfortunately. Competition is a huge part of the equation, so we’ll have to look into that. But, regardless, this is the most effective action that we could take to increase our rankings.

The more direct answer admits doubt, but is still much more convincing in the end (though both are vague and obviously top-of-mind examples… just ignore that). 

4. Complimentary and inclusive

It’s called the 
Benjamin Franklin Effect: “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.” (Props to Rob Ousbey for telling me about this.)

When your client has done something right, compliment them on how they’ve made your job easier since you don’t have to fix their mistakes. When your client has done something wrong, let them know what they should do to fix it, but help them share in the work to make the change. It’ll make the client feel valued and it’ll take a big part of the workload off of you.

5. Proactive

Good project management is the key to effective consulting. When clients don’t know what you’re working on, they get worried that you’re wasting their money. Make sure that you consistently:

  • Meet; I like to have scheduled meetings once a week
  • Share a 3-6 month project plan, with dates and deliverables outlined
  • Ship those deliverables on time
  • Respond to emails within a day or two, even if the answer is “Great question! I’m prioritizing [other project for the same client right now], can I get back to you in a week or so?”
  • Follow up with open questions; if a client asks you a question in a meeting you don’t know, admit you don’t know, say you’ll get back to them after you research it, then actually do that

I think that project management is often dropped because it seems so easy that it’s de-prioritized. Don’t believe that: this may be the most important of the five traits I’ve listed.

To sum it up: be honest, selfless, and proactive, and your clients are going to love you.

Even if you’re a terrible SEO (though try your best to be a good one), clients are going to respect consultants who put their clients’ business first, are open and honest about what they’re doing and thinking, and get their work done without being micromanaged.

Now that you’ve earned your client’s respect, they will be open to you changing their mind. You just have to give them a reason to.

Nail it with a great argument

When a client says, “Can we rank for ‘trucks’ by putting the word ‘truck’ as the alt text to each image on this page?” our mind immediately says, “No, why would you think that?” That’s not going to win the argument for you.

The reason we SEOs say “why would you think that?” is because we know the answer. So, teach your client. Start by validating their idea (what did we just learn about clients being wrong?), then explain the right answer, then explain why their answer won’t work:

Client: Can we rank for “trucks” by putting the word “truck” as the alt text to each image on this page?

You: Well, that would certainly get “trucks” on the page more often! To really optimize the page for “trucks,” though, we’ll need to put it in the page title, and a few times in the body of the page. SEO is all about competition, and our competition is doing that. We have to at least match them. Once the page is optimized for “trucks,” though, we’ll still have to work to get more backlinks and mentions around the web to compete with Wikipedia, which ranks #1 right now for “trucks.”

Don’t focus too much on their mistake.The more time you spend on the disagreement, the more frustrated your client will get; the more time you spend on your solution, the more impressed they’ll be with you.

If that doesn’t work, do the research to tell an even better story:

  • Give examples from other clients. Don’t give away too many names, of course, but knowing that you’ve solved this problem or a problem like it in the past makes clients feel much more confident in you.
  • If you’ve never seen this problem before, reach out to your SEO community. One of the best parts of working at Distilled is that when a client off-handedly emails me a question, I can email all Distilled consultants and usually get an answer (or at least an educated guess) within an hour or so. If you work on your own, build a community online, through Moz or another online portal, and ask them.
  • Forecast the effects of your solution. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not good at this because it can take a long time. But if your client is resistant, it’s definitely worth the trouble. Take clients through how you worked out the forecasting so they can see how much they’ll gain by working with you.

Once you’ve got proof behind your argument, restate your position, add your new arguments, and then follow up with your position and what you recommend your client does now. Make sure that you end in an action so there’s something concrete for them to focus on. 

Practice, practice, practice delivery

You can have the perfect explanation and a great relationship with your client, but if you trip over your own words or confuse your client, you won’t be convincing.

Written reports

Edit the paper multiple times. Only include the information that directly leads to an action item, don’t include all of the information that they already know, or that just shows you did your homework. That stuff is boring, and will encourage your client to skim, which will often lead to misinterpretations. Next, have a friend who’s been in SEO for awhile and knows about this old school stuff edit it. It’s hard to know where your descriptions might break down without someone else’s perspective.

Verbal presentations 

Practice your presentation ahead of time: talk through your recommendations to a friend or coworker. Have them interrupt you, because you will definitely be interrupted when you’re talking to your client. Make sure that you’re okay with that, that you can have a separate conversation, then jump back in to the report.

For presentations that are brief and over the phone, make sure that you’ve already sent your client something written. If it’s a report, make it clear and to the point (as described above), if it’s not, outline the action items in an email or a spreadsheet, so your client has something concrete to look at as you discuss. I’ve also found clients are able to digest information much better when they’ve already read it.

For big presentations – the ones that need an accompanying PowerPoint, follow the same advice as I gave in the written report section: Edit to be succinct, and get feedback.

This is pretty much a post on good consulting

I’ve consulted clients on technical SEO, promotions / outreach, creative, and content strategy-based projects, and I’ve found that the key to being effective in every one is a) coming up with a good answer, and b) everything discussed in this post. Building respect and communicating effectively is the foundation that supports your answers in almost every relationship, consulting, in house, or even personal. The key to convincing your clients that their black hat, overly white hat, or completely UX-based solutions are wrong is all sort of the same.

So what do you think? What resistance have you come up against in your consulting projects? Share in the comments below!

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Scaling Geo-Targeted Local Landing Pages That Really Rank and Convert – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish
One question we see regularly come up is what to do if you’re targeting particular locations/regions with your site content, and you want to rank for local searches, but you don’t actually have a physical presence in those locations…

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Open Site Explorer’s New Link Building Opportunities Section (and a Slight Redesign)

Posted by randfish

Why hello there! You’re looking marvelous today, you really are. And, in other good news, Open Site Explorer has a bit of a new look—and an entirely new section called “Link Opportunities” to help make some link prospecting tasks easier and more automated. Come with me and I’ll show you; it’ll be fun :-)

The new look

We know a lot of folks liked the old tab structure but we ran out of space. With this redesign we now have the flexibility to add new features and functionality simply by popping in new sections on the left sidebar menu. It’s a little bit more like Moz Analytics, too, and we figure some cohesion between our products is probably wise.

  • New side navigation with plenty of room to grow and add new features (spam scoring and analysis, for example, will be coming in Q4—but shhh… I didn’t actually ask for permission to talk about that yet. I figure begging forgiveness will work.)
  • Improved filtering that lets you slice and dice your link data more easily.
  • Notice How Fast the New OSE Is? Oh yeah, that’s the stuff :-)

You can still access the old Open Site Explorer’s design for a few more weeks, but the new features will exist only in the new version.

Introducing the new link opportunities section

Need help finding outreach targets for your link building campaign? We’re introducing three new reports that will help you build a curated list of potential targets. The new reports are available to all Moz Pro subscribers. If you’re a community member, sign up for a
Moz Pro Free Trial and you, too, can kick it with the new functionality.


Reclaim links

A filtered view of Top Pages that lets you easily export a ranked list of URLs to fix.


Unlinked mentions

Powered by FreshScape, you can use
Fresh Web Explorer queries to find mentions of a brand or site without links. Ping sources that may have talked about your brand, website, people, or products without giving you a link and you can often encourage/nudge that link into existence (along with the great SEO benefits they bring)


Link intersect

Find pages that are linking to your competitors but not you. By entering two competitive domains (they don’t have to be directly competitive; anyone you think you should be on lists with, or mentioned by the press alongside, is a good candidate), you can see pages that link to those sites but not yours. Getting creative with your targets here can reveal loads of awesome link opportunities.


This, however, is just the beginning. Be on the lookout for additional insights and opportunities as we improve our link index—we’ve just recently grown the size of Freshscape, which powers Fresh Web Explorer and two of the sections in link opportunities, so you should find lots of good stuff in there, but it can be a challenge. If you’re struggling with query formatting or getting creative around potential opportunities, let us know (in the comments or via Q&A) and we can give you some pointers or maybe find some searches that do the trick.

What about the old OSE?

We changed the workflow a bit and want to make sure you’ve got time to adjust. If you’re cranking through monthly reports or audits and want a more familiar OSE experience, you can switch to OSE Classic for a limited time. Just click on the “View in OSE Classic” link in the top right, and we’ll default to the old version.

But keep in mind new features and enhancements, like improved performance and Link Opportunities, will only be available in the new release. We’ll keep OSE Classic active until December 3rd in case you’re feeling nostalgic.

We’d love your feedback

If you’re using the new OSE and find problems, wish we’d change something, or have a particularly awesome experience, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below, in Q&A, or (especially if your issue is urgent/something broken) via our help team.

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

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4 Ways to Build Trust and Humanize Your Brand

Posted by MackenzieFogelson

Hey there Mozzers. This is a collaborative post between myself and a good friend of mine, Matthew Sweezey. Sweezey is the head of B2B Marketing Thought Leadership at Salesforce.com and he knows a whole lot about marketing. We’re excited to share this post with you and look forward to your feedback in the comments below.

In 1999, AdAge released its list of 
most influential advertising campaigns of all time. At the top of the list was ‘Think Small,’ a campaign that introduced the Volkswagen Beetle to America. It was given top honors not because of its graphical juxtaposition, or its catchy copy, but rather its honest approach. It was the first major campaign to go against what the American consumer said they wanted. When Chevy was telling consumers bigger was better, Volkswagen acknowledged their shortcomings and advised consumers to, ‘Think Small.’

When a brand is able to make a sincere connection with a consumer, something incredibly powerful happens. Beyond mere fleeting impact, that moment of connection provides a foundation for long-term advocacy, loyalty, and a sustainable bottom line.

The average consumer in today’s market is exposed to more than 5,000 advertising messages per day, wields more computing power in their hand than NASA had to land a man on the moon, and can make a decision about your website in 1/20 of a second. Consumers are overwhelmed with images, and sales pitches and desire a more emotional connection from the companies they support. With this amount of noise, and such fickle consumers, companies who are able to genuinely connect with their customers and community of supporters will have a strategic advantage over those who don’t.

As businesses, we should not look at marketing solely as the ability to sell things, but as the conduit for building relationships. Nourishing this conduit requires all the same steps as any relationship building: For reasons both emotional and practical, you have to build a real connection, listen and take action based on what you hear, prioritize the relationship itself, and deliver on the promises you make.


1. Build an emotional connection

Being authentic and genuine isn’t something that companies can fake. Consumers are smart, and they expect a lot from the brands they choose to support. More than a great product or service, it’s the 
passion and cause at the core of the company that builds this much deeper emotional connection between the brand and the customer. All of which can be fostered through personal, meaningful, and relevant content.

Always does a pretty incredible job of this in their #LikeaGirl campaign.

At the heart of this video is a powerful topic that attracts the attention of girls (and women) everywhere: the confidence that girls possess dramatically declines during puberty.

Always is on a mission to “champion girls’ confidence.” This is a cause that anyone who watches this video can be inspired to change, but certainly the target is girls and women all over the world.

What’s so captivating about the video is that
Always uses the authenticity of story and the transparency of a behind-the-scenes video shoot to build a powerful, emotional association with their brand. An approach that wouldn’t work if Always was taking up this cause just for the numbers on social. Because all of the people in the video are genuinely invested, the message is delivered with conviction not only from the director but also the young adults who are featured in the commercial; they all believe it, too.

What’s great about campaigns like #LikeaGirl, and others like this that Always supports, is that Always isn’t solely focusing their content on promoting their products. They’re supplementing self-promotional efforts with real causes, revealing their sympathy and sensitivity to things that are important to their customers. If they’re this compassionate on the sociological side, and they actually live up to these expectations when their customers are using their products, the relationship will be easily formed, and the deep, emotional connection to their brand will be built.

Making a connection with personality

What if you don’t have a universal cause like girls’ confidence or a large budget to work with? You can build an authentic and emotional connection with your customers and community even when doing simple things like administering a survey.

In order to improve their video hosting product, Wistia created a “Take a Survey” video, featuring their entire company actually doing the Hustle, in order to collect useful feedback. Remember, Wisita is only a fun brand because they choose to be. The video hosting industry is not a sexy, or an exciting one, however they used their content to show off their personality to build a connection with their customers. 

What Do You Want to Learn from Wistia? | Wistia at Work

Rather than going with the generic (and more expensive) gift card or iPad raffle, they decided to use something that was genuine and aligned with their culture as an incentive to complete the survey.

This was not a stretch for Wistia. Their personality and natural brand authenticity shows through in everything they do in their marketing. The sincere enjoyment Wistia has in creating these types of videos is infectious and builds an instant, emotional connection with their audience. People loved it so much, Wistia earned their highest engagement on a survey ever. They saw this as a chance to make a connection even though they were asking you to take a survey.

For Wistia, and for companies building an emotional connection in general, it’s not about doing things like this just to market; it’s got to be part of your culture. That’s where the authentic and emotional connection really comes from. Wistia’s customers know that they genuinely care about what they think and they’d do anything, even dance The Hustle, to show their commitment to the relationship. This is a bond that will help them maintain a connection with their customers long-term.

Making a connection in a boring niche

But the thing is, if your company is not in an innately creative industry, that doesn’t mean you can’t create an emotional connection with your customers. You just might have to work a little harder to figure out what will initiate that bond.

Emotional connection most certainly comes from authenticity but it also comes from a shared interest. Both Always and Wisita have a shared interest with their fans. Always sells feminine products, so supporting and championing young women is an easy fit. Wisita is a video hosting company, so educating (or asking for favors) through video is a natural place to make that connection.

In boring industries, for companies who are willing to dig a little deeper for a common interest and also use some personality, there’s just as much opportunity to forge the emotional connection. You can start by capitalizing on 
Ian Lurie’s Random Affinities to identify the possible interests of your customers. All you need is two random ideas that don’t necessarily have any connection except for a shared interest with your audience.

It’s a great way to show your customers that you have a personality and because you’re working to spark that emotional connection, you’ll have a much easier time building that relationship.

You can also forge an emotional connection by getting involved — both on and offline — in things outside your niche: joining, supporting, or sponsoring community events or causes. But again, the effort needs to be genuine, so pick a cause that you truly believe in and would support regardless of the recognition or positive regard you would earn from your customers. The passion that you feel will be both contagious and attractive to your potential audience.


2. Listen and respond with action

It’s one thing to provide the opportunity for your customers and community to give their feedback and voice their desires. It’s entirely another to show them you’ve listened by responding through action. When you truly listen to someone, you gain their trust, and more importantly, their respect.

Seamly is a company who uses surplus fabric to create unique and limited edition clothing. They take listening to a whole new level by aligning customer feedback with production. They crowdsource in order to design the next pieces in their line.

Seamly collects the feedback on their website and then begins producing the apparel.

Additionally, as Seamly addresses challenges that arise during production, they provide their audience with an opportunity to participate in making decisions that ultimately affect them.

Listening at this level will not only make a difference in Seamly’s products (and their sales), but in the relationships they have with their customers. Being human and
showing their customers that they’ve been heard will build a deeper and lasting connection with the company and their brand.

When you make great things, and you connect with your customers on this level, they love you. They write about you. They tell their friends. They do the work for you.

The thing about listening is that it’s not just about interaction. It’s about providing the opportunity for actual human people to participate in your company’s market research. Seamly is focusing on what their customers actually need rather than just following a fashion trend. They’re not designing their clothes based on what a focus group put together with an ad agency in New York. They’re not allowing the fashion world to dictate. They’re creating and detailing garments that their actual customers like.

Seamly’s approach works because they’re listening to their customers and giving them exactly what they need. That makes Seamly real to them because they’re communicating an understanding of each of their customer’s individual needs. That’s real. That’s genuine. And that’s exactly what inspires trust and loyalty.

Human responses increase sales

There’s a large online bridal retailer who ships thousands of items every day, and on occasion they make a mistake with an order. In an attempt to humanize their brand and listen to their customers (rather than just doing what they, as a retailer, would prefer), they set up a split test to determine which way of apologizing to their customers would be most effective.

To Group A, they sent a $50 dollar gift card, and to Group B, they personally called to apologize. Once the experiment had been executed, the retailer followed up with each group of customers to ask them if they would be likely to buy from them again.

Group B, the group that received a personal phone call apology, was twice more likely to buy from them again. Because they listened, this retailer discovered that a personal, human connection — not a gift card, and not an email, but a real live human conversation — was more meaningful to their customers.

This may not be true for every company or every customer, but finding out directly from your customers what they prefer and then doing exactly that, will show them you’re listening, you care, and you’re worth their money, advocacy, and support.


3. Put the relationship ahead of conversions

In his book 
Permission Marketing, Seth Godin pioneered the idea of content marketing. Create something of value that will motivate people to provide you with an email address. The problem is, we’re competing for attention among so much noise, so earning that conversion has become increasingly difficult. There are over 80 billion business emails sent every week and over 200 millions hours spent on YouTube. Consumers have access to a lot of content, and are weary of another brand sending more emails into their already cluttered lives.

Conversions are a by-product of great relationships. Relationships built on empathy, transparency, and honesty are the ones that last and drive a lifetime of conversions.

The key to creating content that will convert is to optimize for the relationship with the consumer, not the conversion.

About a year ago, Mack Web launched a community building guide. It was our first big “product” and although it took us about 8 months to finish it, we were confident that all of our hard work was going to make a big statement about our company and brand. We thought giving it away for free — no email address and no monetary transaction required — would make the biggest statement of all.

It definitely did.

In less than 12 months, Mack Web earned nearly 6,000 guide downloads (not to mention 373 inbound links). We didn’t require anyone to provide an email address in order to download the guide, but since the guide has launched, we’ve experienced all kinds of amazing benefits including increasing our organic email subscriptions by 50%. The most common feedback we received after launching the guide was that the people reading it couldn’t believe they were giving it away for free.

Mack Web probably could have charged for our guide, but we’re confident that giving this level of content away, no strings attached, helped to make a lasting connection with our audience in the very early and formidable stages of building our brand. At some level, we’ve planted a tiny seed with 6,000 people by providing them something of value for free, ultimately by first earning their trust.

People know when you’re not being genuine and putting on a front just to get something in return. If you’re not thinking of the customer first and providing them with the things
they need, it won’t matter if you have an email address; you won’t build a connection or earn the opportunity of a relationship.

The trick Mack Web learned from giving something away without asking anything in return?

You don’t need any tricks.

Lead with integrity and put your customers ahead of your bottom line.


4. Deliver on your promises

There are undercurrents to every digital interaction you have with your customers. Every promotion, everything you say about your brand, everything you
convey about your brand is a promise. Every conversion, every time they choose to buy, download, or subscribe is an agreement. You promise to provide something of value or to care about certain things or to work toward certain goals; they promise to engage with you as a result.

But here’s the twist: each of these promise-and-deliver interactions is actually a negotiation for further, richer engagement. How you deliver on your promise dictates what happens next: do you build a relationship or do you lose a fan?

There are over 150 million blogs online and 500 million tweets per day. The content choices a person has are endless, so you have to give them a reason to engage with you – to deliver on the value you promised, the value that attracted them to you in the first place. You can’t afford to take the consumers for granted and forget that it’s a negotiation, because they certainly won’t. They are constantly bombarded by ads, by links, and by reminders that they have many, many options.

If you fail to remember this, you may be spending money only to drive people away.

In a study Sweezey conducted of over 400 B2B buyers, he found that 71% of consumers have been disappointed with the content they downloaded from a business. Of those 71%, 25% would never read content from the business again due to their disappointment.

This is, quite simply, because they really don’t have to. If you don’t care to fully listen to and empathize with their needs, to provide them the fullest, richest experience, they can easily find the relationship they are seeking elsewhere. Not surprisingly, 49% of consumers who have a bad experience with content said it had a serious effect on their trust of the brand.

A few weeks ago, I did a webinar for Piqora. There were almost 900 people who signed up for the Webinar, and because I was the presenter, Piquora offered to provide me with the email list. Immediately I told Piqora that we wouldn’t have any use for the list. I’m not overly fond of companies automatically adding me to a list I didn’t sign up for and I didn’t want to return the annoyance and drive people away from our brand, especially at first experience.

In fact, depriving our audience of choice goes explicitly against one of Mack Web’s values: human-centricity. If there’s a practice that personally annoys us, using it on others would be a pretty severe break in the promise of our own brand.

Still, it would be a shame to pass up on the opportunity to connect with these 900 people. So instead, Mack Web
asked them:

We didn’t get all 899 people who signed up for the webinar, but what we did get was 66 people who, by their own free will, felt confident about connecting with Mack Web this way. That effort was the highest signup month we’ve ever had.

The best part for us though, was getting feedback like this:

Because this is how it could have gone:

We’ve all been there. You voluntarily sign up to listen to a webinar, or download a whitepaper you’re really excited about reading. But then, immediately following, in addition to the content you wanted, you also get spammed with all the stuff you never asked for. Immediate relationship infringement.

Giving readers the opportunity to choose demonstrates respect for
their needs which makes you human. Then, all you have to do is continue delivering on the experience that your audiences expects so that you can maintain their trust ongoing.

Follow through both on- and offline

Delivering on your promise as a company needs to happen on every channel, not just your website, social, or email marketing. The experience is everything before, during, and after the interaction, and you must meet customer expectations both on and offline.

Kmart did great work humanizing their brand with the ‘Ship my Pants’ campaign of creative TV commercials, but the experience falls flat when it comes to their actual stores.

The majority of reviews of the Chicago, Illinois Kmarts fall below 3 stars. Some even as low as 2 out of 5.

Where Kmart has gone wrong is by treating their marketing and their in-store performance as separate entities. To reconcile the difference between their ads and their stories, Kmart could choose to be transparent about the subpar performance offline. They could share their plans for improvement with their customers. If their customers and community are aware that they are facing issues and trying to tackle them, rather than covering them up with a creative campaign, Kmart may earn their compassion and trust.

Everything you do as a company communicates the experience of your brand, not just your marketing copy or paid ads. 
Every touch point offers an opportunity to develop an honest relationship with the people who are coming in contact with you. Put honesty and authenticity first and you’ll provide an amazing experience with your brand.


The good news and the bad news

The good news is that all of this stuff is pretty simple. We’re all human beings. We all work with other human beings. We all know that we need to treat our customers how we would like to be treated.

The bad news is that simple is not the same thing as easy. Humanizing your brand, building trust, fostering an authentic and lasting connection with your customers is hard work. It doesn’t necessarily scale. And unless you can tap into some genuine, authentic passion of your own, the connection is going to be a whole lot harder to ignite.

The companies that can do this stuff and do it well are the ones that have, at their heart, a purpose deeper than making money. Maybe it’s something everyone can connect to like
Always advocating for girls everywhere. Maybe it’s something closer to home like providing wearable, unique clothes tailored to your customers’ needs and tastes like Seamly. Whatever your goals, your real passion and drive for that meaning beyond money will keep you going, will inspire you to relentlessly improve your products, and will ensure that your brand is memorable and desirable to your customers.

Which is why all this humanizing stuff has to start from the inside. In order for it to be successful, you have to get the whole company on board and genuinely excited about providing the full human experience to your customers. If your marketing doesn’t 
come from your core, it’s not going to forge a genuine and emotional connection with your customers, and it certainly won’t help you foster the growth of a community.

Flashy ads can help you stand out for a moment. But for the longest-lasting and most loyal customers, you don’t have to outspend or outdo everyone else. You just have to outthink them and do the simple stuff that real humans do.


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Announcing the 2014 Local Search Ranking Factors Results

Posted by David-Mihm

Many of you have been tweeting, emailing, asking in conference Q&As, or just generally awaiting this year’s Local Search Ranking Factors survey results.
Here they are!

Hard to believe, but this is the seventh year I’ve conducted this survey—local search has come a long way since the early days of the 10-pack way back in 2008! As always, a massive thanks to all of the expert panelists who in many cases gave up a weekend or a date night in order to fill out the survey.

New this year

As the complexity of the local search results has increased, I’ve tried to keep the survey as manageable as possible for the participants, and the presentation of results as actionable as possible for the community. So to that end, I’ve made a couple of tweaks this year.

Combination of desktop and mobile results

Very few participants last year perceived any noticeable difference between ranking criteria on desktop and mobile devices, so this year I simply asked that they rate localized organic results, and pack/carousel results, across both result types.

Results limited to top 50 factors in each category

Again, the goal here was to simplify some of the complexity and help readers focus on the factors that really matter. Let me know in the comments if you think this decision detracts significantly from the results, and I’ll revisit it in 2015.

Factors influenced by Pigeon

If you were at Matt McGee’s Pigeon session at SMX East a couple of weeks ago, you got an early look at these results in my presentation. The big winners were domain authority and proximity to searcher, while the big losers were proximity to centroid and having an address in the city of search. (For those who weren’t at my presentation, the latter assessment may have to do with larger radii of relevant results for geomodified phrases).

My own takeaways

Overall, the
algorithmic model that Mike Blumenthal developed (with help from some of the same contributors to this survey) way back in 2008 continues to stand up. Nonetheless, there were a few clear shifts this year that I’ll highlight below:

  • Behavioral signals—especially clickthrough rate from search results—seem to be increasing in importance. Darren Shaw in particular noted Rand’s IMEC Labs research, saying “I think factors like click through rate, driving directions, and “pogo sticking” are valuable quality signals that Google has cranked up the dial on.”
  • Domain authority seems to be on its way up—particularly since the Pigeon rollout here in the U.S. Indeed, even in clear instances of post-Pigeon spam, the poor results seem to relate to Google’s inability to reliably separate “brands” from “spam” in Local. I expect Google to get better at this, and the importance of brand signals to remain high.
  • Initially, I was surprised to see authority and consistency of citations rated so highly for localized organic results. But then I thought to myself, “if Google is increasingly looking for brand signals, then why shouldn’t citations help in the organic algorithm as well?” And while the quantity of structured citations still rated highly for pack and carousel results, consistent citations from quality sources continue to carry the day across both major result types.
  • Proximity to searcher saw one of the biggest moves in this year’s survey. Google is getting better at detecting location at a more granular level—even on the desktop. The user is the new Centroid.
  • For markets where Pigeon has not rolled out yet (i.e. everywhere besides the U.S.), I’d encourage business owners and marketers to start taking as many screenshots of their primary keywords as possible. With the benefit of knowing that Pigeon will eventually roll out in your countries, the ability to compare before-and-after results for the same keywords will yield great insight for you in discerning the direction of the algorithm.

As with every year, though, it’s the comments from the experts and community (that’s you, below!) that I find most interesting to read.  So I think at this point I’ll sign off, crack open a
GABF Gold-Medal-Winning Breakside IPA from Portland, and watch them roll in!

2014 Local Search Ranking Factors

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My Recipe for Success: How to Launch a Successful Blog

Posted by MatthewBarby

Five months ago, I decided (at long last) that I was going to start up my own food blog (Pescetarian Kitchen). Both my partner, Laura, and I had wanted to do this for some time, as we’re real foodies, so we started to do a little research into the practicalities of it.

One of the other motivations for starting our blog, outside of our love for food, was the fact that we’re both pescetarians (i.e. we follow a vegetarian diet, plus eat seafood). Now, when it comes to finding specialist pescetarian blogs, the results are pretty limited. I mean, I could count them on two hands…

That got us thinking… Why don’t we become THE pescetarian blog? There’s a huge demand for it, with up to 40% of the US population eating “flexitarian” meals (any form of vegetarianism) at some point each week. This growing statistic is also reflected in monthly searches within Google:

The term pescetarian is searched for around 40,500 times every month. This alone was an encouraging stat for me, because it doesn’t even take into account all of the recipe-specific search terms that could be targeted (e.g. prawn linguine recipe).

So, five months on, where are we? Well, I’m particularly happy with the results so far, and this is why I wanted to outline the approach that I’ve taken from a content, social, and SEO perspective to get results.

On the topic of results, here’s where we’re at right now:

  • Page 1 rankings in Google for the terms pescetarian, pescetarian blog, pescetarian recipes and pescetarian meals. Go ahead, Google it if you don’t believe me ;)
  • 4,700+ followers on our Facebook page
  • The average engagement on one of our Facebook posts will often result in around 100 likes, 5-15 comments, 20-50 shares and 100-300 clicks through to the website
  • 850+ Twitter followers
  • 500+ Pinterest followers
  • 550 double opt-in email subscribers
  • 30,000+ unique visits to the blog
  • 15,000+ unique visits coming from social media traffic alone
  • 65,000+ backlinks

As you can see, we’ve made a good start, but there’s a long way to go yet. It’s worth noting at this point that we haven’t really done much outbound link building work (the majority is organic) and we have spent no more than £100/$165 each month on promotion.

Although it’s early in our campaign, I’m going to share how we’ve achieved what we have so far and give you as much actionable information as to how you can go out and replicate the early success that we’ve had. This will include the exact strategies that I’ve implemented, the tools that I’ve used and any tips for accelerating growth.

Phase 1: Analysis

The first step that I take in any new campaign, be it personal or for a client, is a full competitive analysis. This includes:

  • Insight into the types of content being produced by my competitors
  • The marketing techniques that are bringing them success
  • A breakdown of the social landscape, including the types of content being shared as well as the people who are engaging with it
  • Competitive SEO analysis, looking at competitors and general opportunities

Content analysis

The first and most important part of the analysis is looking at the content that is currently being produced within the niche. All of the promotion channels are secondary to this.

For my food blog I started with a simple Google search to find some of the most popular blogs within the niche. From there I went in and gathered the following details:

  • The name of the website
  • The frequency of content being published
  • The general themes of the content (e.g. recipes, how-tos, diet advice, etc.)
  • All of their social media profile URLs
  • I subscribed to their email newsletter to see how frequently they mailed out and what they were sending
  • Traffic level estimates using SimilarWeb and SEMrush
  • Insights into the length of their content, the format of the content, and social shares using URL Profiler. You can also use BuzzSumo for this by searching with the competitor’s domain name

From these core pieces of data I was able to drill down into what was working for each of my competitors, the types of content that I should be looking at producing, and some of the channels where I needed to invest most of my time.

The key takeaway from my analysis was that visual content was the key. Good photography is one of the biggest determinants of success within the food niche. Unfortunately for me, I’m a novice photographer, and only had an iPhone to use.

I’ve contemplated showing you some of my early attempts at taking photographs of our recipes, but they’re actually so terrible that I’m too embarrassed to! What I will share is the fact that you don’t need to be a professional to pull this kind of thing off.

Instead of spending a ton of money on loads of expensive photography kit, I did something that is very logical but, more often than not, overlooked. I asked for help.

I got in touch with a few food bloggers and asked them what they did when they first started out. This simple and optimistic email outreach resulted in an incredible response from Kiersten Frase of Oh My Veggies. Kiersten outlined her exact method for taking great photos with just an iPhone and a few cheap bits of equipment (it cost me around £20/$35 in total). Here’s a link to an article she shared with me that talks all about this – I’m sure it will be of use to a number of you.

After this I worked on perfecting my photography (as best I could) so that our content would be able to compete with the competition and build a solid image around our brand. Here’s a recent shot I took:

The image of our blog is everything. The visuals are the window into the rest of the content. Without them looking great, everything else would be overlooked. Being overlooked is not what we wanted, so we made sure we invested time into getting everything right before ever hitting publish.

I’ve spent countless hours simply looking at the way that our competitors were composing images and how they would use them across social media. I firmly believe that this has been one of the deciding factors in the initial success of our content.

Channel analysis

Before we went off and set up a Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, SoundCloud, SlideShare, StumbleUpon, Myspace and LinkedIn page for our blog, we needed to decide which channels were right for us. More importantly, we needed to decide which channels would provide the best route to our target audience.

Considering the visual nature of our content, it made sense to drill down on social channels that would really make the most of showing off what we have. Similarly, the main goal was traffic generation, so we wanted to be able to bring a pull-through of relevant people to our blog.

Immediately we were able to ditch some social networks from our list of potential channels, including LinkedIn, Myspace, SoundCloud, etc.

We also made the decision that we weren’t going to produce any video content at this stage (mainly due to resources), so YouTube was ruled out (for now). This gave us an initial list of:

  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Google+

Now came the issue of our time. Although we wanted to get as much exposure as possible, it’s not always realistic to start building communities in every channel that you can – it can often have a detrimental effect because you’re not able to put enough time into each platform and your content becomes very disparate.

So… we mapped out the time that we could dedicate towards our social media activities. This was a simple process that took into account the following:

  • Time needed to create a content roadmap across each platform.
  • Resource needed to produce any platform-specific content on each platform (e.g. resized images, custom tracking links, post descriptions, etc.).
  • Any extra equipment/software that would need to be purchased or any extra skills developed.

Once we had some estimates for each channel, we could then compare this to the total opportunity for each. Now, this isn’t always an easy thing to calculate, but platforms that have an advertising program will often help to identify some rough audience volumes.

For example, within Facebook we did a search for anyone who liked pages related to pescetarianism/vegetarianism…

As you can see from the screenshot above, there are over 6 million people interested in the topics within the UK and the US alone. That’s a good starting point.

You can do a similar exercise within StumbleUpon and Twitter.

Once I had these stats, I then took the figures from my initial competitive analysis to see the audience sizes of relevant (and bigger) blogs for each channel. Here’s how it was broken down:

The big takeaway here was that Facebook was THE platform for growing a large community of followers. Alongside this, Pinterest and Instagram were a close second, with Twitter coming in third.

Unsurprisingly, the social platforms that are very image-led seemed to be the places where the majority of our target audience were consuming content. Off the back of this research we decided to focus primarily on the following platforms:

  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • Twitter

We decided to go with Pinterest instead of Instagram because of the fact that they are very similar and we didn’t have a huge amount of extra time to work on both (so it made sense to choose one or the other). There was also the fact that Pinterest works particularly well for traffic generation, which is one of our primary objectives.

SEO & traffic analysis

The third and final part of our analysis was to look into the websites that were linking to our competitors, the keywords that we could potentially target for ranking within the search engines, and the websites that were driving through large volumes of traffic to our competitors.

Competitive link analysis

I’m not going to go into all the details of performing a competitive link analysis because this topic has been covered hundreds of times. If you want to get a little more information then you can view this article, this one or this one.

Here’s a comparison that I ran through Open Site Explorer:

In a nutshell, this told us that the majority of these websites were very well established and were getting large volumes of linking root domains through to their website. But then, I expected this to be the case.

What I was more interested in was who it was that was linking to the competition, and also how they were linking.

What I found was that some of the best links that all of my competition had were coming from BuzzFeed. This came in the form of recipe mentions within list posts. In fact, the majority of their links were coming through to deeper pages on their websites – primarily pages with recipes on them. This was a key insight because it was clear that we needed to spend a lot of time ensuring that our recipes were as linkable as possible.

Keyword research

As with competitive link research, keyword research has been covered LOADS. In fact, I produced an almost hour-long tutorial on running keyword research for blogs, so you can check out the full video below:

http://matthewbarby.wistia.com/medias/2821sn18f3?e…

The main finding from our keyword research was that there was a ton of interest around search terms related to pescetarianism (as I mentioned above) with fairly low competition around them – perfect.

Not only that, but there are thousands of potential long tail keywords that can be targeted around specific recipe ideas. This bodes well for developing consistent growth in organic search traffic.

Traffic analysis

To tie together the competitive link analysis, social media analysis and the keyword research, I wanted to have a look into the major traffic sources to my competitors’ websites.

There are a number of tools that you can use for this, some paid and some free. The first tool that I love to use is SimilarWeb. By plugging one of my competitor’s websites into SimilarWeb I will get a breakdown of their top referring websites.

Now, one thing to bear in mind here is that you need to take these figures as estimates. They’re pretty close but they’re not spot-on. Here’s a snapshot from a couple of my competitors:

Here’s another one:

No surprises that BuzzFeed was the top traffic source for each of these websites. From this simple analysis I was able to find a whole host of websites and communities that I could start tapping into to drive through traffic to our blog. Here’s a small list of some of the top targets:

As well as using SimilarWeb, I took a lot at the keywords that were bringing through the most traffic from the search engines to my competitors’ websites. I did this with SEMrush. Here’s a snapshot of some of the terms specifically related to pescetarianism:

Again, all of this data is used so that we could map out some content to start competing for similar terms.

Phase 2: Where the hard work begins

Getting the branding right across the site was something that took a lot of time. I wanted to make sure that it was well thought out, related to our target audience and used all of the research that we’d carried out to make informed decisions.

At the same time, I didn’t want it to cost a fortune. This was the same case for all of the assets we needed to go along with it. For example:

  • The website design and development
  • The blog logo
  • Social media profile artwork
  • Banners for advertising

These are just a few things we needed to consider, with more to follow over the coming months. Ideally, the website that we’ve created has been built to last at least 1-1.5 years so we needed to get it right.

I know it can be tough to know where to start with these kinds of things, especially if you’re on a tight budget and have had little experience in running anything similar before. With that in mind, I’m going to share a number of different tools and services that I used (or have used before) to get various brand assets in place…

Awesome tools/services

Branding

Adobe Kuler – before you start diving into your web design and development, you need to get an idea of the colour palette of your brand. Adobe Kuler is always my first port of call, plus it’s free.

Mural.ly – this is a pretty smart platform that allows you to map out your ideas in a manageable workflow. It’s a paid tool but the entry level package is only $10. I’ve used Mural.ly to map out all the different things I want my brand to encompass, who my target market is, the channels I’ll be using, etc. and it works really well.

Dribbble – if you’re looking for some creative inspiration then Dribbble is the perfect starting point to look at some cool designs, brands and campaigns. Always good to get the creative juices flowing!

Google Consumer Barometer – this is a seriously awesome resource for getting deeper insights into the online behaviour of your target audience. Using some of the data within Consumer Barometer, you can start shaping the perception and story of your brand.

99designs – an amazing marketplace where you can get all kinds of creative work done for as little as $99. This can include logos, banners, print work, etc.

WiseStamp – create custom email signatures that can also pull in links from your social profiles, the recent posts from your blog, your latest tweets and much more.

48hourslogo.com – here’s another amazing design marketplace. We actually got the Pescetarian Kitchen logo designed here for $120 and the results were amazing. You can check out the design page here: http://www.48hourslogo.com/project.php?id=29142

crowdSPRING – logo design and graphic design marketplace.

Swiftly – small design jobs from just $19. This is great to get little bits of your brand artwork created or tweaked.

Impossibility! – a fantastic domain name generator that will help you to decide on the perfect fit for your domain name. We started using this tool for our blog as we needed to have the term pescetarian within it. We finally decided on going with one of the new .kitchen TLDs that were made available.

Development

Balsamiq – a great wire-framing tool that you can use to map out how you want your new site to look.

Theme Forest – if you’re not very code savvy, you may want to look at using a premade website template. You can customise these themes with your own imagery and Theme Forest is a huge marketplace to find the right one.

IM Creator – if you’d prefer to use a much simpler interface without having to know anything about development or code, you can use IM Creator to create a website within their easy-to-use interface.

oDesk – if you haven’t heard of oDesk before then you should check it out. It’s a great place to hire freelancers to get bits of development work, design work or any other kind of work done. I use oDesk all the time but you just need to make sure that you’re taking the time to interview the freelancers you work with.

Build Fire – this can follow on from your website development project as you can create your own mobile apps with Build Fire’s platform. The beauty of it is that you can have a HTML5 app for free (no strings attached) and you can also get iOS and Android apps for just $50 a month. They could be a nice extension to your website (it’s something that me and Laura are looking at right now).

Traffic generation

Once we’d got the website developed along with the logos and imagery, it was time to start focusing on the traffic generation side of things. I’ll break this down into some of the different channels that we focused on and then go into detail on the specific activities that we carried out to get results.

SEO

As far as long-term traffic generation strategies go, SEO is top of the list for us. As I mentioned in the analysis in phase 1, we carried out extensive research into which terms our competitors were ranking well for, as well as some potential keyword opportunities that we could target. After this it was time to align this to our content strategy.

Schema.org markup

Before we started planning out specific content ideas, we set a few things up within the blog to ensure that our site was optimised as well as it could be. The first was to implement Schema.org markup.

Schema.org markup is particularly useful for food blogs as it enables you to mark up specific webpages that contain recipes in order to display them differently within the search engines.

In the image above it shows the search engine snippet for one of our recipes. It has an image of the dish, the total cooking time, the number of calories within it and then the usual title/description.

When compared to a lot of the other competing results, it’s clear that our SERP snippet is much more clickable:

The best part of this was that we didn’t have to do any coding at all (or even know how to code this up). Instead, we used a simple free WordPress plugin called ZipList that allows us to enter in a few extra details to our WordPress posts and it will add all the necessary Schema.org markup that can enable Google to display a custom SERP snippet.

Page structure

Aside from Schema.org markup, we also set up Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin. The main reason for this is that it’s completely awesome! It allows you to manage your URLs, sitemaps, meta data and tons more. It’s worth having a read of this post on different on-page SEO factors and then working your way through them with the help of Yoast’s plugin.

Content

The majority of our link acquisition strategy is geared around a more organic, earned approach. We’re focusing on developing great content (in the form of recipes, primarily) that others will share and link to. This obviously has some level of manufacturing to it in order to gain traction, but our ethos is to focus on content first, links second.

With this in mind, our content has to be right.

To begin with, we gathered a huge list of potential keywords that were food/recipe orientated. From there we mapped them out into a huge spreadsheet and identified the keyword competitiveness score for each (Moz metric), along with the total monthly search volume. From here we could start creating a list of topics to write about (i.e. different recipes we would cook up) and then marry them up perfectly to our target keyword.

It takes time to start ranking for a wide spread of keywords like this but getting content together for each of your target terms is the right starting place. Over five months, we’ve published 72 recipes that all focus on different search terms from which we can start bringing through search traffic. It’s worth noting that keyword search volume isn’t the only factor that’s considered when creating new content, but it plays a big role in it.

BuzzFeed

As I mentioned within the first part of this post, BuzzFeed is a key traffic driver to the majority of our competitors. Having a look at some of the links they have acquired from BuzzFeed show that they are generally from having their recipe(s) featured within list-based posts.

Not only that, but they’re cashing in on some seriously powerful links (DA 92).

I made it our goal to get a feature within a BuzzFeed article. Not only was I interested in getting a seriously powerful link, but the traffic potential off the back of one of these posts is huge, especially if it goes to the front page.

I didn’t just achieve this once – I managed to get two of our recipes featured in two separate posts that hit the front page of BuzzFeed.

Here’s how I did it…

I began by getting in touch with a ton of food bloggers to start building relationships with them. My hope was that they would see some of our recipes and potentially feature them within some articles on BuzzFeed – it soon dawned on me that they weren’t the ones that were publishing the posts. I carried on the relationship building work because it resulted in some natural links from their own blogs, but knew I needed to go and do some deeper research into BuzzFeed itself.

BuzzFeed has a community platform where anyone can make an account, log-in and publish a post. Now, you may already be seeing dollar signs right now, but you need to roll that tongue back in. Unless your post gets promoted for a community feature by the moderator team (who are notoriously strict with their submissions), your post is going nowhere. Oh, and you’re not going to get any dofollow links of value because they’re just coming from an orphan page (they’re often nofollow if it isn’t promoted for a feature anyway).

Having said all this, if you do manage to get a community feature, and from there it gains enough traction to be pushed into a category feature, and then from there it has so much traction that they push it to the front page… well, you could be looking at some serious exposure.

Here are the analytics for one of the posts that I had hit the front page with (BuzzFeed has its own analytics platform):

So here’s what I did to get a deeper understanding of what content performswell on BuzzFeed:

  1. I crawled BuzzFeed.com over a weekend using Screaming Frog SEO Spider to get a huge list of URLs that I could use to start running some analysis on.
  2. I went through and filtered out any irrelevant URLs so that I only had the URLs of actual posts on BuzzFeed. This was in excess of 65,000 URLs and came from a whole host of different authors and categories.
  3. I ran the URLs through URL Profiler to gather backlink data, social share information, word counts, post titles, etc. Essentially, I gathered a ton of information around the content on the pages so that I could analyse it further.
  4. After this, I ran all of the URLs through a tool that I’ve had developed for myself to do some extra data scraping (if you’re not sure what this is, don’t worry, but you can check out a post I wrote on it here). Using my tool (which I’ll be releasing to the public for free soon), I extracted the author’s name, the article category, the date/time it was published, the total views the article had, plus a load of other things (you get the idea).
  5. Once I had all of this data (it was a LOT of data), I started to dive into it and find trends. Essentially, I did everything that I outline in my content analysis case study, but for BuzzFeed.

From all this analysis, I was able to find out some of the following things about BuzzFeed’s posts:

  • The optimum number of list items to have in a list-based post to gain interest.
  • The perfect headline length.
  • The ideal length of the article to get social shares.
  • The most popular authors and categories on BuzzFeed.

These are just a few of the findings I took. Once I get round to putting it all together in a publically coherent format, I’ll publish my full analysis results for you all (you can expect that in a month or so).

Here are a few tips that I’ll give you now that could help you to get a post published on BuzzFeed:

  • Do not try to promote anything within your article. The editors will see straight through it – trust me (I’ve had some unsuccessful posts because of this).
  • Only link out to anything that will directly improve the BuzzFeed reader’s experience. The mod team doesn’t like links, but if, for example, you’re mentioning a recipe, it could be a good idea to leave a link for the reader to see it in full.
  • BuzzFeed’s moderation team will take at least 24 hours to get back to you. If they don’t get back to you then your post hasn’t been approved.
  • Make sure you stick to the format of BuzzFeed. List posts are a winner, but you need to study the types of related content on there already to find a fun angle. Anything remotely salesy will fail.
  • Once you’ve hit publish, run some social advertising to seed through some initial views and gain some traction before the mod team looks at it.

If all goes well, you’ll get an email like this…

From this post alone we had over 6,500 unique visits to the blog. That also resulted in around 200 email sign-ups, tons of social shares and a flurry of organic links.

Community/bookmarking websites

Another area that we identified as a huge traffic driver was the vast array of food-orientated communities. We spent quite a lot of time in our analysis stage to see which communities our competitors were most active within and decided to focus on the following:

There are a few others that we engage within, but these are the big three. Food Gawker alone has brought through just under 2,000 referral visits.

The beauty of these sites is that you just need to submit your post URL to them and (if approved by the mods) they can start bringing through traffic to your blog directly. They’re no different to inbound marketing communities like inbound.org.

Without going into too much detail here, the big thing to remember is that you should analyse what is working within the community before you start sharing. It took me quite a while to get any of our recipes past the Food Gawker moderator team because they have very strict guidelines. Instead of just crossing my fingers and hoping for the best, I did a similar exercise to what I did with BuzzFeed and analysed the components of a top-performing post on the site, then attempted to replicate that with my content.

After this small piece of research, we now know exactly what the Food Gawker team are looking for. This applies to most online communities (key takeaway: spend time researching the communities before engaging).

Email

In terms of our current priorities, our email subscribers are top of the list, even above SEO. So far we’re at 574 double opt-in subscribers (I want to emphasise the fact that these subscribers actually want to read our emails).

If we have a load of people give us our email addresses to enter a competition then they do not go into our mailing list. The only way they do is if they double-opt in (i.e. give us our email to enter a comp and then get in touch with us via email to confirm they want to receive the newsletter).


At the end of the day, there’s no value in having someone subscribed to your mailing list that doesn’t want to be there. It just gives you an unrealistic idea of how large your following is
.

That aside, email is one of the most powerful ways for us to get our content shared, bring through consistent traffic to the blog, and also (in the longer term) generate revenue.

You’ll see once you get onto the blog that it has a number of different call-to-action areas (we use Optin Monster for these). We try our best to keep them non-intrusive and have been doing loads of testing to see what gets the best results. At the moment we’re getting around 4-6 new subscribers every day, which has doubled from last month.

As it stands, the top three converting channels for new email subscribers are as follows:

  1. Google Organic (21.10%)
  2. BuzzFeed (14.77%)
  3. Facebook (14.76%)

We measure all of our email signups through Google Analytics via event and goal tracking (check out this tutorial I wrote on setting it all up). I’d strongly recommend you track this because it gives you a clearer idea of where to focus your efforts.

When it comes to actually managing our email marketing campaigns, we use GetResponse. There are tons of different email platforms that you can use, but I find GetResponse to be one of the best out there. You can set up autoresponders, create custom landing pages, integrate directly with WordPress and Google Analytics, plus it’s very cost-effective.

Social media

Social media was always going to play a huge role in bringing traffic through to our blog. If I’m honest, we were never expecting the kind of response that we’ve had. We currently have a social media following of around 6,000 people – all of which we’ve acquired in just 5 months.

The traffic we bring from Facebook alone contributes to a large percentage of our overall web traffic.

I could spend all day talking about everything we’ve been doing within our social media campaign, but instead I’m going to give a summary of the things that have really worked for us to get some seriously quick growth. If you’re interested in the full details, I’ve recently published our full social media strategy for building a following from nothing (likely to be of interest!).

Here are the top-level points that have made our social campaign a success:

  1. Managing a fluid content posting process across each of our social channels.
  2. Running periodical competitions to give away prizes that are relevant to our niche and that our readers will love.
  3. Remarketing to website visitors via Facebook ads.
  4. Marketing to the followers of my competitors.
  5. Working on as much in-content call to action as possible.

Social media posting process

Where I’ve talked about managing a fluid content posting process, I’m referring to the way in which content is scheduled to be shared across each social network. Our strategy for this actually came from a fantastic Whiteboard Friday from Rand Fishkin.

Rand talked about the optimum amount of times you should post the same content across each social channel, offering a visual originally created by KissMetrics:

This has worked wonders for me, but you can adapt it slightly for each different channel you use. All I do is resize each of my post images to the optimal size for the individual social channel, then schedule all the shares of that post in Buffer.

Competitions

Competitions/giveaways work really well for driving social engagement and we’ve seen a huge uptake in our social media off the back of running some competitions.

One thing to be careful of here is to make sure you’re giving away something that is relevant. It’s all fair and well giving away an iPad in a social competition, but you need to decide whether the people engaging with you care about your brand at all or if they’re just in it for an iPad (it’s usually the latter).

Just as an example, we recently gave away a three-month supply of popcorn. From this we had 956 entrants in just 3 days. Not bad at all!

Remarketing via Facebook Ads

Facebook has some incredible advertising options that enable you to grow your social media following full of engaged and relevant users. This looks like it’s going to get even better with the recent introduction of Atlas’s people-based advertising platform.

One of the ways that we’ve been able to really grow our Facebook following so quickly is through remarketing to all the visitors of our website. Considering the number of people that we’ve been bringing through from the likes of BuzzFeed, Reddit and Food Gawker, it would be crazy if we didn’t attempt to capture them into our social following.

The results have been amazing and we have spent less than £80/$130 a month doing so.

I’m not going to go into all the details of how to set this up because I’ve already done this at great length here.

In-Content CTA

One thing that I always mention to people when they ask me about growing their social media following is that most of your social engagement will come from outside the social network itself.

If you have enough social call-to-action within your content, your readers will begin sharing your content across social media and start being the ones who are helping to promote your brand organically.

Here are a few simple things that I’ve used to do this:

Final thoughts

Just before I sign off, I want to emphasise the importance of analysis and measurement. You can see within the first phase of this case study that I dedicated a large amount of time to getting a full and detailed understanding of the niche. This included the content, my competitors and the social and search landscape.

Alongside this, measurement has been a key driver of growth within our campaign. If you don’t understand what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong then you’ll never be able to adapt.

I use tons of different tools to measure the success of varying aspects of the campaign. One that you may have heard of before is Cyfe. If you haven’t heard of it, go check it out (you can get a free account). Essentially, Cyfe allows you to integrate loads of different tools into one central dashboard (for example, Google Analytics, Bit.ly, Facebook, Pinterest, SlideShare, Moz, GetResponse and tons more) – it’s awesome.

Just set some KPIs and make sure that you’re analysing the results regularly. If you find that one channel in particular is working really well, shift more of your resources into it. If one isn’t, find out why and work on a solution.

TL;DR

  • Invest time into analysing your competitors, the content in your niche, the search landscape and social media before doing anything else.
  • Get an armoury of tools and services that you can use to get results from your campaigns, whatever your budget is.
  • Content first, links second.
  • If you’re in the food niche, BuzzFeed is a huge traffic driver!

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

Continue Reading →

How to Acquire Anchor Text-Rich Links Without Resorting to Spam or Manipulation – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish
All signs point to links with exact match anchor text retaining the huge value we’ve seen throughout the years, but many of the techniques for acquiring those links are spammy. There are a few, though, that not even Google would fro…

Continue Reading →

SEO Teaching: Should SEO Be Taught at Universities?

Posted by Carla_Dawson

This post was originally in YouMoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of Moz, Inc.

SEO is a concept that has been around for years and some universities have incorporated it into the curricula. A while back, I posted
this question on Moz and noticed some very strong opinions on the idea that SEO should be part of formal education. Search Engine Journal also posted an article on the idea that SEO should not be taught in universities. We (I co-wrote this post with Aleksej Heinze, who also currently teaches SEO) obviously believe SEO should be taught in higher education and got together to discuss how it benefits the SEO industry and how SEO can be incorporated in higher education. Aleksej teaches SEO in the U.K.; I teach SEO in Argentina.

XIbngR8BHz7qBEUzcFrc06klJJMvk62VJ2-4kqia

Before I get started with the pros and cons, I want to share with you some opinions from people in industry on the topic of SEO in universities.


Wil Reynolds (Founder - Seer Interactive)

1. Do you believe universities or higher education institutions should equip students with the skills to meet industry needs?

Yes, people take BIG loans to go to the university in the U.S.; we should at least make sure when they graduate they have the skills that are in…demand in the workplace.

2. Are SEO skills something you believe are lacking in industry?

Not sure. “SEO skills” is a broad phrase.

3. Do you think teaching SEO in universities gives credibility to the profession?

Not really, I think the profession has credibility. Teaching SEO in universities gives a student a great platform to learn and to be prepared for one of the industries that is in desperate need of talent.


4. Do you think teaching SEO in universities benefits the industry?

Yes, but I think SEO is too narrow, according to many definitions. If you think about it, SEO is as much about technical as it is about link building [or] keyword research. To teach the broad definition of SEO you’d need a pretty multi-disciplinary group to teach it. Maybe we’d just teach it as part of a digital marketing rotation.

Stephen Lock (Head of Content & Inbound Marketing, Linkdex.com)

1. Do you believe universities or higher education institutions should equip students with the skills to meet industry needs?

Yes, it makes sense that universities, where appropriate, offer courses that are based heavily on industry demands, especially if the course/institution has been marketed as…tailored for employers.

2. Are SEO skills something you believe are lacking in industry?

They definitely are. There is a real shortage, and due to the fast-moving nature of the field, knowledge is quickly outdated, meaning even experienced practitioners aren’t always great candidates.

3. Do you think teaching SEO in universities gives credibility to the profession?

I believe it does, although it is one of those fields where it’s common for people to…come from a broad range of backgrounds. The skills required are so diverse that it’s also understandable that people who have studied one field can adapt. From experience, employers are more interested in the person, their attitude and capacity to learn. However, SEO in universities can only be a good thing for the industry.

4. Do you think teaching SEO in universities benefits the industry?

Teaching SEO, I believe, would benefit the industry, as the skills shortage is so acute and it is so common for entry-level candidates to come from many different backgrounds. My final thoughts are that SEO is so broad as a discipline that calling it just SEO may not do it justice.


What we can see from these and other opinions we received for this article is views are still mixed since SEO education is not clearly defined. Where do you start with a subject area that touches such a broad range of disciplines, including technical, content and engagement? However, the vast majority of our respondents were
positive about the need to integrate SEO in higher education!

Pros to teaching SEO in universities

Eli Overbey wrote a great article on this topic
here, but me and Aleksej took some of the ideas one step further. Basically, we identified problems in industry and how teaching SEO in universities might help the industry.

How teaching SEO in universities may benefit the industry

Industry Problem How SEO in higher education might alive the problem?
Long sales cycles – Selling SEO is a lot about educating your potential client. Today’s student is tomorrow’s potential client.

Students who learn SEO formally (and not just on the job) are likely to have a broader understanding of its benefits, and therefore, be able to “sell” it more effectively to clients.
Lack of Credibility – Most SEOs learned SEO on the job, or through reading great books like “The Art of SEO” and reading great articles on the internet. However, few formal institutions recognize it as a valid marketing technique. SEO is not taught in many marketing related programs. Creating an educational standard for SEO increases the credibility of the field. Treating the discipline as if it was law, engineering, etc., would elevate SEO to a discipline seen as requiring a significant period of study before it can be practiced.
Everyone says they know SEO. Without a recognized standard for the field of SEO, anyone and everyone can say they know SEO.
Clients with bad experiences don’t trust SEO companies.
Showing clients you have a certified person on your team may alleviate this situation.
Long recruiting cycles. Recruiters currently have to give SEO tests to verify that the job candidate in front of them really knows SEO. A certification or a degree does not guarantee you know the subject (this is true for lots of fields), but it is an excellent filter and a great starting point.
SEO is constantly changing, making it hard to keep up. Law, medicine and most other subject areas are also constantly changing, and content and concepts are updated accordingly. The same can be true for SEO in universities.
Clients challenge your techniques (ex. “Why don’t you use the keyword meta tag?” or “Why are you using parallax scrolling when it is not SEO-friendly?”)  This happens in all industries and being able to reference an independent institution and a high-quality article will probably reduce discussion time.
There is a high demand for SEO skills. Below you will find articles that mention demand for SEO skills in industry. Universities are in the business of creating professionals and satisfying workforce demands.Higher education institutions are often criticized for their lack of relevant educational courses that will equip students with the skills to meet specific industry needs.

SEO is relevant today and will be well into the foreseeable future.

Cons to teaching SEO in universities

We do see some negatives to teaching SEO in universities, but we see them more as issues to be mitigated.
John Weber did a great job identifying the difficulties in teaching SEO in his article on searchenginejournal.com. We agree with several of the points in this article. However, we see them more as issues that can be alleviated through great program development.

Obstacles  Potential Solutions
Google makes changes to its algorithm constantly. This exact topic should be brought up in the classroom. Students get that what they learn in school is somewhat “academic” and may be slightly out-of-date, but is still useful.

(On a side note, laws change all the time, yet law is taught in school.) 
SEO is complex. It requires analytical and creative skills. Case studies are a great way to teach complex concepts and creativity. Law, perhaps, is similar to SEO in that it requires analytical and creative skills to be successful, and it is taught in universities.
No one absolutely knows “the magic formula.” This exact topic should be brought up in the classroom. This is true with many professions. Medicine is not an exact science and continuously evolves. Physicians often prescribe differing treatments for the same diagnosis. 

Current flaws in academia

We also see lots of flaws within the academic world regarding SEO, specifically the fact that if the subject is taught, it is mostly taught as an extension (vocational) course or optional part of an MBA program.

Here are some universities that offer SEO:

We feel SEO should be included as part of many other degree programs.

Please note that mentioning the concept and explaining it is not the same as teaching how to do SEO. In some cases, the concept should be mentioned and included, and in other cases, SEO should be fully taught. For example at Salford Business School, students are expected to plan, execute and evaluate live SEO campaigns and report on their results. This kind of SEO learning helps in job interviews where students can show their own artefacts and discuss what they have done and learned from their practical SEO experience.The academic world
has not incorporated the subject in a holistic manner.

How could SEO be incorporated into higher education?

Degree focus SEO Concept (not to be confused with course) to be incorporated in program Comments
Master of Business Administration (MBA) How to use SEO as a business strategy for long term sustainability of business? Not many MBA courses recognize SEO as a strategic tool for developing value for their business. Hence a number of businesses are missing growth opportunities in the online world.
Advertising How to use SEO with viral marketing and word of mouth as an advertising technique?

Is Inbound Marketing an advertising technique?
Television ads are no longer as effective as those created for YouTube with viral sharing in mind.
Web design/ computer science Designing for Search Engines – Is SEO part of web design? SEO is not taught in many web design or computer science schools. This has major issues/benefits for agencies that try to turn a non-SEO-friendly website into one that can be crawled by search engines.
Marketing Organic search engine results are an important marketing channel, and this concept does not have visibility in the educational system.

Many marketing programs talk about SEO as if it is something that’s useful to someone else. We are all individual brands who can learn and use SEO (e.g., integration of keyword research allows for better digital consumer profiling and learning about the digital personas to be engaged with in marketing mix).

Public Relations (PR) Synergies of online PR with content development strategies and long-term link building Many PR ignore the benefits of SEO and miss out on the mutual benefits that an integration of SEO and online PR could provide. 
Journalism Writing text for online readability and scanability (e.g., using headings, bullet points, etc.) Many journalism courses are still based on great headlines and catchy first paragraph, but these are great techniques when combined with SEO, too. Not thinking about the online audience means you miss a lot of reach with articles that are “thrown” onto the web without much consideration.

We argue for wider adoption of SEO at university teaching because of these three reasons:

Shaping the SEO industry

Starting with understanding SEO principles at the university-level, we are shaping the digital marketing professionals of the future. Recognizing the growing range of opportunities that digital marketing creates as a consequence of good SEO practices offers an invitation to the industry for new talent. Offering SEO at universities will not stop cowboy SEO practices, but at least it will reduce the use of such practices out of incompetence.

SEO is no longer a “dark art”

By demystifying the process of SEO, companies will be more likely to employ SEO professionals by recognizing and better appreciating the value they create. SEO is no longer perceived as a “black box” or “dark art” and individuals who might be supervising others will be more able to expect higher standards and discern whether someone is using unwelcome practices.

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Good SEO practices will make our industry sustainable

By integrating SEO into wider advertising, digital marketing, journalism, web design, PR and MBA courses, we are able to create a better long-term future for SEO as a profession. Having SEO skills applies to many disciplines, and business would be prepared to pay for these skills as soon as they recognise the return on investment that good SEO can create. By teaching SEO in higher education, SEO will appear more professional, which will lead to long-term sustainability.

Is there demand in the industry for SEO skills?

Universities have often been criticized for offering courses not relevant to industry needs. Students invest in higher education to broaden their horizons, but also to obtain skills that equip them better for their chosen profession. The underlying principle is that universities have to offer “universal knowledge and skills” to improve innovation and skills of the world we live in. So if an industry demands SEO skills, then perhaps it is time for higher education to respond? Here are some articles that show workforce demand related to SEO. 

2012 – Conductor –
Demand for SEO Professionals Has Never Been Greater [Study]

2013 – Bruce Clay –
Studies Reveal SEO Analysts are in High Demand

2013 – Search Engine Land –
SEO Talent In High Demand — How To Hire An SEO

Here are some great stats from the articles above.

  • Studies show a 112 percent year-over-year increase in demand for SEO professionals, with salaries as high as $94,000, as reported by Conductor, an SEO technology company based in New York.
  • Search Engine Land surveyed the SEO industry and found that 93 percent of respondents expected their SEO business to grow by the end of 2013. It makes sense, then, that 82 percent of respondents also reported plans to hire additional SEO staff this year.
  • Digital Journal proclaimed “there is no doubt that a career in an SEO agency as an SEO professional can be an exciting and rewarding one. Stress levels would match the lows found in other online positions, while the employment opportunities in such a fast growing business are obvious … Mid-level strategist and management roles can earn from $60,000, while senior marketing directors can expect to approach six-figure sums.”

First-hand experience – Aleksej Heinze

Salford Business School is currently leading a European project, a Joint European Masters in Digital and Social Media Marketing (
JEMSS). This project aims to develop the digital marketeers of the future. JEMSS is a partnership between five European Universities and two commercial organizations, one of which is a digital marketing recruitment agency based in Manchester, the UK.

As part of this project, an extensive consultation with digital agencies and in-house teams has been conducted across five European countries. This multi-stage research project started with a brainstorming session that included ten UK-based agencies in December 2013. They were looking at the top
10 digital marketing skills for international business. The key skill identified as part of this focus group was Search Engine Optimization.

The views from the UK-based agencies were also inline with the online survey results from students and potential students regarding digital marketing courses. The list of 25 skills was developed through the initial focus group with industry practitioners. We can clearly see that SEO tops the table of skills needed when developing knowledge and skills in the area of digital marketing. This online survey was completed by 712 respondents across several countries. We were interested to look at five countries taking part in the JEMSS project: Bulgaria, Greece, Lithuania, Poland and the UK. At least 50 respondents for each of these counties were collected to have a representative sample group.

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Do people want to learn SEO?

Looking at the generic searches related to learning SEO/SEO courses in various parts of the world we see some interesting trends:

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This Google Trends screenshot shows some of the main terms related to the popularity of SEO courses. We can see there is a major difference between “SEO training” and “SEO courses.” This can mean most people are seeing SEO as a vocational skill and not an academic course. It is also interesting to note that the location for those interested in “SEO courses” tends to be in India, the U.K. and the U.S. More research should be done in to identify additional hot spots throughout the world.

First hand experience – Carla Dawson

My students are eager to learn about SEO. Many of them make comments like “Carla, we have been waiting for this class” or “This is the best class [in the] program.” In the SEO class, I notice that students pay closer attention than they do in other classes. Multiple requests have been made by my students to “offer a second course or a seminar” so they can learn more about SEO. It almost seems as if the SEO course has more value than some of the other courses. In class, I get questions like “where can we learn more about SEO?” “What sources are reliable?” etc.

Conclusion

Long gone are the days gone where
universities were run by nuns and monks and the main courses included Latin, metaphysics and theology. Most universities are becoming businesses that develop educational products, research and sell them.

If you believe that universities or higher education institutions should equip students with the skills to meet specific industry needs, then perhaps SEO or better yet “Search Marketing” is ideal for universities?

SEO touches so many fields and in our opinion it should be incorporated in various degrees not just offered as an extension course. We would love to hear the communities opinion on this topic so please comment below!

This article was co-authored with Aleksej Heinze from the University of Salford Manchester . You can find more information about Aleksej here.

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

Continue Reading →

SEO Teaching: Should SEO Be Taught at Universities?

Posted by Carla_Dawson

This post was originally in YouMoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of Moz, Inc.

SEO is a concept that has been around for years and some universities have incorporated it into the curricula. A while back, I posted
this question on Moz and noticed some very strong opinions on the idea that SEO should be part of formal education. Search Engine Journal also posted an article on the idea that SEO should not be taught in universities. We (I co-wrote this post with Aleksej Heinze, who also currently teaches SEO) obviously believe SEO should be taught in higher education and got together to discuss how it benefits the SEO industry and how SEO can be incorporated in higher education. Aleksej teaches SEO in the U.K.; I teach SEO in Argentina.

XIbngR8BHz7qBEUzcFrc06klJJMvk62VJ2-4kqia

Before I get started with the pros and cons, I want to share with you some opinions from people in industry on the topic of SEO in universities.


Wil Reynolds (Founder - Seer Interactive)

1. Do you believe universities or higher education institutions should equip students with the skills to meet industry needs?

Yes, people take BIG loans to go to the university in the U.S.; we should at least make sure when they graduate they have the skills that are in…demand in the workplace.

2. Are SEO skills something you believe are lacking in industry?

Not sure. “SEO skills” is a broad phrase.

3. Do you think teaching SEO in universities gives credibility to the profession?

Not really, I think the profession has credibility. Teaching SEO in universities gives a student a great platform to learn and to be prepared for one of the industries that is in desperate need of talent.


4. Do you think teaching SEO in universities benefits the industry?

Yes, but I think SEO is too narrow, according to many definitions. If you think about it, SEO is as much about technical as it is about link building [or] keyword research. To teach the broad definition of SEO you’d need a pretty multi-disciplinary group to teach it. Maybe we’d just teach it as part of a digital marketing rotation.

Stephen Lock (Head of Content & Inbound Marketing, Linkdex.com)

1. Do you believe universities or higher education institutions should equip students with the skills to meet industry needs?

Yes, it makes sense that universities, where appropriate, offer courses that are based heavily on industry demands, especially if the course/institution has been marketed as…tailored for employers.

2. Are SEO skills something you believe are lacking in industry?

They definitely are. There is a real shortage, and due to the fast-moving nature of the field, knowledge is quickly outdated, meaning even experienced practitioners aren’t always great candidates.

3. Do you think teaching SEO in universities gives credibility to the profession?

I believe it does, although it is one of those fields where it’s common for people to…come from a broad range of backgrounds. The skills required are so diverse that it’s also understandable that people who have studied one field can adapt. From experience, employers are more interested in the person, their attitude and capacity to learn. However, SEO in universities can only be a good thing for the industry.

4. Do you think teaching SEO in universities benefits the industry?

Teaching SEO, I believe, would benefit the industry, as the skills shortage is so acute and it is so common for entry-level candidates to come from many different backgrounds. My final thoughts are that SEO is so broad as a discipline that calling it just SEO may not do it justice.


What we can see from these and other opinions we received for this article is views are still mixed since SEO education is not clearly defined. Where do you start with a subject area that touches such a broad range of disciplines, including technical, content and engagement? However, the vast majority of our respondents were
positive about the need to integrate SEO in higher education!

Pros to teaching SEO in universities

Eli Overbey wrote a great article on this topic
here, but me and Aleksej took some of the ideas one step further. Basically, we identified problems in industry and how teaching SEO in universities might help the industry.

How teaching SEO in universities may benefit the industry

Industry Problem How SEO in higher education might alive the problem?
Long sales cycles – Selling SEO is a lot about educating your potential client. Today’s student is tomorrow’s potential client.

Students who learn SEO formally (and not just on the job) are likely to have a broader understanding of its benefits, and therefore, be able to “sell” it more effectively to clients.
Lack of Credibility – Most SEOs learned SEO on the job, or through reading great books like “The Art of SEO” and reading great articles on the internet. However, few formal institutions recognize it as a valid marketing technique. SEO is not taught in many marketing related programs. Creating an educational standard for SEO increases the credibility of the field. Treating the discipline as if it was law, engineering, etc., would elevate SEO to a discipline seen as requiring a significant period of study before it can be practiced.
Everyone says they know SEO. Without a recognized standard for the field of SEO, anyone and everyone can say they know SEO.
Clients with bad experiences don’t trust SEO companies.
Showing clients you have a certified person on your team may alleviate this situation.
Long recruiting cycles. Recruiters currently have to give SEO tests to verify that the job candidate in front of them really knows SEO. A certification or a degree does not guarantee you know the subject (this is true for lots of fields), but it is an excellent filter and a great starting point.
SEO is constantly changing, making it hard to keep up. Law, medicine and most other subject areas are also constantly changing, and content and concepts are updated accordingly. The same can be true for SEO in universities.
Clients challenge your techniques (ex. “Why don’t you use the keyword meta tag?” or “Why are you using parallax scrolling when it is not SEO-friendly?”)  This happens in all industries and being able to reference an independent institution and a high-quality article will probably reduce discussion time.
There is a high demand for SEO skills. Below you will find articles that mention demand for SEO skills in industry. Universities are in the business of creating professionals and satisfying workforce demands.Higher education institutions are often criticized for their lack of relevant educational courses that will equip students with the skills to meet specific industry needs.

SEO is relevant today and will be well into the foreseeable future.

Cons to teaching SEO in universities

We do see some negatives to teaching SEO in universities, but we see them more as issues to be mitigated.
John Weber did a great job identifying the difficulties in teaching SEO in his article on searchenginejournal.com. We agree with several of the points in this article. However, we see them more as issues that can be alleviated through great program development.

Obstacles  Potential Solutions
Google makes changes to its algorithm constantly. This exact topic should be brought up in the classroom. Students get that what they learn in school is somewhat “academic” and may be slightly out-of-date, but is still useful.

(On a side note, laws change all the time, yet law is taught in school.) 
SEO is complex. It requires analytical and creative skills. Case studies are a great way to teach complex concepts and creativity. Law, perhaps, is similar to SEO in that it requires analytical and creative skills to be successful, and it is taught in universities.
No one absolutely knows “the magic formula.” This exact topic should be brought up in the classroom. This is true with many professions. Medicine is not an exact science and continuously evolves. Physicians often prescribe differing treatments for the same diagnosis. 

Current flaws in academia

We also see lots of flaws within the academic world regarding SEO, specifically the fact that if the subject is taught, it is mostly taught as an extension (vocational) course or optional part of an MBA program.

Here are some universities that offer SEO:

We feel SEO should be included as part of many other degree programs.

Please note that mentioning the concept and explaining it is not the same as teaching how to do SEO. In some cases, the concept should be mentioned and included, and in other cases, SEO should be fully taught. For example at Salford Business School, students are expected to plan, execute and evaluate live SEO campaigns and report on their results. This kind of SEO learning helps in job interviews where students can show their own artefacts and discuss what they have done and learned from their practical SEO experience.The academic world
has not incorporated the subject in a holistic manner.

How could SEO be incorporated into higher education?

Degree focus SEO Concept (not to be confused with course) to be incorporated in program Comments
Master of Business Administration (MBA) How to use SEO as a business strategy for long term sustainability of business? Not many MBA courses recognize SEO as a strategic tool for developing value for their business. Hence a number of businesses are missing growth opportunities in the online world.
Advertising How to use SEO with viral marketing and word of mouth as an advertising technique?

Is Inbound Marketing an advertising technique?
Television ads are no longer as effective as those created for YouTube with viral sharing in mind.
Web design/ computer science Designing for Search Engines – Is SEO part of web design? SEO is not taught in many web design or computer science schools. This has major issues/benefits for agencies that try to turn a non-SEO-friendly website into one that can be crawled by search engines.
Marketing Organic search engine results are an important marketing channel, and this concept does not have visibility in the educational system.

Many marketing programs talk about SEO as if it is something that’s useful to someone else. We are all individual brands who can learn and use SEO (e.g., integration of keyword research allows for better digital consumer profiling and learning about the digital personas to be engaged with in marketing mix).

Public Relations (PR) Synergies of online PR with content development strategies and long-term link building Many PR ignore the benefits of SEO and miss out on the mutual benefits that an integration of SEO and online PR could provide. 
Journalism Writing text for online readability and scanability (e.g., using headings, bullet points, etc.) Many journalism courses are still based on great headlines and catchy first paragraph, but these are great techniques when combined with SEO, too. Not thinking about the online audience means you miss a lot of reach with articles that are “thrown” onto the web without much consideration.

We argue for wider adoption of SEO at university teaching because of these three reasons:

Shaping the SEO industry

Starting with understanding SEO principles at the university-level, we are shaping the digital marketing professionals of the future. Recognizing the growing range of opportunities that digital marketing creates as a consequence of good SEO practices offers an invitation to the industry for new talent. Offering SEO at universities will not stop cowboy SEO practices, but at least it will reduce the use of such practices out of incompetence.

SEO is no longer a “dark art”

By demystifying the process of SEO, companies will be more likely to employ SEO professionals by recognizing and better appreciating the value they create. SEO is no longer perceived as a “black box” or “dark art” and individuals who might be supervising others will be more able to expect higher standards and discern whether someone is using unwelcome practices.

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Good SEO practices will make our industry sustainable

By integrating SEO into wider advertising, digital marketing, journalism, web design, PR and MBA courses, we are able to create a better long-term future for SEO as a profession. Having SEO skills applies to many disciplines, and business would be prepared to pay for these skills as soon as they recognise the return on investment that good SEO can create. By teaching SEO in higher education, SEO will appear more professional, which will lead to long-term sustainability.

Is there demand in the industry for SEO skills?

Universities have often been criticized for offering courses not relevant to industry needs. Students invest in higher education to broaden their horizons, but also to obtain skills that equip them better for their chosen profession. The underlying principle is that universities have to offer “universal knowledge and skills” to improve innovation and skills of the world we live in. So if an industry demands SEO skills, then perhaps it is time for higher education to respond? Here are some articles that show workforce demand related to SEO. 

2012 – Conductor –
Demand for SEO Professionals Has Never Been Greater [Study]

2013 – Bruce Clay –
Studies Reveal SEO Analysts are in High Demand

2013 – Search Engine Land –
SEO Talent In High Demand — How To Hire An SEO

Here are some great stats from the articles above.

  • Studies show a 112 percent year-over-year increase in demand for SEO professionals, with salaries as high as $94,000, as reported by Conductor, an SEO technology company based in New York.
  • Search Engine Land surveyed the SEO industry and found that 93 percent of respondents expected their SEO business to grow by the end of 2013. It makes sense, then, that 82 percent of respondents also reported plans to hire additional SEO staff this year.
  • Digital Journal proclaimed “there is no doubt that a career in an SEO agency as an SEO professional can be an exciting and rewarding one. Stress levels would match the lows found in other online positions, while the employment opportunities in such a fast growing business are obvious … Mid-level strategist and management roles can earn from $60,000, while senior marketing directors can expect to approach six-figure sums.”

First-hand experience – Aleksej Heinze

Salford Business School is currently leading a European project, a Joint European Masters in Digital and Social Media Marketing (
JEMSS). This project aims to develop the digital marketeers of the future. JEMSS is a partnership between five European Universities and two commercial organizations, one of which is a digital marketing recruitment agency based in Manchester, the UK.

As part of this project, an extensive consultation with digital agencies and in-house teams has been conducted across five European countries. This multi-stage research project started with a brainstorming session that included ten UK-based agencies in December 2013. They were looking at the top
10 digital marketing skills for international business. The key skill identified as part of this focus group was Search Engine Optimization.

The views from the UK-based agencies were also inline with the online survey results from students and potential students regarding digital marketing courses. The list of 25 skills was developed through the initial focus group with industry practitioners. We can clearly see that SEO tops the table of skills needed when developing knowledge and skills in the area of digital marketing. This online survey was completed by 712 respondents across several countries. We were interested to look at five countries taking part in the JEMSS project: Bulgaria, Greece, Lithuania, Poland and the UK. At least 50 respondents for each of these counties were collected to have a representative sample group.

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Do people want to learn SEO?

Looking at the generic searches related to learning SEO/SEO courses in various parts of the world we see some interesting trends:

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This Google Trends screenshot shows some of the main terms related to the popularity of SEO courses. We can see there is a major difference between “SEO training” and “SEO courses.” This can mean most people are seeing SEO as a vocational skill and not an academic course. It is also interesting to note that the location for those interested in “SEO courses” tends to be in India, the U.K. and the U.S. More research should be done in to identify additional hot spots throughout the world.

First hand experience – Carla Dawson

My students are eager to learn about SEO. Many of them make comments like “Carla, we have been waiting for this class” or “This is the best class [in the] program.” In the SEO class, I notice that students pay closer attention than they do in other classes. Multiple requests have been made by my students to “offer a second course or a seminar” so they can learn more about SEO. It almost seems as if the SEO course has more value than some of the other courses. In class, I get questions like “where can we learn more about SEO?” “What sources are reliable?” etc.

Conclusion

Long gone are the days gone where
universities were run by nuns and monks and the main courses included Latin, metaphysics and theology. Most universities are becoming businesses that develop educational products, research and sell them.

If you believe that universities or higher education institutions should equip students with the skills to meet specific industry needs, then perhaps SEO or better yet “Search Marketing” is ideal for universities?

SEO touches so many fields and in our opinion it should be incorporated in various degrees not just offered as an extension course. We would love to hear the communities opinion on this topic so please comment below!

This article was co-authored with Aleksej Heinze from the University of Salford Manchester . You can find more information about Aleksej here.

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The Future of Link Building

Posted by Paddy_Moogan

Building the types of links that help grow your online business and organic search traffic is getting harder. It used to be fairly straightforward, back before Google worked out how to treat links with different levels of quality and trust. However, the fact that it’s getting harder doesn’t mean that it’s dead.

What does the future hold?

I’m going to talk about links, but the truth is, the future isn’t really about the links. It is far bigger than that.

Quick sidenote: I’m aware that doing a blog post about the future of link building the week of a likely Penguin update could leave me with egg on my face! But we’ll see what happens.

Links will always be a ranking factor in some form or another. I can see the dials being turned down or off on certain aspects of links (more on that below) but I think they will always be there. Google is always looking for more data, more signals, more indicators of whether or not a certain page is a good result for a user at a certain moment in time. They will find them too, as we can see from
patents such as this. A natural consequence is that other signals may be diluted or even replaced as Google becomes smarter and understands the web and users a lot better.

What this means for the future is that the links valued by Google will be the ones you get as a result of having a great product and great marketing. Essentially, links will be symptomatic of amazing marketing. Hat tip to
Jess Champion who I’ve borrowed this term from.

This isn’t easy, but it shouldn’t be. That’s the point.

To go a bit further, I think we also need to think about the bigger picture. In the grand scheme of things, there are so many more signals that Google can use which, as marketers, we need to understand and use to our advantage. Google is changing and we can’t bury our heads in the sand and ignore what is going on.

A quick side note on spammy links

My background is a spammy one so I can’t help but address this quickly. Spam will continue to work for short-term hits and churn and burn websites. I’ve talked before about 
my position on this so I won’t go into too much more detail here. I will say though that those people who are in the top 1% of spammers will continue to make money, but even for them, it will be hard to maintain over a long period of time.

Let’s move onto some more of the detail around my view of the future by first looking at the past and present.

What we’ve seen in the past

Google didn’t understand links.

The fundamental issue that Google had for a long, long time was that they didn’t understand enough about links. They didn’t understand things such as:

  • How much to trust a link
  • Whether a link was truly editorially given or not
  • Whether a link was paid for or not
  • If a link was genuinely high quality (PageRank isn’t perfect)
  • How relevant a link was

Whilst they still have work to do on all of these, they have gotten much better in recent years. At one time, a link was a link and it was pretty much a case of whoever had the most links, won. I think that for a long time, Google was trying very hard to understand links and find which ones were high quality, but there was so much noise that it was very difficult. I think that eventually they realised that they had to attack the problem from a different angle and 
Penguin came along. So instead of focusing on finding the “good” signals of links, they focused on finding the “bad” signals and started to take action on them. This didn’t fix everything, but it did enough to shock our industry into moving away from certain tactics and therefore, has probably helped reduce a lot of the noise that Google was seeing.

What we’re seeing right now

Google is understanding more about language.

Google is getting better at understanding everything.
Hummingbird was just the start of what Google hopes to achieve on this front and it stands to reason that the same kind of technology that helps the following query work, will also help Google understand links better.

Not many people in the search industry said much when
Google hired this guy back in 2012. We can be pretty sure that it’s partly down to his work that we’re seeing the type of understanding of language that we are. His work has only just begun, though, and I think we’ll see more queries like the one above that just shouldn’t work, but they do. I also think we’ll see more instances of Googlers not knowing why something ranks where it does.

Google is understanding more about people.

I talk about this a little more below but to quickly summarise here, Google is learning more about us all the time. It can seem creepy, but the fact is that Google wants as much data as possible from us so that they can serve more relevant search results—and advertising of course. They are understanding more that the keywords we type into Google may not actually be what we want to find, nor are those keywords enough to find what we really want. Google needs more context.

Tom Anthony has
talked about this extensively so I won’t go into loads more detail. But to bring it back to link building, it is important to be aware of this because it means that there are more and more signals that could mean the dial on links gets turned down a bit more.

Some predictions about the future

I want to make a few things more concrete about my view of the future for link building, so let’s look at a few specifics.

1. Anchor text will matter less and less

Anchor text as a ranking signal was always something that works well in theory but not in reality. Even in my early days of link building, I couldn’t understand why Google put so much weight behind this one signal. My main reason for this view was that using exact match keywords in a link was not natural for most webmasters. I’d go as far as to say the only people who used it were SEOs!

I’m don’t think we’re at a point yet where anchor text as a ranking signal is dead and it will take some more time for Google to turn down the dial. But we definitely are at a point where you can get hurt pretty badly if you have too much commercial anchor text in your link profile. It just isn’t natural.

In the future, Google won’t need this signal. They will be much better at understanding the content of a page and importantly, the context of a page.

2. Deep linking will matter less and less

I was on the fence about this one for a long time but the more I think about it, the more I can see this happening. I’ll explain my view here by using an example.

Let’s imagine you’re an eCommerce website and you sell laptops. Obviously each laptop you sell will have its own product page and if you sell different types, you’ll probably have category pages too. With a products like laptops, chances are that other retailers sell the same ones with the same specifications and probably have very similar looking pages to yours. How does Google know which one to rank better than others?

Links to these product pages can work fine but in my opinion, is a bit of a crude way of working it out. I think that Google will get better at understanding the subtle differences in queries from users which will naturally mean that deep links to these laptop pages will be one of many signals they can use.

Take these queries:


“laptop reviews”

Context: I want to buy a laptop but I don’t know which one.


“asus laptop reviews”

Context: I like the sound of Asus, I want to read more about their laptops.


“sony laptop reviews”

Context: I also like the sound of Sony, I want to read more about their laptops.


“sony vs asus laptop”

Context: I’m confused, they both sound the same so I want a direct comparison to help me decide.


“asus laptop”

Context: I want an Asus laptop.

You can see how the mindset of the user has changed over time and we can easily imagine how the search results will have changed to reflect this. Google already understand this. There are other signals coming into play here too though, what about these bits of additional information that Google can gather about us:

  • Location: I’m on a bus in London, I may not want to buy a £1,000 laptop right now but I’ll happily research them.
  • Device: I’m on my iPhone 6, I may not want to input credit card details into it and I worry that the website I’m using won’t work well on a small screen.
  • Search history: I’ve searched for laptops before and visited several retailers, but I keep going back to the same one as I’ve ordered from them before.

These are just a few that are easy for us to imagine Google using. There are loads more that Google could look at, not to mention signals from the retailers themselves such as secure websites, user feedback, 3rd party reviews, trust signals etc.

When you start adding all of these signals together, it’s pretty easy to see why links to a specific product page may not be the strongest signal for Google to use when determining rankings.

Smaller companies will be able to compete more.

One of the things I loved about SEO when I first got into it was the fact that organic search felt like a level playing field. I knew that with the right work, I could beat massive companies in the search results and not have to spend a fortune doing it. Suffice to say, things have changed quite a bit now and there are some industries where you stand pretty much zero chance of competing unless you have a very big budget to spend and a great product.

I think we will see a shift back in the other direction and smaller companies with fewer links will be able to rank for certain types of queries with a certain type of context. As explained above, context is key and allows Google to serve up search results that meet the context of the user. This means that massive brands are not always going to be the right answer for users and Google have to get better at understanding this. Whether a company is classified as a “brand” or not can be subjective. My local craft beer shop in London is the only one in the world and if you were to ask 100 people if they’d heard of it, they’d all probably say no. But it’s a brand to me because I love their products, their staff are knowledgeable and helpful, their marketing is cool and I’d always recommend them.

Sometimes, showing the website of this shop above bigger brands in search results is the right thing to do for a user. Google need lots of additional signals beyond “branding” and links in order to do this but I think they will get them.

What all of this means for us

Predicting the future is hard, knowing what to do about it is pretty hard too! But here are some things that I think we should be doing.

  1. Ask really hard questions
    Marketing is hard. If you or your client wants to compete and win customers, then you need to be prepared to ask really hard questions about the company. Here are just a few that I’ve found difficult when talking to clients:

    • Why does the company exist? (A good answer has nothing to do with making money)
    • Why do you deserve to rank well in Google?
    • What makes you different to your competitors?
    • If you disappeared from Google tomorrow, would anyone notice?
    • Why do you deserve to be linked to?
    • What value do you provide for users?

    The answers to these won’t always give you that silver bullet, but they can provoke conversations that make the client look inwardly and at why they should deserve links and customers. These questions are hard to answer, but again, that’s the point.

  2. Stop looking for scalable link building tactics

    Seriously, just stop. Anything that can be scaled tends to lose quality and anything that scales is likely to be targeted by the Google webspam team at some point. A
    recent piece of content we did at Distilled has so far generated links from over 700 root domains—we did NOT send 700 outreach emails! This piece took on a life of its own and generated those links after some promotion by us, but at no point did we worry about scaling outreach for it.

  3. Start focusing on doing marketing that users love

    I’m not talking necessarily about you doing the next
    Volvo ad or to be the next Old Spice guy. If you can then great, but these are out of reach for most of us.That doesn’t mean you can’t do marketing that people love. I often look at companies like Brewdog and Hawksmoor who do great marketing around their products but in a way that has personality and appeal. They don’t have to spend millions of dollars on celebrities or TV advertising because they have a great product and a fun marketing message. They have value to add which is the key, they don’t need to worry about link building because they get them naturally by doing cool stuff.

    Whilst I know that “doing cool stuff” isn’t particularly actionable, I still think it’s fair to say that marketing needs to be loved. In order to do marketing that people love, you need to have some fun and focus on adding value.

  4. Don’t bury your head in the sand

    The worst thing you can do is ignore the trends and changes taking place. Google is changing, user expectations and behaviours are changing, our industry is changing. As an industry, we’ve adapted very well over the last few years. We have to keep doing this if we’re going to survive.

    Going back to link building, you need to accept that this stuff is really hard and building the types of links that Google value is hard.

In summary

Links aren’t going anywhere. But the world is changing and we have to focus on what truly matters: marketing great products and building a loyal audience. 

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