Challenges and opportunities for inbound marketing in 2017

It’s not easy to create a successful inbound marketing strategy, but it still offers great opportunities once marketers understand its potential. What do we need to know, then, about inbound marketing in 2017?

Content can be a powerful tool for a business when used strategically, and that’s how inbound marketing has become an effective method of capturing leads and increasing traffic.

More marketers are ready to explore its benefits, which is why we’re examining the best ways to use it in 2017. It’s interesting to look into Hubspot’s State of Inbound 2016 to see what other businesses think of inbound marketing and how to take advantage of its potential.

Top marketing priorities

Marketers are leaving 2016 behind, and their top priorities for the year ahead are:

  • converting leads into customers
  • growing traffic to their website
  • increasing revenue from existing customers
  • proving the ROI from their marketing activities

All these priorities have to do with the effectiveness and the profit coming from their marketing efforts. As competition increases, it is becoming more important to find the tactics that will boost a brand’s goals, and inbound marketing has played a key role in this attempt.

Top inbound marketing priorities

According to Hubspot, inbound marketers are much more likely to be satisfied with the tactics their organisations are prioritizing. Ranking their priorities for the past year, the growth of SEO and their organic presence was their main focus, while content creation and distribution were next.

Another interesting priority was marketing automation: there seems to be a growing interest in the best ways of including automation in a marketing strategy.

Moreover, blog content doesn’t seem to be the only concern, as marketers also included interactive and visual content among their main priorities.

All these priorities demonstrate the complexity of inbound marketing and how each organization interprets it differently, depending on their goals and their plans.

Top marketing challenges

Inbound marketing is not just about great opportunities, but also about big challenges, ranging from finding effectiveness to budget and training.

It’s not easy to create a successful inbound marketing strategy, and the main challenge for marketers is to generate traffic and leads from it, while justifying their activities through ROI is also a big concern.

Moreover, as content evolves, so does the need for a bigger budget. This is a challenge that small businesses understand, especially when they’re trying to compete with bigger ones.

Adding new content distribution channels

A good way to overcome the challenges in inbound marketing is to explore new content distribution channels. For this reason, marketers are ready to focus more on Youtube, Facebook videos, Instagram and messaging apps, as these seem to be the biggest trends in content marketing.

Moreover, podcasts are still among their preferences when trying to reach a different audience, while Medium is also an interesting choice in terms of simplistic content consumption.

Their first three choices for 2017 indicate that visual content and video, in particular, is a key choice for the coming months, and as it seems to increase engagement, we can expect more businesses to try it out this year.

Inbound vs Outbound

When it comes to marketers’ primary approach to marketing, Hubspot’s State of Inbound shows that 73% of respondents pick inbound marketing over outbound marketing.

Although both aspects are important, the preference over inbound marketing proves how the rise of content turned it into a powerful weapon for every marketing strategy. Despite the challenges and the budget limitations it may occasionally bring, the consistency in inbound marketing can lead to great long term results.

Inbound marketing in 2017

It’s an interesting time to explore inbound marketing, as content creation and distribution reaches new levels of maturity. This means that more businesses will be able to find the desired ROI when embracing inbound marketing techniques as part of their bigger marketing strategy.

Although marketers are aware of the challenges that come with inbound marketing, they seem to be focused on finding the best ways to make it work along with their goals.

The best way to start exploring the benefits of inbound marketing is to analyse your existing content and explore its potential and how it can affect your marketing and sales goals.

How can you improve it? How can you create more strategic content from now on?

Five most interesting search marketing news stories of the week

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

This week, we follow up on the launch of Google’s new ad label to ask how it will impact marketers, and look at attempts by Google’s tech incubator Jigsaw to clean up language on the internet.

Plus, a new study has revealed that 63% of top-ranking websites use keywords in their URL, and Bing has a new function that allows you to filter restaurants by Pokéstop.

How will Google’s new ‘Ad’ label impact marketers?

In last week’s round-up we reported that after some testing, Google has officially rolled out a new look for its ad labels on the SERP. But the question on everyone’s lips is: how will this affect marketing campaigns?

Clark Boyd took a detailed look at the possible implications of the chance for Search Engine Watch this week, including considering why Google has chosen to change the look of the ad labels, the impact it will have on paid search CTR, and the possible effect on organic search.

Google’s Jigsaw aims to increase the quality of online conversations

Jigsaw, the technology incubator formerly known as Google Ideas, has launched an API which aims to rid the web of bad comments.

Called Perspective, the API “uses machine learning models to score the perceived impact a comment might have on a conversation” and can be used to identify and filter out comments that are likely to be “toxic.” When fed the content of a comment, the API will give a percentage rating as to how similar it is to “toxic” comments.

Perspective uses machine learning models to determine the likelihood of a comment being toxic.

Needless to say there has been some skepticism over how well this model can work, but it’s already being tested out by a number of prominent publishers, including the likes of the New York Times, the Guardian and Wikipedia. Al Roberts took a look at the issue for ClickZ, and considered whether a human issue like online abuse can really be solved by machines.

Google’s DeepMind app is saving NHS nurses two hours a day

There was significant controversy surrounding DeepMind, the Artificial Intelligence arm of Google, last November when it was revealed to be at the center of a massive data-sharing agreement involving the medical information of more than 1.6 million patients.

But the NHS Royal Free London Hospital, which is trialing an app by DeepMind designed to detect early signs of kidney failure, has spoken out in defense of the technology and revealed that it is saving nurses up to two hours every day.

The logo for Streams, the real-time health information app by DeepMind.

Wired UK reported that more than 26 doctors and nurses at Royal Free are using the app, which is “alerting” them up to 11 times per day of patients at risk of acute kidney injury (AKI). According to NHS figures, acute kidney disease costs them more than £1 billion every year – although it’s unknown how much the NHS is paying DeepMind for the use of its technology.

“Within a few weeks of being introduced, nurses who have been using Streams report it has been saving them up to two hours every day, which means they can spend more time face-to-face with patients,” the hospital said in a statement.

Study: 63% of top-ranking websites use keywords in their URL

How beneficial is it to have keywords in your domain URL? There has been little definitive information to answer this question over the years. Matt Cutts and John Mueller, both of Google, have previously gone on record (one in 2009, and the other in 2016) to state that keywords do make some contribution to search ranking.

But what does this look like in practice, and how does it vary across different industries? A study by HigherVisibility, shared exclusively with Search Engine Watch, set out to answer this very question, analyzing the top ranking websites for various keywords across ten major industries.

The study found that nearly two-thirds (63%) of top-ranked websites use keywords in their domain URL. Of the industries studied, the debt industry had the highest incidence of keywords in domain URLs with 76%, while email marketing had the lowest, with 47%. Read the full write-up and analysis of the findings.

Bing lets you filter restaurants by Pokéstop

What are the qualities of the ideal restaurant? Good food, ambiance…. nearby Pokéstop? If you would pick the last of these, you’re in luck, because Bing now allows you to filter restaurants by whether or not they have a Pokéstop nearby.

The SEM Post’s Jennifer Slegg was the one to notice the change, which hasn’t been publicized by Bing in any way. So far the feature is only available in US search, but it could be a boost for some businesses. Wired reported in September 2016 that one in 10 US smartphone users were still playing the game, and a slew of new Pokémon have been introduced since then. Maybe now would be a good time to splurge on a lure or two.

Study: How valuable is it to have keywords in your domain URL?

There have been a number of debates over the years about the SEO value of having keywords in your domain URL.

In a 2009 Google Webmaster video, Google’s then-head of web spam Matt Cutts confirmed that from a pure ranking standpoint, “it does help a little bit to have keywords in the URL”.

More recently, Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller stated in a Google Webmaster Central office hours hangout that keywords in URLs are a “really small ranking factor”. But small can still make a difference in the grand scheme of things, and there are also compelling reasons from a usability standpoint to include keywords where they are relevant.

A new study by HigherVisibility.com, whose findings were shared exclusively with Search Engine Watch, set out to investigate the relationship between the top ranked websites in various industries and the inclusion of keywords in their URLs.

It found that nearly two thirds of top-ranking websites use keywords in their URLs – but this can vary significantly from industry to industry. So what can we learn from the findings about the importance of having keywords in your domain URL?

Key findings

The study looked at the top 10 keywords across 10 major industries: business, credit cards, debt, email software, food and beverage, government and trade, hotel, plumbing, software and weight loss. It then analysed the top page results for these keywords and their URLs, to find out how often keywords were used, and in what form.

Overall, 63% of the top ranking sites for each industry – nearly two thirds – included keywords in their domain URL. Of the industries analysed, the debt industry had the highest incidence of keywords in their domain URLs, with 76% of URLs in the debt industry using a keyword.

As an industry, email software was the least likely to use keywords in its domain URL, with less than half – 47% – of sites in the email software industry using keywords in their URLs.

Among the top ranking websites for each industry, seven out of ten sites used a keyword in their URLs, two included a partial keyword – for example ‘tp’ for ‘trade policy’ – and only one site included no keyword at all. This was the top ranking site for the weight loss industry, although it included the word ‘diet’ instead.

The debt industry: keywords galore

The debt industry had a high level of keyword usage in its domain URLs across various search terms. Out of the top 10 ranked websites for the word ‘debt’, 100% of sites used the keyword in their URLs.

Similarly, all top ranking sites for the keyword ‘debt equity’ used the term in their URLs, while 95% of the top ranked sites for ‘debt finance’ used the keyword in their domain URLs.

The keywords least likely to appear in domain URLs for the debt industry were ‘debt equity loans’ and ‘credit debt loans’, with 55% of top ranking sites using these keywords in their URLs. This could be because these keywords are longer, making it less likely that they would be used in their entirety.

Email software: less is more

The industry with the lowest incidence of keyword usage in its URLs was email software, although it’s interesting to note that this was also the industry with the longest keywords, with all keywords having at least two words, and some having four or five.

No set of websites rose above 60% keyword usage in their URLs, and the least-used keyword – ‘bulk email software buy’ – appeared in just 35% of URLs for the top ranked sites. ‘Newsletter email software’ and ‘best email software’ were the keywords most likely to appear in URLs, with both keywords appearing in 60% of top ranking URLs.

Hotel keywords: regional differences

The hotel industry had 62% usage of keywords in URLs overall, with seven out of the 10 top ranked sites for the term ‘hotel’ including the keyword in their domain URLs.

Popular booking sites like Travelocity have made it to the top of the SERP without needing to include the keyword (although the word ‘travel’ could arguably be considered a related keyword). Another of the top ranked websites was www.otel.com, which although it doesn’t contain the keyword in its entirety, has all except one letter!

‘Region-specific’ keywords such as ‘san hotel’ (i.e. San Francisco or San Diego) or ‘york hotel’ were more likely to appear in URLs, appearing in 100% and 80% of URLs for their respective keywords.

At the lower end of the spectrum, ‘hotel discount’ and ‘reservations hotel’ were the keywords least likely to appear in URLs, appearing in 35% and 25% of URLs, respectively.

How can URL keywords help you rank higher?

It’s clear that there is a link between the websites which rank highly for a certain keyword and whether or not that keyword appears in its URL. However, this is unlikely to be the only factor that determines whether or not a site can rank well.

As those of us in the industry know, countless other things can contribute to good SEO, and the study by Fractl was focused on one aspect. But does this mean that you shouldn’t bother with keywords in your URLs? Not at all.

Rand Fishkin, Founder of Moz, published ‘15 SEO best practices for structuring URLs‘ in which he argued that ‘using the keywords you’re targeting for rankings in your URLs is a solid idea’. Firstly from a readability and usability perspective, having relevant keywords in your URL lets users know exactly what they’re getting.

Image: Moz

Google’s SEO Starter Guide also states that, “If your URL contains relevant words, this provides users and search engines with more information about the page than an ID or oddly named parameter would.” In other words, including keywords – or at least clear and direct information – in your URL is a best practice.

Secondly, Fishkin points out, URLs are frequently copied and pasted, and when no anchor text is used in a link, the URL itself will serve as anchor text – a powerful ranking input. However, he also cautions against keyword-stuffing your URLs or using keyword repetition:

“Google and Bing have moved far beyond algorithms that positively reward a keyword appearing multiple times in the URL string. Don’t hurt your chances of earning a click (which CAN impact your rankings) by overdoing keyword matching/repetition in your URLs.”

Fiskin also cites research from the International Conference on Web Search and Data Mining which demonstrated that the URL is one of the most prominent elements searchers consider when deciding which site to click on.

Again, having clear and relevant information in your URL helps you to earn clicks – and while click-through rate is still hotly debated as a possible ranking factor, once you do manage to rank for a particular keyword, it’s no good if no-one clicks through to your site.

What about Exact Match Domains?

Exact Match Domains (EMDs) – when the domain of a site exactly matches the keyword that you want to target – can also be a means of ranking well for your keyword, but use them wisely.

Most brands will derive their domain from the name of their brand, which might also contain a keyword – such as glassesdirect.com. But Exact Match Domains are often a sign of a spammy website, and one which Google is on the lookout for.

@gfiorelli1 @aleyda @pelogia OK, I’ll go public (already asked a bunch of folk in private): if you see spammy EMDs, send them my way.

— Gary Illyes ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ (@methode) November 25, 2016

On the other hand, EMDs are often memorable, which is good from a usability standpoint – a user searching for cheap flights will have no trouble remembering the URL ‘cheapflights.com’, and there can be no mistake as to what the website is for.

If you have a legitimate reason for using an EMD and aren’t combining it with any other spammy tactics, then you should be fine.

In conclusion: usability first!

The bottom line of all of this is to consider the user experience first and foremost. As we’ve seen, a clear, direct URL is the best route to take in order to ensure that users know what they’re getting from your website and are prepared to click on it. In many cases, this can also help your ranking as an added bonus.

Many of the top websites in various industries thus use keywords in their URLs, but others which don’t are still able to rank highly. Much as we now know that writing quality content is better than stuffing it with keywords, the same applies to creating quality URLs. In the end, it comes down to what makes sense for your brand and website.

Comparing keyword research APIs: SEMrush vs Ahrefs vs Serpstat and more

Many tools provide access to their APIs, aiming to facilitate routine work for specialists.

APIs can make SEOs’ lives much easier by helping to:

  • Data mine and extract keywords faster
  • Collect the necessary data directly to an external service or program (i.e. Google Spreadsheets, Cyfe, etc.)
  • Perform advanced search term research via XML or Excel
  • Integrate all kinds of data from different sources (i.e. rankings and backlinks)
  • Create complex reports combining all kinds of data
  • Automate reporting
  • Build and market your own tools
  • Create internal tools to optimize your team workflow, etc.

While we all have our favorite SEO tools we use on a daily basis, APIs give us the flexibility no tool can provide by letting us grab the data we need and sort / filter it the way our SEO tasks require.

I’m constantly working with keyword research tools and I have had the opportunity to give many APIs a try. So I decided to carry out a small study comparing the keyword research APIs I have looked into, and share my research in a blog post.

I took the best-known SEO tools which provide APIs for working with keywords and analyzed how much it will cost to make a call for 1,000,000 units.

All-in-one SEO dashboards

Spyfu

SpyFu is a platform for SEO and PPC specialists focusing on competitor analysis and keyword tracking. Spyfu is one of the oldest keyword research tools I am aware of — which means its database is actually huge, storing years of data.

SpyFu offers three subscription levels: Basic – $49, Professional – $99, Team – $299. An API is included into subscriptions starting from Professional level.

All of the subscriptions with an API come with 10,000 API rows/units returned a month. Every additional 1,000 units are charged at $2.00. Hence 1,000,000 units would be $1980 additional in charges.

So the final price for 1,000,000 is $2079.

Maybe you’ll be glad to hear that SpyFu does not put any limits on the number of requests.

Spyfu API documentation is here.

To summarize, to get 1,000,000 results via API you’ll have to buy a plan worth $99 and pay $1980 more for 990.000 API units.

SEMrush

SEMrush offers analysis of organic traffic and paid ads, backlinks, and keywords. SEMrush was the first keyword research tool I ever used. I love their data output.

The tool includes three subscription levels starting at $99.95, but an API is only included into Business tariff worth $399.95.

Screencap of the three subscription options offered by SEMRush: Pro, at $99.95 per month, Guru, at $199.95 per month, and Business at $399.95 per month.

But that’s not all. API units are not included into the plan, so you have to purchase them additionally. 20,000 API units cost $1, so to process 1,000,000, you need to pay $50.

So with SEMrush you have to pay $449.95 for 1,000,000 of API requests. There are no daily limits.

SEMrush API documentation is located here. To summarize, to get 1,000,000 results via API you’ll have to buy a subscription ($399) and pay $50 to use enough API units.

Serpstat

Serpstat is an all-in-one platform for SEO and PPC specialists providing keyword research and tracking tools as well as on-site analysis and backlink tracking.

It includes eight paid plans of different limitations from $19 to $2500.

An API is enabled starting from Plan B which costs $69. As I didn’t exactly understand the API conditions, I sent a letter to Serpstat support as well.

Turns out Serpstat provides access to API separately from their subscription plans. So you can use the API without actually upgrading to PRO:

So with Serpstat you can get 1,000,000 units for $150.

Serpstat API documentation is located here. Short summary: 1,000,000 units cost $150 without any additional payments.

Pure keyword research tools

Wordtracker

Wordtracker is a solid keyword research solution with a huge database. They claim to operate the database of 3.5 billion search terms (350 million unique keywords) these days.

Their API comes in their Gold subscription level, but to have more flexibility with the API you’ll likely to have to purchase one of the API-only packages. Besides, Wordtracker API access is subject to approval from their team, so it sounds like they may not accept some applications.

If their API packages seem confusing to you, you are not alone. I had to contact them to confirm what I need to buy to get 1,000,000 units. From their reply it sounds like the “Enterprise” plan will be enough.

Each call is priced for 100 seeds, so for 1, 000,000 terms you’d need 10,000 calls. A simple volume search is priced at 10 units per call so you’d be using 100,000 units.

Wordtracker API documentation is here.

KeywordTool.io

KeywordTool.io is a keyword selection tool that uses autosuggest results from Google, YouTube, Bing, Amazon, and Apple App Store.

KeywordTool.io includes a free limited version and three types of paid subscription levels. The API is available separately from the paid subscriptions and it’s priced as follows:

As you can see in the image above, KeywordTool.io API includes three subscription plans of different limitations and prices, starting from $280/month.

Looks like their API Lite plan handles the amount of keywords we need. So, for $280 you can handle 1,000,000. Note that you can make only 100 requests per day, so it will take 13 days to conduct the full amount of work. If you need it quicker, you’ll have to purchase a more expensive plan.

KeywordTool.io API documentation is available here.

Short summary: 1,000,000 API units are available in the API Lite Plan which is worth $280.

More APIs

I haven’t included a few APIs in my research, so here they are:

  • Raven Tools: I was told API wasn’t their priority at this time. They focus on their Audit tool instead.
  • Keyword Discovery: They seem to have a good API but I couldn’t figure out how to get 100,000 units there. They charge $495 per month per 10,000 queries and it seems impossible to buy more units.
  • Wordstream: They have retired their API altogether.

The Bottom Line

Advanced professionals who have a lot of projects, and little time, always choose an API for their professional needs. I hope this little research of mine will help you pick a suitable keyword research API:

# Of Units
Daily Calls
Price
Spyfu
1,000,000 units
No limits
$2,079
SEMrush
No limits
$449.95
Serpstat
No limits
$150
WordTracker
No limits
$1,000
KeywordTool.io
100 requests
$280

I cannot comment on the quality of the databases, to be honest. I have been using each of the above tools and I find it great that they all present the information differently. That lets me find what I failed to with other tools. That being said, the more keyword research offered, the better.

Screenshots by Ann Smarty. Taken February 2017. Featured Image: johnhain / pixabay

Make no mistake: content errors harm your brand and SEO

An image of a young women with a red headband lying with her head in the jaws of an alligator. The image has a meme-style caption, which reads: THIS WILL NOT END WELL.

How to optimize for audience trust. Plus, four tips for dealing with mistakes that can kill your brand’s reputation.

Trust matters. Whether you’re creating content for a standalone brand publication or a company blog, you want people and search engines to trust the information on your website is accurate and current.

Now, with engagement metrics seemingly becoming a larger factor in SEO, you can’t have one without the other. Google won’t trust (and reward rankings to) a website that doesn’t attract and engage an audience, and visitors won’t trust (or even find) content that doesn’t rank well on Google.

Trust is how you build that audience.

For publishers, content is your product and your brand. You establish a relationship with your audience through the content you publish.

Sometimes your content will simply fail to generate the traffic, rankings, shares, and leads you were hoping for.

But something even worse could happen. For most publishers, it’s inevitable. It’s not a question of if, but when.

You could publish content that contains inaccurate information. Not just small typos or spelling mistakes – stuff that’s worthy of an apology and a correction (or even a retraction).

Will such a huge mistake be forgotten by the following day? Perhaps, especially if you’ve built a really strong brand and you don’t make any more huge mistakes.

But if your brand consistently publishes content filled with errors, will it make your core audience start to question whether your brand can be trusted? Absolutely. Your brand will look amateurish.

People have zero tolerance for content that wastes their time.

Losing the trust of your audience will ultimately damage your brand and cause serious harm to your SEO efforts.

Optimize for your audience

You need to have a clear idea of your target audience. Who do you want visiting your site on a regular basis?

  • What are the demographics of your target audience? Age, gender, location, job title, and income level are just a few elements that might matter to you.
  • What topics are of interest to your target audience? What are their wants, needs, and pain points?
  • What’s your content goal? Why are you creating this content – will it be the best answer or solution to a question or problem your audience has?

Figure out what topics your target audience wants to read about and will engage with. Provide that content to them and speak to them in their own language.

Optimize for authority

Although author authority may have gone out of style, authority still matters to your audience. They want to know the content they’re reading or watching comes from people who know their stuff. In other words: authors who are experts in their industry or niche.

  • Do your authors have full biographies? At minimum, they need a byline, photo, and details on their career and areas of expertise. If any of these elements are missing, it raises serious questions.
  • Do you make it easy for people to find contact information for your brand? Give your audience ways to connect with you how they want, whether it’s via social media, a contact form, email, or phone.
  • Do you link to your sources? Doing so gives credit to the work that helped make yours possible, helps strengthen your argument, and can be helpful for anybody reading who might want to go deeper into that subject.

Optimize for accuracy

Your audience demands you to be accurate. When you get it wrong, you’ll hear about it – in your comments section, on social media, and (should things spiral too far out of control) on other websites.

Or, even worse, you won’t hear anything at all. Traffic will just slowly erode.

Have you ever tried out a new restaurant and experienced terrible service or received the wrong order? Or both? Did you go to a review site like Yelp or TripAdvisor to give the restaurant a scathing 1-star review – or did you simply just never return to that restaurant? (Either outcome is bad for you, obviously!)

After you’ve done all the hard work of optimizing your content to get someone to visit your site, don’t greet that user a terrible content experience. Don’t let one of your worst moments be their first experience with your brand. They likely won’t be back.

  • Is your content edited well? Hire a great editor and content team or outsource your content marketing to a proven agency that will handle it for you.
  • Is your content objective? Acknowledge any biases you may have, explore multiple viewpoints whenever possible, and always try to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
  • Is your content current? Make it part of your regular routine to check old content. Update as needed.

Optimize for reputation

Building up a loyal, engaged audience or community has big benefits. Direct visitors spend far more time on your site and consume far more pages per month, according to Pew Research.

Readers who find your content valuable (because it is useful, solves a relevant problem, provides insight, shares a new discovery, or is just entertaining in some way) are also more likely to share that content, which leads to more people discovering your great work, subscribing, and sharing future content pieces, further expanding your reach.

The surest way to fail to halt any momentum or see your audience abandon you is to publish subpar content. As the old saying goes, bad news travels fast.

If a site declines in quality, for whatever reason, people will notice. If you screw up, people will talk about it.

In an era where fake news, alternative facts, gossip, and anonymous claims are reported as fact, your brand must hold itself to the highest standard. “Publish first and apologize later” is a losing model in the long-term.

Ultimately, people can love you or hate you for what your content says. But if your loyal audience loses trust in you, they simply won’t be there anymore.

4 tips for dealing with harmful content errors

Whether it’s mainstream media or an industry/niche site, editors are the last line of defense. Be ready.

1. Have a Plan

We all know the importance of having a social media crisis management plan. Do you have a plan in place should your content create a crisis?

Just as you should have a fire escape plan if the worst happens at your home, it’s better to have a content “fire” plan and not need it than to never have one. Decide who will own it. Ideally it should be one of the top editors or the trusted “face” of the publication.

After the crisis has passed, review whether your plan worked or failed. Adjust for the future (though hopefully you won’t have a repeat, right?).

2. Act Quickly

Internally, make sure everyone who needs to know what is going on is apprised of the situation.

Externally, acknowledge the problem across your digital channels and platforms. Explain what you’re doing to address or fix the error. Apologize.

Update the post or be present in the comments and on social media around discussions about your content crisis.

Aside from being combative toward upset readers or customers, appearing unresponsive is one of the worst things you can do now.

3. What Should Happen To Your Post?

When things go so wrong the only option you have is to remove/retract the post, what should you do? Generally, it comes down to three options:

  • Leave the post. Take your lumps publicly. Make sure an editor’s note or a correction appears at the top of the article. In theory, when you admit you screwed up, it will restore some level of trust. See Rolling Stone’s “A Rape on Campus” as an example of a publication that left a controversial article on its site.
  • Leave the page. But only with a correction or apology, explaining what happened. Here’s an example from Upworthy, which had to retract a post on artificial sweeteners.
  • Delete the content. Ideally, 301 redirect the page to a page on the same or a similar topic, or if that doesn’t work, to the homepage. If the information is inaccurate, you may decide to just get rid of it. You have to decide if it’s worth bringing people to a page that has zero value to you.

4. Reduce the Odds of Having a Disaster

A few quick tips to prevent some major and minor errors:

  • When in doubt about the claims made in an article, ask the writer for evidence (e.g., images/documents).
  • If still in doubt, ask for more evidence (and consider legal advice, depending on the topic).
  • Publish images as evidence (don’t just claim you “have images”), especially when there is no previously existing documentation.
  • Check names (people, places, things).
  • Check job titles.
  • Attribute ideas/quotes to original source.
  • Verify and link to useful sources.

You are what you publish

One major content error could be a fluke. Twice might be a coincidence. But after this point, clearly there’s a bad pattern. Your editorial process needs fixing.

It’s sort of like that famous scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” where the Black Knight is fighting with King Arthur. You can say your content errors are “just a flesh wound,” but really your brand is being sliced to bits.

There’s a lot of pressure to provide readers with a steady dose of content that is educational, informative, inspiring, or entertaining. But that doesn’t mean you should ever lower your standards.

You are what you publish. All the SEO in the world won’t help if the content you publish compromises the health of your brand.

3 ROI-positive ways to segment your remarketing audiences

Everyone knows that remarketing is an efficient method of bringing back users to get them to convert.

But are you being smart about your remarketing efforts? It’s not a one-size-fits-all endeavor; segmentation is a huge part of the picture.

In other words, don’t just dump everyone who has visited your site and remarket to them; think about how you can segment visitors into groups of identifiable characteristics that can allow you to create a more tailored (and ROI-positive) experience. In this post, we’ll explore three simple segmentation types that can drive huge results for your remarketing dollar.

1) Audience segmentation based on website interaction

This allows us to understand and speak to a user’s intent. For example, compare someone who has visited the home page and bounced with someone who has gotten to a signup page/lead form/add-to-cart page and bounced; we know the latter person has higher intent. At the very minimum, you should be segmenting your audiences by “researchers” vs “high intent”. “

Researchers” should include audiences who have visited more high-level pages such as the home page, about page, blog, etc. “High Intent” would consist of audiences that got lower in the funnel – product page, services page, lead form, etc. For each of these audiences, you should tailor ads specifically, supplying the right customized messaging and creative to push them further down the funnel.

2) Segmentation by time

One thing you want to avoid is being that annoying company that follows people around, showing them the same ad over and over again. By segmenting audiences by how long ago they visited your site, you can avoid this scenario.

For example, let’s segment audiences by week. In week 1 since they have visited the site, you should them a specific ad (with tailored creative and messaging). In week 2, you experiment with a different message, creative, etc. And in week 3, if they still haven’t come back to convert, perhaps you can get more aggressive and offer an incentive/discount/promo.

3) Segmentation by Google Analytics data

If you have a decent amount of traffic visiting your site, multiple pages with great content, etc. – you’re well positioned to leverage all of the advanced capabilities of Google Analytics to create remarketing audiences.

Some great ways to segment out audiences include time on site, number of pages viewed, and Google Smart Lists – which leverage Google’s machine-learning capabilities to identify users most likely to convert in subsequent sessions and dynamically manages the audiences to focus on those users.

I haven’t talked about bidding yet, but the success of all of these segmentation types will also rely on bidding nuances – e.g. bidding more for higher-intent users than for researchers. Bucketing more valuable users will allow you to be more aggressive when warranted while keeping bids conservative for users you’re trying to simply re-engage.

With the right mix of segments and tailored bids and ads, you’ll be well on your way to remarketing success.

How will Google’s new ‘Ad’ label impact marketers?

Google started testing a new ‘Ad’ label in January this year, and late last week it was confirmed that this will now be rolled out globally.

This white label with green text and a green outline will replace the green label that was launched in June 2016.

The instant reaction to this is that the new labels fit in quite seamlessly with the rest of the paid placement, perhaps creating less of a contrast between them and their organic counterparts.

So why has Google made the change now, what impact will it have have, and will users even notice the change?

The official line on this update is that Google wants to streamline the number of colors on its results pages, particularly on mobile devices. A Google spokesperson revealed:

“After experimenting with a new search ad label with a green outline, we’ve decided to roll it out. The new ad label is more legible and continues to make our results page easier to read for our users with clear indication of our ad labeling.”

Additionally, they claimed that “the color change had no bearing on consumers’ ability to distinguish ads from organic listings on the page.”

So why make the change at all?

First of all, these changes never occur in a vacuum. This is just an indication of a wider trend and should be viewed in the context of the removal of right-hand side ads, expanded text ads, and the consistent drive towards a ‘mobile-first’ approach.

Add in the growth of ad blockers, intensifying competition in the search industry (with both Facebook and Pinterest upping their efforts), and the constant pressure on Google to grow its revenues, and the reasons for moving to a less noticeable ‘Ad’ label become apparent.

We should also beware the source of this information. Google may say it has had no impact in testing, but that seems a convenient line for a company that is close to obsessive in its desire to attract more paid clicks through attention to the minutiae.

Google is famed – sometimes ridiculed – for this constant tinkering, but it does work.

Their highly-publicized ‘50 shades of blue’ experiment was seen by some as a step too far, but Marissa Meyer made sure to state that it drove an extra $200m in ad revenue. Even at a company of Google’s size, those figures talk.

It is also worth remembering where we have come from with these ‘Ad’ labels. People can have short memories – a fact that such frequent adjustments take advantage of – and this latest change makes sense when viewed at a higher level.

Google’s ‘Ad’ labels have gone from garishly overbearing to their latest camouflage iteration in the course of just two years:

The change from yellow to green in mid-2016 was reported to have a positive impact for paid search CTR, and few will doubt that last week’s move was led by exactly the same motive.

But is this just a myopic attempt to gain clicks (and the accompanying revenue) in the short term? Or is there more at play here?

For many in the organic search industry, this will just be another step in the inexorable march towards paid search domination of results pages.

One assumption at the heart of Google’s latest update is that users simply want to get to the result that answers their query, whether a brand has paid for their click or not. Giving more space to paid placements and a never-ending stream of new products to make these ads more attractive undoubtedly gives prominence to sponsored listings.

But, the counter-argument goes, people prefer organic listings. They know an ad when they see it and will go out of their way to avoid it.

Perhaps.

However, one of the reasons this has held sway in the past is that paid search landing pages have at times been of lower quality or of lesser relevance to the query than organic listings. Brands are willing to pay their way to the top, while that right has to be earned in SEO. The quality of the search results in each camp reflected this.

Which brings us to the growing impact of content marketing and user experience signals in SEO. These factors are essential for any successful SEO strategy and they touch all aspects of a brand’s digital footprint – including paid search.

All that effort site owners have put into creating ‘great content’ to improve their SEO rankings plays directly into the hands of AdWords. If Google can convince brands that the best way to get this new content in front of people is to pay for that right, they will do so. The same great content ends up in front of consumers, so everyone wins. Brands still get the traffic (at a higher price), users get the result they want, and Google makes more money.

Someone has to lose, though, and SEO traffic seems most likely to assume this position.

A diminished SEO landscape would be to the detriment of user experience, though, and no monopoly (even one as seemingly immovable as Google) has a divine right to market ownership. Higher CTR for paid listings will have to go hand-in-hand with a better user experience if this pitfall is to be avoided. If the quality of results starts to dip, alternative search engines do exist.

Another argument is that perhaps the role of paid search is starting to change. The AdWords business model is beautifully crafted for a direct response strategy, but it has its limits when it comes to brand marketing. As brand budgets start to move into the digital space, it would make sense to have a less obvious ‘Ad’ label if Google wants to encourage advertisers to spend this budget on AdWords.

As always, there is much room for speculation, even if the central thrust behind this move seems to be an intended increase in paid search revenues.

One thing is for sure, though: we will be keeping a very close eye on CTR for both paid and organic listings over the upcoming days and weeks to see how this plays out.

How to get started with 360-degree content for VR

Once a time and resource-heavy exercise, creating and embedding 360 degree imagery has become much cheaper and easier over the past couple of years.

The advent of mobile apps that can take 360-degree photographs, or ‘photo spheres’, has made creating 360-degree images accessible to those without specialized equipment.

At the same time, it has become easier to embed and share photospheres directly within webpages, and the virtual reality headsets which allow users to experience them are increasingly widespread and affordable.

Even without a virtual reality headset, users can still enjoy 360-degree imagery using their web or mobile browser, giving them the opportunity to experience a location or a visual idea in an immersive and memorable way.

So why should marketers be creating 360-degree content, and how can you get started with your own?

Why create 360-degree content?

In spite of the fact that 360-degree imagery is becoming easier to create, it’s still relatively rare, which makes it an effective way to stand out if you can do it well.

A 360-degree image is unusual, interactive, and offers a level of detail that even the most well-framed photograph can’t capture. Industries like travel, hotel, real estate or design lend themselves particularly well to 360-degree content, but it can work in any type of marketing if you’re prepared to get creative.

For instance, NASA – which is known for its inventive social media and content marketing – used 360-degree imagery on Facebook to allow users to ‘float around’ inside the Tranquility Module on the International Space Station.

Explore the Tranquility Module on the International Space Station in this 360° experience! (For best results, use a mobile device to float around)

Posted by NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Thursday, 9 June 2016

And Salesforce used it to show off an impressive 360-degree view of their lobby, complete with a massive projector wall for the big game:

We’re ready for Game 4! Are you? Check out a 360 view of our Salesforce West lobby at HQ!

Posted by Salesforce on Friday, 10 June 2016

Once you’ve got your creative idea and set out to create some 360-degree content, how do you go about it? Let’s take a look at some tools you can use.

How to create 360-degree imagery

Cardboard Camera

If you’ve got a smartphone and want to use it to create some VR content, one of the best options is Google’s Cardboard Camera – especially if you want to later use Google’s VR View to embed your image (more on that later).

Cardboard Camera is a free app specifically designed for the purpose of creating 360-degree images to be viewed in VR, and it’s available on both Android and iOS. Cardboard Camera images also come with an extra dimension – sound – to add to the experience, though you can disable this while recording if you want to.

To export your image afterwards, select any of the sharing options within Cardboard Camera (which you can bring up by tapping the Share button), which will create a link that allows you to access the image on any device.

Native mobile camera apps

A number of mobile devices now come with pre-installed camera apps that have native 360-degree photo capabilities. Note that this isn’t quite the same as the ‘panorama’ feature on your smartphone camera, as panoramas are only 180 degrees; but they work for many of the same purposes, and can be embedded on Facebook in the same way as 360-degree images.

Google originally introduced photo sphere functionality with the Nexus 4, and the functionality remained for subsequent Nexus models. LG then built on this with its VR Panorama app, and Samsung made a photo sphere mode available for individual download on the Galaxy S5 and upwards.

Google also released a standalone camera app for Android, Google Camera, which has panorama and photo sphere capabilities. But if you’re not an Android user, don’t despair: Google released a Photo Sphere app for iOS as well in 2014.

There are a few other free to download apps which claim to offer 360-degree capabilities, but it’s worth reading the reviews first, as a number of them don’t work as advertised or don’t support all device types.

360-degree cameras

If you have a bit more to spend and want to really invest in 360-degree photography, you can of course buy a dedicated 360-degree camera rig. There is a huge range of these available at different price levels, so it’s worth doing your research to find the right device for your budget and needs.

Embedding and sharing VR content

So, you’ve had your idea; you’ve crafted your fantastically immersive 360-degree content. How do you go about embedding or sharing it online?

Embedding into a webpage or mobile app

Until recently, there wasn’t a single dedicated tool for embedding 360-degree imagery into webpages or mobile apps, and some creative coding was required in order to do so. That is, until Google VR View came along in May 2016.

Google’s VR View was created to “address a common developer concern: the limited availability of VR hardware among the general public.” There was definitely a gap in the market for this kind of tool, and by creating it Google has been able to gain a pretty nice monopoly over embedding 360-degree imagery in webpages. And of course in true stereoscopic VR mode, it’s designed to be compatible with Google Cardboard headsets.

A stereoscopic 360 degree image – for a truly immersive VR experience – consists of two images stacked on top of one another. Image: Google VR View

Google has a few different tutorials you can follow depending on whether you want to embed your photosphere into a website, Android app or iOS app. Choose from the links below to access the tutorial of your choice:

  • Web
  • Android
  • iOS

Embedding into WordPress

If you have a website that runs on WordPress, the WP-VR-view plugin for WordPress is the most straightforward and easy way to embed 360-degree images on your site. Just install the plugin, grab the link to your photosphere and follow the instructions in this video demo to embed.

And just to prove it works, below is an image I shot on my smartphone using Cardboard Camera on the banks of not-so-sunny Hammersmith, London, and embedded with the WP-VR-view plugin. (It looks best in full screen mode!)

Sharing 360 degree content via Facebook

As we saw at the beginning of the post, it’s also possible to share your 360-degree content on Facebook as an interactive image post.

All you need to do is upload your 360-degree image or panorama to your Page or profile as you would a regular image, and Facebook will automatically recognize that the post contains a 360-degree image.

Then all that’s left to do is write your post, and publish at will:

We’ve been experimenting with some 360° imagery over at Search Engine Watch – stay tuned for our guide on how to get…

Posted by Search Engine Watch on Monday, 27 February 2017

What are your experiences of creating and sharing 360-degree content? Share them in the comments!

So what is growth hacking, really?

In 2010 Sean Ellis, entrepreneur, angel investor, startup advisor and now CEO of GrowthHackers, coined the term “growth hacker” as someone whose every strategy, every tactic, and every initiative is attempted in the hopes of growing. But that’s pretty vague, right?

Check out the Google Trends graph below. Lots of people are searching for this term, so let’s dig into what it really means.

What is growth hacking, really?

‘Growth hacking’ meshes digital marketing with traditional marketing with customer retention and product performance. Growth roles typically apply to the startup world where software and apps are the products because these days, there’s a lot to gain from marketers being close to product development.

Ellis saw this as a talent gap. He had helped grow many popular startups, like Dropbox and Qualaroo, but had a hard time finding the right talent to support him.

The tactics and strategies they use are simply to reach new customers efficiently, retain existing customers long-term, and build a product that markets and sells itself. For example, if people love the product so much that they are telling coworkers about it, blogging about it, or leaving app store reviews, then marketing somewhat handles itself.

Growth hackers know this and will strive to find optimizations on the product side through quantitative study (ex: web analytics and CRM data) and combine those insights with their market research or discussions with users. You can learn about a few examples of successful growth hacking here.

Qualities of a growth hacker and five top skills they possess

According to San Diego Growth Hacker Dan Greco, the qualities of a growth hacker are simple to understand but often difficult to mimic: “Growth hackers see opportunity where others see challenges, solve problems creatively and collaboratively, empathize with users and try to tie everything back to metrics. Growth hacking is the mindset of never being satisfied.”

It’s great to celebrate wins when the numbers are up, but growth hackers are programmed to always look for opportunities to improve.

Five skills that you’ll need to become a growth hacker include:

1. Web Analytics

Arguably the most important skill of a growth hacker is web analytics and quantitative skills. Before aggressively deploying tactics and strategies for growth, they need to have a measurement strategy in place. In other words, if we deploy this initiative, how will we measure success?

For digital marketing this often lives in Google Analytics or Firebase (for mobile apps) or if the data source feeds into a database, running queries through SQL or automating reports to populate in MS Excel are extremely valuable. Don’t confuse this with data science; growth hackers don’t need to know advanced statistics or predictive modeling, but they do need to know how to collect and interpret data.

Common Tools: Google Analytics (for websites and web apps), Firebase (for mobile apps and web apps), Excel, SQL

2. Digital Marketing

Growth hackers should have a good understanding of SEO, PPC, social media, email and retargeting best practices. They’ll likely need to implement many of the optimizations and strategies across these channels if it’s a small startup, but if it’s a company that has the support of a digital agency, the growth hacker should manage the relationship and ensure they are hitting desired performance goals.

Common Tools: AdWords, Bing Ads, Facebook Advertising, Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools), Mailchimp

3. Community Building

Building communities, both online and offline, is an important part of a growth hacking because it helps people to begin to perceive your brand as a thought leader.

Unlike social media marketing, which is more about branding and short term awareness, community building hits at the source. Like responding to people’s questions on Quora, making relationships and building followers on LinkedIn or hosting a local meetup for like-minded people in your industry or potential consumers.

Common Tools: LinkedIn, Meetup.com, Quora

4. User/Customer Experience

Empathy is a strong characteristic of a growth hacker because they are able to step into the shoes of their consumers and relate to their needs. Web analytics can help uncover weak spots in a user experience and devise a hypothesis for what can be done better.

Tools like Optimizely and VWO allow marketers to create AB tests but also have functionality for developers to add custom code for complex tests. Customer interviews are great ways to ask for candid feedback on “What can we do to serve you better?”

Intercom.io is a tool that allows you to message users from your website or app or have users message you. Hotjar similarly has website surveys, records a user’s screen during their session to help you understand what may be confusing and what may be valuable, and provide heat maps to see where they click.

Common Tools: Intercom.io, Hotjar, Appsee (mobile apps), Optimizely, VWO

5. Product Marketing

Product marketers know the product inside and out and how the features and value propositions can resonate with different target audiences. Having a fundamental understanding of how to communicate from a lead nurturing and sales perspective is key, especially for B2B businesses. For B2C, this is more focused on messaging and branding through website content like blog posts and videos.

Where do growth hackers work?

Growth hackers work mostly in startup environments. For that reason, the majority of Growth Hacker talent resides in San Francisco, New York and Chicago, but most startups with a software or app product that have raised a Series A likely are in need of someone to lead their growth.

With that said, larger companies are starting to adopt them as well, to act as a bridge between marketing and product development teams.

Summary

The growth hacker role is becoming more and more valuable. The ability to collaborate cross-functionally with the Sales, Engineering and Product teams and then translate those understandings into digital marketing strategy and data analysis is extremely valuable to startups that have already validated their product-market fit and are ready to scale.

If you’re a marketer looking for a way into the startup world, if you’re a data nerd looking to pursue a more creative and strategic role, or if you’re an entrepreneur looking to make an early hire, hopefully this article will help you with your growth goals.

Are you a growth hacker with something to add? Are you planning to hire a growth hacker in your business? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Five most interesting search marketing news stories of the week

A screenshot of the search results page for emoji in Google, showing various emoji in the titles of the results.

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

This week, we look at why Google has brought emoji back to the SERP after initially banishing them in 2015, and whether marketers should be taking advantage. And in advertising news, YouTube has announced the impending demise of its least popular ad format, Google is officially rolling out a new look for its ad labels, and Bing has introduced a product listing carousel to its US search results.

Google brings emoji back to the SERPs 🙌💯

Google has officially revealed that emoji will once again appear in search results, reversing a decision taken in 2015 to remove them from the SERP.

Search Engine Roundtable initially broke the story, speculating as to whether this could be another Google bug, to which Google responded that from now on it will be featuring emoji “where relevant, useful and fun. You’ll see them crop up across various snippets moving forward.”

In a piece for Search Engine Watch this week, Clark Boyd looked at why Google might have changed its stance, the rising significance of emoji in digital life, and whether marketers should take advantage of the change. 😎

YouTube is getting rid of 30-second unskippable pre-roll ads

Video lovers everywhere rejoice! …Sort of. Google has announced that it will finally be doing away with that most unpopular of ad formats, the 30-second unskippable pre-roll ad – but not until 2018.

Un-skippable 30 second ads on YouTube is the worst part about living in the future.

— Mikey McBryan (@MikeyMcBryan) February 24, 2017

According to Google, the goal is to improve ad experience for users. “As part of that, we’ve decided to stop supporting 30-second unskippable ads as of 2018 and focus instead on formats that work well for both users and advertisers,” a Google spokesperson told Campaign.

But this decision by Google may not be entirely altruistic. Over on our sister site ClickZ, Al Roberts looked at the possible motivations for this move, as well as what Google might push in place of the 30-second ad format.

Google rolls out a new look for ad labels in search

Google is no stranger to experimenting with the look of its search results, and those of us who keep a weather eye on the search industry have got used to changes randomly appearing and disappearing as Google tests out new ideas.

Some of these never officially get rolled out, but Google has now confirmed that a recently-spotted change to the look of its ‘Ad’ labels is being implemented worldwide.

New Google ads, or am I just super late? Now a white icon with green outline… (cc: @JohnMu, @gfiorelli1, @rustybrick, @sewatch, @larrykim) pic.twitter.com/p1UXchKCL9

— Jamie Dąbrowiecki (@jdabXO) February 22, 2017

A Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land on Wednesday that,

“After experimenting with a new search ad label with a green outline, we’ve decided to roll it out. The new ad label is more legible and continues to make our results page easier to read for our users with clear indication of our ad labeling.”

In the past, numerous studies have confirmed that the majority of users are still unable to distinguish paid ads from organic search results, so this change could be part of Google’s ongoing efforts to make the difference clearer. It will be interesting to see whether it succeeds.

Bing is aiming to be the “Dyson of search”

In spite of a slowly-increasing share of the search market, Bing is no Google. Google is the search engine most of us imagine when we think of searching, and it’s made its way into our language as a verb, “to Google”.

The same was true of the vacuum cleaner company Hoover in the early and mid-20th century, to the point where its name became synonymous with vacuum cleaners and vacuuming in the UK, Ireland and Australia. However, Hoover is no longer the dominant brand of vacuum cleaner and has lost significant ground to competitors such as British company Dyson.

At an event run by ClickZ and Marin Software on Wednesday, the ClickZ Digital Advertising Breakfast, Microsoft Product Marketing Manager James Murray explained how Bing aspires to be the “Dyson of search”, and dominate the market by being innovative and new.

Bing aspires to be the “Dyson of search” – James Murray
Dyson stole the market from Hoover with some great new innovations #ClickZBreakfast pic.twitter.com/B4ovLj7B0Y

— Bex Sentance (@rainbowbex) February 22, 2017

He also laid out some upcoming improvements to the Bing ad offering, including a “get a ride” button that would allow users to get transport directly to a location or business they just searched for; and talked about the company’s plans for voice search with Cortana.

Shinier, fuller ads coming from @BingAds @Microsoft Adding an image can boost click throughs by 45% #MarinSoftwareInsights #clickzbreakfast pic.twitter.com/XOtAhRAh5H

— Marin Software (@MarinSoftware) February 22, 2017

Bing’s ‘get a ride’ button will take mobile users straight to the destination they’ve searched: could this have an impact on #localsearch? pic.twitter.com/hEMLAhVuFT

— Bex Sentance (@rainbowbex) February 22, 2017

Bing introduces product carousel to search results

And speaking of improvements to Bing Ads, Bing has recently introduced a carousel for its product ads in US search results, as reported by the SEM Post on Tuesday.

The new carousel, which appears at the top of search results for product keywords like “laptops”, shows eight product listings, although currently only the first five seem to have a picture.

Carousels are all the rage at the moment as Google began displaying its Shopping Ads in a carousel format back in October 2016. More recently, it has started displaying AMP recipe carousels in the results for mobile search, as well as review carousels for local review sites.