Why Effective, Modern SEO Requires Technical, Creative, and Strategic Thinking – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

There’s no doubt that quite a bit has changed about SEO, and that the field is far more integrated with other aspects of online marketing than it once was. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand pushes back against the idea that effective modern SEO doesn’t require any technical expertise, outlining a fantastic list of technical elements that today’s SEOs need to know about in order to be truly effective.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard. Click on it to open a high resolution image in a new tab!

Video transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I’m going to do something unusual. I don’t usually point out these inconsistencies or sort of take issue with other folks’ content on the web, because I generally find that that’s not all that valuable and useful. But I’m going to make an exception here.

There is an article by Jayson DeMers, who I think might actually be here in Seattle — maybe he and I can hang out at some point — called “Why Modern SEO Requires Almost No Technical Expertise.” It was an article that got a shocking amount of traction and attention. On Facebook, it has thousands of shares. On LinkedIn, it did really well. On Twitter, it got a bunch of attention.

Some folks in the SEO world have already pointed out some issues around this. But because of the increasing popularity of this article, and because I think there’s, like, this hopefulness from worlds outside of kind of the hardcore SEO world that are looking to this piece and going, “Look, this is great. We don’t have to be technical. We don’t have to worry about technical things in order to do SEO.”

Look, I completely get the appeal of that. I did want to point out some of the reasons why this is not so accurate. At the same time, I don’t want to rain on Jayson, because I think that it’s very possible he’s writing an article for Entrepreneur, maybe he has sort of a commitment to them. Maybe he had no idea that this article was going to spark so much attention and investment. He does make some good points. I think it’s just really the title and then some of the messages inside there that I take strong issue with, and so I wanted to bring those up.

First off, some of the good points he did bring up.

One, he wisely says, “You don’t need to know how to code or to write and read algorithms in order to do SEO.” I totally agree with that. If today you’re looking at SEO and you’re thinking, “Well, am I going to get more into this subject? Am I going to try investing in SEO? But I don’t even know HTML and CSS yet.”

Those are good skills to have, and they will help you in SEO, but you don’t need them. Jayson’s totally right. You don’t have to have them, and you can learn and pick up some of these things, and do searches, watch some Whiteboard Fridays, check out some guides, and pick up a lot of that stuff later on as you need it in your career. SEO doesn’t have that hard requirement.

And secondly, he makes an intelligent point that we’ve made many times here at Moz, which is that, broadly speaking, a better user experience is well correlated with better rankings.

You make a great website that delivers great user experience, that provides the answers to searchers’ questions and gives them extraordinarily good content, way better than what’s out there already in the search results, generally speaking you’re going to see happy searchers, and that’s going to lead to higher rankings.

But not entirely. There are a lot of other elements that go in here. So I’ll bring up some frustrating points around the piece as well.

First off, there’s no acknowledgment — and I find this a little disturbing — that the ability to read and write code, or even HTML and CSS, which I think are the basic place to start, is helpful or can take your SEO efforts to the next level. I think both of those things are true.

So being able to look at a web page, view source on it, or pull up Firebug in Firefox or something and diagnose what’s going on and then go, “Oh, that’s why Google is not able to see this content. That’s why we’re not ranking for this keyword or term, or why even when I enter this exact sentence in quotes into Google, which is on our page, this is why it’s not bringing it up. It’s because it’s loading it after the page from a remote file that Google can’t access.” These are technical things, and being able to see how that code is built, how it’s structured, and what’s going on there, very, very helpful.

Some coding knowledge also can take your SEO efforts even further. I mean, so many times, SEOs are stymied by the conversations that we have with our programmers and our developers and the technical staff on our teams. When we can have those conversations intelligently, because at least we understand the principles of how an if-then statement works, or what software engineering best practices are being used, or they can upload something into a GitHub repository, and we can take a look at it there, that kind of stuff is really helpful.

Secondly, I don’t like that the article overly reduces all of this information that we have about what we’ve learned about Google. So he mentions two sources. One is things that Google tells us, and others are SEO experiments. I think both of those are true. Although I’d add that there’s sort of a sixth sense of knowledge that we gain over time from looking at many, many search results and kind of having this feel for why things rank, and what might be wrong with a site, and getting really good at that using tools and data as well. There are people who can look at Open Site Explorer and then go, “Aha, I bet this is going to happen.” They can look, and 90% of the time they’re right.

So he boils this down to, one, write quality content, and two, reduce your bounce rate. Neither of those things are wrong. You should write quality content, although I’d argue there are lots of other forms of quality content that aren’t necessarily written — video, images and graphics, podcasts, lots of other stuff.

And secondly, that just doing those two things is not always enough. So you can see, like many, many folks look and go, “I have quality content. It has a low bounce rate. How come I don’t rank better?” Well, your competitors, they’re also going to have quality content with a low bounce rate. That’s not a very high bar.

Also, frustratingly, this really gets in my craw. I don’t think “write quality content” means anything. You tell me. When you hear that, to me that is a totally non-actionable, non-useful phrase that’s a piece of advice that is so generic as to be discardable. So I really wish that there was more substance behind that.

The article also makes, in my opinion, the totally inaccurate claim that modern SEO really is reduced to “the happier your users are when they visit your site, the higher you’re going to rank.”

Wow. Okay. Again, I think broadly these things are correlated. User happiness and rank is broadly correlated, but it’s not a one to one. This is not like a, “Oh, well, that’s a 1.0 correlation.”

I would guess that the correlation is probably closer to like the page authority range. I bet it’s like 0.35 or something correlation. If you were to actually measure this broadly across the web and say like, “Hey, were you happier with result one, two, three, four, or five,” the ordering would not be perfect at all. It probably wouldn’t even be close.

There’s a ton of reasons why sometimes someone who ranks on Page 2 or Page 3 or doesn’t rank at all for a query is doing a better piece of content than the person who does rank well or ranks on Page 1, Position 1.

Then the article suggests five and sort of a half steps to successful modern SEO, which I think is a really incomplete list. So Jayson gives us;

  • Good on-site experience
  • Writing good content
  • Getting others to acknowledge you as an authority
  • Rising in social popularity
  • Earning local relevance
  • Dealing with modern CMS systems (which he notes most modern CMS systems are SEO-friendly)

The thing is there’s nothing actually wrong with any of these. They’re all, generally speaking, correct, either directly or indirectly related to SEO. The one about local relevance, I have some issue with, because he doesn’t note that there’s a separate algorithm for sort of how local SEO is done and how Google ranks local sites in maps and in their local search results. Also not noted is that rising in social popularity won’t necessarily directly help your SEO, although it can have indirect and positive benefits.

I feel like this list is super incomplete. Okay, I brainstormed just off the top of my head in the 10 minutes before we filmed this video a list. The list was so long that, as you can see, I filled up the whole whiteboard and then didn’t have any more room. I’m not going to bother to erase and go try and be absolutely complete.

But there’s a huge, huge number of things that are important, critically important for technical SEO. If you don’t know how to do these things, you are sunk in many cases. You can’t be an effective SEO analyst, or consultant, or in-house team member, because you simply can’t diagnose the potential problems, rectify those potential problems, identify strategies that your competitors are using, be able to diagnose a traffic gain or loss. You have to have these skills in order to do that.

I’ll run through these quickly, but really the idea is just that this list is so huge and so long that I think it’s very, very, very wrong to say technical SEO is behind us. I almost feel like the opposite is true.

We have to be able to understand things like;

  • Content rendering and indexability
  • Crawl structure, internal links, JavaScript, Ajax. If something’s post-loading after the page and Google’s not able to index it, or there are links that are accessible via JavaScript or Ajax, maybe Google can’t necessarily see those or isn’t crawling them as effectively, or is crawling them, but isn’t assigning them as much link weight as they might be assigning other stuff, and you’ve made it tough to link to them externally, and so they can’t crawl it.
  • Disabling crawling and/or indexing of thin or incomplete or non-search-targeted content. We have a bunch of search results pages. Should we use rel=prev/next? Should we robots.txt those out? Should we disallow from crawling with meta robots? Should we rel=canonical them to other pages? Should we exclude them via the protocols inside Google Webmaster Tools, which is now Google Search Console?
  • Managing redirects, domain migrations, content updates. A new piece of content comes out, replacing an old piece of content, what do we do with that old piece of content? What’s the best practice? It varies by different things. We have a whole Whiteboard Friday about the different things that you could do with that. What about a big redirect or a domain migration? You buy another company and you’re redirecting their site to your site. You have to understand things about subdomain structures versus subfolders, which, again, we’ve done another Whiteboard Friday about that.
  • Proper error codes, downtime procedures, and not found pages. If your 404 pages turn out to all be 200 pages, well, now you’ve made a big error there, and Google could be crawling tons of 404 pages that they think are real pages, because you’ve made it a status code 200, or you’ve used a 404 code when you should have used a 410, which is a permanently removed, to be able to get it completely out of the indexes, as opposed to having Google revisit it and keep it in the index.

Downtime procedures. So there’s specifically a… I can’t even remember. It’s a 5xx code that you can use. Maybe it was a 503 or something that you can use that’s like, “Revisit later. We’re having some downtime right now.” Google urges you to use that specific code rather than using a 404, which tells them, “This page is now an error.”

Disney had that problem a while ago, if you guys remember, where they 404ed all their pages during an hour of downtime, and then their homepage, when you searched for Disney World, was, like, “Not found.” Oh, jeez, Disney World, not so good.

  • International and multi-language targeting issues. I won’t go into that. But you have to know the protocols there. Duplicate content, syndication, scrapers. How do we handle all that? Somebody else wants to take our content, put it on their site, what should we do? Someone’s scraping our content. What can we do? We have duplicate content on our own site. What should we do?
  • Diagnosing traffic drops via analytics and metrics. Being able to look at a rankings report, being able to look at analytics connecting those up and trying to see: Why did we go up or down? Did we have less pages being indexed, more pages being indexed, more pages getting traffic less, more keywords less?
  • Understanding advanced search parameters. Today, just today, I was checking out the related parameter in Google, which is fascinating for most sites. Well, for Moz, weirdly, related:oursite.com shows nothing. But for virtually every other sit, well, most other sites on the web, it does show some really interesting data, and you can see how Google is connecting up, essentially, intentions and topics from different sites and pages, which can be fascinating, could expose opportunities for links, could expose understanding of how they view your site versus your competition or who they think your competition is.

Then there are tons of parameters, like in URL and in anchor, and da, da, da, da. In anchor doesn’t work anymore, never mind about that one.

I have to go faster, because we’re just going to run out of these. Like, come on. Interpreting and leveraging data in Google Search Console. If you don’t know how to use that, Google could be telling you, you have all sorts of errors, and you don’t know what they are.

  • Leveraging topic modeling and extraction. Using all these cool tools that are coming out for better keyword research and better on-page targeting. I talked about a couple of those at MozCon, like MonkeyLearn. There’s the new Moz Context API, which will be coming out soon, around that. There’s the Alchemy API, which a lot of folks really like and use.
  • Identifying and extracting opportunities based on site crawls. You run a Screaming Frog crawl on your site and you’re going, “Oh, here’s all these problems and issues.” If you don’t have these technical skills, you can’t diagnose that. You can’t figure out what’s wrong. You can’t figure out what needs fixing, what needs addressing.
  • Using rich snippet format to stand out in the SERPs. This is just getting a better click-through rate, which can seriously help your site and obviously your traffic.
  • Applying Google-supported protocols like rel=canonical, meta description, rel=prev/next, hreflang, robots.txt, meta robots, x robots, NOODP, XML sitemaps, rel=nofollow. The list goes on and on and on. If you’re not technical, you don’t know what those are, you think you just need to write good content and lower your bounce rate, it’s not going to work.
  • Using APIs from services like AdWords or MozScape, or hrefs from Majestic, or SEM refs from SearchScape or Alchemy API. Those APIs can have powerful things that they can do for your site. There are some powerful problems they could help you solve if you know how to use them. It’s actually not that hard to write something, even inside a Google Doc or Excel, to pull from an API and get some data in there. There’s a bunch of good tutorials out there. Richard Baxter has one, Annie Cushing has one, I think Distilled has some. So really cool stuff there.
  • Diagnosing page load speed issues, which goes right to what Jayson was talking about. You need that fast-loading page. Well, if you don’t have any technical skills, you can’t figure out why your page might not be loading quickly.
  • Diagnosing mobile friendliness issues
  • Advising app developers on the new protocols around App deep linking, so that you can get the content from your mobile apps into the web search results on mobile devices. Awesome. Super powerful. Potentially crazy powerful, as mobile search is becoming bigger than desktop.

Okay, I’m going to take a deep breath and relax. I don’t know Jayson’s intention, and in fact, if he were in this room, he’d be like, “No, I totally agree with all those things. I wrote the article in a rush. I had no idea it was going to be big. I was just trying to make the broader points around you don’t have to be a coder in order to do SEO.” That’s completely fine.

So I’m not going to try and rain criticism down on him. But I think if you’re reading that article, or you’re seeing it in your feed, or your clients are, or your boss is, or other folks are in your world, maybe you can point them to this Whiteboard Friday and let them know, no, that’s not quite right. There’s a ton of technical SEO that is required in 2015 and will be for years to come, I think, that SEOs have to have in order to be effective at their jobs.

All right, everyone. Look forward to some great comments, and we’ll see you again next time for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

An Open-Source Tool for Checking rel-alternate-hreflang Annotations

Posted by Tom-Anthony

In the Distilled R&D department we have been ramping up the amount of automated monitoring and analysis we do, with an internal system monitoring our client’s sites both directly and via various data sources to ensure they remain healthy and we are alerted to any problems that may arise.

Recently we started work to add in functionality for including the rel-alternate-hreflang annotations in this system. In this blog post I’m going to share an open-source Python library we’ve just started work on for the purpose, which makes it easy to read the hreflang entries from a page and identify errors with them.

If you’re not a Python aficionado then don’t despair, as I have also built a ready-to-go tool for you to use, which will quickly do some checks on the hreflang entries for any URL you specify. 🙂

Google’s Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) does have some basic rel-alternate-hreflang checking built in, but it is limited in how you can use it and you are restricted to using it for verified sites.

rel-alternate-hreflang checklist

Before we introduce the code, I wanted to quickly review a list of five easy and common mistakes that we will want to check for when looking at rel-alternate-hreflang annotations:

  • return tag errors – Every alternate language/locale URL of a page should, itself, include a link back to the first page. This makes sense but I’ve seen people make mistakes with it fairly often.
  • indirect / broken links – Links to alternate language/region versions of the page should no go via redirects, and should not link to missing or broken pages.
  • multiple entries – There should never be multiple entries for a single language/region combo.
  • multiple defaults – You should never have more than one x-default entry.
  • conflicting modes – rel-alternate-hreflang entries can be implemented via inline HTML, XML sitemaps, or HTTP headers. For any one set of pages only one implementation mode should be used.

So now imagine that we want to simply automate these checks quickly and simply…

Introducing: polly – the hreflang checker library

polly is the name for the library we have developed to help us solve this problem, and we are releasing it as open source so the SEO community can use it freely to build upon. We only started work on it last week, but we plan to continue developing it, and will also accept contributions to the code from the community, so we expect its feature set to grow rapidly.

If you are not comfortable tinkering with Python, then feel free to skip down to the next section of the post, where there is a tool that is built with polly which you can use right away.

Still here? Ok, great. You can install polly easily via pip:

pip install polly

You can then create a PollyPage() object which will do all our work and store the data simply by instantiating the class with the desired URL:

my_page = PollyPage("http://www.facebook.com/")

You can quickly see the hreflang entries on the page by running:

print my_page.alternate_urls_map

You can list all the hreflang values encountered on a page, and which countries and languages they cover:

print my_page.hreflang_values
print my_page.languages
print my_page.regions

You can also check various aspects of a page, see whether the pages it includes in its rel-alternate-hreflang entries point back, or whether there are entries that do not see retrievable (due to 404 or 500 etc. errors):

print my_page.is_default
print my_page.no_return_tag_pages()
print my_page.non_retrievable_pages()

Get more instructions and grab the code at the polly github page. Hit me up in the comments with any questions.

Free tool: hreflang.ninja

I have put together a very simple tool that uses polly to run some of the checks we highlighted above as being common mistakes with rel-alternate-hreflang, which you can visit right now and start using:

http://hreflang.ninja

Simply enter a URL and hit enter, and you should see something like:

Example output from the ninja!

The tool shows you the rel-alternate-hreflang entries found on the page, the language and region of those entries, the alternate URLs, and any errors identified with the entry. It is perfect for doing quick’n’dirty checks of a URL to identify any errors.

As we add additional functionality to polly we will be updating hreflang.ninja as well, so please tweet me with feature ideas or suggestions.

To-do list!

This is the first release of polly and currently we only handle annotations that are in the HTML of the page, not those in the XML sitemap or HTTP headers. However, we are going to be updating polly (and hreflang.ninja) over the coming weeks, so watch this space! 🙂

Resources

Here are a few links you may find helpful for hreflang:

Got suggestions?

With the increasing number of SEO directives and annotations available, and the ever-changing guidelines around how to deploy them, it is important to automate whatever areas possible. Hopefully polly is helpful to the community in this regard, and we want to here what ideas you have for making these tools more useful – here in the comments or via Twitter.

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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Understand and Harness the Power of Archetypes in Marketing

Posted by gfiorelli1

Roger Dooley, neuromarketing expert, reminds us in his book Brainfluence that in 80% of cases we make a decision before being rationally aware of it.

Although Dooley explains this effect in terms of how our brain works, in my opinion, distinctly separating neuroscience and the theory of archetypes would be incorrect. On the contrary, I believe that these two aspects of the study of the human mind are complementary.

According to
Jung, archetypes are “[…] forms or images of a collective nature which occur practically all over the Earth as constituents of myths and—at the same time—as individual products of unconscious”. He then, added something that interests us greatly: “The [forms and images] are imprinted and hardwired into out psyches”.

Being able to design a brand personality around an archetype that connects unconsciously with our audience is a big first step for: brand loyalty, community creation, engagement, conversions.

The Slender Man is the “Internet age” version of the archetype figure of the Shadow

Archetypes can be also used for differentiating our brand and its messaging from others in our same market niche and to give that brand a unique voice.

If we put users at the center of our marketing strategy, then
we cannot limit ourselves in knowing how they search, how they talk on social media, what they like to share or what their demographics are.

No,
we should also understand the deep psychological reasons why they desire something they search for, talk the way they talk, share what they share, and their psychological relation with the environment and society they live in.

Knowing that,
we can use archetypes to create a deep emotional connection with our audience and earn their strong positive attitude toward us thanks to the empathy that is created between them and us.

Narrative modes, then, help us in shaping in a structured way a brand storytelling able to guide and engage the users, and not simply selling or creating content narrative doomed to fail.

The 12 archetypes




graph by Emily Bennet

The chart above presents the 12 Jungian archetypes (i.e: Hero), to what principal human desire (i.e.: leave a mark on the world) they correspond and what is the main behavior each one uses for achieving that desire (i.e.: mastery).


Remember: if the audience instinctively recognizes the archetypal figure of the brand and its symbolism and instinctively connect with it, then your audience is more ready to like and trust what your brand proposes
.

On the other hand, it is also a good exercise to experiment with archetypes that we would not think are our brand’s one, expanding the practice of A/B tests to make sure we’re working with the correct archetype. 

The Creator

In my last post I used Lego as example of a brand that is winning Internet marketing thanks to its holistic and synergistic use of offline and online marketing channels.

I explained also how part of its success is due to the fact Lego was able to shape its messages and brand personality around the Creator archetype (sometimes called the “Builder”) which is embodied by their tagline, “let’s build”.

Creators tend to be nonconformist and to enjoy self expression.
A Creator brand, then, will empower and prize its audience as much as it is able to express itself using its products.

The Ruler

The Ruler is the leader, the one setting the rules others will follow, even competitors. Usually it’s paired with an
idea of exclusiveness and status growth.

A brand that presents itself as a Ruler is suggesting to their audience that they can be rulers too.

A classic example of Ruler brand is Mercedes:

The Caregiver

Altruism, compassion, generosity.
Caregiver brands present themselves as someone to trust, because they care and empathize with their audience.

The Caregiver is one of the most positive archetypes, and it is obviously used by nonprofit organizations or governmental institutions like UNICEF, but brands like Johnson & Johnson have also shaped their personality and messages around this figure.

The Innocent

The Innocent finds positive sides in everyone and everything

It sees beauty even in things that others will not even consider, and feels in peace with its inner beauty.

Dove, obviously, is a good representation of the Innocent archetype.

The Sage

The Sages wants to know and understand things. 


The Sage is deeply humanist and believe in the power of humankind to shape a better world through knowledge
.

However, the Sage also has a shadowed side: intolerance to ideas others than their own.

Google, in both cases, is a good example a Sage brand.

The Explorer

The Explorer is adventurous, brave, and loves challenges. He tends to be an individualist too, and loves to challenge himself so as to find his real self.


Explorer brands prompt their audience to challenge themselves and to discover the Explorer within

Red Bull is a classic example of these kinds of brands, but REI and Patagonia are even better representations.

The Hero

In many aspects, the Hero archetype is similar to the Explorer and Outlaw ones, with the difference that the Hero many times never wanted to be the hero, but injustice and external events obliged him to find the courage, braveness, and the honor to become one.

Nike, and also its competitor Adidas, shapes its brand voice around this archetypal figure.

The Magician

The Magician is clever, intelligent, and sometimes his ability can be considered supernatural. 


The Magician is able to make the impossible possible
. Because of that some of the best known technology brands use this archetype as their own to showcase their innovation and how they use their advanced knowledge creatively.

Apple—even if you are not an Apple fan—created a powerful brand by shaping it around this archetype. 

The Outlaw


The Outlaw is the rebel, the one who breaks the rules in order to free his true self
.

The Outlaw goes against the canon and is very aware of the constrictions society creates.

A great example of a brand that very well represents the Outlaw archetype is Betabrand.

The Everyman

It is perfectly fine to be “normal,” and happiness can come from simply sharing things with people we love.


Brands targeting the Everyman audience (and painting themselves as such) craft their messages about the beauty of simple things and daily real life
.

Ikea is probably the brand that’s achieved mastery in the use of this archetype over the past few years.

The Jester 

Fun, irreverent, energetic, impulsive and against the established rules at the same time, the Jester is also the only one who is able to tell the truth with a joke. 

Jesters can be revolutionary too, and their motto could be “a laugh will bury you all.”


A brand that presents itself as the Jester is a brand that wants to make our lives easier and more bearable, providing us joy.

The Lover


Sensuality is the main characteristic of the Lover archetype
, as well as strong physicality, passion, and a need for deep and strong sensations.

But the Lover can be also the idealist, the romantic longing for the perfect love.

Archetypes and brand storytelling

Our brain, as many neuroscientists have proved, is
hard-wired for stories (I suggest you to watch this TEDx too).

Therefore, once we have decided what archetype figure best responds both to our audience and our values as a brand,
we must translate the psychology we created for our brand into
brand storytelling.
That storytelling must then be attuned to the psychology of our audience based on our psychographic analysis of them.

Good (brand) storytelling is very hard to achieve, and most of the time we see brands that miserably fail when trying to tell branded stories.

Introducing the Theory of Literary (or Narrative) Modes

In order to help my clients find the correct narrative, I rely on something that usually is not considered by marketers: the
Theory of Literary Modes.

I use this theory, presented first by
Northrop Frye in it essay Anatomy of Criticism, because it is close to our “technical marketer” mindset.

In fact:

  1. The theory is based on a objective and “scientific” analysis of data (the literary corpus produced by humans);
  2. It refuses â€śpersonal taste” as a metric, which in web marketing would be the same as creating a campaign with tactics you like but you don’t really know if your public is interested in. Even worse, it would be like saying “create great content” without defining what that means.

Moreover, the
Theory of Literary Modes is deeply structured and strongly relies on semiotics, which is going to be the natural evolution of how search engines like Google will comprehend the content published in the Internet. Semantic thinking is just the first step as well explained 
Isla McKetta here on Moz few months ago.

Finally, Northrop Fryed
considers also archetypes this theory because of the psychological and semiotic value of the symbolism attached to the archetypal figure.

Therefore, my election to use the Theory of Literary Modes responds 

  1. To the need to translate ideal brand storytelling into something real that can instinctively connect with the brand’s audience;
  2. To make the content based on that storytelling process understandable also by search engines.

The Theory of Literary Modes in marketing

To understand how this works in marketing, we need to dig a little deeper into the theory.

A literary work can be classified in two different but complementary ways:

1) Considering only the
relation between the nature of the main character (the Hero) and the ambient (or environment) where he acts.

2) Considering also
if the Hero is refused or accepted by society (Tragedy and Comedy).

In the
first case, as represented in the schema above, if the Hero:
  1. Is higher by nature than the readers and acts in a completely different ambient than theirs, we have a Romance;
  2. Is higher by nature than the readers, but acts in their same ambient, we have an Epic;
  3. Is someone like the reader and acts in the reader’s own ambient, we are in field of Realism;
  4. Is someone lower by nature than the readers and acts in a different or identical ambient, we are in the realm of Irony, which is meant as “distance.”
A fifth situation exists too, the
Myth, when the nature of the Hero is different than ours and acts in an ambient different than ours. The Hero, in this case, is the God.

If we consider also if society refuses or accepts the hero, we can discover the different versions of Tragedy and Comedy.

I will not enter in the details of Tragedy, because
we will not use its modes for brand storytelling (this is only common in specific cases of political marketing or propaganda, classic examples are the mythology of Nazism or Communism).

On the contrary,
the most common modes used in brand storytelling are related to Comedy, where the Hero, who usually is the target audience, is eventually accepted by society (the archetypal world designed by the brand).

In
Comedy we have several sub modes of storytelling:

  1. “The God Accepted.” The Hero is a god or god-like kind of person who must pass through trials in order to be accepted by the society;
  2. The Idyll, where the Hero uses his skills to explore (or conquer) an ideal world and/or become part of an ideal society. Far West and its heir, Space Opera (think of Interstellar) are classic examples. 
  3. Comedy sees the hero trying to impose his own view of the world, fighting for it and finally being awarded with acceptance of his worldview. A good example of this is every well ending biopic of an entrepreneur, and Comedy is the exact contrary of melodrama. 
  4. On a lower level we can find the Picaresque Comedy, where the hero is by nature inferior to the society, but – thanks to his cleverness – is able to elevate himself to society’s level. Some technology business companies use this narrative mode for telling their users that they can “conquer” their market niche despite not having the same economic possibilities as the big brands (this conquering usually involves the brand’s tools).
  5. Finally we have the Irony Mode of Comedy which is quite complex to define. 
    1. It can represent stories where the hero is actually an antihero, who finally fails in his integration into the society. 
    2. It can also be about inflicting pain on helpless victims, as in mystery novels. 
    3. It can also be Parody.

Some examples

The Magician, gamification, and the Idyllic mode

Consider this brand plot:

The user (the Hero) can become part of a community of users only if he or she passes through a series of tasks, which will award prizes and more capabilities. If the user is able to pass through all the tasks, he will not only be accepted but also may have the opportunity to be among the leaders of the community itself.

And now
consider sites, which are strongly centered on communities like GitHub and Code Academy. Consider also SAAS companies that present the freemium model like Moz or mobile games like Boom Beach, where you can unlock new weapons only if you pass a given trial (or you buy them).

The Magician is usually the archetype of reference for these kinds of brands. The Hero (the user) will be able to dominate a complex art thanks to the help of a Master (the brand), which will offer him instruments (i.e.: tools/courses/weapons). 

Trials are not necessarily tests. A trial can be doing something that will be awarded, for instance, with points (like commenting on a Moz blog post), and the more the points the more the recognition, with all the advantages that it may offer. 

Gamification, then, assumes an even stronger meaning and narrative function when tied to an archetype and literary mode.

Ikea, the Everyman, and the Comedic mode

Another
example is Ikea, which we cited before when talking of the Everyman archetype.

In this case, the Hero is someone like me or you who is not an interior designer or decorator or, maybe, who does not have the money for hiring those professionals or buying very expensive furniture and decoration.

But, faithful to its mission statements (“design for all”, “design your own life”…), Ikea is there to help Everyman kind of people like me and you in every way as we decorate our own houses.

On the practical side, this narrative is delivered in all the possible channels used by Ikea: web site, mobile app, social media (look at its
Twitter profile) and YouTube channel.

Betabrand, the Outlaw, and Picaresque Comedy

A third and last example can be
Betabrand.

In this case both the brand and the audience is portrayed using the
Outlaw archetype, and the brand narrative tend to use the Picaresque mode.

The Heroes is the Betabrand community who does not care what the mainstream concept of fashion is and designs and crowdfounds “its fashion.”

How to use archetypes and narrative modes in your brand storytelling

The first thing you must understand is what archetype best responds to your company tenets and mission. 

Usually this is not something an SEO can decide by him- or herself, but it is something that founders, CEOs, and directors of a company can inform.

Oftentimes a small to medium business company can achieve this with a long talk among those company figures and where they are asked to directly define the idealistic “why?” of their company.

In case of bigger companies, defining an archetype can seem almost impossible to do, but the same history of the company and hidden treasure pages like “About Us” can offer clear inspiration.

Look at REI:

Clearly the archetype figure that bests fits REI is the Explorer.

Then, using the information we retrieve when creating the
psychographic of our audience and buyer personas, matching with the characteristics each archetype has, and comparing it with the same brand core values, we can start to understand the archetype and narrative mode. If we look at REI’s audience, then we will see how it also has a certain affinity with the Everyman archetypal figure (and that also explains why REI also dedicates great attention to family as audience).

Once we have defined the best archetype commonly shared by our company and our audience, we must translate this figure and its symbolism into brand storytelling, which in web site includes design, especially the following:

  • Color pattern, because colors have a direct relation with psychological reaction (see this article, especially all the sources it links to)
  • Images, considering that in user-centric marketing the ideal is always to represent our targeted audience (or a credible approximation) as their main characters. I am talking of the so called “hero-shots”, about which Angie Shoetmuller brilliantly discussed in the deck I embed here below:

If you want to dig deeper in discovering the meaning and value of symbols worldwide, I suggest you become member of
Aras.org or to buy the Book of Symbols curated by Aras.

  • Define the best narrative mode to use. REI, again, does this well, using the Idyllic mode where the Hero explores and become part of an ideal society (the REI community, which literally means becoming a member of REI). 

We should, then:

  1. Continue investigating the archetypal nature of our audience conducting surveys
  2. Analyzing the demographic data Google Analytics offers us about our users 
  3. Using GA insights in combination with the data and demographic information offered by social networks’ ad platforms in order to create not only the interest graph of our audience but also to understand the psychology behind those interests 
  4. Doing A/B tests so to see whether symbols, images, and copywriting based on the targeted archetypes work better and if we have the correct archetype.

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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it