Posted by Tom.Capper
Attribution modeling in Google Analytics (GA) is potentially very powerful in the results it can give us, yet few people use it, and those that do often get misleading results. The built-in models are all fairly useless, and creating your own custom model can easily dissolve into random guesswork. If you’re lucky enough to have access to GA Premium, you can use Data-Driven Attribution, and that’s great—but if you haven’t got the budget to take that route, this post should show you how to get started with the data you already have.
If you’ve read up on attribution modelling in the past, you probably already know what’s wrong with the default models. If you haven’t, I recommend you read this post by Avinash, which outlines the basics of how they all work.
In short, they’re all based on arbitrary, oversimplified assumptions about how people use the internet.
The time decay model
The time decay model is probably the most sensible out of the box, and assumes that after I visit your site, the effect of this first visit on the chance of me visiting again halves every X days. The below graph shows this relationship with the default seven-day half-life. It plots “days since visit” against “chance this visit will cause additional visit.” If it takes seven days for the repeat visit to come around, the first visit’s credit halves to 25%. If it takes 14 days for the repeat visit to come around, the first visit’s credit halves again, to 12.5%. Note that the graph is stepped—I’m assuming it uses GA’s “days since last visit” dimension, which rounds to a whole number of days. This would mean that, for example, if both visits were on the day of conversion, neither would be discounted and both would get equal credit.
There might be some site and userbase out there for which this is an accurate model, but as a starting assumption it’s incredibly bold. As an entire model, it’s incredibly simplistic—surely we don’t really believe that there are no factors relevant in assigning credit to previous visits besides how long ago they occurred? We might consider it relevant if the previous visit bounced, for example. This is why custom models are the only sensible approach to attribution modelling in Google Analytics—the simple one-size-fits-all models are never going to be appropriate for your business or client, precisely because they’re simple, one-size-fits-all models.
Note that in describing the time decay model, I’m talking about the chance of one visit generating another—an important and often overlooked aspect of attribution modelling is that it’s about probabilities. When assigning partial credit for a conversion to a previous visit, we are not saying that the conversion happened partly because of the previous visit, and partly because of the converting visit. We simply don’t know whether that was the case. It could be that after their first visit, the user decided that whatever happened they were going to come back at some point and make a purchase. If we knew this, we’d want to assign that first visit 100% credit. Or it might be that after their first visit, the user totally forgot that our website existed, and then by pure coincidence found it in their natural search results a few days later and decided to make a purchase. In this case, if we knew this, we’d want to assign the previous visit 0% credit. But actually, we don’t know what happened. So we make a claim based on probabilities. For example, if we have a conversion that takes place with one previous visit, what we’re saying if we assign 40% credit to that previous visit is that we think that there is a 40% chance that the conversion would not have happened without the first visit.
If we did think that there was a 40% chance of a conversion being caused by an initial visit, we’d want to assign 40% credit to “Position in Path” exactly matching “First interaction” (meaning visits that were the user’s first visit). If you want to use “Position in Path” as your sole predictor of the chance that a visit generated the conversion, you can. Provided you don’t pull the percentages off the top of your head, it’s better than nothing. If you want to be more accurate, there’s a veritable smorgasbord of additional custom credit rules to choose from, with any default model as your starting point. All we have to do now is figure out what numbers to put in, and realistically, this is where it gets hard. At all costs, do not be tempted to guess—that renders the entire exercise pointless.
One tempting approach is simply to create a model based to a greater or lesser extent on assumptions and guesswork, then test the conclusions of that model against your existing marketing strategy and incrementally improve your strategy in this manner. This approach is probably better than nothing for improving your market strategy, and testing improvements to your strategy is always worthwhile, but as a way of creating a realistic attribution model this starting point is going to set you on a long, expensive journey.
The ideal solution is to do this process in reverse—run controlled experiments to build your model in the first place. If you can split your users into representative segments, then test, for example,
- the effect of a previous visit on the chance of a second visit
- the effect of a previous non-bounce visit on the chance of a second visit
- the effect of a previous organic search visit on the chance of a second visit
and so on, you can start filling in your custom credit rules this way. If your tests are done well, you can get really excellent results. But this is expensive, difficult, and time consuming.
The next-best alternative is asking users. If users don’t remember having encountered your brand before, that previous visit they had probably didn’t contribute to their conversion. The most sensible way to do this would be an (optional but incentivised) post-conversion questionnaire, where a representative sample of users are asked questions like:
- How did you find this site today?
- Have you visited this site before?
- If yes:
- How many times?
- How did you find it?
- Did this previous visit impact your decision to visit today?
- How long ago was your most recent visit?
The results from questions like these can start filling in those custom credit rules in a non-arbitrary way. But this is still somewhat expensive, difficult and time-consuming. What if you just want to get going right away?
Deconstructing the Data-Driven Attribution model
In this blog post, Google offers this explanation of the Data-Driven Attribution model in GA Premium:
“The Data-Driven Attribution model is enabled through comparing conversion path structures and the associated likelihood of conversion given a certain order of events. The difference in path structure, and the associated difference in conversion probability, are the foundation for the algorithm which computes the channel weights. The more impact the presence of a certain marketing channel has on the conversion probability, the higher the weight of this channel in the attribution model.The underlying probability model has been shown to predict conversion significantly better than a last-click methodology. Data-Driven Attribution seeks to best represent the actual behaviour of customers in the real world, but is an estimate that should be validated as much as possible using controlled experimentation.” (my emphasis)
Similarly, this paper recommends a combination of a conditional probability approach and a bagged logistic regression model. Don’t worry if this doesn’t mean much to you—I’m going to recommend here using a variant of the much simpler conditional probability method.
I’d like to look first at the kind of model that seems to be suggested by Google’s explanation above of their Data Driven Attribution feature. For example, say we wanted to look at the most basic credit rule: How much credit should be assigned to a single previous visit? The basic logic outlined in the explanation from Google above would suggest an approach something like this:
- Find conversion rate of new visitors (let’s say this is 4%)
- Find conversion rate of returning visitors with one previous visit (let’s say this is 7%)
- Credit for previous visit = ((7-4)/7) = 43%
To me, this model is somewhat flawed (though I’m fairly sure that this flaw lies in my application of Google’s explanation of their Data-Driven Attribution rather than in the model itself). For example, say we had a large group of repeat visitors who were only coming to the site because of a previous visit, but that were converting poorly. We’d want to assign credit for these (few) conversions to the previous visits, but the model outlined above might assign them low or negative credit; this is because even though conversions among this group are caused by previous visits, their conversion rate is lower than that of new visitors. This is just one example of why this model can end up being misleading.
My best solution
Figuring out from our data whether a repeat visitor came because of a previous visit or independently of a previous visit is hard. I’ll be honest: I don’t know how Google does it. My best solution is an approximation, but a non-arbitrary one. The idea is using the percentage of traffic that is either branded or direct as an indicator for brand familiarity. Going back again to how much credit should be assigned to a single previous visit, my solution looks like this:
- Calculate the percentage of your new visitor traffic is direct, branded organic or branded PPC (let’s say it’s 50%)
- Note: Obviously most of your organic is (not provided), so I recommend multiplying your total organic traffic by the % of your known keyword traffic that is branded. As (not provided) approaches 100%, you’ll have to use PPC data to approximate your branded organic traffic levels.
- Calculate the percentage of your 2nd-time-visitor traffic is direct, branded organic or branded PPC (let’s say it’s 55%)
- Based on the knowledge that only 50% (in this case) of people without previous visits use branded/direct, approximate that without their first visit we’d only have seen (100%-55%)*(100/50)=90% of these 2nd time visitors.
- Given this, 10% of visitors came because of a previous visit, so we should assign 10% credit for 2nd time visits to the first visit.
We can use similar logic applied to users with 3+ visits to calculate the credit deserved by “middle interactions”.
This method is far from perfect—that’s why I recommended two others above it. But if you want to get started with your existing data in a non-arbitrary way, I think this is a non-ridiculous way to get started. If you’ve made it this far and you have any ideas of your own, please post them in the comments below.
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Posted by dohertyjf
Working as an agency marketer is tough. I did it for a bit over two years and learned a lot of lessons. Along the way and since I have reflected about what would make me more successful as an agency marketer, and now that I am in-house at HotPads.com, I’ve come up with five things I wish I had known as an agency marketer. Never fear though, as there are some tidbits in there for the in-house crew as well!
5 Things I Wish I Knew as an Agency Marketer – John Doherty – Whiteboard Friday
For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!
Howdy Moz fans. Welcome to Whiteboard Friday. My name is John Doherty. I currently lead Marketing at HotPads.com. Thank you Moz for having me back here on Whiteboard Friday. It’s been a while since I’ve been here. I’m super-excited to be back in Seattle, able to get here on the camera and talk to you guys about a few things that are near and dear to my heart.
I’ve been at HotPads for about four months now. I joined them in San Francisco a few months ago, moving out from New York City to lead Marketing for HotPads, working with some of the other rentals businesses as well under the Zillow Inc. umbrella, both on the consumer side and the business-
to-business, B2B side.
But I worked for an agency for a couple of years. I worked for Distilled, based in New York City, and obviously I worked with a lot of clients, small clients, large clients, took a lot of pride in building relationships with my clients and getting things done. Distilled is phenomenal at that, and I felt like I learned a ton. I learned a ton about clients. But over the previous couple of months, I’ve really been reflecting and trying to figure out: What is really the difference between agency and in-house marketing?
I wrote a post about it on my own personal website, JohnFDoherty.com, which I don’t write on there often enough. But I published a post on there recently about that difference. But today I want to take a little bit more focused approach to that, and I want to talk to you from the in-house perspective about five things that I wish I had known when I worked as an agency marketer working for clients.
So I have five points for you. Let’s run through them real quick. First one is your client is the industry expert. What I mean by that is your client knows their industry, their vertical better than you know their vertical. You may be able to look at it from a domain authority perspective, who’s ranking, who’s creating content, who has social media going, who has a full-
fledged marketing team built out, who’s just playing around, and who’s spamming, who’s building link networks. But you don’t know their vertical, and you don’t know their business. You don’t know their monetization model nearly as well as they do.
So while you know the tactics, and one of the great things about agencies and one of the super valuable things about agencies is that you know the tactics and you can see across verticals. You know what’s working in travel and what’s working in real estate and what’s working in video. You know what’s going on across the broader spectrum. So that’s where you can really add value to your client. You can tell them tactics, and you can tell them tactics that work across different verticals that they may not have thought about. But at the end of the day, they’re the ones that know their business, and they know their vertical, from a business perspective, better than you do.
The second one is learn the whole marketing team. This is one that I struggled with early on in my career at Distilled. I was very focused on SEO, especially technical SEO, focused on site architecture and content and things like that. So I made sure to get to know the SEO. I made sure to get to know the SEO team, who does what, what’s everyone’s skills, all of that. For a long time, though, I failed to get to know their bosses. I failed to get to know who runs the marketing team. I failed to get to know the different sides of the marketing team and who does what. For example, in a big company, the marketing team may have five people in PR and three people in SEO and two people in email.
So talking tactics, such as email marketing strategies, with the SEO team when the SEO team has no ability to change the email marketing tactics isn’t going to get you a long ways. However, this can be super valuable when you’re talking with the SEO team about how they are going to be able to get buy-in with other teams to work together collaboratively with them to get more done on the SEO side. It’s the old you scratch my back, I’m going to scratch yours sort of mentality.
The third is never forget that, as the agency, you are the outsource solution. Whether you like it or not, no matter how closely you get to your client, no matter how well you get to know them, no matter how often you go down to visit them, you are still the outsourced solution. You are not working there in-house with them all the time, part of the politics, seeing what’s going on, knowing what the roadblocks are, knowing why certain things aren’t getting done, or why certain things do get done. At the end of the day, you are still an outsourced solution that you were brought in for a reason. That’s not necessarily a negative thing. Actually, from the in-house perspective now, I don’t believe that’s a negative thing at all, because you were brought in because you’re the expert. You’re the expert in SEO or technical SEO or link building or content marketing or social media marketing. You were brought in because that is what you own, and that’s what you are known for, and so that is exactly the reason why you are there, not to be part of their marketing team.
However, what I learned in my time at Distilled is the closer you can get to the team, to the in-house team, the better you can get to know them, the more successful you are going to be.
This brings me to my fourth point. As an agency marketer, you’re actually less responsible for results than you may think that you are. What I mean by this is ultimately the in-house team is the one that is responsible for the results. Myself, at HotPads, I am responsible for driving traffic, which drives leads which drives the business. If I hire an agency, you are not going to be responsible for driving traffic. You’re going to be responsible for giving me deliverables that I can then use to go and turn into actionable things for my development team to do or for my marketing team to execute on.
To be successful as an agency marketer, what you need to do is you need to make sure that you are communicating with your client. That is the first and foremost, that you are communicating with your client, telling them when things are going to be in their inbox, what you’re going to be delivering, why you are delivering it, what you’re going to deliver next based off of the deliverable that you are currently working on, or spending a lot of time reporting. Honestly, I was really bad at this when I was at Distilled, reporting to my clients and telling them, “This is what we’ve done over the previous month, and this is what we’re going to do over the next month.”
That alone is invaluable to an in-house marketer, because then, as in-house marketer, if I’m given that from my agency that I’m working with, I can then go and set expectations with my bosses and tell them, “This is coming down from this agency. I expect it on this date. These are the things that they’ve done, and this is what we’re doing with them.”
Finally, this brings me to my fifth point, which is deadlines actually matter less than you think. Deadlines for deliverables actually matter a lot less than you might think. The reason for this is in-house marketers are very, very, very busy. Leading marketing at HotPads, I’m doing SEO. I’m helping out with the content strategy, helping my content manager with the content strategy, helping her meet the right people and get buy-in from the right people and figure out when to publish things and where do we publish things, and how do we push it on social media. I’m helping me email marketer get to know our developers and talk with people up here in our Seattle office, the email marketing team up here to find out what they’re doing. We’re strategizing about emails. I’m helping my link builder find new places to get links. We’re strategizing about link building and measuring that and measuring the ROI on that.
So I’m very, very busy. Everyone on my team is very, very busy. All in-house marketers are very, very busy. We’re all over the place. We’re touching all sorts of different parts of marketing at some point and working very, very collaboratively, and I would suggest that any very successful in-house marketing team is all working collaboratively and not siloed away from other teams.
So all of this is to say that I really don’t care about deadlines, and most in-house people aren’t really going to care about deadlines. What’s important for you as an agency marketer is going to be communicating with your client when something is going to be delivered. If you’re going to be late, communicate that with them as soon as you’re able to. If it’s going to be a week late, let them know why. Things come up. Everyone understands that things come up. Maybe another client had an emergency. Maybe there was an algorithm change that they were hurt by, that their CEO is about to fire the whole marketing team if you don’t jump in. Clients understand this. So what you need to do is you really need to communicate with them as soon as possible, as often as possible.
As an in-house marketer, speaking to the in-house guys for a second, you need to tell the agency exactly what you’re dealing with, exactly what your responsibilities are. What keeps you busy day-to-day? There’s nothing more frustrating as an agency marketer than being like, “Why can’t I get a hold of my client? I know they’re around. I know they’re in there. Aren’t they just like sitting there building links?” The answer is no. They’re not just sitting there building links. They have a lot going on. So to be successful as an agency marketer, you need to find out from your clients exactly what keeps them busy day in, day out. So then you are able to not be a pain to them, but rather to help them do their job even better.
So these are five things that I wish I knew as an agency marketer now that I am in-house. Once again, my name is John Doherty. You can find me on Twitter, DohertyJF, and I’m happy to be back here. Please leave any comments you have below in the comments section. Thanks a lot. Have a great weekend.
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Posted by gfiorelli1
A few months ago I published here on Moz SEO in the Personalization Age, where I explained why, once and for all, SEOs need to be aware of the personalization of SERPs and the mechanisms by which Google customizes our search results. I also suggested some ways to convert what at first sight is just a complication into a competitive advantage.
This post is the ideal continuation of that one.
Here, however, I won’t dig into SEO theories and patents, but I will try to put order in all of the existing information about the elements that compose MyAnswers, highlighting some clarification that many – wrongly – absent-mindedly forget, and suggesting actions that can mean the difference between winning or not the personalized SERPs.
You can call this post “Guide to MyAnswers” if you want, although I do not pretend to have written a real guide.
Personalized private search
When we speak about personalized search results, it would be more correct to use the term private search results.
It is not just semantics but how Google refers to them, and is also a result of the confrontation with the European Community.
Private is slightly different from Personalized, since it implies that a SERP is personalized only by our web history and only by the direct contacts on Google Plus and Gmail.
Keep in mind this detail, because it will explain a point I will affirm later in the post.
A classic example of Private Search is this:
Private Search consists of two elements:
- Google Now, or our offline activities moved into our own online life;
- Google Plus, or anything that I or people in my Circles share by G+.
Right now you should be quite used to this feature offered by Google also in the desktop search.
Usually we refer to it for things like flight reminders, hotel and restaurant reservations, packages’ deliveries, and for geo-targeted contextual suggestions.
Google Now generally operates in two eco-systems:
- Mobile (and for that reason every example Google offers is mobile);
- Vocal (you can create Google Now reminders with a voice command).
The fact that it is now also present in the classic desktop search is just a sign of the times (and of the shift from desktop search to “everywhere” search, thanks also to the instant synchronization of the Google account information in different devices).
As I wrote in SEO in the Personalization Age, everybody can ask to be integrated into Google Now. Be advised that it is not an immediate inclusion, as a nine-step process is needed to obtain the approval from Google).
The integration is possible using one of these Schema for Gmail:
- RSVP actions for events;
- Review action;
- One-click action;
- Go-to action;
- Flight interactive cards.
This video from the last Google I/O explains well all these options:
Every Schema for Gmail is interesting, but the most immediately useful ones are:
Review action, which offers us the opportunity to ask and let our clients to write reviews of our product, hotel, or service (or simply to evaluate them with the classic starred system) directly from their inbox. As you can see, it can be a big help in obtaining more reviews, as it responds to the old classic “Don’t make me think” principle;
One-click action, which can be especially useful for eCommerce sites. Imagine you have users subscribed to your coupon/offers newsletter. When they will receive the newsletter with the One-click action SaveAction Schema implemented, they will be able to save the coupon in their Google Offers account.
If you want to dig more into the integration with Google Now, you can check out these two great posts:
- How Gmailâ€™s Schema.org Support Changes the Game for Email Marketers;
- Email Schema: 6 Things You Need To Know Plus Some Conspiracy Theory.
I must admit that I still see many SEOs confused about how Google Plus influences Private Search.
To be honest, the fact that Google presents both Google Plus and Knowledge Graph (and sometimes Answers cards) in the same positions, or even mixed (i.e.: Google Plus Profiles enriched with Knowledge Graph information) is not helping to dispell this confusion. This, among other things, reflects something that still not everybody understands: Google Plus is a multi-platform product, and not only a Social Network.
Google Plus directly influences Private Search in three different ways, each one depending on the visibility we give to the message we share on G+:
1. Only You (or “shared privately”)
As you can see, the visibility in SERPs is practically immediate (10 seconds is the time I needed to switch accounts).
Privately shared Google Plus posts can be also images, as Giorgio pointed out to me:
Opportunities in sharing privately
Imagine you did a good job building an authoritative profile on Google Plus, so that you have been circled by influencers.
When you don’t have a close relationship with those influencers and your outreach emails may very well bounce back or be ignored, then sharing a private post with a link to content you think they may may like and share is a great alternative.
Thanks to this sort of inception marketing, the influencers will quite surely find that post in the first page for those keywords you are targeting them for and about which you have created the content you want them to promote.
If you have wisely crafted the post in order to have a catchy tagline (the first words, which will compose the title of the search snippet) and a convincing description with a strong call to action just after, then your post has a strong opportunity for being clicked, discovered, and shared by that influencer.
There are two kinds of limited Google Plus posts in SERPs.
- Posts that are shared with us because we are part of a Circle (not publicly shared), and we have the person/business page sharing it circled too;
- Posts that are posted publicly by people/brands, who are not in the Knowledge Graph but whom we have circled
For instance, Rand is not a node in the Knowledge Graph (yet), so what I see in the right sidebar of the SERPs is his information taken from his Google Plus profile and his latest post there in a limited-labeled box.
Opportunities in limited sharing
Usually people tend to share posts only using the Public option. By doing so, they lose the opportunity to obtain more SERP real estate for branded searches.
A posts is public when a user or a brand shares it with all the Google Plus users. These posts are presented as organic search results, and they can rank as if they were a normal web page and even reach the first positions and remain in the SERPs if they earn links.
They aren’t tagged with Public as it was once, but they present authorship data, and we always see them in the first page if we have circled that user/brand.
Opportunities in sharing publicly
The opportunities are obvious in this case.
The more people who have circled your profile or your business page, the more they will see your publicly shared posts in a outstanding position in the SERPs, including for very competitive head tail keywords.
Follow those simple rules about Google Plus posts’ search snippets, and you will be able to obtain important volumes of organic traffic to your G+ profile and, from there, to your site.
Be aware, though, that Public shares tend to suffer when the Freshness effect decays and, if the post is not reinforced with backlinks, it will tend to slip out of the first page and, ultimately, from the SERPs.
The difference between Search Plus Your World (SPYW) and MyAnswers
This snapshot above is an example of how SPYW was working.
As you can see, Google was declaring how many personalized results were pulled in, enhancing them with the styled person icon, and showing the photo and name of the person who socially shared the content. It even offered us a list of people and pages on Google+ related to the search we did.
Now, with MyAnswers, this is not so anymore:
No indication of how many search snippets are personalizing the SERP. No person icon.
Of note, there is also no sign of the name of the person who socially shared the content if he is not in our Circles. The SERP, then, is personalized just with those Google Plus posts that were shared by people we have in our Circles.
Finally, there’s no sign of “Suggested people and pages” in the right column.
These differences show one extremely important difference between SPYW and MyAnswers:
In SPYW, if we shared something with a friend, it was seen in a preferred position in SERPs by his friends, as well. In MyAnswers it is not.
Giorgio and I did a very simple experiment, with me sharing a post with him and “Extended Circles.” The result was that Giorgio could see my post in a SERP when logged in with his personal account, but not when logged in with a test G+ profile that didn’t have me circled but did have his personal account circled.
What does this mean? That sharing something with “Extended Circles,” as Google itself explains in a somewhat involute way, offers an opportunity to make the post visible to un-circled profiles only in Google Plus, but not in SERPs.
As I was saying in the very beginning of this post, this is why we should speak of Private Search and not of Personalized Search.
And, as we will see, there’s just one way to show something shared on Plus to friends of friends: the Google +Post Ads.
The MyAnswers catalogue
The version of the catalogue I outline here must be considered just a snapshot in time of the actual situation. As Dr. Pete taught us with his #MozCast updates, Google is continuously experimenting with new formats and layouts.
MyAnswers elements are present in the SERPs both in the right-hand column and in the main body of the SERPs.
On the right we can find:
Personal profiles of users we have circled
Personal Gmail contact information
This is “Only You” information pushed into the SERP from our Gmail, and Google shows it if the contact we have in Gmail doesn’t have a Google Plus profile. Note that if he/she has a Google Plus profile, this one with an “Add to circles” button will be shown instead:
If the brand is not a node in the Knowledge Graph, the business page will be shown only if we have circled it.
If we haven’t, that space on the right will be empty:
Please note that this particular example is quite strange, because Moz is present with a page in Wikipedia, so the absence of a Moz Knowledge Graph box, or of Knowledge Graph information in the Google Plus business box seems quite odd and is something we should investigate further.
Google Plus local pages
There are three cases, and in all of them the box is visible whether or not you’re signed in. The biggest difference is that we won’t see whether our circled friends have reviewed a local business if we are signed out.
1) A non-verified G+ local page, as in the case of the Osteria Satyricon in Bolonia (click and you will see how the “verified business” icon is absent).
2) A verified but not circled page, as in the case of the restaurant of a friend of mine in Valencia:
3) A verified and circled page:
Another possibility: A Knowledge Graph and Google Plus page/business page:
The box, as can be easily seen, is a composition of Knowledge Graph information (extract from Wikipedia and “People also search for”) and Google Plus (number of followers and recent posts).
This box is also visible if you’re not logged in.
Knowledge Graph, Google Plus, and Google Now
Substantially similar to the previous case, but with the “Keep me updated” button, which functions to push posts by the followed profile in our Google Now Cards.
It seems it is only shown if the person is a node in the Knowledge Graph and it is not available for Business Pages (at least I wasn’t able to find any).
Google Plus Hashtags Search
Since last September it has been possible to search for hashtags in Google.
That means that if you tag a post on Plus with a hashtag, your content may have the opportunity to be shown in Google searches to people who have not circled you and are not signed in.
It would be worth an independent analysis of how Google chooses which public posts to show for a given hashtag, but what it is quite clear is that freshness is an important factor, as the posts shown tend to be the ones most recently shared.
Also pay attention to the hashtags you decide to use, as it seems that the hashtag must have at least a minimum of usage in order to be shown in Google search. For instance, I tried to search #MozCast and this was the result:
The only way to be always visible with a box in the right-hand column of the SERPs when people are not logged in and/or have not circled us is being present in the Knowledge Graph and having a Profile/Business Page on Plus, or having a verified Google Plus Local Page.
In the first case:
- If we already are a node in the Knowledge Graph, then we must have an active page on Google Plus. There are tons of Brands that doesn’t know this and are missing a wonderful opportunity to lend visibility to their content.
- If we are not present in the Knowledge Graph but have an active Google Plus profile/business page, we can try to earn/force inclusion in the sources that the Knowledge Graph uses: Wikipedia and Freebase.
If you have a Google Plus Local Page, then you simply should start posting updates.
In the main body of a SERP we can find:
Shared Google Plus posts
As I mentioned previously, the Google Plus posts are visible both to people who are signed in and to those who are signed out if the posts are public, but they only easily rank in a top position for head-tail keywords for people who have circled us.
And, keep in mind that freshness has a key role.
URLs shared on Google Plus
If someone we have circled shares a URL in Google Plus, the web document shared will be shown on the first page in our private searches even if it isn’t in a neutral search or in a more prominent position that actually is ranking:
Note that only one person needs to share the URL, which obviously means that if we were able to earn followers on Google Plus, the simple act of sharing the URL with them will make that page stand out in their SERPs, even for very competitive keywords.
URLs that have earned +1s
If someone we have circled +1s a web document, we will see that same page excel in the SERPs for all the keywords that page may rank for:
Google Plus local reviews
This represents a great opportunity for local businesses. If a business has been circled by an influencer, it should have to try being reviewed by him on Google Plus Local (Remember: You can do it using the Schema for Gmail, too).
If he agrees, all his followers will see your search snippet enhanced by his annotation, and if that is 4 or 5 stars…
We should not forget that Google Plus and private search are also influencing our YouTube experience when signed in.
If we click on the Social link in the left menu, we will see all the YouTube videos people we have circled have shared on Google Plus:
Also remember that if someone we have circled not only shares a YouTube video but also comments about it on Google Plus, then we will see his comment in the YouTube page of that video too. Just check the latest Matt Cutts video about Paid Links, and you will see a good example of this. Note, though, that that same Matt Cutts video doesn’t show any “Google Plus activity” in the SERPs.
Last December Google launched the Beta of +Post Ads.
+Post Ads may be defined as the Google version of the old (and now dismissed) Facebook Promoted Posts.
For Google they also are:
- A way of selling ads on Plus without publishing them on Plus;
A brilliant idea, because it is a way to bring more people into Google Plus but making them pay to advertise.
The +Post Ads are included in the Google GDN, therefore we can easily target the right audience and do really targeted inbound marketing with practically every kind of content we can create on Google Plus:
- Hangouts on air (pre, during, and post-HOA)
Users can interact with the +Post Ad directly in the site where it is published without the need to visit our Google Plus page. Obviously, they need to have a Google Profile.
From an SEO point of view, +Post Ads are a great opportunity. In fact, the more people who share and +1 the ad (and comment on it if it is a video), the more all the people in their Circles will start seeing our post standing out in SERPs (and YouTube) even for the most competitive keywords.
Private Search, with its combination of Google Now and Social Search (aka: Google Plus) represent a big percentage of the SERPs users see, and its majority in case of mobile search users on Android devices.
Google Plus, then, due to its cross-product platform nature, influences the search experience also of the users not using it as a Social Network.
For these reasons we must understand how Private Search works, recognize its elements in the SERPs and take advantage of the opportunities it offers to us..
Maybe it’s time to start optimizing our Google Plus content, don’t you think?
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Posted by MackenzieFogelson
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that it’s hard work to build great content that:
a) people want to read
b) people remember and will be motivated to share
c) helps you further increase the reach of your brand
This becomes especially true when you’re building content for a company that’s not your own.
This post isn’t about Lesson #12,753 we’ve so valiantly learned here at Mack Web as we grow our small (but mighty) integrated web marketing team.
It’s about you and the exceptional content you need to be building on behalf of the clients you work for.
That said, if you’re like us, you find solace in, and learn a great deal from, the trials and tribulations other companies face. I’ve broken this post into three parts, each of which tackles a big question you might be wondering about:
Sit tight. I’ve got some ideas.
We’ve got a content generation process that has been working pretty well for us now, but it took a ton of failing to develop it.
For a while, we were treating content generation like a factory. We had clients. They needed a strategy. That strategy called for content. We gave the specs and details for the content to our writer. She generated the content. We optimized it. It went live. We did outreach. Rinse. Repeat.
It’s not that the content we were producing in our “factory” was bad. It wasn’t thin. It just didn’t serve a purpose beyond meeting preconceived frequency expectations for their blog. Although it was intended to add value to the conversation, it wasn’t going to rise above the ever-growing noise and help them build their business and further their brand.
Our factory approach was fine for a short while, but as we started to grow, level-up, and recognize that the lack of effectively executed, fully integrated content marketing strategies would make it increasingly difficult for us to earn audience engagement, we realized our content had to be better. It had to serve a higher purpose for the brand and it needed to integrate all the appropriate channels.
Which meant, of course, that we couldn’t create it in a silo anymore.
General brand stuff vs. expert content
We’ve found that, for the most part, our clients have needed our help with two distinct types of content in order to build their audience: general brand stuff and expert content.
General brand stuff is the content thatâ€”if you’ve really done your diligence to fully understand the company, their industry, their persona, and the story they’re trying to tellâ€”you can essentially create content without putting too much extra work on their plate.
You still work together throughout the process (which I’ll get into more in just a bit), but really you’re taking the lead, doing the majority of the work, and ensuring you have approval as you move through the different stages in the content generation process.
Expert content is content that requires the knowledge of a subject matter expert (which hopefully you will find inside the company) to produce. The expert stuff places a great deal of the content generation responsibility on the client. Your job is to act as a guide, facilitator, and editor so that you’re ensuring strategic alignment, brand integrity, and that the content actually gets created and connected to its intended audience.
When you’re working with a subject matter expert to develop content, it’s really important that you’re taking as much weight off the expert as possible, and you’re also earning their trust. You can do this in a few ways:
Allow the expert to drive
You may suggest trending topics and direction based on strategy and goals but, depending on your expert’s writing prowess, you don’t want to get in the way by controlling the process too much. Their time is extremely limited so you want to make the process as enjoyable and efficient as possible.
If the expert is driving, your goal is to cater to their needs and aid them in any way possible. Take the time to listen, observe, understand their writing process, and how you can fit into that. As facilitator and editor you’ll be providing feedback on basic grammar, transitions, focus, and depth, but you’re also working to keep them on task and accountable for deadlines.
Provide the expert with the structure
Maybe the expert doesn’t necessarily want the freedom to drive, but they could use your help getting the structure together. It really depends on the expert, what they’re comfortable with, and what their schedule will allow.
If they need your help getting the ball rolling, you can interview them for the key takeaways, write the outline for them, and provide them with anything else they need to get that first draft going.
We’ve also had great success writing the first draft for the expert so that they have something to take apart, integrate their expertise, personal anecdotes and voice, and then we help them put it back together.
In general, expert content will take longer to come together. You’re usually talking about people with extremely busy schedules, and unless they find value in what content marketing is doing for their brand and company, it could take months to get content out of them.
What we’ve found is if you’re properly balancing the creation of both expert and general brand stuff, you can fill any production gaps with minimal involvement on the client’s part. That way you’re still getting content out and you won’t have lengthy time lapses in the execution of deliverables from your content strategy.
As we’ve been growing our team and our content department, we’ve been working to get more out of less. We have found that investing in processes that document the stages of our everyday operations (like our client on-boarding process and the base ongoing monthly stuff we do for nearly every client) has really helped us to be more efficient, but that hasn’t always been the case.
Don’t get me wrong; I am a very systems- and process-oriented person. I like things to be neat, organized, and, well, systematic. As much as I believe in investing in them, I’ve come to learn that you can waste a lot of time and precious resources on processes that don’t work, don’t get used, and don’t help you become more efficient.
With processes, it’s not about developing something that stands the test of time (because they never do). It’s more about providing guidance and suggestions for a more efficient workflow. That tends to come in the form of checklists that you’re continually iterating as living, breathing, dynamic entities inside your organization.
As such, this is what we’ve discovered to be incredibly helpful when developing our processes:
1) Determine the problem the process is going to solve
Clearly you’re taking the time to develop a process so that you can make something you do every day (or something you repeat quite often) a whole lot easier. For us, we knew we needed to create better content and work more collaboratively with our clients in order to do that. We thought a process for managing content generation might help us make those improvements.
2) Identify the people who are going to use the process
This is key. If you yourself will not actually be facilitating a process you develop, it will almost certainly die. You need the specific, relevant individuals on your team to not only believe in it, but own it, or it will go unused.
I no longer develop processes for the company and simply present them to the team to be used. I now work with the team to develop processes and the team figures out what checklists and supporting documents they need to make the process work.
3) Find the tools that will allow you to run the process
These tools don’t have to be expensive. We use a lot of free software like Google Docs, Spreadsheets, and Trello. Your tools don’t have to be fancy; they just need to be accessible so that the people on the team who are using them can get to them easily.
4) Use the process
We’ve realized that every time we use a process it’s going to change. That’s just how it goes. There will be specific parts of your processes that won’t get altered for long periods of time, but in general, as you use them, be attentive to contrast, taking note of the stuff you’ll want to take some time to analyze and eventually change.
5) Modify the process
At some point, you’ll need to dedicate the time to analyze your processes, make the adjustments, and then test those modifications. This is a continuous cycle if you want your processes to really work for you and provide a return on spending the time and resources to create them in the first place. Make sure it’s your team who’s taking ownership of this, not management.
Some pieces to facilitate the process
As we’ve developed a content generation process to produce better content, we’ve discovered that engaging the client and using these pieces have really made a big difference:
1) Use Strategy & 2) Pitch Content
We’re trying to remove as much content responsibility and workload from the client as possible. We definitely need them invested and involved, but they’ve hired us as an extension of their team with the hopes that we’ll free up their internal resources.To that end, we use the “unless we hear differently” model as often as we can throughout the content generation process.
Whether we’re developing general brand or expert content stuff, we always take the initiative and pitch the intended direction of the content to the client. We use the goals we’ve set and the strategy we’re working from, as well as trending topics, in order to determine the content we’ll be writing.
3) Collect Data
When we’re ready to collect data for the content, the client is familiar with the strategy that has been developed and what we’re working toward. We’ve already done a great deal of listening so that we can come to the client and say (with confidence), “Hey, here’s how we’d like this to go. Can we have your feedback?”
Once we’ve worked through some of these initial conversations, we send over a data collection (a template, if you will) that looks like this:
This data collection doc communicates our intent and requests the information we need. The “unless I hear differently” part comes into play in the suggested key takeaways and then asking the client to help us come up with additional details, photos, and anecdotes to support them.
This requires less work from the client, but involves them in the process. We’ve found that this also puts more meaning into the content because the client is participating by contributing the stories and first-hand experiences that we don’t necessarily know (and that they sometimes forget to tell us during interviews and conversations about content).
4) Develop an outline with key takeaways
Once we get all of the information we need from data collection, we create a more thorough outline of the post to get another level of approval from the client before we proceed to first draft state. This saves a ton of time. From data collection to outline, things shift from the initial, proposed direction, so providing an official outline gives us the opportunity to once again communicate exactly what the client can expect and earn their feedback and approval.
In the official outline, if we have them available at that time, we will integrate all resources and media so that we’re clearly communicating what we’ll be writing about and what we’ll be referencing. This provides the client with an opportunity to investigate the proposed resources and provide any direction change before we fully draft the content.
5) Provide a first draft with diagramming
Once we’re ready to present the first draft of the content, there’s a couple really important things we do before sending it across:
Indicate key takeaways (and feedback)
This part takes me back to my English teaching days. When we turn in the first draft, we actually diagram the post to illustrate the pieces of the original outline and where the key takeaways ended up. And, if the client provided some very specific direction or feedback to us, we make sure to indicate that they were heard by pointing those out in the diagramming.
This has really helped to reduce revisions because it’s a subtle way to remind the client that what we are presenting in this content is what we’ve all agreed to throughout the process. And, as we’re drafting the content, if we feel the need to go in a different direction, we use the diagramming as an opportunity to justify the change.
Provide the entire experience
When we provide the first draft of the content to the client, we sell it. We provide it in ready-to-publish form complete with links, videos, and photos embedded so that the client gets the full experience of what it would look like live.
Writing is a very personal thing and it’s very easy to get emotionally invested in the content. Using data collection, outlines, and diagramming first drafts removes the emotion and keeps everyone accountable and focused on the content. If we’re reminding the client why things are the way they are throughout our interactions, they’re less likely to be distracted by new ideas or different approaches. We can rely on the process to keep the client (and, honestly, sometimes the writer) focused on the intent of this piece of content. And ultimately, this helps us create better content.
These deliverables have also streamlined the way we produce content and they really show the client that we get them and are trying to make life easier for them. Even though they are more involved in the process, we’re displaying more initiative and skill which further reduces the burden on their end.
Working with the client in this way has earned more trust and flexibility. We’re able to demonstrate better leadership, confidence, and how much we know (and care) about their business.
The more trust we earn and the more efficient the process becomes, the more we accomplish for our clients. But even with improved efficiency, there’s only so much a small team can do in-house. In order to scale, we’ve got to recruit outside help.
Like I mentioned, a team like ours is too small to effectively write all of the content for our clients in-house. Using contract writers has allowed us to conveniently scale our content department and provide better content for our clients.
There are three really important things we’ve discovered as we’ve been building our base of trusted writers:
1) Find writers who are a value match
You’ve got to be willing to do your due diligence and hold out for writers who are a match for your values and expectations as a company.
2) Set them up for success
You need to spend time getting the writers invested in the client they are going to write for. Set them up for success by providing them with as much information about the client that you would expect your in-house, full-time team members to know.
3) Invest in their growth
Just like an employee, you need to be willing to help your writers grow. Writing is hard and even the best writers struggle. If you want to develop lasting relationships and continue to get great content from your contract writers, you’ve got to be willing to invest time in their growth and development.
As we’re looking for great writers, we use a Google spreadsheet to keep track of the writers that we’re interested in working with.
We review writing samples, check their references, and interview them in person or via video so that we can get a feel for whether they’re a value match for us and that their writing style and voice will match up with one of our clients.
Once we’ve selected a writer, as they write for our clients, we assess their work. After they complete a few pieces of content for us, we can get a feel for their strengths. We can also identify trends. Do they honor their commitments with us? Do they communicate well? Are they responsive? Are they willing to learn? Maybe they’re not a match for the client we have them paired with but they’d be great with another. We use the same Google spreadsheet to keep track of this stuff and also include any patterns we’re noticing or feedback we’re getting from clients about the content.
Helping your writers grow
No matter how well you qualify your writers, there will be a trial-and-error period with every single one. If you want long-term relationships with them, you’ve really got to invest the time (beyond this trial period) and continue to help them grow.
When we receive a piece of content from a writer, our in-house content strategist reviews it before it’s handed off to the client for feedback. She reviews for quality, alignment of purpose, and also basic editing stuff. She diagrams the key takeaways to ensure that the content is on track with what the client approved in the outline/key takeaway part of the process.
If the post needs a little bit of work, our content strategist determines whether the edits are minor enough just to make them as she’s diagramming, or if she needs to schedule time with the writer to have them adjust the post.
We are diligent about communicating with our writers. If they’re learning and improving along the way, we’re spending less time on revisions and providing our clients with the content they need to build their brand.
An ongoing challenge
Content plays such a huge role when building a brand and a business. Trying some of these things in our content generation process has really helped us to create better partnerships with our clients, and certainly, better content.
This stuff may be working for us now, but we realize that building great content is always going to be hard (especially as the saturation problem gets worse). It’s our job to continue pushing beyond what could just get us by and discover what’s really going to make a difference in our clients’ businesses.
Of course, this addresses just one small part of that challenge. I certainly have not covered everything that would help you build great contracted content for your clients. Share your secrets with me below.
Posted by Kristina Kledzik
Now that it’s 2014, the question isn’t “should I build a mobile site?” It’s “how do I build a good mobile site?” Mobile sites are, at their core, just sites; but redesigning your site for very small screens and linking your mobile site to your desktop site gives you a lot more to think about.
I’ve put together a checklist of a) aspects of mobile sites that are often broken yet overlooked, and b) optimization options that many people miss. Where you need more information, I’ve included a link rather than a full description, so that people smarter than me can help you with the details.
Connecting your mobile site with your desktop site
- Are redirects set up to get visitors to the specific page they were trying to view, not the homepage?
- Are mobile visitors redirected to the mobile version of the site?
- Are desktop visitors redirected to the desktop version of the site?
- Is that option easy to find?
- Once mobile visitors choose the desktop version of the site, will they remain on that version as they browse the site? Or will your redirects send them back to the mobile version of the site each time they click on a page?
- Have you set up a Vary-HTTP header to tell Google and browsers that you vary the HTML by user agent?
- Are desktop pages set up with a rel=”alternate” tag pointing to the mobile version of that page?
- In the header, add: <link rel=”alternate” media=”only screen and (max-width: 640px)” href=”http://m.domain.com” />
- Are mobile pages set up with a rel=”canonical” tag pointing to the desktop version of that page?
- In the header, add: <link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.domain.com” />
Check Crawl > Crawl Errors and choose the Smartphone tab. This only shows URLs that are a problem for mobile crawling, but not standard desktops:
- Google will return pages that it’s having a hard time crawling.
- Have all mobile pages been submitted to Google via an XML sitemap in Google Webmaster Tools?
- Keep mobile pages separate from desktop pages; Google Webmaster Tools reports on the number of pages indexed by separate sitemap. If you keep the two separate, you’ll be able to see if fewer mobile pages are indexed than desktop pages.
- Geoff Kenyon’s Technical Site Audit Checklist is a great place to start.
- Google offers an excellent page speed tool that gives a list of recommendations based on its crawl of your site.
- This is a more important step than it is in desktop optimization, since phones have less computing power and heavy coding and/or images will lead to an even slower mobile user experience.
- Server-side redirects are generally faster, since they don’t rely on the weaker computing power of a phone.
- 301 and 302 redirects send the same message to search engines, so you can use either type.
- Does it look good on a number of phones?
- Check the top phones on the market. Good examples are the iPhone (iOS), Samsung Galaxy S4 (Android), Nexus 5 (another Android), and Nokia Lumia 520 (Windows).
- Check the top phones that your visitors use, as reported by your web analytics.
- Does it look good on a number of tablets?
- Check the top tablets on the market. Good examples are the iPad (iOS), Samsung Galaxy Tab in multiple sizes (Android), Kindle Fire (Amazon), and Asus Transformer Book (Windows).
- Check the top tablets that your visitors use, as reported by your web analytics. Pay attention to the top tablet sizes as well.
- Are all links given a 28×28 pixel margin between other links, so they’re easy to click with a finger?
- iPhones can’t render it at all, and it’s slow on Android.
- Look for sneaky uses of Flash, like Flash Player for video.
- Set up a viewport tag to let mobile browsers resize pages so they fit devices perfectly.
Don’t use pop-ups
- They’re too easy to accidentally click and completely take the visitor away from the page s/he wants to be on.
- They slow down loading time.
Responsive sites: Review where elements end up
- On mobile versions of the site, are the most important elements at the top? Make sure you don’t move important right hand elements, like the “add to cart” button, below all other content.
- On tablet versions of the site, does everything still make sense?
- Often, navigation will be minimized due to space constraints. Don’t let that happen; you just need training in how mobile navigation works.
- Only offering a small portion of your desktop site to mobile visitors is frustrating.
- If visitors aren’t interested in that content, including a link won’t cause a problem because no one will click on it.
- If visitors are interested in that content, you can use analytics data to show that mobile visitors choose to click on that link.
Map mobile to desktop pages
- There should be an equivalent mobile page for every desktop page.
- There may be more mobile than desktop pages, since it’s often easier to navigate mobile sites if you break up the desktop content into multiple pages.
- In some instances, you may have extra mobile pages based on location capabilities, but it’s still best to offer them in both versions, so visitors never feel like they can’t find something they remembered on your site.
Edit wordy content
- Mobile visitors have to deal with small screens, and are often on the go and have less patience.
- Get the same message across as briefly as possible.
Remove unnecessary images
- They slow down page loading time and aren’t needed to fill up extra screen space.
- Ads are particularly annoying on mobile screens, so if ads are a side business and not your primary source of revenue, consider cutting back on them on your mobile site.
- It’s lightweight and easy for phones to render.
- If you’re using a major hosting platform, you’re probably already using an HTML5 video player.
- Necessary if you have a responsive site, but still recommended if you don’t. Since phones are different sizes, you want the video to snap to fit the screen width.
- If you’re hosting YouTube, Vimeo, or your own videos, you can add a bit of code to make them responsive.
- If you’re using a paid platform like Wistia, they may offer code to make videos responsive (Wistia’s is Video Foam).
- Google still gives you approximately 70 characters (512 pixels) in your page title, but the width of the screen forces the page title into two lines.
- Google cuts off mobile meta descriptions at approximately 120 characters rather than 150 characters in their SERPs.
- Google displays the mobile URL rather than the desktop URL for mobile searches, as long as redirects have been set up properly.
Run pages through the W3C’s mobileOK checker to make sure you haven’t missed any small coding errors. It’s fairly finicky, but that makes sure it finds a lot of issues you may have overlooked.
Building Your Mobile-Friendly Site, a Distilled guide by me and Bridget Randolph
How to do a Mobile Site SEO Audit by Aleyda Solis
Posted by randfish
There are some great arguments to be made on both sides of the question of whether links are losing value in Google’s algorithm. In some ways, it seems that they are — and in some, they’re more valuable than ever. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explores both sides of the argument, offering some concrete advice to SEOs on how they can navigate today’s waters.
Are Links Losing Value in Google’s Ranking Algorithms-WBF_1
Here’s the link to coverage of Google’s testing removing links from the algorithm, and to the roundup post where links as a ranking signal are discussed (in particular, check out Russ Jones’ reply in the comments). For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!
Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Today, I want to talk a little bit about links losing their value in Google’s ranking algorithm.
So Google recently came out and talked about how they had tested a version of their search engine, of search quality algorithms, ranking algorithms, that did not include links as a ranking signal. Of course, a lot of SEOs went “Wait, they did what?”
But it turns out Google actually said they really did not like the results. They didn’t like what they saw when they removed links from the ranking elements. So maybe SEOs are going, “Okay, can I breathe easy, or are they going to keep trying to find ways to take links out of the ranking equation?” Certainly, links for a long time have been an extremely powerful way for SEOs and folks to move the needle on indexation, on rankings, on getting traffic from search engines.
I’m going to personally come out and say that, in my opinion, we will continue to see links in Google’s rankings systems for at least the next five and probably the next ten years. Whether they continue to be as important and as powerful as they’ve been, I think is worthy of a discussion, and I do want to bring up some points that some very intelligent marketers and SEOs have made on both sides of the issue.
So, first off, there are some folks who are saying, “No, this is crazy. Links are actually growing in value.” I thought Russ Jones from Virante made some excellent comments on a recent blog post where some experts had been asked to do a thought experiment around what Google might do if links were to lose signals.
He made some good points, one of which was as Google filters out . . . so let’s say I’ve got this webpage on Google, and as I filter out the value that are passed from some links through algorithms like Penguin or through filtration systems that remove either Web spam or low-quality links or links that we don’t find valuable in our relevancy algorithms, it actually is the case that these other links grow in importance. In fact, as Russ wisely pointed out, many of the other kinds of signals that Google might potentially replace links with, things around user and usage data, things around social signals, all of those things actually can be validated through the link graph, and you can use the link graph to add additional context and information about those other signals. So I think there’s a point to be made.
People have also pointed out that as we get into this world where no-follow is very, very common, a lot of websites putting no-follow on there, social sharing is oftentimes a much more common form of evangelizing or sharing information than linking is. Before we had the popularity of Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and Google+ and all these networks, that social sharing would have been bloggers and people in forums linking out to these resources.
There’s also, unfortunately, created a lot by Google themselves, and Bing to a certain extent, too, there are many, many webmasters and site owners and editorial specialists on the Web who have a fear of linking out. They worry that by linking to something bad or if they link out and then something happens to that website they link out to, that maybe something will happen to their site.
As a result, it’s actually become a greater and greater challenge over time to earn editorial links for everyone. This is interesting because it actually suggests that there is more value when you do earn those editorial links. So I think there’s a very credible case to be made.
On the flip side, there are SEOs who are pointing out, hey, look links are definitely a diminishing signal because there are elements in a ranking system, and anytime you have elements in a ranking system and you add new signals of relevancy, new signals of usefulness, of importance, of popularity, whatever those are, the pie chart has to squish those in. Then, the portion that used to be links, all of this stuff here, just this portion is still link-
based. So links become a smaller piece of the pie chart.
One good way of explaining this is think of, for example, Olympic ice skating, where you have judges who give rankings. Those judges, they’ll give a score — a 7.5 and an 8.5. They have criteria that they look at. As new criteria get added, the criteria for other pieces necessarily becomes a little bit less important.
Now, in Google’s ranking system, it’s not quite the same logic. We don’t have a pie chart that can add signals and remove signals. It’s not like everybody has a score out of just 10. But the ability of pages and sites to move up in the rankings is influenced by the elements that are in here in a similar fashion.
So what really should SEOs do? What should we take away from this sort of debate and discussion and this testing of Google by removing links from their algorithmic signals and not liking those results? Well, in an ideal world, in a best-case scenario, as a marketer, the way that I believe we should be thinking about this is to invest in the marketing, in the tactics and channels that provide value in multiple ways.
By “multiple ways,” I mean provide value in terms of branding; provide value in terms of direct traffic; provide value in terms of growing my social network; provide value in terms of growing my e-mail network, in terms of growing my influence and thought leadership in this sphere; all those kinds of things.
If I can get those multiple ways and still earn links? So content marketing is one that a lot of SEOs and marketers have been investing in because it does these things. Content marketing means that I get social shares. It means that I get more social followers. It means that I grow the people who pay attention to my brand and are aware of my brand. That content can also earn links, which helps me in the search engine rankings. That’s the ideal world. There are many forms of this. Content marketing isn’t the only one.
It can also be good, not quite as good, to refocus the energy that you might currently be expending on building all kinds of links and instead concentrate very carefully on the few links that really matter. As we’ve seen here, even for those who are arguing, “No, it’s becoming less important,” it’s not becoming less important. Those folks are saying, “Hey, there are a lot of things getting filtered out, and it’s harder and harder to earn the good editorial links.” Focusing on getting those is still very valuable.
Do not do these things — keep getting any and every link. We’ve talked about this many times on Whiteboard Friday. You guys are all familiar. Especially the non-editorial kind. It’s too dangerous a world. If you’re building a site that you want to last in the search engines for a long period of time, many months and years in the future, you can’t afford to be actively, proactively going and getting non-editorial links.
Please, don’t ignore the value that you get from activities that might not directly earn you a link — things that could get you brand mentions and grow your brand, things that could build up your resource of content, things that could build up your social channels — just because those things don’t earn you a link.
A great example of this one is a lot of folks have been talking about guest posting. Of course, I did a Whiteboard Friday right before Google made their announcement about guest posting. Guest blogging, guest posting, in that classic SEO for a link fashion, is not a great idea. But it can still be a great channel to earn brand awareness and attention, to earn direct traffic. I mean, a lot of folks can post on forums, on sites that earn them an additional audience, and that additional audience in the future might turn into people who share and link and become customers. So that’s a beautiful world. Don’t ignore the value of that.
I’m sure there’s going to be some great debate and discussion in the comments, and I really look forward to hearing from all of you. Take care. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday.