How to Create Authentic Hyperlocal Content At Scale

Posted by mahannay

The “why” and “how” of sourcing local talent from national HQ

A recent report on national-to-local marketers mentions that, with the exception of email marketing, “enterprise brands are struggling to make digital as effective as traditional tactics and media” for local branches’ ad dollars. With locally focused email newsletters, it’s generally easier to automate locally targeted sales or events. On the other hand, local content is much more essential for local SEO and social media engagement, and this is where enterprise brands have not yet fully conquered the local space.

For national brands, accumulating content that resonates with locals in each individual market is an excruciating task. Not even the best of researchers or the slyest of copywriters can match the value of a local’s knowledge base. Meanwhile, local partners may not have the time or the storytelling know-how to create quality local content.

Content without topic knowledge is generic; content without storytelling chops is ineffective. Herein lies the problem for local: How do you plan quality, shareable articles, videos, and digital media with a local focus at a national scale?

The answer: Find locals to create content about their region.

As Ronell Smith recently wrote, SMBs have the content creation advantage when it comes to local know-how, but I respectfully disagree with Ronell on his preference for local brands topping local content SERPs. Generally, I’d prefer the best local content to top my searches, and many national startups are disrupting local habits for the better (think Uber v. your local cab company). National, online brands will never be able to replace the helpful salesperson down the street, and franchises will never be the first choice for dinner with friends from out-of-town, but there is a space in the market for enterprises, especially if they’re willing to take the time to mingle with local creatives.

The three methods in this post have varying SEO side effects, depending on the tactics used. While local content is a boon to local rank, a “sponsored post” on a local news source won’t have the same effect on your rankings. But while SEO is a factor to consider in content creation, it’s not the only reason in town. Good ‘local’ marketing doesn’t always mean scaling standardized national content and messaging to every market; rather, this post posits that ‘scaling local’ means developing targeted resources that resonate in each market.

1. Patronize local media

PR is not the only way to work with journalists anymore. Many media publications both large and small are adding content creation services to their revenue stream. Sometimes this means sponsored content, where a piece is commissioned (and labelled as such) by a for-profit partner. In other cases, journalists are working with brands to bring their talent for story to commercials, website content, or other branded media.

According to a 2014 Pew Research report, “the largest component of the growing digital news world is the smaller news site. A large majority of them are less than a decade old, about half are nonprofits, most have staffs of five or fewer and many also rely on volunteer and citizen contributors. Their greatest area of focus is local news coverage.”

One such example at the local scale is Bit & Grain, a North Carolina-focused long-form publication, whose pieces are supported by its founders’ storytelling productions for brands and nonprofits. I spoke with the weekly publication’s three cofounders on their revenue generation experiences, 18 months post-launch.

Cofounder Ryan Stancil explained that they’re still experimenting with revenue generation models, but that content production and creation is their most successful funding tool so far.

“People need help telling their story,” Stancil said. He added that their work-for-hire is both very different and very similar to the pieces they create for Bit & Grain. It’s different in that it’s commissioned storytelling, but it’s the same level of quality they bring to their weekly pieces.

A sampling of Bit & Grain’s local fare.

Stancil brought up their recent sponsored piece on a local restaurant as an example. While clearly labelled as “sponsored content,” the piece received the same aesthetic care and storytelling craft as any article in the publication. Stancil’s cofounder, Baxter Miller, echoed a similar sentiment in their sponsored content process.

“If anyone came to us about doing a sponsored content piece, we would vet them as much as anything we put on our editorial calendar,” she said “And really the process is much the same.”

I also spoke with Shawn Krest, the managing editor of local publication Raleigh & Company, which began as a fun side project/playground for Raleigh, NC-area journalists and has evolved into a blog-like online publication. The site was acquired by Capitol Broadcasting Company in August of 2015.

While Raleigh & Company covers the same region as Bit & Grain, the publications’ similarities end there. Raleigh & Company’s subject matter is more irreverent, with pieces poking fun at Presidential candidates, and others interviewing NFL recruits who will never see game day. Plus, Raleigh & Company’s copyeditors have no qualms about the first person appearing in its columns.

“We’ve had pieces where writers really open up and talk about issues they’re dealing with,” Krest said. “Addictions, things like that. I feel like when Raleigh & Company is at its best, you see the writer sort of bleeding on the keyboard as they’re writing.”

Local journalism is going niche in a way that daily newspapers couldn’t. For brands, this is another potential win, as you’re able to zero-in on a narrow audience in your city of choice.

Like Bit & Grain, Raleigh & Company is open to sponsored posts, but Krest is not willing to lose the tenor of the publication to satisfy a sponsor, as he explained when the blog was acquired by Capitol Broadcasting Company.

“We said at that first meeting, ‘we use the F-word and we’re not going to stop,’ and they were fine with that,” he said. “The first time they wanted us to look more like the local news, it would not work.”

While as different as Eastern and Western NC barbecue, Bit & Grain and Raleigh & Company have similar limitations to their branded content philosophies. This shouldn’t be a problem for companies seeking true neighborhood flavor in their local content. For brands who want a bit more control, a collaborative approach with an influencer may be a better option.

Finding local journalists

Local media is transforming. For some, this is a frightening prospect; for others, it’s a moment of opportunity. During the recent Sustain Local Journalism conference, which I attended, a few local writers and publishers gathered in Montclair, NJ to discuss the biggest issue currently haunting their industry: how to keep funds flowing. While some local news sites, such as Philadelphia’s Billy Penn, have found success through events, many at the conference agreed that revenue diversification was the only way forward. Not every local writer will want to craft a piece for a brand, but others are willing to work with the enterprise in order to support their own local efforts.

Here are a couple online lists of local media sites:

Though both lists fall short of the total, as neither has Bit & Co. or Raleigh & Company among their publications.

2. Capture the photographer next door: Partner with local influencers

Influencer marketing is nothing new, but it is under-utilized for local campaigns. Whether they’re Insta-famous or a YouTube personality, every influencer calls somewhere home. And for local content creation, audience size is a secondary metric. The biggest offering local bloggers or vloggers provide is a local perspective and content creation experience.

My favorite rule of thumb when approaching bloggers (credit to a presentation by Molly McKinley of Adwerx): Give before you ask.

And “gifts” don’t have to be free products. They don’t even have to be physical items. Can you invite local bloggers to an upcoming company event? Do local offices receive event tickets in exchange for local sponsorships? Maybe you could allocate a budget to sponsor their existing local interests. For enterprise-size brands, links and shares of smaller bloggers can offer a big boost to their SEO and/or social media accounts. At ZipSprout, we’ve developed locally focused content by interviewing bloggers about their favorite area restaurants and day trips.

Local bloggers have both neighborhood and content creation know-how. While your competitors chase the influencers with the biggest following, consider first seeking the voice that matches your brand.

Finding local influencers

Bloggers and influencers are typically organized categorically, so I have to go back to some of the prospecting lessons I learned from my cofounder, link builder Garrett French, to find influencers based on location.

I find success using phrases a local would have on their blog, such as:

"here in philadelphia" intitle:"blog"

From which I found:

Sometimes it helps to get a bit more specific, since many bloggers don’t have the word “blog” on every page. So I tried:

"here in philadelphia" intitle:"my dog"

From which I found:

Want a local photographer? Try:

"here in philly" inurl:"instagram.com"

Photo by @bkerollis, a Philadelphia-based blogger and choreographer, on Instagram.

Of course, you can search for #Philadelphia on Instagram, but Google conveniently sorts (somewhat) by post popularity.

3. Brand Y x City Z = Local data

It’s not just “the top 10 cities for” — find local data in context with national trends. Good narratives find the context and connection to bigger stories. What does your data from City X say about how that area stands out from the crowd?

At ZipSprout, we’ve reported on the top corporate sponsors in a particular geographic region, finding that local news and tech companies, followed by national banks, are the most widespread donors to local nonprofits and events in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina. We also visualized the most frequently used words in local organization’s “about” pages. Thanks to our data, we can write a similar article, but with very different results, for cities all over the U.S.

It can take some developer time, but local data can be automated on city pages. What’s the most popular Starbucks order in Omaha, Nebraska? What’s the most frequently rented Hertz car from the Dallas/Fort Worth airport? What are the most and least popular times to ride a Lyft in NYC?

Locally focused blog posts and landing pages can be fun. Showing customers we know they’re unique says a lot about a brand’s local presence, without saying anything at all.

Conclusion: Write local, right

If you really want to have hyperlocal visibility, in the SERPs and in local publications, you need hyperlocal content, at scale.

The Woodward and Bernstein-style newsroom may soon be old fashioned, but we’re also in an age that appreciates authentic, quality storytelling, and local branches often don’t have the personnel or resources to develop local content. Neighborhood know-how can’t be fudged, so why not partner people who can tell your brand’s story with a local accent?

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Reblogged 9 months ago from tracking.feedpress.it

How Your Brand Can Create an Enviable Customer Experience for Mobile Web Searchers

Posted by ronell-smith

Not very edible corned beef hash

Here I am, seated in a Manhattan, New York restaurant, staring at corned beef hash that looks and tastes like what I imagine dog food to look and taste like.

I’m pissed for two reasons:

  • It cost nearly $25 and was entirely inedible
  • I should have known better given the visuals depicted after doing a Google image search to find the dish, which was offered at a nearby restaurant

In retrospect, I should have checked A and B on my phone before ordering the $25 plate of Alpo. And though I didn’t do that, other would-be customers will, which means the business owner or SEO had better follow the steps below if they wish to stay in business.

The bad news is I no longer relish the thought of eating at high-end NY restaurants; the good news is this experience totally reshaped the way I view mobile, opening my eyes to simple but very effective tactics businesses of all types can immediately put to use for their brands.

My mobile education

We’ve all heard how mobile is transforming the web experience, reshaping the landscape for marketers, brands and consumers.

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As marketers, we now have to account for how our content will be accessed and consumed on mobile devices, whether that’s a phone, tablet or phablet. As brands, we realize our efforts will be judged not only on how well or high we show up in the SERPs, but also on much we can delight the on-the-go prospect who needs information that’s (a) fast, (b) accurate and (c) available from any device.

As prospects and consumers, we’ve come to know and value customer experience in large part because brands that use mobile to deliver what we need when we need it and in a way that’s easily consumed, have earned our attention — and maybe even our dollars.

But that’s where the similarities seemingly end. Marketers and brands seem to get so wrapped up in the technology (responsive design, anyone?) they forget that, at the end of the day, prospects want what they want right now — in the easiest-to-access way possible.

I’ve come to believe that, while marketers appreciate the overall value of mobile, they have yet to realize how, for customers, it’s all about what it allows them to accomplish.

At the customer/end-user level it’s not about mobile-friendly or responsive design; it’s about creating an enviable customer experience, one web searchers will reward you for with traffic, brand mentions and conversions.

I was alerted to the prominence of mobile phone use by noticing how many people sit staring at their phones while out at dinner, even as family members and friends are seated all around them. “How rude,” I thought. Then I realized it wasn’t only the people at restaurants; it’s people everywhere: walking down the street, driving (sadly and dangerously), sitting in movie theaters, at work, even texting while they talk on the phone.

One of my favorite comments with regard to mobile’s dominance comes with the Wizard of Moz himself, when he shared this tweet and accompanying image last year:

But my “aha!” moment happened last year, in Manhattan, during the corned beef hash episode.

After working until brunch, I…

  1. Opened iPhone to Google
  2. Typed “Best corned beef hash near me”
  3. Scanned list of restaurant by distance and reviews
  4. Selected the closest restaurant having > 4-star review ratings
  5. Ended up disappointed

That’s when it hit me that I’d made errors of omission at every step, in large part by leaving one very important element out of the process, but also by not thinking like a smart web user.

Normally my process is as follows, when I wish to enjoy a specific meal while traveling:

  1. Open iPhone to Google Search box
  2. Type “Best _________ near me”
  3. Scan list of restaurants by distance and reviews
  4. Select restaurant having > 4-star review rating but has excellent reviews (> 4.5) of the dish I want and has great images of the dish online
  5. Delight ensues

That’s when three things occurred to me like a brickbat to the noggin’:

  • This is a process I use quite often and is one that has proved quite foolproof
  • It’s undoubtedly a process many other would-be customer are using to identify desirable products and services
  • Marketers can reverse-engineer the process to bring the customers they’re hoping for to their doors or websites.

(Eds. note: This post was created with small business owners (single or multiple location), or those doing Local SEO for SMBs, in mind, as I hope to inform them of how many individuals think about and use mobile, and how the marketers can get in front of them with relevant content. Also, I’d like to thank Cindy Krum of Mobile Moxie for encouraging me to write this post, and Local SEO savant Phil Rozek of Local Visibility System for making sure I colored within the lines.)

Five ways to create an enviable customer experience on mobile

#1 — Optimize your images

Image optimization is the quintessential low-hanging fruit of online marketing: easy to accomplish but typically overlooked.

For our purposes, we aren’t so much making them “mobile-friendly” as we are making them search-friendly, increasing the likelihood that Google’s crawlers can better decipher what they contain and deliver them for the optimal search query.

First and foremost, do not use a stock image if your goal is for searchers to find, read and enjoy your content. Just don’t. Also, given how much of a factor website speed is, minify your images to ensure they don’t hamper page speed load times.

But the three main areas I want us to focus on are file name, alt text and title text, and captions. My standard for each is summed up very well in a blog post from Ian Lurie, who proposes an ingenious idea:

The Blank Sheet of Paper Test: If you wrote this text on a piece of paper and showed it to a stranger, would they understand the meaning? Is this text fully descriptive?

With this thinking in mind, image optimization becomes far simpler:

  • File name: We’re all adults here — don’t be thickheaded and choose something like “DSC9671 . png” when “cornedbeefhash . jpg” clearly works better.
  • Alt text and title text: Given that, in Google’s eyes, these two are the priorities, you must make certain they’re as descriptive as possible. Clearly list what the image is and/or contains without weighing it down with unneeded text. Using the corned beef hash from above as a example, “corned beef hash with minced meat” would be great, but “corned beef hash with minced meat and diced potatoes” would work better, alerting me that the dish isn’t what I’m looking for. (I prefer shredded beef and shredded potatoes.)
  • Caption: Yes, I know these aren’t necessary for every post, but why leave your visitors hanging, especially if an optimal customer experience is the goal? Were I to caption the corned beef, it’d be something along the lines of “Corned beef hash with minced meat and diced potatoes is one of the most popular dishes at XX.” It says just enough without trying to say everything, which is the goal, says Lurie.

“’Fully descriptive’ means ‘describes the thing to which it’s attached,’ not ‘describe the entire universe,'” he adds.

Also, invite customers to take and share pictures online (e.g., websites, Instagram, Yelp, Google) and include as much rich detail as possible.

What’s more, it might behoove you to have a Google Business View photo shoot, says Rozek. “Those show up most prominently (in the Knowledge Panel) for brand-name mobile searches in Google.”

#2 — Make reviews a priority

Many prospects and customers use reviews as a make-or-break tactic when making purchases. Brands, realizing this, have taken note, making it their charge to get positive reviews.

But not all reviews are created equal.

Instead of making certain your brand gets positive reviews on the entirety of its products and services, redouble your efforts at getting positive reviews on your bread-and-butter services.

In many instances, what people have to say about your individual services and/or products matters more than your brand’s overall review ratings.

I learned this from talking to several uber-picky foodie friends who shared that the main thing they look for is a brand having an overall rating (e.g., on Yelp, Google, Angie’s List, Amazon, etc.) higher than 3.5, but who have customer comments glorifying the specific product they’re hoping to enjoy.

“These days, everyone is gaming the system, doing what they can to get their customers to leave favorable reviews,” said one friend, who lives in Dallas. “But discerning [prospects] are only looking at the overall rating as a beginning point. From there, they’re digging into the comments, looking to see what people have to say about the very specific thing they want. [Smart brands] would focus more on getting people to leave comments about the particular service they used, how happy they work with the result and how it compares to other [such services they’ve used]. We may be on our phones, but we’re still willing to dig into those comments.”

To take advantage of this behavior,

  • In addition to asking for a favorable review, ask customers to comment on the specific services they used, providing as much detail as possible
  • Redouble your efforts at over-delivering on quality service when it comes to your core offerings
  • Ask a few of your regulars, who have left comments on review sites, what they think meets the minimum expectation for provoking folks to leave a review (e.g., optimizing for the desired behavior)
  • Encourage reviewers to upload photos with their reviews (or even just photos, if they don’t want to review you). They’re great “local content,” they’re useful as social-proof elements, and your customers may take better pictures than you do, in which case you can showcase them on your site.

Relevant content:

#3 — Shorten your content

I serve as a horrible spokesperson for content brevity, but it matters a great deal to mobile searchers. What works fine on desktop is a clutter-fest on mobile, even for sites using responsive design.

As a general rule, simplicity wins.

For example, Whataburger’s mobile experience is uncluttered, appealing to the eye and makes it clear what they want me to do: learn about their specials or make a purchase:

57f3dd4b0c9037.76728058.jpg

On the other hand, McDonald’s isn’t so sure what I’m looking for, apparently:

57f3dfdb8ba5c6.40363967.jpg

Are they trying to sell me potatoes, convince me of how committed they are to freshness or looking to learn as much as they can about me? Or all of the above?

Web searchers have specific needs and are typically short on time and patience, so you have to get in front of them with the right message to have a chance.

When it comes to the content you deliver, think tight (shorter), punchy (attention-grabbing) and valuable (on- message for the query).

# 4 — Optimize for local content

Like all of you, I’ve been using “near me” searches for years, especially when I travel. But over the last year, these searches have gotten more thorough and more accurate, in large part as a result of Google’s Mobile Update and because the search giant is making customer intent a priority.

In 2015, Google reported that “near me” searches increased by 34-fold since 2011.

And though most of these “near me” searches are for durable goods/appliances and their associated retailers, services, including “surgeons near me,” “plumbers near me,” “jobs near me,” etc., and other things that are typically in a high consideration set are growing considerably, according to Google via its website, thinkwithgoogle.com.

A recent case study of 82 websites (41, control group; 41, test group) shows just how dramatic the impact of optimizing a site for local intent can be. By tweaking the hours and directions page titles, descriptions and H1s to utilize the phrases “franchise dealer near me” and “nearest franchise dealer” the brand saw mobile impressions for “near me” more than double to 8,833 impressions and 46 clicks. (The control group’s “near me” impression share only rose 11%.)

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Image courtesy of CDK Global

Additional steps for optimizing your site for “near me” searches

  • Prominently display your business name, address and phone number (aka, NAP) on your site
  • Use schema markup in your NAP
  • In addition to proper setup and optimization of your Google My Business listing, provide each location with its own listing and, just as important, ensure that the business name, address and phone number of each location matches what’s listed on the site
  • Consider embedding a Google Map prominently on your website. “It’s good for user experience,” says Rozek. “But it may also influence rankings.”

#5 — Use Google App Deep Linking

We’ve all heard the statistics: The vast majority — in some circles the figure is 95% — of apps downloaded to mobile devices are never used. Don’t be deceived, however, into believing apps are irrelevant.

Nearly half of all time spent on the web is in apps.

This means that the mobile searchers looking for products or services in your area are likely using an app or, at the very least, prompted to enter/use an app.

For example, when I type “thai restaurant near me,” the first organic result is TripAdvisor.

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Upon entering the site, the first (and preferred) action the brand would like for me to make is to download the TripAdvisor app:

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Many times, a “near me” search will take us to content within an app, and we won’t even realize it until we see the “continue in XX app or visit the mobile site” banner.

And if a searcher doesn’t have the app installed, “Google can show an app install button. So, enabling your app for Google indexing could actually increase the installed base of the app,” writes Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting.

For brands, App Deep Linking (ADL), which he defines as “the ability for Google to index content from within an app and then display it as mobile search results,” has huge implications if utilized properly.

“Think about it,” he writes. “If your app is not one of the fortunate few that get most of the attention, but your app content ranks high in searches, then you could end up with a lot more users in your app than you might have had otherwise.”

(To access details on how to set up Google App Deep Linking, read Enge’s Search Engine Land article: SMX Advanced recap: Advanced Google App Deep Linking)

If your brand has an app, this is information you shouldn’t sleep on.

Typically, when I conduct a “near me” search, I click on/look through the images until I find one that fits what I’m looking for. Nine times out of ten (depending upon what I’m looking for), I’m either taken to content within an app or taken to a mobile site and prompted to download the app.

Seems to me that ADL would be a no-brainer.

Optimizing for mobile is simply putting web searchers first

For all the gnashing of teeth Google’s many actions/inactions provoke, the search giant deserves credit for making the needs of web searchers a priority.

Too often, we, as marketers, think first and foremost in this fashion:

  1. What do we have to sell?
  2. Who needs it?
  3. What’s the cheapest, easiest way to deliver the product or service?

I think Google is saying to us that the reverse needs to occur:

  1. Make it as fast and as easy for people to find what they want
  2. Better understand who it is that’s likely to be looking for it by better understanding our customers and their intent
  3. The sales process must begin by thinking “what specific needs do web searchers have that my brand is uniquely qualified to fulfill?”

In this way, we’re placing the needs of web searchers ahead of the needs of the brand, which will be the winning combination for successful companies in the days ahead.

Brands will either follow suit or fall by the wayside.

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Reblogged 1 year ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Meet Dan Morris, Executive Vice President, North America

  1. Why did you decide to come to dotmailer?

The top three reasons were People, Product and Opportunity. I met the people who make up our business and heard their stories from the past 18 years, learned about the platform and market leading status they had built in the UK, and saw that I could add value with my U.S. high growth business experience. I’ve been working with marketers, entrepreneurs and business owners for years across a series of different roles, and saw that I could apply what I’d learned from that and the start-up space to dotmailer’s U.S. operation. dotmailer has had clients in the U.S. for 12 years and we’re positioned to grow the user base of our powerful and easy-to-use platform significantly. I knew I could make a difference here, and what closed the deal for me was the people.  Every single person I’ve met is deeply committed to the business, to the success of our customers and to making our solution simple and efficient.  We’re a great group of passionate people and I’m proud to have joined the dotfamily.

Dan Morris, dotmailer’s EVP for North America in the new NYC office

      1. Tell us a bit about your new role

dotmailer has been in business and in this space for more than 18 years. We were a web agency, then a Systems Integrator, and we got into the email business that way, ultimately building the dotmailer platform thousands of people use daily. This means we know this space better than anyone and we have the perfect solutions to align closely with our customers and the solutions flexible enough to grow with them.  My role is to take all that experience and the platform and grow our U.S. presence. My early focus has been on identifying the right team to execute our growth plans. We want to be the market leader in the U.S. in the next three years – just like we’ve done in the UK –  so getting the right people in the right spots was critical.  We quickly assessed the skills of the U.S. team and made changes that were necessary in order to provide the right focus on customer success. Next, we set out to completely rebuild dotmailer’s commercial approach in the U.S.  We simplified our offers to three bundles, so that pricing and what’s included in those bundles is transparent to our customers.  We’ve heard great things about this already from clients and partners. We’re also increasing our resources on customer success and support.  We’re intensely focused on ease of on-boarding, ease of use and speed of use.  We consistently hear how easy and smooth a process it is to use dotmailer’s tools.  That’s key for us – when you buy a dotmailer solution, we want to onboard you quickly and make sure you have all of your questions answered right away so that you can move right into using it.  Customers are raving about this, so we know it’s working well.

  1. What early accomplishments are you most proud of from your dotmailer time so far?

I’ve been at dotmailer for eight months now and I’m really proud of all we’ve accomplished together.  We spent a lot of time assessing where we needed to restructure and where we needed to invest.  We made the changes we needed, invested in our partner program, localized tech support, customer on-boarding and added customer success team members.  We have the right people in the right roles and it’s making a difference.  We have a commercial approach that is clear with the complete transparency that we wanted to provide our customers.  We’ve got a more customer-focused approach and we’re on-boarding customers quickly so they’re up and running faster.  We have happier customers than ever before and that’s the key to everything we do.

  1. You’ve moved the U.S. team to a new office. Can you tell us why and a bit about the new space?

I thought it was very important to create a NY office space that was tied to branding and other offices around the world, and also had its own NY energy and culture for our team here – to foster collaboration and to have some fun.  It was also important for us that we had a flexible space where we could welcome customers, partners and resellers, and also hold classes and dotUniversity training sessions. I’m really grateful to the team who worked on the space because it really reflects our team and what we care about.   At any given time, you’ll see a training session happening, the team collaborating, a customer dropping in to ask a few questions or a partner dropping in to work from here.  We love our new, NYC space.

We had a spectacular reception this week to celebrate the opening of this office with customers, partners and the dotmailer leadership team in attendance. Please take a look at the photos from our event on Facebook.

Guests and the team at dotmailer's new NYC office warming party

Guests and the team at dotmailer’s new NYC office warming party

  1. What did you learn from your days in the start-up space that you’re applying at dotmailer?

The start-up space is a great place to learn. You have to know where every dollar is going and coming from, so every choice you make needs to be backed up with a business case for that investment.  You try lots of different things to see if they’ll work and you’re ready to turn those tactics up or down quickly based on an assessment of the results. You also learn things don’t have to stay the way they are, and can change if you make them change. You always listen and learn – to customers, partners, industry veterans, advisors, etc. to better understand what’s working and not working.  dotmailer has been in business for 18 years now, and so there are so many great contributors across the business who know how things have worked and yet are always keen to keep improving.  I am constantly in listening and learning mode so that I can understand all of the unique perspectives our team brings and what we need to act on.

  1. What are your plans for the U.S. and the sales function there?

On our path to being the market leader in the U.S., I’m focused on three things going forward: 1 – I want our customers to be truly happy.  It’s already a big focus in the dotmailer organization – and we’re working hard to understand their challenges and goals so we can take product and service to the next level. 2 – Creating an even more robust program around partners, resellers and further building out our channel partners to continuously improve sales and customer service programs. We recently launched a certification program to ensure partners have all the training and resources they need to support our mutual customers.  3 – We have an aggressive growth plan for the U.S. and I’m very focused on making sure our team is well trained, and that we remain thoughtful and measured as we take the steps to grow.  We want to always keep an eye on what we’re known for – tools that are powerful and simple to use – and make sure everything else we offer remains accessible and valuable as we execute our growth plans.

  1. What are the most common questions that you get when speaking to a prospective customer?

The questions we usually get are around price, service level and flexibility.  How much does dotmailer cost?  How well are you going to look after my business?  How will you integrate into my existing stack and then my plans for future growth? We now have three transparent bundle options with specifics around what’s included published right on our website.  We have introduced a customer success team that’s focused only on taking great care of our customers and we’re hearing stories every day that tells me this is working.  And we have all of the tools to support our customers as they grow and to also integrate into their existing stacks – often integrating so well that you can use dotmailer from within Magento, Salesforce or Dynamics, for example.

  1. Can you tell us about the dotmailer differentiators you highlight when speaking to prospective customers that seem to really resonate?

In addition to the ones above – ease of use, speed of use and the ability to scale with you. With dotmailer’s tiered program, you can start with a lighter level of functionality and grow into more advanced functionality as you need it. The platform itself is so easy to use that most marketers are able to build campaigns in minutes that would have taken hours on other platforms. Our customer success team is also with you all the way if ever you want or need help.  We’ve built a very powerful platform and we have a fantastic team to help you with personalized service as an extended part of your team and we’re ready to grow with you.

  1. How much time is your team on the road vs. in the office? Any road warrior tips to share?

I’ve spent a lot of time on the road, one year I attended 22 tradeshows! Top tip when flying is to be willing to give up your seat for families or groups once you’re at the airport gate, as you’ll often be rewarded with a better seat for helping the airline make the family or group happy. Win win! Since joining dotmailer, I’m focused on being in office and present for the team and customers as much as possible. I can usually be found in our new, NYC office where I spend a lot of time with our team, in customer meetings, in trainings and other hosted events, sales conversations or marketing meetings. I’m here to help the team, clients and partners to succeed, and will always do my best to say yes! Once our prospective customers see how quickly and efficiently they can execute tasks with dotmailer solutions vs. their existing solutions, it’s a no-brainer for them.  I love seeing and hearing their reactions.

  1. Tell us a bit about yourself – favorite sports team, favorite food, guilty pleasure, favorite band, favorite vacation spot?

I’m originally from Yorkshire in England, and grew up just outside York. I moved to the U.S. about seven years ago to join a very fast growing startup, we took it from 5 to well over 300 people which was a fantastic experience. I moved to NYC almost two years ago, and I love exploring this great city.  There’s so much to see and do.  Outside of dotmailer, my passion is cars, and I also enjoy skeet shooting, almost all types of music, and I love to travel – my goal is to get to India, Thailand, Australia and Japan in the near future.

Want to find out more about the dotfamily? Check out our recent post about Darren Hockley, Global Head of Support.

Reblogged 1 year ago from blog.dotmailer.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 2 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it