How Much Has Link Building Changed in Recent Years?

Posted by Paddy_Moogan

I get asked this question a lot. It’s mainly asked by people who are considering buying my link building book and want to know whether it’s still up to date. This is understandable given that the first edition was published in February 2013 and our industry has a deserved reputation for always changing.

I find myself giving the same answer, even though I’ve been asked it probably dozens of times in the last two years—”not that much”. I don’t think this is solely due to the book itself standing the test of time, although I’ll happily take a bit of credit for that 🙂 I think it’s more a sign of our industry as a whole not changing as much as we’d like to think.

I started to question myself and if I was right and honestly, it’s one of the reasons it has taken me over two years to release the second edition of the book.

So I posed this question to a group of friends not so long ago, some via email and some via a Facebook group. I was expecting to be called out by many of them because my position was that in reality, it hasn’t actually changed that much. The thing is, many of them agreed and the conversations ended with a pretty long thread with lots of insights. In this post, I’d like to share some of them, share what my position is and talk about what actually has changed.

My personal view

Link building hasn’t changed as much we think it has.

The core principles of link building haven’t changed. The signals around link building have changed, but mainly around new machine learning developments that have indirectly affected what we do. One thing that has definitely changed is the mindset of SEOs (and now clients) towards link building.

I think the last big change to link building came in April 2012 when Penguin rolled out. This genuinely did change our industry and put to bed a few techniques that should never have worked so well in the first place.

Since then, we’ve seen some things change, but the core principles haven’t changed if you want to build a business that will be around for years to come and not run the risk of being hit by a link related Google update. For me, these principles are quite simple:

  • You need to deserve links – either an asset you create or your product
  • You need to put this asset in front of a relevant audience who have the ability to share it
  • You need consistency – one new asset every year is unlikely to cut it
  • Anything that scales is at risk

For me, the move towards user data driving search results + machine learning has been the biggest change we’ve seen in recent years and it’s still going.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into all of this and I’ll talk about how this relates to link building.

The typical mindset for building links has changed

I think that most SEOs are coming round to the idea that you can’t get away with building low quality links any more, not if you want to build a sustainable, long-term business. Spammy link building still works in the short-term and I think it always will, but it’s much harder than it used to be to sustain websites that are built on spam. The approach is more “churn and burn” and spammers are happy to churn through lots of domains and just make a small profit on each one before moving onto another.

For everyone else, it’s all about the long-term and not putting client websites at risk.

This has led to many SEOs embracing different forms of link building and generally starting to use content as an asset when it comes to attracting links. A big part of me feels that it was actually Penguin in 2012 that drove the rise of content marketing amongst SEOs, but that’s a post for another day…! For today though, this goes some way towards explain the trend we see below.

Slowly but surely, I’m seeing clients come to my company already knowing that low quality link building isn’t what they want. It’s taken a few years after Penguin for it to filter down to client / business owner level, but it’s definitely happening. This is a good thing but unfortunately, the main reason for this is that most of them have been burnt in the past by SEO companies who have built low quality links without giving thought to building good quality ones too.

I have no doubt that it’s this change in mindset which has led to trends like this:

The thing is, I don’t think this was by choice.

Let’s be honest. A lot of us used the kind of link building tactics that Google no longer like because they worked. I don’t think many SEOs were under the illusion that it was genuinely high quality stuff, but it worked and it was far less risky to do than it is today. Unless you were super-spammy, the low-quality links just worked.

Fast forward to a post-Penguin world, things are far more risky. For me, it’s because of this that we see the trends like the above. As an industry, we had the easiest link building methods taken away from us and we’re left with fewer options. One of the main options is content marketing which, if you do it right, can lead to good quality links and importantly, the types of links you won’t be removing in the future. Get it wrong and you’ll lose budget and lose the trust if your boss or client in the power of content when it comes to link building.

There are still plenty of other methods to build links and sometimes we can forget this. Just look at this epic list from Jon Cooper. Even with this many tactics still available to us, it’s hard work. Way harder than it used to be.

My summary here is that as an industry, our mindset has shifted but it certainly wasn’t a voluntary shift. If the tactics that Penguin targeted still worked today, we’d still be using them.

A few other opinions…

I definitely think too many people want the next easy win. As someone surfing the edge of what Google is bringing our way, here’s my general take—SEO, in broad strokes, is changing a lot, *but* any given change is more and more niche and impacts fewer people. What we’re seeing isn’t radical, sweeping changes that impact everyone, but a sort of modularization of SEO, where we each have to be aware of what impacts our given industries, verticals, etc.”

Dr. Pete

 

I don’t feel that techniques for acquiring links have changed that much. You can either earn them through content and outreach or you can just buy them. What has changed is the awareness of “link building” outside of the SEO community. This makes link building / content marketing much harder when pitching to journalists and even more difficult when pitching to bloggers.

“Link building has to be more integrated with other channels and struggles to work in its own environment unless supported by brand, PR and social. Having other channels supporting your link development efforts also creates greater search signals and more opportunity to reach a bigger audience which will drive a greater ROI.

Carl Hendy

 

SEO has grown up in terms of more mature staff and SEOs becoming more ingrained into businesses so there is a smarter (less pressure) approach. At the same time, SEO has become more integrated into marketing and has made marketing teams and decision makers more intelligent in strategies and not pushing for the quick win. I’m also seeing that companies who used to rely on SEO and building links have gone through IPOs and the need to build 1000s of links per quarter has rightly reduced.

Danny Denhard

Signals that surround link building have changed

There is no question about this one in my mind. I actually wrote about this last year in my previous blog post where I talked about signals such as anchor text and deep links changing over time.

Many of the people I asked felt the same, here are some quotes from them, split out by the types of signal.

Domain level link metrics

I think domain level links have become increasingly important compared with page level factors, i.e. you can get a whole site ranking well off the back of one insanely strong page, even with sub-optimal PageRank flow from that page to the rest of the site.

Phil Nottingham

I’d agree with Phil here and this is what I was getting at in my previous post on how I feel “deep links” will matter less over time. It’s not just about domain level links here, it’s just as much about the additional signals available for Google to use (more on that later).

Anchor text

I’ve never liked anchor text as a link signal. I mean, who actually uses exact match commercial keywords as anchor text on the web?

SEOs. 🙂

Sure there will be natural links like this, but honestly, I struggle with the idea that it took Google so long to start turning down the dial on commercial anchor text as a ranking signal. They are starting to turn it down though, slowly but surely. Don’t get me wrong, it still matters and it still works. But like pure link spam, the barrier is a lot more lower now in terms what of constitutes too much.

Rand feels that they matter more than we’d expect and I’d mostly agree with this statement:

Exact match anchor text links still have more power than you’d expect—I think Google still hasn’t perfectly sorted what is “brand” or “branded query” from generics (i.e. they want to start ranking a new startup like meldhome.com for “Meld” if the site/brand gets popular, but they can’t quite tell the difference between that and https://moz.com/learn/seo/redirection getting a few manipulative links that say “redirect”)

Rand Fishkin

What I do struggle with though, is that Google still haven’t figured this out and that short-term, commercial anchor text spam is still so effective. Even for a short burst of time.

I don’t think link building as a concept has changed loads—but I think links as a signal have, mainly because of filters and penalties but I don’t see anywhere near the same level of impact from coverage anymore, even against 18 months ago.

Paul Rogers

New signals have been introduced

It isn’t just about established signals changing though, there are new signals too and I personally feel that this is where we’ve seen the most change in Google algorithms in recent years—going all the way back to Panda in 2011.

With Panda, we saw a new level of machine learning where it almost felt like Google had found a way of incorporating human reaction / feelings into their algorithms. They could then run this against a website and answer questions like the ones included in this post. Things such as:

  • “Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?”
  • “Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?”
  • “Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?”

It is a touch scary that Google was able to run machine learning against answers to questions like this and write an algorithm to predict the answers for any given page on the web. They have though and this was four years ago now.

Since then, they’ve made various moves to utilize machine learning and AI to build out new products and improve their search results. For me, this was one of the biggest and went pretty unnoticed by our industry. Well, until Hummingbird came along I feel pretty sure that we have Ray Kurzweil to thank for at least some of that.

There seems to be more weight on theme/topic related to sites, though it’s hard to tell if this is mostly link based or more user/usage data based. Google is doing a good job of ranking sites and pages that don’t earn the most links but do provide the most relevant/best answer. I have a feeling they use some combination of signals to say “people who perform searches like this seem to eventually wind up on this website—let’s rank it.” One of my favorite examples is the Audubon Society ranking for all sorts of birding-related searches with very poor keyword targeting, not great links, etc. I think user behavior patterns are stronger in the algo than they’ve ever been.

– Rand Fishkin

Leading on from what Rand has said, it’s becoming more and more common to see search results that just don’t make sense if you look at the link metrics—but are a good result.

For me, the move towards user data driving search results + machine learning advanced has been the biggest change we’ve seen in recent years and it’s still going.

Edit: since drafting this post, Tom Anthony released this excellent blog post on his views on the future of search and the shift to data-driven results. I’d recommend reading that as it approaches this whole area from a different perspective and I feel that an off-shoot of what Tom is talking about is the impact on link building.

You may be asking at this point, what does machine learning have to do with link building?

Everything. Because as strong as links are as a ranking signal, Google want more signals and user signals are far, far harder to manipulate than established link signals. Yes it can be done—I’ve seen it happen. There have even been a few public tests done. But it’s very hard to scale and I’d venture a guess that only the top 1% of spammers are capable of doing it, let alone maintaining it for a long period of time. When I think about the process for manipulation here, I actually think we go a step beyond spammers towards hackers and more cut and dry illegal activity.

For link building, this means that traditional methods of manipulating signals are going to become less and less effective as these user signals become stronger. For us as link builders, it means we can’t keep searching for that silver bullet or the next method of scaling link building just for an easy win. The fact is that scalable link building is always going to be at risk from penalization from Google—I don’t really want to live a life where I’m always worried about my clients being hit by the next update. Even if Google doesn’t catch up with a certain method, machine learning and user data mean that these methods may naturally become less effective and cost efficient over time.

There are of course other things such as social signals that have come into play. I certainly don’t feel like these are a strong ranking factor yet, but with deals like this one between Google and Twitter being signed, I wouldn’t be surprised if that ever-growing dataset is used at some point in organic results. The one advantage that Twitter has over Google is it’s breaking news freshness. Twitter is still way quicker at breaking news than Google is—140 characters in a tweet is far quicker than Google News! Google know this which is why I feel they’ve pulled this partnership back into existence after a couple of years apart.

There is another important point to remember here and it’s nicely summarised by Dr. Pete:

At the same time, as new signals are introduced, these are layers not replacements. People hear social signals or user signals or authorship and want it to be the link-killer, because they already fucked up link-building, but these are just layers on top of on-page and links and all of the other layers. As each layer is added, it can verify the layers that came before it and what you need isn’t the magic signal but a combination of signals that generally matches what Google expects to see from real, strong entities. So, links still matter, but they matter in concert with other things, which basically means it’s getting more complicated and, frankly, a bit harder. Of course, on one wants to hear that.”

– Dr. Pete

The core principles have not changed

This is the crux of everything for me. With all the changes listed above, the key is that the core principles around link building haven’t changed. I could even argue that Penguin didn’t change the core principles because the techniques that Penguin targeted should never have worked in the first place. I won’t argue this too much though because even Google advised website owners to build directory links at one time.

You need an asset

You need to give someone a reason to link to you. Many won’t do it out of the goodness of their heart! One of the most effective ways to do this is to develop a content asset and use this as your reason to make people care. Once you’ve made someone care, they’re more likely to share the content or link to it from somewhere.

You need to promote that asset to the right audience

I really dislike the stance that some marketers take when it comes to content promotion—build great content and links will come.

No. Sorry but for the vast majority of us, that’s simply not true. The exceptions are people that sky dive from space or have huge existing audiences to leverage.

You simply have to spend time promoting your content or your asset for it to get shares and links. It is hard work and sometimes you can spend a long time on it and get little return, but it’s important to keep working at until you’re at a point where you have two things:

  • A big enough audience where you can almost guarantee at least some traffic to your new content along with some shares
  • Enough strong relationships with relevant websites who you can speak to when new content is published and stand a good chance of them linking to it

Getting to this point is hard—but that’s kind of the point. There are various hacks you can use along the way but it will take time to get right.

You need consistency

Leading on from the previous point. It takes time and hard work to get links to your content—the types of links that stand the test of time and you’re not going to be removing in 12 months time anyway! This means that you need to keep pushing content out and getting better each and every time. This isn’t to say you should just churn content out for the sake of it, far from it. I am saying that with each piece of content you create, you will learn to do at least one thing better the next time. Try to give yourself the leverage to do this.

Anything scalable is at risk

Scalable link building is exactly what Google has been trying to crack down on for the last few years. Penguin was the biggest move and hit some of the most scalable tactics we had at our disposal. When you scale something, you often lose some level of quality, which is exactly what Google doesn’t want when it comes to links. If you’re still relying on tactics that could fall into the scalable category, I think you need to be very careful and just look at the trend in the types of links Google has been penalizing to understand why.

The part Google plays in this

To finish up, I want to briefly talk about the part that Google plays in all of this and shaping the future they want for the web.

I’ve always tried to steer clear of arguments involving the idea that Google is actively pushing FUD into the community. I’ve preferred to concentrate more on things I can actually influence and change with my clients rather than what Google is telling us all to do.

However, for the purposes of this post, I want to talk about it.

General paranoia has increased. My bet is there are some companies out there carrying out zero specific linkbuilding activity through worry.

Dan Barker

Dan’s point is a very fair one and just a day or two after reading this in an email, I came across a page related to a client’s target audience that said:

“We are not publishing guest posts on SITE NAME any more. All previous guest posts are now deleted. For more information, see www.mattcutts.com/blog/guest-blogging/“.

I’ve reworded this as to not reveal the name of the site, but you get the point.

This is silly. Honestly, so silly. They are a good site, publish good content, and had good editorial standards. Yet they have ignored all of their own policies, hard work, and objectives to follow a blog post from Matt. I’m 100% confident that it wasn’t sites like this one that Matt was talking about in this blog post.

This is, of course, from the publishers’ angle rather than the link builders’ angle, but it does go to show the effect that statements from Google can have. Google know this so it does make sense for them to push out messages that make their jobs easier and suit their own objectives—why wouldn’t they? In a similar way, what did they do when they were struggling to classify at scale which links are bad vs. good and they didn’t have a big enough web spam team? They got us to do it for them 🙂

I’m mostly joking here, but you see the point.

The most recent infamous mobilegeddon update, discussed here by Dr. Pete is another example of Google pushing out messages that ultimately scared a lot of people into action. Although to be fair, I think that despite the apparent small impact so far, the broad message from Google is a very serious one.

Because of this, I think we need to remember that Google does have their own agenda and many shareholders to keep happy. I’m not in the camp of believing everything that Google puts out is FUD, but I’m much more sensitive and questioning of the messages now than I’ve ever been.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your feedback and thoughts in the comments.

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Reblogged 3 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

How to Create Boring-Industry Content that Gets Shared

Posted by ronell-smith

If you think creating content for boring industries is tough, try creating content for an expensive product that’ll be sold in a so-called boring industry. Such was the problem faced by Mike Jackson, head of sales for a large Denver-based company that was debuting a line of new high-end products for the fishing industry in 2009.

After years of pestering the executives of his traditional, non-flashy company to create a line of products that could be sold to anglers looking to buy premium items, he finally had his wish: a product so expensive only a small percentage of anglers could afford them.

(image source)

What looked like being boxed into a corner was actually part of the plan.

When asked how he could ever put his neck on the line for a product he’d find tough to sell and even tougher to market, he revealed his brilliant plan.

“I don’t need to sell one million of [these products] a year,” he said. “All I need to do is sell a few hundred thousand, which won’t be hard. And as far as marketing, that’s easy: I’m ignoring the folks who’ll buy the items. I’m targeting professional anglers, the folks the buyers are influenced by. If the pros, the influencers, talk about and use the products, people will buy them.”

Such was my first introduction to how it’s often wise to ignore who’ll buy the product in favor of marketing to those who’ll help you market and sell the product.

These influencers are a sweet spot in product marketing and they are largely ignored by many brands

Looking at content for boring industries all wrong

A few months back, I received a message in Google Plus that really piqued my interest: “What’s the best way to create content for my boring business? Just kidding. No one will read it, nor share information from a painter anyway.”

I went from being dismayed to disheartened. Dismayed because the business owner hadn’t yet found a way to connect with his prospects through meaningful content. Disheartened because he seemed to have given up trying.

You can successfully create content for boring industries. Doing so requires nothing out of the ordinary from what you’d normally do to create content for any industry. That’s the good news.

The bad news: Creating successful content for boring industries requires you think beyond content and SEO, focusing heavily on content strategy and outreach.

Successfully creating content for boring industries—or any industry, for that matter—comes down to who’ll share it and who’ll link to it, not who’ll read it, a point nicely summed up in this tweet:

So when businesses struggle with creating content for their respective industries, the culprits are typically easy to find:

  • They lack clarity on who they are creating content for (e.g., content strategy, personas)
  • There are no specific goals (e.g., traffic, links, conversions, etc.) assigned regarding the content, so measuring its effectiveness is impossible
  • They’re stuck in neutral thinking viral content is the only option, while ignoring the value of content amplification (e.g., PR/outreach)

Alone, these three elements are bad; taken together, though, they spell doom for your brand.

content does not equal amplification

If you lack clarity on who you’re creating content for, the best you can hope for is that sometimes you’ll create and share information members of your audience find useful, but you likely won’t be able to reach or engage them with the needed frequency to make content marketing successful.

Goals, or lack thereof, are the real bugaboo of content creation. The problem is even worse for boring industries, where the pressure is on to deliver a content vehicle that meets the threshold of interest to simply gain attention, much less, earn engagement.

For all the hype about viral content, it’s dismaying that so few marketers aren’t being honest on the topic: it’s typically hard to create, impossible to predict and typically has very, very little connection to conversions for most businesses.

What I’ve found is that businesses, regardless of category, struggle to create worthwhile content, leading me to believe there is no boring industry content, only content that’s boring.

“Whenever we label content as ‘boring,’ we’re really admitting we have no idea how to approach marketing something,” says Builtvisible’s Richard Baxter.

Now that we know what the impediments are to producing content for any industry, including boring industries, it’s time to tackle the solution.

Develop a link earning mindset

There are lots of article on the web regarding how to create content for boring industries, some of which have appeared on this very blog.

But, to my mind, the one issue they all suffer from is they all focus on what content should be created, not (a) what content is worthy of promotion, (b) how to identify those who could help with promotion, and (c) how to earn links from boring industry content. (Remember, much of the content that’s read is never shared; much of what’s shared is never read in its entirety; and some of the most linked-to content is neither heavily shared nor heavily read.)

This is why content creators in boring industries should scrap their notions of having the most-read and most-shared content, shifting their focus to creating content that can earn links in addition to generating traffic and social signals to the site.

After all, links and conversions are the main priorities for most businesses sharing content online, including so-called local businesses.

ranking factors survey results

(Image courtesy of the 2014 Moz Local Search Ranking Factors Survey)

If you’re ready to create link-earning, traffic-generating content for your boring-industry business follow the tips from the fictitious example of RZ’s Auto Repair, a Dallas, Texas, automobile shop.

With the Dallas-Forth Worth market being large and competitive, RZ’s has narrowed their speciality to storm repair, mainly hail damage, which is huge in the area. Even with the narrowed focus, however, they still have stiff competition from the major players in the vertical, including MAACO.

What the brand does have in its favor, however, is a solid website and a strong freelance copywriter to help produce content.

Remember, those three problems we mentioned above—lack of goals, lack of clarity and lack of focus on amplification—we’ll now put them to good use to drive our main objectives of traffic, links and conversions.

Setting the right goals

For RZ, this is easy: He needs sales, business (e.g., qualified leads and conversions), but he knows he must be patient since using paid media is not in the cards.

Therefore, he sits down with his partner, and they come up with what seems like the top five workable, important goals:

  1. Increased traffic on the website – He’s noticed that when traffic increases, so does his business.
  2. More phone calls – If they get a customer on the phone, the chances of closing the sale are around 75%.
  3. One blog per week on the site – The more often he blogs, the more web traffic, visits and phone calls increase.
  4. Links from some of the businesses in the area – He’s no dummy. He knows the importance of links, which are that much better when they come from a large company that could send him business.
  5. Develop relationships with small and midsize non-competing businesses in the area for cross promotions, events and the like.

Know the audience

marketing group discussing personas

(image source)

Too many businesses create cute blogs that might generate traffic but do nothing for sales. RZ isn’t falling for this trap. He’s all about identifying the audience who’s likely to do business with him.

Luckily, his secretary is a meticulous record keeper, allowing him to build a reasonable profile of his target persona based on past clients.

  • 21-35 years old
  • Drives a truck that’s less than fours years old
  • Has an income of $45,000-$59,000
  • Employed by a corporation with greater than 500 employees
  • Active on social media, especially Facebook and Twitter
  • Consumes most of their information online
  • Typically referred by a friend or a co-worker

This information will prove invaluable as he goes about creating content. Most important, these nuggets create a clearer picture of how he should go about looking for people and/or businesses to amplify his content.

PR and outreach: Your amplification engines

Armed with his goals and the knowledge of his audience, RZ can now focus on outreach for amplification, thinking along the lines of…

  • Who/what influences his core audience?
  • What could he offer them by way of content to earn their help?
  • What content would they find valuable enough to share and link to?
  • What challenges do they face that he could help them with?
  • How could his brand set itself apart from any other business looking for help from these potential outreach partners?

Putting it all together

Being the savvy businessperson he is, RZ pulls his small staff together and they put their thinking caps on.

Late spring through early fall is prime hail storm season in Dallas. The season accounts for 80 percent of his yearly business. (The other 20% is fender benders.) Also, they realize, many of the storms happen in the late afternoon/early evening, when people are on their way home from work and are stuck in traffic, or when they duck into the grocery store or hit the gym after work.

What’s more, says one of the staffers, often a huge group of clients will come at once, owing to having been parked in the same lot when a storm hits.

Eureka!

lightbulb

(image source)

That’s when RZ bolts out of his chair with the idea that could put his business on the map: Let’s create content for businesses getting a high volume of after-work traffic—sit-down restaurants, gyms, grocery stores, etc.

The businesses would be offering something of value to their customers, who’ll learn about precautions to take in the event of a hail storm, and RZ would have willing amplifiers for his content.

Content is only as boring as your outlook

First—and this is a fatal mistake too many content creators make—RZ visits the handful of local businesses he’d like to partner with. The key here, however, is he smartly makes them aware that he’s done his homework and is eager to help their patrons while making them aware of his service.

This is an integral part of outreach: there must be a clear benefit to the would-be benefactor.

After RZ learns that several of the businesses are amenable to sharing his business’s helpful information, he takes the next step and asks what form the content should take. For now, all he can get them to promote is a glossy one-sheeter, “How To Protect Your Vehicle Against Extensive Hail Damage,” that the biggest gym in the area will promote via a small display at the check-in in return for a 10% coupon for customers.

Three of the five others he talked to also agreed to promote the one-sheeter, though each said they’d be willing to promote other content investments provided they added value for their customers.

The untold truth about creating content for boring industries

When business owners reach out to me about putting together a content strategy for their boring brand, I make two things clear from the start:

  1. There are no boring brands. Those two words are a cop out. No matter what industry you serve, there are hoards of people who use the products or services who are quite smitten.
  2. What they see as boring, I see as an opportunity.

In almost every case, they want to discuss some of another big content piece that’s sure to draw eyes, engagement, and that maybe even leads to a few links. Sure, I say, if you have tons of money to spend.

big content example

(Amazing piece of interactive content created by BuiltVisible)

Assuming you don’t have money to burn, and you want a plan you can replicate easily over time, try what I call the 1-2-1 approach for monthly blog content:

1: A strong piece of local content (goal: organic reach, topical relevance, local SEO)

2: Two pieces of evergreen content (goal: traffic)

1: A link-worthy asset (goal: links)

This plan is not very hard at all to pull off, provided you have your ear to the street in the local market; have done your keyword research, identifying several long-tail keywords you have the ability to rank for; and you’re willing to continue with outreach.

What it does is allow the brand to create content with enough frequency to attain significance with the search engines, while also developing the habit of sharing, promoting and amplifying content as well. For example, all of the posts would be shared on Twitter, Google Plus, and Facebook. (Don’t sleep on paid promotion via Facebook.)

Also, for the link-worthy asset, there would be outreach in advance of its creation, then amplification, and continued promotion from the company and those who’ve agreed to support the content.

Create a winning trifecta: Outreach, promotion and amplification

To RZ’s credit, he didn’t dawdle, getting right to work creating worthwhile content via the 1-2-1 method:

1: “The Worst Places in Dallas to be When a Hail Storm Hits”
2: “Can Hail Damage Cause Structural Damage to Your Car?” and “Should You Buy a Car Damaged by Hail?”
1: “Big as Hail!” contest

This contest idea came from the owner of a large local gym. RZ’s will give $500 to the local homeowner who sends in the largest piece of hail, as judged by Facebook fans, during the season. In return, the gym will promote the contest at its multiple locations, link to the content promotion page on RZ’s website, and share images of its fans holding large pieces of hail via social media.

What does the gym get in return: A catchy slogan (e.g., it’s similar to “big as hell,” popular gym parlance) to market around during the hail season.

It’s a win-win for everyone involved, especially RZ.

He gets a link, but most important he realizes how to create content to nail each one of his goals. You can do the same. All it takes is a change in mindset. Away from content creation. Toward outreach, promote and amplify.

Summary

While the story of RZ’s entirely fictional, it is based on techniques I’ve used with other small and midsize businesses. The keys, I’ve found, are to get away from thinking about your industry/brand as being boring, even if it is, and marshal the resources to find the audience who’ll benefit from from your content and, most important, identify the influencers who’ll promote and amplify it.

What are your thoughts?

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Reblogged 3 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Lessons from the Front Line of Front-End Content Development

Posted by richardbaxterseo

As content marketing evolves, the list of media you could choose to communicate your message expands. So does the list of technologies at your disposal. But without a process, a project plan and a tried and tested approach, you might struggle to gain any traction at all.

In this post, based on my
MozCon 2014 presentation, I’d like to share the high level approach we take while developing content for our clients, and the lessons we’ve learned from initial research to final delivery. Hopefully there are some takeaways for you to enhance your own approach or make your first project a little less difficult.

This stuff is hard to do

I hate to break it to you, but the first few times you attempt to develop something
a little more innovative, you’re going to get burned. Making things is pretty tough and there are lots of lessons to learn. Sometimes you’ll think your work is going to be huge, and it flops. That sucks, move on, learn and maybe come back later to revisit your approach.

To structure and execute a genuinely innovative, successful content marketing campaign, you need to understand what’s possible, especially within the context of your available skills, process, budget, available time and scope.

You’ll have a few failures along the journey, but when something goes viral, when people respond positively to your work – that, friends, feels amazing.

What this post is designed to address

In the early days of SEO, we built links. Email outreach, guest posting, eventually, infographics. It was easy, for a time. Then,
Penguin came and changed everything.

Our industry learned that we should be finding creative and inventive ways to solve our customers’ problems, inspire, guide, help – whatever the solution, an outcome had to be justified. Yet still, a classic habit of the SEO remained: the need to decide in what form the content should be executed before deciding on the message to tell.

I think we’ve evolved from “let’s do an infographic on something!” to “I’ve got a concept that people will love should this be long form, an interactive, a data visualization, an infographic, a video, or something else?”

This post is designed to outline the foundations on an approach you can use to enhance your approach to content development. If you take one thing away from this article, let it be this:

The first rule of almost anything: be prepared or prepare to fail. This rule definitely applies to content development!

Understand the technical environment you’re hosting your content in

Never make assumptions about the technical environment your content will be hosted in. We’ve learned to ask more about technical setup of a client’s website. You see, big enterprise class sites usually have load balancing, 
pre-rendering, and very custom JavaScript that could introduce technical surprises much too late in the process. Better to be aware of what’s in store than hope your work will be compatible with its eventual home.

Before you get started on any development or design, make sure you’ve built an awareness of your client’s development and production environments. Find out more about their CMS, code base, and ask what they can and cannot host.

Knowing more about the client’s development schedule, for example how quickly a project can be uploaded, will help you plan lead times into your project documentation.

We’ve found that discussing early stage ideas with your client’s development team will help them visualise the level of task required to get something live. Involving them at this early stage means you’re informed on any potential risk in technology choice that will harm your project integrity later down the line.

Initial stakeholder outreach and ideation

Way back at MozCon 2013, I presented an idea called “really targeted outreach“. The concept was simple: find influential people in your space, learn more about the people they influence, and build content that appeals to both.

We’ve been using a similar methodology for larger content development projects: using social data to inspire the creative process gathered from the Twitter Firehose and
other freely available tools, reaching out to identified influencers and ask them to contribute or feedback on an idea. The trick is to execute your social research at a critical, early stage of the content development process. Essentially, you’re collecting data to gain a sense of confidence in the appeal of your content.

We’ve made content with such a broad range of people involved, from astronauts to butlers working at well known, historic hotels. With a little of the right approach to outreach, it’s amazing how helpful people can be. Supplemented by the confidence you’ve gained from your data, some positive results from your early stage outreach can really set a content project on the right course.

My tip: outreach and research several ideas and tell your clients which was most popular. If you can get them excited and behind the idea with the biggest response then you’ll find it easier to get everyone on the same page throughout your project.

Asset collection and research

Now, the real work begins. As I’ve
written elsewhere, I believe that the depth of your content, it’s accuracy and integrity is an absolute must if it is to be taken seriously by those it’s intended for.

Each project tends to be approached a little differently, although I tend to see these steps in almost every one: research, asset collection, storyboarding and conceptual illustration.

For asset collection and research, we use a tool called
Mural.ly – a wonderful collaborative tool to help speed up the creative process. Members of the project team begin by collecting relevant information and assets (think: images, quotes, video snippets) and adding them to the project. As the collection evolves, we begin to arrange the data into something that might resemble a timeline:

After a while, the story begins to take shape. Depending on how complex the concept is, we’ll either go ahead with some basic illustration (a “white board session”) or we’ll detail the storyboard in a written form. Here’s the Word document that summarised the chronological order of the content we’d planned for our
Messages in the Deep project:

messages-in-the-deep-storyboard

And, if the brief is more complex, we’ll create a more visual outline in a whiteboard session with our designers:

interactive-map-sketch

How do you decide on the level of brief needed to describe your project? Generally, the more complex the project, the more important a full array of briefing materials and project scoping will be. If, however, we’re talking simpler, like “long form” article content, the chances are a written storyboard and a collection of assets should be enough.

schema-guide

Over time, we’ve learned how to roll out content that’s partially template based, rather than having to re-invent the wheel each time. Dan’s amazing
Log File Analysis guide was reused when we decided to re-skin the Schema Guide, and as a result we’ve decided to give Kaitlin’s Google Analytics Guide the same treatment.

Whichever process you choose, it helps to re-engage your original contributors, influencers and publishers for feedback. Remember to keep them involved at key stages – if for no other reason than to make sure you’re meeting their expectations on content they’d be willing to share.

Going into development

Obviously we could talk all day about the development process. I think I’ll save the detail for my next post, but suffice it to say we’ve learned some big things along the way.

Firstly, it’s good to brief your developers well before the design and content is finalised. Particularly if there are features that might need some thought and experimental prototyping. I’ve found over time that a conversation with a developer leads to a better understanding of what’s easily possible with existing libraries and code. If you don’t involve the developers in the design process, you may find yourself committed to building something extremely custom, and your project timeline can become drastically underestimated.

It’s also really important to make sure that your developers have had the opportunity to specify how they’d like the design work to be delivered; file format; layers and sizing for different break points are all really important to an efficient development schedule and make a huge difference to the agility of your work.

Our developers like to have a logical structure of layers and groups in a PSD. Layers and groups should all be named and it’s a good idea to attach different UI states for interactive elements (buttons, links, tabs, etc.), too.

Grid layouts are much preferred although it doesn’t matter if it’s 1200px or 960px, or 12/16/24 columns. As long as the content has some structure, development is easier.

As our developers like to say: Because structure = patterns = abstraction = good things and in an ideal world they prefer to work with
style tiles.

Launching

Big content takes more promotion to get that all important initial traction. Your outreach strategy has already been set, you’ve defined your influencers, and you have buy in from publishers. So, as soon as your work is ready, go ahead and tell your stakeholders it’s live and get that flywheel turning!

My pro tip for a successful launch is be prepared to offer customised content for certain publishers. Simple touches, like
The Washington Post’s animated GIF idea was a real touch of genius – I think some people liked the GIF more than the actual interactive! This post on Mashable was made possible by our development of some of the interactive to be iFramed – publishers seem to love a different approach, so try to design that concept in right at the beginning of your plan. From there, stand back, measure, learn and never give up!

That’s it for today’s post. I hope you’ve found it informative, and I look forward to your comments below.

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Reblogged 3 years ago from moz.com

How To Select The Perfect Clients

Posted by Bill.Sebald

I truly believe in the power of partnerships. There have been some incredible partnerships that changed the fabric of our culture. Larry Page and Sergey Brin. William Procter and James Gamble. The Olson Twins.

Good partnerships provide support, motivation, and complementary skills, often allowing you to overcome hurdles faster and create some truly marvelous things. In consulting or any agency work, the concept of “partnership” should be the backbone of your relationship. Like a puzzle piece, sometimes the fit is initially difficult to find – if available at all. The truth is, you’re only secure if your clients are walking in the same direction as the flow of your service. If they’re walking against the current, you have what I believe to be the most detrimental predicament a service provider can have –
a rift. That’s a truly offensive four-letter word.

What kind of rift are we talking about? Let’s do a little calculating.

First think about what you or your agency is really good at. Think about the components you have the most success with; this may actually be different than where you’re most experienced. Think about what you should be selling versus not (even if those items are currently on your menu – let’s be candid here, a lot of us casually promote services we
believe we should be selling even though it’s not a fully baked product or core competency). Think about the amount of time you really spent challenging a given service to make sure it’s truly impactful to a client versus your own bottom line.

Next, think about your past client debacles (if you haven’t stopped to perform a postmortem, you should). Chances are these led to events that cost you a lot of time, pain, and possibly money. They are the memories that make you shudder. Those are the days that made you dust off your resume and think about a career change.  

Finally, how many of these past clients should have never been signed in the first place? How many simply weren’t a fit from the start? How many simply never had a shot at being successful with you – and vice-versa? This computation really needs serious consideration. Have you wasted everyone’s time?

There can be a costly fallout. I’ve seen talented team members quit over clients that simply could not be managed. I’ve seen my colleagues go so far as to cry or start seeking therapy (in part) because of overwhelming clients who were not getting what they expected and a parent company who wasn’t providing any relief. Sometimes these clients were bound to an annual contract which only made them more desperate and angry. Rifts like this can kill your business.

This should never happen.

Client/agency relationships are marriages, but marriages start with dating

I really like this 2011 post from A List Apart called
Marry Your Clients. A few years old, but nothing has changed. However, my post is going to talk about the courting part before the honeymoon.

My post also assumes you make more money on longer consulting relationships. If you’ve somehow built your model through routinely hunting new business with the expectation you’re going to get fired, then that’s a different story. For most of us however, on-boarding a client is a lot of work, both in terms of hours (which is money) and brainpower. If you “hit it off” with your client, you begin to know their business more intimately, as well as their goals and KPIs. The strategies get easier to build; they also tend to be more successful as you become aware of what their tastes and limitations are. You find you have things in common (perhaps you both enjoy long walks to the bank). You often become true partners with your clients, who in turn promote your ideas to their bosses. These are your most profitable engagements, as well as your most rewarding. They tend to last years, sometimes following your point-of-contact to their next jobs as well.

But you don’t get this way simply because both parties signed a legally-bounding document.

The truth is not all parties can work together. A lot of client/agency relationships end in divorce. Like in romance, sometimes you just aren’t compatible.

A different kind of online dating

After my first marriage went kaput, I’ll admit I went to Match.com. For those who never tried online dating, it’s really an exercise in personal marketing. You upload your most attractive pictures. You sell yourself above everyone else. You send communications back and forth to the interested parties where you work to craft the “perfect” response; as well as ask qualifying questions. I found it works pretty well – the online process saved me from potentially bad dates. Don’t get me wrong, I still have some awkward online dating stories…

Photo from Chuck Woolery’s
Twitter profile

With consulting, if we’re supposed to ultimately marry our clients, we should obviously be allowed to see if there’s a love connection. We should all be our own Chuck Woolery. I tend to think this stage is crucial, but often rushed by agencies or managed by a department outside of your own.

Some agencies seem to have a “no dating” policy. For some, it’s not uncommon to come in to work and have an email from a higher-up with the subject, “congratulations – you’re now married to a new client!” Whether it’s a client development department, or an add-on from an existing client, your marketing department is suddenly forced into an arranged marriage where you can only hope to live up to their expectations.

This is a recipe for disaster. I don’t like to run a business on luck and risk, so clearly this makes no sense to me.

But I’ve been there. I once worked for an agency that handed me a signed contract for a major underwear brand – but I didn’t even know we were even speaking to them. Before I had a chance to get the details, the VP of digital marketing called me. I did my best to understand what they were promised in terms of SEO goals without admitting I really had no clue about their business. The promises were unrealistic, but being somewhat timid and naïve back in the day, I went with it. Truth is, their expectations did not fit into our model, philosophies, or workflow. Ultimately I failed to deliver to their expectations. The contract ended early and I vowed to never let that happen again. Not just for the stress and anxiety it brought upon my team and me, but for the blatant neglect to the client as well.

With this being something I never forgot, I would occasionally bring this story up with others I met at networking events or conventions. I quickly learned this is far from an isolated incident occurring only to me. This is how some agencies build their business development departments.

Once again, this should never happen.

How to qualify a client

Let’s assume by now I have successfully inspired a few things:

  1. A client/agency relationship should truly be a partnership akin to a good marriage.
  2. A client should never be thrown into a model that doesn’t make sense for their business (i.e., your style of SEO services), and process should be in place for putting all the parties in the same room before a deal is signed.

    Now we’re up to number 3:

  3. Not all relationships work, so all parties should try to truly connect before there is a proposal. Don’t rush the signature!

Here are some of the things we do at Greenlane to really qualify a client. Before I continue, though, I’m proud to brag a little. With these practices in place, our close rate – that is, the companies we really want to work with – is 90% in our favor. Our retainment is also very high. Once we started being prudent with our intake, we’ve only lost a few companies due to funding issues or a change in their business model – not out of performance. I should also add that these tips work with all sizes of clients. While some of our 20+ clients are smaller businesses, we also have household brands and public companies, all of which could attest to going through this process with us.

It’s all in the details

Your website is your Match.com profile. Your website is your personality. If you’re vague or promotional or full of hype, only to get someone on the phone to which your “car salesman” gear kicks in, I don’t think you’re using the website to the best of its ability. People want to use the website to learn more about you before the reach out.

Our “about us” page is our third most visited page next to the homepage and pricing (outside of the blog). You can see an example from a 
Hotjar heatmap:

The truth is, I’m always tweaking (and A/B testing) our message on the about us page. This page is currently part of a funnel that we careful put together. The “about us” page is a quick but powerful overview putting our team front and center and highlighting our experience (including some past clients).

I believe the website’s more than a brochure. It’s a communication device. Don’t hide or muddle who you are. When I get a prospect email through our form, I always lead them to our “Are We The Right Fit” page. That’s right – I actually ask them to consider choosing wisely. Now at first glance, this might go against a conversion funnel that heats up the prospect and only encourages momentum, but this page has really been a strong asset. It’s crafted to transparently present our differentiators, values, and even our pricing. It’s also crafted to discourage those who aren’t a good fit. You can find this page
here. Even our URL provides the “Are We The Right Fit” question.

We want prospects to make a good decision. We care so much about companies doing great that we’d rather you find someone else if our model isn’t perfect. Sure, sometimes after pointing someone to that link, they never return. That’s OK. Just like a dating profile, this page is designed to target a certain kind of interest. Time is a commodity in agency life – no sense in wasting it on a conversation that isn’t qualified. When we do catch a prospect after reviewing the page and hear, “we went with another firm who better suits our needs,” it actually doesn’t feel like a loss at all.

Everyone who comes back goes into our pipeline. At this stage they all get followed up on with a phone call. If they aren’t a good fit from the get go we actually try to introduce them to other SEO companies or consultants who would be a better fit for them. But 9 times out of 10, it’s an amazing conversation.

Never drop the transparency

There are a few things I try to tell all the prospects I ultimately speak with. One, I openly admit I’m not a salesman. I couldn’t sell ice water to people in hell. But I’m good at being really candid about our strengths and experiences.

Now this one tends to surprise some, especially in the larger agency setting. We admit that we are really choosy about the clients we take on. For our model, we need clients who are flexible, fast moving, interested in brand building, and interested in long-term relationships. We want clients who think in terms of strategy and will let us work with their existing marketing team and vendors. We audit them for their understanding of SEO services and tell them how we’re either alike or different.

I don’t think a prospect call goes by without me saying, “while you’re checking us out to see if we’re a good fit, we’re doing the same for you.” Then, if the call goes great, I let them know we’d like a follow up call to continue (a second date if you will). This follow up call has been where the real decision gets made.

Ask the right questions

I’ve vetted the opportunity, now my partner – who naturally has a different way of approaching opportunities and relationships – asks a different set of questions. This adds a whole different dimension and works to catch the questions I may not have asked. We’ve had companies ready to sign on the first call, to which I’ve had to divert any signatures until the next conversation. This too may seem counter-intuitive to traditional business development, but we find it extremely valuable. It’s true that we could have more clients in our current book of business, but I can proudly state that every current client is exactly who we want to be with; this is very much because of everything you’ve read so far.

On each call we have a list of qualifying questions that we ask. Most are “must answer” questions, while others can roll into a needs analysis questionnaire that we give to each signed client. The purpose of the needs analysis is to get more granular into business items (such as seasonal trends, industry intelligence, etc.) for the intention of developing strategies. With so much to ask, it’s important to be respectful of the prospects’ time. At this point they’ve usually already indicated they’ve read our website, can afford our prices, and feel like we’re a good fit.

Many times prospects start with their introduction and answer some of our questions. While they speak, I intently listen and take many notes.

These are 13 questions from my list that I always make sure get answered on a call, with some rationale:

Questions for the prospect:

1. Can you describe your business model and products/services?

  1. What do you sell?
  2. B2B or B2C
  3. Retail or lead generation?

Rationale
: sometimes when reviewing the website it’s not immediately clear what kind of business they’re in. Perhaps the site just does a bad job, or sometimes their real money making services are deeper in the site and easily missed by a fast scan. One of our clients works with the government and seems to have an obvious model, but the real profit is from a by-product, something we would have never picked up on during our initial review of the website. It’s important to find out exactly what the company does. Is it interesting? Can you stay engaged? Is it a sound model that you believe in? Is it a space you have experience in?

2. What has been your experience with [YOUR SERVICE] in the past?

Rationale: Many times, especially if your model is different, a prospect may have a preconceived notion of what you actually do. Let’s take SEO as an example – there are several different styles of SEO services. If they had a link building company in the past, and you’re a more holistic SEO consulting practice, their point of reference may only be with what they’ve experienced. They may even have a bad taste in their mouth from a previous engagement, which gives you a chance to air it out and see how you compare. This is also a chance to know if you’re potentially playing with a penalized site.

3. What are your [PPC/SEO/etc.] goals?

Rationale: Do they have realistic goals, or lofty, impossible goals? Be candid – tell them if you don’t think you can reach the goals on the budget they have, or if you think they should choose other goals. Don’t align yourself with goals you can’t hit. This is where many conversations could end.

4. What’s your mission or positioning statement?

Rationale: If you’re going to do more than just pump up their rankings, you probably want to know the full story. This should provide a glimpse into other marketing the prospect is executing.

5. How do you stand out?

Rationale: Sometimes this is answered with the question above. If not, really dig up the differentiators. Those are typically the key items to build campaigns on.  Whether they are trying to create a new market segment or have a redundant offering, this can help you set timeline and success expectations.

6. Are you comfortable with an agency that may challenge your plans and ideas?

Rationale: This is one of my favorite questions. There are many who hire an agency and expect “yes-men.” Personally I believe an agency or consultant should be partners; that is, not afraid to fight for what they know is right for the benefit of the client. You shouldn’t be afraid of injury:

 

7. Who are your competitors?

Rationale: Not only do you want this for competitive benchmarking, but this can often help you understand more about the prospect. Not to mention, how big a hill you might have to climb to start competing on head terms.

8. What is your business reach? (local, national, international)?

Rationale: An international client is going to need more work than a domestic client. A local client is going to need an expertise in local search. Knowing the scope of the company can help you align your skills with their targets.

9. What CMS are you on?

Rationale:
 This is a big one. It tells you how much flexibility you will have. WordPress?  Great – you’ll probably have a lot of access to files and templates.  A proprietary CMS or enterprise solution?  Uh-oh.  That probably means tickets and project queues. Are you OK with that?

10. What does your internal team look like?

Rationale:
Another important question. Who will you be working with?  What skill sets?  Will you be able to sit at the table with other vendors too?  If you’re being hired to fill in the gaps, make sure you have the skills to do so. I ask about copywriters, developers, designers, and link builders at a minimum.

11. What do you use for analytics?

Rationale:
A tool like Wappalyzer can probably tell you, but sometimes bigger companies have their own custom analytics through their host. Sometimes it’s bigger than Google Analytics, like Omniture. Will you be allowed to have direct access to it?  You’d be surprised how often we hear no.

12. How big is your site?  Do you have other properties?

Rationale:
It’s surprising how often a prospect forgets to mention those 30+ subdomains and microsites. If the prospect envisions it as part of the deal, you should at least be aware of how far the core website extends.

13. What is your budget, preferred start time, and end date?

Rationale:
The biggest question of all. Do they even meet your fee requirements? Are you staffed and ready to take on the work? Sure, talking money can be tough, but if you post your rates firm, the prospect is generally more open to talk budget. They don’t feel like a negotiation is going to happen.

Conclusion

While these are the core questions we use, I’m sure the list will eventually grow. I don’t think you should copy our list, or the order.  You should ultimately create your own. Every agency or consultant has different requirements, and interviewing your prospect is as important as allowing them to interview you. But remember, you don’t have to have all the business.  Just the right kind of business.  You will grow organically from your positive experiences.  We all hear about “those other agencies” and how they consistently fail to meet client expectations. Next to “do great work,” this is one powerful way to keep off that list.  

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Reblogged 3 years ago from feedproxy.google.com

Digital Asset Optimization

Kiran Voleti. Social Media Consultant ,Founder of design agency (Dotndot) , Internet Marketing Company (Toputop) , www.kiranvoleti.com Toputop.com is a leadi…

Reblogged 3 years ago from www.youtube.com