Getting closer to the action: how to keep sports fans engaged

You may think that fans, in their nature, are more engaged with
the team or sport they support than your average customer. And, in some ways,
that’s true. Your fans are already engaged. They actively want to connect with your
brand. They’re emotionally invested in you.

But that’s what makes marketing in the sports sectors so
difficult. Sports conjure up a range of emotions you simply don’t feel when you
buy a pair of trainers or book a haircut.

One day you’re elated.

via GIPHY

The next, it feels like the world has ended.

via GIPHY

Their connection to your brand is entirely emotional. So, when things are going well, especially on the field, engaging is going to be easy. Well, easier. But, when things are going badly, reactions can be erratic, to say the least.

As a sports marketer, you’ve got to stay highly tuned into your
audiences’ mood. This will keep you relevant, and relevance makes engagement a hell
of a lot easier!

This brings us nicely onto our first key takeaway from the
day:

1) Treat fans like part of the team

Fans want to be part of the action. Regardless of whether
they’re regularly attending your events or matches, you should think about every
user in your database as a part of your brand.

Exclusive insights are gold

These can come in a variety of forms, from breaking the latest news to interviews with your players and ambassadors, and competitions to win memorabilia. Depending on the type of fan they are, some content may resonate better. This is where personalization and segmenting your database come into play.

If you’re upfront and open in your welcome program, you can
ask fans what they’d like to receive in their newsletter. If they’re a distant
follower, they might not want to be so concerned with player status updates,
but they do want to know what channel and time the next game is on. Get this
information as quickly as possible to ensure you’re delivering the insight that
will engage the individual the most.

Building your community is essential

Make it as easy as possible for fans to connect – with you,
and with each other. Fan forums can be added to campaigns by including RSS
feeds when building your emails. This not only helps raise the profile of your
forums, but it’s also an invaluable source of user-generated content.

Another way you can foster a strong sense of community amongst your fans is by connecting with your influencers. Whether its social media stars who love playing badminton, or a musician who grew up near your ground, it helps fans feel closer to you, and them.

Never miss a chance to surprise and delight

Take someone from a newsletter subscriber to a member of
your fan club, by offering them the chance to win.

What they win doesn’t have to be big. It could be behind the scenes access to the locker room or a shirt signed by the team. What is important, is that you’re rewarding your fans for their loyalty. Never miss a chance to say thank you – for their support and for staying engaged.

And, don’t forget to get your sponsors involved at this stage. If you’re offering fans the chance to win a tour around your stadium, team-up with your sponsors to help get them there in style. They won’t only be delighted with your brand, but theirs too.

2) Never miss a chance to do something different

Head of Digital at Swansea
AFC
, Rebecca
Edwards-Symmons
, showed us that being brave and taking a risk, can have
amazing results.

Swansea marketing

Swansea AFC’s new American owners empowered them to try
something new –to launch an app unlike any its competitors had. It’s motivation
to do this was simple. It wanted to deliver an experience that had fans at its
core.

With the new app, the Digital team at Swansea wanted fans to
be able to download tickets, access exclusive content and live streams, as well
as offer new opportunities for its sponsors through the creation of bespoke
games.

Its goal was not about revenue, it was about the experience. By implementing single sign-on functionality across all its Swans Club accounts, the team empowered users to engage more, before, during and after games.

3) Champion collaboration

Following on from her amazing talk at the dotdigital Summit,
Fiona Watson from Science in Sport
showed the amazing power of teamwork and collaboration.

To increase its brand awareness, Science in Sport partner with brands that have similar customers but are more obvious competitors. These include the likes of Strava, Muc-off, and Garmin.

To capture new data, Science in Sport set up competitions with the chance to win free merchandise for its partners to promote across their channels. This ranged from a free signed jersey to a year’s supply of SiS sports nutrition.

4) Take inspiration from other industries

Chelsea Warrington, Partner Manager at Movable Ink, outlined three ways sports marketers can learn from other sectors to boost their customer experience.

Retail

Working for a sports brand, you more than likely have merchandise you sell to fans and members. Basically, you’re a retail brand yourself, so you should be using their tactics to boost your customer engagement.

Top retail brands are particularly efficient at using
behavioral data to influence customer actions. Using order confirmation pages
to push similar items in AI-driven product recommendation blocks, are an
amazing way to boost conversions and increase engagement.

Travel

Travel brands such as Best Western, personalize customers’ emails based on the location of their upcoming stay. It pulls in excursions and activities in the local area and suggests these to its visitors.

A sports brand can apply this when fans are traveling to an event or competition. Pull in suggestions for local bars, or car park information, to deliver relevant, engaging and helpful content to your supporters.

Media

Media brand PaddyPower uses APIs to pull in content from other websites to give subscribers the latest information about sporting events.

Sports brands can drive anticipation for upcoming events or matches by pulling in the latest information such as traffic reports, live scores, or team updates. We’re already seeing this tactic being adopted by NHL teams in North America, such as the Montreal Canadiens.

Movable ink marketing

5) Take personalization to new levels

Co-founder of Snaptivity,
Volha Paulovich, spoke about how new technologies are delivering perfectly personalized
experiences.

At Snaptivity, there is a simple formula it believes creates
perfect experiences: content + context + timing = customer engagement.

Today’s experience economy means that people are constantly switching between information sources. While attending a football match, fans can be absorbing information from any number of sources, including the pitch, their phones, and the big screens. Keeping them engaged can be an uphill battle, and that is why context and timing are as important, if not more, than the content your delivering.

Keeping things contextual, such as bearing in mind whether a team has won or lost, is essential. It demonstrates that your there with them, through the highs and the lows.

The Ashes

The post Getting closer to the action: how to keep sports fans engaged appeared first on dotdigital blog.

Reblogged 1 week ago from blog.dotdigital.com

Inspiring action: tips and tricks the nonprofit marketer should know

Being part of such
a demanding and pressurized industry is not easy. For years, dotdigital has
been working to deliver solutions to many NFP pain points. That’s why Engagement
Cloud is the platform of choice for so many non-profit organizations. We decided
to unite our years of insight with the current trends in marketing and use cases
of the innovative work happening right now, in an event dedicated solely to
helping NFPs work smarter and deliver big.

(P.S. it was on a really big boat)

So, without any
further ado, here are the key takeaways we learned aboard HMS Belfast:

Make everything you do T.A.S.T.E-y

As
a not-for-profit organization, you’ve probably done extensive research into the
personas of your donors and volunteers. But, do you remember to apply it in your
marketing comms?

Probably
not.

Gavin Laugenie, Head of Strategy & Insight at dotdigital, broke down the simple tactics you can adopt to ensure your content makes an impact with every type of donor.

Trust

Without trust in your organization, no one is going to be willing to donate their time or money. NFPs, and charities, in particular, suffered massive blows to the amount of trust the public had in them in 2018. It’s more important than ever to the public that NFPs be open and honest about everything they do.

You need to continuously reinforce the message that your nonprofit will put resources to the best use. Whenever you’re publicly recognized in the press, or on social channels, be sure to include it in your emails. Especially in the early stages of the customers’ journey with you.

Altruism

Altruism and a general concern for the wellbeing of others is considered to be the most powerful reason people decide to donate or volunteer for a charity.

Utilize
this in your marketing. Include pictures of your volunteers at work. Create
videos of your work and your volunteers on the front line. Visuals like these
in your email marketing specifically can be very powerful. They show the real
impact you are making to your mission and spur your altruistic subscribers to contribute
in any way they can.

Social

Never
forget about the emotional connection people may have to your cause. It may be
that someone close to them cares about your mission or has been affected by it
personally. That’s often the reason married couples donate together, and friends
join fun runs as a group.

Tell
human stories that help people connect with your organization, and really drive
home the social impact their contributions have helped provide. Videos are particularly
impactful here. Just think about the impact the stories featured in Stand Up 2
Cancer have every year. If they can feel they can relate to your story, the more
likely they will be to get involved.

Taxes

This may not feel like a natural reason, but it resonates with a lot of people today. Especially your high-value givers. Tax breaks for charitable giving are well established in countries such as the US, but in the UK, it more often than not comes in the form of the Gift Aid scheme. And, this is only really brought up when someone is already in the process of donating.

In
your email marketing, creating targeted campaigns around Gift Aid, especially
around the holiday season, is a great way of generating awareness and driving
donations.  

Egoism

People donate or volunteer because of the way it makes them feel. They might not want to phrase it that way, but these donors or volunteers experience a positive feeling similar to a buyer’s high when the act is charitable.

Make sure you say, ‘thank you’ and ‘you’ve made a real difference today’. It’s a great way to encourage these donors and volunteers to repeat their actions. Also, using language like ‘even a little bit makes a big difference’ or asking them to donate time, not money, can make people feel good, without stumbling over the issue of financial constraints.

Breaking the status quo

Jamie Walker and Najmah Salam are still relatively new to Help for Heroes, but they’re at the start of a very exciting journey.

Aware that email is an unbeatable channel to engage audiences and drive donations, they have looked at today’s savvy subscriber and decided that they needed to do something new. Audiences are constantly bombarded by marketing on every channel. Cutting through the noise as an NFP is even harder because you’re not just asking someone to read your email, but do something – really do something – too.

As
a result, they’ve decided to adopt a new approach – #respectheinbox.

But
how? And what does it mean?

Automate for humans

Some people worry automated emails take the human touch out of the message – but this really isn’t the case. You just have to make sure you do it well.

Adding ‘Meet the Team’ emails to your drip or welcome campaigns can create a personal connection with readers. Asking for feedback demonstrates the value you put in their opinions. RSS feeds give a live update of what’s happening in your organization. It also makes it easier for you to take readers on individual journeys based on whether they’re supporters or beneficiaries.

These are just some easy ways to keep your messages personal while saving you time to do what humans do best: create, invent, and innovate.

Less is more

Always be mindful of decision fatigue. The average office worker receives around 121 emails a day. Handheld devices are checked between 80 and 150 time a day. If you overwhelm your email with too much information, it’s simply not going to go in and your impact will be lost.

Keep emails short and punchy. If
you’re asking for donations, sign-ups, or any kind of action, make sure the message
in your email is singular

Read the room

Understand the climate, practice
empathy, and remember that timeliness is effectiveness. This can come in many forms
such as asking for consent before sending emails around the holidays. For Help
for Heroes, this has recently been put into practice as they continuously keep supporters
informed about the progress of the new Office of Veterans Affairs.

This helps you build momentum,
and keeps subscribers engaged.

There’s a time and a place

In other words, don’t be a one-trick pony. Just because data proves that first name personalization in a subject line increases open rates, doesn’t mean every subject line needs to be.

Najmah Help for Heroes

By constantly testing and learning, you’ll soon develop a bank of magic tricks you can pull out to reach your audience at the right time, and in the right place.

By respecting the inbox, Help for Heroes is ensuring that the emails it sends are relevant and engaging. Donors have busy lives, so holding their attention is essential. Adopting this approach is helping Help for Heroes on their mission.

Don’t let fear hold you back

Barry McVeigh of Macmillan Cancer Support and Ralph Johnson from Felinesoft had a single objective when they started working together: help more people, faster!

Macmillan Cancer Support, like many charities in the NFP sector, had left its technology systems in the past as it focused almost entirely on its mission. With its objective in mind, Macmillan turned to Felinesoft to help it accelerate its impact through technology and innovation.

This
required a drastic change in the way the whole organization acted. Cultural
change is never easy, but the success of Macmillan and Felinesoft’s work proves
that you must never let fear hold you back.

Macmillan had a decision-making process that was almost too inclusive, a waterfall approach to information sharing and high demands for success. This slowed the process of change, making innovation hard.

Macmillan NFP event

Together, the two organizations identified the iterative process needed to successfully innovate:

Understand where you are

Start at the very beginning. Yes, you’ll have an end goal, but you can’t get there before you understand where you are today. Evaluate your key metrics, understand the user journey, and how the conversion funnel works.

Generate ideas

Once you know where you are, think about where you want to be. How can you improve your key metrics or the user journey? Empathy is essential to think about what the ideal journey should be.

Get feedback

Feedback from stakeholders is essential. But don’t forget, too many cooks spoil the broth. Get together small focus groups where you can work collaboratively on a solution. Small teams move faster and get to work quicker.

Build and test

You need to be focused on implementation if you’re going to get something done. Act fast and start building your solution as quickly as possible. Testing everything you do is the only way you’ll know if it’s working.

Always be optimizing

Arguably the most important
part, never be afraid to fail. By closely monitoring your goals and KPIs, you’ll
soon find out what’s working and what’s not. Without this environment of trust,
change is never going to happen.

First impressions count

Data,
data, data.

There really is nothing more important to the modern marketer than data. Without data, we can’t engage customers. And for an NFP, an unengaged subscriber is stopping them from getting closer to their mission.

For the founder of eFocus Marketing, Kate Barrett, the second someone subscribes to your newsletter, you need to work hard to engage them, and keep them engaged. Kate looked at a small sample of NFPs and identified three key mistakes that were far too common for a modern marketer.

Opting in was hard

60% of brands had no clearly visible email opt-in on the homepage.

When someone enters your website, they’re expressing an interest in you, so it’s vital to connect with them as soon as possible. Collecting details from these interested parties means you can inspire, educate, and nurture them until they’re ready to donate.

What’s worse is that Kate discovered 30% of NFPs didn’t even offer a newsletter opt-in at the end of a donation. These are people clearly committed to helping you achieve your mission, and they are passing you by, potentially shifting their interests to a more engaging organization with a similar proposition.

Whether you choose to use a popover or a form in your footer, making it easy to subscribe is essential.

Welcome programs were lacking

Even with nearly half of NFPs
sending welcome emails, there’s still a long way for brands to go.

Your welcome email is your first
interaction with a potential supporter. To really drive and inspire action you
need to be telling them your story. What do you do? Who do you help? Why is it
important? And, how can they make a difference?

Break these up into a series of welcome emails and make sure you keep the CTAs to 1 max. per email. Consider carefully what your important messages are, and make sure you’re communicating these from the start.

Communications weren’t continuing

A single welcome email or ‘thank
you for your donation’ is just the start of the journey. Making communications
personal to the reader helps you keep supporters coming back to your cause.

If they’ve donated, don’t leave it at thank you. Show them how their money is being used and the progress that is being made thanks to them. If they’re regular fundraisers, show them how much they’ve raised and whose lives they’ve made a difference to.

To avoid these mistakes, you need to know your audience. The data you have on them facilitates the conversation – you just need to use it to get maximum returns on your emails marketing.

The post Inspiring action: tips and tricks the nonprofit marketer should know appeared first on dotdigital blog.

Reblogged 2 weeks ago from blog.dotdigital.com

Stop Ghost Spam in Google Analytics with One Filter

Posted by CarloSeo

The spam in Google Analytics (GA) is becoming a serious issue. Due to a deluge of referral spam from social buttons, adult sites, and many, many other sources, people are starting to become overwhelmed by all the filters they are setting up to manage the useless data they are receiving.

The good news is, there is no need to panic. In this post, I’m going to focus on the most common mistakes people make when fighting spam in GA, and explain an efficient way to prevent it.

But first, let’s make sure we understand how spam works. A couple of months ago, Jared Gardner wrote an excellent article explaining what referral spam is, including its intended purpose. He also pointed out some great examples of referral spam.

Types of spam

The spam in Google Analytics can be categorized by two types: ghosts and crawlers.

Ghosts

The vast majority of spam is this type. They are called ghosts because they never access your site. It is important to keep this in mind, as it’s key to creating a more efficient solution for managing spam.

As unusual as it sounds, this type of spam doesn’t have any interaction with your site at all. You may wonder how that is possible since one of the main purposes of GA is to track visits to our sites.

They do it by using the Measurement Protocol, which allows people to send data directly to Google Analytics’ servers. Using this method, and probably randomly generated tracking codes (UA-XXXXX-1) as well, the spammers leave a “visit” with fake data, without even knowing who they are hitting.

Crawlers

This type of spam, the opposite to ghost spam, does access your site. As the name implies, these spam bots crawl your pages, ignoring rules like those found in robots.txt that are supposed to stop them from reading your site. When they exit your site, they leave a record on your reports that appears similar to a legitimate visit.

Crawlers are harder to identify because they know their targets and use real data. But it is also true that new ones seldom appear. So if you detect a referral in your analytics that looks suspicious, researching it on Google or checking it against this list might help you answer the question of whether or not it is spammy.

Most common mistakes made when dealing with spam in GA

I’ve been following this issue closely for the last few months. According to the comments people have made on my articles and conversations I’ve found in discussion forums, there are primarily three mistakes people make when dealing with spam in Google Analytics.

Mistake #1. Blocking ghost spam from the .htaccess file

One of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to block Ghost Spam from the .htaccess file.

For those who are not familiar with this file, one of its main functions is to allow/block access to your site. Now we know that ghosts never reach your site, so adding them here won’t have any effect and will only add useless lines to your .htaccess file.

Ghost spam usually shows up for a few days and then disappears. As a result, sometimes people think that they successfully blocked it from here when really it’s just a coincidence of timing.

Then when the spammers later return, they get worried because the solution is not working anymore, and they think the spammer somehow bypassed the barriers they set up.

The truth is, the .htaccess file can only effectively block crawlers such as buttons-for-website.com and a few others since these access your site. Most of the spam can’t be blocked using this method, so there is no other option than using filters to exclude them.

Mistake #2. Using the referral exclusion list to stop spam

Another error is trying to use the referral exclusion list to stop the spam. The name may confuse you, but this list is not intended to exclude referrals in the way we want to for the spam. It has other purposes.

For example, when a customer buys something, sometimes they get redirected to a third-party page for payment. After making a payment, they’re redirected back to you website, and GA records that as a new referral. It is appropriate to use referral exclusion list to prevent this from happening.

If you try to use the referral exclusion list to manage spam, however, the referral part will be stripped since there is no preexisting record. As a result, a direct visit will be recorded, and you will have a bigger problem than the one you started with since. You will still have spam, and direct visits are harder to track.

Mistake #3. Worrying that bounce rate changes will affect rankings

When people see that the bounce rate changes drastically because of the spam, they start worrying about the impact that it will have on their rankings in the SERPs.

bounce.png

This is another mistake commonly made. With or without spam, Google doesn’t take into consideration Google Analytics metrics as a ranking factor. Here is an explanation about this from Matt Cutts, the former head of Google’s web spam team.

And if you think about it, Cutts’ explanation makes sense; because although many people have GA, not everyone uses it.

Assuming your site has been hacked

Another common concern when people see strange landing pages coming from spam on their reports is that they have been hacked.

landing page

The page that the spam shows on the reports doesn’t exist, and if you try to open it, you will get a 404 page. Your site hasn’t been compromised.

But you have to make sure the page doesn’t exist. Because there are cases (not spam) where some sites have a security breach and get injected with pages full of bad keywords to defame the website.

What should you worry about?

Now that we’ve discarded security issues and their effects on rankings, the only thing left to worry about is your data. The fake trail that the spam leaves behind pollutes your reports.

It might have greater or lesser impact depending on your site traffic, but everyone is susceptible to the spam.

Small and midsize sites are the most easily impacted – not only because a big part of their traffic can be spam, but also because usually these sites are self-managed and sometimes don’t have the support of an analyst or a webmaster.

Big sites with a lot of traffic can also be impacted by spam, and although the impact can be insignificant, invalid traffic means inaccurate reports no matter the size of the website. As an analyst, you should be able to explain what’s going on in even in the most granular reports.

You only need one filter to deal with ghost spam

Usually it is recommended to add the referral to an exclusion filter after it is spotted. Although this is useful for a quick action against the spam, it has three big disadvantages.

  • Making filters every week for every new spam detected is tedious and time-consuming, especially if you manage many sites. Plus, by the time you apply the filter, and it starts working, you already have some affected data.
  • Some of the spammers use direct visits along with the referrals.
  • These direct hits won’t be stopped by the filter so even if you are excluding the referral you will sill be receiving invalid traffic, which explains why some people have seen an unusual spike in direct traffic.

Luckily, there is a good way to prevent all these problems. Most of the spam (ghost) works by hitting GA’s random tracking-IDs, meaning the offender doesn’t really know who is the target, and for that reason either the hostname is not set or it uses a fake one. (See report below)

Ghost-Spam.png

You can see that they use some weird names or don’t even bother to set one. Although there are some known names in the list, these can be easily added by the spammer.

On the other hand, valid traffic will always use a real hostname. In most of the cases, this will be the domain. But it also can also result from paid services, translation services, or any other place where you’ve inserted GA tracking code.

Valid-Referral.png

Based on this, we can make a filter that will include only hits that use real hostnames. This will automatically exclude all hits from ghost spam, whether it shows up as a referral, keyword, or pageview; or even as a direct visit.

To create this filter, you will need to find the report of hostnames. Here’s how:

  1. Go to the Reporting tab in GA
  2. Click on Audience in the lefthand panel
  3. Expand Technology and select Network
  4. At the top of the report, click on Hostname

Valid-list

You will see a list of all hostnames, including the ones that the spam uses. Make a list of all the valid hostnames you find, as follows:

  • yourmaindomain.com
  • blog.yourmaindomain.com
  • es.yourmaindomain.com
  • payingservice.com
  • translatetool.com
  • anotheruseddomain.com

For small to medium sites, this list of hostnames will likely consist of the main domain and a couple of subdomains. After you are sure you got all of them, create a regular expression similar to this one:

yourmaindomain\.com|anotheruseddomain\.com|payingservice\.com|translatetool\.com

You don’t need to put all of your subdomains in the regular expression. The main domain will match all of them. If you don’t have a view set up without filters, create one now.

Then create a Custom Filter.

Make sure you select INCLUDE, then select “Hostname” on the filter field, and copy your expression into the Filter Pattern box.

filter

You might want to verify the filter before saving to check that everything is okay. Once you’re ready, set it to save, and apply the filter to all the views you want (except the view without filters).

This single filter will get rid of future occurrences of ghost spam that use invalid hostnames, and it doesn’t require much maintenance. But it’s important that every time you add your tracking code to any service, you add it to the end of the filter.

Now you should only need to take care of the crawler spam. Since crawlers access your site, you can block them by adding these lines to the .htaccess file:

## STOP REFERRER SPAM 
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} semalt\.com [NC,OR] 
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} buttons-for-website\.com [NC] 
RewriteRule .* - [F]

It is important to note that this file is very sensitive, and misplacing a single character it it can bring down your entire site. Therefore, make sure you create a backup copy of your .htaccess file prior to editing it.

If you don’t feel comfortable messing around with your .htaccess file, you can alternatively make an expression with all the crawlers, then and add it to an exclude filter by Campaign Source.

Implement these combined solutions, and you will worry much less about spam contaminating your analytics data. This will have the added benefit of freeing up more time for you to spend actually analyze your valid data.

After stopping spam, you can also get clean reports from the historical data by using the same expressions in an Advance Segment to exclude all the spam.

Bonus resources to help you manage spam

If you still need more information to help you understand and deal with the spam on your GA reports, you can read my main article on the subject here: http://www.ohow.co/what-is-referrer-spam-how-stop-it-guide/.

Additional information on how to stop spam can be found at these URLs:

In closing, I am eager to hear your ideas on this serious issue. Please share them in the comments below.

(Editor’s Note: All images featured in this post were created by the author.)

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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Distance from Perfect

Posted by wrttnwrd

In spite of all the advice, the strategic discussions and the conference talks, we Internet marketers are still algorithmic thinkers. That’s obvious when you think of SEO.

Even when we talk about content, we’re algorithmic thinkers. Ask yourself: How many times has a client asked you, “How much content do we need?” How often do you still hear “How unique does this page need to be?”

That’s 100% algorithmic thinking: Produce a certain amount of content, move up a certain number of spaces.

But you and I know it’s complete bullshit.

I’m not suggesting you ignore the algorithm. You should definitely chase it. Understanding a little bit about what goes on in Google’s pointy little head helps. But it’s not enough.

A tale of SEO woe that makes you go “whoa”

I have this friend.

He ranked #10 for “flibbergibbet.” He wanted to rank #1.

He compared his site to the #1 site and realized the #1 site had five hundred blog posts.

“That site has five hundred blog posts,” he said, “I must have more.”

So he hired a few writers and cranked out five thousand blogs posts that melted Microsoft Word’s grammar check. He didn’t move up in the rankings. I’m shocked.

“That guy’s spamming,” he decided, “I’ll just report him to Google and hope for the best.”

What happened? Why didn’t adding five thousand blog posts work?

It’s pretty obvious: My, uh, friend added nothing but crap content to a site that was already outranked. Bulk is no longer a ranking tactic. Google’s very aware of that tactic. Lots of smart engineers have put time into updates like Panda to compensate.

He started like this:

And ended up like this:
more posts, no rankings

Alright, yeah, I was Mr. Flood The Site With Content, way back in 2003. Don’t judge me, whippersnappers.

Reality’s never that obvious. You’re scratching and clawing to move up two spots, you’ve got an overtasked IT team pushing back on changes, and you’ve got a boss who needs to know the implications of every recommendation.

Why fix duplication if rel=canonical can address it? Fixing duplication will take more time and cost more money. It’s easier to paste in one line of code. You and I know it’s better to fix the duplication. But it’s a hard sell.

Why deal with 302 versus 404 response codes and home page redirection? The basic user experience remains the same. Again, we just know that a server should return one home page without any redirects and that it should send a ‘not found’ 404 response if a page is missing. If it’s going to take 3 developer hours to reconfigure the server, though, how do we justify it? There’s no flashing sign reading “Your site has a problem!”

Why change this thing and not that thing?

At the same time, our boss/client sees that the site above theirs has five hundred blog posts and thousands of links from sites selling correspondence MBAs. So they want five thousand blog posts and cheap links as quickly as possible.

Cue crazy music.

SEO lacks clarity

SEO is, in some ways, for the insane. It’s an absurd collection of technical tweaks, content thinking, link building and other little tactics that may or may not work. A novice gets exposed to one piece of crappy information after another, with an occasional bit of useful stuff mixed in. They create sites that repel search engines and piss off users. They get more awful advice. The cycle repeats. Every time it does, best practices get more muddled.

SEO lacks clarity. We can’t easily weigh the value of one change or tactic over another. But we can look at our changes and tactics in context. When we examine the potential of several changes or tactics before we flip the switch, we get a closer balance between algorithm-thinking and actual strategy.

Distance from perfect brings clarity to tactics and strategy

At some point you have to turn that knowledge into practice. You have to take action based on recommendations, your knowledge of SEO, and business considerations.

That’s hard when we can’t even agree on subdomains vs. subfolders.

I know subfolders work better. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Let the flaming comments commence.

To get clarity, take a deep breath and ask yourself:

“All other things being equal, will this change, tactic, or strategy move my site closer to perfect than my competitors?”

Breaking it down:

“Change, tactic, or strategy”

A change takes an existing component or policy and makes it something else. Replatforming is a massive change. Adding a new page is a smaller one. Adding ALT attributes to your images is another example. Changing the way your shopping cart works is yet another.

A tactic is a specific, executable practice. In SEO, that might be fixing broken links, optimizing ALT attributes, optimizing title tags or producing a specific piece of content.

A strategy is a broader decision that’ll cause change or drive tactics. A long-term content policy is the easiest example. Shifting away from asynchronous content and moving to server-generated content is another example.

“Perfect”

No one knows exactly what Google considers “perfect,” and “perfect” can’t really exist, but you can bet a perfect web page/site would have all of the following:

  1. Completely visible content that’s perfectly relevant to the audience and query
  2. A flawless user experience
  3. Instant load time
  4. Zero duplicate content
  5. Every page easily indexed and classified
  6. No mistakes, broken links, redirects or anything else generally yucky
  7. Zero reported problems or suggestions in each search engines’ webmaster tools, sorry, “Search Consoles”
  8. Complete authority through immaculate, organically-generated links

These 8 categories (and any of the other bazillion that probably exist) give you a way to break down “perfect” and help you focus on what’s really going to move you forward. These different areas may involve different facets of your organization.

Your IT team can work on load time and creating an error-free front- and back-end. Link building requires the time and effort of content and outreach teams.

Tactics for relevant, visible content and current best practices in UX are going to be more involved, requiring research and real study of your audience.

What you need and what resources you have are going to impact which tactics are most realistic for you.

But there’s a basic rule: If a website would make Googlebot swoon and present zero obstacles to users, it’s close to perfect.

“All other things being equal”

Assume every competing website is optimized exactly as well as yours.

Now ask: Will this [tactic, change or strategy] move you closer to perfect?

That’s the “all other things being equal” rule. And it’s an incredibly powerful rubric for evaluating potential changes before you act. Pretend you’re in a tie with your competitors. Will this one thing be the tiebreaker? Will it put you ahead? Or will it cause you to fall behind?

“Closer to perfect than my competitors”

Perfect is great, but unattainable. What you really need is to be just a little perfect-er.

Chasing perfect can be dangerous. Perfect is the enemy of the good (I love that quote. Hated Voltaire. But I love that quote). If you wait for the opportunity/resources to reach perfection, you’ll never do anything. And the only way to reduce distance from perfect is to execute.

Instead of aiming for pure perfection, aim for more perfect than your competitors. Beat them feature-by-feature, tactic-by-tactic. Implement strategy that supports long-term superiority.

Don’t slack off. But set priorities and measure your effort. If fixing server response codes will take one hour and fixing duplication will take ten, fix the response codes first. Both move you closer to perfect. Fixing response codes may not move the needle as much, but it’s a lot easier to do. Then move on to fixing duplicates.

Do the 60% that gets you a 90% improvement. Then move on to the next thing and do it again. When you’re done, get to work on that last 40%. Repeat as necessary.

Take advantage of quick wins. That gives you more time to focus on your bigger solutions.

Sites that are “fine” are pretty far from perfect

Google has lots of tweaks, tools and workarounds to help us mitigate sub-optimal sites:

  • Rel=canonical lets us guide Google past duplicate content rather than fix it
  • HTML snapshots let us reveal content that’s delivered using asynchronous content and JavaScript frameworks
  • We can use rel=next and prev to guide search bots through outrageously long pagination tunnels
  • And we can use rel=nofollow to hide spammy links and banners

Easy, right? All of these solutions may reduce distance from perfect (the search engines don’t guarantee it). But they don’t reduce it as much as fixing the problems.
Just fine does not equal fixed

The next time you set up rel=canonical, ask yourself:

“All other things being equal, will using rel=canonical to make up for duplication move my site closer to perfect than my competitors?”

Answer: Not if they’re using rel=canonical, too. You’re both using imperfect solutions that force search engines to crawl every page of your site, duplicates included. If you want to pass them on your way to perfect, you need to fix the duplicate content.

When you use Angular.js to deliver regular content pages, ask yourself:

“All other things being equal, will using HTML snapshots instead of actual, visible content move my site closer to perfect than my competitors?”

Answer: No. Just no. Not in your wildest, code-addled dreams. If I’m Google, which site will I prefer? The one that renders for me the same way it renders for users? Or the one that has to deliver two separate versions of every page?

When you spill banner ads all over your site, ask yourself…

You get the idea. Nofollow is better than follow, but banner pollution is still pretty dang far from perfect.

Mitigating SEO issues with search engine-specific tools is “fine.” But it’s far, far from perfect. If search engines are forced to choose, they’ll favor the site that just works.

Not just SEO

By the way, distance from perfect absolutely applies to other channels.

I’m focusing on SEO, but think of other Internet marketing disciplines. I hear stuff like “How fast should my site be?” (Faster than it is right now.) Or “I’ve heard you shouldn’t have any content below the fold.” (Maybe in 2001.) Or “I need background video on my home page!” (Why? Do you have a reason?) Or, my favorite: “What’s a good bounce rate?” (Zero is pretty awesome.)

And Internet marketing venues are working to measure distance from perfect. Pay-per-click marketing has the quality score: A codified financial reward applied for seeking distance from perfect in as many elements as possible of your advertising program.

Social media venues are aggressively building their own forms of graphing, scoring and ranking systems designed to separate the good from the bad.

Really, all marketing includes some measure of distance from perfect. But no channel is more influenced by it than SEO. Instead of arguing one rule at a time, ask yourself and your boss or client: Will this move us closer to perfect?

Hell, you might even please a customer or two.

One last note for all of the SEOs in the crowd. Before you start pointing out edge cases, consider this: We spend our days combing Google for embarrassing rankings issues. Every now and then, we find one, point, and start yelling “SEE! SEE!!!! THE GOOGLES MADE MISTAKES!!!!” Google’s got lots of issues. Screwing up the rankings isn’t one of them.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

The Importance of Being Different: Creating a Competitive Advantage With Your USP

Posted by TrentonGreener

“The one who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. Those who walk alone are likely to find themselves in places no one has ever been before.”

While this quote has been credited to everyone from Francis Phillip Wernig, under the pseudonym Alan Ashley-Pitt, to Einstein himself, the powerful message does not lose its substance no matter whom you choose to credit. There is a very important yet often overlooked effect of not heeding this warning. One which can be applied to all aspects of life. From love and happiness, to business and marketing, copying what your competitors are doing and failing to forge your own path can be a detrimental mistake.

While as marketers we are all acutely aware of the importance of differentiation, we’ve been trained for the majority of our lives to seek out the norm.

We spend the majority of our adolescent lives trying desperately not to be different. No one has ever been picked on for being too normal or not being different enough. We would beg our parents to buy us the same clothes little Jimmy or little Jamie wore. We’d want the same backpack and the same bike everyone else had. With the rise of the cell phone and later the smartphone, on hands and knees, we begged and pleaded for our parents to buy us the Razr, the StarTAC (bonus points if you didn’t have to Google that one), and later the iPhone. Did we truly want these things? Yes, but not just because they were cutting edge and nifty. We desired them because the people around us had them. We didn’t want to be the last to get these devices. We didn’t want to be different.

Thankfully, as we mature we begin to realize the fallacy that is trying to be normal. We start to become individuals and learn to appreciate that being different is often seen as beautiful. However, while we begin to celebrate being different on a personal level, it does not always translate into our business or professional lives.

We unconsciously and naturally seek out the normal, and if we want to be different—truly different in a way that creates an advantage—we have to work for it.

The truth of the matter is, anyone can be different. In fact, we all are very different. Even identical twins with the same DNA will often have starkly different personalities. As a business, the real challenge lies in being different in a way that is relevant, valuable to your audience, and creates an advantage.

“Strong products and services are highly differentiated from all other products and services. It’s that simple. It’s that difficult.” – Austin McGhie, Brand Is a Four Letter Word

Let’s explore the example of Revel Hotel & Casino. Revel is a 70-story luxury casino in Atlantic City that was built in 2012. There is simply not another casino of the same class in Atlantic City, but there might be a reason for this. Even if you’re not familiar with the city, a quick jump onto Atlantic City’s tourism website reveals that of the five hero banners that rotate, not one specifically mentions gambling, but three reference the boardwalk. This is further illustrated when exploring their internal linking structure. The beaches, boardwalk, and shopping all appear before a single mention of casinos. There simply isn’t as much of a market for high-end gamblers in the Atlantic City area; in the states Las Vegas serves that role. So while Revel has a unique advantage, their ability to attract customers to their resort has not resulted in profitable earnings reports. In Q2 2012, Revel had a gross operating loss of $35.177M, and in Q3 2012 that increased to $36.838M.

So you need to create a unique selling proposition (also known as unique selling point and commonly referred to as a USP), and your USP needs to be valuable to your audience and create a competitive advantage. Sounds easy enough, right? Now for the kicker. That advantage needs to be as sustainable as physically possible over the long term.

“How long will it take our competitors to duplicate our advantage?”

You really need to explore this question and the possible solutions your competitors could utilize to play catch-up or duplicate what you’ve done. Look no further than Google vs Bing to see this in action. No company out there is going to just give up because your USP is so much better; most will pivot or adapt in some way.

Let’s look at a Seattle-area coffee company of which you may or may not be familiar. Starbucks has tried quite a few times over the years to level-up their tea game with limited success, but the markets that Starbucks has really struggled to break into are the pastry, breads, dessert, and food markets.

Other stores had more success in these markets, and they thought that high-quality teas and bakery items were the USPs that differentiated them from the Big Bad Wolf that is Starbucks. And while they were right to think that their brick house would save them from the Big Bad Wolf for some time, this fable doesn’t end with the Big Bad Wolf in a boiling pot.

Never underestimate your competitor’s ability to be agile, specifically when overcoming a competitive disadvantage.

If your competitor can’t beat you by making a better product or service internally, they can always choose to buy someone who can.

After months of courting, on June 4th, 2012 Starbucks announced that they had come to an agreement to purchase La Boulange in order to “elevate core food offerings and build a premium, artisanal bakery brand.” If you’re a small-to-medium sized coffee shop and/or bakery that even indirectly competed with Starbucks, a new challenger approaches. And while those tea shops momentarily felt safe within the brick walls that guarded their USP, on the final day of that same year, the Big Bad Wolf huffed and puffed and blew a stack of cash all over Teavana. Making Teavana a wholly-owned subsidiary of Starbucks for the low, low price of $620M.

Sarcasm aside, this does a great job of illustrating the ability of companies—especially those with deep pockets—to be agile, and demonstrates that they often have an uncanny ability to overcome your company’s competitive advantage. In seven months, Starbucks went from a minor player in these markets to having all the tools they need to dominate tea and pastries. Have you tried their raspberry pound cake? It’s phenomenal.

Why does this matter to me?

Ok, we get it. We need to be different, and in a way that is relevant, valuable, defensible, and sustainable. But I’m not the CEO, or even the CMO. I cannot effect change on a company level; why does this matter to me?

I’m a firm believer that you effect change no matter what the name plate on your desk may say. Sure, you may not be able to call an all-staff meeting today and completely change the direction of your company tomorrow, but you can effect change on the parts of the business you do touch. No matter your title or area of responsibility, you need to know your company’s, client’s, or even a specific piece of content’s USP, and you need to ensure it is applied liberally to all areas of your work.

Look at this example SERP for “Mechanics”:

While yes, this search is very likely to be local-sensitive, that doesn’t mean you can’t stand out. Every single AdWords result, save one, has only the word “Mechanics” in the headline. (While the top of page ad is pulling description line 1 into the heading, the actual headline is still only “Mechanic.”) But even the one headline that is different doesn’t do a great job of illustrating the company’s USP. Mechanics at home? Whose home? Mine or theirs? I’m a huge fan of Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think,” and in this scenario there are too many questions I need answered before I’m willing to click through. “Mechanics; We Come To You” or even “Traveling Mechanics” illustrates this point much more clearly, and still fits within the 25-character limit for the headline.

If you’re an AdWords user, no matter how big or small your monthly spend may be, take a look at your top 10-15 keywords by volume and evaluate how well you’re differentiating yourself from the other brands in your industry. Test ad copy that draws attention to your USP and reap the rewards.

Now while this is simply an AdWords text ad example, the same concept can be applied universally across all of marketing.

Title tags & meta descriptions

As we alluded to above, not only do companies have USPs, but individual pieces of content can, and should, have their own USP. Use your title tag and meta description to illustrate what differentiates your piece of content from the competition and do so in a way that attracts the searcher’s click. Use your USP to your advantage. If you have already established a strong brand within a specific niche, great! Now use it to your advantage. Though it’s much more likely that you are competing against a strong brand, and in these scenarios ask yourself, “What makes our content different from theirs?” The answer you come up with is your content’s USP. Call attention to that in your title tag and meta description, and watch the CTR climb.

I encourage you to hop into your own site’s analytics and look at your top 10-15 organic landing pages and see how well you differentiate yourself. Even if you’re hesitant to negatively affect your inbound gold mines by changing the title tags, run a test and change up your meta description to draw attention to your USP. In an hour’s work, you just may make the change that pushes you a little further up those SERPs.

Branding

Let’s break outside the world of digital marketing and look at the world of branding. Tom’s Shoes competes against some heavy hitters in Nike, Adidas, Reebok, and Puma just to name a few. While Tom’s can’t hope to compete against the marketing budgets of these companies in a fair fight, they instead chose to take what makes them different, their USP, and disseminate it every chance they get. They have labeled themselves “The One for One” company. It’s in their homepage’s title tag, in every piece of marketing they put out, and it smacks you in the face when you land on their site. They even use the call-to-action “Get Good Karma” throughout their site.

Now as many of us may know, partially because of the scandal it created in late 2013, Tom’s is not actually a non-profit organization. No matter how you feel about the matter, this marketing strategy has created a positive effect on their bottom line. Fast Company conservatively estimated their revenues in 2013 at $250M, with many estimates being closer to the $300M mark. Not too bad of a slice of the pie when competing against the powerhouses Tom’s does.

Wherever you stand on this issue, Tom’s Shoes has done a phenomenal job of differentiating their brand from the big hitters in their industry.

Know your USP and disseminate it every chance you get.

This is worth repeating. Know your USP and disseminate it every chance you get, whether that be in title tags, ad copy, on-page copy, branding, or any other segment of your marketing campaigns. Online or offline, be different. And remember the quote that we started with, “The one who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. Those who walk alone are likely to find themselves in places no one has ever been before.”

The amount of marketing knowledge that can be taken from this one simple statement is astounding. Heed the words, stand out from the crowd, and you will have success.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it