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Why Analytical SEO?

Optimization By The Numbers

Greenlane Search Marketing takes a high data approach to optimization. Rankings aren’t everything – at the end of the day, our success lies in your conversions.
Over 13 Years SEO Experience

Our team has provided SEO, PPC, copywriting, and analytics services for major brands. Greenlane Search Marketing is focused on bringing those results to small and medium sized businesses.
Conversions, Not Just Rank

We tie ourselves to higher standards. We won’t just sell you improved rank. Instead, we’ll make your KPIs ours. Let SEO drive your bottom line, not just your visibility in search engines.


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Getting Caught Up On Local Search With Darren Shaw

Doing big ecommerce for years meant I didn’t get too much experience with local search.  You may not know, but (for example) the Toys R’ Us website and the brick and mortars aren’t really connected, which is (fortunately or unfortunately?) pretty common in enterprise ecommerce. Many big retailers who have an online presence only put a small amount of their funds and attention into the .com, typically resulting in silos.  

Now in my latest role as a B2B marketer for a regional business, I was excited to dive into some local work.  The problem is, I didn’t do a great job keeping up with this specialization.  I needed to ameliorate myself.  I didn’t totally understand the Venice update, and there were changes with the packs that I didn’t totally follow.  I was more experienced with optimizing local pages in Google’s general search, than for the more intuitive local packs.

At Mozcon 2012, Darren Shaw had one of the most useful presentations for me.  I asked him to go to dinner (yes, I wasn’t afraid to ask for a date apparently) to pick his brain.  He was meeting his family that night, but was kind enough to help me out following my Seattle visit via email.  I’m a regular user of Whitespark now.  There’s a great citation finder tool (with a positive SEObook review here), and they have services that dig way deeper than, say, Yext.  Whitespark also teamed up with Citation Labs to create the darling Link Prospector.  He’s humble about it, but Darren and Whitespark should be on your radar.

I asked him some questions and decided to share the answers – hopefully if you’re at the same level as I am with local search, this will be very useful to you to too.

What are some ways local search can help drive qualified traffic that sites without a brick or mortar counterpart haven’t considered?
There are plenty of local service based businesses without physical offices. Appearing in the local pack listings can often drive more clicks than an organic listing, especially if you’ve taken the time to set up Google Authorship to make make your listing stand out with a profile photo.

One major benefit to having a local listing are the reviews that potential customers can read to evaluate and select your business. A prominent local listing combined with plenty of positive reviews is a guaranteed business booster far beyond what you’d see with only a high organic ranking. People trust user reviews more than what you say about your services on your website.

Can you define the Venice update? Does Venice only affect Google’s local vertical (ie, the local packs), or does it also contribute to rankings in the regular results.

In a nutshell, Venice localized the organic results. Since Venice, if google detects local intent in the search query, they’ll try to return locally relevant organic results in addition to the local pack. For an excellent, in-depth, guide to the implications of Venice, check out this post from Mike Ramsey on SEOmoz’s blog.

What are some of vital local search tactics, maybe compared to life before the Venice update?

The blended algo was already in place prior to Venice, but the organic factors (onsite & links) gained more weight.

The local search tactics we employ didn’t change post Venice.  The core tactics remain:

  • Local Google+ Page optimization (categories being the most important)
  • Website optimization
  • NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) consistency (audit and clean up of existing citations)
  • Citation building
  • Review acquisition and reputation management (responding to reviews).
  • Content development and link building.

Does Google+ integration change tactics and strategies much?

Not much.  There are two things that changed:

1) We now encourage our clients to be more active in Google+. I’m not convinced that social signals are providing any permanent ranking benefits at the moment (although we are seeing temporary boosts), but I figure it’s going to be valuable in the long term to have some social authority built up.

2) Businesses can review other businesses AS the business rather than an individual, so this opens up new ways of acquiring reviews by asking your business partners to review you. You review them, they review you, win-win.

What are some of your favorite ways to optimize for local search inside and outside of the packs?

- Tracking down and cleaning up inconsistent NAP data in your citations is a time consuming and frustrating task, but it can have a very positive impact once all the issues have been sorted out. We’re going to be launching a service for this soon.

- Getting a few very high quality, locally relevant, links can give a great boost to your rankings. Sponsorship opportunities at the local colleges are good for this. (this tip courtesy of David Mihm)

- We love citations from locally relevant and industry specific sites. You can use the Local Citation Finder to find them (see the how-to at the bottom of this post), or you can just hire our citation building service to do the hunting and submitting for you.

- You have to get the reviews rolling in. Lot’s of great tips in this post from my friend Matthew Hunt, and be sure to watch this video.

- Using the Link Prospector to find local guest post opportunities, and getting a citation as well as a link in the post has been working well for us. We also use it to find those high value, local, sponsorship opportunities that I mentioned above.

Thanks to Darren for your patience with me and kindness.  Check out:  

 


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Create Your Own SEO Serendipity

My Twitter is @billsebald, and I hope every one of you follow and communicate with me. Read on and find out why.

Sometimes you have to make your own luck. You don’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket. You won’t win a marathon if you don’t get out of your chair.  And you don’t make friends if you don’t communicate with people. We’re wired to grab at opportunities that seem obvious, but we don’t typically pause for serendipitous moments.

SEO serendipityThe more SEO evolves, we find ourselves stretched thinner and thinner.  There’s a lot of noise – it grows faster than the tools we create to carve through.  Our focus is rarely pinpoint, while our attention span needs to be wider.  It can get scary and overwhelming.  It’s the fright that drives a bigger swarm of rabid land-grabbers to the same obvious relationships.  Whether you’re a link builder or in PR, you know you’re fighting in a mosh pit of like-minded peers after the same prize.

I love networking.  Not necessarily through the traditional kind of awkward meet and greet, name-tagged, stuffy network events.  I’ve always liked digital networking.  Since I can remember, semi-anonymous communications to people on Myspace, mIRC, chat rooms, Listservs, BBS, etc., was always more comfortable for me.  Like most of us, I used to hide behind usernames before truly branding myself.  I’m a social butterfly though only on the web.  You can imagine why I’m a Twitterholic.

I get many calls for consulting work.  If I were consulting full time I wouldn’t be hurting for clients. Many are from old co-workers, old client referrals, current client referrals, and friends I’ve made on Twitter or LinkedIn.  By being helpful, being generally kind, and not being afraid to give something away for free, I’ve seen returns.  I’ve created great friendships just by chance communications on Twitter.

A relationship that sits above the business deal is huge.  I know for a fact some major agency deals are made because of past relationships and current friendships (I’ve been in the room!!!). I’ve seen companies go through the whole RFP dog and pony show as part of procedure, when in actuality the vendor was already chosen based on prior relationships.  Keep and eye out for luck and you have this:  Serendipity > New Contacts > Nurture > Friendship > Opportunity.  You define friendship.

Twitter is amazing for this.  I respond to everyone who ever sends a note to me.  It’s not that hard because I don’t have a Rand or Danny following and schedule (now that would be difficult!). I’ve blogged about relationship nurturing on Twitter, and how the SEO industry should maintain the practice of supporting each other without labels/levels/titles or any other ego.  But I also think the same friendly quality should go to everyone you communicate with on Twitter and Linkedin (or any other digital network), including those outside your industry.  You’re creating more luck.

Example 1

Here’s a recent case where the serendipity could have worked for someone in our industry.  I was working lightly with a client who needed a specific function of SEO, something I just didn’t have the bandwidth to handle.  Concurrently, I followed an SEO who occassionaly tweets about this niche.  I sent him a few tweets to feel him out.  They weren’t, “hey – are you free to take this client?”  It was more of me trying to jump into the conversation where I thought I could add value, and just see what kind of warmth I would get.  I got no response, while I was looped out in the continuing conversation.

Another topic came up a few weeks later and I tried to add some color again with the same SEO. Still no response.  Eventually, since I was still thinking about him for this opportunity, I sent a public tweet directly to him asking him a question related to his niche.  Still no reply.

Takeaway: Perception Is Reality    

There was a chance for this SEO to strike up a conversation with me, to where I probably would have DM’d him with the opportunity.  For whatever reason, he didn’t take the chance of communicating, and I lost interest in him.  Later when I was pruning my “following” list, I apparently made a semi-conscious decision to cut him.  Now he’s completely off my radar.

I don’t know if he’s looking for work or not, but it’s still a missed opportunity.  And I have the perception of him as a “not so warm and fuzzy” guy because he didn’t get back to me.  True or not, perception is reality.  This is where some people say, “it was never meant to be.”  That statement drives me crazy.  Of course it’s not meant to be if you don’t nurture serendipity.

Example 2

I was looking for information on creating a firepit in my yard.  I thought a homemade firepit might be fun to build, so I hit Google.  I found an article on a website that I wouldn’t normally visit, but it was coincidently a niche my client serves in.  While reading the article (and enjoying the warm tone of the blogger), I decided to write her a note telling her I liked the article, asking a follow up question, and then giving a subtle link pitch.  We had about 3 emails back and forth before the link pitch was reintroduced.  Not only did I get a link, but I got a glowing review, completely unprompted.  I also found out she has some other sites I was interested in, and that she and I grew up in the same town.  I added her on LinkedIn, and sure enough, got a surprise SEO referral from her 2 weeks later.  All because I squeezed everything I could out of a firepit post.

Takeaway: Take Time To Learn What A Person Has To Offer

When you come up to someone’s front door with a vacuum cleaner in hand, you look like a vacuum cleaner salesman.  The door won’t open. Understandably serendipity isn’t scalable, but you’ll get things out of it that the other land-grabbers are probably not getting.  Once luck hits, I like to romance the connection.

Example 3

1n 1998 I started hanging out in a local record shop.  The owner wanted to take his music shop online (which back then mainly meant selling through eBay), so I offered to help him out for a couple bucks while I was in college.  One of our customers wanted a direct connection to get first dibs when new CDs came in.  I didn’t mind sending him emails when something I knew he liked came in (I could have blown him off).  I did this for years, and we started having great musical discussions through his prodigy email address.  It turned out he worked for Atlantic Records, and started getting me backstage passes to shows when they came through Philadelphia.  With all the access to rock stars, I got inspired to interview them and post it online.  Two years later I had an online music magazine, amazing experiences, and was introduced to search engine optimization. I wasn’t seeking any of this initially.

Takeaway: Good Will For All

My SEO career started by chance because I was a music fan, and was willing to look into an opportunity instead of sitting on my ass.  I took chances, tried things without worry that I wouldn’t like it, didn’t sit around thinking too hard about everything, and just positioned myself for opportunities.  By putting myself out there and doing favors, it paid off and led me down a path I’m incredibly thankful for.

Hopefully this gives you something to think about while we all do this SEO thing together.

Update: 9/25/2012 - Mackenzie Fogelson (who you should follow) let me know about 2 other recent posts on the topic I had missed.  Check them out one by Rand Fishkin and Jason Fried.


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A “Manual Action” Recovery Story

This is me.  Daniel E. “Rudy” Ruettiger.  I look a lot like Mikey from the Goonies.  

Rudy

This is Google:

Arizona Cardinals Crushing

The other day the clouds opened, and the mighty hand of Google left a note in my Google Webmaster account.  It was the rumored “Manual spam action revoked” email.  As @armondhammer put it on Twitter, “That’s like getting a presidental pardon, google style.

For those who like recovery stories, here’s how I figured mine out.  Like Rudy, I didn’t give up.  I had a huge mountain of uncharted trails ahead of me.  And I, well, I also got lucky as hell.  

The Story

I have a lot of sites, but only one got spanked back in March.  I always want to be trying everything in SEO; most of my sites were clean, some were a touch dirtier.  The niche I was battling in had(has) an abundance of spammers.  Somewhat familiar brands were using forum spamming, paid linking, link wheels – you name it.  They were pounding the big box retailers on head terms.  Although I didn’t get too sucked into the vortex, I did ultimately lose to the urge to fight fire with fire.  I participated in some blog link networks to level the playing field.  I went gray.

This was the post that woke me up: Unnatural Link Warnings and Blog Networks from SEOmoz.  I heard rumblings of the blog link networks getting sacked (including Authority Link Network).  I knew a lot of posts were being deindexed and the junk links were being severed, but that’s the risk you take when you break Google’s commandments.  Historically, the worst thing that could happen is Google would devalue those links from perceived bad neighborhoods.  They wouldn’t actually penalize the website.  But thanks to that SEOmoz post, my confidence was rattled.  I remember getting home from work and reading this post 30 times in a sweat.  I can still picture Carson Ward’s smiling profile picture.  

Thanks to Carson’s post, I learned about the “unnatural links” warning that Google started sending out in Webmaster Central.  Up until then, I rarely went into GWT.  But sure enough, I logged in, and there it was.  It might as well been written with a neon font and Myspace-style glitter .gifs – it couldn’t have been more sickening.  It felt like a busted high school party – the cops were outside, and everyone was dashing to make sure they weren’t the unlucky schmuck who got nabbed.  I instantly went to Build My Rank and chose the remove live posts option that BMR was kind enough to offer, and hoped my error would fade into obscurity.  

What Was I Thinking?

axl roseA colleague serendipitously turned me onto Build My Rank.  It was cheap (when cheap actually worked), and was an an efficacious defense to my spamming competitors.  I had already been writing original content for guest postings; in my mind this was merely a more automated extension of that.  I felt a risk but really never thought Google was going to use them as a rally point, let alone make them into a Panda poster child.  Of all the things Google had to clean up (and ultimately got with Penguin), low PR blog link networks should have been prioritized later in my opinion.  But it was like crack – the rankings went up for nearly every keyword I targeted using BMR.  I kept pushing my secret drug.  The more the service started to feel dirtier, the more blind I made myself.  

[box title="Build My Rank" color="#000000"]Build My Rank allowed the user to pay a “per article” fee on top of the monthly subscription. The writers (who I believe were in-house – not sure if that’s true) weren’t very good, but BMR also let you write your own unique content.  They’d prohibit your article if it didn’t meet their uniqueness and quality standards (though the rules seemed to be lax for their own authors). This was their way of justifying to their audience that they were Google-proof.  Clearly that didn’t work out so well for them.[/box]

So, while this network was getting caned with bamboo, my targeted rankings plummeted.  I didn’t know if it was because I cut all these links out of my link profile, or because I was being penalized. There was a lot of confusion at this point, and very little details from Google.  They kind of let us, well, sweat.  

I sent in my first (of many) reinclusion requests.  I was honest.  I told them about the crack I’d been smoking.  I also told them I’d removed the posts and I wouldn’t disappoint them again (I’ve kept my word).  My thought was this request would really go to nobody, but while months went by (as did several Panda updates, and a Penguin)  I slowly started to see my rankings return.  I was also now doing nothing other than clean, G-approved SEO.  I had a reputable news company helping with legitimate content marketing.  I worked with them to make sure the pieces was informative, unique, question-answering content.  They did internal linking, and studied the analytics to look for other content marketing opportunities.

It was about this time I saw virtually all my rankings return, except about 6 of my major converting keywords (all synonyms and plurals of each other).  Those were my big terms.  In this website’s niche there isn’t a lot of long-tail, so I was still a wounded SEO.  Meanwhile I was now getting new, fuzzy WMT messages: “Site violates Google’s quality guidelines,” with notes like look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site.  Wonderful.  Is this sort of the same issue spoken a different way?  Was it something else?  It appeared like this doesn’t have anything to do with Build My Rank anymore, but how could I be sure?  This looked like problems with my external links (ie, backlinks from other sites).  The blogosphere generally seemed to think so, so I went with it.

I pulled an OSE link report and saw a lot of spam – much of which was there before I started with this client, though some was new.  A link wheel was pointing to me, started in August 2011 (according to the posting dates in the post’s meta data).  Now, I admitted I wasn’t squeaky clean, but this wasn’t my doing.  This was a huge sloppy footprint that I found in minutes.  I assumed the Penguin algorithm could find just as easily.  It targeted only one keyword – my industry’s biggest head term.  That can’t be good, but Google wouldn’t let negative SEO work, right?  I promptly sent this discovery to Google in yet another reinclusion request.

This is where Google ultimately let me down.  They seem more interested in tackling the webspam they helped promote with PageRank.  There would be casualties, including more innocent casualties than I.  There wasn’t anything in OSE or the links reported in GWT that looked too bad except this link wheel.  Does that mean the other spam links were ignored?  Never found?  I think it was June/July when I finally jumped into the “negative SEO works” camp, and ate my decade-long Google fanboy hat for breakfast.  For a company that wants to be transparent, this brick wall causes more problems from generally helpful SEOs.  

The FugitiveI Started To Feel Like Dr. Richard Kimble

I made a mistake, was in the wrong place at the wrong time, thinking that I was still “kinda” doing what wasn’t explicitly called out as bad by Google.  I fell into a bad crowd.  Now I’m in a shitstorm that I can’t explain, fix, or understand. I had to buy a Remove’m package to basically send Google a spreadsheet saying I tried to contact every shit website that was linking to me.  5% of the results that showed from that tool had a contact associated, and I heard back from 1% of the recipients I sent an email to. Still, I sent this in yet another reinclusion request with the note, “I tried.”  This was – and still is – absolutely absurd.

It was at this point we learned that these were manual penalties, and I was at the mercy of a Googler who just didn’t like me.  Yes – I did take it personally.  Who the hell was this manual hand editor?  Why couldn’t I win his heart?  This reinclusion request was rejected as well.  I was still a fugitive.

My Last Reinclusion Request

At this point I had given up.  I was sick of hearing tips from people who never claimed to come back from the manual penalty (many of whom seemed to be confusing this as Penguin).  It was chaos in the streets.  A month had passed since my last failure.  I had no more changes to make.  So I drafted one last reinclusion request, even though I didn’t do any more clean up.  I had nothing left to do.

[quote style="1"]Dear Google,

I am truly sorry our relationship had to end like this.  I should not have cheated on your Webmaster Guidelines.  Call it a momentary lapse of indiscretion, but it’s all gone too far.  You tell me my back links are poisonous, but I did not create any that you are now showing me in my Webmaster account.  I truly don’t know how to remove them.  I wasn’t trying to hurt you and your users.  I do not want to torch my site because it really is a valuable resource for searchers.  I hope one day we can be friends.  Call me.

- Bill[/quote]

The Recovery

But luckily I had another idea before I hit send.  I started think about “over-optimization”.  Though I didn’t believe I was in a Penguin filter, I was manually flagged nonetheless – it still could have been a Penguin-type, on-site, over-optimization crime.  Since the webmaster message they send is obviously canned, and there’s quite a number of things a webmaster can do that is “wrong”, maybe I can try not taking the message so literally.  Maybe it’s not about “links to my site” as in external links, but maybe it’s over optimization in my current site.  Maybe I’m not reading between the blurry lines Google has always been known for.

I started looking through the content marketing articles I had on the site from the news company (mentioned earlier).  They used internal links between the articles and the top-level pages as an SEO best practice.  I started to realize that at some point the anchor text started to get very similar – in fact, it began centering on my 6 core keywords.  The more of their articles I read, the more the penalty trigger seemed obvious.  Look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site. Well, these looked artificial, unnatural, and they were pointing to my site (even though they were already within my same domain).  The intent of the links were to pass PageRank, deepen crawls, and yes, help with certain keyword rankings.  Maybe Google only recognized the third intention?  I had nothing to lose – I removed these links from 80 posts and sent the reinclusion request.

Touchdown!

Admitting My Mistake

All of this was pretty humbling.  I made a mistake that set of a chain of events that I didn’t expect but should have forseen.  I know Google.  I know how they are vague in their guidelines.  I know how the search product is always full of surprises, both good and silly.  Every SEO makes mistakes – we’re in a field where very little is textbook.  Secretly I know a few big name SEOs who (in confidence) have similar stories.  I’m ashamed that I didn’t see it earlier, but I took my eye off my tactics.  I’m saddened that Google took such a hard line with me while those blatant spammers still exist and dominate.  But there’s something to be said about “doing your time.”  I truly think I gained some good experience in a new world order.  I also believe that Panda and Penguin – which now appear long overdue, and not the “wreckless moves” I used to consider them – are some of the smartest filters Google could have put in.  They’re taking a risk with the casualties, to bank on better results by the end of the year.  I mean, as a business built around algorithmically serving the best webpages, how could they not get more aggressive (and include humans, Mahalo style).  It really was just a matter of time.

If you like recovery stories, a good one was just posted on YOUmoz.  

 

If you like this post, check out my new post on SEO serendipity.


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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.


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14

Being Actionable Vs. Phoning It In

Like this post? Vote for it on inbound.org.

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.


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7

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.


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7

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.


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0

Getting A Headstart With SEO Landing Pages

Like this post?  Vote for it on inbound.org.

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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24

Things I learned by flushing 3,000 followers

301′ing to homepage (test)

 

Twitter Bird

I’ve been on Twitter since 2007. I’m certifiably addicted, but I’ve never kept my main feed organized. It was too much work after I let it all pile on.  My Twitter was getting fat.

Years ago Twitter was asked, “what are you.” Twitter’s answer, “whatever you want us to be!” Some turned it into a prospecting tool, an RSS feed, a toy, a chat room, a customer service tool, a spamming tool, a stalking/trolling tool, or a brand manager. I realized I never really turned it into anything. It’s like a tornado of people, and I just spiral around in it without any real habitual use. But one thing I never did was look through my raw Twitter feed. I use TweetDeck for Chrome, and completely removed the main Twitter feed.

I was sweeping my mess under the rug. I’m usually very organized, probably due to a little OCD.  My Twitter usage did not reflect that.  Sure, I relied on lists, but I didn’t build them out nearly enough. I was missing other good things in my main feed that didn’t get automatically filed.

I decided to break off my “relationships” with 3,000 people. I did it by hand using Tweepi. It didn’t give me the sense of power I hoped. Most of the mutual followers didn’t realize I existed (just like High School), but for some reason I was still in a relationship status with them. I certainly expected to lose a ton of followers (assuming many of them were only following me as long as I was following them, but with TweetAttacks vanishing, maybe that was less likely?).  In a week I’ve lost only a few hundred.

For some tweeters, it was hard to say goodbye to the icons I’ve gotten familiar with. I’m not kidding. By removing everyone manually, I tried to remember the good times. Some were big brands that followed me back, or big Twitter-celebrities. Yes – I said goodbye to the Zappos CEO. I was impressed 5 years ago when he followed me, but we’ve never spoke (plus he’s apparently seeing 369,000 others). I dropped virtually all the brands I was following. I dropped SEMs and social specialists if we never communicated, or if they never responded – with the exception to a few who were really thought leaders or good friends.

Here was some of my criteria:

1. If we haven’t had a conversation in 2 years, and your content doesn’t really excite me, I broke up with you.
2. If you don’t respond to me, and you’re not a top provider/curator of content, I dumped you.
3. If your icon was a hot woman, but your name was George, I let you go.
4. If your shirt off was in your icon (and you’re a guy) you were severed.
5. If you have a Z in your name where you should have an S, I dumped you on principal.
6. If your icon was an egg, dumped.
7. If you haven’t tweeted in over 3 months and I didn’t know you personally, I cut you loose.
8. If your icon was an animated .gif, gone.
9.  If you were an obvious bot, I asked myself how I ever followed you, then gave you the boot.
10. If you retweet really dumb things, I buried you. 
11. If you appear to follow everyone who follows you (like I used to, which is how I got into this mess), you’re toast.
12. Abusive use of the underscore. 

What Did I Learn?
For me, I realized that I was doing Twitter wrong.   I want SEO industry content and some laughs with my friends.  I want to be on the pulse of what’s important through the lens of the people I enjoy and respect.  I meant no disrespect to the people I cut – I’m sure there are lots of great people, but the connection was never made.  I want all my mutual connections to be real connections, more like my LinkedIn.  Now I’m following much fewer users, and put my raw stream back into my grid.

It’s been a pleasure.  And it’s controllable.

Why Should You Follow Me If I Won’t Follow You Back?
Maybe you shouldn’t, especially if you haven’t stopped to figure out what Twitter should be for you. Granted, my tweets/retweets are 50% relevant to SEOs, with the other 50% being hilarious, but if you’re not into that type of thing, why follow me? I’m also very responsive on Twitter – I respond to everyone, so if you like a good conversation, strike one up with me. That’s another good reason to follow me. If I agree that we’re “hitting it off” I’ll probably follow you back.

But why does Twitter need to be a mutual connection?

My Admission – I Was A Twitter Hoarder
How did I let it get this way?  In the beginning I had some bad habits.  I followed everyone who followed me using a tool (who’s name I forget).  I also did a lot of following of people in lists (instead of just following their lists).  I followed a lot of people who others I admired were following.  I did this blindly, assuming that I’d be able to find a few favorites after a few weeks of watching tweets.  #badplan

I also used to do consulting, and thought of Twitter as a real business prospecting tool.  I semi-consciously thought a high follower count could be seen as clout.  The problem was, although I had an auto-DM, I didn’t nurture any of the contacts.  I was a complete Twitter hack for 3 years.  I only got bit by the bug and really started to understand its value in the last couple years.

Twitter has introduced me to great people.  I’m excited for Mozcon in a couple weeks to meet people I speak with on Twitter.  I’ll learn something there, but suspect much of it will be through conversations and networking due to the relationships I’ve made on Twitter. That’s really pretty huge.


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