Get Hit with Some Knowledge (Graph)

A couple years ago, Google launched a little-known feature called knowledge graph, and recently rolled out a few changes to it (again, on the down-low). While most of us never heard anything about it, but we have all certainly seen the impact in our search results.

Just take these search results for “jfk”. In it, we not only see search engine result page (SERP) for “jfk”, but an excerpt pulled from Wikipedia, some additional biographical facts (also pulled from Wikipedia), some additional searches (in this case, other political figures) that other users also search for, and some recommended alternate search (such as for the airport and the film).

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Click to Enlarge

Another area where you’ve probably seen Google’s Knowledge Graph in action is with Answer Boxes, such as this one for “when is miley cyrus birthday”. Here, we not only get the answer to our question as the first result, but a bunch of “related people” birthday results, as well as some biographical info about Miley as pulled from Wikipedia.

It's your birthday and you'll Twerk if you want to...
It’s your birthday and you’ll Twerk if you want to…

So what’s my point?

So you’re probably wondering what JFK and Miley Cyrus have to do with marketing your website, right? I mean, isn’t that why you’re reading this? ‘Cause you want to market your site and it’s products/services?

cool_story_bro_superWell, I can think of at least 3 good reasons why you should care about Google’s Knowledge Graph:

  1. Increased Visibility – basically, it gives a chance for your brand (or products) to show up in related searches (such as those for your competitors).
  2. Reputation Management – the Knowledge Graph gives you an opportunity to pimp out and capture/control more the SERP real estate on brandname searches, making you look a lot more credible.
  3. Added Discoverablility – users will discover more about your brand and its products/services on searches related to your brand or product/service keywords.

Now that I’m making a bit more sense, you’re probably wondering what you can do to reap some of the benefits of this whole Knowledge Graph thing. Well, as with all things SEO there’s (probably) no end to the things you can do to continually squeeze the most out of it. But there are 3 places you should be starting, so I guess I should give you a heads-up on each of them.

Get on Wikipedia

So you might’ve noticed that Wikipedia is kinda a big thing with the Knowledge Graph. From providing excerpts that Google pulls to helping to fueling the related searches under “See related searches”, having a Wikipedia entry really enhances your brand’s ability to become a bigger part of the Knowledge Graph.

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Of course, it’s not like you just go sign up for a Wikipedia account today and just throw up an entry about itself. Rather, Wikipedia has rules about that kind of thing, and if you get caught spamming, that entry (and the user profile that submitted it) are gonna get pulled.

The best course of action, then, is know-a-guy-who-knows-a-guy. Basically, you wanna find a Wikipedia editor who’s edits/entries relate to you entry, and that’s probably going to require a PR approach. After all, Wikipedia editors have worked hard to attain their status, and they’re not gonna put it on the line just to spam the community with a copy/paste of your boilerplate.

Optimize for Google+

socialmediaexplained_donut
I’m so meta…

Now, you might be thinking “Really? Google+? Who really uses that other than Google employees who eat doughnuts?” But aside from the social network actually showing some signs (albeit slow ones) of users actually starting to use it, Google is kinda forcing it down our throats by incentivizing marketers to use it.

For starters, when content gets +1’d, it carries a bit (or a lot) more weight than it should in terms of impacting the SERP performance of that content. More importantly, having a pimped out Google+ profile offers marketers a chance to both show up in Knowledge Graph SERPs, as well as include their Follower count on PPC ads.

The point is that you’re gonna have claim/set-up your brand’s Google+ profile (if you haven’t already), and then optimize it. You can get a whole bunch of granular, useful tips on how to optimize your business’s Google+ profile from the gShift guide, but suffice it to say that it’s going to require things like:

  • completing all the fields in its About section
  • using and updating it regularly
  • and actually building Followers who actually +1 your content

I know, another social media profile to manage and maintain, right? But it’s really not that hard, and your social media intern or community manager probably isn’t busy enough, anyway, so you mind as well get a little bit more for the salary you’re paying them.

Structure Your Data (with Rich Snippets)

If you wanna reap the SEO benefits of the Knowledge Graph, you’re gonna have to turn an eye to your actual site, too. Basically, you’re gonna have to make sure that all the content on your site has been sorted, categorized, and tagged in a way that Google know where into the Knowledge Graph it fits. And you do that by structuring your data.

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You’ve most certainly seen search results affected by structured data. Such results are commonly referred to as having rich snippets, and rich snippets are pretty much anything that features extra data on the search result’s landing page. The example for “lasagna recipe” above, for instance, includes users ratings for that recipe, the number of reviews it’s received, the cooking/prep time, and even the how many calories per serving this recipe has.

Rich Snippets are available for just about any kind of content you can think of, from product pages and videos results to movie and real estate listings. Regardless of what product or service your brand offers, you can probably find a mark-up scheme on Schema.org. The site provides guidelines on how to integrate structured data mark-up on just about every kind of content, and while properly implementing it can be a headache for your web integrator, that’s their problem, not yours 😉

Do it Right, Do it Yourself

Google’s Knowledge Graph is pretty much about helping users find all kinds of content that’s (possibly) related to their searches. To do that, Google has figure out what’s related to what, and as much data as the search giant has, that’s a pretty big effing job with a lot of room for errors.

So if you’re interested in leveraging the Knowledge Graph and pimping your brand’s SERP performance, don’t wait for Google to figure out (and maybe misunderstand) what kind of content you have. Instead, get off you ass, and take matters into your own hand.

How to Sync Your Content and SEO Strategies

cydia-app-sync-in-progressSo if you’re being honest with yourself about SEO, then you know that you have to do the whole content marketing thing. But how do you tackle it in a way that supports your SEO strategy without compromising the integrity of your content — e.g. without making your content suck ballz?

Well, the obvious answer is to hire me and pay me loads of money to either take care of it for you, or at least show you how to do it. But since you’re reading this blog post, you’re probably more of a DIYer, in which case I’m never going to make any money off of you, so I guess I’ll just have to settle for your eyeballs (and, hopefully Retweets and Likes) for now, and give you a couple of hints.

Develop a Keyword Narrative

Normally, when you set out down the SEO-road, you start with some keyword research. This means figuring out how users (e.g. other human beings) are trying to find your products or services, or those of your competitors, or possibly some reasonable substitute. freud

Once you’ve done that, you end up a with a whole bunch of targeted, high volume, and maybe even highly competitive keywords that you want to try to rank on. Of course, if you start just developing content just of the sake of including those keywords, you’re going to end up with some kind of diarrhetic prose that reads more like a Nigerian spam email than anything anyone would read — never mind share.

The way you get around this is by building a keyword narrative. And you do that by:

  1. Developing some customer personas that typify your target market
  2. Segmenting your target keywords across those personas based on which ones seem to fit with the searching habits of those personas
  3. Calculating how much of all your total target keyword’s search volume each persona seems to represent
  4. And then developing an editorial calendar of content types that targets those personas based on the proportion of searches each one represents — e.g. if persona-A seems to represent 40% of your potential searches, then make sure that 40% of your content will appeal to persona-A

Brainstorm Relevant Ideas

brainstormNow that you’ve figured out how much of your content needs to appeal to different kinds of users, you not only gotta come up with content ideas that will actually appeal to those users, but it has to be relevant to your products and services. For example, if new mothers are one of your personas, an infographic about the value of breast feeding isn’t going to do you any good if you’re trying to sell them baby formula.

Find a non-Douchey Way to Interlink That Sh*T, Yo!

So now that you have some not-so-crappy ideas about what kind of content you need to create to appeal to each kind of user-persona, you need to find a non-douchey way of linking that content back to the pages that feature whatever it is you’re trying to sell to them. You want to do this because (1) interlinking to product pages is kinda important for SEO, (2) Google uses the content we consume and interact with to personalize our search results, so (3) a link from content we like is going to have more impact on a page’s ranking (on a personalized search) than a link from a piece of content we ignored.

So, you see, the goal isn’t to get the user to click on the link, but to get them to interact with the content so that that link more heavily influences our search results.

Of course, you gotta find a way to do this without it making the content suck, but you’re a smart DIYer, aren’t you? I mean, you’ll find a way, like slipping it into an author bio or by throwing in a cheeky comments in brackets or at the bottom of your posts that reads something like “[Just because you like this post, there’s no real reason why you’d like or hate our website’s homepage.]”

If you Pimp It, They Will Come

donmagicjuansurgery
But remember: “Pimpin’ ain’t easy…”

So, maybe you’ve seen Field of Dreams, but even if you haven’t, you’re totally gonna be able to appreciate where I’m going with the title of this section (and be ever so slightly surprised that I’m leaving a pun like that in a blog post about SEO and marketing).

But the point is that just ’cause you throw a piece of content up against the wall, that doesn’t mean it’s going to stick. No, just like interacting with content can help influence your personalize search results, so can other people interacting with content. In other words (and I love how redundant this is gonna sound), the content has be popular if you want a lot of people to see it (and then maybe interact with it.

It’s the whole chicken-and-the-egg problem: is content shared a lot because it’s popular, or is it popular because it was shared a lot?

Point being, you’re gonna have to Tweet and Facebook and Stumble and Tumbl that content until the cows come home. And when I say “cows”, I mean big fat cash-cows named Betsy because it’s gonna help drive up your rankings, and organic search traffic is the most targeted source of traffic online because the users are pre-qualified and already looking for your products/services, which means that they’re going to give you all their money and you’re gonna be rich and get to retire at an early age, and spend the rest of your days optioning your memoirs to Hollywood and not caring because you’re already rich.

Some Inconvenient Truths About SEO

46792074So you think you know something about SEO? Let me guess: you read a few blog posts, and maybe even The Beginner’s Guide to SEO? Well, if Malcolm Gladwell is to be believed (and he probably should be because he’s wicked smart), you probably don’t know sh*t about SEO because it takes about 10,000 hours to master anything.

I myself, on the other hand, have been working at the SEO game for almost 9 years, which puts me at almost a twice-over expert. I’ve been watching the Google algorithm evolve for almost a decade, and have had to adapt my strategies and tactics every step along the way. So let me share a few pointers with you so that you’re in a better position to make a sound decision next time you have to decide whether to invest in SEO or evaluate whether the SEO you’re thinking of hiring is full of sh*t or not.

Intentional Targeting: How SEO Offers the Most Targeted Traffic Online

Before I get to the inconvenient truths about SEO, let me remind you why you those inconveniences are worth it: SEO offers the most targeted source of traffic online. Why? Because, well, search users are (1) already looking for your products/services, and (2) really feel that the organic search results represent the best possible options available to them (if only because they don’t realize that there are SEOs like me out there manipulating those results).

terminator-vision

Take social users, for instance. You might be able to target them by interest or social graph, but you can’t target them by intent. In other words, you can’t control for what mindset they happen to be in. Users use Facebook or Twitter to socialize or share, and when you’re hanging out and having fun, you’re not necessarily in the mood to buy anything.

With search, however, users are actively looking for products/services similar to yours. And that means that they’re already one step down the conversion funnel.

1. SEO is NOT a Quick Fix

patience-yodaThe first inconvenient truth about SEO is that it’s not a short-term strategy. Depending on your industry and target market, it’s much more of a medium- to long-term one.

Simply put, it takes time to obtain (i.e. “earn”) organic rankings. It’s just not possible to own any Google (or Bing or Yahoo!) rankings overnight. Rather, if you’re truly committed to SEO (and reaching those targeted users), you’re probably not going to start seeing an uptick for 3-6 months, and it might be 12 months before you get that return on your investment. You will, however, see that return. After all, these are the most targeted and (pre-)qualified online, and they are already one step down the conversion funnel.

2. SEO Offers Economies of Scale

Once you’ve obtained some decent rankings (and I’m talking Top 5 rankings, here, because the vast majority of users don’t click on anything after position #5), your cost-per-click (or cost-per-acquisition) actually diminishes with every click. In other words, SEO offers you economies of scale.

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

You see, with PPC or social media ads, there’s a fixed cost associated with every acquisition — i.e. you pay about the same for every click. With SEO, however, every referral you get from the search engine results pages (SERPs) costs you less and less with every click.

The problem with obtaining these economies of scale (or any, for that matter), however, is that you have to invest up to a certain point before you can reach them. So not only does it take time (see point #1 above), it also takes resources.

3. SEO Offers Economies of Scope

In addition to offering economies of scale, SEO also offers economies of scope. Basically, once you obtain ranking on one keyword, it becomes a lot easier to rank on other keywords.

economies of scope

The reason is that every trusted or authority page on your site contributes to the over trust and authority of the entire site. So when you create a new page, that new page gets to sorta piggyback off of the credibility of the other pages that are already ranking.

This doesn’t, of course, mean that new pages (or products, or services) will automatically rank alongside (or even nearly as well as) those that you’ve already invested in SEO for. But it does mean that you (probably) won’t have to invest (proportionally) as much in those new rankings as you did in the ones you’ve already earned.

The inconvenience of these economies of scope, however, is that you’ll have to be investing in new products/services (and their respective pages) before you can realize those efficiencies.

4. SEO is Equity

GroundskeeperWillieJust like SEO is a medium- to long-term strategy, and just like it offers economies of scale and economies of scope, it’s also something that offers equity. Basically, the rankings you have are a kind of earned real estate, and like all real estate, it needs to be tended to if it’s going to maintain its value.

In other words, you have protect your investment. So while it’ll cost you so much to rank on certain range of terms, you can’t just set it and forget it. Once you own (or achieve) certain rankings, you’ll have to invest in maintaining those rankings. This means allotting a certain amount of budget in defending or protecting your investment.

Just like a reigning champ, you can’t just rest on your laurels. You either have to go into retirement or be that defending champ that keeps getting in the ring — staying sharp and nimble, and continuously winning/earning your top rankings.

5. SEO Requires Killer Content

You know that whole thing about content being king? Well, part of the reason is that you’re probably not gonna be able to rank well without some good content behind you.

And I’m talking more about that viral mill kinda content that’s just overhyped linkbait. I mean, sure, producing that kind of content won’t hurt your rankings — and the tons of backlinks and social signals it generates will certainly help your site’s overall trust and authority with search engines. But it’s not gonna help you rank on targeted terms.

Rather, what you’re gonna need is the kind of content that your target market is actually gonna be interested in. This means that it has to be related to your products/services (think how-to’s, support forums, and lifehacks) so that it actually is relevant to the terms that your target market is searching for (and that you’re trying to rank on). And since what counts as killer content for one brand isn’t the same for one brand as it is for another, this also might mean getting customer feedback on what it is users like about different content and why, and then using that insight to refine and focus your content efforts on an ongoing basis.

6. SEO is Technical

da-vinci-helicopterLast but not least, SEO is both a science and an art, and that means that there’s a technical side to it. Simply put, all the great marketing and content in the world isn’t going to help you outrank the competition if your site isn’t up to par. In other words, it doesn’t matter who the driver is if the engine is sh*t.

This often means developing and maintaining a site that’s (1) fully indexable, and (2) doesn’t create duplicate content issues. So while it’s tempting (and fallacious) to think dev resources are better allocated elsewhere, you have to make sure that both your front- and back-end are meeting SEO best practices, and that those best practices are applied to every future site build.

SEO, Keyword Narrative, and Your Content Strategy

Content is king, blah, blah, blah. Great content drives SEO, blah, blah, blah. We’ve all heard all the cliches before. But just like there’s a huge difference between building websites for search engines and building websites for users (i.e. human beings), there’s a difference between writing for search engines and writing for users.

panda-penguin-300x227Well, not exactly, anymore You see, over the last couple years, Google’s Panda and Penguin updates have been shaking up what it takes to rank. To oversimplify it, while Panda has gotten really good at judging the quality of content, Penguin has gotten a lot better at figuring out the popularity of that content. And one of the ways they both do this is by evaluating content’s social imprint.

The point is that writing for search engines now means writing for actual human beings (or at least a lot more than it ever has). The problem when you do that, of course, is you end up with popular (or even viral) content that is not at all related to the terms you’re trying to rank on. So while you’re attracting tons of social signals and backlinks (which are all good for SEO), they’re boosting your rankings for terms that have nothing to do with your products or services.

The result: you end up with a lost of trust from the search and popularity among users, but not enough relevance to actually rank competitively on terms that will help you drive conversions.

The 3 Facets of SEO (in a nutshell)

stooges3If you’re willing to allow for some more oversimplification (for simplicity’s sake, of course), there are basically 3 fundamentals components of SEO:

  1. Indexation: this has to do with whether search engines can access all the pages on your site, and how they go about it — you know, the technical stuff.
  2. Relevance: this has to do with what keywords search engines associate with your site, and how those associations are reinforced.
  3. Popularity: and this is all about how many backlinks and social signals are being generated around your content.

The first two of these are usually pretty easy to tackle, and are the very first and second steps to a solid SEO strategy. The real trick is developing (targeted) keyword relevant targeted that can actually gain the popularity it needs to help you rank.

The Challenge (with Keyword Research)

Normally, once you’re sure that your site architecture lets Google (and those other guys) find and index all your pages, you start working on making those pages as relevant as possible for the most targeted keywords — i.e. those that users are actually using to look for your products and services. You start that process, moreover, by doing some keyword research.

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The thing with keyword research is that (when it’s properly done) it’ll give you insight into how users are searching for your products and services, and it’ll help you optimize your product (and category) pages, but it’s not always useful for developing popular content because content that’s been developed specifically keyword density usually reads like it was written for search engine and not a human being — and human beings don’t share (or link to) that kind of content.

The Solution: Keyword Narrative

freudProperly done keyword research, however, can give you insight beyond just how users are searching for your products. It can also give insight into the kinds of users interested in your products. In other words, it can give you insight into their personalities and their psychographics.

Basically, people search for the same things in different ways because they are different kinds of people with different goals and priorities. Each group of these people can also be understood as different customer profiles. And each of those profiles can be targeted through good content which will, in turn, boost your rankings on the targeted keywords that are relevant to each of those customer profiles.

Step 1: Audit Your Keyword Research

So the first step is to conduct a keyword research across all your product/service verticals. So if you’re a show retailer, this might include men’s sneakers, women’s sneakers, high heels, open toes, etc.

Step 2: Segment Your Keyword Verticals

apple-to-orange

Now that you have all the keyword data for each keyword vertical, you’ll need to choose 5-10 top priority keywords based on a mix of:

  • Search Volume – the more a keyword is searched for, the more traffic it can bring
  • Competition – the more competitive a keyword is, the harder it’ll be to rank for, but there’s probably a good reason why everyone wants to rank on it
  • Avg. CPC – and the more people are bidding on that keyword on their paid search campaigns, chances are the higher quality traffic it delivers

Once you’ve done this, you’ll probably notice that there are keyword combinations with very different mindsets behind them — e.g. “cheap sneakers” indicates a discount shoppers, while “best sneakers” indicates shoppers looking for high performance products. So start breaking up your targeted keyword groups into psychographic profiles.

Step 3: Develop Content Based on Data

Now that you have each of your targeted keywords segmented into profiles in each keyword verticals, you can determine how what proportion of your potential search traffic each customer profile represents. For example, you might determine the following:

  • Discount shoppers represent 40% of your potential search volume
  • Brand conscious shoppers 30%
  • and Performance conscious shoppers 30%

From here, you can determine that 40% of your content should target discount shoppers, while 30% of your content should target brand and performance conscious shoppers respectively. Now you can go forward and distribute your content resources accordingly, creating content that’ll appeal to each of you target customer profiles.

Let the Data Guide Your Creativity

There’s this perceived tension in the marketing world between creatives and quants. The stereotype goes that creatives see the quants as bean counters who don’t know how to connect to people, and the quants see the creatives as artsy-fartsy types who just clamor for any kind of attention they can get.

Whether or not this is the case with your team, it doesn’t have to be. The beautiful thing about the split between quants and creatives is that they each represent different sides to the same coin — the conversion coin.

What should be happening is that quants should be providing the insight and inspiration that creatives use to get jiggy with it, and SEO is no different. Your SEO should be aggregating and segmenting the data that your content team can use to develop that killer kind of content that’s supposed to be king. Doing this will not only help you develop more engaging content, but content that can support your efforts to rank on targeted keywords that can actually drive sales.

You’re a Content Marketer and the Internet Hates You

The last couple weeks haven’t been kind to content marketers. First, Google’s very own anti-spam enforcer, Matt Cutts, went after guest posting. Then Downworthy (a browser plugin that rewrites sensation headlines) declared war on clickbait. And finally, the Boing Boing editor, partner and tech culture journalist, Xeni Jardin, sounded a call-to-arms to reclaim the internet form the so-called “viral mills” of the internet marketing world (the irony of which was not lost on the Boing Boing community).

An Ironic Call to Arms (Source: BoingBoing.net)
An Ironic Call to Arms (Source: BoingBoing.net)

So what’s a marketer to do? Do we have to start worrying about the day where users rise against the machines in some sort of Skynet reversal scenario? Probably not…

This happened, for realz...
This happened, for realz…

Truth be told, all this hype is, ironically, the same kind of sensational hyperbole that it’s targeting in the first place. What’s really at issue, here, is that there’s a little bit more buzz than usual about how users (i.e. human beings) hate douche bags, so as long as you’re not a douche bag, or don’t let any douche bags infect your marketing, you should be fine.

That, of course, doesn’t mean that just ’cause you’re not a douche bag users are spontaneously going to find you. You still have some marketing to do. The real question is “How to go about it?”

Create useful & meaningful content…

In a sense, all marketing assets are content. From billboard and print spreads, to banners and PPC ads, almost everything you use to communicate a value proposition or unique selling proposition is something that engages users (or consumers) on some visual and cognitive level.

What do you think?

The thing about users (or consumers), though, is that they’re human beings. They’re human beings with limited bandwidth and attention span, and if you’re hoping to capture any of it and hold it, then you have to respect that by being mindful of their needs and how you can cater to them.

This is kinda Marketing 101 stuff. Just because someone is a human being, it doesn’t mean that they’re a potential buyer or targeted lead. And that’s what you’re supposed to be after as a marketer: targeted leads.

So when you’re creating content, focus on (1) who your target marketing is, (2) what you can do for them, and (3) how you can help them understand just what exactly it is that you can do for them. In other words, your content shouldn’t be focused so much on generating a sale (or click) directly, but on engaging human beings by helping them solve some problem or fill some need. If you can do that, your brand will be top of mind the next time they set out to make a purchasing decision.

and not just for SEO…

Another upside of this is that guest blogging is not actually dead. Instead, it’s getting back to what it was originally meant for: reaching out to a pre-existing community, engaging it, and giving them something it can use and appreciate and benefit from.

If you’re creating meaningful and useful content, you have every reason to take it out to the communities that are already out there that can benefit from it. ‘Cause, you know, we have another word for communities in the world of marketing: a target market.

So don’t be afraid to guest blog. But when you do so, do it for the right reasons — which do not include the linkjuice you’re going to get out of it. Rather, guest blog because you’ve found a community out there (i.e. target market) that can relate to you because you can relate to them.

and then build community…

True story...
True story…

Going out to the community is nice enough, and it’s a good start, but as a marketer, it won’t completely solve your problem of how to acquire and retain new customers (because let’s face it, that’s what marketers should be out to do). So you’re going to build a community around your brand, and that means making and maintaining a content footprint that’s not easily forgotten.

This might sound like a big, long-term, ongoing commitment, but that’s ’cause it is. And, of course, it’s not gonna be cheap, but you get what you pay for because content is a lot like tattoos: good ones aren’t cheap, and cheap ones aren’t good.

4 Ways to Step Up Your Digital Marketing in 2014

It’s the the final stretch of 2013, and you might be already be thinking about New Year’s resolutions. And if you’re a marketer or an entrepreneur, you’re certainly thinking about how you’re going to do business in 2014 — new markets you’re going to crack in to, new campaigns you’re going to launch, new partnerships you’re going to strike up. In fact, you’ve probably already forgotten about 2013, and have had your eye (almost) exclusively on the future for some weeks now.

thanks-not-laughing-absurdly-new-years-ecard-someecards

Maybe you plan to step up your ecommerce game, maybe you’re going to break 10K followers on Twitter, maybe you’re finally going to rank #1 on Google for “buy acai berry online”. Whatever your goals, no matter how silly or sensible, you’ve probably drawn a roadmap to get there.

The problem with drawing roadmaps, however, is that we often leave out the routes we haven’t travelled. Well, here are 4 roads on the digital marketing landscape that are often overlooked by those who haven’t travelled them before and, depending on where you’re trying to go, can be time-saving short cuts.

1. Diversify Your Social Seeding

diversification_eggsWith marketers already spending over 25% of their budget on content marketing and 78% of CMOs believing in branded content being the future of marketing, content marketing is poised to blow up (even more) in 2014. And as any content marketer will tell you, just because you build (or create) it, doesn’t mean that they’ll (users) will come. Indeed, with so many marketers investing in content, the competition for users’ attention (and eyeballs) has never been higher.

Not surprisingly, marketers are relying more on more on sponsored social posts to seed their content. From Sponsored Stories on Facebook to Sponsored Tweets, having a social ad budget is as much of a part of a content strategy as the budget you invest in content creation and community outreach/management.

But have you looked beyond the first-tier social networks? Have you considered the markets and audiences that exist beyond your users’/followers’ current social graph? Such as the niche-interest communities that are already extremely active on other social networks?

There are social networks out there that are primarily content driven, meaning that there are entire communities out there already looking for your content; you just have to reach out to them. Specifically, I’m thinking about SumbleUpon and Tumblr.

While SumbleUpon has for years allows marketers to promote their content to users based on interest, Tumblr launched their ad platform just last year. And while these communities might not always represent your target market, that doesn’t mean they’re not going to love your content (provided that it doesn’t suck), and Stumble and Tumbl it all over the web. The social signals generated by these users, moreover, will not only boost your SEO, but help you reach new customers that you might not have reach via Twitter or Facebook.

2. Retarget Your Advertising

You know that saying “Fall down seven times, get up eight”? Well, how about applying that to your online ad buys? After all, just because you didn’t make the sale on the first visit, that doesn’t mean that that user still isn’t a targeted, qualified lead. And just because a user purchased once, that doesn’t mean they won’t buy again; in fact, they might be even more likely to buy again.

Al-Pacino-they-pull-me-back-in

First, you have the users who abandoned their shopping cart. If they got that far down the conversion funnel but didn’t complete the transaction, there’s a probably a good chance that they were dissuaded by unanticipated shipping costs, so consider retargeting them with ads offering discounted or free shipping.

Then, you have those users who have visited your site, but didn’t make it all the way to check-out before bouncing. In this case, one of two things have happened: (1) these users were targeted users who were still just shopping around for products/services similar to what you offer, or (2) your pricing might have been too high for them. Here, you can retarget your ads at these user to either remind them that you still offer what they’re looking for, or to offer them a discount on the kind of items they viewed on your site.

Finally, you have users who’ve already purchased something from your site. You’ve already won their trust an they’ve already demonstrated a willingness to shop with you. So leverage that trust by retargeting them with ads for similar and/or related products/services, such as accessories to whatever they’ve already purchased.

Through ad retargeting, not only can you win over users who you’ve lost some point along the way (i.e. conversion funnel), but you can also win back users who’ve already shopped with you. In other words, don’t be so quick to give up on a sale just because you didn’t close it the first time around.

3. Always Be Optimizing

door-optionsIf you’re running any kind of ad campaign, whether it’s social or PPC or display, you need to think aboutlanding page optimization. In fact, you’ll probably want to send traffic from different sources to different landing pages, even if each of those landing pages advertise the same value propostition. The reason is that users coming from different sources clicked on ads for different reasons and were in different mindsets when they did so, so what’s going to resonate with them is going to be different.

In fact, this is even more true if you’re retargeted ads. After all, if the user bounced the first time, and you’re going to invest in another click to get them back, then you should probably offer them something other than what turned them off in the first place.

Of course, with landing page optimization comes A/B testing, and the challenge with A/B testing is that it can tie up designer/integrator resources. A cost-effective way of getting around that is by using a tool like Unbounce, “The landing page builder for marketers,” that let’s you “Build, publish, and A/B test landing pages without IT.”

Basically, Unbounce let’s you choose from over 50 different landing page templates that you can then edit and customize through easy-to-use drag-and-drop features. Then you just see which one works better for that ad campaign, isolate what it is that’s making it convert better, and refine and roll it out to similar campaigns.

The point is that if you’re going to diversify your social ad buys and/or be retargeting your ads, you need to provide each of those kinds of users with a user-experience that best suits their expectations. And this is going to require a bit of A/B testing and landing page optimization. Otherwise, you’re just throwing money at the same wall over and over and hoping that it (somehow) sticks, and as Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”

4. Getting User Feedback

most-interesting-voice-of-customer (1)So now that you’ve stepped up your game to drive users to your site through social and ad buys, and are doing everything you can to convert them, you might want to find out exactly what they think about your brand, your site, and your products/services. After all, what better way to find out what your users are thinking than to get it straight from the horse’s mouth?

Now, this might sound a lot easier said than done. But just as there are social platforms that allow you to target by interest, ad platforms that allow you to (re)target based on behaviour, and tools that allow you to customize user-experience based on where they came from, there are tools that can help you collect user feedback and other market data.

For instance, if you’re a marketer, you’ve probably come across that 4Q survey that pops up as a layover when you first visit a site. Well, 4Q is a free survey offered by iPerceptions who also offers a whole bunch of other market research tools that you can upgrade to if you decided that you want to make sense of all the data you collect, conduct some predictive analysis, and turn it into actionable insight.

iPerceptions, of course, has no shortage of competitors, but the point is that there’s an entire set of customer insight tools out there that can help you capture data that goes above and beyond what you can get out of Google Analytics and the ad campaign reporting offered by AdWords, Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Tumblr, and the like. After all, it’s one thing to know what your users have already done; but it’s quite another to gain insight into how they think and factor that in to your future marketing campaigns.

From Roadmap to Treasure Map

treasure-mapEspecially in the context of marketing, it’s always advisable to have clear goals and a strategy to take you there — rather than shooting in the dark with random tactics and hoping for the best. When roadmapping that strategy, though, it’s too easy and tempting to stick to the routes we know and avoid those roads that lead off into unfamiliar places.

Those unfamiliar roads, however, can often lead to opportunities, and if you’re going really going to grow your business, you’re going to have leverage new channels to find new sources of revenue. So if your roadmap has already been drawn up to maximize every channel you’re already familiar with, you should start thinking about all the channels that you might’ve overlooked only because you’re unfamiliar with them.

5 Marketing Tools Made in Canada

With 2013 coming to an end, a lot of us marketers are turning an eye to mapping out strategies and planning campaigns for the new year. And as Canadians, part of that planning process is often how we’re going to either compete with some of our larger counterparts to the south, or engage a market with ten times as many consumers as we have here in the Peaceable Kingdom.

Well, sometimes it helps when you have some success stories to look to for inspiration, and while planning out my clients’ strategies for continental domination in 2014, I found myself asking “What are some Canadian companies who have really made a splash in their respective industries?” And working in the industry that I do, marketing companies were, naturally, the first to come to mind.

So here’s an overview of five marketing companies who have their roots north of the 49th parallel, but have managed to make their mark the world over. And if their example can’t help inspire you, then maybe their products/services can help you reach your marketing goals in 2014.

gShift for Web Presence Monitoring

So many companies invest in SEO, social media, and content strategy to boost their search engine rankings and overall online brand profile. One of the challenges with each of these areas, however, is measuring their impact and ROI. Indeed, few questions persist:

  • how are these activities impacting your search engine rankings?
  • what’s the value of the traffic they’re producing?
  • how does your web presence compare to the competition’s?
  • etc., etc…

gShift helps marketers overcome a lot of the challenges associated with both monitoring and reporting on many inbound marketing efforts. The platform can integrate with your Google analytics, and provide you with all your SEO data in one place including rank data from any search engine for any keyword, backlink data, social signals, competitive intelligence and keyword research.

I’ve personally been using gShift for a couple years now and have been nothing short of impressed with its reporting features on ranking and social signals, not to mention a bunch of other features that can help you track site progress. With a variety of different pricing options, moreover, there are packages for everyone fro the one-man-marketing team to a full blown agency.

iPerceptions for Market Research

Especially if you’re an online marketer, you’ve probably come across that 4Q survey. You know, the one endorsed by Avinash Kaushik that pops up when you visit a site?

Well, 4Q is a survey from iPerceptions that they offer for free. But they also offer a whole array of other online market research tools that you can use to makes sense of any 4Q data or any other user-behaviour that you might observe in Google Analytics, but not really have any explanation for.

While I’ve never used 4Q myself, nor have any experience with any of iPerceptions other products, I’ve had several clients that have. And if the way they approach their other marketing activities is any indication, the iPerception tools likely provide some decent value.

Unbounce for Landing Page Optimization

If you’ve ever run ad campaigns, then you’ve probably done a lot of conversion optimization and A/B testing. And if you’ve gone through that process, then you know how challenging it can be revise landing pages in a timely and cost-effective manner. Indeed, you often have to involve designers, integrators, and/or other members of your IT team who are usually bogged down with other priorities. And the result can often be that the ROI of your ad campaigns suffers.

Enter Unbounce, a Vancouver-based company that touts itself as “The landing page builder for marketers,” and let’s you “Build, publish, and A/B test landing pages without IT.” How does they do it, exactly? Well, they let you choose from over 50 different landing page templates that you can then edit and customize through easy-to-use drag-and-drop features.

I’m not an ad guy, so my experience with Unbounce is very limited, but in addition to the impressive testimonials they have their site, I’ve had colleagues tell me that they managed to increase conversions 125 times (that “times”, not “percent”) using Unbounce. So if you’re looking at ways to get the most out of your ad campaigns in 2014, you might wanna check out Unbounce.

Acquisio for Ad Management and Reporting

Okay, so here I should start with a disclosure that I’ve had a client relationship with Acquisio in the past, and while I still blog for them occasionally, I can assure you that we’re now just friends. With that out of the way, let me tell you about what they do and why you might consider them as a solution provider in 2014.

Acquisio is basically a ad management platform and set of tools for marketers who are heavily invested in online media buys. Indeed, the Acquisio ad management solution allows you to simultaneously manage ad campaigns across search, social, and display ad networks, as well as aggregate all your tracking and attribution data from across these networks.

Of course, Acquisio is no little league platform. Rather, it’s designed for marketers who are already managing budgets across several ad networks. If this sounds like you, though, you might want to hit them up for a demo. The folks over there are pretty damn friendly, and I’m sure they’d be able to help you reach some of your online advertising goals.

CakeMail for Email Marketing

So far, we’ve taken a loot at SEO, market research, landing page optimization, and ad management. But what about the online marketing channel that is both one of the oldest and largest? I’m talking about email marketing.

Well, CakeMail kind of does for email marketing what Unbounce does for landing page optimization. In other words, CakeMail allows you to (1) either choose from existing templates or create a custom one, (2) manage your contact list, (3) deploy your campaign, and then (4) track performance and get valuable reporting on both delivery and click rates. They even offer a WordPress plugin so you can easily build you email marketing list.

Tools in the Toolbox

Good tools can’t compensate for good strategy, but they’ll definitely help with good implementation, and strategy is only as good as its execution. And when it comes to aggressive marketing campaigns, good tools can often save you time and money when it comes to management, optimization, and reporting, and the more time you save on the day-to-day, the more profitable your campaigns become.

Of course, if you’re active in any one of these fields and are considering a tool, you should probably shop around, demo a few alternatives, and choose the one that’s best for your needs. After all, just because a tool is made in the same country as your business is based in, that doesn’t mean that it’s right for you. After all, the thing that’s kinda cool about the world wide interwebs is that they’re world wide, and the great thing about cloud-based tools are that they’re in the cloud and accessible from anywhere. It’s still a nice reminder, though, that there’s been a few Canadian-based marketing companies who’ve been able to deploy some world-class tools because of the cloud.

SEO for WordPress – Wordcamp Montreal 2012

This past weekend, I gave a presentation at Wordcamp Montreal called “SEO for WordPress”. In it, I explored:

how to use WordPress to maximize your chances of ranking for the terms that are most relevant to your content. Specifically, we’ll look at:

  • Building a Keyword Targeted Category Taxonomy
  • Key SEO Plugins
  • Addressing Duplicate Content

The goal of this session was to give audience members (1) a firm grasp on the fundamentals of onsite SEO, and (2) an introduction to what themes and plugins can help them implement the SEO best practices I discussed. Based on the reaction from the audience and on Twitter, I like to think that I achieved just that.

But I also promised to share my slide deck with everyone. So here it is, along with some additional reading that some audience members (or current readers) might find interesting.

Additional Reading

SEO for WordPress Slide Deck

How Your Social Content Strategy Can Support SEO

Social Content Strategy

There’s a lot to be said for how a kick-ass content strategy can support your social media strategy. But if done right, it can also support your rankings. Not only does producing content on a regular basis mean updating your site (which search engines like), but good content naturally attracts back links and social signals (such as Tweets and Likes) that tell search engines that your content is popular with actual human beings.

But how do you produce content that’s popular with social media users and helps you rank for on targeted keywords related to your products and services? In other words, how do you produce content that doesn’t just rank in and of itself but helps your product pages rank?

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