Simple Steps for Conducting Creative Content Research

Posted by Hannah_Smith

Most frequently, the content we create at Distilled is designed to attract press coverage, social shares, and exposure (and links) on sites our clients’ target audience reads. That’s a tall order.

Over the years we’ve had our hits and misses, and through this we’ve recognised the value of learning about what makes a piece of content successful. Coming up with a great idea is difficult, and it can be tough to figure out where to begin. Today, rather than leaping headlong into brainstorming sessions, we start with creative content research.

What is creative content research?

Creative content research enables you to answer the questions:

“What are websites publishing, and what are people sharing?”

From this, you’ll then have a clearer view on what might be successful for your client.

A few years ago this required quite an amount of work to figure out. Today, happily, it’s much quicker and easier. In this post I’ll share the process and tools we use.

Whoa there… Why do I need to do this?

I think that the value in this sort of activity lies in a couple of directions:

a) You can learn a lot by deconstructing the success of others…

I’ve been taking stuff apart to try to figure out how it works for about as long as I can remember, so applying this process to content research felt pretty natural to me. Perhaps more importantly though, I think that deconstructing content is actually easier when it isn’t your own. You’re not involved, invested, or in love with the piece so viewing it objectively and learning from it is much easier.

b) Your research will give you a clear overview of the competitive landscape…

As soon as a company elects to start creating content, they gain a whole raft of new competitors. In addition to their commercial competitors (i.e. those who offer similar products or services), the company also gains content competitors. For example, if you’re a sports betting company and plan to create content related to the sports events that you’re offering betting markets on; then you’re competing not just with other betting companies, but every other publisher who creates content about these events. That means major news outlets, sports news site, fan sites, etc. To make matters even more complicated, it’s likely that you’ll actually be seeking coverage from those same content competitors. As such, you need to understand what’s already being created in the space before creating content of your own.

c) You’re giving yourself the data to create a more compelling pitch…

At some point you’re going to need to pitch your ideas to your client (or your boss if you’re working in-house). At Distilled, we’ve found that getting ideas signed off can be really tough. Ultimately, a great idea is worthless if we can’t persuade our client to give us the green light. This research can be used to make a more compelling case to your client and get those ideas signed off. (Incidentally, if getting ideas signed off is proving to be an issue you might find this framework for pitching creative ideas useful).

Where to start

Good ideas start with a good brief, however it can be tough to pin clients down to get answers to a long list of questions.

As a minimum you’ll need to know the following:

  • Who are they looking to target?
    • Age, sex, demographic
    • What’s their core focus? What do they care about? What problems are they looking to solve?
    • Who influences them?
    • What else are they interested in?
    • Where do they shop and which brands do they buy?
    • What do they read?
    • What do they watch on TV?
    • Where do they spend their time online?
  • Where do they want to get coverage?
    • We typically ask our clients to give us a wishlist of 10 or so sites they’d love to get coverage on
  • Which topics are they comfortable covering?
    • This question is often the toughest, particularly if a client hasn’t created content specifically for links and shares before. Often clients are uncomfortable about drifting too far away from their core business—for example, if they sell insurance, they’ll typically say that they really want to create a piece of content about insurance. Whilst this is understandable from the clients’ perspective it can severely limit their chances of success. It’s definitely worth offering up a gentle challenge at this stage—I’ll often cite Red Bull, who are a great example of a company who create content based on what their consumers love, not what they sell (i.e. Red Bull sell soft drinks, but create content about extreme sports because that’s the sort of content their audience love to consume). It’s worth planting this idea early, but don’t get dragged into a fierce debate at this stage—you’ll be able to make a far more compelling argument once you’ve done your research and are pitching concrete ideas.

Processes, useful tools and sites

Now you have your brief, it’s time to begin your research.

Given that we’re looking to uncover “what websites are publishing and what’s being shared,” It won’t surprise you to learn that I pay particular attention to pieces of content and the coverage they receive. For each piece that I think is interesting I’ll note down the following:

  • The title/headline
  • A link to the coverage (and to the original piece if applicable)
  • How many social shares the coverage earned (and the original piece earned)
  • The number of linking root domains the original piece earned
  • Some notes about the piece itself: why it’s interesting, why I think it got shares/coverage
  • Any gaps in the content, whether or not it’s been executed well
  • How we might do something similar (if applicable)

Whilst I’m doing this I’ll also make a note of specific sites I see being frequently shared (I tend to check these out separately later on), any interesting bits of research (particularly if I think there might be an opportunity to do something different with the data), interesting threads on forums etc.

When it comes to kicking off your research, you can start wherever you like, but I’d recommend that you cover off each of the areas below:

What does your target audience share?

Whilst this activity might not uncover specific pieces of successful content, it’s a great way of getting a clearer understanding of your target audience, and getting a handle on the sites they read and the topics which interest them.

  • Review social profiles / feeds
    • If the company you’re working for has a Facebook page, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find some people who’ve liked the company page and have a public profile. It’s even easier on Twitter where most profiles are public. Whilst this won’t give you quantitative data, it does put a human face to your audience data and gives you a feel for what these people care about and share. In addition to uncovering specific pieces of content, this can also provide inspiration in terms of other sites you might want to investigate further and ideas for topics you might want to explore.
  • Demographics Pro
    • This service infers demographic data from your clients’ Twitter followers. I find it particularly useful if the client doesn’t know too much about their audience. In addition to demographic data, you get a breakdown of professions, interests, brand affiliations, and the other Twitter accounts they follow and who they’re most influenced by. This is a paid-for service, but there are pay-as-you-go options in addition to pay monthly plans.

Finding successful pieces of content on specific sites

If you’ve a list of sites you know your target audience read, and/or you know your client wants to get coverage on, there are a bunch of ways you can uncover interesting content:

  • Using your link research tool of choice (e.g. Open Site Explorer, Majestic, ahrefs) you can run a domain level report to see which pages have attracted the most links. This can also be useful if you want to check out commercial competitors to see which pieces of content they’ve created have attracted the most links.
  • There are also tools which enable you to uncover the most shared content on individual sites. You can use Buzzsumo to run content analysis reports on individual domains which provide data on average social shares per post, social shares by network, and social shares by content type.
  • If you just want to see the most shared content for a given domain you can run a simple search on Buzzsumo using the domain; and there’s also the option to refine by topic. For example a search like [guardian.com big data] will return the most shared content on the Guardian related to big data. You can also run similar reports using ahrefs’ Content Explorer tool.

Both Buzzsumo and ahrefs are paid tools, but both offer free trials. If you need to explore the most shared content without using a paid tool, there are other alternatives. Check out Social Crawlytics which will crawl domains and return social share data, or alternatively, you can crawl a site (or section of a site) and then run the URLs through SharedCount‘s bulk upload feature.

Finding successful pieces of content by topic

When searching by topic, I find it best to begin with a broad search and then drill down into more specific areas. For example, if I had a client in the financial services space, I’d start out looking at a broad topic like “money” rather than shooting straight to topics like loans or credit cards.

As mentioned above, both Buzzsumo and ahrefs allow you to search for the most shared content by topic and both offer advanced search options.

Further inspiration

There are also several sites I like to look at for inspiration. Whilst these sites don’t give you a great steer on whether or not a particular piece of content was actually successful, with a little digging you can quickly find the original source and pull link and social share data:

  • Visually has a community area where users can upload creative content. You can search by topic to uncover examples.
  • TrendHunter have a searchable archive of creative ideas, they feature products, creative campaigns, marketing campaigns, advertising and more. It’s best to keep your searches broad if you’re looking at this site.
  • Check out Niice (a moodboard app) which also has a searchable archive of handpicked design inspiration.
  • Searching Pinterest can allow you to unearth some interesting bits and pieces as can Google image searches and regular Google searches around particular topics.
  • Reviewing relevant sections of discussion sites like Quora can provide insight into what people are asking about particular topics which may spark a creative idea.

Moving from data to insight

By this point you’ve (hopefully) got a long list of content examples. Whilst this is a great start, effectively what you’ve got here is just data, now you need to convert this to insight.

Remember, we’re trying to answer the questions: “What are websites publishing, and what are people sharing?”

Ordinarily as I go through the creative content research process, I start to see patterns or themes emerge. For example, across a variety of topics areas you’ll see that the most shared content tends to be news. Whilst this is good to know, it’s not necessarily something that’s going to be particularly actionable. You’ll need to dig a little deeper—what else (aside from news) is given coverage? Can you split those things into categories or themes?

This is tough to explain in the abstract, so let me give you an example. We’d identified a set of music sites (e.g. Rolling Stone, NME, CoS, Stereogum, Pitchfork) as target publishers for a client.

Here’s a summary of what I concluded following my research:

The most-shared content on these music publications is news: album launches, new singles, videos of performances etc. As such, if we can work a news hook into whatever we create, this could positively influence our chances of gaining coverage.

Aside from news, the content which gains traction tends to fall into one of the following categories:

Earlier in this post I mentioned that it can be particularly tough to create content which attracts coverage and shares if clients feel strongly that they want to do something directly related to their product or service. The example I gave at the outset was a client who sold insurance and was really keen to create something about insurance. You’re now in a great position to win an argument with data, as thanks to your research you’ll be able to cite several pieces of insurance-related content which have struggled to gain traction. But it’s not all bad news as you’ll also be able to cite other topics which are relevant to the client’s target audience and stand a better chance of gaining coverage and shares.

Avoiding the pitfalls

There are potential pitfalls when it comes to creative content research in that it’s easy to leap to erroneous conclusions. Here’s some things to watch out for:

Make sure you’re identifying outliers…

When seeking out successful pieces of content you need to be certain that what you’re looking at is actually an outlier. For example, the average post on BuzzFeed gets over 30k social shares. As such, that post you found with just 10k shares is not an outlier. It’s done significantly worse than average. It’s therefore not the best post to be holding up as a fabulous example of what to create to get shares.

Don’t get distracted by formats…

Pay more attention to the idea than the format. For example, the folks at Mashable, kindly covered an infographic about Instagram which we created for a client. However, the takeaway here is not that Instagram infographics get coverage on Mashable. Mashable didn’t cover this because we created an infographic. They covered the piece because it told a story in a compelling and unusual way.

You probably shouldn’t create a listicle…

This point is related to the point above. In my experience, unless you’re a publisher with a huge, engaged social following, that listicle of yours is unlikely to gain traction. Listicles on huge publisher sites get shares, listicles on client sites typically don’t. This is doubly important if you’re also seeking coverage, as listicles on clients sites don’t typically get links or coverage on other sites.

How we use the research to inform our ideation process

At Distilled, we typically take a creative brief and complete creative content research and then move into the ideation process. A summary of the research is included within the creative brief, and this, along with a copy of the full creative content research is shared with the team.

The research acts as inspiration and direction and is particularly useful in terms of identifying potential topics to explore but doesn’t mean team members don’t still do further research of their own.

This process by no means acts as a silver bullet, but it definitely helps us come up with ideas.


Thanks for sticking with me to the end!

I’d love to hear more about your creative content research processes and any tips you have for finding inspirational content. Do let me know via the comments.

Image credits: Research, typing, audience, inspiration, kitteh.

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Guide to purchasing Aged Domains 1

My guide to purchasing Aged Domains. http://www.insurance-forums.net/forum/insurance-websites/my-guide-how-buy-aged-domains-t37263.html#post475740.

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Local Centroids are Now Individual Users: How Can We Optimize for Their Searches?

Posted by MiriamEllis

“Google is getting better at detecting location at a more granular level—even on the desktop.
The user is the new centroid.” – 
David Mihm

The history of the centroid

The above quote succinctly summarizes the current state of affairs for local business owners and their customers. The concept of a centroid—
a central point of relevance—is almost as old as local search. In 2008, people like Mike Blumenthal and Google Maps Manager Carter Maslan were sharing statistics like this:

“…research indicates that up to 80% of the variation in rank can be explained by distance from the centroid on certain searches.”

At that time, businesses located near town hall or a similar central hub appeared to be experiencing a ranking advantage.

Fast forward to 2013, and Mike weighed in again with 
an updated definition of “industry centroids”

“If you read their (Google’s) patents, they actually deal with the center of the industries … as defining the center of the search. So if all the lawyers are on the corner of Main and State, that typically defines the center of the search, rather than the center of the city… it isn’t even the centroid of the city that matters. It matters that you are near where the other people in your industry are.”

In other words, Google’s perception of a centralized location for auto dealerships could be completely different than that for medical practices, and that
neither might be located anywhere near the city center.

While the concepts of city and industry centroids may still play a part in some searches,
local search results in 2015 clearly indicate Google’s shift toward deeming the physical location of the desktop or mobile user a powerful factor in determining relevance. The relationship between where your customer is when he performs a search and where your business is physically located has never been more important.

Moreover, in this new, user-centric environment, Google has moved beyond simply detecting cities to detecting neighborhoods and even streets. What this means for local business owners is that
your hyperlocal information has become a powerful component of your business data. This post will teach you how to better serve your most local customers.

Seeing the centroid in action

If you do business in a small town with few competitors, ranking for your product/service + city terms is likely to cover most of your bases. The user-as-centroid phenomenon is most applicable in mid-to-large sized towns and cities with reasonable competition. I’ll be using two districts in San Francisco—Bernal Heights and North Beach—in these illustrations and we’ll be going on a hunt for pizza.

On a desktop, searching for “pizza north beach san francisco” or setting my location to this neighborhood and city while searching for the product, Google will show me something like this:

Performing this same search, but with “bernal heights” substituted, Google shows me pizzerias in a completely different part of the city:

local result bernal heights pizza san francisco

And, when I move over to my mobile device, Google narrows the initial results down to
just three enviable players in each district. These simple illustrations demonstrate Google’s increasing sensitivity to serving me nearby businesses offering what I want.

The physical address of your business is the most important factor in serving the user as centroid. This isn’t something you can control, but there are things you
can do to market your business as being highly relevant to your hyperlocal geography.

Specialized content for the user-centroid

We’ll break this down into four common business models to help get you thinking about planning content that serves your most local customers.

1. Single-location business

Make the shift toward viewing your business not just as “Tony’s Pizza in San Francisco”, but as “Tony’s Pizza
in North Beach, San Francisco”. Consider:

  • Improving core pages of your website or creating new pages to include references to the proud part you play in the neighborhood scene. Talk about the history of your area and where you fit into that.
  • Interview locals and ask them to share their memories about the neighborhood and what they like about living there.
  • Showcase your participation in local events.
  • Plan an event, contest or special for customers in your district.
  • Take pictures, label them with hyperlocal terms, post them on your site and share them socially.
  • Blog about local happenings that are relevant to you and your customers, such as a street market where you buy the tomatoes that top your pizzas or a local award you’ve won.
  • Depending on your industry, there will be opportunities for hyperlocal content specific to your business. For example, a restaurant can make sure its menu is in crawlable text and can name some favorite dishes after the neighborhood—The Bernal Heights Special. Meanwhile, a spa in North Beach can create a hyperlocal name for a service—The North Beach Organic Spa Package. Not only does this show district pride, but customers may mention these products and services by name in their reviews, reinforcing your local connection.

2. Multi-location business within a single city

All that applies to the single location applies to you, too, but you’ve got to find a way to scale building out content for each neighborhood.

  • If your resources are strong, build a local landing page for each of your locations, including basic optimization for the neighborhood name. Meanwhile, create blog categories for each neighborhood and rotate your efforts on a week by week basis. First week, blog about neighborhood A, next week, find something interesting to write about concerning neighborhood B. Over time, you’ll have developed a nice body of content proving your involvement in each district.
  • If you’re short on resources, you’ll still want to build out a basic landing page for each of your stores in your city and make the very best effort you can to showcase your neighborhood pride on these pages.

3. Multiple businesses, multiple cities

Again, scaling this is going to be key and how much you can do will depend upon your resources.

  • The minimum requirement will be a landing page on the site for each physical location, with basic optimization for your neighborhood terms.
  • Beyond this, you’ll be making a decision about how much hyperlocal content you can add to the site/blog for each district, or whether time can be utilized more effectively via off-site social outreach. If you’ve got lots of neighborhoods to cover in lots of different cities, designating a social representative for each store and giving him the keys to your profiles (after a training session in company policies) may make the most sense.

4. Service area businesses (SABs)

Very often, service area businesses are left out in the cold with various local developments, but in my own limited testing, Google is applying at least some hyperlocal care to these business models. I can search for a neighborhood plumber, just as I would a pizza:

local results plumber bernal heights san francisco

To be painstakingly honest, plumbers are going to have to be pretty ingenious to come up with a ton of engaging industry/neighborhood content and may be confined mainly to creating some decent service area landing pages that share a bit about their work in various neighborhoods. Other business models, like contractors, home staging firms and caterers should find it quite easy to talk about district architecture, curb appeal and events on a hyperlocal front.

While your SAB is still unlikely to beat out a competitor with a physical location in a given neighborhood, you still have a chance to associate your business with that area of your town with well-planned content.


Need creative inspiration for the writing projects ahead?
Don’t miss this awesome wildcard search tip Mary Bowling shared at LocalUp. Add an underscore or asterisk to your search terms and just look at the good stuff Google will suggest to you:

wildcard search content ideas

Does Tony’s patio make his business one of
Bernal Heights’ dog-friendly restaurants or does his rooftop view make his restaurant the most picturesque lunch spot in the district? If so, he’s got two new topics to write about, either on his basic landing pages or his blog.

Hop over to 
Whitespark’s favorite takeaways from Mike Ramsey’s LocalUp presentation, too.

Citations and reviews with the user centroid in mind

Here are the basics about citations, broken into the same four business models:

1. Single-location business

You get just one citation on each platform, unless you have multiple departments or practitioners. That means one Google+ Local page, one Yelp profile, one Best of the Web listing. etc. You do not get one citation for your city and another for your neighborhood. Very simple.

2. Multi-location business within a single city

As with the single location business, you are entitled to just one set of citations per physical location. That means one Google+ Local listing for your North Beach pizza place and another for your restaurant in Bernal Heights.

A regular FAQ here in the Moz Q&A Forum relates to how Google will differentiate between two businesses located in the same city. Here are some tips:

  • Google no longer supports the use of modifiers in the business name field, so you can no longer be Tony’s Pizza – Bernal Heights, unless your restaurant is actually named this. You can only be Tony’s Pizza.
  • Facebook’s policies are different than Google’s. To my understanding, Facebook won’t permit you to build more than one Facebook Place for the identical brand name. Thus, to comply with their guidelines, you must differentiate by using those neighborhood names or other modifiers. Given that this same rule applies to all of your competitors, this should not be seen as a danger to your NAP consistency, because apparently, no multi-location business creating Facebook Places will have 100% consistent NAP. The playing field is, then, even.
  • The correct place to differentiate your businesses on all other platforms is in the address field. Google will understand that one of your branches is on A St. and the other is on B St. and will choose which one they feel is most relevant to the user.
  • Google is not a fan of call centers. Unless it’s absolutely impossible to do so, use a unique local phone number for each physical location to prevent mix-ups on Google’s part, and use this number consistently across all web-based mentions of the business.
  • Though you can’t put your neighborhood name in the title, you can definitely include it in the business description field most citation platforms provide.
  • Link your citations to their respective local landing pages on your website, not to your homepage.

3. Multiple businesses, multiple cities

Everything in business model #2 applies to you as well. You are allowed one set of citations for each of your physical locations, and while you can’t modify your Google+ Local business name, you can mention your neighborhood in the description. Promote each location equally in all you do and then rely on Google to separate your locations for various users based on your addresses and phone numbers.

4. SABs

You are exactly like business model #1 when it comes to citations, with the exception of needing to abide by Google’s rules about hiding your address if you don’t serve customers at your place of business. Don’t build out additional citations for neighborhoods you serve, other cities you serve or various service offerings. Just create one citation set. You should be fine mentioning some neighborhoods in your citation descriptions, but don’t go overboard on this.

When it comes to review management, you’ll be managing unique sets of reviews for each of your physical locations. One method for preventing business owner burnout is to manage each location in rotation. One week, tend to owner responses for Business A. Do Business B the following week. In week three, ask for some reviews for Business A and do the same for B in week four. Vary the tasks and take your time unless faced with a sudden reputation crisis.

You can take some additional steps to “hyperlocalize” your review profiles:

  • Write about your neighborhood in the business description on your profile.
  • You can’t compel random customers to mention your neighborhood, but you can certainly do so from time to time when your write responses. “We’ve just installed the first soda fountain Bernal Heights has seen since 1959. Come have a cool drink on us this summer.”
  • Offer a neighborhood special to people who bring in a piece of mail with their address on it. Prepare a little handout for all-comers, highlighting a couple of review profiles where you’d love to hear how they liked the Bernal Heights special. Or, gather email addresses if possible and follow up via email shortly after the time of service.
  • If your business model is one that permits you to name your goods or service packages, don’t forget the tip mentioned earlier about thinking hyperlocal when brainstorming names. Pretty cool if you can get your customers talking about how your “North Beach Artichoke Pizza” is the best pie in town!

Investigate your social-hyperlocal opportunties

I still consider website-based content publication to be more than half the battle in ranking locally, but sometimes, real-time social outreach can accomplish things static articles or scheduled blog posts can’t. The amount of effort you invest in social outreach should be based on your resources and an assessment of how naturally your industry lends itself to socialization. Fire insurance salesmen are going to find it harder to light up their neighborhood community than yoga studios will. Consider your options:

Remember that you are investigating each opportunity to see how it stacks up not just to promoting your location in your city, but in your neighborhood.

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

Remember that Sesame Street jingle? It hails from a time when urban dwellers strongly identified with a certain district of hometown. People were “from the neighborhood.” If my grandfather was a Mission District fella, maybe yours was from Chinatown. Now, we’re shifting in fascinating directions. Even as we’ve settled into telecommuting to jobs in distant states or countries, Amazon is offering one hour home delivery to our neighbors in Manhattan. Doctors are making house calls again! Any day now, I’m expecting a milkman to start making his rounds around here. Commerce has stretched to span the globe and now it’s zooming in to meet the needs of the family next door.

If the big guys are setting their sights on near-instant services within your community, take note.
You live in that community. You talk, face-to-face, with your neighbors every day and know the flavor of the local scene better than any remote competitor can right now.

Now is the time to reinvigorate that old neighborhood pride in the way you’re visualizing your business, marketing it and personally communicating to customers that you’re right there for them.

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International SEO Study: How Searchers Perceive Country Code Top-Level Domains

Posted by 5le

The decision to focus your site on an international audience is a big step and one fraught with complexities. There are, of course, issues to deal with around language and user experience, but in addition there are some big technical choices to make including what domains to use.

Any authoritative
international SEO guide will elaborate on the differences between the options of subdirectory, subdomain, and country-code top level domain (CCTLD). One of the most common suggestions is for a site to opt to use a ccTLD (e.g. domain.co.uk) as the domain extension. The reasoning behind this is the theory that the ccTLD extension will “hint” to search engines and users exactly who your target audience should be versus the other, less explicit options. For example, a search engine and human user would know, even without clicking into a site, that a site that ends with .co.uk is targeting a user looking for UK content. 

We have solid data from
Google that a ccTLD does indicate country targeting; however, when it comes to users there is only an assumption that users even notice and make choices based on the ccTLD. However, this is a fairly broad assumption that doesn’t address whether a ccTLD is more important than a brand name in the domain or the quality of a website’s content. To test this theory, we ran a survey to discover what users really thought.

User knowledge of TLDs

Even before trying to understand how users related to ccTLDs it is essential to validate the assumption that users even know that general TLDs exist. To establish this fact, we asked respondents to pick which TLD might be the one in use by a non-profit. Close to
100% of respondents correctly identified a TLD ending with .org as the one most likely to be used by a non-profit. Interestingly, only 4% of people in the US stated that they were unsure of the correct TLD compared to 13% of Australians. Predictably, nearly all marketers (98%) chose the .org answer.

Another popular TLD is the .edu in use by educational assumptions, and we wanted to understand if users thought that content coming from a .edu domain might be more trustworthy. We asked users if they received an unsolicited email about water quality in their town whether they would place more trust in a sender’s email address that ended with .edu or .com.
89% of respondents in the US chose the .edu as more trustworthy, while only 79% said the same in Australia. Quite interestingly, the marketer responses (from the survey posted on Inbound.org were exactly the same as the Australians with 79% declaring the .edu to be more trustworthy.

.org cctld survey australia

If users can identify a .org as the correct TLD for a non-profit, and a .edu as a TLD that might be more trustworthy, it is likely that users are familiar with the existence of TLDs and how they might be used. The next question to answer is if users are aware of the connection between TLDs and locations.

Country relationship awareness

Next, we asked respondents to identify the location of a local business using a .ca TLD extension. The majority of respondents across all three surveys correctly chose Canada; and nearly all marketers (92%) got this correct. Oddly, more Australians (67%) correctly identified Canada than Americans (62%). We would have thought Americans should have been more familiar with the TLD of a neighboring country. Additionally, more Americans (23%) fell for the trick answer of California than Australians (15%). Regardless, we were able to conclude that most Internet users are aware of TLDs and that they are tied to a specific country.

canada cctld survey

To really gauge how much users know about TLDs and countries, we asked users to pick the right domain extension for a website in another country. In the US survey, we asked users to pick the correct TLD for an Australian company, and in the Australian survey we used a British company. In each of the questions we gave one correct answer possibility, one almost correct, and two entire wrong choices.For example, we gave .co.uk and .uk as answer choices to Australians.

In both the US and Australia, the majority of respondents chose the correct TLD, although Americans seem to have been confused by whether Australia’s TLD was .AU (35%) or .com.AU (24%).

There is a common practice of using country-code domain extensions as a vanity URL for content that is not geotargeted. For example, .ly is the domain extension for Libya, but it is frequently used on domains that have a word that ends with “ly.” Additionally, .me is the domain extension for Montenegro; however, the TLD is used for many purposes other than Montenegro content.

We wanted to understand if users noticed this type of TLD usage or if they thought the content might still be related to another country. We asked respondents what might be on a website that ended with .TV which is the TLD for the island nation of Tuvalu and is also a popular TLD for TV show websites. 51% of US respondents thought it might be a TV show and 42% chose the “it could be anything” answer. In Australia, 43% thought the site would be a TV show, and 44% said “it could be anything”.

tuvalu cctld survey

One of the answer options was that it could be a website in Tuvalu and interestingly twice as many Australian (9%) chose this option vs US respondents (4.5%). This question was one of the areas where marketers’ answers were very different from those in the US and Australia. 77% of marketers chose the TV show option and only 19% said it could be anything.

Based on the these three results, it is apparent that
users recognize TLDs, know that they are from other countries, and appear to make some judgments around the content based on the TLD.

Decision making using TLDs

Since users know that TLDs are an important part of a URL that is tied to a country of origin, it is important to understand how the TLD factors into their decision-making processes about whether or not they visit certain websites.

We asked users whether they thought medical content on a foreign TLD would be as reliable as similar content found on their local TLD. In the US, only 24% thought the content on the non-local TLD (.co.uk) was less reliable than content on a .com. In Australia, the results were nearly identical to what we saw in the US with only 28% answering that the non-local TLD (.co.uk) was less reliable than the content on a .com.au. Even 24% of marketers answered that the content was less reliable. The remaining respondents chose either that the content equally reliable or they just didn’t know. Based on these results, the TLD (at least as long as it was a reputable one)
does not seem to impact user trust.

UK cctld survey

Digging into the idea of trust and TLD a bit further, we asked the same reliability question about results on Google.com vs Google.de. In the US, 56% of respondents said that the results on Google.de are equally reliable to those on Google.com, and in Australia, 51% said the same thing when compared to Google.com.au. In the marketer survey, 66% of respondents said the results were equally reliable. The fact that the majority of respondents stated that results are equally reliable should mean that users are more focused on the brand portion of a domain rather than its country extension.

CcTLD’s impact on ecommerce

Making the decision to use a ccTLD on a website can be costly, so it is important to justify this cost with an actual revenue benefit. Therefore the real test of TLD choice is how it impacts revenue. This type of answer is of course hard to gauge in a survey where customers are not actually buying products, but we did want to try to see if there might be a way to measure purchasing decisions.

To achieve this result, we compared two different online retailers and asked respondents to choose the establishment that they thought would have the most reliable express shipping. In the US survey, we compared Amazon.co.jp to BestBuy.com. In the Australian survey, we compared Bigw.com.au (a well known online retailer) to Target.com. (Interesting fact: there is a Target in Australia that is not affiliated with Target in the US and their website is target.com.au) The intent of the question was to see if users zeroed in on the recognizable brand name or the domain extension.

cctld trust survey

In the US, while 39% said that both websites would offer reliable shipping, 42% still said that Best Buy would be the better option. Australians may have been confused by the incorrect Target website, since 61% said both websites would have reliable shipping, but 34% chose Big W. Even marketers didn’t seem oblivious to domain names with only 34% choosing the equally reliable option, and 49% choosing Best Buy. The data in this question is a bit inconclusive, but we can definitively say that while a large portion of users are blind to domain names, however, when selling online it would be best to use a familiar domain extension.

cctld trust survey australia

New TLDs

Late last year, ICANN (the Internet governing body) announced that they would be releasing dozens of new
GTLDs, which opened up a new domain name land grab harkening back to the early days of the Internet. Many of these domain names can be quite expensive, and we wanted to discover whether they even mattered to users.

gtld survey

We asked users if, based solely on the domain name, they were more likely to trust an insurance quote from a website ending in .insurance.
62% of Americans, 53% of Australians, and 67% of marketers said they were unlikely to trust the quote based on the domain alone. Based on this result, if you’re looking to invest in a new TLD simply to drive more conversions, you should probably do more research first. 

A new gTLD is probably not a silver bullet.

Methodology

For this survey, I collaborated with
Sam Mallikarjunan at HubSpot and we decided that the two assumptions we absolutely needed to validate where 1) whether users even notice ccTLDs and 2) if so do they really prefer the TLD of their country. While we received 101 responses from a version of the survey targeted at marketers on an Inbound.org discussion, we primarily used SurveyMonkey Audience, which allowed us to get answers from a statistically significant random selection of people in both the United States and Australia.

We created two nearly identical surveys with one targeted to a US-only audience and the other targeted to an Australian-only audience. A proper sample set is essential when conducting any survey that attempts to draw conclusions about people’s general behavior and preferences. And in this case, the minimum number of respondents we needed in order to capture a representative example was 350 for the U.S. and 300 for Australia.

Additionally, in order for a sample to be valid, the respondents have to be chosen completely at random. SurveyMonkey Audience recruits its 4-million+ members from SurveyMonkey’s 40 million annual unique visitors, and members are not paid for their participation. Instead, they are rewarded for taking surveys with charitable donations, made on their behalf by SurveyMonkey.

When tested against much larger research projects, Audience data has been exactly in line with larger sample sizes. For example, an Audience survey with just 400 respondents about a new Lay’s potato chip flavor had the same results as a wider contest that had 3 million participants.

SurveyMonkey’s survey research team was also able to use SurveyMonkey Audience to accurately predict election results in both 2012 and 2013. With a US sample size of 458 respondents and an Australian one of 312 all drawn at random, our ccTLD user preferences should reliably mirror the actual reality.

Summary

There will be many reasons that you may or may not want to use ccTLDs for your website, and a survey alone can never answer whether a ccTLD is the right strategy for any particular site. If you are thinking about making any big decisions about TLDs on your site, you should absolutely conduct some testing or surveying of your own before relying on just the recommendations of those who advise a TLD as the best strategy or the others that tell you it doesn’t matter at all.

Launching a PPC campaign with a landing page on a ccTLD and measuring CTRs against a control is far cheaper than replicating your entire site on a new TLD.

Based on our survey results, here’s what you should keep in mind when it comes to whether or not investing your time and money in a ccTLD is worth it:

  1. Users are absolutely aware of the TLDs and how they might relate to the contents of a website
  2. Users are aware of the connection between TLDs and countries
  3. Users do make decisions about websites based on the TLD; however there are no absolutes. Brand and content absolutely matter.

As to whether a ccTLD will work for you on your own site, give it a try and report back!

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Reblogged 3 years ago from moz.com

Developing Innovative Content: What You Need to Know

Posted by richardbaxterseo

A few weeks ago, I attended a breakfast meeting with a bunch of entrepreneurs in the technology, space (yes, space travel), software and engineering industry. I felt so blown away by the incredible talent of the speakers. You know, there are people out there building things, like private satellite networks, bio printing facilities, quantum computers and self-driving cars. I was completely transfixed by the incredibly future facing, innovative and exceptionally inventive group in front of me. I also immediately wished I’d worked a little harder in my twenties.

After the presentations, one of the questions that came up during the Q&A session was: “what’s the next big thing?”

Wow. Have you ever thought about “the next big thing”?

Part of the magic of predicting innovation is that it’s really, really hard to get right. Those that can accurately predict the future (in my humble opinion) are those that tend to understand how people will respond to an idea once they’re exposed to it. I think predicting this is a very special skill indeed.

Then again, we’re expected to be able to predict the outcome of our marketing, all the time. While predicting it is one thing, making it happen it is a whole different ball game.

Competition for the attention of our customers is getting tougher

In our industry, when you really boil down what it is we do, we’re fixing things, making things, or we’re communicating things.

Most of the time, we’re building content that communicates: ideas, stories, news and guidance–you get the idea. The problem is, no matter which vertical you work in, we’re all competing for something: the attention of our customers.

As our customers get smarter, that competition is getting tougher and tougher.

The most successful marketers in our industry all have a special trait in common. They are good at finding new ways to communicate ideas. Take a look at classic presentations
like this from Ross Hudgens to see just how powerful it can be to observe, imitate and develop an idea with astounding viral reach.

I particularly enjoy the idea of taking a piece of content and making improvements, be it through design, layout or simply updating what’s there. I like it because it’s actually pretty easy to do, and there’s growing evidence of it happening all over the Internet. Brands are taking a second look at how they’re developing their content to appeal to a wider audience, or to appeal to a viral audience (or both!).

For example; take a look at this beautiful
travel guide to Vietnam (credit: travelindochina.com) or this long form guide to commercial property insurance (credit: Towergate Insurance / Builtvisible.com) for examples of brands in competitive verticals developing their existing content. In verticals where ordinary article content has been done to death, redeveloping the medium itself feels like an important next step.

Innovative isn’t the same thing as technical

I’ve felt for a long time that there’s a conflict between our interpretation of “innovative” and “technical”. As I’ve written before, those that really understand how the web works are at a huge advantage.
Learn how it’s built, and you’ll find yourself able to make great things happen on your own, simply by learning and experimenting.

In my opinion though, you don’t have to be able to learn how to build your own site or be a developer. All you have to do is learn the vocabulary and build a broad understanding of how things work in a browser. I actually think we all need to be doing this, right now. Why?

We need more innovation in content marketing

I think our future depends on our industry’s ability to innovate. Of course, you still need to have your basics in place. We’ll always be
T-Shaped marketers, executing a bit of technical SEO here, a bit of content strategy there. But, we’re all SEOs and we know we need to acquire links, build audiences and generally think big about our ambitions. When your goal is to attract new followers, fans, links, and garner shares in their thousands, you need to do something pretty exciting to attract attention to yourself.

The vocabulary of content development

I’ve designed this post to be a primer on more advanced features found in innovative content development. My original MozCon 2014 presentation was designed to educate on some of the technologies we should be aware of in our content development projects and the process we follow to build things. We’ll save process for another post (shout in the comments if you think that would be useful!) and focus on the “what” for now.

At Builtvisible, we’re working hard on extending our in-house content development capabilities. We learn through sharing amazing examples with each other. Our policy is to always attempt to deconstruct how something might have been developed, that way, we’re learning. Some of the things we see on the web are amazing–they deserve so much respect for the talent and the skills that surface the content.

Here are some examples that I think demonstrate some of the most useful types of approach for content marketers. I hope that these help as much as they’ve helped us, and I hope you can form a perspective of what innovative features look like in more advanced content development. Of course, do feel welcome to share your own examples in the comments, too! The more, the merrier!

The story of EBoy

eBoy: the graphic design firm whose three co-founders and sole members are widely regarded as the “godfathers” of pixel art.

The consistent styling (as well as the beautifully written content) is excellent. Technically speaking, perhaps the most clever and elegant feature is the zoom of the image positioned on the Z axis in a <canvas> container (more on this in a moment).

An event listener (jQuery) helps size the canvas appropriate to the browser window size and the z axis position shifts on scroll to create an elegant zoom effect.


View the example here:

http://www.theverge.com/2014/6/17/5803850/pixel-perfect-the-story-of-eboy.

<canvas> is an HTML element which can be used to draw graphics using scripting (usually JavaScript). This can, for instance, be used to draw graphs, make photo composition or simple animations.

Colorizing the past

Take a look at
Pixart Printing’s Guide to Colourizing the Past (credit: Pixartprinting / Builtvisible.com) for a clever example of <canvas> in use. Here’s one of the images (tip, mouse-over and click the image):

The colorization feature takes advantage of the power of the canvas element. In this case, the color version of the image is applied to the canvas as a background image, with the black and white version on a layer above. Clicking (or touching, on mobile) erases portions of the top image, revealing the color version underneath.

Chrome Experiments: Globe

Globe is “simple” global data visualization of the Earth’s population growth over a set range of dates. The 3d visualization based in
webGL: a JavaScript API for rendering interactive 3D graphics and 2D graphics within any compatible web browser without the use of plug-ins.


View the example here:

http://globe.chromeexperiments.com/.

WebGL is a really exciting, emerging option available to content marketers who might want to experiment with immersive experiences or highly interactive, simulated environments.

Some of my
favourite WebGL examples include Hello Racer and Tweetopia, a 3d Twitter Hastag visualizer.

If you’d like to see more examples of webGL in action, take a look at
Chrome Experiments. Don’t worry, this stuff works in the latest versions of Firefox and IE, too.

Polygon’s PS4 Review

You might have seen me cover this long form concept over at Builtvisible. Polygon’s Playstation 4 review is a fully featured “long form” review of Sony’s much loved gaming machine. The bit that I love is the SVG visualizations:

“What’s SVG?”, I hear you ask!

SVG is super-fast, sharp rendering of vector images inside the browser. Unlike image files (like .jpg, .gif, .png), SVG is XML based, light on file size, loads quickly and adjusts to responsive browser widths perfectly. SVG’s XML based schema lends itself to some interesting manipulation for stunning, easy to implement effects.

View Polygon’s example here: http://www.polygon.com/a/ps4-review

That line tracing animation you see is known as
path animation. Essentially the path attribute in the SVG’s XML can be manipulated in the DOM with a little jQuery. What you’ll get is a pretty snazzy animation to keep your users eyes fixated on your content and yet another nice little effect to keep eyeballs engaged.

My favourite example of SVG execution is Lewis Lehe’s
Gridlocks and Bottlenecks. Gridlocks is a AngularJS, d3.js based visualization of the surprisingly technical and oft-misunderstood “gridlock” and “bottleneck” events in road traffic management.

It’s also very cool:

View the example here:http://setosa.io/blog/2014/09/02/gridlock/.

I have a short vocabulary list that I expect our team to be able to explain (certainly these questions come up in an interview with us!). I think that if you can explain what these things are, as a developing content marketer you’re way ahead of the curve:

  • HTML5
  • Responsive CSS (& libraries)
  • CSS3 (& frameworks)
  • JavaScript (& frameworks: jQuery, MooTools, Jade, Handlebars)
  • JSON (api post and response data)
  • webGL
  • HTML5 audio & video
  • SVG
  • HTML5 History API manipulation with pushState
  • Infinite Scroll

Want to learn more?

I’ve
amassed a series of videos on web development that I think marketers should watch. Not necessarily to learn web development, but definitely to be able to describe what it is you’d like your own content to do. My favourite: I really loved Wes Bos’s JS + HTML5 Video + Canvas tutorial. Amazing.

Innovation in content is such a huge topic but I realize I’ve run out of space (this is already a 1,400 word post) for now.

In my follow up, I’d like to talk about how to plan your content when it’s a little more extensive than just an article, give you some tips on how to work with (or find!) a developer, and how to make the most of every component in your content to get the most from your marketing efforts.

Until then, I’d love to see your own examples of great content and questions in the comments!

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Reblogged 3 years ago from feedproxy.google.com

Outdated SEO Concepts People Still Think are Reality

Posted by katemorris

It’s on the internet, so it’s true.

The bane of the existence of all search marketers is old or incorrect information given to clients at
any point in time that they still hang on to. This post was inspired by an interaction with a client’s co-workers, people that are not thinking about SEO on a regular basis. This is not to knock them, but to bring to the attention of everyone that there is a continual need for education. These concepts have a way of hanging around.

And this isn’t about just clients either. This is about friends, parents, and partners. Does anyone else still get asked if they make pop-up ads when they try to explain what they do? (Just me? Crap.)

Doing research for this post, I noticed there are a ton of SEO misconceptions out there, and people are talking about them regularly, but many are related to content marketing or online marketing overall. I’m not covering all misconceptions, but those concepts that seem to be stuck to the idea of SEO and will not let go. Then I’ll give you resources to help educate the people that believe these misconceptions and alternate solutions to give them.


Hiding Cat by Aftab Uzzaman

Putting text behind an image

The inspiration. The client is struggling with balancing revenue and content on the page. There is a large image on the page now and we suggested editing the page to add content about the product. The question was asked if we could just put the content behind the image and solve both problems.

My client stepped in and answered the question wonderfully, but it brought to mind how many times I’ve seen overstuffed alt text attributes and content in a noscript tag that doesn’t match what’s in the Flash.

Additional resource

A Comprehensive Guide to Hidden Text

Alternate solution

In this instance, we recommended putting text below the fold for the users that wanted the information and keeping the current image for returning users. Balance that satisfies both user needs and the business goals.


Copying a competitor’s actions

This isn’t as obvious as hiding text, but it’s something that companies refuse to stop doing. It’s the concept that if a competitor is doing something, it must be worth doing. This goes for competitors ranking above a business, but it also covers competitors that the business just dislikes. We all have those competitors we want to “beat” and sometimes that makes us do things that are not fully researched and planned.

Amazon.com is my biggest annoyance. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the reasoning “but Amazon does it” by major brands that other businesses look up to. Amazon, like most major companies, tests many things, and there is a different person behind each test. If you work for a large company, you understand what I mean.

Additional resource

Stop Copying Your Competitors, They Don’t Know What They are Doing Either

Alternate solution

Everyone is on the hunt for the best results and bringing in new customers, retaining current customers, and making other stakeholders happy. The way you beat competitors is to listen to your stakeholders (customers, clients, partners, employees, investors) and make decisions based on their feedback as well as what is going on in the market.


Sheer number of links equals ranking

This has been debunked so many times it makes my head swim. That doesn’t change how many people still think that the total number of links (as reported by a third party tool like Moz, Majestic, or AHREFs) is the sole factor in ranking. Want to do better in SERPs? Well, we need to hire someone to build us some links! I’m going to leave one screen shot here (Search: “insurance”) and then we’ll get into resources and solutions for when you have to face this.

Additional resource

Moz Search Ranking Factors

Alternate solution

This is more of an “additional solution,” as links and mentions are still very important, but as seen above, it’s far from the only factor in ranking. It’s best to explain the different ranking factors like content relevance to the query, some social data, query deserves freshness, local, news, personalization, and all of the other things that can impact ranking. Focus on a marketing strategy that will not only result in links, but also send new customers through those links and engage the customers into lifelong evangelists.


A loss in traffic means you’ve been penalized

The next two are focused on the issue of penalties. So many people are afraid of being penalized. I think this goes back to the days of black marks in your school record. That or people are worried about losing revenue. Maybe that.

The media gets involved with SEO when there is a penalty and so that is what most people hear about. FTD and Overstock types of situations. Then disaster strikes and revenue falls unexpectedly. After some digging, they find that website traffic is down. This paired with emails business owners get at least once a quarter (in a good year) from fly by night SEO companies telling them they can help with SEO, promise the moon and warn of penalties.

The only logical conclusion is a penalty! We have all seen it and most reputable agencies pipelines are filled with leads from companies in this exact situation. The thing is that we never know if there is a penalty unless we dive into the situation, but I have seen times where there is no penalty.

Many things could have happened including:

  • A developer added a noindex tag to a section of the site when meaning to add it to one page or they disallowed that section.
  • The site was redesigned with URL changes that can drop the traffic coming into many sites if not done correctly.
  • PPC traffic stopped due to a corporate card expiring and not being updated.

Additional resource

Guide to Common SEO Penalties and How to Recover From Them

Alternate solution

Rather than paying the first person that will call you back, first look into what part of the site lost traffic and where that traffic was coming from in the past few months. Did you lose traffic from organic search, paid search, referral traffic, or social media? Try to narrow down what happened and figure it out from there. If you’re sure it was organic search, look into the date and ask your developers if anything changed about the site. If nothing did, check Google Webmaster Tools for any messages from Google about a penalty. If you’re sure it’s organic search and there are no messages, that’s a good time to contact a reputable agency. 


Duplicate content can incur a penalty

Penalty by Daniele Zanni

I did a talk on this very topic a few years back at Pubcon. So many people don’t take the time to understand what duplicate content is and how to fix it. More importantly, there is a misunderstanding that duplicate content can cause or is a penalty. 

Most clients assume that having duplicate content will incur the “search engine gods’ ” wrath, and that just isn’t true (for the most part; I mean, if your whole site is a copy of someone else’s site …). Duplicate content is a hindrance to site performance most of the time, but most likely not the cause for a substantial drop in traffic and definitely not a penalty from the search engines. 

Additional resource

Google’s Guidelines for Duplicate Content


Alternate solution

Don’t fret. Take the time to visit Webmaster Tools regularly and check out your duplicated title tags and meta descriptions for an easy look into what might be causing duplicate content or crawling issues on your site. Maintenance is the best medicine!


A call to educate

Education by Sean MacEntee

We sometimes live in a bubble where we think people know everything we do and take for granted information like everything above. If someone asked you how to create a P&L Statement, could you? Maybe, maybe not, but you get what I mean. Take the time to answer questions, whether from clients or colleagues if you are in-house. You would be amazed how much more YOU can learn from teaching others. 

So what are your horror stories? Let me know in the comments below!


Photo credits (all images are linked):

  • Internet Open by Blaise Alleyne
  • Hiding Cat by Aftab Uzzaman
  • Penalty by Daniele Zanni
  • Educate by Sean MacEntee

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Reblogged 3 years ago from feedproxy.google.com