A Vision for Brand Engagement Online, or "The Goal"

Posted by EricEnge

Today’s post focuses on a vision for your online presence. This vision outlines what it takes to be the best, both from an overall reputation and visibility standpoint, as well as an SEO point of view. The reason these are tied together is simple: Your overall online reputation and visibility is a huge factor in your SEO. Period. Let’s start by talking about why.

Core ranking signals

For purposes of this post, let’s define three cornerstone ranking signals that most everyone agrees on:

Links

Links remain a huge factor in overall ranking. Both Cyrus Shepard and Marcus Tober re-confirmed this on the Periodic Table of SEO Ranking Factors session at the SMX Advanced conference in Seattle this past June.

On-page content

On-page content remains a huge factor too, but with some subtleties now thrown in. I wrote about some of this in earlier posts I did on Moz about Term Frequency and Inverse Document Frequency. Suffice it to say that on-page content is about a lot more than pure words on the page, but also includes the supporting pages that you link to.

User engagement with your site

This is not one of the traditional SEO signals from the early days of SEO, but most advanced SEO pros that I know consider it a real factor these days. One of the most popular concepts people talk about is called pogo-sticking, which is illustrated here:

You can learn more about the pogosticking concept by visiting this Whiteboard Friday video by a rookie SEO with a last name of Fishkin.

New, lesser-known signals

OK, so these are the more obvious signals, but now let’s look more broadly at the overall web ecosystem and talk about other types of ranking signals. Be warned that some of these signals may be indirect, but that just doesn’t matter. In fact, my first example below is an indirect factor which I will use to demonstrate why whether a signal is direct or indirect is not an issue at all.

Let me illustrate with an example. Say you spend $1 billion dollars building a huge brand around a product that is massively useful to people. Included in this is a sizable $100 million dollar campaign to support a highly popular charitable foundation, and your employees regularly donate time to help out in schools across your country. In short, the great majority of people love your brand.

Do you think this will impact the way people link to your site? Of course it does. Do you think it will impact how likely people are to be satisified with quality of the pages of your site? Consider this A/B test scenario of 2 pages from different “brands” (for the one on the left, imagine the image of Coca Cola or Pepsi Cola, whichever one you prefer):

Do you think that the huge brand will get a benefit of a doubt on their page that the no-name brand does not even though the pages are identical? Of course they will. Now let’s look at some simpler scenarios that don’t involve a $1 billion investment.

1. Cover major options related to a product or service on “money pages”

Imagine that a user arrives on your auto parts site after searching on the phrase “oil filter” at Google or Bing. Chances are pretty good that they want an oil filter, but here are some other items they may also want:

  • A guide to picking the right filter for their car
  • Oil
  • An oil filter wrench
  • A drainage pan to drain the old oil into

This is just the basics, right? But, you would be surprised with how many sites don’t include links or information on directly related products on their money pages. Providing this type of smart site and page design can have a major impact on user engagement with the money pages of your site.

2. Include other related links on money pages

In the prior item we covered the user’s most directly related needs, but they may have secondary needs as well. Someone who is changing a car’s oil is either a mechanic or a do-it-yourself-er. What else might they need? How about other parts, such as windshield wipers or air filters?

These are other fairly easy maintenance steps for someone who is working on their car to complete. Presence of these supporting products could be one way to improve user engagement with your pages.

3. Offer industry-leading non-commercial content on-site

Publishing world-class content on your site is a great way to produce links to your site. Of course, if you do this on a blog on your site, it may not provide links directly to your money pages, but it will nonetheless lift overall site authority.

In addition, if someone has consumed one or more pieces of great content on your site, the chance of their engaging in a more positive manner with your site overall go way up. Why? Because you’ve earned their trust and admiration.

4. Be everywhere your audiences are with more high-quality, relevant, non-commercial content

Are there major media sites that cover your market space? Do they consider you to be an expert? Will they quote you in articles they write? Can you provide them with guest posts or let you be a guest columnist? Will they collaborate on larger content projects with you?

All of these activities put you in front of their audiences, and if those audiences overlap with yours, this provides a great way to build your overall reputation and visibility. This content that you publish, or collaborate on, that shows up on 3rd-party sites will get you mentions and links. In addition, once again, it will provide you with a boost to your branding. People are now more likely to consume your other content more readily, including on your money pages.

5. Leverage social media

The concept here shares much in common with the prior point. Social media provides opportunities to get in front of relevant audiences. Every person that’s an avid follower of yours on a social media site is more likely to show very different behavior characteristics interacting with your site than someone that does not know you well at all.

Note that links from social media sites are nofollowed, but active social media behavior can lead to people implementing “real world” links to your site that are followed, from their blogs and media web sites.

6. Be active in the offline world as well

Think your offline activity doesn’t matter online? Think again. Relationships are still most easily built face-to-face. People you meet and spend time with can well become your most loyal fans online. This is particularly important when it comes to building relationships with influential people.

One great way to do that is to go to public events related to your industry, such as conferences. Better still, obtain speaking engagements at those conferences. This can even impact people who weren’t there to hear you speak, as they become aware that you have been asked to do that. This concept can also work for a small local business. Get out in your community and engage with people at local events.

The payoff here is similar to the payoff for other items: more engaged, highly loyal fans who engage with you across the web, sending more and more positive signals, both to other people and to search engines, that you are the real deal.

7. Provide great customer service/support

Whatever your business may be, you need to take care of your customers as best you can. No one can make everyone happy, that’s unrealistic, but striving for much better than average is a really sound idea. Having satisfied customers saying nice things about you online is a big impact item in the grand scheme of things.

8. Actively build relationships with influencers too

While this post is not about the value of influencer relationships, I include this in the list for illustration purposes, for two reasons:

  1. Some opportunities are worth extra effort. Know of someone who could have a major impact on your business? Know that they will be at a public event in the near future? Book your plane tickets and get your butt out there. No guarantee that you will get the result you are looking for, or that it will happen quickly, but your chances go WAY up if you get some face time with them.
  2. Influencers are worth special attention and focus, but your relationship-building approach to the web and SEO is not only about influencers. It’s about the entire ecosystem.

It’s an integrated ecosystem

The web provides a level of integrated, real-time connectivity of a kind that the world has never seen before. This is only going to increase. Do something bad to a customer in Hong Kong? Consumers in Boston will know within 5 minutes. That’s where it’s all headed.

Google and Bing (and any future search engine that may emerge) want to measure these types of signals because they tell them how to improve the quality of the experience on their platforms. There are may ways they can perform these measurements.

One simple concept is covered by Rand in this recent Whiteboard Friday video. The discussion is about a recent patent granted to Google that shows how the company can use search queries to detect who is an authority on a topic.

The example he provides is about people who search on “email finding tool”. If Google also finds that a number of people search on “voila norbert email tool”, Google may use that as an authority signal.

Think about that for a moment. How are you going to get people to search on your brand more while putting it together with a non-branded querly like that? (OK, please leave Mechanical Turk and other services like that out of the discussion).

Now you can start to see the bigger picture. Measurements like pogosticking and this recent search behavior related patent are just the tip of the iceberg. Undoubtedly, there are many other ways that search engines can measure what people like and engage with the most.

This is all part of SEO now. UX, product breadth, problem solving, UX, engaging in social media, getting face to face, creating great content that you publish in front of other people’s audiences, and more.

For the small local business, you can still win at this game, as your focus just needs to be on doing it better than your competitors. The big brands will never be hyper-local like you are, so don’t think you can’t play the game, because you can.

Whoever you are, get ready, because this new integrated ecosystem is already upon us, and you need to be a part of it.

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Is that Mind-Blowing Title Blowing Your Credibility? You Decide

Posted by Isla_McKetta


Image of Tantalus courtesy of Clayton Cusak

What if I told you I could teach you to write the perfect headline? One that is so irresistible every person who sees it will click on it. You’d sign up immediately and maybe even promise me your firstborn.

But what if I then told you not one single person out of all the millions who will click on that headline will convert? And that you might lose all your credibility in the process. Would all the traffic generated by that “perfect” headline be worth it?

Help us solve a dispute

It isn’t really that bad, but with all the emphasis lately on
headline science and the curiosity gap, Trevor (your faithful editor) and I (a recovering copywriter) started talking about the importance of headlines and what their role should be in regards to content. I’m for clickability (as long as there is strong content to back the headline) and, if he has to choose, Trevor is for credibility (with an equal emphasis on quality of the eventual content).

credible vs clickable headlines

What’s the purpose of a headline?

Back in the good ol’ days, headlines were created to sell newspapers. Newsboys stood on street corners shouting the headlines in an attempt to hawk those newspapers. Headlines had to be enough of a tease to get readers interested but they had to be trustworthy enough to get a reader to buy again tomorrow. Competition for eyeballs was less fierce because a town only had so many newspapers, but paper cost money and editors were always happy to get a repeat customer.

Nowadays the competition for eyeballs feels even stiffer because it’s hard to get noticed in the vast sea of the internet. It’s easy to feel a little desperate. And it seems like the opportunity cost of turning away a customer is much lower than it was before. But aren’t we doing content as a product? Does the quality of that product matter?

The forbidden secrets of clickable headlines

There’s no arguing that headlines are important. In fact, at MozCon this year,
Nathalie Nahai reminded us that many copywriters recommend an 80:20 ratio of energy spent on headline to copy. That might be taking things a bit far, but a bad (or even just boring) headline will tank your traffic. Here is some expert advice on writing headlines that convert: 

  • Nahai advises that you take advantage of psychological trigger words like, “weird,” “free,” “incredible,” and “secret” to create a sense of urgency in the reader. Can you possibly wait to read “Secret Ways Butter can Save Your Life”?
  • Use question headlines like “Can You Increase Your Sales by 45% in Only 5 Minutes a Day?” that get a reader asking themselves, “I dunno, can I?” and clicking to read more.
  • Key into the curiosity gap with a headline like “What Mother Should Have Told You about Banking. (And How Not Knowing is Costing You Friends.)” Ridiculous claim? Maybe, but this kind of headline gets a reader hooked on narrative and they have to click through to see how the story comes together.
  • And if you’re looking for a formula for the best headlines ever, Nahai proposes the following:
    Number/Trigger word + Adjective + Keyword + Promise = Killer Headline.

Many readers still (consciously or not) consider headlines a promise. So remember, as you fill the headline with hyperbole and only write eleven of the twelve tips you set out to write, there is a reader on the other end hoping butter really is good for them.

The headline danger zone

This is where headline science can get ugly. Because a lot of “perfect” titles simply do not have the quality or depth of content to back them.

Those types of headlines remind me of the Greek myth of Tantalus. For sharing the secrets of the gods with the common folk, Tantalus was condemned to spend eternity surrounded by food and drink that were forever out of his reach. Now, content is hardly the secrets of the gods, but are we tantalizing our customers with teasing headlines that will never satisfy?

buzzfeed headlines

For me, reading headlines on
BuzzFeed and Upworthy and their ilk is like talking to the guy at the party with all those super wild anecdotes. He’s entertaining, but I don’t believe a word he says, soon wish he would shut up, and can’t remember his name five seconds later. Maybe I don’t believe in clickability as much as I thought…

So I turn to credible news sources for credible headlines.

washington post headlines

I’m having trouble deciding at this point if I’m more bothered by the headline at
The Washington Post, the fact that they’re covering that topic at all, or that they didn’t really go for true clickbait with something like “You Won’t Believe the Bizarre Reasons Girls Scream at Boy Band Concerts.” But one (or all) of those things makes me very sad. 

Are we developing an immunity to clickbait headlines?

Even
Upworthy is shifting their headline creation tactics a little. But that doesn’t mean they are switching from clickbait, it just means they’ve seen their audience get tired of the same old tactics. So they’re looking for new and better tactics to keep you engaged and clicking.

The importance of traffic

I think many of us would sell a little of our soul if it would increase our traffic, and of course those clickbaity curiosity gap headlines are designed to do that (and are mostly working, for now).

But we also want good traffic. The kind of people who are going to engage with our brand and build relationships with us over the long haul, right? Back to what we were discussing in the intro, we want the kind of traffic that’s likely to convert. Don’t we?

As much as I advocate for clickable headlines, the riskier the headline I write, the more closely I compare overall traffic (especially returning visitors) to click-throughs, time on page, and bounce rate to see if I’ve pushed it too far and am alienating our most loyal fans. Because new visitors are awesome, but loyal customers are priceless.

Headline science at Moz

At Moz, we’re trying to find the delicate balance between attracting all the customers and attracting the right customers. In my first week here when Trevor and Cyrus were polling readers on what headline they’d prefer to read, I advocated for a more clickable version. See if you can pick out which is mine…

headline poll

Yep, you guessed it. I suggested “Your Google Algorithm Cheat Sheet: Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird” because it contained a trigger word and a keyword, plus it was punchy. I actually liked “A Layman’s Explanation of the Panda Algorithm, the Penguin Algorithm, and Hummingbird,” but I was pretty sure no one would click on it.

Last time I checked, that has more traffic than any other post for the month of June. I won’t say that’s all because of the headline—it’s a really strong and useful post—but I think the headline helped a lot.

But that’s just one data point. I’ve also been spicing up the subject lines on the Moz Top 10 newsletter to see what gets the most traffic.

most-read subject lines

And the results here are more mixed. Titles I felt like were much more clickbaity like “Did Google Kill Spam?…” and “Are You Using Robots.txt the Right Way?…” underperformed compared to the straight up “Moz Top 10.”

While the most clickbaity “Groupon Did What?…” and the two about Google selling domains (which was accurate but suggested that Google was selling it’s own domains, which worried me a bit) have the most opens overall.

Help us resolve the dispute

As you can tell, I have some unresolved feelings about this whole clickbait versus credibility thing. While Trevor and I have strong opinions, we also have a lot of questions that we hope you can help us with. Blow my mind with your headline logic in the comments by sharing your opinion on any of the following:

  • Do clickbait titles erode trust? If yes, do you ever worry about that affecting your bottom line?
  • Would you sacrifice credibility for clickability? Does it have to be a choice?
  • Is there such thing as a formula for a perfect headline? What standards do you use when writing headlines?
  • Does a clickbait title affect how likely you are to read an article? What about sharing one? Do you ever feel duped by the content? Does that affect your behavior the next time?  
  • How much of your soul would you sell for more traffic?

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!

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