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Here’s Your Syllabus: Everything a Marketer Needs for Day 1 of an MBA

Posted by willcritchlow

A few years ago, I wrote a post on my personal blog about MBA courses. I have a great deal of respect for the top-flight MBA courses based, in part, on how difficult I found the business-school courses I took during my graduate degree. I'm well aware of the stereotypes prevalent in the startup and online worlds, but I believe there is a lot of benefit to marketers having a strong understanding of how businesses function.

Recently, I've been thinking about how to build this into our training and development at Distilled; I think that our consultative approach needs this kind of awareness even more than most.

This post is designed to give you the building blocks needed to grow your capabilities in this area. Think of it as a cross between a recommended reading list and a home study guide.

Personal development: a personal responsibility

I've written before about the difference between learning and training, and how I believe that individuals should take a high degree of ownership over their own development. In an area like this, where it's unlikely to be a core functional responsibility, it's even more likely that you will need to dedicate your own time and effort to building your capabilities.

Start with financial basics

I may well be biased by my own experiences, but I believe that, by starting with the financial fundamentals, you gain a deeper understanding of everything that comes afterwards. My own financial education started before high school:

  • My dad used to give me simple arithmetic tasks based around the financials of his own business before I was old enough to be allowed to answer the phone (when my voice broke!)
  • At college, I took some informal entrepreneurial courses as well as elected to study a few hardcore mathematical finance subjects during grad school
  • After college, I worked as a "consultant" (really, a developer) for a financial software company and got my first real introduction to P&Ls, general ledgers, balance sheets, and so forth
  • Before starting Distilled, I worked as a management consultant and learnt to build financial models and business cases (though the most memorable lesson of this era is that big businesses just have more zeros in the model – at a certain point it doesn't matter whether you're working with $, $k, $m or $b)

So, where should you start your financial education?

I'd begin by learning how to read a balance sheet (which will quickly lead you to a load of ratios) and how to read a P&L (profit and loss statement). From there, you can get to cash flow.

In order to take this all in, you will need to set aside some time to work through a few examples and to dig into the definitions, acronyms, and concepts you haven't heard before. These are not the kinds of post you can simply skim.

This may also be a good time to revisit some basics:

While working through all of this, you should be aiming to:

  • Become comfortable with the language and terminology
  • Understand the connections between cash, profit and assets
  • Begin seeing the sensitivities in how timing, margins, and business models impact outcomes

Since all of this is pretty dry, be sure to add in some human interest by reading about business models in ‘the wild' and applying your new-found knowledge to some real-world examples. Amazon is a great place to start because of its unusual focus on free cash flow over profit (for longer reads, I also recommend Bezos' shareholders letters and The Everything Store).

Management: structures and methodologies

When you're trying to get things done, it pays to understand the context of the people you're seeking to influence. Whether you're an external consultant or embedded in the organisation, the people you're dealing with will have their own priorities, incentives, and worldview.

Above all, you need to get close to people in order to understand what truly makes them tick.

You can spend a lot of time digging into dry tomes on organisational design if you wish, but I've learned a lot of things from reading business biographies in order to understand the thinking of senior management at big business. Here are some of my favourites:

  • I already mentioned The Everything Store about Amazon in general and Jeff Bezos in particular
  • In the Plex (relevant to our interests: about Google) has all kinds of interesting anecdotes and management challenges
  • I am a massive fan of The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz that documents a lot of the interpersonal and management challenges he has seen and faced over the years
  • I was recommended The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by a client-turned-friend who has led large engineering teams – its language of "conflict and commit" quickly became part of my personal thinking
  • In a variety of ways, I've learned interesting things even from books that I found difficult to read or where I felt as if I wouldn't like to work for the individuals (including Winning by Jack Welch, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, Who Says Elephants Can't Dance by Lou Gerstner, and the epic Warren Buffett biography, The Snowball by Alice Schroeder)
BenHorowitz081513_076BSheehan_crop.jpg

Ben Horowitz
Image source: developers.blog.box.com/

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Jeff Bezos
Image source: James Duncan Davidson, Flickr

The way I work is to highlight sections of a book as I read it (the Kindle is a godsend for this) and then, if I found it interesting enough, to write up a brief book report for my team. This should be somewhere between enough information to persuade them it would be an interesting read and enough to impart its key lessons.

See my write-up of "Only the Paranoid Survive".

Strategy: the interesting parts

For me, all of this forms the basics of what you need to think about the interesting parts. I'm fully aware (and glad!) that some people become specialists in the details above and enjoy working in them. For me, they serve as tools to understand and to communicate about the way that companies and markets function.

I find that the most interesting learning has elements of storytelling, timeliness, and humanity. During my university studies, I was most excited when I got to hear about theorems developed in the last few years. In corporate strategy terms, it's important to know your history, but it's also exciting to realise that we can read the history that's happening all around us right now.

In rough chronological order, here is some reading material I've found interesting recently:

  • Only the Paranoid Survive is the story of how Andy Grove chose to lead Intel through the almost complete disappearance of its multi-billion dollar core business in just a few short years. See my notes
  • The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton Christensen – I've written about this before here on Moz and over on our own site
  • In writing about The Innovator's Dilemma, I've talked before about the influence Mark Suster has had on my thinking. I find the vast majority of his writing very thought-provoking. I particularly enjoyed his recent presentation on Why it's Morning in VC which included some great stats about the growth in market opportunity for businesses that think ‘online first'
  • For the most cutting-edge thinking about the evolution of strategy in a connected world, I haven't come across a better thinker than Benedict Evans. His newsletter is one of a handful that I read religiously

Putting it together

Different people learn in different ways, but I thought I'd close with a few ideas for more structured ways of learning:

  • Work through the basics by recreating some of the analysis linked to above. Build the Excel, learn the terminology, etc.
  • Read a book from the list and write a book report
  • Form a study group to discuss a Harvard Business Review case

Further reading

The more you get into reading about business, the more you'll realise what a rabbit hole it truly is. I'd love to hear some recommendations in the comments section. I've also included a few more resources that didn't fit into the flow above but that I thought people might like to check out:

  • MBA Mondays from Fred Wilson (I recommend you start at the end and work forwards through time). I've liberally pulled individual posts into the writing above, but there's a wealth of further information in this series
  • Harvard Business Review produces an incredible amount of content, so you'll have to pick and choose, but there's something there for everyone – from written content and video, to deep financial analysis to inter-personal management advice
  • I have had The Personal MBA recommended highly to me – though I have to admit that it's still sitting in my wishlist

When I first pitched this post idea to the Moz editors, they were keen that it contain actual insight itself rather than just links to a bunch of books – something I wholeheartedly support. So, I thought I'd include my notes on Andy Grove's Only the Paranoid Survive. Here you can see what I meant by taking notes and highlighting sections of a book to discuss with a group. This is a great way of digesting the ideas of a book, especially if they are particularly complex.

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Andy Grove, Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore (1978)

Image source: Intel Free Press, Flickr

Only the Paranoid Survive: my notes on a business classic

Documenting his time at Intel, Andy Grove's book provides a fascinating insight into how he led the company out of the memory business and into the microprocessor business. He details his approach for dealing with what he calls "strategic inflection points" which are those times in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. As he says, this "can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end."

It's an incredible story of leadership, management, and strategy, and I highly recommend you read it (even though it's unfortunately not available on the Kindle – a criteria which is fast becoming my top priority for which books I'll read).

Written in 1996, the book looks pretty dated (in parts) almost twenty years later. But to illustrate the power of the insights from the man that Fortune magazine called "The best manager in the world", I wanted to kick off with some quotes from the final chapter of the book. These detail Grove's support of Intel post-retirement – guiding them on the changes he thought the internet would bring to their business. It highlights the value of the rest of the book by proving that he is capable of applying his theories to the future (which is always the hardest part of making predictions).

Highlighting the era in which the book was written, it starts with a section entitled:

What is the Internet Anyway?

Grove immediately lays out his stall:

I felt that the Internet was the biggest change in our environment over the last year.

And then goes on to predict a number of the disruptions that subsequently came to pass – starting with the effect on advertising:

To do that on a big scale, you have to "steal the eye-balls," so to say, of the consumer audience from where they get those messages today … to displays on the World Wide Web.

Publishing:

We may be witnessing the birth of a new media industry.

And even mobile (though he doesn't call it that):

Such an Internet appliance could be built around a simpler and less expensive microchip. Clearly, this would be detrimental to our business.

His presentation, to a group of senior managers at Intel in the mid-90s, clearly met a mixed reception – and I love how much the quotes could be an indictment of my entire career:

Comments on my presentation range from "This was the best strategic analysis you've ever done" to "Why the hell did you waste so much time on the Internet?"

Rather than just pointing out problems, he clearly outlines a set of solutions – starting with embedding the internet at the top level of strategic direction:

Intel operates by following the direction set by three high-level corporate strategic objectives: the first has to do with our micro-processor business; the second with our communications business; the third with our operations and the executions of our plans. We add a fourth objective, encapsulating all the things that are necessary to mobilize our efforts in connection with the Internet.

...and hedging with a deliberate attempt to check his hypotheses to make sure they are correct:

So I think there is one more step for Intel to take to prepare ourselves for the future. And I think we should take it now while our market momentum is stronger than ever. I think we should put together a group to build the best inexpensive Internet appliance that can be built, around an Intel microchip. Let this group try to derail our strategies themselves.

Having set the scene, rather than rehash the story itself, I want to jump to the second half of the book. Here Grove details the general lessons he learned and the approaches he has taught since his retirement as a professor at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

So many of the lessons concern the ways that senior managers can make sure they stay abreast of the lessons their teams are learning at the coalface. But learning the lessons are so rarely enough in themselves. Grove details a conversation he had with Intel's Chairman and CEO at the time – Gordon Moore:

I looked out the window at the Ferris wheel of the Great America amusement park revolving in the distance, then I turned back to Gordon and I asked, "If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what do you think he would do?" Gordon answered without hesitation, "He would get us out of memories." I stared at him, numb, then said, "Why shouldn't you and I walk out the door, come back and do it ourselves?"

Knowing is not sufficient. It's clear that you still need to work up the courage to make a change somehow. Early on, Grove dedicates a chapter to the necessary methodology of gathering information from the people he calls "Cassandras" who help funnel knowledge of impending changes to senior management:

The Cassandras in your organization are a consistently helpful element in recognizing strategic inflection points… Cassandras are usually in middle management; often they work in the sales organization.

He then goes on to address two potential objections to the particular kinds of action needed at this stage – by middle and senior management. I particularly like the second part – exhorting ‘armchair quarterbacks' to get out of their comfy seats:

If you are in senior management, don't feel you're being a wimp for taking the time to solicit the views, convictions and passions of the experts. No statues will be carved for corporate leaders who charge off on the wrong side of a complex decision...If you are in middle management, don't be a wimp. Don't sit on the sidelines waiting for the senior people to make a decision so that later on you can criticize them over a beer -- "My God, how could they be so dumb?"

Continuing the theme that it's necessary, but not sufficient to know what's going on, Grove calls out common behaviour among senior people who (consciously or subconsciously) know what they need to be focusing on, but continually find themselves drawn in other directions. It reminded me of the adage that your calendar never lies:

At such times, senior managers often involve themselves in feverish charitable fundraising, a lot of outside board activities or pet projects...Frankly, as I look back, I have to wonder if it was an accident that I devoted a significant amount of my time in the years preceding our memory episode, years during which the storm clouds were already very evident, to writing a book. And as I write this, I wonder what storm clouds I might be ducking now.

In this theoretical section that comes after many of the personal stories of his own challenges, Grove lays out some mechanisms for coping with and dealing with strategic inflection points once you've seen them coming. In particular, he focuses on clarity of communication:

But when the structure of the industry changes, all of these elements change too. The mental map that you have been carrying with you all these years and relied upon in charting your company's course of action suddenly loses its validity. However you haven't had a chance to replace it with a new mental map. You haven't made the explicit substitutions about how things are done now versus how they were done before, or who matters now versus who mattered then...If senior managers and know-how managers share a common view of the industry, the likelihood of their acknowledging changes in the environment and responding in an appropriate fashion will greatly increase. Sharing a common picture of the map of the industry and its dynamics is a key tool in making your organization an adaptive one.

...and clarity of purpose:

Management writers use the word "vision" for this. That's too lofty for my taste. What you're trying to do is capture the essence of the company and the focus of its business. You are trying to define what the company will be, yet that can only be done if you also undertake to define what the company will not be.

...and he addresses head-on the obvious counter to some of his simple examples by saying that he believes oversimplification is a risk worth taking in pursuit of extreme focus:

But the danger of oversimplification pales in comparison with the danger of catering to the desire of every manager to be included in the simple description of the refocused business, therefore making that description so lofty and so inclusive as to be meaningless.

Just before we get to the final section on the internet that I started with to make my broader point about the usefulness of Grove's framework, he talks about some of the personal pitfalls of leading in the way he describes. I found these two passages to have echoes of ‘the hard thing about hard things' that I referenced above. First, leading when you can't know if you're right:

I can't help but wonder why leaders are so often hesitant to lead. I guess it takes a lot of conviction and trusting your gut to get ahead of your peers, your staff and your employees while they are still squabbling about which path to take, and set an unhesitating, unequivocal course whose rightness or wrongness will not be known for years.

...and second, the loneliness of this course:

When I started on this software study, I had to take the time I spent on it away from other things...This brought with it its own difficulties because people who were accustomed to seeing me periodically no longer saw me as often as they used to. They started asking questions like, "Does this mean you no longer care about what we do?"

I hope you've enjoyed this little tour through my ways of learning about business. I think an awful lot of learning comes down to curiosity and, in my experience, business is an endless source of fascination and things about which to be curious. I look forward to hearing your best links and book recommendations in the comments.


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How Do I Successfully Run SEO Tests On My Website? – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

By now, most of us have gotten around to doing testing of some sort on our websites, but testing specifically for SEO can be extremely difficult and requires extra vigilance. In today's Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains three major things we need to think about when performing these tests, and offers up several ideas for experiments we all can run!

For reference, here's a still of this week's whiteboard!

Video transcription

Howdy Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Today we're going to talk about running some SEO tests. So it is the case that many of us in the SEO world, and in the web marketing world overall, love to run tests on our websites. Of course, there's great software, like Unbounce or Optimizely, if you want to run conversion-style tests, tests that kind of determine whether users perform better through conversion Funnel X or Funnel Y, or if Title X or Title Y convinces more people to buy. But SEO tests are particularly insidiously challenging because there are so many components and variables that can go into a test.

So let's say, for example, that I've got this recipes website, and I have my page on spaghetti carbonara, which is one of my favorite spaghetti dishes. Geraldine, my wife, makes a phenomenal carbonara as she grew up Italian.

So here we go. We've got our ingredients list. There's a photo. There are the steps. What if I'm thinking to myself: Gosh, you know, people on this webpage might want to check out other pasta recipes from here. I wonder if, by linking to other pasta recipes, I can get more people exposed to that and get them visiting that, but not just that. I wonder if I can send some extra link juice and link value, link equity over to these other pasta recipe pages that might not be as popular as my spaghetti carbonara page. Can I help them rank better by linking to them from this module here? Should I be putting this on lots of my pages?

So we might think: Well, I could easily put this on here and figure out user metrics. But how do I determine whether it's good or bad for SEO? That is a really, really challenging problem. It is.

So I wanted to take some time and not say this is a foolproof methodology, but rather here are some big things to think about that those of us who have done this a lot in the SEO world, run a lot of experiments, have seen challenges around and have found some solutions. This isn't going to be perfect. It's not a checklist to tell you everything you need to know about, and I'm sure there will be some additional items in the comments. But try these things at the very least.

#1 Experiments need control groups

What's unfortunate about the SEO world is we can't just do something like, "Hey, let's add this to all of our recipe pages and see how it does over the next month." You don't know whether that's going to help, even if you could prove to yourself that the user and usage tricks look a little bit better, but you're not sure about the ranking impact.

Well, gosh, you roll it out on every page, and you say, "Hey, over the last month things have gotten better. Now we know for sure that adding modules that interlink between our web pages is always better. Let's do that across lots of things." That's not an accurate conclusion to come to, and that's why we need a control group.

It could the case in the SEO world that maybe these pages are getting more links all of a sudden, maybe your domain authority has risen, maybe some of your competitors have done some bad stuff, and they have fallen in the rankings. It's just too hard to say. There are just too many inputs going in, and that's why this control group is so essential.

So I might take a group of pages and say those pages get the module, and at the same time these other pages don't get the module. Now if we have something like a rising domain authority or a bunch of competitors falling out, it will be fine, because we'll still see how the group with the module performed against the group without the module. If they both rise in the rankings, we can say reasonably that, "Well, this didn't appear to do enough to change the ranking. So if the user metrics are good, let's keep it, and if the user metrics are bad, let's not keep it, because ranking wise it seems like a wash." But if we observe differences in these two groups, assuming that there are no other differences in those groups, we can be reasonably assured that it was this that helped them rank better.

Now, be careful here. If I were doing this experiment, what I would want to make sure is that I didn't add the module to all of my recipe pages or to some types of recipe pages and not others. I would want to make sure that it is all pasta recipe pages, pages with people, visitors, metrics that are as close as possible to each other so that the control and the test group are as similar as possible.

By the way, when you're doing this, you also want to find a suitable target. What I mean by suitable target is I really like things for SEO experiments where I'm paying attention to the rankings in particular, I like search results with very low outside activity. Meaning, let's say spaghetti carbonara was one of them, I would watch the search results for spaghetti carbonara for a couple of weeks, and if I saw a lot of movement, my page bouncing around in the rankings, other people's pages bouncing around in the rankings, I wouldn't use it. I'd go to a much less active SERP where churn in the search results and movement in the search result was likely to be very low. That's where I love running experiments.

I'd also look for low competition that tends to go with low churn, and I'd try and find pages where I rank between number 8 and number 30. You might say, "Well, why do you care about ranking in number 8 to 30?" Well, I don't like ranking way at the tail end of the search results because any little thing, if you're ranking page 5 and result number 62 or something, hey man, any little thing could move you up 10 positions, 20 positions. Churn and movement that far back in the search results is much, much higher.

It's also the case that I don't love ranking number 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5, because it can be really hard to move results. You might need, gosh, without a ton of external links with anchor tags, blah, blah, blah, I'm not going to move 1 or 2 positions from number 3 or 4. This is why I like something between 8 and 30. That's what I mean by finding a suitable test result, and your selection may vary on this.

#2 Every test should be repeated multiple times

Every test should be repeatable and repeated multiple times. Preferably, if you can, you actually want to turn the test on and off for the same kinds of pages. This gets tough. Now, the reason you want to do the multiple tests is because you want to be assured, confident that it was what you changed that did it.

So after checking this on pasta recipes and seeing that, hey, my recipe site is getting better, the metrics looks good, the rankings are rising a few results each time that I put this on different pages, I feel confident that we can move ahead with this, great. Now run it on your dinner recipe pages or your risotto recipe pages, something similar to pasta. Run it on your salad recipe pages. If you repeat it on your risotto pages and your salad pages, and you're getting the same results each time, now you can feel pretty confident that probably it was the case that this module was, in fact, the impacting factor that moved the needle. If you just do it once on one set of results, it's much harder to say that with any kind of confidence.

With the turning on and off bit, so what I would want to do, let's say we have my group of pasta recipe pages that get the module. What if I take it off there? Will I see them fall back down in the results? The answer is kind of, well, hopefully I would because then I could be more sure that this was happening. In SEO though, this is really hard. In fact, the search engines make this kind of frustratingly impossible for a lot of link-based stuff, and the reason is something called the ghost effect.

I will probably do a Whiteboard Friday in the future on the ghost link effect. We've been testing this quite a bit with a project that I'm involved in called iMac Lab and here at Moz as well. We've seen people over the years report this. Essentially, you point a link to a page, and you see that page go up in the rankings, which makes sense. The link is helping it rank better. You remove the link and the page takes weeks, sometimes even months to fall back down. Google knows the link is gone. They've re-indexed that page. Why isn't the page that it helped rank falling right back down?
The answer is this ghost effect.

So ghost effects seem to be a real thing that Google really does around links that used to point somewhere, and so it makes testing with link-based stuff really hard. That's why you want to do the multiple times. That's why you want to do the control group and to test it in multiple different sections as opposed to relying on, "Well, I turned it on and it did this. I turned it off, and it went back to the original. So I know that that happened." Ghost effect will prevent you from observing that.

#3 Rankings have to be part of the test, but they can't be the only part

In fact, I would argue that if they are the only part of your test, you might do some things that could actually mess you up in the long run and mess you up with your users.

So the two other things that I really look at are, number one, how do users perform, user experience, and that can be everything from are my browse rate and my visits and traffic sources rate, are those staying relatively similar to the patterns that I've seen in the past? Traffic performance, I want to see that stay relatively stable or improve. If both of those things are improving, hey, maybe you have a real winner on your hands. With a lot of these tests, that could happen. You might see that more people are clicking on those. Maybe more people are liking different pasta recipes. Linking to those, that's helping you all across the board. Wonderful, wonderful.

Then I'm looking at rankings as well. Weirdly, even though I'm a hardcore SEO guy and I love SEO, I think rankings are the least important of these three. If I see something perform well for my users and I see my traffic improving, it doesn't matter too much what I see going on with my rankings. In fact, usually it's only when there's not much delta in these two, and the rankings performance is the only indicator that things are getting better that I would care about that deeply. When you're watching rankings performance, always, of course, watch logged out, non-personalized, non geo-
biased results. It's relatively easy with something like recipes, but could be very hard with something that's in the local world or that has local indicators in it.

Now for some example tests!

Okay. Now you've got these one, two, three. What are some interesting tests that you might actually want to run? Well, these are some of the ones that we've run here, or I've seen other companies run and observed interesting results. So making titles more narrative versus more keyword driven. I've seen this test performed. I've actually seen this positively and negatively performed. I think people who did the more narrative sort of click-baity style titles, and that hurt their rankings, hurt their traffic, and I've seen people improve with it as well.

Adding or removing links or blocks of links, it might surprise you to learn that I've seen people remove blocks of links like this and perform better. They find that user metrics stay the same or even improve a little, because people aren't dragged off to other sections, or maybe it helps make the content stand out better and the search engines seems to like it too. I think in particular, Google might be looking at some of that Panda-style stuff and saying, "Man, this chunky block of unrelated links or of links that no one is clicking or of links that look keyword stuffed, we don't like that." In particular, I've seen people remove links from their footer and get better rankings.

Adding or removing social or comment buttons and share accounts. So I've seen folks have share on Twitter, share on Facebook. Here's how many likes it has. I've had people say, "Comment on this", "Add a comment or don't add a comment", and those have actually moved the needle. The comment one is particularly fascinating. I've seen people remove comments and perform better, I think oftentimes because zero comments is sort of a negative psychological indicator for a lot of folks. So people don't share things that have zero shares or zero comments. But if they see the button to share something socially and no comments, because comments aren't allowed, sometimes that actually improves things. So interesting.

I've seen adding descriptive content, images, and videos help and hurt rankings at times. Sometimes people take a big block of text, they think I need more good unique content to rank this page. They shove it on the page, and the performance stays the same or goes down. I've seen people say,
"Hey, we need more good, unique content on this page." They write something really compelling, put it on there, and it helps the rankings results.

This is why these tests exist. This is why we have these kinds of principles of some testing in the SEO world. With that, hopefully, you'll run some fantastic tests of your own, learn something amazing, improve the performance of your site and rankings.

And we'll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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How PornHub Is Bringing its A-Game (SFW)

Posted by malditojavi

Editor's note: While the images in this post are free of graphic content, there are many suggestive references to potentially objectionable material.

It has come to my attention how PornHub is marketing itself. It is one of the biggest pornographic websites, and I have no idea who is behind their online marketing strategy, but hats off to their team because they're stepping up the porn websites' game to the next level.

Let me detail here some of their latest actions and you will understand why I'm so impressed.

A bit of context: porn still seen as taboo?

'The Internet has taken porn mainstream' stated Aurora Snow, a retired porn star when EJ Dickson, editor from The Daily Dot asked her about sexting and amateur porn as causes that have contributed to not see porn as a taboo.

In her interview, in which the main topic covered is her participation as speaker in a conference at Harvard, she points out how many porn industry A-list names have jumped to commercial and mainstream channels ('James Deen is in a movie with Lindsay Lohan, Sasha Grey is on Entourage'). It's totally OK if you don't know any of these names, but it can give you an idea on how p0rn is now more accepted in our society.

Mobile first: unlimited videos... but only for mobile devices

Global mobile traffic reached almost 800,000 Terabytes just during last year 2013 and it's estimated to double that figure in the current year, according to the research provided by Statista/Cisco. If that wasn't enough, increase of smartphone ownership went from 35% in 2011 to 56% in May 2013 (source).


Global Mobile Video Traffic from 2013 to 2018 - Statista

Even if those figures are not specific to the PornHub's specific business, we could take the latest statements from Hulu's CEO pointing out that despite of starting as a desktop app, 50% of their five million subscribers are running their service only through devices (smartphones, tablets).

PornHub No Limit - How PornHub Is Bringing It's A-GamePornHub Unlimited - PornHub No Limit - How PornHub Is Bringing It's A-Game

After many years of selling adult entertainment content through network TV channels, and from there going to home desktops, the porn business knows that nowadays mobile screens are becoming part of our daily routine. And what did PornHub do? Delete any kind of restriction for its mobile users by removing the five videos per day limit still enforceable in their desktop version. What happened then? Take a look to some of the reactions on Twitter. 

PornHub Unlimited Fans - How PornHub Is Bringing It's A-Game

Let's not forget to mention the peak of 15,000 mentions in Twitter (you can see it in Topsy screenshot of the next section). On average they don't go beyond 3,000 - 4,000 mentions per day.

PornHub masters Twitter and social media is its playground

If there are Twitter accounts for things as weird and eccentric such as one for the Big Ben tweeting what time is it, or accounts that only tweet once per year, why shouldn't a porn site have its own bizarre Twitter account?

Would you be more likely to stablish a conversation between an impersonal company account or would you be more likely to talk if you know who is behind the screen? I guess the second answer is your choice, right? Instead of having a team account, PornHub in Twitter is ' PornHub Katie', what is the name of its Community Manager. The same strategy adopted from its related website, YouPorn and Jude, YouPorn Community Manager.

By giving a quick look into their timeline you will see that they know how to play the Twitter game, and how friendly the conversation they can engage in. They are not they typical conversations that you would have in a open public space though. Not going to include here some of their latest tweets but you can nose around some of their idiosyncrasy (though not all of their tweets are appropriate for all workplaces).

To have deeper insights based on data and not only in my unbiased opinion (I'm more than a follower of their tweets, I'm a devotee!), let's take the first three competitors for the 'adult' category provided by Similar Web.

Ranking for 'Adult' Category provided by SimilarWeb - How PornHub It's Bringing It's A-Game

By analysing them through Topsy, we can see that that effectively xVideos and xHamster can't compare with PornHub in terms of Twitter presence. If there is another website that is starting to do great on it, that's YouPorn. But oh surprise, YouPorn belongs to the network of PornHub.

Topsy Analysis @PornHub @xHamsterCom @xVideoscom - How PornHub Is Bringing It's A-Game

Would you retweet a high-level erotic photo? PornHub knows that you are not likely to do that. Instead, they clearly know how virality works and images are their aces up the sleeves. These are some of their latest memes that you can find if you are following them through Twitter.

Captura de pantalla 2014-05-05 a la(s) 15.01.52.pngCaptura de pantalla 2014-05-05 a la(s) 15.00.47.pngCaptura de pantalla 2014-05-05 a la(s) 15.00.36.pngCaptura de pantalla 2014-05-05 a la(s) 14.59.49.png

Are they not great? Do you think you could it better? Well, today's your lucky day. Late in 2013 they announced a campaign in order to look for a Creative Director to join them for a year. Their goal? Launch an all-publics national advertising campaign that can be channeled through mainstream media.

PornHub Wants To Launch a Public National Campaign - How PornHub Is Bringing It's A-Game

Nonetheless, it's not always sunny in Pornland. With such initiative any designer, or even non-designers, could blame them for doing a spec-based design contest. Spec what? No other thing but ' any kind of creative work (...) submitted (...) by designers to prospective clients before taking steps to secure both their work and equitable fees', as described in NoSpec.com. In other words, they are using royalty-free content submitted that was created painstakingly by designers around the world. Pas cool.

Hijacking trends has also place in its timeline, no matter if it's about the latest Cinco de Mayo festivity, Rihanna news or if it's about the SuperBowl. They are pretty conscious about when a porn website might be more 'needed' in someone's life, and that's the reason they started to offer no video limit on…. Valentine's Day.

No Video Limite in St Valentine's Day - How PornHub Is Bringing It's A-Game

A community of people openly admitting to like p0rn?

Apple has a huge amount of people that spread their love for the products they make. Buffer is engrossing a community of startup transparency thanks to some of their latest initiatives like the open metrics dashboard powered by Baremetrics or their open salaries posts. Ryan and the team at Product Hunt really care about the power of a 'true engaged community', and 'not just acquire additional users'.

At the end, it seems 'easy' to grow a community if what you do is good enough. But what happens if your product is porn? What in the beginning seems to be a difficult challenge, growing a porn community in the 21st century is now easier than ever. People are not afraid of showing what they like, even if it's porn. Sexuality is a dish present in everyday TV shows, parents are aware of sexual education to their children, sex is not a topic to avoid any more in many cases.

Would you invite your followers to send you nude pics? Would you take a send a nude pic that you know is going to be shared to 300 K porn fans? PornHub jumps right in when it's about talking to the community and make them participants of PornHub history. 

Engaging With The Community - How PornHub Is Bringing Its A-Game

Porn Community - How PornHub Is Bringing Its A-Game

In case you feel curious, you can head off to Twitter to get some of the  most imaginative and sexy responses and replies to these kind of contests. Totally NSFW, everyone. You were warned.

Mother nature and porn viewing insights: best allies to get backlinks

How does a porn site earns links from 'normal' sites? By 'normal', I mean non-erotic or non-sexually explicit at all websites.

On one side, PornHub seems to take the role that OkCupid started a while ago with their blog. OkTrends was a blog collecting all original researches and insights from the dating site by giving shape to the 'hundreds of millions of OkCupid user interactions'. PornHub has named it 'PornHub Insights' and it's delightul if you love data and some erotic references.

PornInsights - How PornHub Is Bringing Its A-Game

Extra points: spotted what are two of their favorite tools for visualization: Infogr.am and Tableau

And on the other hand, they have partner up with the Mother Nature by promising to donate one tree for every 100 videos viewed in the 'Big Dick' category. Result? 2294. Trees? No, no yet. 2294 referral external backlinks according to the data from MajesticSEO.

Captura de pantalla 2014-05-06 a la(s) 15.16.12.png

I tend to think that everyone does things right, but do we really believe they care that much about nature, or it's just a 'gimme some backlinks and promo' kind of thing? I have my doubts, but by taking a look to the backlink profile from PornHub and the previous mentioned competitors, it seems Mother Nature is great for some link-building. In comparison with its competitors xVideos and xHamster, there is no presence in their 20 best performing backlinks of other content different than p0rn. 

Captura de pantalla 2014-05-06 a la(s) 17.56.43.png

'Translate me this into other words, Javier'. Well, it's not about the trees is about getting the attention of  CosmopolitanBetaBeat, Gawker, Huffington PostViceGQ and a long list of mass media audiences.

Linkbaiting? Also well covered in PornHub

Type 'pornhub + justin bieber' into the search box of your preferred search engine, and check it out. Certainly a SERPs output quite different from similar search queries featuring other famous like 'pornhub + paris hilton' or 'porn hub + kim kardashian' (not going to link them, but you can look up by yourself).

' We are not interested in hosting any Justin Bieber's sex tapes (...) It's nothing against Selena Gomez, we just don't approve of all of Bieber's gross behavior – spitting on fans, driving dangerously and endangering people, and just being a real jerk' were some of PornHub VP's comments when he was asked about what position PornHub if it was offered to buy or license a possible video leak.

Respectful approach… or just another marketing strategy? Because they might not be interested in such a great asset for their video collection, but they don't hesitate to target the beliebers, hordes of Justin's fans no doubting on go to your jugular if you address no nice words against their Messiah.

PornHub Wishes HB to Justin Bieber After Calling Him 'Jerk' - How PornHub Is Bringing Its A-Game

By the way, were you impressed with PornHub's performance against its competitors on Twitter? Wait to be speechless when you see the analysis between the 35 million-visits/day-porn-website vs the canadian singer personal account (54 million Twitter foll... Beliebers).

PornHub knows its personas and goes for them

Great marketers have pointed out the importance of setting up the personas you are trying to target within your marketing strategy. A great piece about understanding who is behind the screens can be found also through this same site, written by Mike. Don't bookmark it, all we know you won't end up reading it, so do it now.

' Research and develop who are my personas will take some of my time', you say. If it's well done, for sure. But have you thought what such a great resource are you going to have? You establish who is your ideal user / visitor / reader, and you create a plan to get his attention. And by 'attention', I mean their clicks, their time to spend on your site, their comments, etc. Let's be precise, their money.

Does Machinima mean anything to you? It didn't to me until I watched one of their  Youtube videos (kind of NSFW) promoting PornHub. I typed 'pornhub' in Google's famous video platform to check out what other content PornHub was hosting besides their interviews of personalities within their industry.

Machinimia's h1 tag describes its business as 'next generation video entertainment network for the gamer lifestyle and beyond'. Their services go from 'monetization of your channel, grow your audience and expand your reach to new platforms'. With most of its partners belonging to the video-game industry, they are able to deliver and work with these impressive figures.

Captura de pantalla 2014-05-05 a la(s) 14.48.36.png

'Ok, now I know a bit more about these video-gamers, but how does it is relate with PornHub?' Glad you are wondering that too. I must be honest, and say that I have been quite reluctant to the vloggers thing - I just prefer written content where you can read or scan what's being said at your own pace - but after seeing that in just two days Machinima had 700,000 views in a video only featuring PornHub's initiative, I might change my opinion about vlogging. Machinima Promoting PornHub through Their Vlog - How PornHub Is Bringing Its A-Game

After watching the video, and seeing more about what's the kind of audience Machinima is targeting, don't you find so many correlations and similarities with Pornhub's audience?

Captura de pantalla 2014-05-05 a la(s) 14.48.44.png

'Innovation' is also possible in the porn industry

A quick analyis of search queries made by their visitors and daily sharing the weirdest ones? They got it.

PornMD Daily Analysis of The Best Porn Search Engine on the Internet - How PornHub Is Bringing Its A-Game

Some 'machine learning' to create a porn search engine that guess what kind of videos you are likely to enjoy? They have it too. Not PornHub main site, but a little brother.

PornMD - How PornHub Is Bringing Its A-Game

I don't know if it can be considered as 'innovation', but as I have pointed out before, posts researching, analyizing about what kind of sexual genres are the most viewed, what are the sexual preferences for certain USA regions and football matches impact their visits figure depending if you team is winning or losing, is certainly something you don' t expect from a porn site. And yep, they are on that too through  PornHub Insights

In terms of marketing, promotion, buzzing, if all the porn sites out there would take their business as seriously as the PornHub is doing, marketing friends, we would have such a big pool of opportunities to learn. Because as I read while ago in  Jordi's post, 'porn sites are the best places to learn about conversion' and I would add about online marketing too.


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Dear Google, Links from YouMoz Don’t Violate Your Quality Guidelines

Posted by randfish

Recently, Moz contributor Scott Wyden, a photographer in New Jersey, received a warning in his Google Webmaster Tools about some links that violated Google's Quality Guidelines. Many, many site owners have received warnings like this, and while some are helpful hints, many (like Scott's) include sites and links that clearly do not violate the guidelines Google's published.

Here's a screenshot of Scott's reconsideration request:

(note that the red text was added by Scott as a reminder to himself)

As founder, board member, and majority shareholder of Moz, which owns Moz.com (of which YouMoz is a part), I'm here to tell Google that Scott's link from the YouMoz post was absolutely editorial. Our content team reviews every YouMoz submission. We reject the vast majority of them. We publish only those that are of value and interest to our community. And we check every frickin' link.

Scott's link, ironically, came from this post about Building Relationships, Not Links. It's a good post with helpful information, good examples, and a message which I strongly support. I also, absolutely, support Scott's earning of a link back to his Photography SEO community and to his page listing business books for photographers (this link was recently removed from the post at Scott's request). Note that "Photography SEO community" isn't just a descriptive name, it's also the official brand name of the site Scott built. Scott linked the way I believe content creators should on the web: with descriptive anchor text that helps inform a reader what they're going to find on that page. In this case, it may overlap with keywords Scott's targeting for SEO, but I find it ridiculous to hurt usability in the name of tiptoeing around Google's potential overenforcement. That's a one-way ticket to a truly inorganic, Google-shaped web.

If Google doesn't want to count those links, that's their business (though I'd argue they're losing out on a helpful link that improves the link graph and the web overall). What's not OK is Google's misrepresentation of Moz's link as "inorganic" and "in violation of our quality guidelines" in their Webmaster Tools.

I really wish YouMoz was an outlier. Sadly, I've been seeing more and more of these frustratingly misleading warnings from Google Webmaster Tools.

(via this tweet)

Several months ago, Jen Lopez, Moz's director of community, had an email conversation with Google's Head of Webspam, Matt Cutts. Matt granted us permission to publish portions of that discussion, which you can see below:

Jen Lopez: Hey Matt,

I made the mistake of emailing you while you weren't answering outside emails for 30 days. :D I wanted to bring this up again though because we have a question going on in Q&A right now about the topic. People are worried that they can't guest post on Moz: http://moz.com/community/q/could-posting-on-youmoz-get-your-penalized-for-guest-blogging because they'll get penalized. I was curious if you'd like to jump in and respond? Or give your thoughts on the topic?

Thanks!

Matt Cutts: Hey, the short answer is that if a site A links to spammy sites, that can affect site A's reputation. That shouldn't be a shock--I think we've talked about the hazards of linking to bad neighborhoods for a decade or so.

That said, with the specific instance of Moz.com, for the most part it's an example of a site that does good due diligence, so on average Moz.com is linking to non-problematic sites. If Moz were to lower its quality standards then that could eventually affect Moz's reputation.

The factors that make things safer are the commonsense things you'd expect, e.g. adding a nofollow will eliminate the linking issue completely. Short of that, keyword rich anchortext is higher risk than navigational anchortext like a person or site's name, and so on."

Jen, in particular, has been a champion of high standards and non-spammy guest publishing, and I'm very appreciative to Matt for the thoughtful reply (which matches our beliefs). Her talk at SMX Sydney—Guest Blogging Isn't Dead, But Blogging Just for Links Is—and her post—Time for Guest Blogging With a Purpose—helps explain Moz's position on the subject (one I believe Google shares). 

I can promise that our quality standards are only going up (you can read Keri's post on YouMoz policies to get a sense of how seriously we take our publishing), that Scott's link in particular was entirely editorial, organic, and intentional, and that we take great steps to insure that all of our authors and links are carefully vetted.

We'd love if Google's webmaster review team used the same care when reviewing and calling out links in Webmaster Tools. It would help make the web (and Google's search engine) a better place.


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The Broken Art of Company Blogging (and the Ignored Metric that Could Save Us All)

Posted by evolvingSEO

The perception of success

The following screenshot is from an actual blog post. Based upon what you see here, would you call it successful?

I think it depends on perception.

The optimist might see this:

590 LinkedIn Shares

(This also might be what you put in reports to your boss) :)

The Twitter and Facebook manager might see this:

70 Tweets and 21 Likes

I see this:

Zero comments

Same blog post; three different measures of success. One looks great, one is OK, and my measure says its a fail.

But which perception is right? Which one would lead to better blogging decisions?

Let's look at it another way. Here's a the blog homepage of a known brand. Most people probably see it like this:

They scan:

  • pictures
  • titles
  • maybe a category or two

You might judge these posts based on whether the topics sound interesting, or if they are using high-quality unique photos. http://www.quora.com/Does-SEO-boil-down-to-making...

Here's how I see the same thing;

See the pattern?



Post after post receives no comments.

In fact, here's how many comments this well-known brand received across 50 posts;

TEN! That's an average of 0.2 comments per post. This is a well-known company, but I'm not here to call anyone out; it doesn't matter who it is, because this is the NORM.

Only 10 people felt this blog was worth a few minutes of their time. Only 10 thought the content was good enough to say "thanks." That's a huge problem that no one is talking about.


Blind to blogging failure

A company blog with no comments after years of posting is a fail. But we don't see it. It should look and feel a lot like this to us:

NO one would look at this frankencar and call it a success. Or say "yeah, you should make more just like that!" It borders on absurdity. But when we see company blogs with 50 posts and barely any comments, we don't notice anything wrong. 

And therein lies the problem. 

The following post with zero comments is not universally accepted as unsuccessful:

We look at vanity metrics like shares, tweets, and likes. None of those actually matter. Most people who just share don't even read the post. And my plan for the rest of this post is to explain why, and what we can do to fix it.

Oh, and hey, does this guy look familiar?


Five business blogging myths

How did this happen? How did we get in such a predicament?

Companies are confused. They have no idea why they even have a blog. Some think they know, but the reasons generally fall into one of these five myths:

Myth 1: Your site needs fresh content

OK, hang on right there. Google once announced something called the freshness update in 2011. This created undo mass hysteria (just like "duplicate content" did, but let's not even get into that). 

Basically this idea of freshness spread and permeated into this belief that all websites always had to be cranking out content all. of. the. time. Yikes, was this bad for the internet IMO. Content can be posted as often as you can but without forsaking quality

Myth 2: The MORE content the better

Thankfully, I think this myth is finally slowly dying. It only took four Pandas to finally wake a lot more people up to that. 

Keep this rule in mind: Unused content is dangerous. It's dangerous for your site because Google is looking for this sort of thing with Panda (I believe). People should actually be visiting your content (hopefully over and over again); otherwise it doesn't belong on your site.

Myth 3: Blogs automatically help SEO

And the variation I hear to this is "blog posts are where you throw all of your keywords. Over and over. " WRONG! Blogging does not automatically help SEO. (Granted this myth may have been slightly more true pre-Panda, but still wasn't a good strategy).

The truth today? Blog posts have more of a chance of hurting your SEO than helping. Unless you are willing to put an honest effort in, I would stay away from that assumption.

Myth 4: A blog is just a news feed

Gah! Are you CNN or TechCrunch? There are thousands of perfectly good news sites, in all industries out there. Unless this is your core business model, I'd recommend staying away from a news format in your company blog. Stop reporting and start connecting.

Myth 5: Blogs are for generating leads

I'm going to defer to Tad Chef on this one. Blogs are for getting leads... eventually. But usually not on "first touch."

If you're blogging for any of the above reasons, I assure you, they're only going to get you in trouble.


"Comments per post" can save us

I believe there's a solution to this madness and feel that  whether or not your blog is receiving comments should guide your entire blogging effort. Let's call this simple metric "comments per post."

total # of comments / total # of posts = comments per post

You can use this simple number to measure blogging success (or failure). For any company currently running a blog, follow this flow chart to see if you're on track:

Where does your company blog fit in?

I bet if most companies went by this chart, 95% of company blogs would get shut down. Which in my opinion, wouldn't be a bad thing at all.

You see, comments per post can tell you a lot:

  • Should we continue blogging?
  • Is our blog "working" and getting traction?
  • Are we connecting with customers?
  • Should we step back and reassess our purpose?
  • Should we stop blogging and remove the blog entirely?

Ideally, you would track comments per post over time as the central success/failure measure of the company blog.

Why "comments per post," you ask? Well, I believe there are exponential benefits to using this as your central blogging metric. Let's take a look at some of the big ones.


Commenting users are engaged

As my two stick figure friends will show you, people who comment are highly engaged;

And conversely, those that do not comment are likely not as engaged;

On-page benefits

  • They add social proof that other people actually read your content.
  • When you reply back, it shows the public you listen and care.
  • Discussions often add extra value to your content.

SEO Benefits

Comments also add more keyword desi....... kidding. 
You didn't really think I was going to go there, did you? ;-) 

No, seriously, as Rand pointed out in a recent Whiteboard Friday, SEO takes input from all kinds of sources. Most everything will influence rankings in one way or another.

Here's how I believe a company blog positioned to earn comments reaps SEO benefits:

Let's walk through one example: repeat traffic. How does a comment create a higher likelihood of repeat visits?

Simple: notifications!

Here's how it works;

  1. Danny Sullivan writes a post on something I am highly interested in.
  2. It's the most in depth analysis I've seen, so I wanted to ask a question, and add some of my own insight, so I leave a comment.
  3. Disqus emails me when Danny writes back.
  4. Naturally, I want to go back, read the response, and maybe leave a further response.

(This should also give site owners yet another reason to reply to people. It's a pretty certain way to get them to come back. And BTW Pat Flynn has a great resource here specifically about  his experience with Disqus.)

Early commenting predicts future success (or failure)

You don't have to wait until you're 6 months into blogging to figure out how well it's going. You can tell after just a handful of posts. That's what I believe anyway. Assuming a younger blog (of say 5-10 posts) is getting at least some traffic, if there's no discussion, there's no traction. 

When real people react to your content in a genuine way, you know you are onto something. Using social share numbers as the litmus for "success" is a terrible idea.

Simple

Most of all, I like that this method is simple, and pretty accurate in my opinion. You don't need fancy software to tell you if your blog is working. 


Why successful company blogs earn comments

I want to switch gears and show you real examples of some of the most successful and commented-on company blogs. 

Setup and approach

1. Care about comments or don't blog

My first two examples are of companies that DON'T blog! For many companies this will be your best option.

Let's look at Guitar Center. They actually had a blog a one point;

But they killed the whole thing. I think this was a smart move.

Restoration Hardware doesn't have a blog either;

I wish more companies would start following this trend. I assume Restoration Hardware is honest with themselves, and knows you don't just go through the "blogging motions." 

Lack of comments = lack of engagement = people probably don't care about the blog = kill it and move on.

2. Build relationships outside of the blog

Lots of people who comment on my company blog are colleagues or friends. Here is a personal example;

Blogs are just like any form of communication: email, social media, or text messages. Literally think of your next blog post as if it's an email to your best friend. 

3. Brand your blog

Marriott's blog by Bill Marriott is by far one of the best business blogs I have found. Their clever branding of calling it "Marriott On The Move" sets it apart. It makes it memorable:

I also want to point out, this actually generates search volume for "Marriott On the Move."

This by the way is what I call "PropWords" (Proprietary Keywords). These are branded keywords that YOU create for a blog name, product, event and so forth that become extensions of your branding. 

This is an important signal for SEO right now as I believe Google is definitely looking at these kinds of queries when trying to gauge trust and popularity of a site.

4. Hire people who can actually write

If there was an electrical problem in your office, would you just have any random person fix it? No, you'd probably call an electrician.

If your company needs quality writing on your site, that's going to represent your brand, do you just get anyone to do it? No, you'd probably find a real writer.

That's exactly what King Authur Flour did. And it's paid off big time. 

They brought in an actual author (of, you know, books!), PJ Hamel:

PJ writes a large portion of their posts, and responds to comments as well. And believe me, for a company making flour, there's more comments than you'd expect.

Even early on in the blog's life in 2008, it received a lot comments. Something was going right from the start;

Contrary to this, let's look at DreamHost's blog. (And by the way I'm a DreamHost customer, so this is no slight to their product).

But how do they go about finding writers?

DreamHost apparently just wants little robots to crank out content on topics such as "web hosting" or "other." Really? What's "other?" We can just write about anything?

And, unfortunately, it shows in the results. Using comments per post as the measure of success, the blog is not very successful;

5. Use a voting system

Wegman's is running a  seriously killer blog. I'll be using more examples from their site. But the first is the use of a simple voting system;

This adds to the level of engagement and social proof. I know what you're thinking, too - 34 shares? Big failure, right?

WRONG. Remember. Comments per post is our success metric. This one received 61 Comments. That's some pretty awesome discussion. I'd take that any day over tweets.

6. Make it easy to register

What is it like if you try to just leave a simple comment on the Southwest Airlines blog?

It's a major headache! Definitely reduce friction when it comes to users being able to quickly leave comments.

Content ideation and creation

1. Relate with values

Jason Fried comes to mind as one of the most successful bloggers of all time. What helped make him so successful? He's not afraid to talk about grilling on a web design and software blog;

But why does this work? It's right in the first sentence. "Simple products that solve real problems." That's a common value. And 37 Signals (now BaseCamp) has always been about attracting people with similar (and sometimes unconventional) beliefs.

This post received 36 comments back in 2006 when they were not as well known;

You might think "well, big deal;" they were pretty well known by then. And I want to point out - in 2003, they were regularly receiving lots of comments;

2. Continue a prior conversation

This is SO underutilized. People are already attentive and engaged around a particular discussion. You can easily continue that discussion in a new post. Just like what Bill Marriott has done brilliantly here;

There's a lot going on here;

  • He's continuing a prior conversation (people are attentive and engaged)
  • He shows he's actually listening to and reading people's comments, which encourages future commenting.
  • He's adding more value by curating the tips readers left, and bring the best ones to the surface.
  • He barely had to create any new content himself! Now that's efficient.

3. React to misguided Quora questions

Chances are if someone is asking debatable/controversial questions in Quora, this is going to generate some discussion. You can answer this on your blog and bring some discussion with you. And that's exactly what  Rand did here:

I don't think he was thinking "oh, how can we get more comments on Moz." I think he probably saw it as an opportunity to settle some misconceptions about SEO. But in the process it generated some great discussion.

4. Involve others in the creation process

As I keep reiterating, blogging is a two-way communication platform. Wistia here shows us how they involved other companies in the creation and research process;

This undoubtedly had a positive impact on not only the reception, but also the discussion of this content. This post received 73 comments.

5. Add a personal touch

This is SO. Especially. Important. For company blogs! People are going to naturally view you as this big entity. You can counteract that with personal touches. It humanizes the experience and allows you to connect with your fans on a deeper level;

Here's another example from Wegman's

There's actually a lot going on here too;

  • The signature is handwritten
  • Her title is clearly labeled
  • "Since 1971" - wow, this speaks of tradition, commitment, consistency.
  • Incredible service - not just "customer service" (bland corporate-speak) but incredible.

The signature says a lot, actually. 

Back to Bill Marriott's blog - you can also listen to all of his posts, which is a nice personal touch as well;

6. Bring the offline online with a story

"Tell a story" is starting to get a little overused. Just like "write quality content" it runs the risk of being empty advice. What does that mean "tell a story"? Here are some great examples:

Eric Allen, a flight crew member at FedEx, tells us the touching story of his daughter who was diagnosed with a brain tumor. 

Customers just passing by can't help but stop to give their best wishes;

Another superb example of bringing an offline story to online is Verdant Tea;

I want to point something out. For many of these companies the blog is simply an extension of their evolving story.

You don't find a story because you have to blog. You have to blog so you can tell your story.

7. Provide a call to action

How many blog posts have you seen, end with "what do you think"?

It's like we get to the end of writing, realize there's a comment box below, and go "oh I guess I should ask something now!".

I really like how Bill Marriott does it here;

Bill's call to action is specific. A call to action will also rolls easily off an already-good article. We're also reminded of the branding and personal touch at the end. This helps reinforce that we can have a direct, personal conversation.

Maintaining your commenting community

1. Kill off spam like crazy

Comment spam can ruin your blogging efforts in a lot of ways. It looks bad to search engines, and it looks bad to users. Kind of like the broken windows theory for blogs. It casts the impression that no one cares;

No one wants to hang around a place like that for too long. I'm militant about deleting spam on my own site (I check at least once a day).

2. Heavily moderate and make it well known you moderate

Although not a company blog per se, I just think Tim Ferriss sets an exceptional example of moderation;

His readers know that nothing uncool is accepted. This makes everyone WAY more comfortable to comment. They know things won't get out of hand.

Here's an example of a comment on my blog, in reply to someone else. It's not very friendly, so it goes in the trash! 

Go forth and delete ;)

3. Listen and respond!

My goodness, what a lost opportunity for so many brands. Responding has several benefits;

  • It "doubles" the comment count.
  • It shows customers you care and listen.
  • It makes them MORE likely to comment again in the future.
  • As mentioned before, many comment systems like Disqus will send email notifications, which brings traffic back to your site.

It kills me to see this;

If someone walked up to you in a retail store, and asked you a question, would you just ignore them an walk away? Why are questions in comments any different?

Harvest, however, is very attentive to their customers' questions;

Jonathan does a great job answering a slightly annoyed question. 

Here's King Authur Flour again. Someone asked a question and TWO people from the company answered;

4. Continuously prune

The thing about blogs, is they can become overgrown quickly. Noindex or delete posts that have received little traffic, few shares, and no comments.

If you have a big blog, which has been running for a while, you should conduct any number of content audits and prune fairly aggressively!

5. Outreach: Stop asking for shares; ask for comments instead

This has been done TO me (and I wish I could find the example). It worked really well though, and I would suggest it in your outreach process. 

Think about it: If you ask someone to comment or leave feedback they HAVE to at least read the content, process it, and think about it. They're more likely to remember you, and potentially share the article anyway. And you might start to build a deeper relationship.

I consider an "influencer's" comment on my posts to be a lasting gift. It's there etched in stone for anyone to see. Social shares fade fast.


To earn a comment is to earn attention

And attention is the web's most valuable currency. 

Especially when Bill Sebald is involved :-)

This is crazy (but all too common);

This is what we're all competing with!

The attention web revolution

We're seeing a dramatic shift happen right now. There's way more content, but never more time. Attention is getting harder to earn.

I think my anecdotal chart may explain it best;

Pre 2013 - it was easier to create shareworthy content and call this a "success." But we're entering an era where attention-worthy wins. The early adopters (UpWorthy, Chartbeat, etc.) are getting a head start. 

I'm definitely not the first to talk about the importance of an attention-centered content approach:

Executive attention

There's two ways to get your attention.

  1. That car fire might get your attention. But this would get an involuntary, reactive form of attention. Not what we want from our readings. This is the kind of attention sites like BuzzFeed get.
  2. Rather, we want the kind of attention where you choose to focus on something (and ignore other things). An intentional attention. Look at wikipedia's definition of Executive (Endogenous) Attention;

"... top-down processing, also known as goal-driven, endogenous attention, attentional control or executive attention. This aspect of our attentional orienting is under the control of the person who is attending."

THAT'S the type of attention you want. Someone intentionally reading, processing and interacting with your content.

A user commenting on a post is usually someone giving you just that.


Full circle

Remember at the beginning? We looked at this chart of a major brand's comments;

Remember, that's only 10 comments across 50 posts.

This is Wegman's stats for the same thing;

Wegman's has 1,857 comments across 50 posts. In fact, the first site is still in the chart. It's just so small, you can't even see it.

On ONE post alone they got 1,092 comments;


A new standard of success

So let's take a look at this again. What do you see now?

These aren't just numbers. This tells a story. 

It tells the story of a company that blogs because it thinks it has to. 

It celebrates "success" as tweets and likes and votes. 

Customers do not connect with this brand.

It doesn't listen to its customers.

There is no dialogue. 

No connection.


So, you probably know what to do below, and I will actually respond :)

-Dan Shure
Moz Associate since 2012
Owner Evolving SEO since 2010


PS: Speaking of discussion, I happen to be doing an Ask Me Anything over on Reddit today at 1pm EDT. If you want to ask me anything at all (whether or not it's related to this post), head on over.


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Calculating Estimated ROI for a Specific Site & Body of Keywords

Posted by shannonskinner

One of the biggest challenges for SEO is proving its worth. We all know it's valuable, but it's important to convey its value in terms that key stakeholders (up to and including CEOs) understand. To do that, I put together a process to calculate an estimate of ROI for implementing changes to keyword targeting.

In this post, I will walk through that process, so hopefully you can do the same for your clients (or as an in-house SEO to get buy-in), too!

Overview

  1. Gather your data
    1. Keyword Data
    2. Strength of your Preferred URLs
    3. Competition URLs by Keyword
    4. Strength of Competition URLs
  2. Analyze the Data by Keyword
  3. Calculate your potential opportunity

What you need

There are quite a few parts to this recipe, and while the calculation part is pretty easy, gathering the data to throw in the mix is the challenging part. I'll list each section here, including the components of each, and then we can go through how to retrieve each of them. 

  • Keyword data
    • list of keywords
    • search volumes for each keyword
    • preferred URLs on the site you're estimating ROI
    • current rank
    • current ranking URL
  • Strength of your preferred URLs
    • De-duplicated list of preferred URLs
    • Page Authorities for each preferred URL
    • BONUS: External & Internal Links for each URL. You can include any measure you like here, as long as it's something that can be compared (i.e. a number).
  • Where the competition sits
    • For each keyword, the sites that are ranking 1-10 in search currently
  • Strength of the competition
    • De-duplicated list of competing URLs
    • Page Authorities, Domain Authorities, 
    • BONUS: External & Internal Links, for each competing URL. Include any measure you've included on the Strength of Your Preferred URLs list.

How to get what you need

There has been quite a lot written about keyword research, so I won't go into too much detail here. For the Keyword data list, the important thing is to get whatever keywords you'd like to assess into a spreadsheet, and include all the information listed above. You'll have to select the preferred URLs based on what you think the strongest-competing and most appropriate URL would be for each keyword. 

For the Preferred URLs list, you'll want to use the data that's in your keyword data under the preferred URL.

  1. Copy the preferred URL data from your Keyword Data into a new tab. 
  2. Use the Remove Duplicates tool (Data>Data Tools in Excel) to remove any duplicated URLs

Once you have the list of de-duplicated preferred URLs, you'll need to pull the data from Open Site Explorer for these URLs. I prefer using the Moz API with SEOTools. You'll have to install it to use it for Excel, or if you'd like to take a stab at using it in Google Docs, there are some resources available for that. Unfortunately, with the most recent update to Google Spreadsheets, I've had some difficulty with this method, so I've gone with Excel for now. 

Once you've got SEOTools installed, you can make the call "=MOZ_URLMetrics_toFit([enter your cells])". This should give you a list of URL titles, canonical URLs, External & Internal links, as well as a few other metrics and DA/PA. 

For the Where the competition sits list, you'll first need to perform a search for each of your keywords. Obviously, you could do this manually, or if you have exportable data from a keyword ranking tool and you've been ranking the keywords you'd like to look at, you could use either of these methods. If you don't have those, you can use the hacky method that I did--basically, use the ImportXML command in Google Spreadsheets to grab the top ranking URLs for each query. 

I've put a sample version of this together, which you can access here. A few caveats: you should be able to run MANY searches in a row--I had about 850 for my data, and they ran fine. Google will block your IP address, though, if you run too many, and what I found is that I needed to copy out my results as values into a different spreadsheet once I'd gotten them, because they timed out relatively quickly, but you can just put them into the Excel spreadsheet you're building to make the ROI calculations (you'll need them there anyway!).

From this list, you can pull each URL into a single list, and de-duplicate as explained for the preferred URLs list to generate the Strength of the Competition list, and then run the analysis you did with the preferred URLs to generate the same data for these URLs as you did for the preferred URLs with SEOTools for Excel. 

Making your data work for you

Once you've got these lists, you can use some VLOOKUP magic to pull in the information you need. I used the Where the competition sits list as the foundation of my work. 

From there, I pulled in the corresponding preferred URL and its Page Authority, as well as the PAs and DAs for each URL currently ranking 1-10. I then was able to calculate an average PA & DA for each query, and could compare the page I want to rank to this. I estimated the chances that the page I wanted to rank (given that I'd already determined these were relevant pages) could rank with better keyword targeting.

Here's where things get interesting. You can be rather conservative, and only sum search volumes of keywords you're fairly confident your site can rank, which is my preferred method. That's because I use this method primarily to determine if I'm on the right track--whether making these recommendations are really worth the time to get implemented. So I'm going to move forward assuming I'm counting only the search volumes of terms I think I'm quite competitive for, AND that I'm not yet ranking for on page 1. 

Now, you want to move to your analytics data in order to calculate a few things: 

  • Conversion Rate
  • Average order value
  • Previous year's revenue (for the section you're looking at)

I've set up my sample data in this spreadsheet that you can refer to or use to make your own calculations. 

Each of the assumptions can be adjusted depending on the actual site data, or using estimates. I'm using very very generic overall CTR estimates, but you can select which you'd like and get as granular as you want! The main point for me is really getting to two numbers that I can stand by as pretty good estimates: 

  • Annual Impact (Revenue $$)
  • Increase in Revenue ($$) from last year

This is because, for higher-up folks, money talks. Obviously, this won't be something you can promise, but it gives them a metric that they understand to really wrap their head around the value that you're potentially brining to the table if the changes you're recommending can be made. 

There are some great tools for estimating this kind of stuff on a smaller scale, but for a massive body of keyword data, hopefully you will find this process useful as well. Let me know what you think, and I'd love to see what parts anyone else can streamline or make even more efficient. 


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How to Prove ROI Potential of Content Campaigns – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by iPullRank

We all know that creating and promoting content can be a ton of work (not to mention expensive). So how do we know whether it'll be worth it? In today's Whiteboard Friday, MozCon 2014 speaker Mike King shows you several ways you can be sure your content has the potential you need before you even start making it.

For reference, here's a still of this week's whiteboard!

Video transcription

Greetings and salutations, Moz fans. My name is Mike King. I'm from an agency called iPullRank, and today here on Whiteboard Friday we're going to talk about how to prove ROI potential of content. Basically, before you launch content, get a sense of will this perform before you go ahead and spend tens of thousands of dollars on promoting that content.

Content components

Surveying your target audience

So let's just hop right into it. One of the things you want to do for your content component aspect of it is survey your target audience. There are a lot of channels that you can do this effectively in. In fact, the ad platforms have gotten even better at letting you hyper target audiences and drive that traffic right away.

One of the things you can do is use StumbleUpon Paid Discovery. I love this platform for content promotion as well. But it's great in this use case because it's only $0.10 a click. Again, you can target based on different audiences, not as granularly as you can with something like Facebook or something to that effect, but you can get audiences around ideas, concepts, and things of that nature.

What you can also use is a tool called UserReport. What this tool does is allows you to do custom surveys on your own site. You put up your content experience. You throw UserReport on there. Once the user gets to a certain point in the page, you can make that survey pop up. You can ask them questions like: Hey, would you like this? Would you share this? What is it that you didn't like about this content? Does this solve a specific need for you?

You can do that with StumbleUpon Paid Discovery. Start collecting data on the users that would visit your content, and then it helps you build a business case saying that these people would be interested in this content.

By the same token, you can also use Facebook ads to do this. Like I said, Facebook ads allow you to really granularly target your audiences. They've gotten increasingly more sophisticated with their ad targeting options. In fact, at this point, the ad targeting very much aligns with standard market research in that you can target based on income, education, and so on and so forth.

If you're going after the B2C clientele, that's probably your best bet, using Facebook. If you're going after the B2B clientele, then LinkedIn ads make the most sense. You can also target very specifically on firmographics rather than just demographics. In both of these cases, you're going to then continue to use UserReport to collect that data via these custom surveys on your site.

Additionally, you can use SurveyMonkey Audience. I love this tool because you can, again, very much target very specific demographics and ask them direct questions. What you can do is host that piece of content in the survey, have them take the time to review it and fill out the questionnaire, and then, boom, you get your results right away.

Competitive analysis

Those are different ways you can do surveying to understand whether your content's going to perform. But, of course, competitive analysis is a really good way to make a case. I worked on a brand called LG back in the day. The best way to get them to do anything was to show them that Samsung was doing it.

By that very same token, you can use a tool like Social Crawlytics. What that tool does is crawls the site and identifies the social shares of every piece of content on that site. You can do that for your site and a competitor's site and see what's working, what isn't, and quickly identify what you can create that is similar to what they've made.

Additionally, you can use BuzzSumo, which kind of takes out the legwork out of that, because they've indexed a lot of content. They've pulled out the semantic relationships from that content, the entities. You can search by keyword for different pieces of content and then see what's the most popular content that fits that keyword. Now their index isn't huge, but they have a lot of content, especially around the SEO space, that you can look at. So you can quickly identify what's working for other people and then make your case that way.

Finally, you can use any of the link indices -- Open Site ExplorerAhrefsMajestic. All of these tools, if you go to the top pages reports for the different competitors, you can quickly see what's working and what's not, and then you have those metrics to make that business case.

Pose/review discussions

One of the other tactics that I really love to use to identify content that will work is by using the different discussion sites. Quora is a really good one. You can actually identify questions that people have already asked in the past and then see how many people have responded to that. You can see whether or not it's a popular question that you can then use into your content.

You can actually pose your own questions, see how many people follow the question and how many people answer the question. Then, you can look at those people that are following the question and see what their demographics are and, boom, another solid business case based on actual data.

The finally, Reddit is really good for this as well. People love to get in discussions on Reddit. We've posed questions in the past, and people have given really passionate responses. Then there have been cases where we've posed questions and we got no response. Once you know it's crickets, it's not a good piece of content to launch.

People components

Business case

These are all the content and metric components of this. But what you really need to focus on, when you're trying to get buy-in for this type of content internally, is the people components. When you're building business cases and you're dealing with a variety of people, your boss in fact, you've got to think about what metric is the one that helps him get to his bonus, and how does the content that you're looking to create help fulfill that metric.

In most cases, those metrics aren't necessarily channel metrics. It's not: Are we going to be number one for this keyword? Are we going to get more visits from organic search or more likes in social media? It goes back to things that affect the business.

In the case of a SaaS company, it can be: Okay, how does this contribute to our cost of acquisition versus our LTV ratio? Does this lower our cost of acquisition because we're going to get a wide range of people that are going to ingest this content and then come back to the site, ending up signing up? Then, is it reaching the right side of our audience that is high value a customer? Is it the one that has the bigger long-term value or lifetime value?

Think about those metrics rather than, oh, we're going to get some more likes and shares, because these metrics are typically the ones that go back to the metrics that help your boss hit his bonus.

Also, is there a conversion rate based on your existing content on your own site? I've talked at length about doing content on that's both qualitatively and quantitatively, in a guest post that I did for Copyblogger, which will be below in the description, about doing content audits where you can identify what is performing and what's not, and then see what types of content you may want to create in the future.

Using that as a framework to work with, you can then look at these content ideas that you've gotten on this side and see, okay, we have content that fits this, and generally the conversion rate is X. So you can make some sort of prediction based on the search volume and the keywords that go with this piece of content, or the amount of traffic you're likely to get from social media to go with this content, and then back that into the conversion rate and then get back to these business level metrics that we talked about before.

Finally, or the last two things rather, how does this map to your brand's story? A lot of the times when you're talking about content, you're talking about the brand messaging architecture, the voice, the tone. What are the brand's goals? What is the brand trying to put out there?

Moz is really good at developing a good brand story. They have Roger that they weave into a lot of things. How does your piece of content go with that brand's story? Again, back to the Moz example, they're about doing better marketing.

My Whiteboard Friday here goes with that idea. So it's really easy for me to make a business case for this piece of content to align with the business. How does your piece of content fit that brand's story?

Then, finally, what phase in the funnel does this piece of content serve?
Because ultimately, at the end of the day, we're always trying to market something. We're marketers. We're trying to move people through the funnel.

So, if you've identified in your content audits that, oh, we're missing a lot of stuff for the decision phase, so this content will specifically speak to that decision phase. Here are all the metrics that go with it. Now, we have a strong business case.

That's all I've got for today. My name's Mike King. I'm happy to help you guys out. In the comments, let me know anytime that you've come against anything where you couldn't get a piece of content pushed through at your business or your agency or what have you, and I'm happy to answer your questions.

Have a great one, and I'll see you guys next time on Whiteboard Friday.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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Building Better Content By Improving Upon Your Competitors

Posted by Bill.Sebald

In rock n' roll music, stealing is expected. Led Zepplin allegedly lifted from lots of earlier blues and folk artists. The famous I-IV-V chord progression of The Wild One's song "Wild Thing" was used only a couple years later on "Mony, Mony." My favorite example of musical larceny - "Let It Be" by The Beatles, "Farmhouse" by Phish, and "No Woman, No Cry" by Bob Marley are built around the exact same chord progression. Yet in all these cases, the songs were tweaked enough to stand on their own in meaning, served as distinct entities, and inspired unique feelings from the listener. Granted record company execs often disapproved, but some artists were often flattered to see interpretations of their riffs and progressions. At the end of the day, this is what spawned (and advanced) the rock music genre. Sometimes stealing is the engine of innovation.

Your idea isn’t new. Pick an idea; at least 50 other people have thought of it. Get over your stunning brilliance and realize that execution matters more.” —Mark Fletcher of Bloglines.com.

In marketing, we don't just "steal" the minds of consumers, we sometimes steal - and interpret - from our competitors. Sometimes we're lazy about it, and sometimes we're perceived as originals. Remember one of the immutable laws of marketing - always appear to be first. Well then why not be first to make someone's content strategy more effective (for your own gain)?

Wait - so do I condone being a pickpocket, cat burglar, or politician? No. What I’m suggesting is reviewing what inspires you, analyzing why it was successful, and inspiring yourself to make something better. Better for us, better for our clients, and better for their customers.

Oh no; is this another "Content Is King" post?

I'm not a huge fan of that phrase anymore. SEO has gone through some serious developmental stages in its lifetime. Once the hype was all about "keyword density," then "anchor text," then "duplicate content;" now I feel like our latest bandwagon concept is the semi-vague "content is king."

These are certainly all valid concepts in SEO, but without proper context, they often fall short of sound advice. They become blind directives. So here we are in 2014, with many business executives nodding along, "yes - content is king. I've read that a trillion times. We need to crank out 100 posts a month. Go, go go..." But I think this is a problem. Now that SEO is mainstream, there's so much "good content" that the noise ceiling has simply been raised. I've said it before, "Fair-quality copy is becoming the new Google spam." I go into pitches now where businesses can't understand why their legacy content isn't getting searches. In other words, they ask why "content is king" isn't producing results. It's usually because content was treated as a homogeneous tactic where a marketing or SEO strategy wasn't put in place to link the pieces together.

I think it's time SEOs put that phrase to rest, and start thinking in terms of how a traditional content marketer would think about it. "Content that is unique in value, strong in expertise, provides a necessary point-of-view, and leads the pack in terms of usefulness is more than king - it's fundamental to success." A bit of a mouthful (and less sexy), not to mention harder to develop, but it really needs to be adopted.

So if you would, please keep that in mind during this post. Continue on!

What are your competitors doing?

Content ideas come from lots of sources. Some are vapid (like content topic generators) and some are interpreted (like reviewing customer poll results). Often a simple interview with your sales or service team can teach you plenty about the mindset of your consumer. Studying on-page product reviews can also be inspiring. Focus groups, experiments; all this and more can help produce pieces of content that can be strung together and tracked in order to build a truly converting funnel.

We all know the most effective content is inspired by data, versus “crazy ideas” with no concrete evidence quickly thrown against the wall. While this occasionally has some SEO benefit (arguably less and less with Panda updates), it rarely does much for your conversion funnel. It takes that extra digging that some aren't quick to execute (at least in my experience). But what happens when your competitor is willing to do the work?

That's where you can learn some interesting things. Marketing espionage!

Granted, most competitors don't want to share their data with you, no matter how much beer you try to bribe them with (believe me, I've tried). We have tools like SEMrush to estimate search metrics, and services like Hitwise and Compete to get more online visitor data. While that is certainly helpful, it's still directional. But we're marketers - so what do we do? We get creative.

How to get a birdseye view of a content play (with common SEO tools)

It's time to lift the hood. I like to start with  Screaming Frog. Most SEOs know this tool. If you don't, it's a spider that emulates what a search engine spider might find. In my experience there's no better way to find the topics a website is targeting than with a "screaming" crawl.

Filter down to HTML, and you'll find the URL, Title Tag, Meta Description, H1, and sometimes the Meta Keyword data. If you already have your own keywords and entities in mind, and want to see what a competitor is doing with them, it's as simple as searching for them in Screaming Frog (or an excel export) and scanning for it.

Click for a larger image:

Consider this totally random "shammy" example in the screenshot above. If I worked in the shammy business, through a quick scan I might be interested to know that at least one of my competitors found value enough in creating a section around an iPad cloth. Is that a segment I never considered?

Don't have Screaming Frog? The site:operator is a less powerful option. You can't export into a spreadsheet without a scrape. 

Ubersuggest or keywordtool.io can be used in clever "quick and dirty" way - put in a keyword you think there's opportunity for, and add "who," "what," "where," "why," or "how" to the query. Your fragmented query will often show some questions people have asked Google. After all, plenty of great content is used to answer a query. Search some of these queries in Google and see what competitor content shows up! At the very least, this is a nice way to find more competitors who are active with creating content for their users.

At this point you should be taking notes, jotting down ideas, observations, potential content titles, and questions you want to research. Whether in a spreadsheet or the back of a napkin, you're now brainstorming with light research. Let your brain-juice flow. You should also be looking for connections between the posts you are finding. Why were they written? How do they link together? What funnels are the calls-to-action suggesting? Take notes on everything, Sherlock!

Collect the right data

Next, step it up with more quantifying data.Time to trim the fat.

Search data

By entering and measuring your extracted in Google's Keyword Planner, you'll see not only is there interest in an iPad cleaner (where an "iPad Shammy" might make sense with its own strategy), but some searcher interest in the best ways to clean an iPad. That could be fun, playful content to write - even for a shammy retailer. It could tie directly to products you already sell, or possibly lead you into carrying new products.

Click for a larger image:

Estimated searches don't tell the whole story. We know plenty of keywords and metrics from this tool are either interpolated or missing. I've found that small estimated searches can sometimes still lead to more highly-converting volume than expected. Keep that in mind. 

Social data

What searches enter into Google's search box isn't the only indicator of value. Ultimately if nobody likes a certain topic or item your content, they aren't going to share or link to it. Wouldn't it be great to have another piece of evidence before you get to structuring a strategy and writing copy? That evidence may lie with your competitors' social audience.

At this point you have keyword ideas, content titles, sample competitor URLs, and possible strategies sketched out. There are some great tools for checking out what is shared in the social space. TopsySocial Crawlytics, and Buzzsumo are solid selections. You can look up the social popularity of a given URL or domain, and in some cases drill down to influencers. If it's heavily shared, that may suggest perceived value. 

Click for a larger image:

Look at the image above. If my agency is a competitor of yours, you might be interested that one of my posts got 413 social shares. It was a post called "Old School SEO Tests In Action (A 2014 SEO Experiment)". You can dig in to see the debates boiling through the comments or the reactions through social media. You can go so far as see who shared the post, how influential these people are, and what kind of topics they usually share. This helps qualify the shares.

With these social metrics I believe It's reasonably safe to infer people in the SEO space care about experiments, learning about things that move rankings, and that most believe older tactics aren't worth pursuing. With very little time at all, you might be able to come up with ways to improve upon this post or ideas for your own follow up. Maybe even a counter argument? Looking at who the post resonated with, you could presume my target audience was SEOs with a goal of providing industry insights. With a prominent lead generation form on this post, you might even suspect a secondary interest was as a source of new client leads.

If you surmised any of these things from the social data, you're 100% right! This was certainly a thought out post with those goals in mind.   

Backlink data

Let's examine link popularity and return to the shammy industry. Specifically let's look at a pretty unique item - a shammy for Apple products -  https://www.klearscreen.com/detail.aspx?ID=11.

  • Open Site Explorer found 1 link from a retailer.
  • Ahrefs found 8 links from 8 domains, one being a forum conversation on Stackexchange.com, and the others from a retailer.
  • Majestic found 13 links from 6 domains. Similiar to what Ahrefs found.
  • WebMeUp found 30 backlinks from 9 domains.

From this data it looks like the iPad shammy market isn't exactly on fire. Now it doesn't appear iKlear (or Klear Screen) is doing much marketing for this particular product - at least not according to Google. Their other Apple product cleaners seem to get more attention, but perhaps iKlear simply knows this isn't a high demand product. It could be true - after all it hasn't gone viral. It hasn't generated much in the way of online discussions. But it also hasn't been marketed much.

This is why all the data needs to be collected, correlated, and analyzed.  You want the best hypothesis you can get before you start committing your time to a content strategy. Did this just kill a possible content strategy for an iPad Shammy, or is this a huge untapped opportunity? It entirely depends on how you interpret all the data you collect. 

You've got some ideas; now what's the execution?

You just did a lot of work. You can't go off half-cocked throwing up willy-nilly content. Jeepers, no! The next step is the most crucial!

At this point you should have uncovered some great ideas based on your competitor's clues. Now comes the part where you thoughtfully determine how to implement these ideas and craft a strategic roadmap. The options are endless, which could provide a decision-making struggle. From new microsites to overhauling existing content, there's so much you can do with the gems you've dug up.

Remember to examine what your competitors did. How did they plug everything together? 

But sometimes your competitors don't have a discernible content strategy. Instead just fragmented content floating like an island. This is even better for you. Now you have opportunity to not only outshine in the actual content, but put together an actual experience that your users will value, thus providing a likely positive SEO result. Here are three options I tend to build a strategy around most often: 

  • Create a new funnel
  • Create content for off-page SEO
  • Create emphasis content

With fresh metrics, the new funnel is often necessary. Chances are you discovered uncharted territory (at least from your website's perspective). All future or existing content should have pre-conceived goals - there's a top and bottom to every funnel, and maybe some strategic off-ramps leading to forms, contact pages, or products. Remember, you're goal is to be driving the reader through an experience, eliciting emotions and appealing to their needs of which you've already built a hypothesis upon. This new funnel can dip into your current website or run parallel (ie, a microsite, sub-domian, or otherwise disconnected grouping). The greatest thing about digital marketing is that nothing is in stone. It's so easy to test these funnels and redesign with collected data when necessary.

Off-page is also very common (right link builders?). Find something that is popular, and go share it with sites more popular than yours. Maybe you can even start generating new popularity and create a segment of its own. Build a strategy to take this burgeoning topic and let the widest audience know about it. Get branding, mind share, links, and ideally profit like a beast.

The "emphasis content" (as I call it) has been a solid go-to plan for me when I discover small pockets of opportunity; notably the stuff that may have a smaller impact and isn't worth a month long content strategy. If I were to create my own iPad shammy play, based on what I'm seeing so far, I'd probably think about a page or two as emphasis content. 

This content is like an independent port of entry or landing page, either to an existing funnel or a direct money maker. In a previous post I talked about  creating niche collection pages for eCommerce. That could serve as emphasis content to a parent collection, but I'm usually thinking of heavier use of text in this case. Where you really take your goal, slice it up, and provide nice, beefy communication about it.

This play can be nuclear. By creating these one-off pages based on all the metrics discussed above, it's usually much easier to do targeted outreach and social marketing. A well placed page, providing well placed internal links (ideally off popular pages), can pass PageRank and context like a dream, A tool like  Alchemy API can help you see the relevance of pages and help you determine the best place to publish this page

Summary

A content strategy doesn't go far if it's phoned in. Take all the help you can get, even if it's from a competitor. Learn from businesses who took steps before you. They may have very well discovered the holy grail. Competitive research has always been a part of any marketing campaign, but scratching the surface only gets you superficial results. Look deeper to uncover more than just a competitor's marketing plan, but the very reason why the competitor may be beating you in search. Then, hopefully you'll become the rock star others are trying to copy from. That's a good problem to have.


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Demystifying Data Visualization for Marketers

Posted by Annie Cushing

I presented on wrangling and demystifying the data visualization process for marketers at MozCon this year, and it turns out there was far more to talk about than could fit into that half-hour. For the sake of those who couldn’t make it and those who could but want to learn more, I pulled together this overview of my presentation, offering more detail than I could in the slides.

To see all of the links shared in this post, check out my MozCon Bitly bundle.

You may want to open the SlideShare file in another tab or browser window, so you can easily toggle between the post and the SlideShare.

I’m going to go through the presentation slide by slide to bring the narrative to print.

Slide 3

I have a confession: Although it’s probably safe to say I’m a fairly advanced Excel user — at least among marketers — until recently I had no real charting strategy. In fact, I signed up to do this presentation partly to force me to carve out a strategy, particularly with Google Analytics data.

Slide 4

In this presentation I have focused on Google Analytics data for a couple reasons:

  1. If you can wrangle Google Analytics, other marketing data is a walk in the park.
  2. It has naming conventions that map beautifully to Excel, making it an ideal tutor.

Slide 5

My approach may seem a bit Karate Kid-esque, but if you can grasp the interplay between Google Analytics and Excel, you’ll never be left wondering how to visualize your data.

Although there are many aspects to data visualization, I focus primarily on charting.

Slide 6

In Excel there are two components to charts that are critical to understand: data series and categories. They are always used together.

Think of categories as buckets for your data and data series as the data itself.

Slide 7

If you dumped a pile of Legos in front of a group of kids and told them to organize them by color into their corresponding, labeled containers and then count them, the containers would be categories. And the data series would be the count of Lego bricks.

Slide 8

First let’s peek under the hood on a PC by cracking open the Select Data Source dialog. You get to it by right-clicking on your chart and choosing Select Data.

Slide 9

Excel for Mac also has data series on the left and categories on the right. And that’s about all they have in common.

Slide 10

But, as with most features in Excel for Mac, the functionality of the Mac’s Data Source dialog is far inferior to that of the PC.

Slide 11

This sort option is helpful if you have a stacked chart and want to sort the individual data series. I like to put the larger series on the bottom and smaller ones on the top. But if you have a stacked chart on the Mac and you want to reorder the data series, you actually have to delete the series you want demoted and manually add it back in.

It’s kind of like that game, Hand on Hand, you might have played as a kid where kids go around in a circle putting their right hands in the middle, followed by the left hands. Then they go around the circle moving the bottom hands to the top of the pile as fast as possible.

Although in this case, you’re moving the data series to the bottom of the pile.

Slide 12

To move the Sessions data series to the bottom of the pile, first select it from the Series list.

Slide 13

Then click the Remove button to delete it from the list.

Slide 14

Then click the Add button to add it back to the list of data series.

Slide 15

Click the data selector button to the right of the Name field and select the series name, as directed in the screenshot.

Slide 16

Click the data selector button to the right of the Y values field and click-and-drag over the values. If the column is long, just click the first cell and press Ctrl-Shift-Down Arrow (Mac: Command-Shift-Down Arrow) to select the entire column without scrolling. (We are nothing if not efficient.)

Slide 17

And finally you need to click-and-drag over the category axis labels. Which brings us to the Mac’s other issue ….

Slide 18

In the PC version, there’s one place for the category axis labels. On the Mac you have to choose the axis labels for each series. It’s counter-intuitive.

Slide 19

Categories end up along the horizontal axis — or the vertical axis for horizontal bar charts.

Slide 20

The data series ends up in the legend and is usually a metric (from GA). But there are a couple exceptions, which we’ll get to in a minute. The categories populate to the horizontal axis label or vertical axis label with the bar chart.

Slide 21

Transition to Google Analytics.

Slide 22

The two major players in Google Analytics – that we’ll be mapping to Excel – are dimensions and metrics. They’re (practically) inseparable.

Slide 23

Dimensions are the buckets your data is broken up into. These come into Excel as text – even if they’re values – like you get with the Days to Transaction dimension (which you can get from Conversions > Ecommerce > Time to Purchase). They are always the far-left column of the table.

  • Add a secondary dimension in any report (standard or custom).

  • Create a custom flat table with two dimensions. Learn how in this post.
  • Use the API. This is the only option that will allow you to use more than two dimensions. You can pull up to seven dimensions in one API call.

Slide 24

Metrics are anything that can be measured with a number.

Slide 25

If you’re in a custom report (or have clicked the Edit link at the top of most standard reports), metrics always show up to a party in blue.

Slide 26

And dimensions show up as green.

You can learn more about custom reports from the video tutorial I created to help marketers.

Now it’s time to marry Google Analytics and Excel.

Slide 27

In most cases dimensions in Google Analytics map to categories in Excel.

Slide 28

And metrics map to data series in Excel.

Slide 29

I’m going to break this down systematically, based on the number of dimensions and metrics you’re wanting to visualize.

Slide 30

Dimensions: 0

Metrics: Multiple

You want this if you want to know aggregate numbers, e.g, sessions for the month, or revenue, or goal completions.

Slide 31

I hate to start on a downer, but you need the API to do this. The GA interface requires at least one dimension.

Slide 32

As with most things, if you prod enough, you’ll discover hacks and workarounds. But the name of the game here is to come up with a dimension that will only have one bucket. Going back to the Legos analogy, it would be kind of like saying, “Put all the plastic Legos in this bucket and count them.”

Slide 33

Workaround: Set dimension to something that will encompass all of your data, meaning you’ll only have one row in the report. One example of that would be the User Defined dimension (under Audience > Custom > User Defined).

As you’ll see in the screenshot, all of the values are consolidated as (not set) since this profile (now called view) doesn’t use the User Defined dimension.

Slide 34

If you’re still using the User Defined dimension (and, therefore, have multiple rows reporting), you really need to update.

If you’re using classic GA, you should be using custom variables and custom dimensions if you’re using Universal.

Slide 35

Another option is to use the Year dimension with a custom report. This is ideal if you are gathering data for a single month. You can aggregate data beyond one month, as long as the date range you choose doesn’t straddle more than one year.

Slide 36

Here's what the custom report looks like under the hood. Learn how to  create custom reports in Google Analytics in a video tutorial I did.

Slide 37

You can access this report  here while logged in to Google Analytics.

Slide 38

This data isn’t conducive to charting, but you can sexy up a table with sparklines and conditional formatting.

Slide 40

Dimensions: 1

Metrics: 1

An example of this might be revenue segmented by country or bounce rate segmented by device category.

Slide 41

Pie Chart Basics

Here are some highlights about the pie chart:

  • They use angles to show the relative size of each value.
  • You should put data in descending order to put the most significant data point at 12:00 and radiate clockwise.
  • Avoid 3D pie charts. They distort data.
  • Data points must add up to 100%. So you can’t take traffic from 5 of your 8 campaigns and chart them.
  • Microsoft says no more than seven categories; I say no more than five.
  • None of the values in your data series can be negative.
  • Learn more

Pie Chart Tricks

Ways to trick out your chart:

  • You can grab a piece of the pie to isolate it and drag it out slightly to draw attention to it. This is called exploding pie pieces.
  • You can also change the values to percentages in the data labels or even add the categories, thereby negating the need for a legend.

Slide 42

Donut Chart Basics

Here are some highlights about the donut chart:

  • Donut charts show data in rings, where each ring represents a data series
  • It uses the length of the arc to indicate the size of the value.
  • You should put data in descending order to put the most significant data point at 12:00 and radiate clockwise.
  • Data points must add up to 100%. So you can’t take traffic from 5 of your 8 campaigns and chart them.
  • Microsoft says no more than seven categories; I say no more than five.
  • None of the values in your data series can be negative.
  • Learn more

Donut Chart Tricks

Ways to trick out your chart:

  • You can put the title or the value you want to highlight in the center. 

  • I don’t recommend using the donut chart for multiple series or dimensions. They’re more difficult to interpret. 

  • Like the pie chart, you can pull one out to draw attention to it.
  • You can use a donut chart to create a speedometer chart.
  • You can fill it with an image that resembles the surface of a donut to make it look like a … Okay, yeah, never mind …

Slide 43

Column Chart Basics

  • Should sort in descending order.
  • The axis should start at 0.
  • Categories don’t have to add up to 100%
  • Learn more

Column Chart Tricks

  • You can add a trendline to make trends stand out.
  • Consider going totally minimalist with the techniques I demonstrate in this video tutorial. (You can skip to the 15:53 mark.)
  • Don’t be afraid to move the legend around.
  • Excel’s default axis tends to be dense. I typically double the Major Unit, so if the major unit is set to 100, I typically up it to 200. Learn more about the major unit from the Microsoft site. (But I also show how in the above-mentioned video tutorial.
  • You can use a column chart to create a bullet graph to show current data vis-à-vis goals or projections.
  • You can use a column chart to create a waterfall chart.
  • You can add a target line to your chart.
  • If you have many categories to chart, you can use a scrollbar.
  • You can use a column chart to create a thermometer chart.
  • Just remember safety first when working with column charts.

Slide 44

Bar Chart Basics

  • You need to sort your data in ascending order to put the longest bars at the top.
  • Bar charts are good for categories with longer labels.
  • You shouldn’t use bar charts if your dimension is time based (date, month, etc.).
  • Learn more

Bar Chart Tricks

  • You can use all of the tricks (except the last two) listed in the Column Chart Tricks list.

Slide 45

Radar Chart Basics

  • Category labels are at the tip of each spine.
  • You can use a fill with your radar charts.

Radar Chart Tricks

  • Radar charts can be compelling when you compare multiple entities at once. For example, I saw a set of 50 radar charts that compared metrics like crime rates for different types of crime for each state.
  • If you don’t want the axis labels to show, you can set the number formatting to ;;; to hide them altogether. You can then include an annotation on your chart that lets viewers know the intervals. 

Slide 46

Notes about the Heat Map

Learn how to create a heat map in this video tutorial I did.

Slide 47

And now let’s look under the hood at a typical chart that uses 1 dimension and 1 metric. Let’s say we have this table of analytics data ….

Slide 48

If we create a column chart from this table, this is what it’s going to look like (with some cleanup).

Slide 49

Now if we look at the data source this is what we’ll see ….

Slide 50

The mediums show up over here in the categories …

Slide 51

And the sessions values show up here in the data series …

Slide 52

Which populates to the legend. But you can delete the legend when you only have one metric (or data series). You’ll then want to include the metric in the chart title.

Slide 53

And the mediums populate the horizontal axis labels.

A little piece of Excel trivia: The Select Data Source dialog still says Horizontal Axis Labels, even for bar charts where the labels are on the vertical axis. #pedantic

Slide 54

Example of 1 dimension and multiple metrics: Sessions, goal completions, and revenue broken down by Device Category (mobile, tablet, desktop)

BTW, the Device Category dimension is one of the most important in Google Analytics. By itself it’s pretty useless, but in the context of other data, it’s very useful. You should be segmenting all of your data by it.

Slide 55

Notes about the Clustered Column Chart

  • Clustered column charts are good for showing comparisons (e.g, sessions vs revenue for each month or ROI vs Margin by campaign (or keyword).
  • You could transform the clustered column chart into a combination chart by adding a line chart on the secondary axis that adds a percent value.

Slide 56

Notes about the Stacked Column Chart

  • The stacked column chart is good for showing how each data series contributes to the whole.
  • An example might be revenue broken down by medium.
  • If you want to order the columns by overall height, you can create a total column for the series. You just won’t chart that column.

Slide 57

Notes about the Clustered Bar Chart

  • All of the notes in the above-mentioned stacked column chart.
  • Like the [single] bar chart, the clustered bar chart is better for categories with long labels.
  • You can hack the clustered bar chart to create a double-sided bar chart. You can view a video tutorial I did on how to do this.

Slide 58

Notes about the Stacked Bar Chart

  • If you want to sort the bars so that the longer bars are on top, create a totals column and sort it in ascending order.
  • You shouldn’t use the stacked bar chart if your dimension is time oriented (date, month, etc.).

Slide 59

Notes about the 100% Stacked Column Chart

  • Use the 100% stacked column chart when you are working with percentages.
  • The data series must add up to 100%.
  • For example, if you wanted to see what percentage of social referrals came from desktop, tablet, and mobile devices.

Slide 60

Notes about the 100% Stacked Bar Chart

All of the notes under the 100% stacked column chart apply here.

Slide 61

Notes about the Radar Chart

  • Category labels are at the tip of each spine.
  • You can use a fill with your radar charts.
  • Radar charts can be compelling when you compare multiple entities at once. For example, I saw a set of 50 radar charts that compared metrics like crime rates for different types of crime for each state.
  • If you don’t want the axis labels to show, you can set the number formatting to ;;; to hide them altogether. You can then include an annotation on your chart that lets viewers know the intervals. See the screenshot under the Slide 45 note above.

Slide 62

Notes about the Combination Chart

Learn all about combination charts in this post I wrote on the Search Engine Land site.

Slide 63 – 69

Self-explanatory as they follow the same dialog as slides 46 – 52.

Slide 71

Notes about the Line Chart

  • In a line chart, category data is usually distributed evenly along the horizontal axis and value data is distributed evenly along the vertical axis.
  • Line charts can show continuous data over time, so they're ideal for showing trends in data at equal intervals, like months, quarters, or fiscal years.
  • You can add markers and set the lines to none to use them in ranking charts.
  • Avoid using stacked line charts. It’s not always apparent that the data series are stacked. If you want to stack, use an area chart instead.
  • You can add interesting line markers like the ones I created in this video tutorial to replicate the charts in Moz’s tool set

Slide 72

Notes about the Stacked Area Chart

  • Ideal for showing stacked data series over time, especially if you want to demonstrate a fluid trend. Stacked column charts should be used if you want to keep each of the categories more disparate.
  • You should order the data series so that the larger series are at the bottom of the stack with the smaller series being clustered together at the top because people’s eyes naturally travel from the horizontal axis upward with stacked area charts.
  • If you keep the gridlines, make them significantly lighter. A light gray works well.
  • Make sure you have adequate contrast between contiguous data series. Sometimes Excel puts two colors next to each other that blend.
  • If you have smaller data series that are difficult to see, use stronger colors to make them easier to view.
  • If you have all larger data series and you want to add some finesse, give your data series a line (what would be called a stroke in graphic design programs) that’s slightly darker than the fill.
  • You can create a combination chart with a stacked area chart. Just don’t use a line chart for the other style. I like to use a chart style that stands out from the area chart, such as a column chart. You may want to increase the transparency of its fill so that you can easily see through to the stacked area chart.

Slide 73

Notes about the Clustered Column Chart

  • You use the clustered column chart to show comparisons between data series (as opposed to how they contribute to the whole).
  • The clustered column chart is especially effective for showing year-over-year data. The categories would just have the name of the month (I abbreviate to three letters, which you can learn how to do in this tutorial), and one column would be used to show data from one year and the other colored column would indicate the previous year. To show the month from each year as a disparate data series, you would have to make each year a separate column in your data.
  • You can add a line chart on the secondary axis that highlights the percent change between values.
  • You can play with the gap width and overlap settings to adjust the series. You get to those by selecting a column, pressing Ctrl-1 (Mac: Command-1), and navigating to the Series Options (Mac: Options) area of the Format Data Series dialog.
  • Excel doesn’t provide the option to add a data label that indicates the total of all the data series for each column. You can hack one by adding a total column that you include in the clustered column but then change to a line chart. From there, remove the line and add data labels above the line.

Slide 74

Same as Slide 60.

Slide 75

Same as Slide 58

Slide 76 – 77

Self-explanatory.

Slide 78

Things get more complicated when you want to chart two dimensions. There are three ways to get 2 dimensions:

Slide 79

So here we have two dimensions (Device Category and User Type). I picked these dimensions to demonstrate because they have a finite number of options. I LOVE the device category dimension and use it frequently to segment my data in Google Analytics.

Note: When you chart two dimensions, you can only use one metric (or data series in Excel).

Slide 80

Here’s an example of what a clustered column chart might look like.

Slide 81

We now have a dimension in the legend — or category in Excel.

Slide 82

Using the Switch Row/Column button ….

Slide 83

This is what the chart would now look like. Notice we now have three data series and two categories.

Slide 84

Now let’s take a peek under the hood.

Slide 85

Again, here you see we have dimensions, not metrics, in the data series. The metrics should be included in the chart title.

Slide 86

And now the Device Category dimension is in the category area.

Slide 87

Your chart options are the same as when you had one dimension and multiple metrics. These options are not exhaustive.

Slide 88

Slide 89

The data in this table is in report format. If only marketing export data came in this format. (It doesn’t.)

Slide 90

This is how marketing data actually comes out of different marketing tools. It’s called tabular format.

Slide 91

Just as in a database, rows in tabular data are called records.

Slide 92

Columns are called fields.

Slide 93

And the column headings are called field names. But if I were to select two dimension columns and one metric and select a chart, here’s how Excel digests the data …

Slide 94

Gross, I know. I’m a child.

Slide 95

Here’s what it actually looks like. A royal mess.

Slide 96

Excel requires that data be in a report format in order to chart two dimensions. And the one metric (sessions, revenue, impressions, whatever) goes into the green area. There's only one way to corral an export with two dimensions and one metric into report format ...

Slide 97

Pivot tables sound scary and intimidating but not if you think about what pivot means.

Slide 98

When a soldier pivots, s/he very simply goes from standing facing one direction to turning at a 90 degree angle. That's what a pivot table does. By moving one of your dimensions into the Columns field (Mac: Column Labels field), Excel puts that dimension's values across the top of your data. 

Once you have your data in report format, and you can chart it. You typically want to put the dimension with fewer values into the columns area.

Learn how to create pivot tables in this comprehensive video tutorial I did.

Slide 99

Although pivot tables come with a lot of junk in the trunk, you can see the pivot table puts the data into report layout, which Excel can then use to chart the data. If you’re on a PC, you can create a pivot chart. If you’re on a Mac, you can create a static chart from the pivot table because Excel for Mac still doesn’t support pivot charts. Still. Ridic.

Slide 100

Now you’re ready to look at GA data — nay, all marketing data — with a more strategic eye… And spend less time tooling around in Excel trying to figure out how to visualize your data!


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The New Link Building Survey 2014 – Results

Posted by JamesAgate

Many of you may have seen our Link Building Survey results published here on Moz around this same time last year. The reception was fantastic, so we decided to push ahead with turning this into an annual series to see how this strand of the industry is developing and evolving over time.

Firstly, "link building"...

Yep, we've not changed the name to a "content marketing survey" or "inbound link acquisition survey;" we still feel link building is a vital part of an SEOs arsenal of tactics, and therefore it deserves its own survey.

As a company we're investing just as much in link building for our clients (granted, we've adapted what we are doing), but the fact remains that if you want to score big with decent organic search visibility then you need links.

Now that that's out of the way, let's get down to the details:

Who took the survey?

A massive thank you to the 315 or so people who took the survey. That number is slightly down from last yeah, which I feel is partly due to fewer people considering link building to be a part of their day-to-day roles. I'd argue that's a missed opportunity, and this year we had a few duplicate entries and submissions that needed a bit of tidying up, so we trimmed it back to these 315 submissions.

The makeup of the respondents was broadly similar to last year, as expected, although based on user feedback from our inaugural survey, we added a few more categories for respondents to self-classify—so it is hard to make specific comparisons.

How much does your company spend on link building per month?

In the 2013 survey, 10% of respondents said their company spent $50k+ per month on link building, so it appears that the upper limit to link building spend may have decreased slightly across the industry.

That being said, there now appears to be a much larger number of companies in the $10-$50k per month bracket when you compare this year's 37% with last year's 11%.

I would attribute the changes year-on-year to two factors;

  • Reclassification of the term "link building:" Many companies have shifted budget that they would previously classified as link building budget into content projects that more than likely still have an impact on link building efforts.
  • Recognition of opportunity: Based on our own experiences we see a number of website owners and businesses pushing harder with their content promotion and link building as they recognise an opportunity to invest when their competitors are running scared.

Warren Buffett once said "Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful." Based on conversations alone that I've had with a wide range of businesses, many are now fearful when it comes to building links. In fact, we gathered some data later in the survey that revealed that one of the biggest challenges people face is not knowing which links will help and which will harm them. Google's widespread action against websites (and dare I say it webmaster propaganda) has had a dramatic impact on some people to the point of paralysis.

There are clear opportunities that, with a sound strategy, can be seized in today's market.

You can build links like it's 1999 for a microsite or second level property, keep it super-clean and identify link opportunities that would be valuable irrespective of Google, or somewhere in between those extremes. The fact is the links still form the backbone of the internet and of Google's algorithm and that isn't going to change for a very long time.

What percentage of your overall SEO budget is allocated toward building links?

Thanks to John-Henry Scherck for this one as he made the suggestion following the 2013 survey that having data on the percentage would be really interesting. Looking back we don't have a point of comparison but not of course moving forward we will have so we should get a clearer picture of whether online marketing budgets are just increasing in general (and therefore link building gets allocated the same percentage but of a bigger pie) or whether folks are seeing the value from building links and therefore allocating a larger percentage of the same sized pie to link building activities.

Would you say you've increased or decreased your spend on link building over the past 12 months?

This aligns with our data on more people entering the $10-$50k per month investment bracket this year:

Why the increase/decrease in spending?

We asked people why they decided to increase or decrease their spending on link building over the past 12 months.

Responses could be categorized into the following areas:

Common reason for increases:

  • Increased costs related to moving away from older style and often "cheaper" link building
  • Increased costs related to production/creativity
  • Good links are just as important as ever; links still move the needle in terms of search engine visibility and performance therefore it makes sense to increase investment in this area.

Common reasons for decreases:

  • Moving link building budget into content marketing projects (to be fair, this budget will probably indirectly fund link acquisition of some kind even if it is seen as a secondary goal for the content campaign.)
  • We wanted to scale back and assess the impact that Google's manual actions etc have on our website.

In the next 12 months, will you look to increase or decrease your spend on link building?

Why the planned increase/decrease in spending?

  • Link building continues to get more expensive
  • To raise the bar on existing efforts, and to beat competitors with increasingly sophisticated content assets
  • Unsure where to invest/which links are working so concentrating budget into other activities.

Which link building tactics do you utilise most often?

(Numbers listed are votes rather than percentages)

When we compare with responses from the 2013 survey, there is a clear shift towards content-led initiatives and a reduction in some tactics for example close to 50% said in 2013 that guest blogging was their staple tactic, in 2014 fewer than 15% listed it as one of their staple activities.

Another interesting bit of data is the fact that paid links have seen somewhat of a resurgence in popularity, presumably as companies look for tactics where they can maintain greater control. In 2013, just 5% listed paid links as their staple linking tactic whereas in 2014 over 13% reported paid linking and blog networks as one of their main link building tactics.

What is currently your biggest link building challenge?

  • Getting links to pages that aren't particularly linkworthy (money pages)
  • Lack of scalability (time, process, training, spreading time between clients)
  • Avoiding Google penalties

These are similar challenges to those reported in 2013 in the sense that there is still concern over which links are helping and harming organic search performance as well as difficulties relating to processes and the lack of scalability.

The interesting thing is that SEO is full of challenges so as soon as one is overcome, the next appears. In 2013, 28% of respondents said that "finding link prospects" was a key challenge but this year not a mention of link prospects being an issue. This arguably suggests that we as an industry were adjusting to the "new world" back in 2013 and that now we have advanced our capabilities enough for this to now longer be the primary challenge in our day to day work. Now the main problem doesn't seem to be getting links as such but more about getting links into the pages that we all need to rank to stay in business … the money pages.

Which link building tactics do you believe to be most effective?

(numbers below are "votes" rather than percentages)

Which link building tactics do you believe to be least effective?

(numbers below are "votes" rather than percentages)

Which link building tactics do you consider to be harmful to a site?

(numbers below are "votes" rather than percentages)

See the complete visual below:

Thank you for everyone who took part in the survey! See you all again next year.


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