Penguin Penalties: Do Webmasters Respond the Way They Should?

Posted by russvirante

Penalization has become a regular part of the search engine optimization experience. Hell, it has changed the entire business model of Virante to building tools and services around penalty recovery and not just optimization. While penalties used to be a crude badge of honor worn by those leaning towards the black-hat side of the SEO arts, it is now a regular occurrence that seems to impact those with the best intentions. At Virante, we have learned a lot about penalties over the last few years—discerning between manual and algorithmic, Panda and Penguin, recovery methodologies and risk mitigation—but not much study has been done on the general response of websites to penalizations. We have focused more on what webmasters ought to do without studying what webmasters actually do in response to various penalties.

How webmasters respond matters

As much as we often feel a communion among other SEOs in our resistance to Google, the reality is that we are engaged in a competitive industry where we fight for customers in a very direct manner. This duality of competition—with Google and with each other—plays out in a very unique way when Google penalizes a competitor. We learn a great deal in the following months about the competition, such as the sophistication of their team (how quickly they respond, how many links they remove, how quickly they recover), their financial strength (do they increase ad spend, how much and on what terms), and whether they eventually recover.

It is also important from a wider perspective of understanding Google's justifications for particular types of penalties that seem sweeping and inconsistent. Conspiracy theories abound regarding Penguin updates; I can't count how many times I have heard someone say that penalties are placed to encourage webmasters to switch to AdWords.

So, I decided to investigate the behavior of webmasters post-Penguin from a macro perspective to determine what kinds of responses we are likely to see, and perhaps even answer some questions about Google's motivations in the process.

The methodology

  1. Collect examples: I collected a list of 100 domains that were penalized by Penguin 2.0 last year and confirmed their penalization through SEMRush.
  2. Establish controls: For each penalized site, I identified one website that ranked in the top 10 for their primary keyword that was not penalized.
  3. Get rankings and AdWords data: For each site (both penalized and control), we grabbed their historical rankings and AdWords spend from SEMRush for the months leading up to and following Penguin 2.0
  4. Get historical link data: For each site (both penalized and control), we grabbed their historical link data from Majsetic SEO for the months leading up to and following Penguin 2.0.
  5. Analyze results: Using simple regression models, we identified patterns among penalized sites that differed significantly from the control sites.

Do webmasters remove bad links?

After a Penguin 2.0 update, it is imperative to identify and remove bad links or, at minimum, disavow them. While we can't measure disavow data, we can measure link acquisition data quite easily. So, do webmasters in general follow the expectations of link removal following a penalty?

Aggressive link removal: It appears that aggressive link removal is a common response to Penguin, as expected. However, we have to be careful with the statistics to make sure we correctly examine the degree and frequency with which link removal is employed. The control group on average increased their root linking domains by 41 following Penguin 2.0, but that could best be explained by a few larger sites increasing their links. When looking at an average of link proportions, only about 22% of the control sites actually saw an increase in links in the three months post-Penguin. The sites that were penalized saw a drop of 578 root linking domains. However, once again, this statistic is impacted by the link graph size of the individual penalized sites. 15% of those penalized still saw an increase in links in the three months following Penguin.

So, approximately 22% of domains not impacted by Penguin 2.0 had more root linking domains three months after the penalty, while only 15% of those penalized had more root linking domains post-Penguin. Notice how small the discrepancy is here. Webmasters responded differently only by 7% depending on whether or not they were penalized. While certainly those penalized removed more links, the practice of link building in general was very similarly affected. In the three months following Penguin, 78% of the control websites either dropped links or at least stopped link building and lost them through attribution. This is remarkable. There appears to be a deadening effect related to Penguin that impacts all sites—not just those that are penalized. While many of us expected Penguin to have a profound impact on link growth as webmasters respond to fears of future penalties, it is still amazing to see it borne out in the numbers.

Deadening Link Growth

What I find more interesting is the variation in webmaster responses to Penguin 2.0. Some penalized webmasters actually doubled down on link building, likely attributing their rankings loss to having too few links, rather than being penalized. We can tease this type of behavior out of the numbers by looking at the variances in percentage link change over time.

The variance among link fluctuations for sites that were not penalized was .08, but the variance among sites that were penalized was .38. This means that the behavior of websites after being penalized was far more erratic than those that were not. Some penalized sites made the poor decisions to greatly increase their links, although more sites made the decision to greatly decrease their links. If all webmasters responded uniformly to penalties, one would not expect to see such an increase in variance.

As SEOs, we clearly have our work cut out for ourselves in teaching webmasters that the appropriate response to a penalty is very much NOT adding more and more links to your profile, because this behavior is actually more common than link removal post-penalty. It is worth pointing out that it is possible that the webmasters disavowed links rather than removing them. We do not have access to that data, so we cannot be certain regarding that procedure. It is possible that some webmasters chose to disavow while others removed, and that the net impact on link value was identical, thus making the variance calculation false.

Do webmasters increase their ad spend?

I'll admit, I had my fingers crossed on this one. Honestly, who doesn't want to show that Google is just penalizing webmasters because it helps their bottom line? Wouldn't it be great to catch the search quality team not being honest with us about their fiduciary independence?

Well, unfortunately it just doesn't bear out. The evidence is fairly clear that there is no reason to believe that webmasters increase ad-spend following a Penguin 2.0 penalty. Let's look at the numbers.

Ad Traffic Increase

First, across our data set, no one who was an advertiser prior to Penguin 2.0 stopped advertising in AdWords in the three months after. Of the sites that were not advertisers prior to Penguin 2.0, 10% of those not penalized ended up becoming advertisers in AdWords, while only 4% of those penalized became advertisers. Sites that weren't penalized were far more likely to join the AdWords program than those that were.

It wasn't only true that those unaffected by Penguin 2.0 were more likely to sign up for AdWords; they increased their average Ad-spend, too. There was a 78% greater increase in ad-spend by those unaffected by Penguin 2.0 than those who were. Moreover, bidding shifts for those not impacted by Penguin remained similar in two month intervals across multiple randomly selected three-month differences, meaning that there appeared to be no related impact whatsoever.

We can safely conclude from this that there does not appear to be a direct, causal relationship between Penguin penalties and increased AdWords spending. Now, one could of course make the argument that better search results might increase ad revenue in the future as Google attracts more users to a better search engine, but accusations of a fiduciary motivation for releasing updates like Penguin 2.0 cannot be substantiated with this data.

Do they recover?

By the 5th month, approximately 24% of sites that were penalized were at or above their pre-Penguin 2.0 traffic. This is an exciting outcome because it does show recovery from Penguin is possible. Perhaps most important, sites that were penalized and removed links on average recovered 28% more traffic in the five months after Penguin than those that did not remove links. We have good evidence to suggest at least a correlation between post-penalty link removal and traffic recovery. Of course, we do have to take this with a grain of salt for a number of reasons:

  • Sites that removed links may have been more likely to use the disavow tool as well.
  • Sites that removed links may have been more SEO-savvy in general and fixed on-site issues.
  • Sites that did not remove links may have had more intractable penalties, thus their lack of removal was a conscious decision related to the futility of a removal campaign.

These types of alternate explanations should always be entertained when using correlative statistics. What we do have good evidence of is that traffic recovery is possible for sites hit by Penguin, although it is by no means guaranteed or universal. Penguin 2.0 needn't be a death sentence.

Takeaways

So, in a few weeks, we are likely to see another Penguin update, assuming Google follows its late-spring release date. When Penguin hits, be ready—even if you aren't going to be penalized. Here are some things you should be doing...

  1. Know your bad links already. There is no reason to wait to be prepared for removal or disavowal. While I personally think that preemptive disavowal is likely the best practice, there is no excuse to just wait.
  2. Don't worry about AdWords. There is no statistical evidence that your competition will surge post-Penguin in any meaningful fashion. The competitors who might come to depend move on AdWords also have less organic revenue to invest in the first place. At best, these even out.
  3. Don't double down. While we can't be certain that link removal gets you out of penalties (it is merely correlated), we can be certain that even a correlation doesn't exist for increasing links and earning recovery post-Penguin penalties.
  4. Never assume. The behavior of your competitors and of Google itself is far more complex than off-the-cuff assumptions like "Google just penalizes sites to force people into AdWords" or that your business will know intuitively to remove or disavow links post-Penguin.

Hopefully, this time around we will all be more prepared for the appropriate response to Google's next big update—whether we are hit or not.


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Starting Over, Part 2: Launch

Posted by Dr-Pete

This post is a part of the "Starting Over" series, the story of starting a blog (MinimalTalent.com) from scratch. See the end of the post for links to the rest of the series.

Launching a new site is exciting, and it should be, but we sometimes let excitement get the best of us. After months of building and planning, it's understandable to want to finally pull the trigger, but launch is important and rushing it can delay real success. This is the story of how I got Minimal Talent off the ground.

Goods news and bad news

Online marketing has evolved a lot in the past decade, and changes to search and social have brought good news and bad news for webmasters. First, the good news – it's relatively easy to get a new site indexed in 2014, and even ranking for long-tail terms. You don't have to wait for Google to discover you or pay a search submission service (remember those?). Unfortunately, the bad news is that ranking on real, competitive terms has gotten harder, and it takes longer. Why am I telling you this up front? You need to have realistic expectations, or launch will be an unpleasant and ultimately unproductive experience.

Alerting the bots

You can't win if you don't play – if you want to eventually rank in search, you need to get indexed. In part 1, we set up Google Webmaster Tools and created an XML sitemap, which can be great for discovery. Next up is to submit your site.

Yes, submissions services may be [mostly] [hopefully] dead, but Google does allow direct submission of new pages. Go to Webmaster Tools, select the "Crawl" menu and click on "Fetch as Google" – you'll see something like this:

To submit your home-page, just leave the field blank and click [FETCH]. Your URL should show up at the bottom, and your "Fetch Status" should soon return "Success". Once it does, just click [Submit to index]. There is a limit to how many pages you can fetch, but typically I only use this to launch a site or refresh a page that is outdated or isn't getting re-cached.

Within minutes, I was showing up for a "site:" search (site:minimaltalent.com), with seven pages indexed (which was about right):

I promised this series would be transparent, so I have to admit that I messed up a little here. Apparently, Google had managed to crawl the site prior to my official launch, and had actually cached it a few days earlier (checked with cache:minimaltalent.com).

For me, this was no big deal, but it bears warning that, if you don't want your site to be out in the world prematurely, you may have to take steps to keep Google from crawling. Google has a way of finding new sites, which can be good and bad, depending on your plans.

Later on launch day, I was also ranking for my tagline ("Misadventures in Minimalism"), on page 1 in the #2 position:

I'd highly encourage you to track a few non-competitive, long-tail phrases (and, if you're a Moz customer, set them up in Moz Analytics). They may not seem sexy, but you'll see progress much sooner than with competitive phrases. It's important to know that your site at least has the ability to rank, in order to detect any issues early.

Link chickens & Search eggs

Which came first, the link chicken or the search egg? Ok, let me try again. If you want to rank, you're going to need links, but you can't get natural links if no one can find you to begin with. This is the fundamental problem of modern search marketing.

Yes, you can manually build links (and there's a place for that, done well and in moderation). Sometimes, though, we get so hung up on the mechanics of SEO that we forget that there are plenty of other channels to get the word out.

Alerting the humans

In other words, it's time to tell people you launched. I'm not one to broadcast every post I write to my friends, family, and tax guy, but launch is different – if you've created something you're excited about, then tell people. Who did I email?

  • Friends (IRL)
  • Industry peers
  • Co-workers
  • Private mailing lists

In most cases, the email was customized to the list and even the individual. These things are worth the effort. As a marketer, emailing my peers isn't just about a few pageviews – it's a way to seed social sharing and potentially even drive links.

The other way around the chicken-and-egg problem is taking full advantage of social. We tend to obsess about whether or not social signals (Tweets, Likes, +1s) have a direct impact on ranking, and when we do that we miss two important points. First, sharing equals visibility, regardless of what happens on Google. Second, sharing can drive links, and better yet, those links are editorial, or as we call them, "natural".

I shared the initial site and blog post on my main Twitter, Google+, and Facebook accounts. Since this project naturally has a visual aspect (the parody logos), it was well suited to Google+ and Facebook sharing, which tend to benefit from strong visuals.

I've wanted to put some time into Pinterest, so I set up a new folder just for the blog in my existing account, re-organized that account a bit, and then pinned some of the logos from the first post. Again, this project is visual, so Pinterest was a good fit.

My social screw-up

Ironically, I did on Pinterest what I tell everyone not to do on social media. I went to an account I rarely use and just started posting my own content. Since I'm not active, and I'm not sharing anyone else's content most days, guess what happened? That's right – absolutely nothing. A social media account is not a dumping ground for your crap. I failed to participate, and it's going to take time to make up that lost ground. Luckily, I'm more active on other networks, but give-and-take matters quite a bit.

You may be thinking that, because I have a strong existing network, success with a new project on social is guaranteed. I wish it were that easy. A year or so ago, I launched a personal project that soundly flopped. Part of that was in my execution and commitment, but part of it was that the topic was a bit far afield for my existing audience. One of my goals with Minimal Talent was to find a topic that could tie minimalist design into something my existing audience was already interested in – in this case, branding. Be aware how your audiences overlap (or don't).

Monitoring results

It can be hard to wait for results to come in, and patience is not one of my virtues. Luckily, Google gave us real-time analytics. While watching your numbers in real-time is an exercise in vanity most days, it can be very useful on launch day and during other big events. Are your social shares resonating? Which networks (if you stagger them in time) were most effective? Is it worth re-sharing on any particular network? Your real-time numbers can help make these calls.

I'm happy to say that I could actually see the needle move on launch day:

Fourteen active visitors isn't going to make me rich, but it was definitely a start. At least I could tell that my social shares were leading to actual visits.

As the days went by, traffic from my launch and first post showed a pretty normal pattern:

Opening day was solid, with 383 visits, there was a tiny bump a couple of days later, and then little or nothing (the bigger bump on the right is the second post and sharing). This is the reality of most launches – sustainable traffic comes later. For now, you're fighting for traffic post by post. If you expect launch day to be a benchmark of your day-to-day activity, you'll be in for a very rude awakening.

I especially liked Moz Analytics overview of my first week's traffic:

That's right: PLUS INFINITY AND BEYOND!

Finally, I set up Fresh Web Explorer (available to Moz Pro subscribers) – FWE lets you track fresh mentions of your site and keywords. Unfortunately, my brand "Minimal Talent" contains common words, and can trigger false alarms, but FWE also lets you track things like root domains. Here's how I set that up:

You can use the "rd:" operator to find new links to a root domain. On the main FWE screen, just click "Show search operators" to see a full list of options.

It felt good to be finally off the ground, and now I had the tools to start measuring my progress. Next time – how I handled initial SEO problems I discovered and finally started ranking for more interesting terms.

Read the full series

Use the links below to explore the entire "Starting Over" series:


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Building a Brand Online: The Golden Age of Digital

Posted by willcritchlow

This post is based on a talk I gave at our SearchLove conference in Boston last week. It ties quite closely with the post my colleague Ron Garrett wrote last week: Search Marketers Need to Evolve. You can probably tell we've been doing a lot of thinking about this.

When I gave this talk at SearchLove, I hoped that it would put in context why we bring such a range of speakers and topics together at our conferences and to inspire the attendees to go back to their companies and make real changes. I hope this post will do the same for you.

As digital marketers, our focus on analytics has served us well in driving direct, measurable sales. The dominant form of brand marketing, however, has remained offline with TV taking the lion's share of the budget and attention. We believe that as TV faces disruptive technology and business models, digital marketers have an opportunity to grow their influence and impact. In total, this is an opportunity worth tens of billions of dollars a year.

I'd very much like for us—our industry—you and me—to be the ones who benefit.

Despite all the growth we have seen in digital marketing spend, I think that we are only just entering what I'm calling the golden age of digital.

Building brands online first

We're entering the age when the biggest brands in the world will be built online first. I hope to convince you of two things: first, that this change is happening right now. And second, that we are the people to win in this world.

Starting at the beginning

There are some confident statements above, but the last few years have had their share of introspection and crises of confidence. We've put a lot of time and energy over the years into understanding the direction marketing is moving and capitalising on the shifts. Duncan and I originally started by thinking that networked computing was going to be a big deal and then started our company initially on the back of a simple CMS that we built to help small business owners take advantage of the self-publishing revolution.

As we shifted gears to focus more on the dominance of the search channel, we started trying to understand where Google in particular might be taking things.

We've written plenty about that over the years, but we were talking about effects similar to Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird years before they actually came to pass. Panda and Penguin started making our vision come true. We were more effective search marketers than we'd ever been because we'd largely bypassed building the infrastructure for search as it was and tried to build it for how search would be.

And yet something was wrong.

Powerful content was becoming ever more effective. And yet the greatest examples of content that we were seeing at search conferences weren't built by SEO agencies.

Brands were getting a bigger and bigger advantage in search. And yet the best brand builders weren't SEO agencies.

For a long time, we've talked about how "SEO" isn't a verb. You don't "SEO a website." Ranking well is an outcome, not an activity. It's like fame. "Famous" isn't a verb. You don't "famous someone." You get famous for doing other things (playing sport, performing music, appearing on TV). SEO is the same.

But what if we weren't the right people to do those things for people? What if we weren't the world's best PR firm, branding agency, or creative producers?

Don't worry. I got over my insecurity. I believe the capabilities that we have been building are going to grow in power and influence. Here's how:

The Innovator's Dilemma

It was Mark Suster who kick-started my confidence with his talk in San Diego [use this link and sign up for an account to get access to the video for free]. He's an entrepreneur-turned-investor. He's smart and opinionated.

He talked about maker studios at our conference. You might have heard a few weeks ago that Maker Studios sold to Disney for half a billion dollars.

Maker is a producer and distributor of online video. The turning point for me was in realising that the forces they were betting on were also rampaging towards our quirky, exciting, geeky little corner of the marketing world.

There's a book called The Innovator's Dilemma by a Harvard Business School professor named Clayton Christensen. It's a little dry, but if you're interested in business theory and technology, it's an absolute no-brainer: You should read it.

It describes two kinds of innovations that hit established markets. So-called "sustaining innovations" make existing processes faster, cheaper, or better. They can be very dramatic, but Professor Christensen's research shows that they almost always end up benefiting the incumbent players in the market.

In contrast to "sustaining innovations" stand "disruptive innovations," which are those that attack problems an entirely different way. They typically don't work as well as the existing solutions, perhaps solving only part of the problem, but have a structurally different cost. So they're "cheaper but worse."

Cheaper but worse

Doesn't sound too compelling, does it?

That's what the incumbents think. They may spot a potential opportunity, and may even pay lip service to the idea that they should be pursuing it, but ultimately, their economic incentives are skewed towards maintenance of the status quo.

Therein lies the dilemma.

There's often a subset of the market, for whom the new service is "good enough." It may not be gold-plated, but it solves their immediate needs and they can afford it. As they invest, it gets better and better, capturing more and more of the market opportunity until it's meeting the core needs of even the top end of the market while still being structurally cheaper. Money cascades to the new entrant and leaves the incumbents high and dry.

Let's go back to the "cheaper but worse" innovation for a second. To me, that sounds an awful lot like the idea of building a brand online. Let's look at the details:

  • The established way of building a brand for a generation has been via mass market TV advertising and other classic above-the-line spend. Spends of $100m+ are not uncommon.
  • Building a brand online is cheaper, yes, but right now, not as effective.
  • The incumbent brand-builders pay lip service to digital, but when you look at their corporate structure, their fee structures, and their economic incentives, and you realise that they'd far rather see TV get bigger than have to do all this messy web marketing.

So I think there is a disruption coming to brand marketing, and I don't think it's going to benefit the big guys.

Online first

I'm calling this whole phenomenon "online first": the biggest brands of tomorrow will be built online. This will be partly because the tools we have available to build brands online are going to get better and better, and partly because money is going to flow to digital from TV. I recently wrote about this in more detail in our Future of TV report:

I am definitely not saying that TV itself is in trouble. We live in an amazing time for TV content. You just have to look at shows like Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, and True Detective to see that we have exceptional content and more ways of accessing that content than ever before—and that's before we even get to Netflix and House of Cards. In part as a result of this resurgence, the total time spent watching video has increased every year recently.

Our devices are also getting better and better. The cost of big screens is coming down; we now have full HD on our mobile devices.

But the way we get our content is changing. 80% of US households have some form of internet-connected device paired with their TV according to gigaom research. Whether it's an Apple TV, Roku, Xbox, Chromecast or something else, we can increasingly watch anything we like on the big screen. And conversely, we can watch more and more of our "classic TV" content on smartphones, tablets, laptops and any other screen we can lay our hands on.

This particular part of the trend has been analysed to death. I'm not interested in that for the purposes of this analysis. I'm interested in the fragmenting viewership: In general, we're no longer all watching the same thing at the same time. That has profound impacts on the way TV advertising is bought and sold.

The innovator's dilemma predicts that the cost per unit of the high end of the old market will continue to rise even as the bottom starts to fall away. It's becoming ever more valuable to reach consumers on those rare occasions when we do all sit down at the same time to watch the same content.

The complexity of time-shifted internet-delivered content rapidly surpasses human optimisation ability. The upfront media market in which Oprah stands on stage and extols her show and the network and seeks tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of spend is a process which can't survive the move to digital-scale complexity (if you're interested in this, I wrote an introduction to TV advertising a few weeks ago).

Advertising against TV-like content will have to be bought more like AdWords. It has to become real-time (depending on who's actually watching at a given moment), it'll have to be market-priced in one form or another (because you can't negotiate all these things individually on the fly).

I'm in danger of getting dragged into deep economic arguments, but the effect of all this disruption is going to be a whole load of unbundling and a reallocation of budgets.

Of course, in part, this will open up opportunities in video marketing—both in brand-funded TV-like content and in video advertising against internet-delivered video (check out the talk by  Chris from Wistia's [PDF]). I don't think it's a given that the incumbent TV advertisers will dominate that space. It's structurally pretty different. We are certainly betting in this area—between  Phil and Margarita, we're already doing video strategy and execution for ourselves and our clients.

It's not all about video, though.

How our industry competes

There are three broad areas that we all need to get great at to take advantage of this opportunity. Video fits into the first of these, which is technical creativity—that place where technology and storytelling meet:

1. Technical creativity

I've been endlessly frustrated over the years by the creative storytellers who misunderstand (or don't even care about) technology. The stupid apps that no one uses. The branded social networks that nobody joins. The above-the-line campaigns telling you to search for phrases they don't rank for.

Old-school SEOs can spot crawl issues or indexing problems in their sleep. We've had to get good at things like analytics, UX, and conversion. Indeed, one of the most popular talks last week (and Slideshare of the day) was from  Aaron Weyenberg at TED, and was all about UX. The things that stood out to me the most were all about the different ways they listened to their audience and gathered feedback at different stages of the process. This incorporated everything from the standard hall-way tests through qualitative and quantitative surveying to a really nicely-executed beta. You can see the full deck here:

And we mustn't lose sight of the value of that technical knowledge. Screw up a migration and you're just as hosed as you've ever been.

For me personally, the creative is the more challenging part—but luckily it's not all about me. We've been  investing in creative for a while, and I loved the presentation our head of creative, Mark Johnstone gave last week entitled how to produce better content ideas. It really clarified my thinking in a few areas—particularly about the effort and research that should go in early in the process in order to give the "lightbulb moment" a chance. By coupling that with examples of deconstructing other people's creative (and showing us / giving us further reading on how to practice ourselves) he made a compelling argument that we can all do this so much better—and that not only designers can be "creative." I'm also looking forward to trying out the immersion techniques he talks about for getting from unstructured to structured. You can check out the full deck here:

[If you'd like to see more of the decks from Boston, you can currently get them here and in the next few weeks the videos will be available within DistilledU]

2. Broad promotional ability

The second capability we need after technical creativity is a broad promotional ability. This is your classic owned, earned and paid media.

As search marketers, we've typically focused primarily on the earned side of this—via outreach and digital PR—and my colleague Rob Toledo gave a great presentation about some of the cleverer forms of earned media in his presentation The Hunter/Gatherer. He talked in detail about ways of reaching that tricky kind of influencer—the one who wants to discover their own interesting share-worthy material. It was a funny presentation that contained some exceptional tactics. You can see the full deck here:

I think paid media is going to have an ever-increasing part to play in online brand building though. Pay Per Click is typically measured on direct response metrics—sending traffic to landing pages and converting them—but social and video advertising is on the rise. We increasingly spend money on promoting content instead of promoting landing pages. I expect that trend to continue.

The eagle-eyed among you might have noticed that this isn't inbound. I make no apology for that.

3. Influence and measurement throughout the Customer Lifecycle

Finally, alongside our technical creativity and promotional ability, we need to double down on our ability to influence and measure customer behaviour throughout the customer lifecycle.

We've all heard (or even been) the search experts who stand on stage and talk about the measurability of digital. Sometimes they go further and make off-hand comments about how you "can't measure TV."

Does anyone really believe that? Anyone think Proctor & Gamble or Unilever really waste half the money they spend?

One of the most mind-blowing talks I ever attended was at ad:tech a few years ago—it was a speaker from Ogilvy talking about the econometric models they use to measure their work for P&G. It was all about how they were tying together the influence of point-of-sale, coupon codes, TV, and other above-the-line advertising to understand what's making them the money. They are good at it but it's expensive. Our industry's stuff is cheap in comparison. It's not yet good enough but if we work hard and invest, it can be.

What I didn't say

Remember: I didn't say TV is dead. I didn't say search is dead. I said that our crazy blend of technical creativity, promotional chops and measurement skills is going to be the skillset that builds tomorrow's biggest brands. AND—crucially to the topic near and dear to much of the Moz audience's hearts, it's also going to be how you rank in Google.

Advertising is a half-trillion dollar a year industry struggling to understand its place in a digital world. I don't want the same old guys to win on our turf. The internet is our domain. Let's go get great at this.


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6 Changes We Always Thought Google Would Make to SEO that They Haven’t Yet – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

From Google's interpretation of rel="canonical" to the specificity of anchor text within a link, there are several areas where we thought Google would make a move and are still waiting for it to happen. In today's Whiteboard Friday, Rand details six of those areas. Let us know where you think things are going in the comments!

For reference, here's a still of this week's whiteboard!

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Today, I'm going to tackle a subject around some of these changes that a lot of us in the marketing and SEO fields thought Google would be making, but weirdly they haven't.

This comes up because I talk to a lot of people in the industry. You know, I've been on the road the last few weeks at a number of conferences -- Boston for SearchLove and SMX Munich, both of which were great events -- and I'm going to be heading to a bunch more soon. People have this idea that Google must be doing these things, must have made these advancements over the years. It turns out, in actuality, they haven't made them. Some of them, there are probably really good reasons behind it, and some of them it might just be because they're really hard to do.

But let's talk through a few of these, and in the comments we can get into some discussion about whether, when, or if they might be doing some of these.

So number one, a lot of people in the SEO field, and even outside the field, think that it must be the case that if links really matter for SEO, then on-topic links matter more than off-topic links. So, for example, if I'm linking to two websites here about gardening resources, A and B, both about gardening resources, and one of those comes from a botany site and the other one comes from a site about mobile gaming, well, all other things being true, it must be that the one about botany is going to provide a stronger link. That's just got to be the case.

And yet, we cannot seem to prove this. There doesn't seem to be data behind it or to support it. Anyone who's analyzed this problem in-depth, which a number of SEOs have over the years -- a lot of people, who are very advanced, have gone through the process of classifying links and all this kind of stuff -- seem to come to the same conclusion, which is Google seems to really think about links in a more subject/context agnostic perspective.

I think this might be one of those times where they have the technology to do it. They just don't want to. My guess is what they've found is if they bias to these sorts of things, they get a very insular view on what's kind of popular and important on the Web, and if they have this more broad view, they can actually get better results. It turns out that maybe it is the case that the gardening resources site that botanists love is not the one with mass appeal, is not the one that everyone is going to find useful and valuable, and isn't representing the entirety of what the Web thinks about who should be ranking for gardening resources. So they've kind of biased against this.

That is my guess. But from every observable input we've been able to run, every test I've ever seen from anybody else, it seems to be the case that if there's any bias, it's extremely slight, almost unnoticeable. Fascinating.

Number two, I'm actually in this camp. I still think that someday it's coming, that anchor text influence will eventually decline. Yet it seems to be that, yes, while other signals have certainly risen in importance, and there have been lots of other things, it seems that anchor text inside a link is still far more important and better than generic anchor text.

Getting specific, targeting something like "gardening supplies" when I link to A, as opposed to on the same page saying something like, "Oh, this is also a good resource for gardening supplies," but all I linked with was the text "a good resource" over to B, that A is going to get a lot more ranking power. Again, all other things being equal, A will rank much higher than B, because this anchor text is still pretty influential. It has a fairly substantive effect.

I think this is one of those cases where a lot of SEOs said, "Hey, anchor text is where a lot of manipulation and abuse is happening. It's where a lot of Web spam happens. Clearly Google's going to take some action against this."

My guess, again, is that they've seen that the results just aren't as good without it. This speaks to the power of being able to generate good anchor text. A lot of that, especially when you're doing content marketing kinds of things for SEO, depends on nomenclature, naming, and branding practices. It's really about what you call things and what you can get the community and your world to call things. Hummingbird has made advancements in how Google does a lot of this text recognition, but for these tough phrases, anchor text is still strong.

Number three, 302s. So 302s have been one of these sort of long-standing kind of messes of the Web, where a 302 was originally intended as a temporary redirect, but many, many websites and types of servers default to 302s for all kinds of pages that are moving.

So A301 redirects to B, versus C302 redirecting to D. Is it really the case that the people who run C plan to change where the redirect points in the future, and is it really the case that they do so more than A does with B?

Well, a lot of the time, probably not. But it still is the case, and you can see plenty of examples of this happening out in the search results and out on the Web, that Google interprets this 301 as being a permanent redirect. All the link juice from A is going to pass right over to B.

With C and D, it appears, with big brands, when the redirect's been in place for a long time and they have some trust in it, maybe they see some other signals, some other links pointing over here, that yes, some of this does pass over, but it is not nearly what's happening with a 301. This is like a directive, and this is sort of a nudge or a hint. It just seems to be important to still get those 301s, those right kinds of redirects right.

By the way, there are also a lot of other kinds of 30X status codes that can be issued on the Web and that servers might fire. So be careful. You see a 305, a 307, 309, something weird, you probably want a 301 if you're trying to do a permanent redirect. So be cautious of that.

(Number four): Speaking of nudges and hints versus directives, rel="canonical" has been an interesting one. So when rel="canonical" first launched, what Google said about rel="canonical" is rel="canonical" is a hint to us, but we won't necessarily take it as gospel.

Yet, every test we saw, even from those early launch days, was, man, they are taking it as gospel. You throw a rel="canonical" on a trusted site accidentally on every page and point it back to the homepage, Google suddenly doesn't index anything but the homepage. It's crazy.

You know what? The tests that we've seen run and mistakes -- oftentimes, sadly, it's mistakes that are our examples here -- that have been made around rel="canonical" have shown us that Google still has this pretty harsh interpretation that a rel="canonical" means that the page at A is now at B, and they're not looking tremendously at whether the content here is super similar. Sometimes they are, especially for manipulative kinds of things. But you've got to be careful, when you're implementing rel="canonical", that you're doing it properly, because you can de-index a lot of pages accidentally.

So this is an area of caution. It seems like Google still has not progressed on this front, and they're taking that as a pretty basic directive.

Number five, I think, for a long time, a lot of us have thought, hey, the social web is rising. Social is where a lot of the great content is being shared, a lot of where people are pointing to important things, and where endorsements are happening, more so, potentially, than the link graph. It's sort of the common man's link graph has become the social web and the social graph.

And yet, with the exception of the two years where Google had a very direct partnership with Twitter and those tweets and indexation, all that kind of stuff was heavily influential for Google search results, since that partnership broke up, we haven't seen that again from Google. They've actually sort of backtracked on social, and they've kind of said, "Hey, you know, tweets, Facebook shares, likes, that kind of stuff, it doesn't directly impact rankings for everyone."

Google+ being sort of an exception, especially in the personalized results. But even the tests we've done with Google+ for non-personalized results have appeared to do nothing, as yet.

So these shares that are happening all over social, I think what's really happening here is that Google is taking a look and saying, "Hey, yes, lots of social sharing is going on." But the good social sharing, the stuff that sticks around, the stuff that people really feel is important is still, later on at some point, earning a citation, earning a link, a mention, something that they can truly interpret and use in their ranking algorithm.

So they're relying on the fact that social can be a tip-off or a tipping point for a piece of content or a website or a brand or a product, whatever it is, to achieve some popularity, but that will eventually be reflected in the link graph. They can wait until that happens rather than using social signals, which, to be fair, there's some potential manipulation, I think that they're worried about exposing themselves too. There's also, of course, the case that they don't have direct access. Well, they don't have API-level access and partnerships with Facebook and Twitter anymore, and so that could be causing some of that too.

Number six, last one. I think a lot of us felt like, as Google was cleaning up web spam, for a long time they talked about cleaning up web spam, from '06, '07 to about 2011, 2012, it was pretty sketchy. It was tough.

When they did start cleaning up web spam, I think a lot of us thought, "Well, eventually they're going to get to PPC too." I don't mean pay-per-click. I mean porn, pills, and casino.

But it turns out, as Matt Brown, from Moz, wisely and recently pointed out in his SearchLove presentation in Boston, that, yes, if you look at the search results around these categories, whatever it is -- Buy Cialis online, Texas hold-'em no limit poker, removed for content, because Whiteboard Friday is family-friendly, folks -- whatever the search is that you're performing in these spheres, this is actually kind of the early warning SERPS of the SEO world.

You can see a lot of the changes that Google's making around spam and authority and signal interpretation. One of the most interesting ones that you probably observed, if you study this space, is a lot of those hacked .edu pages, or barnacle SEO that was happening on sub-domains of more trusted sites that had gotten a bunch of links, that kind of stuff, that is ending a little bit. We're seeing a little bit more of the rise, again, of like the exact match domains and some of the affiliate sites and getting links from more creative places, because it does seem like Google's gotten quite a bit better at which links they consider and in how they judge the authoritativeness of pages that might be hanging on or clinging onto a domain, but aren't well linked to internally on some of those more trusted sites.

So, that said, I'm looking forward to some fascinating comments. I'm sure we're going to have some great discussions around these. We'll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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The Holy Grail Of Building Communities: Developing A Strong Sense of Community

Posted by RichardMillington

None of the technology released in the past five years has made us better at building communities.

It's made it easier to build communities, but it hasn't made us better at building communities.

In fact, much of it has proved a costly distraction that has reduced the chances of us succeeding.

We say that with confidence. We've crunched, munched, and otherwise stared at numbers until our eyes bleed. Technology tweaks, barring a correction for an earlier mistake, rarely have a big long-term impact upon a community's level of growth and activity.

We've had organizations invest millions (the record was $2.1m) on a new community platform to revive a fading community. That's a lot of money to waste. That's at the ' people getting fired' level of money.

There is a far better approach to making our communities more successful. It doesn't involve big technology overhauls or spammy marketing pushes.

It's creating a sense of community.

In this post, I'm going to outline why the sense of community is the missing piece of the community puzzle, the power of a strong sense of community, and how we can use social science to guide us.

The closest thing we have to a silver bullet

Sense of community is the idea that community is experienced (or imagined).

The only people in a community are those that believe they are, not those that have completed a registration form  in 30 seconds.

When people are really members of a community, they feel a strong psychological connection to that group.  They sacrifice part of their own identity to accept, embrace, and then defend the group identity.

Sense of community has been shown to significantly  increase activity, increase customer loyalty and buying behaviour, higher levels of brand advocacyincrease knowledge exchange, and reduced tendency to engage in negative behaviors.

The research here is about as conclusive as the existence of gravity. This can lead to only one conclusion, that we absolutely must be developing a sense of community among our members.

It's not a silver bullet for community professionals, but it's the closest thing we will ever get to a silver bullet.

The problem at the moment is most community professionals completely ignore this. They don't try to create a strong sense of community among their members. Those that do don't understand the principles of doing so. They hop from one idea to the next hoping each new idea will give them the sense of community explosion they crave.

Let's change this. If we want to immediately be much better at building communities, let's master the core principles of fostering a sense of community.

The four foundations for sense of community were highlighted in a landmark article published David McMillan and David Chavis in 1986. These are:

1) Membership

2) Influence

3) Integration and fulfilment of needs

4) Shared emotional connections

Membership is the feeling that an individual has a right to belong in the community and can identify other members who also have the right to belong in a community. It comprises four attributes:

1) Boundaries

2) Emotional safety

3) Personal investment

4) A common symbol system.

You can intentionally add (or manipulate) each attribute to your community.

1) Boundaries

Boundaries separate insiders from outsiders. Boundaries are what separate your community from mainstream society. They allow members to be themselves and emotionally open to the group.

Boundaries can be real (think gated communities) or imagined (common experience). They can include rituals and traditions. The higher the boundary, the stronger the sense of community.

The easiest way to increase the sense of community is to raise the boundary to being an accepted member of the community. This usually means developing a more narrow focus for the community. We can use Ramit Sethi's two-qualifier method here.

The best communities are those for {x} who do {y}. Where {x} and {y} are demographic, habits, or psychographic variables (who we are, what we do/have done/can do, and what we think/feel). See the table below:

You need to pick at least two. 

If you have an existing community and want a stronger community, simply add another boundary to the focus of the community.

This is why smaller communities typically have a stronger community (and more active membership) than the larger behemoths. If we look at the different types of community, we see a LARGE number of communities with multiple qualifiers.


The RockAndRoll tribe is a community for middle-aged (demographics) people who love rock and roll (psychographics). Not for those that love rock and roll, not for those middle-aged, but a very specific group that feel a strong sense of community with one another.

Below,  BackPacking Light is for travellers (habits) who want to have the lightest possible backpacks (psychographics). This crowd completely geek out on shaving a few grams off their backpacks.

If you have an existing community, it's quite easy to increase the sense of community by adding a common shared goal to the group and making this goal explicit.

Most communities, especially those created by organizations, are aimless. Ask 10 members what they want to achieve in the future or what they fear and add that as a boundary. E.g. " This is a community for HR professionals who want to embrace collaborative learning. "

If that's not possible, look at age, location, or experience factors. If say only people with five years' experience in the field can join, everyone with 5+ years of experience will want to join. That's powerful.

The community for StudentDoctors, for example, might not look like much – but it hosts almost 15m posts from 419,224 members. That makes it more popular than almost any community for doctors. This group has common goals, experiences, and shared connections with one another.

Our own community, CommunityGeek, only accepts community professionals with a strong track record in the social sciences. It's the two qualifiers that ensure we feel a strong connection to one another.

We can also embrace a process known as boundary maintenance in communities. This is a process by which boundaries are made more visible and reinforced by references to it and, most importantly, rituals and traditions.

In college groups, this used to be the reason behind hazing. Sadly, this isn't something we can do in our communities. However, we have a ritual we make new members go through. We usually ask them to share their biggest mistakes.

This is a powerful discussion for three reasons. It's usually funny and interesting to new members, most people can identify with the mistakes, and it makes people emotionally open to the group.

It's also a discussion that almost anyone can participate in. Guide people towards these discussions as opposed to the generic and tedious introduce yourself discussion. Make the introduction process fun and part of a ritual your community uses.

Alternatively, use an experience-based discussion. For example, BaristaExchange, below, asks members to share how they learned to roast. You can adapt this to any community you're working on:

How/where did you learn to {x}?

When did you become interested in {y}?



2) Emotional safety

Communities should be a place where we can talk about things that we can't talk about anywhere else. Sometimes that is a ferocious 40,000 word debate about whether to capitalize the I in Star Trek: iInto Darkness. Usually it's about discussing the geekiest or more hardcore topics.

There aren't many places you can discuss current detection an a Allegro ACS756 on an ATmega328. Luckily, the terrific Element14 community (by Premier Farnell) is one of them.

You should push your community to discussing the things they can't discuss anywhere else. It might be being frustrated at how difficult it is to lose weight with diabetes.

Communities should be a place where feel comfortable discussing the most difficult, geekiest, or most hardcore topics in our space. Very often, this means you need to initiate exactly these sorts of discussions.

Some communities, like GAIA Online really want to discuss who would win in a fight between Kirk and Spock. This gives them a feeling of emotional safety within the group. It leads to strange sounding posts like these:

Make sure your community is the place to discuss the geekiest and most emotive topics in your sector.

3) Personal investment

Members want to work to feel they have earned their place in the group. The more they have invested their time, resources, energy, emotions into the community they more they will continue to participate to avoid cognitive dissonance.

The more we have invested into the success of the community, the more we feel a connection to that group. The challenge is provide people easy, but meaningful, methods of investing in the group at the beginning. We want to work to fit in and be accepted.

There are a few simple tactics you can apply here. One is to turn your community's registration form into an application form. This is a nifty act of psychological ju-jitsu. The community becomes a place that you can join to a place that you might be able to join if you're good enough. People that apply are far more likely to participate. We use this in CommunityGeek.

Another simple tactic shown above is priming members to be in the participation mindset when they join.

We ask new members what they can offer the community when they join the group. This forces them to think what skills and experiences they have and how they could contribute them. Once they are approved (if they are accepted), they know what they can do. They know what investments they can make in the community. They also feel they have earned their place in the community, as per above.

Don't send your newcomers aimlessly into the group. Guide them towards positive actions they will convert them into regular members. Josh Elman's talk at the HabitSummit is worth watching here (skip to 20 minutes in).

The most highly converting action we know of are self-disclosure discussions. These are bonding-orientated self-discussions where we reveal information about our experiences, our thoughts/opinions on different topics, or information about who we are.

These discussions make people feel  a stronger sense of connection to the group, especially a virtual group.

The BaristaExchange example above is a good idea here. Some types of discussions tend to work in all sectors. For example:

  • How did you first become interested in {topic}?
  • What was your biggest success in {topic}?
  • What was your worst mistake in {topic}?
  • Who do you most admire in {topic}?
  • Show off your best {topic-related thing}

Feel free to use your own. The goal is to guide a member to participate in this discussion within the first few minutes of registering for the community.

You need to indoctrinate them into the social aspect of the community. Guide members to participate in exactly these sorts of discussions via your post-registration page, confirmation/welcome e-mail, autoresponders, and in any personal messages to newcomers.

Update and rotate the discussion on a regular basis to keep it fresh.

Once someone participates they're more likely to visit again to see the response to their contribution. They get caught up in the notification cycle of visiting, contributing, being notified of a response, and visiting again.

Via this process they also become socialized into the community. They get to know the other members.

The community membership lifecycle is fickle; you need to offer members the opportunity to make the right investments at the right time. These investments gradually build up until a member becomes a regular participant in your community and feels a strong sense of connection to the group.

4) Common symbol system

A big problem facing branded communities is the community feels like an inauthentic marketing attempt to peddle whatever the organization is selling this month.

You get companies initiating conversations like this:

I don't know "MB_Melissa".

She might genuinely be looking forward to hearing what you think.

She might be on the edge of her seat, refreshing the page constantly in anticipation of the impending eruption of responses. But I doubt it.

I've never seen a member initiate a discussion using the phrase "Product Discussion". Those very words conjure negative connotations. The body of the content will make members cringe. The half-hearted and unnatural segue into a discussion feels repulsive.

Inauthentic symbols undermine any possible sense of community. The only way to overcome this is by bringing common symbol systems into the community.

You need to identify the words, images, ideas, and signs that have a unique meaning to community members and spread them liberally throughout your community.

This means mentioning them in content, naming the community after them (e.g. Element14 is quite literally a symbol here), and naming parts of the community after them. I don't know much about the  Coconut Monkeyhead Fun Club, but it's very popular in Carnival's terrific community.

Talk to members of the target audience and pay special attention to the expressions they use which have a unique meaning to them but not to outsiders. Then use these symbols throughout the community.

This also means replicating their tone of voice and language style. That can be difficult for many organizations to accept. This is why communities initiated by amateurs are far more successful than those initiated by people paid to develop them on behalf of organizations.

Action points:

  • Raise the boundary to being an accepted member of the community.
  • Encourage more personal investments of time, energy, emotions, and resources.
  • Introduce a ritual to the newcomer process.
  • Introduce shared symbols to the community content (and name)

People only participate in a community if they feel they can influence the community. Notice the word feel in that sentence. Not everyone will be able to influence the community, but everyone needs to feel they could influence the community.

A big mistake of branded communities is they don't offer members enough influence. We have efficacy needs to satisfy. To create this feeling we need to do two things.

First, we need to create plenty of opportunities for members to have influence.

Second, we need to amplify the influence that members do have.

Creating opportunities for influence

Communities should provide members keen to be more involved with a simple process of becoming more involved. If members want to write a regular column, help run areas of the site, interview experts, organize events, approve and welcome new members or lend their expertise, the community should have a place where they can do that.

You can also interview the key members in the community that aren't putting themselves forward but would benefit from the influence they then receive.

Feature contributions. Prominently feature the contributions of members on the community platform. If a member makes a great contribution, mention it in a news article and encourage the member to write a column based upon the topic.

Write about your members. Use your content to write what members are doing. Talk about their milestones. It might be a work achievement, a topic-related success or even a lifestyle success. If a member is getting married or has a child, is climbing a mountain congratulate them. Profile members that are doing interesting things.

Promote existing expertise. Find members who are already experts in a niche topic within your field and invite them to have their own Ask Me areas in the community.

This both encourages the existing members to participate more, shows other members that they too could have their own ask me area, and gives other members a reliable source of expertise on a particular topic.

Or, if you have high-profile people in your sector, Reddit's AMA (ask me anything) is an alternative approach that is usually entertaining and helps bond the community into a group.

Just be careful that the interviewee fully understands the concept.

Once people have had an influence, amplify and showcase the influence to the rest of the community. Write case studies, add it to your community's epic community history, and mention it in your news posts and your newsletters. Shine as big a spotlight on the influence members have had as possible.

The needs of the community and the individual need to align in a manner that's beneficial to both. Too many communities focus on pumping out endless content. This attracts a lot of people to read, but not to participate.

This doesn't satisfy our needs to be a part of a group with a strong identity.

We want to join groups that make us better than we are today. We want to associate with the best, brightest, smartest, or otherwise most valued people in our sector. We want to feel they have the same-shared values as we do.

Status of being a member

Being an accepted member should be a status symbol that members can embrace. You need to raise the profile of the community outside of the platform. Make sure it gets featured in relevant media. Set goals for the community to achieve, and achieve them. The more you raise the profile of your community, the more members want to join.

People do not join communities they don't feel will succeed. If your community looks quiet/empty, you need to remove the dead areas of the site set small milestones the community can achieve early on. Concentrate activity in as small an area as possible so the community feels active.

In CommunityGeek, we have no forum categories at all. All the activity takes place on the landing page of the community. This makes the community feel very active very early on.

If your community is highly active, then show off this high level of activity. Highlight the quantity and quality of comments in the community. Make people they are participating in something they has momentum and is successful.

The frontpage of FetLife, a community for people with alternative sexual lifestyles (NSFW), posts the numbers to all members on the landing page of community along with testimonials about the site.

Competence

You need to attract and retain talented and knowledgeable members.

People want to be in a community with the best and brightest. You need to attract them (appeal to their ego – weekly columns, interviews etc…) and keep them engaged in the community. You need to ensure your community is the best fountain of knowledge for your topic in your industry.

The best method of attracting key figures is to appeal to their ego. Interview them, write about them in news posts, feature their work, create community awards you can give them, or rank.

Alternatively, make the community exclusive and only for the best people in the topic. All the best people in the topic will want to join (but pretend they don't care about it).

Shared values

Members have to feel that fellow members share the same values. One method of doing that is creating a constitution or purpose statement for the community (mission statement has negative connotations). This outlines why the community exists, what the community believes in, and what the community intends to achieve.

You can send this out to all new members when they join the community to begin indoctrinating them into the culture of the community.

Overcoming Bias, for example, posts the following statement:

This highlights to newcomers why this site exists and the purpose it serves its members. Your community should do the same. It's usually best to base the community around one of BJ Fogg's motivations[xlv]. It should be based around pleasure, reducing pain, hope for a change in the world, reducing fear of something bad happening, social inclusion, or avoiding social exclusion.

The communities with the strongest sense of community oscillate at the same emotional frequency. They are happy, sad, and angry at the same things at the same time. Developing this shared emotional connection is difficult.

A shared emotional connection comprises of several elements. These include regular contact, good quality of interactions, shared experiences, shared history, and emotional openness.

Ensure regular contact

The more people interact, the more likely they will like each other. This is based upon the  mere exposure effect. The more we are exposed to something, the more we like it. In the contact hypothesis, the more frequently we come into contact with other people, the more likely we are to like them.

Your members need to regularly interact with each other. Don't wait for these interactions to happen, proactively do things that drive these interactions.

Initiate regular weekly online discussions. Have live discussion topics around different issues, interview VIPs in your sector live, organize online and offline challenges or quizzes. Make sure your members are interacting with each other as frequently as possible.

Make the interactions meaningful

The interactions have to be meaningful. Exchanging information is fine, but limited. Introducing and highlighting (via sticky threads etc…) bonding-related or status-jockeying discussions will improve the quality to discussions.

Don't try to overly control what members want to talk about or force members to talk about the topics you want to see more of. Let members lead the discussion and see where it goes. At the British Medical Journal's Doc2Doc community, we found most doctors didn't want to spend their spare time sharing medical advice. In fact, they want to debate ethical dilemmas.

The most popular ever discussion was this one below; was it wrong to use medical care to track down Osama Bin Laden?

This means you need to allow off-topic discussions. If members can only ever talk about the topic, they will never get to know each other personally. If they can't personally get to know more about each other (or even remember previous contributions of members), they'll never feel a strong sense of community with that group.

This is why it's common for the off-topic discussions to be the most popular discussions in the majority of communities. People want to connect and get to know more about each other. Don't shut these down.

Shared history

Ensure your community has an epic and explicit history. Write it down. Talk about the major events and activities that have taken place within the community. Make sure all newcomers understand the narrative of the community their joining and their place within it.

Nostalgia is good here too. Subtle reminders to positive events which have taken place in the past reinforce the community identity.

Provoke emotional discussions

A final tactic is to introduce more emotionally provocative discussions. Members are likely to feel the same way about the same things at the same time.

If you can provoke those discussions, members are likely to share their feelings with one another about the topic.

If you begin introducing the above elements into your community, you should begin to notice members feeling more familiar, the tone and the language chances, and the overall sense of community begin to develop.

Measuring the sense of community

Measuring something as intangible as the sense of community is difficult. It doesn't show up in Google Analytics. You have to survey a sample of members using the sense of community index (SCI-2) developed by David Chavis at CommunityScience.com.

Don't invite all members to compete the survey. This will lead to a non-response bias. Those most likely to feel a strong sense of community are also those most likely to complete the survey. You need to segment your community in four groups and obtain a sample from each group which broadly represents the community.

We do this every quarter with some of our client communities. Here is an example:


This is an example of an average sense of community result for a former client.

However this only paints a broad picture of what happened in the community. The index allows us to identify which aspects of the sense of community are present and which need further development.

Here you see that the sense of community was initially low within this client's community. We decided to tackle one aspect at a time and improve that. In this case, we chose influence. We decided to give members as many opportunities to feel influential within the group.

This means we sub-divided the community into smaller groups, we increased the number of interviews, we created opportunities for members to interview one another, and we began mentioning the names of members in every single news post we published in the community.

The level of influence rose immediately. Next we would tackle the shared emotional connection with positive (although not quite as impressive) effects. The power of this index is in identifying specifically what you can improve and then using the tactics above to improve it.

Do you want a community that lasts for 30 years?

Last year, I had the opportunity to meet John Coates. Most people haven't heard of John; he's the world's first ever online community manager. He was the community manager of The WELL – the first online community. The WELL was founded in 1985.

When you listen to John speak, you realize that throughout the entire history of the community they have always had an incredibly strong sense of community among the group.

Developing a powerful sense of community is the most effective thing anyone managing a community can do to increase the level of growth, activity, and value over the community over the long-term.

Developing a sense of community will give you a community that lasts for years, maybe decades, instead of month.

Developing a sense of community is something each one of us is able to do among any group of people. Once you know and understand the elements above, it's easy to use them to build any number of successful communities.

Good luck!

You can download half of my book,  Buzzing Communities, for free here: http://course.feverbee.com/learn-more

The Student Room Registration Form (2014) The Student Room Group Ltd <Available from: http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk> [accessed April 9th, 2014]

McMillan, D. and Chavis, D (1984) Sense of Community: A Definition and Theory, Journal of Community Psychology, Vol 14, No. 1. pp 6 – 23.

Ellemers, N., Kortekaas, P., and Ouwerkerk, W.W. (1999) Self-categorisation, commitment to the group and group self-esteem as related but distinct aspects of social identity, European Journal of Social Psychology, Vol 29, No. 2-3 pp. 371 – 389.

Koh, J., Kim YG, Kim, YG (2003) Sense of Virtual Community: A conceptual framework and empirical validation, International Journal of Electronic Commerce, Vol 8, No. 2. pp. 75 – 93.

Yoo, W-S, Suh, K-S, and Lee, M-B, (2002) Exploring the Factors Enhancing Member Participation in Virtual Communities, Journal of Global Information Management, Vol 10. No. 3. pp. 55 – 71.

Kim, W.G., Lee, C., Hiemstra, S.J. (2004) Effects of an online virtual community on customer loyalty and travel product purchases, Tourism Management, Vol 25. No. 3. pp. 343 – 355.

Woisetschlager, D.M., Hartleb, V., and Blut, M. (2008) How To Make Brand Communities Work: Antecedents and Consequences of Consumer Participation, Journal of Relationship Marketing, Vol 7. No. 3. pp. 237 – 256.

Rosenbaum, M.S., Ostrom, A.L., Kuntze, R. (2005) Loyalty programs and a sense of community, Journal of Services Marketing, Vol 19. No. 4. pp. 222 – 233

Carlson, B. D., Suter, T.A., Brown, T.J. (2008) Social versus psychological brand community: The role of psychological sense of brand community, Journal of Business Research, Vol 61. No. 4. pp. 284 – 291.

Pajuniemi, J. (2009), The Revolution of Brand Marketing: The Era of Virtual Consumer Communities, IN: Koskela, M. and Vinnari, M (2009) Future of the Consumer Society, Proceedings of the Conference "Future of The Consumer Society" 28 – 29 May, 2009.

Poramate, K. Danbury, A.H., Parrot, G. (2012) Online behaviour of luxury brand advocates: differences between active advocates and passive loyalists, The 11th International Conference on Research in Advertising (ICORIA) June 28-30, Stockholm.

Lyu, J.W (2012) The Role of Sense of Community in Online Brand Social Networking Sites, PhD diss., University of Tennessee, 2012.

A. Hars, S.S. Ou (2002) Working for free? Motivations for participating in open-source projects, International Journal of Electronic Commerce, Vol 6. No. 3. pp. 25 – 39.

W.S. Yoo, K.S. Suh, M.B. Lee (2002) Exploring factors enhancing member participation in virtual communities, Journal of Global Information Management, Vol 10. No. 3. pp. 55–71.

Sharratt, M. and Usoro, A. (2003), Understanding Knowing-Sharing in Online Communities of Practice, Electronic Journal on Knowledge Management, Vol 1. No. 2. pp. 187 – 196.

Hiltz, S.R., Wellman, B. (1997) Asynchronous Learning Networks as A Virtual Classroom, Communication of the ACM, Vol 40. No. 9 pp. 44 – 49.

Ramit Sethi (2011) The Two Qualifier Method, Mint.com <available from: https://www.mint.com/blog/how-to/make-more-money-sethi-02032011/?doing_wp_cron=1396951372.4350121021270751953125> [accessed April 8, 2014]

FeverBee (2014) Types of Community, FeverBee <available from: http://course.feverbee.com/TypesofCommunities.pdf> [Accessed: April 9th, 2014]

RockAndRoll Tribe (2014) RockAndRoll Tribe Homepage <available from: http://www.rockandrolltribe.com> [Accessed: April 8th, 2014]

BackPackingLight (2014) BackPackingLight Homepage <available from: http://www.backpackinglight.com> [Accessed: April 8th, 2014]

StudentDoctor (2014) StudentDoctor.net Homepage <available from: http//www.studentdoctor.net > [Accessed: April 9th, 2014]

CommunityGeek (2014) CommunityGeek homepage <Available from: http://www.communitygeek.com> [Accessed: April 9th, 2014]

BaristaExchange (2014) BaristaExchange Homepage <Available from: http://www.baristaexchange.com> [Accessed: April 9th, 2014]

Morris, K. (2013) Wikipedians wage war over capital "I" in new "Star Trek" Film, The Daily Dot <Available from: http://www.dailydot.com/society/wikipedia-star-trek-into-darkness-capitalization/> [Accessed: April 9, 2014]

Element14 (2014) Premier Farnell, Element 14 Homepage <Available from: http://www.element14.com> [Accessed April 9, 2014]

Element14 (2014) Current Detection with a Allergro ACS2756 on an ATmega328 <available from: http://www.element14.com/community/thread/17281/l/current-detection-with-a-allegro-acs756-on-an-atmega328> [Accessed April 8, 2014]

3fatchicks (2014) Is anyone else frustrated about not losing weight with diabetes <available from: http://www.3fatchicks.com/forum/diabetes-support/290150-anyone-else-frustrated-about-not-losing-weight-diabetes.html> [Accessed April 9, 2014]

GAIA Online (2014) Captain Kirk Vs. Spock: Who Would Win <Available from: http://www.gaiaonline.com/forum/entertainment-discussion/captain-kirk-vs-spock-who-would-win/t.52739703_16/> [Accessed April 9, 2014]

Aronson, E., &Mills, J. (1959). The effect of severity of initiation on liking for a group. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Vol. 59, pp. 177-181.

Josh Elman (2014) How Twitter Build User Habits, Habit Summit 2014 <available from: http://2014.habitsummit.com/video/87544293> [Accessed April 9, 2014]

Joinson AN (2001) Self-disclosure in computer-mediated communication: the role of self-awareness and visual anonymity, European Journal of Social Psychology, Vol 31, No. 2. pp. 177 - 192

FeverBee (2014) The Community Membership Lifecycle <available from: http://course.feverbee.com/CommunityMembershipLifecycle.pdf> [Accessed April 9, 2014]

GenerationBenz (2014) Cadillac Product Discussion (Hosted by Melissa), Generation Benz <available from: http://generationbenz.com/> [Accessed April 8, 2014]

Coconut Monkeyhead Fun Club (2014) Coconut Monkeyhead Fun Club, Carnival <available from: http://www.carnival.com/Funville/forums/t/188592.aspx> [Accessed April 8, 2014]

Carnival Funville (2014) Carnival Funville Homepage <Available from: http://www.carnival.com/funville/forums/> [Accessed April 9, 2014]

Mixergy (2014) Interview: saluting our top community member <available from: http://blog.mixcloud.com/2010/01/26/interview-saluting-our-top-community-member/> [Accesssed April 9, 2014]

Mashable (2012) Top 6 Comments on Mashable This Week <available from: http://mashable.com/2012/01/07/top-6-comments/> [Accessed April 9, 2014]

Element14 (2009) Have a question about ADCs or DACs> Ask our Expert, Nick Gray <available from: http://www.element14.com/community/thread/2449/l/have-a-question-about-adcs-or-dacs-ask-our-expert-nick-gray> [Accessed April 9, 2014]

Reddit (2011) IAM Christopher Pool, aka "moot," founder of 4chan & Canvas. AMA! <available from: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/gdzfi/iam_christopher_poole_aka_moot_founder_of_4chan/> [Accessed April 9, 2014]

Crugnale, J (2012) Woody Harrelson AMA (Ask me Anything Goes Disatrously Wrong On Reddit, Mediaite <available from: http://www.mediaite.com/online/woody-harrelson-ama-ask-me-anything-goes-disastrously-wrong-on-reddit> [Accessed April 9, 2014]

FeverBee (2009) Write an Epic History <Available from: http://www.feverbee.com/2009/11/epichistory.html> [Accessed April 8, 2014]

Greenslade, R. (2014) Mumsnet Backs No More Page 3 Campaign, Guardian Online <available from: http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2014/jan/24/mumsnet-page-3> [Accessed: April 9, 2014]

FetLife (2014) FetLife Homepage <Available from: http://www.fetlife.com> [Accessed: April 9, 2014]

Overcoming Bias (2014) Overcoming Bias About Page <available from: http://www.overcomingbias.com/about> [Accessed April 9, 2014]

Fogg, BJ (2009) A behavior model for persuasive design, IN: Proceedings Persuasive '09 Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Persuasive Technology.

Zajonc, R.B. (1968). Attitudinal Effects Of Mere Exposure, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 9, No. 2. pp. 1 - 27

FeverBee (2010) The Basics of Increasing Interactions In Any Online Community <Available from: http://www.feverbee.com/2010/10/interactions.html> [Accessed April 9, 2014]

Doc2Doc (2014) Doc2Doc Homepage, British Medical Journal <available from: http://doc2doc.bmj.com/> [Accessed April 9, 2014]

Matthew Billingsley (2010) Was it wrong to use medical care as a reason to track down Bin Laden?, Doc2Doc, British Medical Journal <available from: http://doc2doc.bmj.com/forums/off-duty_news-media_wrong-use-medical-care-reason-trap-bin-laden_.0> [Accessed April 8, 2014]

CommunityScience (2014) Sense of Community Index 2 (SCI-2): Background, Instrument, and Scoring Instructions <available from: http://www.communityscience.com/pdfs/Sense%20of%20Community%20Index-2(SCI-2).pdf> [Accessed April 9, 2014]

CommunityScience (2014) Community Science Homepage <available from: http://www.communityscience.com> [Accessed April 9, 2014]

Wikipedia (2014) Non-response bias <Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-response_bias> [Accessed April 9, 2014]

The Well (2014) The Well homepage <Available from: http://www.well.com> [Accessed April 9, 2014]

Interested in learning more about the science behind community building? Rich Millington will be speaking on How to Use Social Science to Build Addictive Communities at this year's MozCon, July 14-16 in Seattle. Register today!


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!

Search Marketers Need to Evolve: Google is Rewarding Marketing Strategists

Posted by RonGarrett

In the last three years at Distilled, I have sold approximately $5 million in marketing services to over 100 businesses. Initially, the vast majority of the business I sold was in search, but over time it has evolved to encompass different facets of marketing because we are now headed towards a hyper-competitive future. In order for our industry to continue to thrive, we need to set ourselves apart. I wanted to share some of my experience in how I was able to overcome some of the challenges our search industry is facing when it comes to competing in this post-Hummingbird, post-Penguin, post-(not provided) environment. I've found that it is extremely important to:

  • Know what questions to ask when you have the opportunity to pitch at the executive level.
  • Know why you're investing in specific marketing channels (i.e. if I invest $x,xxx in this channel for y number of months, I can anticipate z amount of traffic and revenue).
    • The goal is to invest first in the channels that you are most confident will generate the greatest increases in traffic and revenue in the short-term. Once you achieve this, your client has validation to request more budget internally to develop more long-term, less immediate-ROI driven activities. 

For many years now, search marketing has been a wide open market, with more business to go around than we have known what to do with. Brand after brand has recognized their need for help with search visibility, but they have not necessarily been clear on what that would entail. This led to the gold rush of search.

While many larger agencies were focused on media buying, creative, and television campaigns, the digital landscape was taking form with SEO, PPC, social, display, conversion rate optimization, email marketing, outreach (PR for the web), and much more. We as search marketers know there is a massive opportunity to be had as the digital landscape continues to mature, but whether it is ours for the taking remains to be seen. In order for us to survive, search marketers need to become more well-versed into all digital marketing channels and gain a concrete understanding of when it is appropriate to invest into some of them.

The combination of secure search (not provided), Google's continual innovation upon their ability to crawl and understand both the web and search behavior (with Hummingbird being the most recent example), their successful moves against scalable link building tactics (Penguin and manual penalties), and an overall increase in competition will push search marketers down either of these two paths:

  1. Become less and less white-hat over time, constantly looking for ways to justify the means for scalable tactics
  2. Jump ship to broader digital marketing roles and bury the SEO hats (example: Director of Marketing, Marketing Strategists, Brand Strategist, Content Strategist, Product Manager etc.) to grow revenue/traffic over time on different marketing channels.

Given the picture I have described above, I want to provide you with a framework with supporting examples for how you, the search marketer, can better get more of the resources you will need in order to pursue path 2. 

Search marketing challenges: a top-level look

Change is hard, especially at the pace required to be successful digital marketers, but Google, competing agencies, and the competition of brands on the web are forcing our hands as search marketers to pick our paths quickly and adapt.

Let's start off by taking a closer look at some of the macro trends that add complexity to our jobs:

Google is a business

SEOs are dependent on a third-party platform that provides them with no proprietary information and gives them no advantage. The reality is that as Google's ranking algorithm becomes increasingly complex, what exactly the right recommendation is for any given site becomes more ambiguous. Google simply isn't in the business to support SEOs; they're in the business to build the best technology in the world, so that they continue to attract the greatest number of users and generate the greatest amount of revenue. If SEOs continue to chase the algorithm, they'll simply continue down a rabbit hole of becoming dependent on short-term tactics that at best, have no longevity, and at worst, damage the core of a business.

Source

Not provided

Not provided impacted how SEOs were able to directly attribute their work to organic growth. It has brought challenges not only to reporting, but also to how the previous work SEOs did was valued within an organization. With the advent of not provided, different marketing departments within an organization such as content, SEO, PR, and creatives can all justify that their work is what led to organic traffic growth. This makes it difficult for any organization to invest significant budget into SEO.

Source

Penguin

Penguin sent a very clear signal to SEOs that many of the link building tactics they were reliant on in the past were not only no longer effective but could even provide long-term damage to the bottom line of a business. Recovering from Penguin and any algorithmic update is uncertain, difficult, and extremely expensive. It also forced SEOs to step back and assess whether a tactic that might work today may also be detrimental to the site in the future.

Hummingbird

Although Hummingbird may not appear to have significantly impacted search results at an initial glance, the reality is that the underlying algorithm has changed to become much more adept at understanding semantics. Hummingbird, in combination with not provided, indicates that a continued emphasis on keyword-focused strings is not sustainable. Future SEO initiatives cannot be siloed into keyword research, keyword-focused landing pages, and building links to those keyword-focused pages; wider context-based approaches are required.

Google crawlers handling technical challenges

As Google implements more updates to its underlying search algorithm, it has also become capable of resolving (for better or for worse, depending on the circumstance) many of the technical issues that SEOs used to manually correct on their own, whether it be duplicate or keyword-stuffed meta titles/descriptions, mobile alternative issues, resolving 302 redirect issues that were meant to be 301s, etc. The reality is that barring very specific technical issues on a site (penalty, migrations, development of new processes/capabilities on the back-end), the "low-hanging fruit" of on-page SEO will shrivel.

Actionable ways for search marketers to get more buy-in at the beginning to execute a broader marketing strategy

The only way to execute the broader marketing tactics that will benefit search (e.g. dedicating resources to creating content, improve the UX of the site) is to say the right things to the right people. In this era of not provided and Penguin/Panda/Hummingbird, we need to be involved in much more overarching marketing goals/objectives in order to stay relevant, have budget, and become a priority for the organization.

1. Get in front of key stakeholders. Then, ask the right questions. 

There are several key stakeholders who can impact the work you do, the budget you get, the visibility your work gets, and the amount of internal resources you can utilize. They tend to be the CMO, Director of Marketing, and VP of Sales (especially if marketing is a purpose of lead-gen). The biggest challenge most individuals have when they are granted an opportunity to pitch to the executive team is how to ask the right questions that will demonstrate their expertise in not just a specific marketing channel, but how your marketing efforts will positively impact a business's bottom line.

Image source

For example, below are the type of questions I ask executives based on their specific position within the organization.

CEO: High-level business picture

  • Is this the only brand you own? Do you have a group of brands you own and operate? Does this brand we are discussing today have a parent company?
  • How many years has the company been in business?
  • Is the company a privately held company or publicly traded company?
  • What is your business's unique value proposition?
  • Who are your major competitors in this space?
  • What are the company's most important business milestones/goals over the next 12-24 months?
  • What is the business's 10-20 year goal?

CFO: High-level financial picture

  • Is the company bootstrapped (self-funded) or loan/venture funded? If loan/venture funded, what implications will this have on our engagement or your milestones?
  • Is the company profitable?
  • How long has the company been profitable?
  • What is the company's annual revenue? (This is easy to find if the company is public.)
  • What has the company's year-over-year growth been for the past 3-5 years?
  • What are the company's most important financial milestones/goals over the next 12-24 months?

VP of Sales, CMO/VP of Marketing: High-level growth picture

  • Do you have a sense of the Total Addressable Market (TAM) of your businesses category / niche? (How much revenue opportunity is there in your space?)
  • How much of the TAM would you say your company currently controls?
  • What was the initial growth strategy of the business when the company first started, and why?
  • How has your growth strategy evolved over time?
  • What do you see as the major factors that contributed to your growth (when you first started and now)?
  • Do you foresee those same factors continuing to play a role over the next 3-5 years? The next 5-10 years?
  • What internal teams or external agencies played a huge role in that growth or success?
  • How long has your company been gaining market share? By how much YoY? If losing, by how much YoY?
  • What have been your most effective channels for growth to date?
  • What have been your least effective channels for growth to date?

Director of Marketing: A more granular look into growth strategy/plans

  • How does your company set goals and strategy around growth, expansion, and optimization of your business? Who does that? How often do you revisit this? Who sits in on this conversation from the marketing department?
  • How does your business determine how much money each year you invest into the growth and expansion of the company?
  • How much did the marketing department invest into growth last year (including all of the channels)?
  • Has the amount you've invested into growth over the years fluctuated a lot or stayed pretty consistent? Why?
  • How much of your marketing budget do you invest into offline vs. digital per year?
  • Has the amount of money you've invested into digital fluctuated much year to year? Where do you attribute most of the fluctuation in spend to?
  • How much of your digital marketing budget went to paid channels vs. other?
  • Have you already or do you have plans to acquire companies to support your growth?

2. Convert bad project requests into great briefs

Here are the most typical reasons I have seen companies offer when requesting services from a search marketing agency:

  1. We want growth of traffic/conversions through our site.
  2. We are about to make a big change and we don't want to lose traffic.
  3. We need to recover our traffic.
  4. We need your help to debug this problem we are experiencing.
  5. We would like you to do some research and help us make a decision (provide your expert opinion).
  6. We need your help to track, measure, and report on the impact of our efforts.

Clients often ask for the wrong things for a number of reasons:

  • They don't have enough first-hand experience with growing search visibility, or they have unrealistic expectations on how long this process would take for how much budget.
  • They focus too much on the industry jargon they've read over the years. Or,
  • They just do not have a deep enough understanding of what the business goals and objectives should be and why.

There is nothing wrong with this, but we should not let it stop us from focusing on the things that matter most. Business equates to revenue, and revenue increases lead to more confidence in your skill set.

For a specific example, if a client comes to you and asks you for links, reframe the conversation by asking them why they want links. Most clients ask for links for the following reasons:

  • Links are important to increase the domain authority of the site and the probability you can rank for highly competitive keywords, which increases the organic traffic that will go to my site.
  • Links are quantifiable/measurable (I've gotten x number of links in y amount of time for z price).

In this sample scenario, I would respond by saying links are an output you receive when you create great content. In order to deliver great content, you need to first start by understanding the data you have on-hand (via their CRM, customer surveys, their analytics, and their existing internal resources). The first step is for us to gain access to all this information in order for us to assess the potential opportunity this channel has on your business.

It is critical that you train your clients to talk in terms of business goals, objectives, and KPIs because that is the only opportunity in which they will allow you to determine the marketing strategy, rather than you becoming their outsourced vendor for a variety of different marketing activities like link building.

3. Research and know which channels to invest in

Once you have a concrete understanding of the business's goals, objectives, and KPIs, it's the search marketer's job to determine which specific marketing channels are the ones the client should be investing in. Is the goal to generate the quickest possible ROI in the least amount of time? CRO. Is the goal to understand product-market fit? Then perhaps paid search is the best medium. Is the goal to build a community and brand awareness? Creative content + PR + social media.

It's crucial to prioritize the specific marketing channels and activities that are most aligned with the company's business goals, while simultaneously also being the channels you feel the most confident will deliver the highest likelihood of ROI for your client. The reason is because whenever a client first signs with an agency, the first 6 months are the trial period. The client has taken a risk by partnering with an agency and they want to ensure that it's a good fit, that you follow your word, and that you're able to deliver results. Essentially, they're determining whether you are a good long-term partner for them.

Once you're able to deliver meaningful results that are aligned with the client business goals and objectives, you've passed the trial period. After that, the client is much more likely to opt for longer-term, higher-budget activities because you've successfully demonstrated your knowledge and expertise in marketing. Bigger budgets often times mean larger access to resources, which again significantly increases the chances that you will be building a long-term, meaningful relationship with your client.

Conclusion

Clients want you to succeed in helping them achieve their marketing goals, but they will be selective about when and how they spend their time getting you what you need. We, as search marketers, need to get better at identifying the channels that will increase the probability of success during the first 6 months of the campaign, while demonstrating our ability to think critically by asking the right type of questions and gaining the important knowledge that will give us what we need to be successful at the beginning of the project.

Fight the urge to think that if I see success you will be rewarded later on. Although that sentiment is mostly true, if you don't get enough of what you need to be successful in the first half of the project, you may not get to a point where you can create enough value to justify them keeping you around for follow up work. For instance, if you agree to build links for a client, it's highly likely you'll always be perceived as a link building vendor to the client. Great search marketers don't just plan to be successful, they plan for all of the scenarios that could keep them becoming successful and structure in solutions to position them for an optimal outcome. This means we need to build a concrete understanding of how different marketing channels integrate with search and understanding when it is appropriate to invest into which channels. We can no longer operate in solely a search silo; ironically, in order for us to survive the future of search, we need to broaden our scope and play a much more strategic digital marketing role for us to generate returns in search for clients. 


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!

Search Marketers Need to Evolve: Google is Rewarding Marketing Strategists

Posted by RonGarrett

In the last three years at Distilled, I have sold approximately $5 million in marketing services to over 100 businesses. Initially, the vast majority of the business I sold was in search, but over time it has evolved to encompass different facets of marketing because we are now headed towards a hyper-competitive future. In order for our industry to continue to thrive, we need to set ourselves apart. I wanted to share some of my experience in how I was able to overcome some of the challenges our search industry is facing when it comes to competing in this post-Hummingbird, post-Penguin, post-(not provided) environment. I've found that it is extremely important to:

  • Know what questions to ask when you have the opportunity to pitch at the executive level.
  • Know why you're investing in specific marketing channels (i.e. if I invest $x,xxx in this channel for y number of months, I can anticipate z amount of traffic and revenue).
    • The goal is to invest first in the channels that you are most confident will generate the greatest increases in traffic and revenue in the short-term. Once you achieve this, your client has validation to request more budget internally to develop more long-term, less immediate-ROI driven activities. 

For many years now, search marketing has been a wide open market, with more business to go around than we have known what to do with. Brand after brand has recognized their need for help with search visibility, but they have not necessarily been clear on what that would entail. This led to the gold rush of search.

While many larger agencies were focused on media buying, creative, and television campaigns, the digital landscape was taking form with SEO, PPC, social, display, conversion rate optimization, email marketing, outreach (PR for the web), and much more. We as search marketers know there is a massive opportunity to be had as the digital landscape continues to mature, but whether it is ours for the taking remains to be seen. In order for us to survive, search marketers need to become more well-versed into all digital marketing channels and gain a concrete understanding of when it is appropriate to invest into some of them.

The combination of secure search (not provided), Google's continual innovation upon their ability to crawl and understand both the web and search behavior (with Hummingbird being the most recent example), their successful moves against scalable link building tactics (Penguin and manual penalties), and an overall increase in competition will push search marketers down either of these two paths:

  1. Become less and less white-hat over time, constantly looking for ways to justify the means for scalable tactics
  2. Jump ship to broader digital marketing roles and bury the SEO hats (example: Director of Marketing, Marketing Strategists, Brand Strategist, Content Strategist, Product Manager etc.) to grow revenue/traffic over time on different marketing channels.

Given the picture I have described above, I want to provide you with a framework with supporting examples for how you, the search marketer, can better get more of the resources you will need in order to pursue path 2. 

Search marketing challenges: a top-level look

Change is hard, especially at the pace required to be successful digital marketers, but Google, competing agencies, and the competition of brands on the web are forcing our hands as search marketers to pick our paths quickly and adapt.

Let's start off by taking a closer look at some of the macro trends that add complexity to our jobs:

Google is a business

SEOs are dependent on a third-party platform that provides them with no proprietary information and gives them no advantage. The reality is that as Google's ranking algorithm becomes increasingly complex, what exactly the right recommendation is for any given site becomes more ambiguous. Google simply isn't in the business to support SEOs; they're in the business to build the best technology in the world, so that they continue to attract the greatest number of users and generate the greatest amount of revenue. If SEOs continue to chase the algorithm, they'll simply continue down a rabbit hole of becoming dependent on short-term tactics that at best, have no longevity, and at worst, damage the core of a business.

Source

Not provided

Not provided impacted how SEOs were able to directly attribute their work to organic growth. It has brought challenges not only to reporting, but also to how the previous work SEOs did was valued within an organization. With the advent of not provided, different marketing departments within an organization such as content, SEO, PR, and creatives can all justify that their work is what led to organic traffic growth. This makes it difficult for any organization to invest significant budget into SEO.

Source

Penguin

Penguin sent a very clear signal to SEOs that many of the link building tactics they were reliant on in the past were not only no longer effective but could even provide long-term damage to the bottom line of a business. Recovering from Penguin and any algorithmic update is uncertain, difficult, and extremely expensive. It also forced SEOs to step back and assess whether a tactic that might work today may also be detrimental to the site in the future.

Hummingbird

Although Hummingbird may not appear to have significantly impacted search results at an initial glance, the reality is that the underlying algorithm has changed to become much more adept at understanding semantics. Hummingbird, in combination with not provided, indicates that a continued emphasis on keyword-focused strings is not sustainable. Future SEO initiatives cannot be siloed into keyword research, keyword-focused landing pages, and building links to those keyword-focused pages; wider context-based approaches are required.

Google crawlers handling technical challenges

As Google implements more updates to its underlying search algorithm, it has also become capable of resolving (for better or for worse, depending on the circumstance) many of the technical issues that SEOs used to manually correct on their own, whether it be duplicate or keyword-stuffed meta titles/descriptions, mobile alternative issues, resolving 302 redirect issues that were meant to be 301s, etc. The reality is that barring very specific technical issues on a site (penalty, migrations, development of new processes/capabilities on the back-end), the "low-hanging fruit" of on-page SEO will shrivel.

Actionable ways for search marketers to get more buy-in at the beginning to execute a broader marketing strategy

The only way to execute the broader marketing tactics that will benefit search (e.g. dedicating resources to creating content, improve the UX of the site) is to say the right things to the right people. In this era of not provided and Penguin/Panda/Hummingbird, we need to be involved in much more overarching marketing goals/objectives in order to stay relevant, have budget, and become a priority for the organization.

1. Get in front of key stakeholders. Then, ask the right questions. 

There are several key stakeholders who can impact the work you do, the budget you get, the visibility your work gets, and the amount of internal resources you can utilize. They tend to be the CMO, Director of Marketing, and VP of Sales (especially if marketing is a purpose of lead-gen). The biggest challenge most individuals have when they are granted an opportunity to pitch to the executive team is how to ask the right questions that will demonstrate their expertise in not just a specific marketing channel, but how your marketing efforts will positively impact a business's bottom line.

Image source

For example, below are the type of questions I ask executives based on their specific position within the organization.

CEO: High-level business picture

  • Is this the only brand you own? Do you have a group of brands you own and operate? Does this brand we are discussing today have a parent company?
  • How many years has the company been in business?
  • Is the company a privately held company or publicly traded company?
  • What is your business's unique value proposition?
  • Who are your major competitors in this space?
  • What are the company's most important business milestones/goals over the next 12-24 months?
  • What is the business's 10-20 year goal?

CFO: High-level financial picture

  • Is the company bootstrapped (self-funded) or loan/venture funded? If loan/venture funded, what implications will this have on our engagement or your milestones?
  • Is the company profitable?
  • How long has the company been profitable?
  • What is the company's annual revenue? (This is easy to find if the company is public.)
  • What has the company's year-over-year growth been for the past 3-5 years?
  • What are the company's most important financial milestones/goals over the next 12-24 months?

VP of Sales, CMO/VP of Marketing: High-level growth picture

  • Do you have a sense of the Total Addressable Market (TAM) of your businesses category / niche? (How much revenue opportunity is there in your space?)
  • How much of the TAM would you say your company currently controls?
  • What was the initial growth strategy of the business when the company first started, and why?
  • How has your growth strategy evolved over time?
  • What do you see as the major factors that contributed to your growth (when you first started and now)?
  • Do you foresee those same factors continuing to play a role over the next 3-5 years? The next 5-10 years?
  • What internal teams or external agencies played a huge role in that growth or success?
  • How long has your company been gaining market share? By how much YoY? If losing, by how much YoY?
  • What have been your most effective channels for growth to date?
  • What have been your least effective channels for growth to date?

Director of Marketing: A more granular look into growth strategy/plans

  • How does your company set goals and strategy around growth, expansion, and optimization of your business? Who does that? How often do you revisit this? Who sits in on this conversation from the marketing department?
  • How does your business determine how much money each year you invest into the growth and expansion of the company?
  • How much did the marketing department invest into growth last year (including all of the channels)?
  • Has the amount you've invested into growth over the years fluctuated a lot or stayed pretty consistent? Why?
  • How much of your marketing budget do you invest into offline vs. digital per year?
  • Has the amount of money you've invested into digital fluctuated much year to year? Where do you attribute most of the fluctuation in spend to?
  • How much of your digital marketing budget went to paid channels vs. other?
  • Have you already or do you have plans to acquire companies to support your growth?

2. Convert bad project requests into great briefs

Here are the most typical reasons I have seen companies offer when requesting services from a search marketing agency:

  1. We want growth of traffic/conversions through our site.
  2. We are about to make a big change and we don't want to lose traffic.
  3. We need to recover our traffic.
  4. We need your help to debug this problem we are experiencing.
  5. We would like you to do some research and help us make a decision (provide your expert opinion).
  6. We need your help to track, measure, and report on the impact of our efforts.

Clients often ask for the wrong things for a number of reasons:

  • They don't have enough first-hand experience with growing search visibility, or they have unrealistic expectations on how long this process would take for how much budget.
  • They focus too much on the industry jargon they've read over the years. Or,
  • They just do not have a deep enough understanding of what the business goals and objectives should be and why.

There is nothing wrong with this, but we should not let it stop us from focusing on the things that matter most. Business equates to revenue, and revenue increases lead to more confidence in your skill set.

For a specific example, if a client comes to you and asks you for links, reframe the conversation by asking them why they want links. Most clients ask for links for the following reasons:

  • Links are important to increase the domain authority of the site and the probability you can rank for highly competitive keywords, which increases the organic traffic that will go to my site.
  • Links are quantifiable/measurable (I've gotten x number of links in y amount of time for z price).

In this sample scenario, I would respond by saying links are an output you receive when you create great content. In order to deliver great content, you need to first start by understanding the data you have on-hand (via their CRM, customer surveys, their analytics, and their existing internal resources). The first step is for us to gain access to all this information in order for us to assess the potential opportunity this channel has on your business.

It is critical that you train your clients to talk in terms of business goals, objectives, and KPIs because that is the only opportunity in which they will allow you to determine the marketing strategy, rather than you becoming their outsourced vendor for a variety of different marketing activities like link building.

3. Research and know which channels to invest in

Once you have a concrete understanding of the business's goals, objectives, and KPIs, it's the search marketer's job to determine which specific marketing channels are the ones the client should be investing in. Is the goal to generate the quickest possible ROI in the least amount of time? CRO. Is the goal to understand product-market fit? Then perhaps paid search is the best medium. Is the goal to build a community and brand awareness? Creative content + PR + social media.

It's crucial to prioritize the specific marketing channels and activities that are most aligned with the company's business goals, while simultaneously also being the channels you feel the most confident will deliver the highest likelihood of ROI for your client. The reason is because whenever a client first signs with an agency, the first 6 months are the trial period. The client has taken a risk by partnering with an agency and they want to ensure that it's a good fit, that you follow your word, and that you're able to deliver results. Essentially, they're determining whether you are a good long-term partner for them.

Once you're able to deliver meaningful results that are aligned with the client business goals and objectives, you've passed the trial period. After that, the client is much more likely to opt for longer-term, higher-budget activities because you've successfully demonstrated your knowledge and expertise in marketing. Bigger budgets often times mean larger access to resources, which again significantly increases the chances that you will be building a long-term, meaningful relationship with your client.

Conclusion

Clients want you to succeed in helping them achieve their marketing goals, but they will be selective about when and how they spend their time getting you what you need. We, as search marketers, need to get better at identifying the channels that will increase the probability of success during the first 6 months of the campaign, while demonstrating our ability to think critically by asking the right type of questions and gaining the important knowledge that will give us what we need to be successful at the beginning of the project.

Fight the urge to think that if I see success you will be rewarded later on. Although that sentiment is mostly true, if you don't get enough of what you need to be successful in the first half of the project, you may not get to a point where you can create enough value to justify them keeping you around for follow up work. For instance, if you agree to build links for a client, it's highly likely you'll always be perceived as a link building vendor to the client. Great search marketers don't just plan to be successful, they plan for all of the scenarios that could keep them becoming successful and structure in solutions to position them for an optimal outcome. This means we need to build a concrete understanding of how different marketing channels integrate with search and understanding when it is appropriate to invest into which channels. We can no longer operate in solely a search silo; ironically, in order for us to survive the future of search, we need to broaden our scope and play a much more strategic digital marketing role for us to generate returns in search for clients. 


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10 Smart Tips to Leverage Google+ for Increased Web Traffic

Posted by Cyrus-Shepard

This time, it's about engaged traffic.

While checking our stats here at Moz, we noticed that while visits sent to us from Facebook keep decreasing, traffic from Google+ has started to appear significant by comparison.

While not everyone has an audience active on Google+, the number of people who interact socially with any Google products on a monthly basis now reportedly exceeds 500 million.

What's different about Google+ is that beyond the direct social visits as seen above, Google offers marketers the opportunity to interact with visitors through many more touch points, including YouTube and directly in search results. This means that for visitors who engage with you through Google+, the potential traffic channels multiply

For this method to work, it requires that your visitors actually engage

Facebook and Twitter experts know this and perfected their engagement craft over several years. Engagment with Google+ means a new set tactics and best practices. These are areas that I consistently see otherwise expert brands fall short and miss easy opportunities.

Let's discuss supercharging our Google+ engagement.

1. Headlines, every time

The more users notice your Google+ posts, the more likely they are to engage. The challenge is to stand out in a sea of thousands of posts. 

First things first. Unlike other social platforms, Google+ posts act more like mini blog posts, and every post needs a headline. Not only does adding a header help your post stand out, but Google uses the first words of your post in two different ways:

  1. They incorporates your headline into the title tag of the post
  2. The headline is typically what displays in Google search results

Adding the right headline can help your post stand out in search results, and can greatly influence the number of people who both notice and click through to your content.

Use a headline, every time.

2. Formatting for attention

Easily break up your long blocks of text with formatting to make your posts simpler to read and skim. This allows you to communicate more clearly and makes your text more accessible.

In addition to adding bold to your headline, copy and paste the formatting cheats below to help compose a post that stands out from the rest.

G+ Formatting Cheats:

*This is a Bolded Headline*

_ Italic_
_* Bolded Italic*_
-Strikethrough- 

Mix and match styles: _*Bolded Italic*_

Numbered List:
  *1.* Point One
  *2.* Point Two
  *3.* Point Three

Bulleted List:
  • Point 1
  • Point 2
  • Point 3

Link: http://example.com

#hashtag1 #hashtag2

How it Looks:

3. Use your words

Google+ is a both a visual and a text medium, so make them both count!

Don't be afraid of writing longer posts. Instead of simply posting a link to your latest blog posts and hoping for the best, add a summary of your important points. Explain why this is important. Give people additional context as to why they should click and share.

Personal example of Google+ posts where I embraced the long-form:

The few minutes it takes to jot down your thoughts could result in multiple reshares and thousands of additional eyeballs on your content.

4. Use your images too

The vast majority of top posts on Google+ use images. In fact, the most popular post I've personally ever shared was a simple animated GIF.

For increased shareability, it's usually best to upload your own photo.

By default, Google+ tries to include an image for any URL that you share. Unless you define the right Open Graph images and the proper social meta tags, the images are often not ideal, or are sized wrong.

When you upload your own image, the image links to the full-size version, not the URL you want to share. In this case, don't forget to include a link to the URL in the text.

5. Smarter sharing > targeted

Most people set their post to "public," thinking this gives them maximum exposure. In fact, there is a much more effective way to gain exposure to your top content, as long as you don't abuse it.

By also adding your circles and select individuals to your share settings, this triggers a notification for those users that you've shared a post directly with them. 

Used smartly, these notifications can greatly influence the amount of activity on a post.

Warning: When targeted sharing is used too often, it turns spammy.  Be careful what you share. 

Only choose your very best, most important posts.

Amazingly, Google+ also allows you to notify people in your circles via email when you share. In order for this to work, the individuals must have their email notifications set up correctly. Be extra careful with this function, as it can turn people off fast!

6. The mighty, mighty #hashtag

Twitter and Facebook have made us accustomed to hashtags, but Google+ uses them in entirely different ways to organize and recommend content.

Google uses hashtags and semantic analysis to form relationships between topics. For example, consider this hashtag search for #linkbuilding. Notice the related topics Google associates with link building:

These associations aren't random. In fact, Mark Traphagen demonstrates how you can "teach" Google these relationships by tagging your own posts.

By default, Google often adds hashtags automatically to any post with sufficient text. Best practice is to add your own relevant hashtags at the end or within the body of each post.

7. Find the followed links

The followed link on Google+ has gone the way of the dodo.

When Google+ was born, it was a bonanza for links, and seen as an SEO paradise. Since that time, Google has replaced most equity passing followed links with nofollow, which pass no link equity. This includes profile links, "contributor to," and shared URLs.

There is one exception. Public +1's remain followed.

For now, whenever a visitor +1s your content without sharing it to their stream, this results in a followed link as long as the visitor has +1's set to "public."

This could be an oversight, or Google could remove these followed links soon.

While the value of +1s for SEO has been debated again and again, this may be the last remaining place that a +1 may actually pass link equity.

8. Leverage Google+ comments

I'm sort of in love with the Google+ commenting system. 

Much like Facebook's popular commenting plugin, you can embed Google+ comments on your own blog. What makes this so powerful is when visitors leave a comment, they are given the option of sharing your post to their own Google+ followers. 

This can greatly increase engagement among these users and their followers.

Officially, Google+ comments are only supported for Google's own Blogger platform. Fortuneatly, clever folks have devised a number of plugins and solutions for Wordpress, Drupal, and more.

9. +Post Ads: the future of social engagement?

Google's +Post Ads offer an interesting premise: take your most successful Google+ posts and turn them into ads that show all over Google's massive display network.

This exposes your posts to more people who otherwise would not have interacted with your brand on Google+ alone. This interaction drives more social sharing, and the sharing can continue after the paid promotion is over.

For example, if you are a car manufacturer, you could target your Google+ posts to appear on auto parts websites.

While still early in adoption, +Post Ads present a unique opportunity for businesses to attract customers at different stages of the buying cycle, and then keep those customers engaged through social media.

While the jury is still out if +Post Ads will be effective, it will likely take some time for marketers to learn how to effectively leverage this channel.

10. Interactive posts

Interactive Google+ posts allow you to perfectly customize how your content is shared, but they also allow you to prompt your social audience to take a specific action.

Google maintains an impressive list of actions which you can automatically embed into your post. These include:

  • Watch a video
  • Sign up for a newsletter
  • Reserve a table at a restaurant
  • Open an app
  • ...and about 100 more.

Mike Arnesen wrote up a good overview of getting started with Interactive posts, or you can find more at the Google Developers blog.


Building your influence 

Google+ isn't so much a social media platform like Twitter and Facebook, but an identity platform that works with Google to connect across all our different devices and web services.

This means that while sites like Facebook and Twitter can still deliver traffic to your website, Google+ is so integrated across so many platforms that it has many more places to touch potential visitors. Business that build up their audience base today potentially position themselves to collect bigger rewards in the future.

Do you receive traffic from Google+? Is it a part of your social strategy? Let us know in the comments below.


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Getting hreflang Right: Examples and Insights for International SEO

Posted by DaveSottimano

Most of us will remember the days in SEO where geotargeting was nearly impossible, and we all crawled to the shining example of Apple.com as our means of showcasing what the correct search display behaviour should be. Well, most of us weren't Apple, and it was extremely difficult to determine how to structure your site to make it work for international search. Hreflang has been a blessing to the SEO industry, even though it's had a bit of a troubled past. 

There's been much confusion as to how hreflang annotations should work, what is the correct display behaviour, and if the implementation requires additional configuration such as the canonical tag or WMT targeting.

This isn't a beginner- or even intermediate-level post, so if you don't have a solid feel for hreflang already, I'd recommend reading through  Google's documentation before diving in.

In today's post we're going to cover the following:

  1. How to check international SERPs the right way
  2. What should hreflang do and not do
  3. Examples of hreflang behaviour
  4. Important tools for the serious international SEO
  5. Tips from my many screw-ups, and successes 

Section 1: How to check international SERPs the right way

I've said this once, and I'll say it again: Know your Google search parameters better than your mother. Half the time we think something isn't working, we don't actually know how to check. Shy of having an IP in every country from which you want to check Google results, here is the next best thing:

For example, if want to mimic a Spanish user in the US:
http://www.google.com/search?hl=es&gl=us&pws=0&q=seo

Or if I want to impersonate an Australian user:
http://www.google.com.au/search?hl=en&gl=au&pws=0&q=seo

If you want a full list of language/country codes that Google uses, please visit the  Google CCTLDs language and reference sheet. If you want the Google docs version go here, or if you want a tool to do this for you, check out Isearchfrom.

Section 2: What should hreflang do and not do

hreflang will not:

  1. Replace geo-ranking factors: Just because you rank #1 in the US for "blue widgets" does not mean that your UK "blue widgets page" will rank #1 in the UK.
  2. Fix duplicate content issues: If you have duplicate copies of your pages targeting the same keywords, it does not mean that the right country version will rank because of hreflang. The same rules apply to general SEO; when there are exact or nearly exact duplicates, Google will choose which page to rank. Typically, we see the version with more authority ranking (authority can be determined loosely by #links, TBPR, DA, PA, etc.).

You might be wondering about duplicate content and Panda, which is a valid concern. I personally haven't seen or heard of any site with international duplicate content being affected by Panda updates. The sites I have analyzed always had some sort of international SEO configuration, however, whether it was WMT targeting or hreflang annotations.

Hreflang will:

  1. Help the right country/language version of your cross-annotated pages appear in the correct versions of *google.*

Section 3: Examples of hreflang behaviour

Case 1: CNN.com

Configuration:

<head> hreflang, 302 redirect on homepage, and subdomain configuration

Sample of hreflang annotations:

<link href="http://www.cnn.com" hreflang="en-us" rel="alternate" title="CNN" type="text/html"/>
<link href="http://mexico.cnn.com" hreflang="es" rel="alternate" title="CNN Mexico" type="text/html"/>

What should happen according to the targeting?

Cnn.com is seen in EN-US and any Spanish queries should display Mexico.cnn.com

What actually happens?

Take a look at the US results for yourself

Take a look at the US results for yourself.

Take a look at the Mexican results for yourself.

Let's try to explain this behaviour:

  • Cnn.com actually 302's to edition.cnn.com; this is regular SEO behaviour that causes the origin page URL to display in search resuls and the content comes from the redirect. 
  • Mexico.cnn.com is not the right answer for "es" (Spanish language) IMO, because it's the Mexican version and should be annotated as "mx-es" ;) 
  • Since cnnespanol.cnn.com exists and seems to have worldwide news, I would use this as the "ES" version.
  • Cross hreflang annotations are missing, so the whole thing isn't going to work anyways ......

Case 2: play.google.com

Configuration:

<head> hreflang, language/country variations and duplicate content

Sample of hreflang annotations:

*FYI - I've shortened this for simplicity

x-default -  https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com....

en_GB -  https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com....

en - href  https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com....

What should happen according to the targeting?

X-default for non annotated versions, GB page should display in Google.co.uk

What actually happens?

Let's try to explain this behaviour:

  • One thing you may not notice is that the EN, X default, and GB version are almost entirely duplicate (around 99%). Which one should the algorithm choose? This is a good example of hreflang not handling dupe content.
  • The GB version doesn't display in UK search results, and the rankings are not the same (US ranking is higher than UK on average). The hreflang annotation is using the underscore rather than the standard hyphen (EN_GB versus EN-GB)
  • They use a self-referencing canonical, which, contrary to some beliefs, has absolutely no effect on the targeting

Case 3: Musicradar.com

Configuration:

<head> hreflang, subdomain & cctld, country targeting and x-default

Sample of hreflang annotations:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-gb" href="http://www.musicradar.com/" />
	
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="x-default" href="http://www.musicradar.com/" />
	
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-us" href="http://www.musicradar.com/us/" />
	
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="fr-fr" href="http://www.musicradar.com/fr/" />
	

What should happen according to the targeting?

en.softonic.com should appear for all "en" queries and softonic.it for all "it" queries

What actually happens?


See the Canadian results for yourself

See the American results for yourself

See the French results for yourself

Let's try to explain this behaviour:

  • Perfect example of perfect implementation - you guys & gals working with Musicradar are pretty great. You get the honorary #likeaboss vote from me :)
  • One thing to notice is that they double list the EN-GB page also as the X-default
  • The English sitelink in the French results is pretty weird, but I think this is the perfect situation to escalate to Google as their implementation is correct as far as I can tell.

Case 4: Ridgid.com

Configuration:

XML sitemaps hreflang, subfolders, rel canonical and dupe content

Sample of hreflang annotations:

<loc>https://www.ridgid.com/</loc>
			
<xhtml:linkhreflang="en-US" href="https://www.ridgid.com/" rel="alternate"/>
			
<xhtml:link hreflang="en-CA" href="https://www.ridgid.com/ca/en" rel="alternate"/>
			
<xhtml:link hreflang="en-PH" href="https://www.ridgid.com/ph/en" rel="alternate" />
			

What should happen according to the targeting?

Ridgid.com should appear in the US, ridgid.com/ca/en should appear for Canadian - English queries (google.ca) and ridgid.com/ph/en should appear in Google Philippines for English queries.

What actually happens?

Check out the Canadian results for yourself

Check out the Philippines results for yourself

Let's try to explain this behaviour:

  • All 3 homepages are almost exactly identical, hence duplicate content
  • The Canadian version contains <link rel="canonical" href="https://www.ridgid.com/" /> - that means it's being canonicalized to the main US version
  • The Philippines version does not contain a canonical tag
  • Google is choosing which is the right duplicate version to show, unless there is a canonical instruction

Section 4: Tools for the serious International SEO

Essentials:

  • Reliable rank tracker that can localize: Advanced Web RankingMoz, etc...
  • Crawler that can validate hreflang annotations in XML sitemaps or within <head>: The only tool on the market that can do this, and does it very well, is Deepcrawl.

Other nice-to-haves:

  1. Your own method of "gathering" international search results on scale. You should probably go with proxies.
  2. Your own method of parsing XML sitemaps and cross checking (even if you use something like Deepcrawl, you'll need to double check).
  3. Obvious, but worth a reminder: Google webmaster tools, Analytics, access to server logs so you can understand Google's crawl behaviour.

Section 5: Tips from many screw-ups and successes

  1. Use either the <head> implementation or XML sitemaps, not both. It can technically work, but trust me, you'll probably screw something up - just stick to one or the other.
  2. If you don't cross annotate, it won't work. Plain and simple, use Aleyda's tool to help you.
  3. Google says you should self-reference hreflang, but I also see it working without (check out en.softonic.com). If you want to play safe, self reference; we don't know what Google will change in the future.
  4. Try to eliminate the need for duplicate content, but if you must, it's okay to use canonical + hreflang as long as you know what you're doing. Check out this cool isolated test which is still relevant. Remember, mo' dupes, mo' problems.
  5. Hreflang needs time to work properly. At a bare minimum, Google needs to crawl both cross annotations for the switch to happen. Help yourself by pinging sitemaps, but be aware of at least a 2-day lag.
  6. You can double-annotate a URL when using X-default, in case you were afraid to. Don't worry, it's cool.
  7. Make sure you're actually having a problem before you go ranting on webmaster forums. Double check what you're seeing and ask other people to check as well. Check your Google parameters and personalized results!
  8. You can 302 your homepage when you're using a country redirect strategy. Yes, I know it's crazy, yes, a little bird told me and I throughly tested this and didn't see a loss. There's 2 sites I know of using this, so check them out: The GuardianRed Bull.

Closing, burning question: You might be asking yourself, how the heck did he find so many examples? Or maybe not, but I'm going to tell you anyway.

My secret sauce is  Nerdydata.com, and if you didn't know about this beautiful site, I hope that Nerdydata.com gives me a free t-shirt or something for telling you.

I find most SEOs who know about the tool are using it for useless stuff like meta tags (this is my own opinion), but what it really should be used for is reverse engineering things like hreflang and schema.org to find working examples. For example, a footprint you might use is hreflang="en-us" and you'll find a tonne of examples.

Here's a few to get you started:

marketo.com asos.com 99designs.com sistrix.com
mozilla.org agoda.com emirates.com trivago.com
salesforce.com techradar.com symantec.com rentalcars.com
softonic.com aufeminin.com alfemminile.com moo.com
istockphoto.com ea.com freelotto.com softonic.it
americanexpress.com zara.com xero.com trustpilot.com
viadeo.com marriott.com gofeminin.de here.com
hotels.com enfemenino.com ringcentral.com mailjet.com

That's it folks, hopefully you've learned a thing or two. Good luck in your international adventures and  feel free to say hi on Twitter. :)


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Getting Branded Searches Right – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Ranking for branded keywords is obviously quite a bit easier than for unbranded terms, but it takes some thought. We don't just want to send everyone through our homepages; it's far better to send them to the page that best answers their query. In today's Whiteboard Friday, Rand covers four steps to be sure you're setting things up the right way.

For reference, here's a still of this week's whiteboard!

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Today I'm going to talk a little bit about getting your branded search terms right. Branded search is very important, because when people perform branded queries -- your brand name plus some other modifier, some noun, some information they're seeking around your company and your brand -- you want to make sure you show up correctly in the search engines.

One of the challenges here is that, as SEOs, a lot of the time we think about trying to target queries that can bring us new traffic, which often means unbranded searches, things where people haven't yet decided what brand they're going with. But branded search is incredibly important. It actually makes up a huge amount of volume of Google and Bing and Yahoo's total search queries.

Here I performed a search for ZIIIRO Watches. I'm wearing one of their watches. I like them a lot. They have a weird spelling. It's Z-I-I-I-R-O Watches. If you searched for ZIIIRO Watches a few months back, their website was a little funky. In fact, most of the internal pages weren't crawlable.

I remember when I performed a search for ZIIIRO Watches, the only page that actually mentioned that they were a watch company, I think it was either their about or contact page would show up. That was the first page that ranks for ZIIIRO Watches. That's not ideal.

What you really want to rank there is either their homepage or their products page that lists all their watches. Those are the two things that I could potentially see as being valuable, and if it were me, I'd particularly want the watches page to be ranking, especially if they're expanding into other items beyond just making watches.

Now what you want here as a brand, when people perform branded types of queries, is the most relevant, useful page to answer queries about that specific thing. That's why I said if I were the brand manager at ZIIIRO or if I were the SEO at ZIIIRO, what I would want is my watches page there rather than my homepage. The reason I want that is because getting to that information as quickly, as fast as possible is likely to have the best impact on both my SEO and on how the visitors will perform.

If I list my homepage there, I'm asking visitors to make one more step to figure out my navigation system and get to my watches page, or whatever page it is on my website. I don't like forcing that step. I want them to get right there. Generally speaking, that can help with things like pogo sticking. It can help with time on page and engagement. It can help with conversion rate optimization. It's just the best way to drive traffic through search.

The second thing, you want a title and description right here that's going to really earn that click. Contact ZIIIRO Watches, phone, address, email form, that's awful, right? That doesn't entice me. Even if I did want to get in touch with them, what I really want there is if I put "ZIIIRO phone number" or "Contact ZIIIRO" or "ZIIIRO Help," "ZIIIRO Support," what I want to see is something like "Contact ZIIIRO and get immediate help. You can email us, call us, or one click to fill out our form and get responses in 24 hours or less."

That's what I want the description right there to say. It creates the action, the desire for me to click that, and the indication that I'm going to get what I want.

The other thing that I really like doing is making sure that the headline on the page itself, once I reach whatever page this is, I really want that headline, the big thing that comes up bold at the top, to closely match. It doesn't have to mirror exactly what the title says, but to closely match that title so that I never get that experience of a searcher clicking and then going, "Wait a minute. This isn't the page I thought I was about to get."

That's a bad experience. That's why I try and make those match up. Then the description as well, that intent should match.

Finally, the last thing that I urge folks to do here is to have internal links that point to the pages that are most likely to guide the searcher's next few steps. If I know that the next steps in a visitor's journey from the watches page are often to check things out by price group, or to check things out by color, or to check things out by types of, I don't know, wristband or whatever it is, I want to make sure that those links are very prominent and easy to access on the page that I'm showing them here.

What you don't want to do is let the wrong pages show up here, like we have in this ZIIIRO example. I can actually walk you through a process, step by step, of ways that I would actually urge every SEO to go through this process either once a year, or once a redesign, and find all the pages that might be ranking for branded queries that you don't intend to be ranking there, that you wish weren't ranking there, and how to change those up.

Step one, you need to get a list of your branded terms and phrases. This used to be easier than it is today, thanks to keyword not provided. But still, we are lucky that not provided is only 90% of your Google search traffic.

There are those 10% of queries we can get some of our branded search queries through there. You can do a filter inside of Google Analytics by performing a search on the referring keywords. Or you can also do this in Moz Analytics, if you set up a branded rule for your keywords.

Bing provides you keywords as well. Bing powers Bing.com and Yahoo searches as well. In the U.S., that's about 20% of searches or so. In Europe, obviously much less. But you can get some keyword data there.

You can use auto suggest and related searches, meaning I start typing "ZIIIRO" here, and I hit the spacebar and I see what else populates. By the way, the auto suggest tends to work better on Google's homepage if you set up "don't auto send me to the search results page." You can sometimes see more search suggest on the Google homepage than you can on the results pages.

You can use related searches, which is a box down at the bottom. If I were to scroll to the bottom of the results, I'd generally see a box down here that says "related searches" and five, six, seven, eight different queries that I could look at there.

You can also use your internal search query data, of course. You can use things like Google AdWords, the AdWords keyword tool. The challenge there is with a lot of low volume searches, which many of the longer tail stuff in the brand tends to be lower volume, it can be challenging to figure those out via something like AdWords.

Step two, we're going to depersonalize and search. We're going to take the keyword that we're looking for -- in this case ZIIIRO Watches -- and we're going to form a search query just like this, "Google.co.nz". Why am I looking in New Zealand? I'll tell you in a sec. "search?q=ziiiro+watches&GL=US".

Why this weird search query format? Well, what's happening here is that if I go to Google.com and I search for ZIIIRO Watches, I can add something like "&PWS=0" to the end of my search query, which will depersonalize the results, but it won't remove the geographic bias.

What I really want to see is no geographic bias when I'm performing these searches. To do that, I take myself out of the country, out of the U.S., into New Zealand, and then I put myself back in the U.S., thus removing any personalization that comes from geographic biasing. You can do this with
.ca, .co.uk, dot whatever. It doesn't actually matter. I like generally doing it with a country code that matches the language you're searching in, though.

By the way, when you do this, if you do it in a new incognito window, meaning you're not logged in, you don't generally have to worry about also adding "PWS=0" to remove personalized results.

If applicable, go to step three. Applicable meaning you need to localize. If I'm searching, for example, and I want to see how this looks in Seattle, Washington versus Portland, Oregon versus San Diego, California or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I can actually use the "&near" parameter at the end of a query like this to see what it looks like in a specific geography.

You don't have to, by the way, go out to New Zealand to do that. You can just search in regular .com. Then I can see what search results for people near Seattle, Washington, or I think you can also now use near equals a ZIP code if you want to get that granular.

Then your job is simply to list the non-ideal results and start fixing them one by one. So I take a list of these keywords that I've got, a list of any of the search results that I didn't particularly like, and I prioritize based on how much traffic I'm either getting for that keyword, how much search traffic that landing page is receiving, or how much the estimated volume might be in something like AdWords.

Now I've got a prioritized list that I can run through and say, "All right, got to fix this one. These three look good. Got to fix this one. These four look good." For that process, you can refer to some other Whiteboard Fridays that I've done on how to get the right result ranking for the search query term you're looking for. Generally speaking, it's not going to be that hard when it's a branded search term.

All right, everyone. Hope you've enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday, and we'll see you again next week. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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