How To Work Relationships and Concepts Into Your Copy

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The folks at Mountain View made the conscious decision that keywords alone couldn’t deliver them the results they wanted to see (ahem, “their users wanted to see”). Google tried some different modeling, but ultimately came around to semantic search (that is, using semantic technology to refine the query results). Now I said much of the industry has picked up on it. Not all. I still see a lot of pretending Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird never happened. That’s unfortunate for innocent clients around the world. But for most of us probably reading this, we’re students of a new lexicon. With words like “triples” and “entities” and “semiotics” and “topic modeling.”

What I’d Like To See In 2013

This isn’t a 2013 prediction post. This is “what I’d like to see in 2013.”

SEOs, What’s Your Opinion?

301 Redirecting to homepage

We get plenty of “soft tips” about creating content that attracts links.  I think many times SEOs are too vague with this recommendation.  Seasoned content marketers have created an art form developing compelling, (trans)actionable content.  They’re interested in an emotional response. For them a link has little to do with a search engine algorithm.

Since we’re encroaching on their discipline more everyday, we should be taking the right cues from them.

That's Just Your Opinion, ManYour opinion can be an ingredient in your strategy.  You know this, but how are you employing it?  In the same way humor, a “how-to” video, or a common customer service response could supplement a great piece for users, and could “attract” links, so could promoting your position.  You have the opportunity to be unique and write something that hasn’t been rehashed to death.  More importantly, you have the opportunity to elicit a response that could result in SEO-helping comments through social, local, and general search algorithms.

When I worked for a public company we had a huge legal and PR team that monitored every piece of content we wanted to put out.  A simple press release took months.  Most of us are not against those kinds of obstacles, so we should use that to our advantage.  I consider the lack of red tape a blessing with my small and medium-sized clients.  Currently I’m working in the green space – we have a lot of opinions; my company wasn’t afraid to take a stance.  By vocalizing, and handing out these opinions like band fliers in front of a venue, we’ve been able to get a good amount of exposure which resulted in links.  But we weren’t just spouting opinions out to see what would stick; we used data, an understanding of the audience and the space, and a strategic publication method.

I’ve worked in a lot of different niches through my time with agencies and consulting.  Every niche has things they believe in.

Let’s use my blog as an example.  I blog for fun and to experiment.  I’m not particularly using this site to get clients, become famous, make money, get free stuff, etc.  But let’s suppose I was trying to promote a service.  The content I’ve posted so far has been shared well on Twitter, G+, and has landed on a couple decent sites like Search Engine Land and SEOmoz’s Top 10.  Overall though, I haven’t written anything that earned me a great number of links.  For the 3,000 social clicks I’ve gotten in the last 6 months, I have about 10 new editorial links from sites that are responding to something I wrote.  If I were really trying to earn links, I’d be failing with otherwise good content.  I’d be raising my eyebrow at the recommendations of “write good content and the links will come.”

Why Am I Not Attracting Links? 

In this SEO niche, there’s a few things that could be at play.  To perform better, I’d have to start looking at the realities.  Here’s a few assumptions off the top of my head – ideally I’d want to really research these.  In the meantime take them with a grain of salt:

  • Impressions: We have a lot of content in this industry.  There is a lot of noise in the signal, so I’d have to work harder to get my content seen.
  • Popularity: We have cliques.  Some SEOs and websites are more popular than others (sometimes from public speaking or alliances with big names), thus their content – even despite occasional low value – can get hyped and linked more easily. Regular people have to work much harder.
  • Target: We have a big subculture with many subsets of specialization.  Most SEOs and bloggers don’t focus on one particular part of SEO,  This leads to less opportunities for inspiring a topic.
  • Perception: I don’t write long, technical posts.  I’m convinced most people don’t read them all the way through, so I like to drop my point and move on.  But I think long posts are perceived as “epic” and people want to tie themselves to it.

What Should I Do?

If I wanted to go with this strategy, and built around the four assumptions above, I should start kicking out my space in the mosh pit with steel-toed python boots.  I should post strong opinions but do it with integrity, keeping the four assumptions in mind.  I should absolutely mean what I say, and not be afraid of negative replies – the web owns your brand and you’re going to get stung if you deserve… despite your best efforts to control your perception.

For this example, here’s something I could write a whole post on.

[box title=”Rankings Are Still Important As A Performance Metric” color=”#696464″]I remember first hearing that rankings didn’t matter in 2007.  The concept being that Google and other search engines are personalizing their algorithms too heavily to use rank as a KPI. The alternative is to just report traffic or keyword conversions.  I remember a bunch of big name SEOs trying to inculcate us.

I think this is misguided.

Most of our data is directional – from Google’s estimated search queries, to Google’s showing  “about 661 results” in SERPs instead of the real number, to OSE/Majestic/Ahrefs link counts or PageRank emulation.  We rely on traffic data from Hitwise or Compete, which is often very far from the real numbers.  Even the impression and click count from Webmaster Tools is directional.

I think it’s perfectly fine for marketers to continue aligning directional ranking data with other directional metrics.  I pull my rank reports daily through Microsite Masters, append with daily traffic, and trend.  It gives me a fantastic keyword-level heartbeat which leads a huge part of my optimization efforts.  Granted, there are other optimizations or strategy inspiration to be found solely with other KPIs, but discounting rankings is absurd.

If it’s simply a matter of not using them for reporting, because they’re only directional and not useful to a client or boss, with a quick education on what personalization really is, ranking reports can be your best friend.[/box]

Now I truly believe this, and would hope this could get me links.  This could elicit emotions and links at the same time.  But I’d have to get it out there.  We know the traditional, sometimes “noisy” ways, but my favorite is to go direct to influencers.  The beauty with this kind of content is how easy it opens doors.  I’d find influencers on Twitter (Klout and Crowdbooster can help here), or I’d drop this in the right LinkedIn groups, or cite it on Q&A sites like Quora.  I’d push this platform and ask for the perspective of my peers.  Many times it comes in the form of a comment in the post, but sometimes it comes as a blog post enriched with a link.

At the end of the day we’d have some branding, some buzz-building, gotten some links, and opened the door for future opportunities and serendipity.

Bottom line: for commercial purposes, certain opinions create link-worthy content, as long as they’re crafted to the right audience.  From a marketing standpoint, consider keeping your other irrelevant opinions to yourself so you’re not contributing white noise.  It’s quite possible you work in an industry that wants to stay neutral in all things.  Maybe you work for a mill and supply cut wood for a living, and don’t need to post op-ed stuff for your brand, but with a little creativity, you can also benefit from sharing your opinion for SEO purposes.

Let Google Analytics Tell You What To Write About

Bloggers and content marketers get writer’s block.  Unfortunately, we’re only human.

Luckily, if you mine Google Analytics, inspiration is right around the corner.

We know a few things.  These are cornerstones of writing for an audience:

  1. We want to write about things people are searching for and interested in
  2. We want to write about things people like to share (create some advocacy)
  3. We want to write something fresh

Market research you say?  We already have that at more than a cursory level.

Keyword Reports

This is the obvious one.  Pull up your search keyword reports (ignore and grit your teeth at the [not provided]), and look for keywords that may have brought some long-tail traffic.

differences between google and bing

According to this, one of the engines think I already have some relevance for “the difference between Google and Bing”.  Now I’m inspired.  I don’t really have an article like this, so maybe I can spend some time thinking about what my fresh take on this would be.  Let me look around the web and read a few articles that already exist for inspiration.  Keeping in mind I don’t want to copy the wheel, maybe I have a take, or can update an outdated take.

Some questions I may ask myself:

  1. Am I writing a piece as an SEO landing page or more of a digital PR?
  2. What are the queries I can rank for?  (Keyword research time!)
  3. Who is my audience?  What do I know they like since I want them to be inspired to share?
  4. Is this a news or evergreen piece?
  5. What is the tone of the piece?  Fun?  Corporate?

Social  Referrals

In May I blogged about Google Analytics new social reporting features.  If you haven’t gotten into these reports, check them out (or read my post).  I find myself in here a lot. How do you know what people are interested in?  They’ll tell you by sharing and clicking.

Below is a snapshot of Twitter visits (click to enlarge):

twitter traffic

I did a blog post about about lessons learned through unfollowing people on Twitter. SEOmoz picked it up in their Top 10 and drove a ton of traffic, which is a sign right there that people seem to be interested in Twitter topics.  On days where the SEOmoz influence wasn’t directly present, I was able to click around in this report to see that it was tweeted 40 times since its posting.  More inspiration that people liked the topic, right?  Well, maybe – though Twitter sent it 187 visits, it had a low Average Visit Duration.  I dont know about you, but I can’t read an article in 36 seconds.  Something about this article didn’t appeal to most of the people who read it through a Twitter link.

However, a more recent article called Search Marketing Content vs Digital PR didn’t get the share-heat that the Twitter article did, but it’s average visit time was over 3 minutes. I’m inspired – I have some more perspectives on search content writing.

Bonus: Other great tools outside of GA include Social Crawlytics, or see what notable influencers like at Topsy.

Time On Site

Mentioned above, I use time on site as an indicator that someone is actually reading my stuff.  As a writer, that’s my goal (as well as funneling them through conversions).  By clicking Content > Site Content > All Pages, you can sort by visits and duration.

Time On Site

This is based on all traffic.  With this view there’s a little more redemption for my Twitter article.  The Average Time On Page is up.  I don’t segment my different digital channels, but if I did and wrote for one channel only, this would be useful.  Audiences of different channels have different habits based on the medium they used to find you – it’s always fascinating to me, especially how different it can be in eCommerce.

That’s All Folks

Nice and easy, and tends to give me enough inspiration to kick off a brainstorming session and fill my editorial calendar (which I do hope you’re using).   I leave mine in Google Drive or Evernote so I can quickly pull it up, jot a couple of ideas down, and save for when I’m ready to write an actual post.

Being Actionable Vs. Phoning It In

This is a rant about writing good stuff.  It started with a tweet, some snark, and eventually settled as an opinion (and intention) leading to this content.

Tweet - @billsebald @dohertyjf @cstechjoel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Microblogging is quite different than blogging.  It has to be – it’s a soundbite or headline vehicle at 140 characters.  But I believe writers have the responsibility to keep their audience from drowning in an ocean of ennui.  Take AJ Kohn’s offerings of TL;DR summaries, or Tom Critchlow giving the “cliff notes” right up front in one of his recent posts.  As Frank Zappa would say, this gets us right to the crux of the biscuit.  To be clear though, it’s not so much about where or how you decide to layout the actionable “point,” but making sure you have a clear one somewhere in your document.

I’ve cried about it before on this blog: SEOs abuse “content is king.”  Pause, and ask yourself what the last really good content you produced did for the reader.  Did you copy and paste someone’s idea, regurgitate a concept, or try to cash in on something that others are being successful with?  Or did you invent something?  Did you make noise, or did you forge a new trail?

In the tweet above, John and Joel made some good points.  I tweeted that out after reading another “top x link building tactics” list.  A fluffy, chewed up piece of tactics we’ve all seen before.  It didn’t claim to be written for beginners – which would have at least described the intended action of the content – but it was just more noise that wasn’t helpful for a reasonably experienced SEO.  It was also praised in the comments and shared quite a bit… but so are the annual “SEO is dead” posts, and I’ve yet to find a new takeaway from that topic either (yes – us curators and contributors need to think about the actionability of our role too).

nicolas cageIt’s like a Nicholas Cage movie.  They come around every once in a while, and you always want your time back after you sit through it. Listen, if one more person tells me that sponsoring an event is a great way to get links, without telling me how, or why, or what the level of effort was, or how they got client buy-in, or giving me a real world example or formula to follow, I’m going to kick a puppy. Hard.  It will be your fault. I believe this link building tactic came out of reality, but I don’t believe many people are actually doing it. They’re just regurgitating something they read.  They’re curating, not blogging effectively.

Using the above example, this is really relevant to SEOs.  It’s a worm on a hook.  We want to know more. When a tactic like that comes from Seer, you can be damn sure you’re going to get some color around it. How did Wil and his crew get where they are? They’re proving themselves as experts.  They’re not afraid to share their secrets, and they’re proving their experience.

supermanOur industry is to market to clients while (apparently) marketing to our peers. Branding is part of marketing, and some of us are heavily about ourselves.  That’s fine. But the rules don’t change when you’re writing on behalf of your client’s industry. You should be writing content that doesn’t leave people asking more questions than they started with.  When I watched Superman II in the 80’s, I remember asking my father how Clark Kent could change into Superman so fast.  He told me Clark was wearing his Superman suit under his work clothes.  But even his boots?  He was wearing penny loafers over his boots?  I called bullshit, and I was only eight years old.  I wanted the movie to address that. But that’s fiction.  Most of us are writing things that have a purpose, a goal, and an agenda.  What’s a better place to provide something actionable and answer some questions?

By the way, in case you misinterpreted the crux of the biscuit in this rant, I’m not totally against “top lists” – I love using bullets in my emails to get a point across.  I like structured content.  Paddy Moogan had great intent at Mozcon with his Top 35 tips, and he’s often credited as a highlight of that convention.  I just want the intent to be actionable content, and I notice that a lot of “top” lists are considerable rubbish.

TL;DR – The action I’m trying to encourage is to get you to think about your content (if you’re a typically thin writer), and do everyone (especially your client) a better service by answering needs. Be a marketing superhero and save the interwebs of crap villainy.

Let Google Analytics Tell You What To Write About

Bloggers and content marketers get writer’s block.

Luckily, if you mine Google Analytics, inspiration is right around the corner.

We know a few things –

  1. We want to write about things people are searching for and interested in
  2. We want to write about things people like to share (create some advocacy)
  3. We want to write something fresh

Market research you say?  We already have that at a cursory level.

Keyword Reports

This is the obvious one.  Pull up your search keyword reports (ignore and grit your teeth at the [not provided]), and look for keywords that may have brought some long-tail traffic.

differences between google and bing

According to this, one of the engines think I already have some relevance for “the difference between Google and Bing”.  Now I’m inspired.  I don’t really have an article like this, so maybe I can spend some time thinking about what my take on this would be.

Social  Referrals

In May I blogged about Google Analytics new social reporting features.  If you haven’t gotten into these reports, check them out (or read my post).  I find myself in here a lot. How do you know what people are interested in?  They’ll tell you by sharing and clicking.

Below is a snapshot of Twitter visits (click to enlarge):

twitter traffic

I did a blog post about about lessons learned through unfollowing people on Twitter. SEOmoz picked it up in their Top 10 and drove a ton of traffic, which is a sign right there that people seem to be interested in Twitter topics.  On days where the SEOmoz influence wasn’t directly present, I was able to click around in this report to see that it was tweeted 40 times since its posting.  More inspiration that people liked the topic, right?  Well, maybe – though Twitter sent it 187 visits, it had a low Average Visit Duration.  I dont know about you, but I can’t read an article in 36 seconds.  Something about this article didn’t appeal to most of the people who read it through a Twitter link.

However, a more recent article called Search Marketing Content vs Digital PR didn’t get the share-heat that the Twitter article did, but it’s average visit time was over 3 minutes. I’m inspired – I have some more perspectives on search content writing.

Time On Site

Mentioned above, I use time on site as an indicator that someone is actually reading my stuff.  As a writer, that’s my goal (as well as funneling them through conversions).  By clicking Content > Site Content > All Pages, you can sort by visits and duration.

Time On Site

This is based on all traffic.  With this view there’s a little more redemption for my Twitter article.  The Average Time On Page is up.  I don’t segment my different digital channels, but if I did and wrote for one channel only, this would be useful.  Audiences of different channels have different habits based on the medium they used to find you – it’s always fascinating to me, especially how different it can be in eCommerce.

That’s All Folks

Nice and easy, and tends to give me enough inspiration to kick off a brainstorming session and fill my editorial calendar (which I do hope you’re using).  If you’re interested, here’s the editorial calendar template I use.  I leave mine in Google Docs so I can quickly pull it up, jot a couple of ideas down, and save for when I’m ready to write an actual post.

Make sure you check out Anthony Nelson’s comment below – that’s a great tip as well.

Search Marketing Content Vs. Digital PR

My father gave me some good advice once.  Never act on anything you learn at a convention until 2 weeks have passed.  Wait until the shine has worn off, then see if what you captured is really the “game changer” you originally believed.

I attended Mozcon in the end of July.  There were some great presentations, though some attendees said they weren’t as actionable as the year before.  Admittedly, several of the presentations seemed like they were vying to win a “best keynote” award, but I certainly got what I expected from an SEOmoz convention.  A common, developing theme spoke to the evolution of our industry more as content providers, at the mercy of Penguin and Panda. We’ve heard this before (in many less than constructive ways) – the last two years were heavy on social media for SEO, while 2012 was expected to be the year of “real” content marketing.  Earlier this year I expected the “content is king” adage to evolve.  Build My Rank and other thin content purveyors suddenly went down, shaking more people into rethinking the term “content.”  Tom Critchlow closed the conference with an off-the-cuff presentation where he said, “SEOs have a problem.”  He suggested we’re not doing the kind of content development PR firms do, and we need to become digital PR before the traditional PR firms figure it out.

As a whole, I partially disagree.I disagree

I believe SEO has many definitions.  For some, it’s just about getting properties to rank well. That’s fine.  For others, it could certainly be digital PR.  From the perspective of my marketing sensibilities, I like that concept, and I was initially really taken with it.  It seems likely that the time is right for SEOs to take over that void – for those that want it.  But there’s still a huge need for search only content.

Look at Wikihow, eHow, and the others.  Panda was supposed to spank them for thin content, but luckily I still see them.

Yes, I said luckily.

Though their content is often thin, I’m glad these sites exist.  They serve a purpose.  When I searched how to change the oil in a 2004 Harley Davidson Sportster, I discovered an article particularly for that specific bike and year.  That’s pretty awesome.  The directions could have been better, but the article was efficient enough to answer my need, and served to be quite convenient on my smartphone out in the garage.  When I needed an article on the right tool to use to unscrew a Nintendo Wii, it was a long-tail targeted Wikihow article.  Today when I searched how to fix low volume issues of a Fender Twin, I got eHow.

That’s search content that’s provided not by digital PR, but by content marketing and analyzing long-tail queries.  I don’t want to see SEOs quit focusing on this kind of content. I’m willing to bet all my cookies nobody goes to the eHow homepage and just navigates for fun. I’m willing to bet my prized beer can collection that if they removed their homepage, nobody would notice.  Search is big for them, and SEOs can certainly take a cue for their own initiatives.  But maybe we could just be a little more thoughtful when we write search marketing content.

I use everything from Social Mention, to Google Analytics, to Crowdbooster, to Ubersuggest (the list goes on) to provide content ideas for my own organic growth, and for link building fodder and outreach.  It’s not quite as future-less as I think some of the Mozcon presentations were suggesting.  I like the idea of repositioning the mouth of the content marketing funnel, but I sure don’t want to shrink it.

Indeed there’s a lot of necessary clean-up from our past content marketing oil spills (some of which requires manual removal, and some Google is just ignoring).  I don’t see it as black and white though.  I think an SEO copywriter still has a lot of opportunity in the gray area.

Digital PR sounds like a great new hat to put on, build on, study on, and practice.  But search marketing content done right is still necessary, even if the article and blog networks don’t rank anymore.  Luckily (hopefully) your site still does, and you can build a home for this content if you haven’t already.  We can still rank by helping Google answer the billions of questions they’re asked.  That part hasn’t changed.

Getting A Headstart With SEO Landing Pages

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There are shenanigans going on in TV land. A couple weeks ago DirecTV was feuding with Viacom, content distributors with 26 channels. Viacom owns staples like comedy Channel, MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon. A couple weeks ago Viacom ordered DirecTV to shut off their content (channels).  That followed with a schoolyard “he said, she said” public fight between the whiny C-suite.

Luckily everything has been worked out, and I can once again watch Teen Mom.

I don’t know how long this dispute was gearing up behind the scenes, but from what I gathered, this wasn’t a surprise to DirecTV.  When I found out I’d be losing these channels I googled for information to see if this was temporary, what channels I lost, and any reason to keep DirecTV at that point.  I found this site’s webpage: http://www.directvpromise.com/other-ways-to-watch – granted, this 404’s now that the shitstorm is over (a 301 might have been wiser here peeps), but it was a pretty candid explanation of what was going on from DirecTV’s perspective.  It was there right away, and helped satisfy my questions.  I also noticed journalists and radio personalities repeating a lot of the same information on this page.  I’m sure it was a resource for others, like it was for me.

Being a nosy SEO, I also noticed the organic rankings for this site were improving daily (which seems in sync with a recent backlink spike beginning June 9th).  I’m guessing this is a slightly aged microsite (not old enough to be in the Wayback Machine) that is being repurposed to speak to the issues.   I don’t know if the links were from intentional link building, organic growth based on the news, or both.

Well done DirecTV.  A great use of an SEO landing page (assuming for a moment you actually meant to do it in part for search).

I’m not sure it’s a common practice to think of SEO as a channel to use for getting in front of breaking issue or demand.  In ecommerce we think about it all the time for holidays, but I rarely see it in place for new product launches.  SEO landing pages are a big part of my work for the last decade, so here are a few real-life examples from past clients where SEO could have been a bigger part of the integrated marketing strategies.  I can’t tell you the client names (and I’m sure you won’t be able to figure it out because I’m really good at keeping secrets), but it’s always good to learn from mistakes.

Example 1 –  In 2008 I worked with a company that had a Superbowl commercial (back when they were still funny).  It was a silly commercial – I’m completely blanking on the plot, but it was the goofy kind with some kind of cute animal, and probably some slapstick violence to a human thrown in for good measure. The company ran the spot, but failed to pre-launch an SEO landing page that could be optimized for people searching out this commercial.  Assuming there would be an influx of new brand traffic, we neglected the searchers who forgot the brand’s name (too many beers?), but searched for “monkey punching human superbowl commercial” instead.  All the Superbowl ads got some heat that year from SEO news sites; admittedly our client was very deserving of this as well.  Putting up a defensive play in the form of long-tail SEO landing pages is now engrained in my DNA. It’s so easy to do, yet we wasted that little window of opportunity because we didn’t think broader.

Example 2: I worked with a very large denim company based in San Francisco.  They were launching a “feature” on their website using the still-secret Facebook open graph.  The world didn’t know what 2010’s F8 conference was going to bring, so there were plenty of bloggers and news sites looking for crumbs.  This brand had a secret project to basically use the Like button to promote products and bring in purchasing influence from Facebook.  It’s normal to see the open graph integrated into ecommerce now, but back then this was a new opportunity to make some money and build the brand, as well as earn some great editorial links.

The only problem was the brand didn’t even include their own SEO team in the secret project.

When the “feature” launched, not only did we quickly realize it weighed down load time dramatically, but there wasn’t any descriptive content for all the different websites who wanted to report on this implementation.  The buzz didn’t last very long because there were so many questions and no easily linkable resource to explain what a cool feature this actually was.  Eventually bloggers figured it out on their own, or lost interest because they didn’t know what they were exactly looking at.  Link growth was very low (and rankings were brutal), but with a pre-launch page seeding something special, and pushing that out to writers and the public, this could have been big.  The brand would have been seen as trendsetters, instead of a beneficiary of some confusing technology.  With an SEO’d pre-launch page, the authority could have been built up before the switch was hit that made this Like-ridden collection page live.

Example 3: Here’s a time where it did work (or, I was able to get ahead of the issue for once).  I had a racecar driving client who was starting his own racing team and releasing diecast models of his car.  We were secretly chosen to wholesale and retail it.  Since he was a big star (with an even bigger famous father), I knew that these products would get out into the wild fast, and sell through every small NASCAR web store.  I created a vague but hinting landing page, and worked with some big NASCAR blogs to start the buzz.  Bloggers love to feel like they’ve been selected to be in the loop, even if it’s just to a minor degree.  Egos can be toyed with!  When the news broke and the product was released, and we uploaded the new announcement onto our now aged landing page, the second level buzz spread, and our links became big traffic funnels and bigger SEO drivers.  While we sold hundreds through our retail channel, showing that demand was high, we sold fewer than expected through the wholesale channel (suggesting demand was lower there because people were buying them direct on our site).  Score.

I’m sure you can think of some new ways to integrate SEO (be it landing pages or microsites) with some of your issues or new features/products.  Most natural search clicks are from information searchers, and you know it’ll take a few weeks and some outreach to fuel up your page.  Might as well try to get the information out there in advance before someone else beats you to it.  Webpages are like bait, and looking at landing pages this way may give you some super worms to dangle in the lake.

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