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

Posted by RuthBurrReedy

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

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

What clients don’t know

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

Puzzle

Photo via
Pixabay

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

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

The good

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The bad

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

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

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

Why should we care?

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

confused

Photo by
Petras Gagilas via Flickr

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

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

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

How can we fix it?

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

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

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


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

The takeaways

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

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How To Select The Perfect Clients

Posted by Bill.Sebald

partnership

I truly believe in the power of partnerships. There have been some incredible partnerships that changed the fabric of our culture. Larry Page and Sergey Brin. William Procter and James Gamble. The Olson Twins.

Good partnerships provide support, motivation, and complementary skills, often allowing you to overcome hurdles faster and create some truly marvelous things. In consulting or any agency work, the concept of “partnership” should be the backbone of your relationship. Like a puzzle piece, sometimes the fit is initially difficult to find – if available at all. The truth is, you’re only secure if your clients are walking in the same direction as the flow of your service. If they’re walking against the current, you have what I believe to be the most detrimental predicament a service provider can have –
a rift. That’s a truly offensive four-letter word.

What kind of rift are we talking about? Let’s do a little calculating.

First think about what you or your agency is really good at. Think about the components you have the most success with; this may actually be different than where you’re most experienced. Think about what you should be selling versus not (even if those items are currently on your menu – let’s be candid here, a lot of us casually promote services we
believe we should be selling even though it’s not a fully baked product or core competency). Think about the amount of time you really spent challenging a given service to make sure it’s truly impactful to a client versus your own bottom line.

Next, think about your past client debacles (if you haven’t stopped to perform a postmortem, you should). Chances are these led to events that cost you a lot of time, pain, and possibly money. They are the memories that make you shudder. Those are the days that made you dust off your resume and think about a career change.  

Finally, how many of these past clients should have never been signed in the first place? How many simply weren’t a fit from the start? How many simply never had a shot at being successful with you – and vice-versa? This computation really needs serious consideration. Have you wasted everyone’s time?

There can be a costly fallout. I’ve seen talented team members quit over clients that simply could not be managed. I’ve seen my colleagues go so far as to cry or start seeking therapy (in part) because of overwhelming clients who were not getting what they expected and a parent company who wasn’t providing any relief. Sometimes these clients were bound to an annual contract which only made them more desperate and angry. Rifts like this can kill your business.

This should never happen.

Client/agency relationships are marriages, but marriages start with dating

I really like this 2011 post from A List Apart called
Marry Your Clients. A few years old, but nothing has changed. However, my post is going to talk about the courting part before the honeymoon.

My post also assumes you make more money on longer consulting relationships. If you’ve somehow built your model through routinely hunting new business with the expectation you’re going to get fired, then that’s a different story. For most of us however, on-boarding a client is a lot of work, both in terms of hours (which is money) and brainpower. If you “hit it off” with your client, you begin to know their business more intimately, as well as their goals and KPIs. The strategies get easier to build; they also tend to be more successful as you become aware of what their tastes and limitations are. You find you have things in common (perhaps you both enjoy long walks to the bank). You often become true partners with your clients, who in turn promote your ideas to their bosses. These are your most profitable engagements, as well as your most rewarding. They tend to last years, sometimes following your point-of-contact to their next jobs as well.

But you don’t get this way simply because both parties signed a legally-bounding document.

The truth is not all parties can work together. A lot of client/agency relationships end in divorce. Like in romance, sometimes you just aren’t compatible.

A different kind of online dating

After my first marriage went kaput, I’ll admit I went to Match.com. For those who never tried online dating, it’s really an exercise in personal marketing. You upload your most attractive pictures. You sell yourself above everyone else. You send communications back and forth to the interested parties where you work to craft the “perfect” response; as well as ask qualifying questions. I found it works pretty well – the online process saved me from potentially bad dates. Don’t get me wrong, I still have some awkward online dating stories…

Photo from Chuck Woolery’s
Twitter profile

With consulting, if we’re supposed to ultimately marry our clients, we should obviously be allowed to see if there’s a love connection. We should all be our own Chuck Woolery. I tend to think this stage is crucial, but often rushed by agencies or managed by a department outside of your own.

Some agencies seem to have a “no dating” policy. For some, it’s not uncommon to come in to work and have an email from a higher-up with the subject, “congratulations – you’re now married to a new client!” Whether it’s a client development department, or an add-on from an existing client, your marketing department is suddenly forced into an arranged marriage where you can only hope to live up to their expectations.

This is a recipe for disaster. I don’t like to run a business on luck and risk, so clearly this makes no sense to me.

But I’ve been there. I once worked for an agency that handed me a signed contract for a major underwear brand – but I didn’t even know we were even speaking to them. Before I had a chance to get the details, the VP of digital marketing called me. I did my best to understand what they were promised in terms of SEO goals without admitting I really had no clue about their business. The promises were unrealistic, but being somewhat timid and naïve back in the day, I went with it. Truth is, their expectations did not fit into our model, philosophies, or workflow. Ultimately I failed to deliver to their expectations. The contract ended early and I vowed to never let that happen again. Not just for the stress and anxiety it brought upon my team and me, but for the blatant neglect to the client as well.

With this being something I never forgot, I would occasionally bring this story up with others I met at networking events or conventions. I quickly learned this is far from an isolated incident occurring only to me. This is how some agencies build their business development departments.

Once again, this should never happen.

How to qualify a client

Let’s assume by now I have successfully inspired a few things:

  1. A client/agency relationship should truly be a partnership akin to a good marriage.
  2. A client should never be thrown into a model that doesn’t make sense for their business (i.e., your style of SEO services), and process should be in place for putting all the parties in the same room before a deal is signed.

    Now we’re up to number 3:

  3. Not all relationships work, so all parties should try to truly connect before there is a proposal. Don’t rush the signature!

Here are some of the things we do at Greenlane to really qualify a client. Before I continue, though, I’m proud to brag a little. With these practices in place, our close rate – that is, the companies we really want to work with – is 90% in our favor. Our retainment is also very high. Once we started being prudent with our intake, we’ve only lost a few companies due to funding issues or a change in their business model – not out of performance. I should also add that these tips work with all sizes of clients. While some of our 20+ clients are smaller businesses, we also have household brands and public companies, all of which could attest to going through this process with us.

It’s all in the details

Your website is your Match.com profile. Your website is your personality. If you’re vague or promotional or full of hype, only to get someone on the phone to which your “car salesman” gear kicks in, I don’t think you’re using the website to the best of its ability. People want to use the website to learn more about you before the reach out.

Our “about us” page is our third most visited page next to the homepage and pricing (outside of the blog). You can see an example from a 
Hotjar heatmap:

The truth is, I’m always tweaking (and A/B testing) our message on the about us page. This page is currently part of a funnel that we careful put together. The “about us” page is a quick but powerful overview putting our team front and center and highlighting our experience (including some past clients).

I believe the website’s more than a brochure. It’s a communication device. Don’t hide or muddle who you are. When I get a prospect email through our form, I always lead them to our “Are We The Right Fit” page. That’s right – I actually ask them to consider choosing wisely. Now at first glance, this might go against a conversion funnel that heats up the prospect and only encourages momentum, but this page has really been a strong asset. It’s crafted to transparently present our differentiators, values, and even our pricing. It’s also crafted to discourage those who aren’t a good fit. You can find this page
here. Even our URL provides the “Are We The Right Fit” question.

We want prospects to make a good decision. We care so much about companies doing great that we’d rather you find someone else if our model isn’t perfect. Sure, sometimes after pointing someone to that link, they never return. That’s OK. Just like a dating profile, this page is designed to target a certain kind of interest. Time is a commodity in agency life – no sense in wasting it on a conversation that isn’t qualified. When we do catch a prospect after reviewing the page and hear, “we went with another firm who better suits our needs,” it actually doesn’t feel like a loss at all.

Everyone who comes back goes into our pipeline. At this stage they all get followed up on with a phone call. If they aren’t a good fit from the get go we actually try to introduce them to other SEO companies or consultants who would be a better fit for them. But 9 times out of 10, it’s an amazing conversation.

Never drop the transparency

There are a few things I try to tell all the prospects I ultimately speak with. One, I openly admit I’m not a salesman. I couldn’t sell ice water to people in hell. But I’m good at being really candid about our strengths and experiences.

Now this one tends to surprise some, especially in the larger agency setting. We admit that we are really choosy about the clients we take on. For our model, we need clients who are flexible, fast moving, interested in brand building, and interested in long-term relationships. We want clients who think in terms of strategy and will let us work with their existing marketing team and vendors. We audit them for their understanding of SEO services and tell them how we’re either alike or different.

I don’t think a prospect call goes by without me saying, “while you’re checking us out to see if we’re a good fit, we’re doing the same for you.” Then, if the call goes great, I let them know we’d like a follow up call to continue (a second date if you will). This follow up call has been where the real decision gets made.

Ask the right questions

I’ve vetted the opportunity, now my partner – who naturally has a different way of approaching opportunities and relationships – asks a different set of questions. This adds a whole different dimension and works to catch the questions I may not have asked. We’ve had companies ready to sign on the first call, to which I’ve had to divert any signatures until the next conversation. This too may seem counter-intuitive to traditional business development, but we find it extremely valuable. It’s true that we could have more clients in our current book of business, but I can proudly state that every current client is exactly who we want to be with; this is very much because of everything you’ve read so far.

On each call we have a list of qualifying questions that we ask. Most are “must answer” questions, while others can roll into a needs analysis questionnaire that we give to each signed client. The purpose of the needs analysis is to get more granular into business items (such as seasonal trends, industry intelligence, etc.) for the intention of developing strategies. With so much to ask, it’s important to be respectful of the prospects’ time. At this point they’ve usually already indicated they’ve read our website, can afford our prices, and feel like we’re a good fit.

Many times prospects start with their introduction and answer some of our questions. While they speak, I intently listen and take many notes.

These are 13 questions from my list that I always make sure get answered on a call, with some rationale:

Questions for the prospect:

1. Can you describe your business model and products/services?

  1. What do you sell?
  2. B2B or B2C
  3. Retail or lead generation?

Rationale
: sometimes when reviewing the website it’s not immediately clear what kind of business they’re in. Perhaps the site just does a bad job, or sometimes their real money making services are deeper in the site and easily missed by a fast scan. One of our clients works with the government and seems to have an obvious model, but the real profit is from a by-product, something we would have never picked up on during our initial review of the website. It’s important to find out exactly what the company does. Is it interesting? Can you stay engaged? Is it a sound model that you believe in? Is it a space you have experience in?

2. What has been your experience with [YOUR SERVICE] in the past?

Rationale: Many times, especially if your model is different, a prospect may have a preconceived notion of what you actually do. Let’s take SEO as an example – there are several different styles of SEO services. If they had a link building company in the past, and you’re a more holistic SEO consulting practice, their point of reference may only be with what they’ve experienced. They may even have a bad taste in their mouth from a previous engagement, which gives you a chance to air it out and see how you compare. This is also a chance to know if you’re potentially playing with a penalized site.

3. What are your [PPC/SEO/etc.] goals?

Rationale: Do they have realistic goals, or lofty, impossible goals? Be candid – tell them if you don’t think you can reach the goals on the budget they have, or if you think they should choose other goals. Don’t align yourself with goals you can’t hit. This is where many conversations could end.

4. What’s your mission or positioning statement?

Rationale: If you’re going to do more than just pump up their rankings, you probably want to know the full story. This should provide a glimpse into other marketing the prospect is executing.

5. How do you stand out?

Rationale: Sometimes this is answered with the question above. If not, really dig up the differentiators. Those are typically the key items to build campaigns on.  Whether they are trying to create a new market segment or have a redundant offering, this can help you set timeline and success expectations.

6. Are you comfortable with an agency that may challenge your plans and ideas?

Rationale: This is one of my favorite questions. There are many who hire an agency and expect “yes-men.” Personally I believe an agency or consultant should be partners; that is, not afraid to fight for what they know is right for the benefit of the client. You shouldn’t be afraid of injury:

 

7. Who are your competitors?

Rationale: Not only do you want this for competitive benchmarking, but this can often help you understand more about the prospect. Not to mention, how big a hill you might have to climb to start competing on head terms.

8. What is your business reach? (local, national, international)?

Rationale: An international client is going to need more work than a domestic client. A local client is going to need an expertise in local search. Knowing the scope of the company can help you align your skills with their targets.

9. What CMS are you on?

Rationale:
 This is a big one. It tells you how much flexibility you will have. Wordpress?  Great – you’ll probably have a lot of access to files and templates.  A proprietary CMS or enterprise solution?  Uh-oh.  That probably means tickets and project queues. Are you OK with that?

10. What does your internal team look like?

Rationale:
Another important question. Who will you be working with?  What skill sets?  Will you be able to sit at the table with other vendors too?  If you’re being hired to fill in the gaps, make sure you have the skills to do so. I ask about copywriters, developers, designers, and link builders at a minimum.

11. What do you use for analytics?

Rationale:
A tool like Wappalyzer can probably tell you, but sometimes bigger companies have their own custom analytics through their host. Sometimes it’s bigger than Google Analytics, like Omniture. Will you be allowed to have direct access to it?  You’d be surprised how often we hear no.

12. How big is your site?  Do you have other properties?

Rationale:
It’s surprising how often a prospect forgets to mention those 30+ subdomains and microsites. If the prospect envisions it as part of the deal, you should at least be aware of how far the core website extends.

13. What is your budget, preferred start time, and end date?

Rationale:
The biggest question of all. Do they even meet your fee requirements? Are you staffed and ready to take on the work? Sure, talking money can be tough, but if you post your rates firm, the prospect is generally more open to talk budget. They don’t feel like a negotiation is going to happen.

Conclusion

While these are the core questions we use, I’m sure the list will eventually grow. I don’t think you should copy our list, or the order.  You should ultimately create your own. Every agency or consultant has different requirements, and interviewing your prospect is as important as allowing them to interview you. But remember, you don’t have to have all the business.  Just the right kind of business.  You will grow organically from your positive experiences.  We all hear about “those other agencies” and how they consistently fail to meet client expectations. Next to “do great work,” this is one powerful way to keep off that list.  

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Getting Started With Paid Promotions

Posted by anthonycoraggio

I’m receiving more and more questions from clients about how best to leverage paid content distribution and paid social platforms (here referred to together as ‘paid promotions’). There’s a lot of reason for increased interest—as content production has ramped up in digital marketing, it has become harder and harder to stand out from the crowd and reach the audience you want. Facebook shutting down companies’ free lunch social distribution has only further pressed the issue—and sometimes you’ve simply maxed out on other paid channels!

But more than simply being an extra ‘pay to play’ option, paid promotion is a crucial part of any holistic digital marketing strategy. By using the range of paid online promotion and advertising tools available, we can take more comprehensive control in presenting the best user experience throughout the funnel—delivering the right content, at the right time, to the right person. There are three primary functions of paid promotions:

  • Improve the breadth and depth of content distribution
  • Use powerful targeting to drive more qualified traffic
  • Capture, retain, and shepherd qualified users to ultimately produce conversions

How and why you might use paid promotions will of course vary quite a bit, but regardless of your end goal, there are two key tasks for anyone seeking to succeed in doing so. Do these two things right, and you will have laid a solid foundation for achieving your goals.

First…

1. Define and target a specific audience

Defining a target audience in digital advertising or paid promotions is a more exacting exercise than usual, because we’re actually operationalizing a definition that can be precisely carried out by setting controls in a PPC-like interface. Think of it like programming a computer—you need to break down your definition in extremely concrete, exclusive terms that are interpretable by the tool you’re using. Don’t despair though—it’s not hard to do, and if you’ve been a good marketer and developed some proper user personas you’ll be ahead of the game!

Answer these questions to set a concrete definition of the people that should be targeted with a given campaign or content release. These are typically going to be the criteria you actually enter into an interface when starting a promotions campaign on a tool like Facebook or StumbleUpon.


Demographic Information - Our ideal target for this content is…


Age
- Many platforms will offer simple age based targeting, usually in the form of your typical “18-24, 25 – 36″ type brackets.


Gender
– Again, this is a simple demographic setting and is often available. Think about setting up separate ‘A/B’ versions to separately address men and women when relevant!


Education Level/Status
 - Is your audience in school? Have they completed a degree? Facebook and LinkedIn will let you drill in on these parameters.


Geography
– Be as specific as possible. Generally, the combination of a state/province and a metro area level is as granular as geotargeting options go.

There are a few more options you can find on places like Facebook -income level, marital status, employment status, and more can be particularly useful in B2C contexts.

Many platforms will also give you an opportunity to define your target audience by interests, so think about what relevant topics or subjects the target user might be particularly interested in or looking for while online! For example,
likes for travel blogs, language learning sites, famous travel writers, country specific cuisine, etc all can be used to converge on a very specific type of person.

2. Choose promotion channels

Once your target audience has been defined and the above questions answered with the best data available, you must consider the channels or platforms that will best make use of it. There are three major factors:

  1. Which platforms have targeting capabilities and an audience that can best replicate the user profile using their targeting?

    • Remember to weight the user’s expected online behavior heavily in selecting platforms – while one might offer targeting to match the most targeting characteristics, if your audience does not actively use the platform’s core service it is of little value as a promotional channel.
  2. Which platforms can best present the media to be promoted?
    • It is important not to detract from the user’s experience of the content, or place it in a channel that does not fit it’s form. A long form video, for example, will not usually fare well in skippable preroll spots or on-site rollover placements.
    • Remember also that use of different platforms can depend on device – and so might the usability of your content!
    • What behavioral context is preferable to achieve your objectives for this piece?

I strongly recommend taking a few minutes to browse around as a user when making these decisions, in order to think less abstractly about the experience you aim to create. Choosing channels is often a case-by-case process, but for common objectives there are some simple, intuitive guidelines to keep in mind:

  • If you want your content shared, promote it on channels that have built-in sharing capabilities (social media, StumbleUpon).
  • If you want users to feel they’ve ‘discovered’ a piece, focus on content plug-ins (Outbrain, Zemanta, etc), discovery tools (StumbleUpon), and more niche placements (subreddits, subject blogs)—depending on the accessibility/simplicity.
  • If your goal is a high level of direct exposure for content at a low price, content discovery plugins and display ad networks can deliver. Cost is relatively low and inventory is high, so it’s easy to get eyeballs on your work.
  • If conveying authority is important, officially sponsored or openly disclosed promotions on respected media platforms or with trusted individual publishers can be a good tool—though often more expensive.

It can be useful to combine these guidelines to plan for more complex goals. For example, if you want to convey a sense of ‘discovery’ but also encourage sharing, StumbleUpon Paid Discovery could fulfill both these needs—the sponsorship is subtle, the user is in ‘discovery mode’, and SU has a social sharing frame right on top of the page. If that audience isn’t engaged enough, you might bring traffic to a piece via Reddit and retarget for sharing on Twitter.

Planning for promotion should not be an exclusively post hoc activity—the content itself should be created with intended placement and utility in mind. Engage early in the process as goals for the content are first set, so that creative development and objectives do not ultimately conflict with the feasibility of promotions. Simply being involved in the conversation to flag potential problems is often enough!

Think outside of yourself…

One of the most critical parts of this framework is leveling what you want to achieve with what users will accept and value in a given medium, so I want to take a moment to reinforce the importance of this.

In answering questions of targeting and placement in a performance-driven world, it can be dangerously easy to think egocentrically, only in terms of what YOU want your customer to do in a given context—or more insidiously,
what you want them to want to do. Remember that as a marketer or advertiser you are necessarily carrying tremendous baggage, both in terms of product knowledge and expectations. It’s tremendously important to step back from your own (or your company’s) perspective and think as a user.

What you ultimately need to reach your goals isn’t necessarily what individuals using one of these channels wants when doing so, or are ready to do. Take the time to understand your audience and reach out to them in a way will resonate with the journey they are on. 

What considerations do you pay special attention to when promoting content? Are there areas of the discipline you’d love to learn more about? Hit me back in the comments!

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How Can the Value of Top-of-Funnel Channels be Measured – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish
Rand has talked many times about what he calls “serendipitous marketing,” where the work we do at the top of the funnel can take winding and often unexpected paths to conversions. One of the most common questions about content marke…

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How Can the Value of Top-of-Funnel Channels be Measured – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish
Rand has talked many times about what he calls “serendipitous marketing,” where the work we do at the top of the funnel can take winding and often unexpected paths to conversions. One of the most common questions about content marke…

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Conquer Your Competition with these Three Moz Tools – Next Level

Posted by EllieWilkinson

Welcome to the second edition of Next Level! In the first Next Level blog post, the Success Team and Help Team here at Moz created 10 video walkthroughs to help you “power up” your knowledge of the Moz tools. We’re continuing the educational series with a new video and a workflow showing you how to take on your competitors using Moz. Read on and level up!


For SEOs, the battle to rank highest in the search results often comes down to survival of the fittest. But if you know how to size up your competition, you can gain the upper hand and become king of the jungle! Come on a SERP-fari in this Next Level video and try these three ways to use the Moz tools to out-hunt all the other lions.

Workflow summary

To review, here’s an outline of the three steps to scoping out the competition!

(You’ll need a Moz Pro subscription to use Keyword Difficulty and Fresh Web Explorer. If you aren’t yet a Moz Pro subscriber, you can always try out the tools with a 30-day free trial.)

  1. After you’ve entered three competitors in your Moz Analytics campaign settings, head over to the Keyword Difficulty tool to get a detailed look at the search results for keywords you’re targeting. Don’t forget to run a full SERP analysis report for even more data!
  2. Next, investigate your competitors’ recent links and brand mentions using Fresh Web Explorer to get some content and link building ideas.
  3. Finally, head over to Followerwonk to find potential Twitter followers to poach from your competitors.

Looking for other resources to help you plan your attack? Here are some that might help. Go get ‘em, tiger! (But watch out for zebras…)

If you have other ways of using the Moz tools to rule the jungle, we’d love to hear them! Sound off in the comments below.

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Rank Higher with On-page Topic Targeting (Illustrated)

Posted by Cyrus-Shepard

Topic n. A subject or theme of a webpage, section, or site.

Several SEOs have recently written about topic modeling and advanced on-page optimization. A few of note:

The concepts themselves are dizzying: LDA, co-occurrence, and entity salience, to name only a few. The question is
“How can I easily incorporate these techniques into my content for higher rankings?”

In fact, you can create optimized pages without understanding complex algorithms. Sites like Wikipedia, IMDB, and Amazon create highly optimized, topic-focused pages almost by default. Utilizing these best practices works exactly the same when you’re creating your own content.

The purpose of this post is to provide a simple
framework for on-page topic targeting in a way that makes optimizing easy and scalable while producing richer content for your audience.

1. Keywords and relationships

No matter what topic modeling technique you choose, all rely on discovering
relationships between words and phrases. As content creators, how we organize words on a page greatly influences how search engines determine the on-page topics.

When we use keywords phrases, search engines hunt for other phrases and concepts that
relate to one another. So our first job is to expand our keywords research to incorporate these related phrases and concepts. Contextually rich content includes:

  • Close variants and synonyms: Includes abbreviations, plurals, and phrases that mean the same thing.
  • Primary related keywords: Words and phrases that relate to the main keyword phrase.
  • Secondary related keywords: Words and phrases that relate to the primary related keywords.
  • Entity relationships: Concept that describe the properties and relationships between people, places, and things. 

Keywords and Relationships

A good keyword phrase or entity is one that
predicts the presence of other phrases and entities on the page. For example, a page about “The White House” predicts other phrases like “president,” “Washington,” and “Secret Service.” Incorporating these related phrases may help strengthen the topicality of “White House.”

2. Position, frequency, and distance

How a page is organized can greatly influence how concepts relate to each other.

Once search engines find your keywords on a page, they need to determine which ones are most
important, and which ones actually have the strongest relationships to one another.

Three primary techniques for communicating this include:

  • Position: Keywords placed in important areas like titles, headlines, and higher up in the main body text may carry the most weight.
  • Frequency: Using techniques like TF-IDF, search engines determine important phrases by calculating how often they appear in a document compared to a normal distribution.
  • Distance: Words and phrases that relate to each other are often found close together, or grouped by HTML elements. This means leveraging semantic distance to place related concepts close to one another using paragraphs, lists, and content sectioning.

A great way to organize your on-page content is to employ your primary and secondary related keywords in support of your focus keyword. Each primary related phrase becomes its own subsection, with the secondary related phrases supporting the primary, as illustrated here.

Keyword Position, Frequency and Distance

As an example, the primary keyword phrase of this page is ‘On-page Topic Targeting‘. Supporting topics include: keywords and relationships, on-page optimization, links, entities, and keyword tools. Each related phrase supports the primary topic, and each becomes its own subsection.

3. Links and supplemental content

Many webmasters overlook the importance of linking as a topic signal.

Several well-known Google
search patents and early research papers describe analyzing a page’s links as a way to determine topic relevancy. These include both internal links to your own pages and external links to other sites, often with relevant anchor text.

Google’s own
Quality Rater Guidelines cites the value external references to other sites. It also describes a page’s supplemental content, which can includes internal links to other sections of your site, as a valuable resource.

Links and Supplemental Content

If you need an example of how relevant linking can help your SEO,
The New York Times
famously saw success, and an increase in traffic, when it started linking out to other sites from its topic pages.

Although this guide discusses
on-page topic optimization, topical external links with relevant anchor text can greatly influence how search engines determine what a page is about. These external signals often carry more weight than on-page cues, but it almost always works best when on-page and off-page signals are in alignment.

4. Entities and semantic markup

Google extracts entities from your webpage automatically,
without any effort on your part. These are people, places and things that have distinct properties and relationships with each other.

• Christopher Nolan (entity, person) stands 5’4″ (property, height) and directed Interstellar (entity, movie)

Even though entity extraction happens automatically, it’s often essential to mark up your content with
Schema for specific supported entities such as business information, reviews, and products. While the ranking benefit of adding Schema isn’t 100% clear, structured data has the advantage of enhanced search results.

Entities and Schema

For a solid guide in implementing schema.org markup, see Builtvisible’s excellent
guide to rich snippets.

5. Crafting the on-page framework

You don’t need to be a search genius or spend hours on complex research to produce high quality, topic optimized content. The beauty of this framework is that it can be used by anyone, from librarians to hobby bloggers to small business owners; even when they aren’t search engine experts.

A good webpage has much in common with a high quality university paper. This includes:

  1. A strong title that communicates the topic
  2. Introductory opening that lays out what the page is about
  3. Content organized into thematic subsections
  4. Exploration of multiple aspects of the topic and answers related questions
  5. Provision of additional resources and external citations

Your webpage doesn’t need to be academic, stuffy, or boring. Some of the most interesting pages on the Internet employ these same techniques while remaining dynamic and entertaining.

Keep in mind that ‘best practices’ don’t apply to every situation, and as
Rand Fishkin says “There’s no such thing as ‘perfectly optimized’ or ‘perfect on-page SEO.’” Pulling everything together looks something like this:

On-page Topic Targeting for SEO

This graphic is highly inspired by Rand Fishkin’s great
Visual Guide to Keyword Targeting and On-Page SEO. This guide doesn’t replace that canonical resource. Instead, it should be considered a supplement to it.

5 alternative tools for related keyword and entity research

For the search professional, there are dozens of tools available for thematic keyword and entity research. This list is not exhaustive by any means, but contains many useful favorites.

1.
Alchemy API

One of the few tools on the market that delivers entity extraction, concept targeting and linked data analysis. This is a great platform for understanding how a modern search engine views your webpage.

2.
SEO Review Tools

The SEO Keyword Suggestion Tools was actually designed to return both primary and secondary related keywords, as well as options for synonyms and country targeting. 

3.
LSIKeywords.com

The LSIKeyword tool performs Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) on the top pages returned by Google for any given keyword phrase. The tool can go down from time to time, but it’s a great one to bookmark.

4.
Social Mention

Quick and easy, enter any keyword phrase and then check “Top Keywords” to see what words appear most with your primary phrase across the of the platforms that Social Mention monitors. 

5.
Google Trends

Google trends is a powerful related research tool, if you know how to use it. The secret is downloading your results to a CSV (under settings) to get a list up to 50 related keywords per search term.

What are your best tips for creating semantically rich, topic focused content? Let us know in the comments below.

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The Coming Integration of PR and SEO

Posted by SamuelScott

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.

Earlier this year, I published a Moz post that aimed to introduce the
basic principles of public relations that SEOs and digital marketers, I argued, need to know. (Specifically, the post was on media relations and story-pitching as a means of getting coverage and “earning” good links.)

Following the positive response to the post, Moz invited me to host a recent Mozinar on the integration of PR and SEO. (
You can listen to it and download the slides here for free!) As a former print journalist who later became a digital marketer, I love to discuss this niche because I am very passionate about the topic.

In summary, the Mozinar discussed:

  • Traditional marketing and communications theory
  • Why both inbound and outbound marketing are needed
  • An overview of the basic PR process
  • How to use PR software
  • Examples of messaging and positioning
  • Where to research demographic data for audience profiles
  • How to integrate SEO into each step of the workflow
  • How SEO and PR teams can help each other
  • Why the best links come as natural results of doing good PR and marketing
  • “Don’t think about how to get links. Think about how to get coverage and publicity.”

At the end of the Mozinar, the community had some intriguing and insightful questions (no surprise there!), and Moz invited me to write a follow-up post to provide more answers and discuss the relationship between SEO and PR further.

Follow-ups to the PR Mozinar

Before I address the questions and ideas at the end of the Mozinar, I just wanted to give some more credit where the credit is certainly due.

People like me, who write for major publications or speak at large conferences, get a lot of attention. But, truth is, we are always helped immensely by so many of our talented colleagues behind the scenes. Since the beginning of my digital marketing career, I have known about SEO, but I have learned more about public relations from observing (albeit from a distance) The Cline Group’s front line PR team in Philadelphia over the years.

So, I just wanted to thank (in alphabetical order)
Kim Cox, Gabrielle Dratch, Caitlin Driscoll, Max Marine, and Ariel Shore as well as our senior PR executives Bill Robinson and DeeDee Rudenstein and CEO Josh Cline. What I hope the Moz community learned from the Mozinar is what I have learned from them.

Now, onto the three Mozinar Q&A questions that had been left unanswered.

  • Why do you use Cision and not Vocus or Meltwater or others?

I do not want to focus on why The Cline Group specifically uses Cision. I would not want my agency (and indirectly Moz) to be seen as endorsing one type of PR software over another. What I can do is encourage people to read these writings from 
RMP Media Analysis, LinkedIn, Alaniz Marketing and Ombud, then do further research into which platform may work best for them and their specific companies and needs.

(Cision and Vocus recently agreed to merge, with the combined company continuing under the Cision brand.)

  • Do you have examples of good PR pitches?

I’ve anonymized and uploaded three successful client pitches to our website. You can download them here: a
mobile-advertising network, a high-end vaporizer for the ingestion of medicinal herbs and a mobile app that helps to protect personal privacy. As you will see, these pitches incorporated the various tactics that I had detailed in the Mozinar.

Important caveat: Do not fall into the trap of relying too much on templates. Every reporter and every outlet you pitch will be different. The ideas in these examples of pitches may help, but please do not use them verbatim. 

  • Are there other websites similar to HARO (Help a Reporter Out) that people can use to find reporters who are looking for stories? Are the other free, simpler tools?

Some commonly mentioned tools are
My Blog U, ProfNet, BuzzStream and My Local Reporter. Raven Tools also has a good-sized list. But I can only vouch for My Blog U because it’s the only one I have used personally. It’s also important to note that using a PR tool is not a magic bullet. You have to know how to use it in the context of the overall public relations process. Creating a media list is just one part of the puzzle.

An infographic of integration

And now, the promised infographic!

I told the Mozinar audience we would provide a detailed infographic as a quick guide to the step-by-step process of PR and SEO integration. Well, here it is:

pr-seo-infographic-final.jpg

A second credit to my awesome colleague
Thomas Kerr, who designs most of The Cline Group’s presentations and graphics while also being our social media and overall digital wizard.

Just a few notes on the infographic:

First, I have segmented the two pillars by “PR and Traditional Marketing” and “SEO & Digital Marketing.” I hate to sound stereotypical, but the use of this differentiation was the easiest way to explain the integration process. The “PR” side deals with
people and content (e.g., messaging, media relations, and materials, etc.), while the “SEO” side focuses on things (e.g., online data, analytics, and research, etc.). See the end of this post for an important prediction.

Second, I have put social media on the online side because that is where the practice seems to sit in most companies and agencies. However, social media is really just a set of PR and communications channels, so it will likely increasingly move to the “traditional marketing” side of things. Again, see the end.

Third, there is a CMO / VP of Marketing / Project Leader (based on the structure of a company and whether the context is an agency or an in-house department) column between SEO and PR. This position should be a person with enough experience in both disciplines to mediate between the two as well as make judgment calls and final decisions in the case of conflicts. “SEO,” for example, may want to use certain keyword-based language in messaging in an attempt to rank highly for certain search terms. “PR” might want to use different terms that may resonate more with media outlets and the public. Someone will need to make a decision.

Fourth, it is important to understand that companies with numerous brands, products or services, and/or a diverse set of target audiences will need to take additional steps:

The marketing work for each brand, product, or service will need its own specific goal and KPI(s) in step one. Separate audience research and persona development will need to be performed for each distinct audience in step two. So, for a larger company, such as the one described above, parts of steps 3-8 below will often need to be done, say, six times, once for each audience of each product.

However, the complexity does not end there.

Online and offline is the same thing

Essentially, as more and more human activity occurs online, we are rapidly approaching a point where the offline and online worlds are merging into the same space. “Traditional” and “online” marketing are all collectively becoming simply “marketing.”

Above is our modern version of traditional communications and marketing theory. A sender decides upon a message; the message is packaged into a piece of content; the content is transmitted via a desired channel; and the channel delivers the content to the receiver. Marketing is essentially sending a message that is packaged into a piece of content to a receiver via a channel. The rest is just details.

As Google becomes smarter and smarter, marketers will need to stop thinking only about SEO and think more like, well, marketers. Mad Men’s Don Draper, the subject of the meme at the top of the page, would best the performance of any link builder today because he understood how to gain mass publicity and coverage, both of which have always been more important than just building links here and there. The best and greatest numbers of links come naturally as a
result of good marketing and not as a result of any direct linkbuilding. In the 2014 Linkbuilding Survey published on Moz, most of the (good) tactics that were described in the post – such as “content plus outreach” – are PR by another name.

At SMX West 2014 (where I gave a talk on SEO and PR strategy), Rand Fishkin took to the main stage to discuss what the future holds for SEO. Starting at 6:30 in the video above, he argued that there will soon be a bias towards brands in organic search. (For an extensive discussion of this issue, I’ll refer you to Bryson Meunier’s essay at Search Engine Land.) I agree that it will soon become crucial to use PR, advertisingand publicity to build a brand, but that action is something the Don Drapers of the world had already known to do long before the Internet had ever existed.

But things are changing

The process that I have outlined above is a little vague on purpose. The lines between SEO and PR are increasingly blurring as online and offline marketing becomes more and more integrated. For example, take this very post: is it me doing SEO or PR for our agency (while
first and foremost aiming to help the readers)? The answer: Yes.

In a Moz post by Jason Acidre on
SEO and brand building, I commented with the following:

Say, 10 years ago, “SEOs” were focused on techie things: keyword research, sitemaps, site hierarchy, site speed, backlinks, and a lot more. Then, as Google became smarter and the industry become more and more mature, “SEOs” woke up one day and realized that online marketers need to think, you know, like marketers. Now, I get the sense that digital marketers are trying to learn all about traditional marketing as much as possible because, in the end, all marketing is about
people — not machines and algorithms. What the f&*# is a positioning statement? What is a pitch? I just wish “SEOs” had done this from the beginning.

Of course, the same thing has been occurring in the inverse in the traditional marketing world. Traditional marketers have usually focused on these types of things: messaging documents, media lists, promotional campaigns, the 4 Ps, and SWOT analyses. Then, as more human activity moved to the Internet, they also woke up one day and saw an anarchic set of communications channels that operate under different sets of rules. Now, on the other end, I get the sense that traditional marketers are trying to learn as much as possible about SEO and digital marketing. 
What the f&^% is a rel=canonical tag? What is Google+ authorship? I just wish traditional marketers had done this from the start.

In fact, such a separation between SEO and PR is quickly dying. Here is a simplified version of the marketing and communications process I outlined at the beginning:

Traditional marketers and communications professionals have used this process for decades, and almost everything that (the umbrella term of) SEO does can fit into one of these boxes. A message can appear in a newspaper article or in a blog post. Content can be a sales brochure or an e-book. A channel can be the television or Facebook. A lot of  technical and on-page SEO is simply good web development. The most-effective type of off-page SEO is just PR and publicity. Public-relations executives, as I
have written elsewhere, can also learn to use analytics as yet another way to gauge results.

It all goes back to this tweet from Rand, which I cite in nearly every offline conversation with the marketing community:

SEO as an entity (sorry for the pun)
unto itself is quickly dying. The more SEO entails, the more the umbrella term becomes useless in any meaningful context. For this reason, it is crucial that digital marketers learn as much as possible about traditional marketing and PR.

So, in the end, how does one integrate public relations and SEO? By simply doing good
marketing.

Want more? Don’t forget to watch the Mozinar — I’d love to get your feedback in the comments below!

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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Be Intentional about Your Content & SEO Goals or Face Certain Failure – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish
We’re seeing more and more companies investing in content marketing, and that’s a great thing. Many of them, however, are putting less thought than they should into the specific goals behind the content they produce. In today’s Whit…

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Videos from MozTalk: Blogger Edition

Posted by CharleneKate
Have you ever noticed how Rand is often speaking at conferences all around the world? Well, we realized that those of us here in Seattle rarely get to see them. So we started MozTalks, a free event here at the MozPlex.

It n…

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