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).
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.
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?
Well, I can think of at least 3 good reasons why you should care about Google’s Knowledge Graph:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 😉
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.
So 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.
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.
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:
Now 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.
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.]”
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.
So 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.
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).
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just 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.
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.
Last 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.
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.
Well, 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.
If you’re willing to allow for some more oversimplification (for simplicity’s sake, of course), there are basically 3 fundamentals components of SEO:
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.
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.
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.
Properly 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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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).
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…
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the most obvious way that PPC can support SEO is with helping your brand show up in the SERPs for the most competitive searches. Now, I’m saying “show up” rather than “rank” because there is nothing PPC can do to directly increase your organic rankings.
What PPC can do, however, is offer you an opportunity to at least have your (branded) listing appear alongside the organic SERPs for keywords that you don’t yet rank on.
Last week, Greg made a strong case for maintaining brand continuity between offline and paid search marketing efforts. But what about maintaining that brand continuity between offline and organic search? Now, if you’re not ranking for your own brandname(s), then you have problems that are bigger than this blog post (i.e. you’ve probably been penalized for black hat tactics). But there are other ways that brand continuity can inform your SEO strategy and help you achieve better rankings overall.