Google AIS Custom Search

search (67)

Google Plus Page

Google has stuck with its story that the various components of Google+ and the +1 button don’t have an effect on search rankings. They have to. Once they admit that it does (as countless studies and tests have indicated), the flood of spam and blackhat SEO techniques will grow larger than it already has. This is important to understand for anyone doing research on the topic. Google isn’t trying to deceive people for the sake of being deceptive. They’re trying to protect the sanctity of what will become their greatest advantage in the ongoing search engine wars. They will not sit back and do what Yahoo did a decade ago, relying on mass adoption to carry them through. Just because Google is on top today doesn’t mean that they have no fears for the future.

Thus, Google+.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the three primary components of Google+ and the various +1 buttons (they look the same but they have different uses) that have an effect on your search rankings.


The Google+ Business Page

There’s a good chance that if you’ve been following the advice of internet marketing experts out there for the past couple of years, that you have a Google+ business profile. If you don’t, get one now.

The page serves two purposes from a search perspective. If you’re posting content from your website onto your page, it counts as a +1 for that particular piece of content. +1s are weighted differently and the ones from your page have more weight than spammers but less weight than most users, but it’s still a good thing to have. It doesn’t hurt, so why not?

The other component is a relative scale. Your page itself has +1s, demonstrated in the image above in the bottom right by “+346″. There have been a couple of studies that have looked at this and shown that it’s the most important aspect of overall search rankings that Google+ affects. I disagree based upon my own research, but it definitely has an affect. By being a “relative scale”, it isn’t a matter of gathering hundreds, even thousands of these. It’s a matter of having higher quality ones relative to your competitors for search rankings. As with everything in this article (and pretty much in search and social altogether), quality trumps quantity. You only see the number. Google sees the quality of the accounts within the number.

Domain Content +1s

The rise of content marketing from a search perspective has been most positively affected by the +1 buttons on your site. Inbound links are still extremely important, but they have remained at a steady value ever since the Penguin update. The +1s accumulated on content within a domain have risen in overall power.

This is why true content marketing on your website is so important from a search perspective. We can no longer rely on strong HTML content and organic links to rank higher than competitors. Sure, they work, but the real differentiator that so few are willing to explore is the fact that social signals to a piece of content affect the overall rankings of a domain. If a piece of content is strong enough to get some viral love on Google+, Twitter, and Facebook, the rankings of many keywords are affected.


Individual Content +1s

This is a two-headed beast. Google has not seen the +1 abundance of data that they had hoped when they first started putting the +1 button everywhere. They’ve gone through many changes over the last year, including changing the way that the search results interact depending on browser and device. Now, you can “share” pages from results into Google+, but it’s unlikely that this is being done very often.

What Google IS seeing is an increase in the number of shares directly from content. It isn’t just a rise from the clicks on the page itself, but also an increase in the +1s happening on the Google+ network within users’ feeds. This is translating into very strong improvements in overall search rankings and traffic for those who are able to get activity on Google+ with their content. The catch-22 is that many businesses are finding it much easier to get +1s to “fun” content. This helps with the second component above, but if we’re not able to get +1s to the “money” content, we’re missing a large part of the strategy.

To achieve this, websites have to start being built with “fun” and “money” on the same pages. It’s a challenge – the entertainment or educational value of content often makes it hard to use as a conversion piece, but that’s the golden ticket at the end of the day. If you can turn your fun content into something that also has the ability to generate leads and sales, you’re definitely a mile ahead of your competitors.

Read more…

Men in the Trenches

The other day I was in a meeting with a potential client. We were discussing automotive SEO best practices and the way that the search engines are changing the way they rank. We talked about the best ways a dealer can stay ahead of their competition for their current keywords while moving up in the competitive keywords in the area.

It was then that he made an interesting observation:

“I know that you keep on top of this stuff from a theoretical level, but I want to hear from the guy in the trenches that is actually doing the SEO for dealers.”

It was a great point. I’ve personally worked on the optimization for a couple dozen of our clients, but I’m not the guy that works on hundreds of dealers at a time. That guy is Ron Fortier, our SEO manager, so I posed the question to him. Here is what he put down as best practices for dealers, straight from the mouth of the guy leading the team that’s doing the work successfully…


Develop or Buy Tools that Help You Make Keyword Decisions Monthly

Priorities for your dealership change based on time of year, inventory levels, competition and conquest strategies. We are all resource constrained whether it be time or money, so we need tools that help us to make the best use of our investment in time. You need to have a tool or process that allows you to identify the most important keywords to work based on your monthly priorities.

Looking for more overall visitors? Your priority would be on keywords with larger impression counts. Looking to convert more of your visitors? Your priority would be on keywords that have high PPC costs and competition. Looking to conquest local dealers or make-model combinations? Your priority would be to view your rankings relative to your competitors. Want a great mix of all of the above? That is typically where we end up. Having a tool that helps you identify the best keywords to work based on your priorities allows you to spend 100% of your content and SEO efforts on tasks that are in line with your stores most immediate priorities.


Beware of Thin Content

Google rewards effort, plain and simple. Google’s quality rating guidelines are filled with how to identify low quality, useless content. Their best definition of spam is when you remove all of the template and spam elements from the page, there is nothing of any value remaining. If you are copying content from other sites, or slightly modifying keywords and thinking that you’re fooling Google, you’re not. Google rewards effort. Google rewards typing and content.

Low keyword counts may win here or there in the short run, but every change Google has made over the last 18 months has been an effort to remove thin, low quality pages from its index. Take the time to create content that is of value to a consumer when they get to a page and you won’t have to worry about the next animal-based update released from Google. Content is king and quality, useful content for consumers wins every time.


SEO Works Best in a Holistic Approach

Now that you’ve decided what to work with your time, be sure that all of your SEO efforts work in concert.

What content are you going to add to your site that works the keywords you’ve identified? What modifications will you be making to your website’s architecture and internal linking structure that signals to Google the significance of your content change? How will you support your keywords through offsite content and linking? What is your strategy to getting the content crawled and indexed quickly? If you only use one technique then you won’t be working all of the SEO signals and the effectiveness will be lessened. Does your content say one thing and your links another?

Sending mixed messages will also inhibit the effectiveness of your work. Take the time to ensure that all of your monthly SEO efforts are working in concert for maximum effectiveness.


Low Sales Funnel Keywords are Big though Small

Everyone wants to find that hidden keyword that will get them a thousand new visitors. We understand and often join the pursuit, but we also chase the keyword combos that will get you 5 visits a month. Insanity? No!

Many of these keywords are very low funnel or “right next to the money” as we like to say internally. Think of someone on a Friday night at 6:00 on Yelp searching restaurants. That search is right next to the money. That individual will eat tonight; they are just deciding where. The same thought applies to many keywords we go after. Consider a year make model search. They know what they’re going to buy. The only question is where and when. Don’t be afraid to mix in the low funnel keywords even though you know that they will be statistically insignificant in overall traffic volumes. That five visitor a month keyword could be the goose that lays the golden egg for years to come.

Read more…

SEO Keyboard

One of the keys to being a true dealership partner amongst a sea of vendors is having the willingness to “share the playbook” with our clients and prospects. This is much more important today than ever before in the world of automotive internet marketing because the changes are happening too rapidly. Marketing professionals and companies must stay on top of these changes from day to day and adjust accordingly, something that the vast majority of dealers simply do not have time to do.

Search engine marketing has been in a state of constant flux for nearly a year now. It has always been a challenge keeping up with the changes, but today the changes are coming at us so rapidly that we have to stay tuned in at all times. This is good for those who truly do stay on top; dealers and vendors who have the right plans up front but who also keep them fluid enough to change on the fly are the ones that will have the most success in 2013.

Thankfully, there are certain rock solid activities that have staying power. Google and Bing love quality, so understanding the activities that will work today and that will continue to work tomorrow act as a wonderful hedge against the nuanced changes that happen constantly. Minor course corrections on a solid strategy is the key to sustained success (for us and for dealers).

Here are some of the things that we know work today and that will continue to work in the foreseeable future. There are risky moves that make rankings go up quickly and watch them fall even faster, then there are safe bets that play the SEO market with a steady hand. These are some of those things. The best part – you don’t need a vendor to make these things happen for you. The power is well within your grasp. Pick any one of these activities and do it right now. Bookmark this page and come back to it in a couple of days, a week, or whenever you have time to push forward. Search rankings move with or without your input. Take more control of the outcome by doing these simple tasks regularly.

  1. Build a Content Page – I’ve harped on this point many times but it will never get old. Assuming you have a proper CMS that allows for it, you should build a content page. This isn’t a conversion page. It’s not a page that will compel visitors to buy a car. It’s a page with interesting content that only you can supply that supports your conversion pages. By bringing value to the table, you’ll be able to give Google and Bing what they want: quality. For example, you can build a page that lists five key components the 2013 Toyota Camry has that other makes and models do not have. Of course, you’ll be sure to add contextual links to conversion pages such as inventory search pages for the Camry, specials, or anything else that this page can support.
  2. Get Social Signals to your Pages – This is much quicker than you might think as far as activities go. People at your dealership are on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ right now. Take a stroll around the dealership with a particular important URL or two in mind and ask them to share the page on their social profiles. Some will not want to “pollute” their feed with what they may consider workplace spam, but this is another reason why you will want to have strong content pages (see tip #1) handy. They might not want to share the inventory pages directly, but who wouldn’t want to share an interesting piece of content such as this?
  3. Write a Guest Post – You or someone at your dealership has expertise in cars and the ability to write about it. Find this person. Send out an email to the company and ask if anyone is interested in doing some writing on the side for the dealership. You don’t need much – a couple of pieces of content a month will suffice for now. Once you have some story ideas, pitch them to appropriate blogs and local websites. Some will not be responsive. Others welcome the opportunity to get fresh, unique content for free. This one actually requires a much longer article to describe in detail, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get started today.

Content, social signals, and links. These are the three key components to search engine optimization that are within your power even if you’re not a website developer. Remember to hold quality at the highest level when planning your strategies. A focus on quality over quantity is what has helped us stay on top of the game for so long. Tricks come and go. Quality optimization principles have staying power. Use them.

Read more…

Automotive Apps

There was a time when the search engines rewarded content of all types. If a website syndicated content from elsewhere on the web and exposed it to their audience, it wasn’t as good as unique content but at least it didn’t hurt. Some of the content would be de-indexed as duplicate but the overall health of the domain itself was not harmed.

Today, it’s harmful. Websites that are taking a lot of content from others and posting it on their own websites, even if they link to the original source, are finding that their overall rankings are dropping as a result. It’s one of many changes in the string of content attacks Google has been building upon ever since introducing the first variation of Panda back in February, 2011.

Some have gone to “spinning” content as an alternative. In spinning, content is taken and many of the individual words are changed in an effort to beat Google’s duplicate content filter. This worked for a little while and is still somewhat effective today but Google has come out against spinning in several public statements. It, too, is dying.

With Google’s focus on quality being hammered into us from all sides, it’s clear that their orchestrating a shift towards real content. This is a challenge for many businesses who aren’t really journalists and do not have the time to do the research necessary to create strong content. The alternative: commentary.

Thankfully, humans are loaded with opinions. The internet is a venue through which opinions can be shared. Share yours. It can be difficult to pick a topic that’s relevant to your industry and write an article about something, but it’s easier if the research and writing are already done for us, leaving our role as one of reaction rather than investigation.

The process is pretty simple. Read an article or two that pertains to your industry, then respond to it. For example, you may see an article on Smart Planet about how Ford and GM are opening their APIs to third-party developers. A car dealer probably doesn’t want to do the research about the developments, but they don’t have to. They just have to read the article and respond to it from their own perspective within the industry.

Content Commentary

The research has already been done. The news has already been stated. Nobody will go to a car dealer’s website to read the news, but they may be interested in seeing the response about the development from the perspective of those who will be affected, in this case a car dealer embedded in the automotive industry.

This gives websites the ability to add value and participate in the conversation without having to do the technical research surrounding the news itself. It makes bringing valuable content to the table a much easier process and allows businesses to focus on what they know and what they have time to do rather than branching out and becoming the content researchers.

There is plenty out there on any topic through which a business can add valuable commentary. You don’t have to break the news to be valuable in the eyes of both visitors and search engines. You just have to have a unique perspective.

Read more…

Content isn't King. It's More Like a President.

Mt Rushmore

The marketing adage “content is king” has been around for a long time. In 2013, it appears that both the search engines and social media sites are focusing on content as their driving forces, but in a different way than most understand. Things are changing in the world of internet marketing. Here’s what you need to know.

Content was never really “king”. Though it made a nice talking point and allowed marketing companies an opportunity to charge for their labors, it was always a temporary fix. In search, it started off as extremely important for a little while until marketers started learning how to manipulate it, so the search engines switched to focus on external signals such as links. Then, the links started turning into link farms and “splogs”, so content re-emerged as a focus point.

Companies were built on the premise of “more is better” and started putting out low-quality, spun, or light content in an effort to fool the search engines once again. Google made moves to shut this down in February, 2011, with the first of many Penguin algorithm updates that effectively put an end to content farming.

Social media saw a similar shift towards spam in 2011 that was quickly sorted by secretive algorithm adjustments that took into account the different layers of liking, sharing, retweeting, and other social media activities to once again force quality of content to the front ahead of bulk.

For the first time ever, content is truly emerging as the leader in internet marketing activities, but it has manifested differently than most have seen in the past. There’s no longer SEO content, social media content, and conversion content that act separately from each other. Going into 2013, these three primary types of internet marketing content are consolidating into a singular strategy. It’s not that they are becoming the same. It’s that they have to work together for maximum results.

In essence, content is not king. It’s like a president. It has power, certainly, but the majority of that power must be shared, enhanced, and complemented by other factors such as links and social signals. Here’s how the president of internet marketing will work in 2013…


The different hats of a president

Just as any good president must wear different hats depending on the circumstance, a strong content marketing strategy requires that the content falls into the different categories depending on the needs of the moment. I mentioned the three most important – SEO content, social media content, and conversion content – but there are others that often come into play.

We’re going to focus on the three important ones for now:

  • The President as an Organizer – The President can’t do it all. He or she must bring the leaders of Congress and the states together to demonstrate a coherent strategy for their country. SEO content works must the same way. Creating SEO content is different from creating content that acts as SEO for a particular page. True SEO content is designed to help generate inbound links, points the search engines in the right directions once they land on a particular page, and enhances the conversion pages through context and appropriate internal links.
  • The President as an Ambassador – It’s important for a President to be strong, friendly, and build relationships with others. What the President says and how he or she says it makes a difference in perceptions. Done properly, the message is shared. The same holds true for social media content. You can have interesting things to post from your website onto other sites, but if the relationships aren’t there, you won’t get very far regardless of the quality of the content.
  • The President as an Administrator – Despite what anyone says, a President has to be a good salesperson. They have to take their ideas and make them work within their country which requires the ability to direct the people appropriately and get things done that work. It doesn’t matter how good a President is at being an organizer or ambassador if they can’t deliver the goods at the end of the day. This is where conversion content finds similarities. You can have people interested, but if you don’t turn them into leads, customers, or clients, your other efforts are worthless.

From a practical perspective, you content must be able to bind all of the major internet marketing efforts into a working strategy. This is where content comes in. Turn it into the centerpiece of your internet marketing for 2013. Links, social signals, traffic, conversions – all are necessary for success. The easiest way to achieve them is through the strongest content that you can muster.

* * *

Mt Rushmore” image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Read more…

Hierarchy of Web Presence

I knew it would happen sometime in 2013. I’m glad it happened sooner rather than later.

For a while, many of the smaller bloggers such as myself have been preaching about how search, social, and content marketing are all actually a singular activity that can be broken down into a proper repeatable process. There have been skeptics and naysayers, the majority of whom work in one of the three industries and would not profit by the consolidation of things. In other words, someone who is trained in SEO who only opens up Facebook to see pictures of little Timmy sliding into 3rd base would not benefit by the emergence of social signals into search rankings, so they choose to pretend like it doesn’t help (or in some cases, saying that it can actually hurt your rankings).

When an article by Jeff Bullas, a respected internet marketing expert, came across my feed this morning with the title, “6 Social Media Trends You Should Not Ignore in 2013“, I was hopeful that he would mention the convergence of the three disciplines and was extremely pleased when it was the top trend mentioned…

“Expect to see more content marketing tools, tactics and strategies that accept the fact that social, search and content are increasingly integrated and intertwined.”

Tools – perhaps. It’s challenging to put together a tool set that doesn’t spoil the mix. The reason for this is the need to focus on quality and value above all else. With tools, they have a tendency to automate processes that end up hurting in the long run. By mentioning tactics and strategies, I couldn’t agree more. As someone who wakes up at 2:30 every morning to read my feeds and stay on top of the ever-changing worlds of search and social, I am always hopeful to find more strategies that will enhance my current playbook.

As we plunge further into the year, there will be more and more articles written about the convergence. Some will be spot on. Others will be misleading as the natural tendency to convert everything into a template will send many down the wrong path. You need skill, creativity, and resources at your disposal, not tricks or schemes. Google, Facebook, and Bing are getting smarter every day. They’re learning how to recognize the difference between content that truly brings education, entertainment, or resource value to the table and the content that is churned or spun. If you read about a strategy that operates without expertise or the human factor of discernment, run away as fast as you can.

Think quality. It’s the point at which search engine optimization, social media promotions, and content marketing converge.

Read more…

Car Dealer SEO Mistakes: Stagnant Keywords


There’s a plethora of articles, tips, and techniques about automotive SEO that fill blogs, webinars, and training courses. Everyone has opinions about what works best and how to help dealers rank better in search. The biggest mistake that dealers (and their vendors) often make isn’t in the SEO techniques themselves but rather in the underlying keyword principles. It doesn’t matter how good the SEO techniques are; if you don’t have the right keywords selected from the start and make adjustments to the targets on a regular basis, your optimization is not optimal.

Here are some quick best practices to keep your keywords from going stagnant:

  • When You Hit Your Goals, Move On – This is the most common keyword mistake in the automotive industry. I see dealers and their vendors pushing hard for keywords that they’re already dominating. They likely selected them from the beginning as high priority but never adjusted when they reached the top. If you’re ranked #1 for a keyword, no measure of additional SEO effort will get you ranked higher. Stop. Move your efforts to other keywords. Monitor it – if you fall from the top spot, re-engage with that keyword, but otherwise point your attentions to getting more keywords.
  • Remember the Variations – So, you’re going after a keyword like “Shreveport Honda Dealer”. That’s great, but what about the others? Order of the words matter. Plural variations matter. Synonyms matter. You should be going after “Honda Dealer Shreveport”, “Shreveport Honda Dealership”, “Honda Dealers Shreveport LA”, etc.
  • Rightsize Efforts Based on Competition Levels – You don’t need a rocket launcher to take down a rabbit. Likewise, a BB gun isn’t going to take down an elephant. Apply the right measure of SEO pressure on your selected keywords – no more, no less. As a general rule, the more words that are in the keyword phrase, the easier it is to get. For example, “Minneapolis Toyota” takes a lot of effort while “2013 Toyota Camry Minneapolis” takes less. Also, the competition level in a given metro makes a difference. Keywords for “Los Angeles CA” are easier than keywords for “Thousand Oaks CA”.
  • Go for Top 5 for Some Keywords – There are certain keywords where the effort to get to #1 simply isn’t worth it. This is particularly true for keywords in cities where there is already a local dealership. If you’re in Palo Alto and you want to rank for keywords in San Jose, the chances of beating actual San Jose dealers is low, but getting into the top 5 is usually achievable. Set your expectations properly and focus on getting more keywords rather than moving up a little higher for competitive keywords.

These are just a handful of best practices, but the underlying lesson is clear. Watch your keywords. Adjust them. You or your vendor should be adjusting your SEO monthly based upon where you rank for your keywords. If you let your keywords go stagnant, you’re just spinning your wheels.

Read more…

Sistine Chapel

Let's face it. Facebook (and Google+) love pictures. It ranks at the top of the news feed food chain above text posts, videos, and links. It's the primary reason that many people visit Facebook in the first place. They want to see pictures of little Timmy sliding into third base, the places that their friends and family are visiting, and cats. Don't forget the cats.

Unfortunately, many businesses have focused on cats (or similar Facebook-friendly images) as their source of content. It simply doesn't have to be that way. It's the lazy approach to find things that make us laugh and then post them on our business Facebook pages in hopes that other people will laugh as well and like, comment on, or share the image. What's worse than the laziness factor is that it's insincere; it's like trying to fit in at a party where people are frolicking in order to spring a sales pitch on an unsuspecting soul while in line for a drink.

What's worse than the insincerity is that it simply doesn't work. Sure, people may like the picture of the Sistine Chapel that your sister posted. They may even share it. You may even be able to loosely justify it by saying that it's improving your branding. These are fine delusions, but they don't address the core problem you have with your Facebook page. You aren't actually becoming anything to your fans other than another interesting page that posts content that they occasionally see and rarely enjoy.

If Facebook (and Google+) are mostly visual platforms and you want to capture some of the "magic" without being a poser, you'll want to find the various treasure troves of content to post. Here are some...


Finding Images for Facebook (and Google+)

Tilt Shift Car

One of the most annoying practices that businesses employ on Facebook is that they talk about anything other than their business. Don't get me wrong, it's much more annoying (and completely useless) to post a feed-based flurry of links to your website every day. Still, if you're going to post images (and you should), there are places to find them that will improve your overall presence by staying interesting while also staying on point.

In this example, we'll look at a local Ford dealership. What do they do? They sell and service Ford vehicles as well as used vehicles of other manufacturers. There's no reason for a Ford dealership to post pictures of cats. They have plenty of content available to them that would serve them much better.

  • Google - The obvious choice. It's the other form of the lazy person's approach, but it works and can still help you to stay on point. Search for specific cars. Search for engines. Search for images from the various car shows around the world. When you find something you like, post the image with a unique description. Be sure to add a localized or otherwise-relevant spin to the description. For example, if you're posting an image of a concept 2015 Mustang, you could ask a question such as, "Is this different enough to make it stand out from the current body style?" or simply make a statement such as "We can't wait to get these here in Fond du Lac!" As always, you'll want to post a link to the source, but only after you've included the image. You don't want this to be a link post with a preview generated, so add the link to the description after you've already selected the image. This works on both Facebook and Google+.
  • Shutterstock - There are various paid image galleries that offer different packages. These are particularly useful when you're posting content to your website or blog about the local area. In this example, we used Shutterstock to find interesting images of Wisconsin, the home state of the dealership itself. This gave us very sharable content (23 shares from a dealership's website isn't too shabby) on the website itself as well as a dozen images that we can share on the dealership's Facebook page spread out over time if necessary or posted as an album.
  • Your Store - This is quite possibly the most under-utilized source of content for most businesses. It's also the most useful. Sure, there are plenty of businesses that are starting to post images of their happy customers, but it's not really super-engaging content. The buyer and anyone who knows them might like or share the image, but it's not going to get liked, commented on, or shared by anyone else. However, there is plenty going on other than the customers. In the example of the Ford dealership, there are often "cars with a story" coming through service. It could be a Ford with 300k miles. It could be one that just came back from a trip in the mountains and is now covered in mud. It could be an interesting or funny bumper sticker, a cool modification that someone made to a motor, or even something very simple like a silly outfit the boss wore to work today. There's content floating around the store every day. You just have to keep your eyes open for it.
  • The Area Around You - Every place has something photo-worthy. Whether you're in a bustling metro area or a desert wasteland, there are things happening or interesting scenes that can be captured with your smartphone. Do it. I couldn't tell you how many times I would stop in every city I've been to in order to take a picture of something cool had I managed a localized social media profile in that city. Take advantage of your surroundings and you'll find treasures that your localized fans will recognize and enjoy.
  • Your Imagination - This is rarely used as well but when it's done right, it's awesome. By using your imagination, you can explore both the store and the local area and manufacture scenes that would make for great posts on Facebook (and Google+). For example, you can go to the roof of the dealership and take a picture of the lot itself, then apply tilt-shift manipulation to the image for a really cool final product. The image above was a normal image, but when tilt-shift is applied, it makes it look like it's a miniature car.

You don't need cats. You need effort, imagination, and a willingness to be interesting with what it is that you do best. Don't try to fit in on Facebook (and Google+). Try to stand out.
Read more…

SoLoMo - Boom or Bust in 2013?

It was one of the most used made-up words of 2012 (and in many cases, one of the most annoying). Just about every marketer in and out of the automotive industry used some variation of "SoLoMo" (Social/Local/Mobile) in a blog post, video, presentation, or declaration of things to come. The underlying concept - that many people and the sites they visit are becoming more social, more localized, and more mobile based - is likely here to stay for a while, but is it something that dealers should embrace in 2013 or something that they should wait on until it either explodes or fades into the same obscurity that QR codes and SMS marketing seem to be heading?


Before anyone jumps on that last statement, I'm not downplaying the effectiveness of either QR codes or SMS marketing. Used right, they can be very effective. They simply didn't materialize into the "next big thing" that many thought they would back in 2011.


I have three questions which I'll answer briefly just to spark the conversation, but I really want to hear from the ADM community.


Q1: Should they really be grouped together or should they be treated as independent marketing and communication forms?

There's a certain beauty in SoLoMo. With the rise of smartphones and tablets, the improvements by Google and Bing in serving consumers localized results, and continued expansion of social media into our daily lives, it all seems to tie together nicely. Social is accessed most often from mobile devices. Mobile devices and their operating systems are generating search results, apps, and other tools that tie in perfectly with localized engagement. Local interactions are becoming more prevalent in social media and through review sites.

It would seem that grouping them together is easy enough and presents the ability to save time and resources by consolidating strategies. However, each of the three components also have their own nuances and attributes that may require an active automotive marketing professional (both at the dealership and vendor level) to split the strategies into more focused campaigns and separate styles.

Should they stay grouped or not?


Q2: Is the time and effort required to make them "hum" worth it from an ROI perspective?

Let's get local out of this question immediately. Few would argue with the clear trends and data that shows the value of localized focus. Reviews, search traffic, retargeting - all have shown benefits that make the question silly in regards to local.

Mobile and social are different. Mobile is a tough beast to tame. It requires the right software, platforms, and strategy to get the desired effect, but is the effect worth the effort? Is there a large enough difference between good and great to make it worth the wholesale changes necessary to get to the highest level? Social is always a question from an ROI perspective - enough has been written for and against it so there's no need to rehash here.

Is there enough ROI to justify going to the next level?


Q3: Will SoLoMo grow in relevance or decline in 2013

I'm going to leave that question open. I have very firm beliefs about the direction of SoLoMo in 2013, but I'll hold my opinions until others are posted so as not to spoil the conversation prematurely.

* * *

What say you, ADM?

Read more…

There is a very distinguishable difference between SEO content and content that brings SEO value.

The easiest way to look at it is that SEO content is what you put on each page of your website to let both visitors and the search engines understand what the page is about, while content that brings SEO value isn't necessarily there to help the page rank but to help other pages on the site rank better. The easiest way to create content that has the ability to bring SEO value is to make sure that the content is engaging and that people will be willing to both link to and share the content itself.

This is Part III in the series about “Killing Birds With Content Stones”. Read Part I and Part II first.

It has to be real.

When most internet marketers think of using content for SEO, they think along the lines of using the appropriate keywords in the html content on the page to demonstrate the keywords for which they want the page to rank. This is, in many ways, harder than writing engaging content. There's a lot less science and practically no risk in writing engaging content. It's what Google and Bing want. As a result, giving it to them gives you little chance of triggering anything negative as a result, at least not from the search engines themselves.


With modern SEO, content has gone from being a tool to being the hub. If you use content marketing properly, you can enhance your SEO while still bringing value to the website and social media sites at the same time. Here's how:

How Engaging Content Works for SEO

If you are trained in search engine optimization, get one thing out of your head for the rest of this article. Keywords don't matter in engaging content. Our goals with writing engaging content have nothing to do with getting that page ranked for any particular keywords. It will rank because it's valuable and the keywords that it ranks for do not really matter. The goal is to get traffic, links, and social signals. These types of pages do not have to rank for the keywords that you want and they don't have to convert visitors.


It's hard to understand for many marketers. It's almost unnatural, to want to put out a piece of content that has no direct value from a search or conversion perspective, but it's the indirect value that can be so much more powerful when done right.


These engagement pages are designed to stay loosely on topic with the goals of the company or website, but only so much as to have a reason to exist. Using a car dealer as an example, the vast majority of the site might be geared towards selling cars, servicing cars, or highlighting the dealership, but the engagement content will only touch on the appropriate topics. It could be an article about the local area or even the state itself. At that point, it becomes an opportunity to highlight landing pages that are area specific.


When you create the page, it will be about a topic that allows you to work in links (or in many cases, a single link) to the target landing page. In the example below, the page is about iconic images in Wisconsin while the landing page it links to is specifically geared to rank for the term "Milwaukee Ford Dealers". Do what you can to make sure the link is naturally situated within the content.


The goal is to build a page that is engaging enough to be shared on social media to generate social signals for the domain as well as have the potential to be linked to by other websites that find the content interesting or useful.

Write What Your Visitors Would Want to Read

I've always thought it was easier to take a writer and train them on SEO than to take an SEO and train them to write well. Don't get me wrong - a strong SEO content writer is still valuable, just not as much as they have been in the past. Natural writing is prevailing in the search engines, so as long as someone knows how to properly describe what's going on with a particular page or the website/company as a whole, they should be able to piece together good SEO content.


Writing engaging content is harder and potentially more valuable from an SEO perspective. The example above was designed to appeal to people around the state itself. The subject should always tie in with the target landing page in some way. Since our landing page is targeting Milwaukee but the dealership isn't in Milwaukee, we posted about the entire state and worked in references to the bigger cities in the state - Milwaukee and Madison. Let's say our goal was not to target the brand and a city but rather a model and the local area. We might have posted something like "Most Used and Abused F-150's in Fond du Lac". A piece like that would require much more research and help from either the service department, locals in the community prompted by social media, or both. In that case, the landing page that we would create would likely be an inventory search page for F-150s or even a landing page highlighting the vehicle.


You know your area. You know your brand. You know your products. There's plenty of valuable content available to post about. It doesn't have to be an article or a list of images like the one above. It could be a video, an infographic, a review (written, not scraped or syndicated), or any of a dozen different types of content.


Always think about it from a sharing perspective. Would YOU be interested in sharing the content on social media sites if you didn't work there? Would you be willing to link to the page as a resource or piece of interest if you had a website about the subject? In the example above, the page could be sent to local newspaper websites (particularly if the images were unique to the business), a tourism site, or any website that had an interest in the state of Wisconsin. Schools, government agencies, travel sites - all make for a good potential link. They don't have to link to your target. Your page takes care of that for you. Your goal is to get links and social signals to the engaging content that links to your landing page. It's not as good as getting a direct link or social signals to the target itself, but the vast majority of landing pages do not have enough general interest to make them sharable. This is an alternative to direct links and if done right, it's the most effective way to move the needle in your search rankings.


In the next part, we will describe in detail how to get the most social media benefit from the same piece of content. Stay tuned.

Read more…

There's really no way around it. The only technique to truly maximize the effectiveness of your content to be engaging on your website, relevant for SEO, and useful for social media is to think three-dimensionally.

This is Part II in the series about "Killing Birds With Content Stones". Read Part I first.

We all understand that different content has different purposes. Our goal from an efficiency perspective is to accomplish as many goals as possible with each piece of content without taking away from the effectiveness towards one or more of the goals. It's easy to say that a piece of content helps a little with engagement and social but is really strong for SEO. It's another thing entirely to create a piece of content that works well across the whole spectrum.


It's hard. It's not impossible. Here's how.

Asking the Right Questions Before Producing the Content

Before you can produce the content, you have to make sure that the proposed piece is going to fulfill the goals appropriately. For this portion, we're going to use the example of a car dealership who is diving into content marketing. They want to produce content for their website that is engaging to their visitors, that assists in improving their search engine optimization, and that can effectively be used as content to spread through social media.


Some content is born from brainstorming or simply pops in one's head as a good piece of content to post. Other times, inspiration comes in the form of an event. For example, a Ford dealer in Seattle might have a purple Ford Focus drive into the service bay that inspires a marketing manager. They decide that they want to do a picture post about the different colors of Fords. Before coming up with the plan surrounding the content, they have to ask themselves a few questions.

  • Will this be a piece of content that's interesting to people who visit my site? In this case, the fact that the topic is Ford vehicles makes it interesting enough, but they can add an additional touch to it if they can keep it localized. Rather than just different colors of Fords, they may decide to make it different colors of Fords around Seattle.
  • Can this help with SEO? This is the easy question to answer. For this particular piece of content, since the topic surrounds vehicles themselves, they will be able to link to pages on the website that sell those vehicles. Under the image for the Ford Focus, they'll be able to link to an inventory search for a Focus and anchor it, "Ford Focus for Sale in Seattle".
  • Is it interesting enough to be shared on social media? It might be, particularly if the images are strong enough. Getting it shared on Facebook will be pretty easy if at least one of the images is strong. Getting it retweeted will require some clever titling. Since social media in general and Twitter in particular love trending topics, the marketing manager may decide to latch onto a semi-current topic and title the piece, "15 Shades of Ford Across Seattle", playing on the 50 Shades of Gray phenomenon. It's a little risky considering the subject matter of the book, but it's also been played with enough to allow certain discretion.

Now that we have a topic, it's time to determine the effort and timing.

Force it Now or let it Simmer?

There are two options for a piece of content like this. Since it's only time-sensitive based upon the popularity of the title, it's possible to let the piece simmer and grow over time. More on that later.


The first and most common option is to go for it now. We have the concept. Now, let's put the piece together. We should have the image of the first purple Focus (with permission from the customer, of course). Now, we need more. There should be at least a couple more vehicles on the lot that have interesting colors that make the vehicles look great. This is important - by mixing in some in-house images, it makes the overall story more compelling as it pertains to the business itself. Let's say we have 4 images total. Now, we need more.


Most will go to the internet for this, and they may get lucky and find some good images by searching for "Ford Seattle" in image searches. Even better, they may search for "Ford Mustang Club Seattle" and find images there. Wherever you find the images, always attribute the actual source. If you didn't take the picture, give credit to those who did.


There may be a desire to cheat a little and include images of Fords outside of Seattle, but that would be too risky. If there simply aren't enough available to make a valid piece, they may want to append the title to say, "15 Shades of Ford Across Seattle and Beyond". It's a cheat and not ideal, but efficiency is more important than perfection. If you don't have enough content, don't force it.


In this hypothetical instance, the marketing manager has 9 images - four from the dealership and five local cars they found online. Nine is good but doesn't have the oomph of 15, so if they absolutely must get the piece out now and they don't want to settle for non-local images, it's time to find them in the real world. It could be as simple as sitting at the corner and shooting pictures of a couple of cars at stop lights. This seems cheesy, but there's nothing wrong with it as long as you don't have license plates visible. The marketing manager may drive around searching. This is not ideal, but again, this is assuming you want the piece to go out immediately.


What would be ideal is to go with option two: patience. The content will come. Tell the service writers what you're doing and ask them to keep their eyes out. You may even want to be specific - "I need green, maroon, and light blue to fill out the spectrum."


The other technique is to reach out through social media itself. If your Facebook page is vibrant and has a lot of local fans, ask them for help. Tell them what you're doing and ask them to send in pictures of their own Ford vehicles if they have something that matches your needs. Over time, between what happens at the store and what happens on social media, your patience will pay off and you'll have a much more impressive piece of content than if you force it. This is the difference between good 3D and bad 3D. Both deliver the desired effect but one is more memorable than the other.


Make it Three Dimensional

You've asked the right questions. You have the right content. Now, it's time to make sure that it fulfills all of the goals.

  • Engaging Website Content - If you have a "fun" section on your website such as a blog, this is where you'll want to place the content. The worst thing that can happen is to take someone who wants to do business and distract them with frivolous content, so by placing it on the blog or in an area designed for "fun" topics, you'll keep the serious visitors serious while still engaging with those who are visiting for other reasons. Keep the spin of the content localized - people love seeing what's close to them on the great big internet. It helps to highlight their surroundings, gives them pride in their city, and offers a way for them to get involved with comments such as, "I saw that F-150 at Target the other day."
  • SEO Content - There's nothing wrong with linking to internal pages that are about business. People expect it. While they might not click directly to a search for Ford Fusion inventory, the search engines will definitely follow the link and attribute additional weight to the page as a result.
  • Social Media Content - With a proper three dimensional piece of content, there will be an inherent desire to share it. The content must be interesting enough to share and then must be exposed to locals so they can share it as well. This is most effective on Facebook, of course, where the degrees of separation between people makes an image much more likely to be seen by the owner of the vehicle. Have your employees share the page. They can highlight individual images in their Facebook feed. If you reached out to a local car club, contact them or simply post it on their wall with credit going to them as deserved. The art of exposing the content properly on social media is another blog post entirely, but I think you get the picture.

In the next part, we will describe in detail how to get the most SEO benefit from the content. Stay tuned.
Read more…

In an ideal world, we would have the time and resources to create four types of content: converting website content, engaging website content, SEO content, and social media content.

Throw in public relations content, supporting content, and consumer resources and now you have a ton of content needs without a ton of time to create it.

This is where the bird-hunting content producers of the world can shine. Thankfully, just about anyone at a business can kill multiple birds with each content stone if they know how to do it right.

Understanding the Importance of Each Type of Content

Content that is placed on your website, blog, supporting sites, and social media is normally done so for a reason. Sure, there are people who love to write, take pictures, or shoot videos as a hobby, but in the business world we normally want to get a benefit from our efforts. One of the biggest speed bumps that businesses often make is that they don't know how to properly define the goals of their content. With a proper definition, the content has less of a chance of being successful.

For now, we're not going to look at conversion content, PR, support, or consumer resources. They are much more focused types of content and while it's possible to hit them with content that achieves multiple goals, it's best to attack them individually. For example, you can say that a press release is something that can help with SEO as well as get shared on social media, but it doesn't replace the real SEO content or content that is designed for social media engagement. It's an addition and therefore is normally not crafted to accomplish the other goals as well.

Let's focus on engaging website content, SEO content, and social media content. Done properly, the vast majority of the pieces of content you create for one can apply to all three.

  • Engaging Website Content - This is the content that is designed to bring people in who are not necessarily looking for your product at that particular moment. They were a nice-to-have type of content prior to the Google Penguin update of April, 2012, but now they are absolutely essential thanks to Google's adoration for content that can be enjoyed, that brings value to the visitor, and that can be shared through social media as well as being the target of inbound links. Engaging website content does not sell a product or service. It supports the sale of those products in some way. It might be as direct as showing clever integration methods between an iPhone and a car, showing how the new Ford Fusion has systems that SYNC nicely with your smartphone. It might be as indirect as a gallery of images from different angles of the Seattle Space Needle. For a Seattle Ford Dealer, both of these examples would work nicely to accomplish the goal of making their website engaging to their potential customers.

  • SEO Content - The days of writing content on or off of your site or blog for the sheer sake of manipulating your search rankings are far behind us. 2011's Google Panda update and the several tweaks and improvements since then have forced businesses to take a longer look at quality over quantity. It's about manual and unique versus automated and duplicated. Today's SEO content brings value to the table. This ties in nicely to the other two types of content listed here.

  • Social Media Content - It's hard for many businesses to understand the levels of quality that are required on social media because of the camouflage created by all of the bad content that's shared every day by others. It cannot be understated that well-crafted content posted on social media can bring more value than dozens of low value posts. In fact, these low value posts can actually do harm. Crafting the right content for social media is the only way to tie it in directly with SEO and website engagement.

"Quality" is a buzzword that is dramatically overused in today's content marketing atmosphere. As a result, it's often misunderstood. One does not have to be a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist to post high-quality content. Some of the best content producers I know can barely form a sentence without a grammatical mistake. It's about bringing value, entertainment, or both to the table. It's about being interesting. It's about posting on your expertise, namely the business that you operate. If you sell Fords for a living, chances are you know a lot more than the average Barney or Betty about the capabilities of an F-250 diesel. If you don't, someone at the store does. Use it.

In the next post, we will go into details about "Thinking Three Dimensionally" to help you select the right topics and take the appropriate steps to post. Stay tuned.

Read more…

Let's face it. Websites are becoming a commodity in the automotive world. Most quality website vendors are putting out solutions that are good enough to work well. Few are coming up with innovations that can differentiate them, and those differences are relatively small in the whole scheme of things. The difference between a good and a great website is minimal when translating it to increased sales.

The reason for this is that consumers are becoming increasingly impatient when in car shopping mode. It's not that they don't spend as much time doing it as before. It's that they are doing most of their research on websites other than a dealer's site and only visiting when they're ready to look at live vehicles. At that point, they're going straight to inventory or specials and deciding from there whether to consider doing business with a dealership or not. If you have the right inventory items that they're considering, a bad website isn't going to keep them from contacting you. Conversely, if you don't have the vehicles they're seeking, an amazing website isn't going to coax them into doing business with you.

Websites are websites. Some are better than others and have strong conversion tools, but the real arena through which dealers can move the needle is in the quality of their digital marketing efforts. One of those efforts, search engine marketing, is arguably the greatest opportunity for advancement because it translates into more visitors, more leads, and potentially more sales when done right.

The biggest challenge that dealers with OEM-mandated search marketing products face is in defining competition. From the OEM's perspective, a Ford dealer's competition is the Chevy dealer down the block and the Honda dealer around the corner. They want search exposure that can take sales from the other brands. This is a good and noble cause, but unfortunately it's not the most practical target for individual dealers and dealer groups.

From the perspective of the Ford dealership itself, their primary competition isn't the Chevy dealer and the Honda dealer but rather the other Ford dealers in the area. It's how they're graded; we all see reports every month that tell us how we're doing against other dealerships in the area that sell the same brands. It is for this reason that OEM-mandated search marketing, as affordable as it is, simply isn't the best way to improve sales. At the dealership level, the lowest hanging fruit for increased business is by taking sales from the real competition, namely the other Ford store a few miles away.

As mentioned, there is one advantage to the OEM-mandated search marketing: it's cheaper. It's often paid for in whole or in part and can act as a check box on your marketing. "Yep, we're doing SEO and PPC. The OEM is taking care of that for us."

Unfortunately, that's really the only advantage. It's designed in most cases to keep every dealership inside their own little box. Reaching outside of the direct market area is a no-no for companies that work for the OEMs. In fact, they're goal is to keep the boxes neat and tidy.

When the search marketing is focused at the dealership level, it's a completely different strategy. The goals have changed; it's not that a Ford dealer doesn't want to take market share from a Chevy dealer, but that's a heck of a lot harder than taking a deal from the Ford dealer down the road. Let's say there's a dealer in a small town a few miles from you. They're the only Ford dealer in that town. Everyone in town knows them. When they want to do business with that dealership, they'll search for the dealership by name.

Consumers who search for the dealership by city are looking for an alternative. They know about Bob Ricky's Toyota in the heart of town. If they do a search for "Somewhereville Toyota Dealers" or "Toyota Dealers Near Somewhereville", you'll want your dealership to pop up. People that do searches like that are trying to find someone else from which to buy their Toyota. If they wanted to buy from Bob Ricky's Toyota, they would have searched for "Bob Ricky's Toyota". They didn't. They want someone else. They want you. If you're ranked for that search, there's a good chance they'll check out your website to see if they can do business with you instead of Bob Ricky.

Unfortunately, the OEM-mandated search marketing products aren't designed to help in this regard. In many ways, they're designed to prevent this from happening.

If your goal is to beat the competition, your competition, then don't look to the OEM's search marketing company. Don't just check off the search marketing box and call it a day. Explore your options and see if there's a way to improve your search marketing to focus on helping your dealership the best way you can, by being aggressive and getting your dealership in as many relevant searches as possible.

Read more…

Using Your Website As Your Content Hub

There has been a continued push for corporate and even local business blogging since marketers started discovering the potential benefits several years ago. We're often told that a blog is where you put your content that doesn't necessarily sell your product, and that an offsite-blog is the way to go. In today's content marketing world, both ideas are wrong.


The one constant in internet marketing (and everything else in life) is change. Ideas that worked yesterday may not work today, but may work again tomorrow. It's the nature of the beast. Content marketing is a portion of internet marketing that has evolved rapidly over the years. In recent months, it has become arguably the most important component of an internet marketing strategy because both search engine marketing and social media marketing have become extremely dependent on the quality and style of content.


Blogging is something that every business should be doing. Many are. The challenge is that the concepts of the past are starting to become less valid. For example, many (including us) have said that blogging off of your domain either on a standalone URL or a subdomain of the primary was the best way to go. It allowed for more powerful link-building from a search perspective as well as giving an additional destination that wasn't tied into the primary website. In short, you put your business material on your website and your human material on your blog.


There were those who believed that bulking up the primary website by putting the blog as a subfolder of the primary domain was the way to go. Today, this is correct, but not for the reasons that most once argued. Blogging is no longer an appropriate SEO play, at least not from a "bulk" perspective. The concept that you should blog to get more pages for Google and Bing to index is antiquated. Yes, you should be putting high-quality content on your website, but blog content in the traditional format doesn't quite qualify. Putting content on your website on or off the blog and using it as individual content "hubs" is the (current) right way to do it.


That can change. It almost certainly will. Thankfully, it's not one of those strategies that must be unwound later when things change.


Defining the Blog Versus Site Content Strategies

Pohanka Hyundai i.oniqWhether you put the content on your normal website template or add it to a folder such as "/blog" is determined by a few different factors. There are several different strategies to consider; here are a handful:

  • Blog-Only - With this strategy, every piece of content that you publish that isn't directly associated with selling, business information, or other services goes on the blog. This is ideal if you don't publish very often.
  • Blog "Fun Stuff" and Put Other Content on Your Website - If you're busting out a good flow of content on a regular basis, you may choose this strategy. In it, you'll post "fun" content such as employee-of-the-month or customer-highlights on your blog, but relevant content of general interest on your primary website. The example to the right uses this strategy. In it, a Hyundai dealership posts a promotional video and interesting images of a concept vehicle. This is relevant but not directly associated with selling anything in particular.
  • No Blog - The old ideas of what blogging should and shouldn't be have been blurred over the years. Just about any type of content can go on a blog, but that same content can find a place on the primary website as well. Rather than a chronological posting style, this technique employees categorization in the menu. If you post a customer testimonial, it goes in that category. If you then post a video and images of a concept car, that goes in another category. It doesn't matter when they were posted; both get equal treatment in the menu bar.


Once you've established a style, it's time to get the content out there.


Content Size is Important But Not a Guiding Factor

Size MattersThe biggest mistake that marketers make with blogging is to believe that there are size constraints. Some want all of their posts to be 300-words, 500-words, or larger. Others like to keep it quick and easy. In reality, content is content and as long as it brings value to the visitor, it's worthy regardless of size.


That does not mean that you should post only a paragraph or two with every blog post. Just because it's not a make-or-break deciding factor doesn't mean that you should opt for the shortcut. Let your content size be determined by the potential value it brings. If you have a killer video that tells the whole story, a paragraph will probably be enough to make it a valid piece of content. The video is the star of the page in that scenario, so highlight it.


On the other hand, a resource list of tools that people can use to buy a car should be more than just a list. Describe the pros and cons of each tool. Give a little history about them. Describe why you believe one tool is better than another tool for certain needs.


Above all, remember that high-quality, unique content is what you should be striving for in each piece that you create. Bring something to the table. It's better to spend the time to make a page that people will want to share rather than posting unworthy bulk content over and over again.


Say what you need to say to bring value. No more. No less.

The Importance of the Hub

Hub and SpokeThe hub and spoke model has been used in business, government, and life in general for centuries. You have a centralized focus point from which other components can branch out and draw their strength.


You website content should be your content marketing hub. Some have chosen to turn other tools into their hub such as Facebook, niche communities, or even Tumblr. These strategies can be effective if done right. Doing it right is the challenge; they are extremely difficult to pull off, particularly in a retail setting. Complex strategies surrounding these different styles may prove to be the best way to go in the future, but today the benefits do not outweigh the drawbacks.


Using your website (whether through a blog or your primary website itself) is by far the easiest way to get both a search and social benefit from the content you create. Depending on resources, time, and the type of business you're running, creating your content hub can be approached from different directions but the end result is the same:

  • Make your website sharable

Your goal is to put content on your website that others will be willing to share. The various types of social media sites out there give you a tremendous pool of potential share venues. Facebook and Twitter are the most common, but one mustn't forget Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, and some of the other social sites out there.


A website that gets shared on social media gets benefits from three fronts. The first is obvious; any time your website is shared there's a chance that people will come and visit it. Depending on the power and reach of the profiles sharing it, you might get a nice spike in traffic. Even though it's the most obvious, it's also the least important. Visitors are nice, but those who come from social media shares are often the lowest value.


The second is becoming more important every day. Social signals are important to Google and Bing in their search rankings. They're becoming more important with every update. The more your website content is shared, the better the domain can rank.

  • Notice that I said, "the better the domain can rank."


It's not just the page itself that gets a benefit from your efforts. The domain gains credibility from the shares. If you're a car dealer, there's a good chance that people are not going to share an inventory details page of a vehicle they just found. They're not going to share your service appointment page. They're not going to share your oil change specials.


They will, however, share an interesting video and great images of a Hyundai concept car that they found on your website. By sharing this and similar pages, the search engines give it an authority bump.


The final front from which social media sharing can help is in sheer public perception. This is of light importance today but will grow in coming months as the social sites focus on domain shares. What's happening is this: widgets and apps are displaying "most shared" or "other pages from this domain" on the social sites themselves as well as offsite. The perception that content is sharable on a particular domain is going to become more valid in the near future. If your website has lots of good content that people have shared, they're more likely to explore your website. Again, this is minor today but is growing in importance.


Further Questions

QuestionsIn upcoming articles, we will cover:

  • How to make content that people will want to share
  • Finding content ideas by exploring
  • The proper content sharing structure to gain maximum exposure
  • How to build power accounts that can make "going viral" a possibility


In the meantime, keep reading everything you can about content marketing. It's not just the future. It's already here. Those who do content marketing properly are able to bypass traditional search engine optimization and social media marketing strategies because the content can be positioned to do all of the work for you.

Read more…

Social Signals

In May, 2010, Matt Cutts denied that social signals had an effect on search rankings. In December of the same year, he declared that they were actually starting to work in the buzz and signals they were able to get through social media into the site authority factor of their ranking algorithm. Six months later, Google+ was born.

The Penguin Update and subsequent tweaks to it have changed the way that search engine marketers approach aggressive optimization. The days of running rampant and blasting out bulk links are gone. Today, quality finally trumps quantity and the playing field has been leveled in a way that in essence puts a "governor" on how quickly they can ramp up the rankings on their domains.

Or has it?

As social signals grow in their effects on search rankings for both Google and Bing, the ability to create amazing content and promote it on social media is quickly becoming the most important technique that internet marketers have in their arsenal. In 2013, it will likely eclipse link-building as a ranking factor. Here are three things you must understand to make it work for you today and to be ready for what lies ahead.


"Quality" is a Function of Usefulness and Entertainment Value

Make no mistake. Google and Bing understand the difference between content that is heavily promoted using spammy techniques and content that is truly high-quality. They are employing criteria into their algorithms that mean Tweets, Facebook likes, and Google +1s are not created equally. They are engaging trust factors into the way they understand social signals and they can see right through manufactured results.

In short, they're not stupid. They know that retweets can be bought for pennies. They know that there are rings and networks of people and bots that are designed specifically to beef up likes and +1s. A share from a trusted account is much more influential than a share from one that has been deemed as spammy.

Much like the way they understand the quality of links, they are learning the quality of social signals.

For this reason, quality of content is (finally and thankfully) at the top of the list when it comes to using social signals for both search rankings and social media marketing. One must understand the criteria surrounding what makes something high-quality.

There are multiple types of content and styles of delivery that make the overall equation challenging, but just as one can get close enough in math by substituting pi with 3.14 in their calculations, marketers can get close enough to achieving high quality content if they focus on bringing one of two components to the table when putting their content on their websites.

Usefulnessis the easier of the two. Whatever your business or brand is doing, there's a good chance that you or someone in your company has an expertise in it. You know the tools. You understand the resources. You know what works and what doesn't work.

Apply it. Make content based upon your expertise. Who better than a Ford dealer would know the proper ways to make SYNC work best in a Ford Fusion? People are often baffled by the technology. Ford and Microsoft do what they can to put out resources, but it's the people on the ground at the dealership who deal with it on a daily basis that can offer the real help.

They're the ones who can be useful.

As such, a savvy Ford dealer may write up an article called, "12 Hidden SYNC Options that Aren't on the Menu". In it, they could detail some of the things that SYNC can do that few people know about. It's a sharable piece of content that people can appreciate and that can bring lasting value.

The other easy option for content is the entertainment valueyou can bring to the table. You see things in your business that the average Joe does not. You see things that are amazing, funny, clever, or downright spectacular that have relevance to your brand, products, or services.

If you start thinking along the lines of capturing this content when it happens, you'll find that it's pouring out at you at rates much higher than you could possibly imagine. Let's look at the Ford dealer again. On the surface, one might think that there's not a lot of entertainment happening at a Ford dealership. Dig a little deeper and you'll find that there's plenty. Here are some quick examples:

  • A showcase of local Mustangs that come into the shop or even drive around town
  • Even more unique than the Mustangs, a showcase of modified Fords - lifted trucks, modded Focuses, restored Fairlanes, etc.
  • A video of the service manager playing in her country band at the local bar on Saturday nights
  • An image gallery of the abused brakes that happen in hilly places like Denver or San Francisco
  • A video of a new Ford vehicle hitting up the local attractions

These are just quick brainstorms based upon real content I've seen, but with a little effort and a watchful eye, any business can find and post things with entertainment value.


Individual Content Affects the Domain as Well

This is the hardest transition in understanding for most marketers, whether they come from the search side or the social side. Your content and the social signals that go to it affects the entire domain. Technically, it always has just as link authority was affected by links to individual pieces of content, but going into 2013 there is a stronger focus on showing sharable content within the domain and allowing it to affect the search and social rankings across the board.

This actually makes things easier because the need to force manufactured content upon the visitors is much lower. You don't have to drive links and social signals to a page that was created to rank for "2013 Ford Fusion Los Angeles". Few will organically link to such a page and nobody will organically share such a page on social media. It has no value to anyone other than those looking specifically for the vehicle and none of them will share or link to it.

Going forward, you can create such a page and then support it on search and social by creating quality content pages. Nobody will link to or share that page, but if you create a piece of content called "The Short but Eventful History of the Ford Fusion" and then link to your target page from there, people will be willing to share and link to it. It's an indirect value being added, but in 2013 indirect value through links and social signals will be enough to improve your search and social marketing dramatically.

It isn't just about linked content. By creating a constant flow of quality content that gets shared well on social media, the entire domain itself gets a boost. In testing over the last few months, we've found that this boost can be significant and can improve search rankings across the board.

Moreover, social widgets and apps are being built regularly that help to attribute extremely sharable content within a domain. The "more content from on this social network" widgets are popping up and helping people explore websites based upon their social value rather than just visiting the site and surfing through the navigation bar.

Think of it as two forms of content - the "money" content that can lead to improved business results and the "sharable" content that can support the money content by improving rankings and social traffic.


Highlight Your Content To Ambassadors and Influencers

If a tree falls down in the forest and no one is there to hear it...

The other two concepts were easy. Understanding how to find and create content and understanding the importance it all has to search and social marketing are things that anyone can do. Making it happen from a sharing perspective is the hard part.

Once the sharable content is up and running, you have to get it shared. It's not "A Field of Dreams". Just because you built it doesn't mean that the people will come. You have to highlight it. You have to get people to share it. You need fans.

There are several ways to do it, but here are a few:

  • Become an influencer yourself on social media. Make friends. Post often. Engage in conversations. Most who are influential on social media didn't start out that way. They built their influence by engaging with others. You can guest blog, comment thoughtfully and regularly, and build up your own clout to the point that people see whatever content you post.
  • Use your email lists. If you have a newsletter or other form of bulk email marketing happening right now, get people to share your content. It's not as hard as it may sound. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask. "We posted this article about SYNC tips that we think can be very useful and we would love for you to share it on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ if you agree."
  • Find an ambassador. One of the most successful ambassador campaigns I've seen so far is what Terranea Resort is doing. They brought in local influencers through Klout to spend a weekend at the resort. They then held a contest to see who could share their experience during the weekend to the largest audience. The winner received the title of Ambassador and stays at the resort once a month for a year. During that time, the Ambassador tries out the various room types, restaurants, and amenities offered by the resort for free. In their case, they don't need to create content. They ARE the content.

Be creative. Find ways to promote your brand and the content on your website on social channels now. As search, social, and content merge in 2013, you'll be glad that your strategies merged as well.

* * *

This article was originally featured on Social Media Today.

Read more…

Focus on Value, not Word Count with your Content

It may be the biggest change in the Google algorithm that very few people noticed. The reason they didn't notice is that the change has been slowly happening since February, 2011. Between Panda, Penguin, and the rise of social signals, word count of content is not something that you should ever focus upon when writing content for search engine optimization or social media marketing purposes.


Here's a quick breakdown of the loose timeline. One of the first changes that happened when Panda, Google's low-value content algorithm change of 2011, rolled out was that the total number of unique words in stories had a predictable affect on SEO value. Stories with fewer words were deemed less valuable. This lasted for about a month. I cannot say for sure how the conversation went at Google, but at some point in the early days of Panda Google noticed that there was some great but very short content that was being hurt, while low-quality content with a lot of words was getting favorable treatment. This is where links and social signals started making a quick comeback into the realm of understanding the importance of a piece of content.

The example in the image above is what Google likes today. That's not to say that they don't like long, comprehensive content, but in the case above an infographic with a coupe of paragraphs of content but strong social signals to the page was able to easily trump much longer pieces of content on the same subject. It ranks exceptionally well for the target keywords despite the lack of words.

The content that you post should have a purpose. It should then fulfill this purpose in as few words as possible. This is a dramatic change from the days of old in SEO where more was better. Now, quality trumps quantity (as it does in so many other ways and in other arenas) to the point that giving your readers what they need without loading it with fluff is ideal. They will be more likely to share it, to link to it, and to interact with it if it's something that fits into their schedule. That's not to say that you should only write a couple of paragraphs on any subject and call it a day. It simply means that you should write your content to fit the need, to fulfill the goal, and to become a resource for your readers.

It's quality that makes the difference. You're better off focusing on a topic that is important and of interest to your readers, then bring the value to them quickly.

I do not want to be misunderstood on this: if a topic needs 1500 words to cover it properly, then write 1500 words. The point is that if a topic takes 300 words to cover it, don't think you have to fluff it up to any of the "magic numbers" like 500 words for it to be valid to Google. It doesn't. They know. It's better to have a short, concise, and valuable 200 word article with a graphic that gets shared on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, and other social sites and that people are willing to link to from their websites than to have a piece that's fluffed up to hit a particular word count.

Write what you need to write, no more, no less. Focus on quality and get the concept of word counts out of your mind for good.

Read more…

SEO is Dead... for those who can't keep up

Every few months, marketers around the blogosphere start the next batch of chants that search engine optimization is dying or dead. It's like clockwork; Google makes a change, their pages rank poorly, they declare that the party's over. I think I've written about the topic at least once a year since 2008.


The chants are starting again and I'm here to tell you that, as usual, they are premature. I'm not so naive as to make a statement like "SEO will never die," but the thought that the death is here is silly. It's not dead. It has changed. It changes frequently - perhaps more frequently in recent months - but it's not dead yet. In fact, those who are doing the right things are finding that their rankings are actually improving.


Why They Always Pronounce it Dead

Since the dawn of SEO, there have been tricks that work for a short period of time. We've always taken the stance that anything that smells like a "trick" will not last and should be dismissed. This concept has helped us to stay on top of our searches and the keywords of our clients.


For example, 2007 saw a major increase in the effectiveness of social news and social bookmarking links. It was almost too easy - if you submitted a piece of content to Digg, it would rank for easy keywords within a few hours and for tougher keywords in a few days. Smart marketers refused to play this game knowing that Google would catch on and instead learned to use sites like Digg and Reddit to drive real SEO juice by posting powerful content and exposing it to the social news world. This still applies today for many sites, though they are fading quickly from relevance (except Reddit, which is growing).


Any time one of these tricks stops working, the SEOpocalypse is declared.


The most recent change that has everyone up in arms is the devaluing of automated links. Footer links, sidebar links, link farms - Google and Bing both have found ways to not only discredit these links but to make them harmful when done too much. SEO is dead... for those who couldn't keep up with these changes.


Why SEO isn't Dead

Thankfully, smart marketers did not participate in the automated link-building programs. Personally, I'm shocked it took as long as it did for Google and Bing to figure it out. There was a time in late 2011 that I was starting to doubt my choice of not having our SEO team get in on the link-automation trend. I was getting questioned by some within the company because the path we chose, one of unique content and contextual link generation, was much more expensive to operate than the automated ways.


The corner was finally turned with the Penguin update and subsequent tweaks and my choices were vindicated.


Today, content is no longer a tool for SEO. It is an overarching concept that includes SEO as part of its mandate. In other words, the tool is now the goal and the goals of SEO, reputation, branding, and social media marketing all revolve around quality content.


When you're out there reading about the marketing trends of 2013, take note of those who are pulling away from social media or SEO and those who are pushing forward. This is easy for me to say since it's the direction that my company is heading, but it happens to be the truth. Quality content that people can enjoy, proper link-building and social signal practices that revolve around this content, and social media marketing that doesn't rely on funny cat pictures - these are the real trends that will drive proper marketing in 2013.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Read more…


Some people have a misunderstanding about what is seen and heard through social media. It's happening on two major fronts: personal communications and business communications. Both are completely separate, but the fact that the same basic premise popped up from both angles made picking out this blog topic a no-brainer.

I was talking to a family member who made a surprising statement. "I wish [redacted] was following me on Twitter so I could tell him how I feel about [redacted]."

Now, those of us who use social media often realize the error in this statement. Twitter allows for communication with anyone. Facebook and Google+ can allow for communication with anyone who has their settings open to receive communication from strangers. Many of us have had conversations on social media with celebrities and businesses that weren't following us, but who were open to receiving and responding to these communications.

They don't have to follow you to be listening. More importantly, just because they are following you doesn't mean that they're listening. It's a minor point but we have to get that out of the way before moving on to the business reason for this post...


Customers See Your Business Social Profiles and Pages without Following You

The second instance of misunderstanding came on the same day. I was talking to a potential client who said that they're not worried too much that their Facebook and Twitter accounts hadn't been updated in a couple of months. "We only have a few followers, anyway. It's not like anyone can see these pages."


I had her show me her website analytics. They, like many websites, had links at the bottom of their homepage to their social profiles. The number of clicks from the page to the social profiles wasn't large, but I pointed out that the people doing the clicking were potential customers. Why would they want potential customers to see a lack of efficiency and follow through? Some people hold Facebook and Twitter as important communication tools and when a business demonstrates a lack of interest in social media, it can speak poorly about the company's willingness to listen to and communicate with their customers.

She quickly understood the point and declared that she would have the links removed immediately.

I literally "facepalmed".

We went to Google and looked up the business by name. Facebook was ranked #3. Twitter was #7. She started frowning.

If you're going to have a social media presence, you must either keep it up to date or declare very clearly that you're not active on social media and offer an alternative method of contact. I've never seen it done before (I always push for option 1, of course) but I have heard of businesses leaving their top post as "This is our Facebook page, but we prefer talking to you directly. Please contact us at..."

It's not ideal, but it's better than letting your social presence be an embarrassment.

As social media continues to expand, understanding that your lack of involvement does not mean that your customers aren't looking at you is a must. When you stick your head in the sand, what are you presenting to people looking at you? Your tail end.

Read more…

For the past several years, content has been a component of search engine and social media marketing that fell far below the tricks and techniques that helped achieve business goals. It was possible to be successful with limited or low-quality content. In fact, there are those who were able to succeed with no content at all, fooling the search engines and social media sites with methods that proved to be more fruitful than actually creating content that the audience wanted.


Those days are finally behind us. It has been a long time coming, but now that search engines, social media sites, and people themselves have seen through the tricks, it's a whole new world in marketing. Today, content rests at the top of the marketing funnel with search engine optimization and social media marketing reduced to components of an overall content marketing strategy. Here's what it all means:

Why Content is Finally King

Despite the proclamations of many marketers over the years, content has not been "king" until very recently. It was always useful, but great content without supporting inbound links would not rank and great content without strong social media promotions would not go viral. Things have changed.


Amazing content that is useful, entertaining, or both now has a better opportunity to be seen through both search and social. Google is finding the content more easily, making it possible for it to be found without having to artificially inflate the inbound link count. Today, link-building is still an extremely important component of a proper search strategy, but it must center around quality content rather than boost up poor content.


Good links are still powerful and high-quality content can help to generate these links. With a little seeding, the links can come in more easily than in the past when most of the links that marketers created were bulk rather than quality.


From a social perspective, there's still a distinct need for some promotions. Unlike Google, Facebook and the other social media sites will not actively find your content. However, by getting it a little promotional exposure by sharing it and focusing on it from the website homepage or landing pages, the content can be found. From there, it's a matter of allowing the content to be easily shared.


Rising social sites like Pinterest and Tumblr are ideal for seeding the promotions of content. It can be shared on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ as well, of course, but the tighter communities on Pinterest and Tumblr actually create an easier path to take content viral on social media than the larger sites. There's a need for a strong account or two to promote them, but it's not as involved as building power accounts on Facebook or Twitter. One can be exceptional at Tumblr and Pinterest very quickly.


Content is at the top of the marketing food chain. It's the spark that generates search marketing links and social signals. It's also the source of social media sharing. Rather than use content for SEO or social media marketing, smart marketers will switch it up and use the content as the central point through which search and social marketing can flow.

Read more…

How to Get Links without Breaking the Rules

Despite the rise of social signals and the continued prominence of content as primary search engine optimization tools, high-quality inbound links remain one of the three big components in improving rankings. The automated processes have been devalued; low-quality posts, footer links, and sidebar links are a thing of the past and in excess can actually hurt a website.


Strong, contextual links are still valid. In fact, some have shown that they're more important than ever.


In this infographic by Digital Net Agency, they examine the two different types of link-acquisition strategies. They talk about the six major bad strategies to avoid and then highlight five techniques that work. One in particular, "contributing", should be fleshed out a bit. The idea is that by creating and sharing content that brings value to others, it's possible to generate high-quality contextual links by the sheer merits of the content and its promotion. In essence, if you're bringing value, you'll get value in return.


Click to enlarge.

"Links" image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Read more…