Introducing the Content Strategy Canvas

Content Strategy Canvas - half

A couple of years ago I created the Periodic Table of Content Marketing, to help people create the right kind of content for their brands.

That visualisation was very much tactical, in terms of its scope. I wanted to combine a brainstorming tool with a checklist, to help with the content creation process.

My Periodic Table of Content Marketing is proving ridiculously popular. Meta! http://t.co/xKnMAnCeBd pic.twitter.com/yjtAvzvtFK

— Chris Lake (@lakey) March 19, 2014

I purposefully allocated just one of the 132 ‘elements’ to content strategy… the first element, in fact. Why? Because content strategy requires a lot more focus and input from content teams and stakeholders. There are many questions to ask, and the answers given will differ from company to company.

As such, content strategy needs a different approach, and one that is less prescriptive. I’ve come up with the Content Strategy Canvas, as a loose structure for figuring out where you’re at, and where you want to be. I hope it proves useful.

Click on the images below to see a large, hi-res, printable version (by all means download, use, and share around).

By way of a brief explanation, I’ve been recently mapping out the broader business strategy for EmpiricalProof. Last Friday we ran a value proposition design workshop based around the process outlined in the (excellent) Strategyzer book. The workshop involved a lot of Post-It notes, and was based around customer research. We all found it really useful.

Value proposition design covers a couple of key areas in the Business Model Canvas, which I’m sure you’re already aware of. It is, of course, the visual framework for my Content Strategy Canvas (I doff my hat!).

The Content Strategy Canvas doesn’t exactly mirror the Business Model Canvas, but it could certainly be used to run a practical workshop along similar lines.

Let me give you a quick rundown of the things it covers. These are the nine areas that every content team needs to think about…

Audience

Who are you targeting, and why?

What makes them tick?

Where do they live, and when are they most active?

Audit

What have you already got going on?

Where are the gaps?

What’s working well for your competitors?

Brand

What are your brand guidelines?

What should you definitely not do?

What tone of voice do you use?

Production

Who is in your team, and what do they do?

Where does the style guide live?

Do you have a pre-publishing checklist?

Formats

Which content formats will you be using?

What do you need to start creating content?

Workflow

What tools will you be using?

Have you produced a content calendar?

How will you manage your evergreen content?

Distribution

Where will you distribute your content?

Are you going to do any paid promotion?

Can your PR team help?

Stakeholders

What does your boss expect you to do?

Who will be involved in the sign off process?

Goals

What are the main goals for your content?

How will you measure success?

Who needs to see the stats?

Sample

Below is a visual summary of some of these points. These are just a few jumping off points for you… it’s best to run a practical workshop. Get into the detail and be specific. For example, in ‘Distribution’ you should list the various channels you will use to drum up interest in your content, and the main tactics you’ll employ to generate awareness.

Although I’ve put goals at the bottom right, that’s always, always, always the place to start. The content teams I’ve run in the past have always been tuned into the primary business goals, as well as the secondary tactical goals. Make sure everybody understands why Team Content exists.

It’s also good idea to run a regular content strategy workshop, to sense check what you’re doing. Regardless of whether you’re starting from scratch or doing an audit for an established brand, you should think about Stakeholders and Goals first. Everything else flows from there. Avoid this and you run the risk of producing aimless content.

That’s the long and short of it. I hope it comes in handy.

Do let me know what you think in the comments area below, or just get in touch if you want any specific pointers.

A first look at Plonked, the new search engine for business

A screenshot of the landing page for Plonked: a dark grey webpage with a large central search bar. Above it the text reads, "Discover, analyse and connect with businesses for free."

Earlier this month came the launch of a brand new search engine dedicated to providing in-depth insights into the business world. Its name? Plonked.

In the world of search, even dominated as it is by giants like Google and Bing, there’s still room for a small organisation to do something new, and do it well. Enter Plonked, a niche search engine focused on providing information about businesses.

Plonked was co-founded by Ankur Varma and Josh Atir, both residents of the San Francisco Bay Area with a wealth of experience working in technology and software. The idea for Plonked was born out of conversations with sales teams about their work process and methods of discovering new leads, which led to the realisation that the tools they used for discovering companies – including Google – were either outdated or not detailed enough.

“Google’s done an amazing job when you think about categorising the web; there’s your tab for images, your tab for news, videos, and so on; but there isn’t an equivalent thing for businesses,” said Varma, the co-founder and CEO of Plonked.

“There’s no way I can click on Google and say ‘Just show me the businesses that meet this criteria, this location, this size, this kind of a business profile’, and so on. So we set about building that out.”

Poking around Plonked

At first look, Plonked is a slick, well-designed and aesthetically pleasing search engine, without a lot of confusion or clutter. I had a poke around its features, and found it easy to use. The homepage invites you to search using company names or keywords, like ‘Uber’ or ‘Internet of things’, although Plonked’s goal is to provide users with a natural language interface, which can respond to queries in everyday language.

“We don’t want people to have to go and learn about industry codes,” Varma explained. “We want people to be able to come and ask questions the way they would ask in Google.”

At the moment the search engine seems to respond mostly to keywords, and a change in wording can affect the results a lot. A search for ‘Internet of Things’ versus ‘Internet of Things companies’ brings up two completely different lists of companies, with only a couple of results in common.

But Plonked only launched to the public a little over two weeks ago, with a beta period of about two months before that; there will be plenty of time for improving its algorithms. The team is keen to learn from and adapt to the way that people use their engine.

“As we get to look at the kinds of queries people are doing, we’re making our engine smarter,” said Varma.

“We’re seeing the kinds of terms people are using to search for companies, and that’s helping us to make sure the machine learning algorithms underneath the search engine are tuned to recognise these kinds of words, and all variants of these kinds of words.”

Plonked is currently pretty narrowly focused on technology businesses within the United States, so unsurprisingly, a search for our parent company Contentive yielded no results. Instead I decided to have a look at the search results page for Tumblr, Inc.

The top section does a good job of summing up the essentials about Tumblr as a company, though I can’t comment on the accuracy of the funding figure. I did find the ‘Postal and Courier Services’ tag to be an odd inclusion, but Varma told me that the tags are added automatically to a company’s page when Plonked crawls the web for information about them, although users can also add and edit tags themselves.

“The idea here is to use tags in lieu of SIC or NAICS codes [codes for classifying a firm’s primary business activity] for search and filtering,” he said. “We believe that tags are more meaningful than industry codes. Shortly, we’ll be adding an advanced search feature where users can narrow the search results based on tags.”

Plonked fetched 77 companies which were ‘similar’ to Tumblr, a multi-layered process which involves not just looking at which companies fall into the same categories, but also how their founders and employees are connected on social networks, company websites and sites like Github.

In ‘Explorer’ view, users can see the connections between companies mapped out visually, with different coloured lines representing different relationships such as partnerships, customer companies and so on.

Further down the page is the Tumblr ‘leadership team’, a list of those in charge of the company which is for some reason sorted alphabetically by first name; it strikes me that something like sorting by hierarchy would be a bit more useful here.

If you’ve signed up to an account with Plonked (which has to be done with an existing Google or Microsoft account), the search engine will use your contacts to personalise search results, showing you how you connect with that company. One or two other features, such as viewing and subscribing to news updates about a company, are also not available without an account.

I asked Varma whether that might not put some people off, needing to share personal information before they can access Plonked’s full features.

“We have the option to not give up any contact information,” Varma assured me. “Many of our users choose not to share any contacts, and some choose to share contacts. It’s really up to them – and even if they share contacts on day one, if they don’t feel comfortable about it, they can wipe out all their contacts perfectly fine.”

On the theme of privacy concerns, and because Varma had mentioned that the search engine was able to learn from its users’ search queries, I asked how long the company was planning to store data from users’ searches. Varma admitted that they hadn’t considered that question yet.

“Honestly, I don’t know how long we plan to store it; for now we’re storing it indefinitely. But I can imagine that gets outdated pretty quickly. We’ll have to see as we keep exploring.”

It’s hard to talk about a search engine without talking about search engine optimisation, and Plonked is no exception to that rule. As I explored the site, I couldn’t help but wonder: is there such a thing as Plonked SEO? How can companies optimise their web presence for Plonked, if they want to? I put the question to Varma during our conversation.

“Yeah, we’re actually working on a document that defines what that would be for us, and how that would help companies do a better job,” Varma confirmed. “It’s certainly a very, very important topic, and something that we’re just getting our heads around to help companies get past that stage.”

A blue and black graphic composed of the letters SEO, where the O is enclosed in a magnifying glass with an eye in the centre.Image by Tumisu on Pixabay

Where no search engine has gone before

Niche search engines are certainly nothing new on the web, and countless niche engines have sprung up over the years only to die away or be absorbed into another company a few years later. Varma acknowledged this trend, but he also sees Plonked as having been created to solve a very complex and necessary problem, and the company still has a lot of work ahead of it to tackle that gap in the market.

“If you think about where we are today, we’re less than a year old. We’re getting to a point where we’ve done a decent job with search for tech companies in the US. We’re expanding to all companies in the US within the next six months, and then from there we’ll be expanding to Europe, from there we’ll be expanding to other parts of the world… I mean, we have a long ways to go, and this is because it’s a very, very large problem.

“We’re at a point where more and more businesses are going digital, which definitely helps, but we also know that there’s a very large task ahead of us to organise the data about businesses across the world.”

10 tips for writing effective headlines for the web

Trump toupee

The importance of headlines should never be overlooked, a little time spent finding the right headline can make a lot of difference.

A good headline means more people will click on your article wherever they see it, it ensures that the effort you spent in writing an article doesn’t go to waste, and it can also help your content to be picked up by search engines in the weeks and months after publishing.

Here are a few areas to think about when writing headlines. It should be noted though, that its not about writing sensation headlines for short-term traffic gains, it’s about ensuring that, if you write a quality article, the headline works to sell it.

1. Headlines should be descriptive

As I mentioned in a recent post on journalism and SEO, some lamented the passing of the pun headline with the coming of the web.

They were fun, and there’s nothing to stop them being used in print, but web headlines do need to be descriptive. Who knows, maybe you can manage both in one headline.

The problem is that non-descriptive headlines don’t work so well out of context. The headline has a big effect on rankings too, so they don’t work for SEO.

It short, it needs to tell people what they can expect from the article.

2. Avoid crappy clickbait headlines

Definitions of clickbait will vary, but I think many people will agree on what crappy clickbait is.

There’s this kind of garbage which appears on many news sites these days. There’s worse out there, but this is from a Washington Post article on Syria, very relevant…

Clickbait can also refer to headlines that don’t deliver on their promises. Too much hyperbole, tips on SEO that promise to revolutionise your marketing strategy, and so on.

Yes, headlines need to be enticing, but there’s a balance to strike. Don’t overdo it. Headlines which promise the world and bring in traffic only to disappoint will not work as a long-term strategy.

3. Headlines have to work on their own

When we write articles, it’s easy to think of them placed on top of the article and forgot that they’re often seen out of this context.

They’ll be seen in tweets, newsfeeds, newsletters, search results pages and more.

They’re often competing for attention with other articles, and your potential readers will scan and decide whether to click in a relatively short space of time.

So, the headline needs to work alone as, hopefully, these examples from SEW’s Twitter do:

sew tweetdeck

4. Think about headline length

The web, in various ways, limits the length of your headlines:

  • Google will only show the first 55-60 characters of a page title, so bear this in mind when creating headlines. Keep it under 55, or consider what will happen if it cuts off at that point. We’ve just about made it with our internal linking article, while Moz and SEOmark are well within the limit. As for the KISSmetrics post, we’ll have to click to find out what these commandments will do…page titles google
  • Social media. Consider the character limits on social posts. For example, if you want to tweet an article, adding the URL and image, then the headline shouldn’t be too long.
  • Email newsletters. It varies according to the device or email program your subscribers are using, but shorter headlines are more likely to be viewed in full.
  • Readability. Sorry to state the obvious, but it’s easier to read and digest a shorter headline quickly. Make it too long and people are less likely to read it.

All in all, my advice would be to keep headlines under 60 characters where possible, especially if you’re looking to create evergreen content which works well in search results.

Which is why the following headline is 103 characters long 😉big headline

5. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver

This ties in with the clickbait point to an extent, but you can write a good headline and not deliver on the content.

Now, some of this comes down to quality. If you offer what you bill as ‘killer tips’ and they’re just collated from a bunch of posts around the web, without much original thought or detail, people will feel like they’ve been had.

There’s a tendency towards adjectives in headline writing that can sometimes oversell content -‘amazing tips which will supercharge your content marketing’ etc.

If you’re going to go bold, you’d best be confident that your content matches the title. I’ve gone for ‘the ultimate guide’ on a recent ClickZ post. Think I’ve gotten away with it so far…

6. Be concise

As we know from point four, there are a number of reasons to keep headlines relatively short.

Take time and look at your headlines. Is every word essential? If not, remove it.

7. See what works and learn from it

Take a look at your analytics, and look at the articles that are being shared more on social media. Can you spot a few common features?

For example, these are the five most shared SEW articles from the past six months, as shown by Buzzsumo.

I’d say in all cases the title tells the user what to expect if they click on it. They’re all relatively short too, and of course, we have a couple of lists in there.

Buzzsumo headlines

It’s good to look at a mixture of tools to get the right idea. What works on social isn’t necessarily the same as what works in terms of traffic, or in terms of leads or conversions.

However, some common factors should emerge that will help you create better headlines.

8. Add keywords to headlines

The rule was always to front-load keywords, but this is supposed to be less important to Google now. I’d still want to get my keywords in the title though.

It will help with ranking, it’s more likely to be used as anchor text if people link back to your site, and these keywords can also catch the attention of your target audience on social sites, in newsletters or in search results.

9. Don’t be afraid of lists

It’s easy to mock the listicle, but the plain fact is that they work well online.

People like lists, it tells them that the article has a defined structure and should therefore be easy to read and digest.

These are the top ten pages from the past year on SEW. Five are number, six are lists. If I stripped out the homepage and category pages, there’d be more.

sew lists

‘How to’ also works well for us – four of the top 20 fit this pattern. Then there’s asking and answering a question – these work on people’s natural curiosity and, if written well, are useful to the reader.

10. Collaborate on headlines

Sometimes I’ll come up with headlines alone, but I find it helps a lot to discuss with colleagues and bounce ideas around.

You may think you have a good headline already, but maybe someone else has a better idea.

In summary

While you’ll find plenty of headline generators and formulas around, headline writing shouldn’t be too automated.

There are key factors to consider, rules which are worth following (most of the time), and some things to definitely avoid, but headlines also have to reflect the personality of the site and its audience.

Also, you’ve got to mix it up. If every headline is a numbered list, won’t look good even if it works for traffic (unless you’re Buzzfeed).

22 useful IFTTT recipes for content marketing and SEO

Get a digest with every top SEO post on Reddit

Imagine a world where Heath Robinson style contraptions genuinely exist and even the most complicated tasks can be achieved without you even having to get out of bed, or even be awake.

Blissful huh? Well we’re not far off that in digital terms, thanks to IFTTT, a tool that can help you automate thousands of time consuming tasks, by connecting all your online channels and triggering any ‘event’ you desire through a simple switching-on of a ‘recipe’.

Introduction to IFTTT

IFTTT stands for ‘if this then that’. If an event happens (this) in one channel, it will trigger an action (that) within another one.

So if you post an image on Twitter, you can automatically turn this into a blog post on your WordPress site. If you publish a status on Facebook, you can automatically turn it into a tweet. If you arrive in London, you can automatically email yourself a map of the Underground.

There are thousands of these recipes, which you can browse on the IFTTT website, or you can create your own using one of the 300 channels on offer. These also work great on iOS and Android phones.

The ones I’ve given as an example above are fairly straightforward, but there are many different and more complex recipes on offer that can help anyone in whatever industry they work in.

Here I’ve pulled together some of the more helpful recipes for those in search and content marketing…

Get a digest with every top SEO post on Reddit

Reject Spammy SEO Sales Emails

Tweet my WordPress blog posts

IFTTT 03

Post new Tumblr blog to WordPress

IFTTT 04

When I Like someone’s image blog post on Tumblr, repost the image in a blog entry on my own Tumblr

IFTTT 05

Create WordPress blog posts from an Evernote notebook

06 IFTTT

Every time I upload a Vimeo video, create a post on my WordPress blog

07 IFTTT

Save the Instagrams you like in a Dropbox folder

ifttt 08

Share your latest WordPress post on LinkedIn

09 IFTTT

Whenever I write a new post on Blogger, share on LinkedIn

IFTTT 10

Save popular posts in r/TodayILearned

11 IFTTT

Save every tweet to Google Drive

12   IFTTT

Save new Twitter followers in a Google spreadsheet

IFTTT 12

Share your Instagram pics as native Twitter photos

IFTTT 13

Never miss breaking technology news from NYTimes

IFTTT 14

Schedule posts within Google Calendar

15 IFTTT

Search for ______ GIFs and view them as a daily digest

IFTTT 16

Create Twitter lists around a hashtag

IFTTT 17

Remind yourself to write on Medium every Saturday at 9am

ifttt 18

Remind my followers to check their analytics and if they are crap to contact me (I do SEO)

IFTTT 19

Save all of your liked videos in a spreadsheet

IFTTT 21

Set up a content marketing radar station

As Chris Lake detailed last November, you can set up a content marketing radar station using Slack, Twitter advanced search and IFTTT. Click on the above link to read the full details.

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RankBrain Judgment Day: four SEO tactics you’ll need to survive

penguinator

The way 30 trillion web pages are ranked changed forever on October 26, 2015. That’s when the world became aware of RankBrain, Google’s machine-learning artificial intelligence system.

Google calls RankBrain, when it’s in use, “the third-most important signal contributing to the result of a search query.”

Google’s mission: to terminate any web pages from its results that don’t provide the highest-quality content and to find the most relevant answers for users.

Now marketers who want to gain precious visibility on always-shrinking organic SERPs must prepare to fight a new war: the war against the machines.

The pre-RankBrain machines

Google has sent two other major algorithms to strike at websites.

In the year 2010, Google sent a G-800, codename Panda, to hunt and kill the rankings of websites producing low-quality content.

Image from Grindstore

The second algorithm – a G-1000 known as Penguin – was sent in 2012 to find websites with unnatural link profiles and terminate them from the search results.

While neither algorithmic update was perfect, both succeeded in their overall mission. Now Google is sending a third.

RankBrain: analyzing page relevance on a 1-10 scale

Now, as before, Google has sent a G-X, a new machine learning system that will change SEO and the organic search results as we’ve known them.

RankBrain will analyze web pages for relevance. Every page will get a score between 1 and 10, with 1 being a dubious result and 10 being extremely strong.

But wait! This RankBrain technology is eerily derived from earlier G-350 technology. You may know it better as Google AdWords’ Quality Score. This intelligent AdWords technology never needed external signals (e.g. links) to rank paid search ads for relevance. Soon it will be the same for organic search.

Is this it? The SEO apocalypse? Whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh.

No, it isn’t. I’ve come from the future to share the secret solutions used in the past to help you today as your prepare for the rise of the machines.

A group of resistance fighters have already fought, and won, great Quality Score wars. Resistance fighters like myself, Frederick Vallaeys, and a squad of highly-trained AdWords Quality Score experts have learned to fight back and win. Now it’s time to share our intel on how to defeat RankBrain.

There’s no fate but what we make. Today I’m sharing four key strategies to prepare for RankBrain in order to prevent your website from facing Judgment Day.

Hang on… Judgment Day? Overdramatic much?

Imagine one day you wake up to find your website gone. Just gone. The fate of your site decided by a new order of machine intelligence in just a microsecond.

In the future RankBrain will take over the search results. All of them. In one possible future, Judgment Day happens on September 27, 2018* – Google’s 18th birthday. (*Standard Time Travel Causal Loop Disclaimer: igve or take a few months – time travel and navigating these time lines is quite tricky!)

For now, RankBrain is mainly used on complex long-tail search queries. But assuming RankBrain will only ever be used on long-tail queries would be dramatically underestimating its potential.

Google has pointed out that 15% of the millions of queries it handles have never been searched before. Additionally, for upwards of 99% of content across the web, Google simply doesn’t have enough signals (insufficient link and historical page data) to determine the most relevant search result for users. There are also whole niches that lack reliable natural link data (authoritative sites rarely link to porn, for example).

So now, with RankBrain, Google is learning in a very advanced way exactly what people click on and whether or not they are satisfied with the result when they click through.

Yes, Google is only using it on some queries for now. But when you create a new system like RankBrain, you wouldn’t initially test it on your big-money head terms – just as you wouldn’t replace a wildly successful paid search ad with an experimental one. You test on the things you’re least confident in.

There’s less downside and risk if Google’s RankBrain results aren’t as good in the early days. They will learn and come up with better answers based on analysis of user success metrics. Over time, Google’s confidence in RankBrain will grow and the signal will get more and more weighty.

Judgment Day is when RankBrain becomes the #1 ranking factor.

The link and on-page SEO signals won’t go away completely (they can always be used to corroborate other factors). But one day, they won’t be the most important factor in rankings. RankBrain will.

Rand Fishkin has warned SEOs of the possibility of a future where Google leverages algorithmic inputs for search rankings without requiring human intervention – an idea which was predictably dismissed by Google (what would you expect them to say…)

A relevance score. That sure sounds a lot like Quality Score, doesn’t it? Google already uses a relevance score with AdWords, the Display Network, YouTube Ads, and Gmail Ads. They just call it Quality Score. It’s been so wildly successful that Twitter Quality Adjusted Bids and Facebook Relevance Score are largely the same concept.

Organic search will be next.

google-rankbrain-terminator-come-with-me

Now, on to those four RankBrain strategies you’ll need to survive in the new world.

1. High organic CTRs: your highest probability for SEO success

Google uses its Quality Score algorithm to rate the quality and relevance of your keywords and AdWords ads. Click-through rate, the relevance of each keyword to its ad group, landing page quality and relevance, ad text relevance, your historic AdWords performance – all of this ultimately determines your cost per click and your ad rank in the ad auction process.

The key to beating the Quality Score algorithm is just a matter of beating the expected click-through rate for a given ad spot. Important: There is no one expected CTR – CTRs will vary by time of day, device, location, and other factors.

This graph (based on WordStream client data*) maps Quality Score against the ratio of actual click-through rate to expected click-through rate by position. As you can see, the AdWords Quality Score algorithm is largely just a matter of beating the expected click-through rate for a given ad position.

rankbrain-expected-ctr-graph

The better your ad does compared to the expected CTR, the higher your Quality Score.

By looking at millions of ads (from WordStream client accounts*) and averaging their click-through rates by ad position, we were able to reverse-engineer the expected CTR of an ad, and this is what we found:

rankbrain-seo-expected-ctr-vs-ad-position-graph

If your ad is in position 1, you don’t have extra points for having a 5% CTR – Google expects your CTR to be that high when you’re in that position. You need to do even better than expected to prove to Google that your ad is especially high-quality and relevant to users.

What does this have to do with SEO, in a world where ‘content is king’ and backlinks are critical to better rankings? Well, that’s where you need to start adjusting your thinking.

The future of SEO isn’t about beating another page based on content length, social metrics, keyword usage, or your number of backlinks. Better organic search visibility will come from beating your competitors with a higher than expected click-through rate.

Put simply: people are both the problem and the solution. RankBrain is learning from human decisions – specifically what they click on. Attracting higher click-through rates will be critical to your SEO success, just as it is the most important component of PPC success.

To figure this out, go into Search Console in Google Webmaster Tools. This will show you average position and click-through rates for the queries you rank for.

rankbrain-google-webmaster-tools

Figuring out what’s a good click-through rate for organic search is beyond complicated. There are a lot of factors, like query type, number of ads, personalization, location, and the presence of Knowledge Graph, a featured snippet or other Google SERP elements (plus this data comes from the future and is not set in stone). But you’ll notice right away that the CTR for your #1 rankings is super-high (over 32% for ‘marketing ideas’, above) compared to lower rankings, even relatively high average positions like 3 (under 3% for ‘ppc’, which Google interprets as a commercial query).

In Google Organic Click-Through Rates on Moz, Philip Petrescu shared the following CTR data:

rankbrain-google-organic-search-position

So, as a very basic example using the chart above, if you’re in Position 1, and you have a CTR lower than 30%, you’re in danger of losing your spot once RankBrain finds a relevant page with a better-than-expected CTR for its current position. If you have a much higher than expected CTR in a lower position (e.g., if you have a 15% CTR in Position 3), you should expect a bump up to at least the #2 position.

But again, CTR varies greatly based on so many different factors that simply using these static benchmarks isn’t a perfect approach. What’s an SEO to do?

Thankfully the notion of trying to achieve an above average click-through rate is not a new concept, at least from a PPC marketer’s perspective, and there are ridiculously smart PPC tactics that SEOs can borrow from.

Keep in mind: PPC marketers obsess about getting high Quality Scores (which is essentially above average CTRs for your query type and average position). It’s among the most important AdWords success KPIs. Below average CTR results in terrible things.

Figuring out your “organic Quality Score”

The challenge is that in SEO, Google doesn’t provide you with a Quality Score number to tell you if your content is above or below the expected click-through rate. But I’ve developed a hack to determine which of your keywords are most likely underperforming compared to the expected click-through rate: The Larry RankBrain Risk Detection Algorithm.

Just download all of your query data from Webmaster Tools and plot CTR vs. Average Position for the queries you rank for organically, like this:

rankbrain-seo-average-ctr-vs-position (1)

Next, plot an exponential trend line. The queries that fall below your average CTR are your queries that are likely most at risk for future RankBrain updates. Conversely, the queries that score above the trend line are most likely to get a boost from future RankBrain updates.

If you then do a secondary sort on your most ‘at risk’ pages using a metric like pageviews or conversions generated by those keywords, you can prioritize your optimization efforts on the most important, most at-risk pages on your site. The Larry RankBrain Risk Detection Algorithm is very similar to what PPC marketers do on a regular basis – which is to prioritize the optimization of low Quality Score keywords and ads first, because that is where you have the least risk (it’s less risky to fix your losers) and most potential upside.

Bottom line: you must beat the expected CTR for a given organic search position. Optimize for relevance or die.

2. How to optimize your SEO headlines and descriptions for above average CTR

‘SEO’ headlines (title tags) and meta descriptions do okay. But keyword-optimized titles are the equivalent of ‘Dynamic Keyword Insertion’ for PPC ads. Take a look at the WordStream client data* below for ads with DKI. They generate above-average returns:

rankbrain-seo-rankbrain-relative-ctr-dki

However ads using DKI are actually less likely to produce ads that are among the top 5% or top 1% of ads with highest click-through rates, normalized by ad position (AKA unicorn status).

Just look at these ads for [big data solutions].

rankbrain-big-data-solutions-ads

These ads are OK, I guess. They probably perform well enough. But, like many search-optimized titles, they’re also pretty boring, generic, and average. I don’t want to click on them. Do you?

To beat RankBrain, ‘Okay’ isn’t enough. Your organic listings must have REMARKABLE click-through rates.

Our research into millions of PPC ads has shown that the single most powerful way to increase CTR in ads is to use emotional triggers. Like this PPC ad:

rankbrain-emotional-ads

Tapping into emotions will get your target customer/audience clicking! Anger. Disgust. Affirmation. Fear. These are some of the most powerful triggers not only drive click through rate, but also increase conversion rates.

rankbrain-terminator-i-know-now-why-you-cry

Don’t make changes willy-nilly. Test out headlines as paid search ads or as social media updates linking to your content using different headlines – look at click through rates. Audition your headlines, eliminate the losers and use your winners as your SEO titles.

By no means should you forget about keywords and focus just on the emotion. Focusing on just keyword optimization or just emotion is a recipe for average titles and descriptions. Plus, without keywords, how will Google even know to try out your content on the SERP and see what kind of CTR it gets? (Google does this regularly with ads; that’s how it knows if your ad beats the expected CTR for its position or not.)

No, you need to combine keywords and emotional triggers to create SEO superstorms that result in ridiculous CTRs and leave your competition devastated.

Bottom line: use emotional triggers + keywords in your titles and descriptions if you want your CTR to go from okay to great.

3. Optimize for task completion

One of the hidden things that Quality Score measures is task completion rates (i.e. conversion rates). Google definitely knows what your conversion rates are.

adwords-industry-benchmarks-average-conversion-rate

How the heck does Google know your conversion rates? Well, the machines have learned to tell whether traffic to your site converts.

Now in organic search, a conversion may not equate to completing a form. If you’re pushing a piece of content, Google can look at engagement metrics like time on site and bounce rate, because higher engagement correlates with higher interest/relevance.

Google has seven products that boast more than a billion users – Android, Chrome, Gmail, Maps, Play, Search, and YouTube. So Google can tell in a lot of different ways when signed-in users are successful or unsuccessful at their tasks.

Plus, Google Analytics tracks millions of sites. And Google gets tons of insanely valuable data from AdWords – task completion technology was rolled out to advertisers as smart goals, a way to track conversions on advertiser websites without having to install additional conversion code.

Basically, you need to strive to have higher than anticipated or expected engagement metrics, based on a variety of criteria, including query and device type, location, and time of day. Your task completion must also be better than other similar sites.

Let’s say you work for a tech company. Your visitors, on average, are bouncing away at 80% for the typical session, but users on a competing website are viewing more pages per session and have a bounce rate of just 50%. RankBrain views them as better than you – and they appear above you in the SERPs. In this case, the task completion rate is engagement.

Bottom line: if you have high task completion rates, Google will assume your content is relevant. If you have crappy task completion rates, RankBrain will penalize you.

4. Increase search volume & CTR using social ads and display remarketing

People who are familiar with your brand are 2x more likely to click on your ads and 2x more likely to convert. We know this because targeting a user who has already visited your website (or app) via RLSA (remarketing lists for search ads) always produces higher CTRs than generically targeting the same keywords to users who are unfamiliar with your brand.

So, one ingenious method to increase your organic CTRs and beat RankBrain is to bombard your specific target market with Facebook and Twitter ads. Facebook ads are proven to lift mobile search referral traffic volume to advertiser websites (by 6% on average, up to 12.8%) (here’s the research).

With more than a billion daily users, your audience is definitely using the Social Network. Facebook ads are inexpensive – even spending just $50 dollars on social ads can generate tremendous exposure and awareness of your brand.

Another relatively inexpensive way to dramatically build up brand recognition is to use the power of Display Ad remarketing on the Google Display Network. This will ensure the visitors you drive from social media ads remember who you are and what it is you do. In various tests, we found that implementing a display ad remarketing strategy has a dramatic impact on bounce rates and other engagement metrics.

Bottom line: If you want to increase organic CTRs for your brand or business, make sure people are familiar with your offering.

People who are more aware of your brand and become familiar with what you do will be predisposed to click on your result in SERP when it matters most, and will have much higher task completion rates after having clicked through to your site.

rankbrain-terminator-2-thumbs-up

A note of caution

Aspiring RankBrain spammers, take note:

Marketers are famous for taking any technique that works and beating it to death. We’ve seen dozens of once-effective link-building methods get crushed (Wikipedia and forum spamming, comment spamming, embeddable widgets and infographics, guest posting exchanges, etc.) because of this sequence of events:

  • Marketers realized it was effective
  • They started doing it excessively, manipulatively or even abusively
  • Google caught on that the link type was no longer a signal of quality and shut it down via manual penalties or algorithm changes, OR
  • Our audiences just got sick of it and it stopped working

I know some of you are reading this article and thinking, “If CTR affects ranking, I can game the system!”

A word to the wise: Don’t go down this road. DO NOT try to outsmart RankBrain using bots. RankBrain is very strong. Google has been building PPC ad click-fraud detection systems for over 15 years now. You cannot beat a bot at their own game.

RankBrain: rise of the learning machines

An unknown SEO future rolls toward us. But now you can approach it with a sense of hope.

You must take the necessary precautions. Ensure above average click-through and task completion rates for your main organic keywords before Judgment Day, at which time the computers will take over the ranking, much like how it is done in AdWords using no external inputs (e.g. links).

The future of SEO isn’t set. There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves. It is our destiny to survive Judgment Day, together.

Never stop fighting. The battle against RankBrain has just begun. You are our only hope. Join the SEO resistance!

*Data sources:

Conversion rate data is based on a sample of 2,367 US-based WordStream client accounts in all verticals (representing $34.4 million in aggregate AdWords spend) who were advertising on Google AdWords’ Search and Display networks in Q2 2015. “Averages” are technically median figures to account for outliers. All currency values are posted in USD.

Click-through rate data is based on a sample of approximately 2,000 US-based WordStream client accounts in all verticals who were advertising on the Google AdWords search network in Q3 and Q4 of 2013.

Six of the most interesting SEM news stories of the week

robocop

Welcome to our weekly round-up of all the latest news and research from around the world of search marketing and beyond.

This week we have SHOCK HORROR loads of updates both good and confusing from Google, plus one or two other stats and related social news. Oh and a running gag that loses its steam halfway through. What a week!

Google strengthening its mobile friendly algorithm

As we reported yesterday, Google is strengthening its mobile friendly ranking signal.

Since April last year, if you’ve not been offering a mobile optimised version of your website you may well have suffered a drop in rankings, although many experts believed the initial change in the signal led to fairly negligible results.

However from May 2016, Google will step up the pressure on non-optimised sites by strengthening its algorithm. You have less than two months to comply!

Or something that sounds less like a threat from Robocop. Actually maybe that is a good analogy.

Google issues guidelines on bloggers and links for freebies

As Graham Charlton reported late last Friday, Google has issued guidelines for bloggers who receive free products from companies.

Google’s advice is that bloggers should ‘nofollow’ any links to products that they may have received as a free gift, as these haven’t been obtained organically through honest-to-goodness link-earning.

It seems straightforward enough, Google doesn’t like any link-building scheme that involves the exchange of money or a like-for-like link placement. Plus the word ‘scheme’ just sounds a bit sordid anyway.

Unfortunately this raises all kinds of questions and only spreads the ‘grey area’ even further around the SEO landscape. Or something…

  • Is this the responsibility of the bloggers or the brands/agencies?
  • How can Google tell the difference between a link added in return for a freebie and a natural link?
  • Should bloggers be worried? Will Google make an example of one or two sites as it did with guest blogging?
  • Why don’t you leave us alone Google, who are you, Robocop?

In a follow-up post, we raise the above questions with a few experts. Apart from that last question. That would’ve just been weird.

Google Analytics launches 360 Suite, promises a better view of the “complete customer journey”

Google Analytics has launched a brand new product this week called Google Analytics 360.

It promises to help enterprises (i.e. its fanciest, richest customers) achieve a more fully-formed view of the customer through a set of “integrated data and marketing analytics products.”

These include:

  • Google Audience Center 360 (beta): Google’s first ever data management platform (DMP).
  • Google Optimize 360 (beta): a website testing and personalization product.
  • Google Data Studio 360 (beta): a data analysis and visualization tool.
  • Google Tag Manager 360: a standalone improvement on its previous tag management product.
  • Google Analytics 360: the new version of GA Premium.
  • Google Attribution 360: the new version of Adometry.

It all sounds pretty good and worth raiding the pot of loose change you have on your desk for. I’ve got about £3.67, I reckon if you can put in the rest we can go twos on it.

Although I’m sure Google will find a way to police our ‘little scheme’.

ed 209 robocop

Instagram to adopt an ‘algorithm’ and show posts out of chronological order

As we reported a couple of days ago, Instagram has announced that will be adopting an algorithm that will show posts from the people you interact with/care about the most at the top of your news feed.

So a bit like Facebook or Twitter.

“The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post. As we begin, we’re focusing on optimizing the order — all the posts will still be there, just in a different order.”

In the following article I waffle on about whether Instagram’s algorithm is a good thing or not.

Mobile ad spend overtakes desktop for the first time

According to Marin in an analysis of $7.8bn of annualised ad spend, mobile has overtaken desktop for the first time, with more than 50% of budgets spent on mobile ads.

  • Social ads accounted for three-quarters of clicks and 71% of spend
  • Three out of five display conversions took place on a smartphone, a 30% increase on last year
  • Click-throughs on search ads were more than three times higher than social and display

Search ads on desktop still attract more impressions and conversions, however, smartphones continued to dominate year-on-year growth, with clicks and spend rising 13% and 11%, respectively.

Google updates the smartphone user agent of Googlebot

From 18 April, Google will update its smartphone Googlebot crawler from an iPhone user-agent to an Android user-agent.

Here’s what the new Googlebot smartphone user-agent looks like:

Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; Android 6.0.1; Nexus 5X Build/MMB29P) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/41.0.2272.96 Mobile Safari/537.36 (compatible; Googlebot/2.1; +http://www.google.com/bot.html)

Basically Google is replacing iPhone and Safari with Android and Chrome.

Why the change?

“We’re updating the user-agent string so that our renderer can better understand pages that use newer web technologies. Our renderer evolves over time and the user-agent string indicates that that it is becoming more similar to Chrome than Safari.”

Apparently this may only affect 1% of all websites, but it may be worth checking it with the Fetch and Render tool in Search Console, just in case.

That’s it for this week. And remember, stay out of trouble!

robocop

How to use visual social media part one: Instagram and Pinterest

A screenshot from the social app Yubl, showing a pair of trainers in the foreground and a skyline at sunset in the background. The caption reads "Yubl loves @timwillhyde". Text down the left side reads "Seriously addicted to awesome footwear". Two round bubbles on the right read "That skyline", which 68 users have tapped on, and "Those trainers", which 52 users have tapped on.

The web is becoming more and more visual, and nowhere more so than on social media, where some of the most influential platforms revolve around pictures and video.

Social networks which were previously text-centric have made a point of integrating more flexible and better-quality options for embedding media, and the last few years have seen the astronomic rise of several key platforms which revolve entirely around visual media.

New entrants to the social media scene also reflect this trend, finding new and adventurous things to do with visuals – take Peach, whose users communicate with GIFs, drawings and artful combinations of text and images. Or the newly-minted Yubl, which is driven by eye-catching graphics that users can tap to react to.

Knowing how to tailor your approach to visual social media platforms will be vital for effective promotion across all social networks going forward.

In this article and its follow-up, I’ll be looking at four major players in visual social media – Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and Snapchat – and how you can make the most of their unique features in a marketing context, as well as some useful tips for approaching visual media on any social network.

Instagram

With more than 400 million monthly active users, and 40 billion photographs uploaded since its launch in 2010, Instagram is an undeniable titan of visual social media.

Its approach to sharing beautiful images with professional-style filters has had a lasting influence on the way that social networks approach visual media.

With support for short videos as well as photos, Instagram has defined itself as a visually rich and creative platform.

It was the hip new photo-sharing app when Facebook snapped it up in 2012, and its rise hasn’t slowed since then.

Instagram has been keen to capitalise on its popularity with opportunities for advertisers, such as its carousel ads which give brands more storytelling flexibility, and a recent move to up the length of video ads to 60 seconds.

But in such a crowded environment, how can you find the best way to stand out?

Focus on visuals

More than any of the other platforms listed here, visuals on Instagram need to look good. Take high-quality photos and videos, and bear Instagram’s square framing in mind.

If you shoot square from the start, you can make use of every part of the image and don’t have to worry about important details being cropped out.

Many digital cameras and smartphones have a ‘square’ setting you can shoot with, while apps like Camera51 can help with getting the right composition.

Create a style that fits your brand

Use Instagram’s visual effects to create a style that fits your brand.

Instagram’s creative lead Eric Oldrin encourages brands to “look to their followers and target audiences when determining their own visual identity.”

He cites the example of Taco Bell, which used Instagram to launch its new breakfast line with a “retro, sun-bleached colour palette” to complement the brand’s youthful ethos.

Storytelling ftw

Take advantage of the opportunities for storytelling. As I mentioned above, Instagram has introduced carousel ads to provide advertisers with more range and flexibility.

Users swipe left to view a series of images, which could be different items from a range, or a sequence of images that tell a short story.

The increase to 60-second ads also gives opportunities for a longer story to be told with video, such as T-mobile’s extended version of its Super Bowl ad featuring the rapper Drake, which was published to Instagram.

Tell a story with content

Storytelling opportunities aren’t restricted to advertising – with some creativity and planning, you can tell a powerful story just as well with content marketing.

Take Red Bull, a notable Instagram early adopter, which uses Instagram to showcase adrenaline-pumping, daredevil stunts which are often sponsored by the brand itself.

It had an early video hit with a six-second clip of Russian BASE jumper Valery Rozov leaping from Mount Everest. The video is short, simple and impactful, featuring two shots linked by a single cut, more like a Vine than an Instagram video.

Longer videos do give an opportunity for expanded storytelling, but if you can pack a punch with less, by all means do so.

A screenshot from the dedicated Instagram account for Red Bull cliff diving world series, showing a thumbnail grid of different photographs and videos of people cliff diving.A dedicated Instagram page for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series

Pinterest

Pinterest is the dark horse social network that came from nowhere to become phenomenally popular with a very specific demographic: young-to-The logo for the website Pinterest, a red square with rounded corners with a white cursive 'P' in the centre.middle-aged women. (Pinterest’s users are 81% female, with a median age of 40, though most of its active pinners are younger than that).

It has since evolved into the ultimate ecommerce hub, with a community of creative, innovative and ingenious users flocking to Pinterest for DIY tips, hacks, shopping ideas and inspiration.

As Kevin Knight, Head of Creative and Brand Strategy at Pinterest, told ClickZ, Pinterest is a “future-planning tool” and a place that people go specifically to interact with brands.

Pinterest has welcomed this with open arms with the addition of Buyable Pins, which enable users to purchase products directly from their iPhone or iPad using Pinterest. Promoted Pins are also available to businesses based in the U.S., with the option of either boosting Pin engagement or driving more traffic through to your website.

So how can you get the best out of this commerce-friendly platform?

Curation and shareability are key

Pinterest is a curation-heavy platform, with over 80% of Pins being repinned from elsewhere in the site.

In fact, you can divide the four sites I’m analysing here down the middle by distinguishing between platforms that revolve around curation (Pinterest and Tumblr) and platforms which revolve around ‘original’ content (Instagram and Snapchat). Shareability is key.

Learn from analytics

Pinterest Analytics provides detailed information not only about your own account on Pinterest (including impressions, clicks and repins) but also content from your website that people have Pinned elsewhere, allowing you to see exactly what works, who is interacting and what is gaining the most activity.

A screenshot of one of Etsy's Guest Pinner boards on Pinterest, showing various foods, craft products and decorations pinned around a Valentine's Day theme.

Make the most of Pinterest’s interactivity and collaboration

Navneet Kaushal has a great piece on how to use Pinterest’s group boards effectively, with tips on how to engage and be engaging.

Etsy is one brand which makes extremely effective use of this feature on Pinterest, inviting ‘Guest Pinners’ to contribute to a particular board which focuses on an area relevant to Etsy’s brand.

This partnership serves to build a strong relationship between both Etsy and the contributor, as well as benefiting both with increased exposure, more followers and more activity.

Use Pinterest boards on other sites

Take your boards outside of Pinterest to engage people across platforms.

Pinterest boards can be embedded on websites and blogs (including Tumblr!); you can also add a ‘Pin It’ or Follow button to invite users back to Pinterest from your website, either to share your content or to follow you.

In the next half, we’ll be looking at why you shouldn’t overlook Tumblr, why Snapchat’s vanishing media is great for exclusive content, and some useful tips you can apply across the board when planning out any visual social media strategy.

What performance marketers need to know about Google Knowledge Graph

barack obama   Google Search

Last week artificial intelligence achieved another victory over humankind.

Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo program won 4-1 against Lee Sedol, one of the best Go players in the world, in a milestone that experts thought was a decade away.

Of course, AI is about much more than winning board games. Google’s RankBrain AI powers its Knowledge Graph search results, bringing context and semantics to the traditional keyword-based search.

And with last month’s appointment of John Giannandrea, AI expert and Knowledge Graph founder, as Google’s new head of search, this is clearly an area Google is interested in.

For performance marketers, this needs to be paid attention to. Not only is Knowledge Graph an important tool that needs to be understood and utilised, but the AI powering it needs to be communicated with to ensure that it receives accurate information.

What is Knowledge Graph?

Say that you type into Google the name of a famous person, a tourist destination, a business, or any one of a whole host of objects or people that are frequently searched for. What you will most likely encounter is a panel along the side and/or the top of the results that provides additional information about what you searched for.

For example, if you search for ‘Barack Obama’, you will see a side panel with pictures, information about when and where he was born, his family, his social media profiles, as well as some ‘people also search for’ results.

Similarly, if you search for ‘Eiffel Tower’ you will get information relevant to the building, such as the address, height and opening date.

If you type a flight number, the weather, or the definition of a word, you will get a Quick Answer Box at the top of the results that gives you essential information about the concept you have searched for. And there are plenty of other queries that will trigger this type of result.

This is the Knowledge Graph. It’s essentially a database that provides relevant contextual information and facts about millions of entities from across the web and shows it in search results.

This database is built up using artificial intelligence software that scans the web, interprets what it sees, and stores the insights that it finds. Rather than simply seeing the words on a web page or in a search query, the search engine tries to understand what the sentence actually means and make smarter judgements as to which results are relevant.

Of course it’s not just Google that has this technology. Microsoft has its “Satori Knowledge Base”, Yahoo has started working on its own solution, and Wolfram Alpha has had its own smaller version of this for many years.

What does Knowledge Graph mean for performance marketing?

Knowledge Graph isn’t just an interesting concept. It’s also an online space that performance marketers need to occupy if they want to stay ahead.

Approximately 19% of search results now feature Knowledge Graph results. And on mobile, these take up a sizeable amount of screen space.

Knowledge Graph has become a prominent part of the search experience, having a significant effect on your audience’s judgement of you and your products. Reaching the top of Google search results (organically and/or through AdWords) is no longer the only objective; inaccurate or poorly optimised Knowledge Graph results could seriously undermine your brand.

Although machine learning programs do their best, they don’t always interpret what they see correctly. And this can lead to problems if Google is displaying inaccurate information about your business: an outdated phone number, for example, could cost you a lot of clients.

To make up for this, Schema.org was founded and sponsored by four of the big search giants (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Yandex) to create a method for websites to explicitly give search engines this semantic information. In practice, this involves adding extra code to your website to indicate what type of object you are referring to in a piece of text.

Yet surprisingly few people have made use of this tool. Even though it has been around since 2011, as many as 80% of websites still haven’t used Schema.org markup. But this isn’t something that performance marketers should overlook – making sure that Knowledge Graph results have accurate and useful information for your brand is essential.

Knowledge Graph in the future

Today if you want people to hear you, you cannot just speak to your target audience. You also need to speak to the programs that are filtering and interpreting the web for them.

Helping the top search engines understand the meaning and the context behind your website is now a key part of achieving the most beneficial results.

Knowledge Graph has a lot of room to grow and become an even more influential part of how search engines work. We can expect the range of objects it can capture information about to increase, the information gathered to expand, and for consumers to become more familiar with using Knowledge Graph panels to get what they are looking for.

We can also expect Google’s competitors to try and outperform Knowledge Panel with their own solutions.

For performance marketers, the most important thing is to stay ahead of the game. By watching how this unfolds, and checking what new features are added, what trends are developing, and what you need to do to respond, you can start outmanoeuvring your competitors in this space.

How to use Reddit search to discover winning content ideas

reddit search

If you’re anything like me then Reddit is a fantastic place to hang out, particularly when you’ve got a little time to spare.

The depth and breadth of user-driven content on Reddit is incredible. If you’ve written it off as a repository of cat pictures then it might be worth re-evaluating (I’m allergic to cats, and most cat pictures).

It’s weird but a lot of people seem to be a bit scared of Reddit. Perhaps they have been bitten by a community that is very sensitive to intentions. If Redditors feel like they’re being marketed to, or trolled, or duped, then it’s normally game over.

Reddit can be a source of insane levels of traffic (I’ve submitted content that has generated more than a million views within 24 hours), but it’s also a great place to find ideas, and to see what works.

If you’re new to Reddit then here’s a quick walkthrough of some of the techniques you can use to mine the gold.

1. Install RES

There is a fantastic extension called the Reddit Enhancement Suite, which allows you to improve and customise the Reddit experience. I’ve used it for years and suggest that you install it before you begin.

2. Use the search tool

Obvious right? Let’s put ‘SEO’ in there and see what we find (ignore the advanced search stuff for now).

We can use the various filters to refine the search results.

3. Get to grips with the subreddits

For most searches you’ll see a bunch of popular sub-categories (aka ‘subreddits’) relevant to the content you’re looking for.

You can subscribe to these, open them up in new tabs to check them out later, or ignore them.

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 12.52.21

The subreddit filtering options allow you to limit searches to one particular category…

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 12.54.21

You can also refine the results at this stage, by using the advanced operators…

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 12.56.51

This level of filtering is helps you to drill down into specific areas, while minimising the noise.

4. Explore popular posts

Directly underneath the subreddit results you’ll see a ton of individual posts. Some of these will be links to third party sites. Others will be ‘self’ posts, where the user creates a text-based post (these are often question-based).

Posts are sorted by ‘relevance‘, by default. Relevance is pretty much keyword orientated.

The two other sorting options are ‘top‘, which is based on the number of votes, or ‘comments‘, which is self-explanatory.

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 12.59.09

You may find that a lot of off topic content will appear if you select ‘top’. In this case, there’s only one post with ‘SEO’ in the title…

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 13.02.26

This is where the subreddit filtering and advanced operators come into play.

Here is the same search, sorted by ‘top’, but limited to the r/SEO channel…

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 13.04.01

Much better. Way less random content.

5. Use the ‘time’ filter

Reddit will also unearth posts since the dawn of time (aka ‘2006′, when it was born). That’s fine, but it’s often better to see what’s been working recently.

Here’s what we see if we set the time filter to ‘past month’…

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 13.06.57

6. Remove the relevancy setting

At this stage, given that we’re looking in a specific subreddit (/r/SEO), let’s also change the sorting option from ‘relevancy’ to ‘top’ (ranked by votes).

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 13.09.37

Now we have a list of the most popular content submitted within the past month to a niche SEO-flavoured community.

7. Check out the popular posts

Now you’ve got some posts to check out. In the r/SEO channel these are predominantly ‘self’ posts. In other categories they could be links to third party articles, videos, or user generated content that lives on other websites (e.g. images hosted on Imgur).

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 13.16.08

As I mentioned earlier, a lot of these ‘self’ posts are based around questions. As an aside, questions need answers… that’s always a great opportunity to create some ultra-targeted content.

8. Dive into the comments

The comments are a wealth of information, ideas and insight. Your entire content generation strategy could probably be underpinned by user comments on Reddit.

9. Check out related subreddits

In the right sidebar of r/SEO you’ll see a few things that should be of interest.

Firstly, you can see how popular a channel is, and how many people are tuned into it at this precise moment.

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 13.11.58

You will also see a bunch of subreddits that might be worth exploring.

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 13.12.04

That’s the long and short of it. Do have a play around and see what you can find. There’s more to life than cat pictures!

I’ll also write a follow up post on how to maximise your chance of success if you use Reddit as a distribution channel for your own content, so stay tuned.

Do leave your comments below and by all means recommend your favourite Reddit tactics.

Six essential steps to present data persuasively

google apps

“The graphic method has considerable superiority for the exposition of statistical facts over the tabular. A heavy bank of figures is grievously wearisome to the eye, and the popular mind is as incapable of drawing any useful lessons from it as of extracting sunbeams from cucumbers.”

-Arthur Briggs Farquhar and Henry Farquhar from Economic and Industrial Delusions

In a previous column, I shared that data visualization is your secret weapon for storytelling and persuasion. I wanted to follow that up with actionable tips for how you can be more successful with your own efforts sharing data with your team.

I’ve been in countless meetings over my career where clients or colleagues presented data to me …painfully. When I say painfully, it wasn’t because they didn’t work hard on a campaign or project and have amazing insights to share. But the actual presentation/delivery of insights and actions could have been far more effective. And very worth the effort.

Presenting data persuasively is a ‘last mile effort’, because you’ve already done the work, mentally feel ‘finished’, and are now just sharing learnings and next steps. This is understandable and basic human nature. The work feels finished, which is why many content creators throw slides together haphazardly as they are ready to move on to the next thing. Today I’d like to persuade you not to do this and instead to take time to present your data thoughtfully.

If you follow the following six steps, your next meeting with a boss or client will not only go smoother, you will have much higher odds of influencing that person to take the action you want.

I’ve thrown in a few examples to illustrate my points.

1. Before you get into the data, set up the situation

Never just start presenting to a group by throwing charts and graphs on a screen. And never present to a group just by sharing a Google Sheet or projecting Google Analytics reports on the overhead.

Make a quick deck – not only is this better to present it, but gives the team a takeaway that’s easier to circulate internally and senior execs who get forwarded the content are far more likely to open and click through.

So you’ve started a presentation. First, spend time to take people through what you did (visually, ideally). For example did you just run an A/B test on a new landing page? Great, show a slide with the old page and new page before you dive into results so we can see what you did, along with a goals of why you ran this specific test in the first place.

The benefit here is now everyone will begin your presentation immediately following your logic and you’ll get far fewer questions. Your team may have initially signed off on the project but it’s more likely they don’t remember everything. Help them out.

As an example, if my colleague Krista Seiden was going to present the results from her project redesigning the Google apps for Business site, before diving into the data she should start by showing what the old site looked like.

2. Have one clear takeaway per slide, fix broken, confusing or misleading visualizations

Too many times I’ve seen young account executives throw all their data on one slide (perhaps not even visualized just as a list of numbers) because they feel a need to get everything across up front and more data must be good, because it looks more official, right? Wrong.

Never have a slide with more than one chart – it’s just too much material, no one is going to absorb it and people’s eyes will gloss over. This is simply too much information for wrap our mind around and still listen to a presenter.

When you try to say everything, you say nothing. An example of what not to do (four charts on one slide, just far too much):

Even more important, never mislead your audience! This visualization scale in the below chart is not only totally broken, but the “cute” attempt to use people icons to represent the bars in the chart simply adds more confusion. It’s difficult to take anyone seriously who uses these sort of graphics, however well-intentioned.

nsw health

Some graphs are just hopeless …the below not only has 3D bars which you should never, ever use as they are incredibly confusing, but the icons above the chart add even more confusion. Not to mention the fact that this chart has no label! The only thing this chart would persuade someone of is that the person who created it probably shouldn’t be presenting data to your team. And by the way, this was a real chart someone presented in an agency meeting (edited to protect the innocent).

Lurie

Via Ian Lurie

3. Present data as simply & cleanly as possible (now let’s see some good examples)

If you wanted to compare the growth of different revenue streams or consumer preference in a sector, you don’t need to do anything fancy. Just plot the data in a simple line graph with labels, sources and titles. Easy and the results are very clear!

We know from looking at the below chart that between 2017 and 2018, online video service revenue is projected to eclipse box office. There’s no room for confusion or any way to misinterpret.

projected

It happens to us all – you created a chart that’s not very clear. But, this is fixable: figure out what point you want to get across and remix the data to portray, clearly, what you want to communicate.

The huge takeaway of the below chart is the massive 216% growth of internet as a source of news over the last 10 years for consumers. But you can’t see that very well in the first chart. Bold the one datapoint you want to use to make your point and also consider calling out percentage change to focus your audience on how big the trend is.

where do

Source: flowingdata via one of their ‘Visualize This’ challenges to make data visualizations better

4. Always present data with context – never assume people know what you do, even your own team

So, for example don’t just show a trend of metrics via this month, but overlay what last year looked like to quickly see what this means compared to previous timeframes.

Google Analytics makes this super easy to do and it’s far more helpful than a chart that looks pretty and is going up and to the right. Sure, that looks nice, but what does it mean? Are these numbers good? We don’t know. Context answers this.

context

Additionally, never simply show a chart like this by itself – instead, have a text box below with something like a percentage change call out you want to draw attention to and the reason for it. Tell us what you want us to take away from the data.

And remember, someone should be able to click through your slides and get a clear understanding of what you wanted to communicate without needing you to present.

As analysts interpreting not just the ‘what happened?’ but ‘why?’ and ‘what does it mean?’ are what separates the good from the great. A hint for making your life easier: use annotations in Google Analytics to add callouts to interesting events right in the product, and later when you need to share data you won’t have to worry about forgetting what happened during that timeframe.

5. Have additional details in an appendix, but you don’t need to go through it

You don’t need to go through every single KPI and indicator metric in your presentation, especially the ones not core to your project. It’s actually what you don’t show that makes presentations better. Not only does more data not help you tell your story but it’s going to tire everyone in the room out and you’ll lose attention.

There’s only so much we can absorb in one sit down, plus it’s our job as analysts and marketers to share only the key information. Offer an appendix to both CYA but also provide detail if someone does want to understand more. They can do this offline and not waste the group’s time.

6. Have a ‘next steps’ slide where you summarize exactly what you want accomplished next

You’ve presented your project, goals, results and insights. You’ve made your points and have everyone persuaded to think the way you want them to (seeing reality, hooray!).

Now summarize with what, specifically you are going to do with this data in the form of a task list and team deliverables (such as running a new test, getting people started on that badly needed new site design, or removing products no one is buying from your ecommerce catalog).

Bonus tip: review your slides/presentation before you present

Practice makes perfect with presenting, and while you likely don’t need to go to the length of someone preparing to keynote an event, you should do at least do a quick dry run of what you want to say.

It’s worth the effort, even one or two rehearsals through something will not just get you comfortable with the material but also make it clear what you can remove from your presentation.