5 Proven List Building Strategies to Employ in 2017

Email marketing will be the most effective marketing tactic of 2017.

Email is so powerful that the Direct Marketing Association says that you can expect a ROI of $38 for every $1 you invest in email marketing. Similarly, Monetate research that analyzed over 500 million shopping experiences found email to be the single most powerful marketing tactic when it comes to conversions — email traffic converted more than both search and social traffic combined. That’s not all, but research shows email to be just as powerful during holidays: 25.1 percent of all sales during Black Friday 2015 was attributed to email, compared to just 1.6 percent of sales attributed to social media.

That said, email marketing isn’t often as easy as it is purported to be. For many, the single biggest struggle with email marketing is that of gaining subscribers. Here are five proven list building strategies that you can employ in 2017 — each backed up with case studies and research:

Offer an Incentive to Subscribers:

This could be in form of a coupon, a discount, or the popular option: an ebook or ecourse. As basic as it seems, a lot of email marketers still don’t offer an incentive to encourage people to subscribe to their email list. The result is a significant loss in subscribers they could have otherwise had.

Exactly how powerful is offering an incentive to subscribers? Very powerful. Offering an incentive is so powerful that Flyte was able to increase monthly subscriptions by a whopping 5,000 percent simply by going from offering nothing to offering people an incentive for joining their newsletter.

When offering an incentive, it is important to:

Ensure that your incentive is very relevant to your site and the subscribers you are trying to attract.
Ensure you carefully communicate that people will be getting regular emails from you when they sign up for your incentive.
Deliver the incentive as soon as people sign up, and again remind them that they will be hearing from you frequently.
Run a Viral List Building Giveaway:

Meet Josh Earl. In an attempt to rapidly build his email list, Earl decided to run a viral giveaway. He offered people a popular paid software in his niche, and the condition for winning was to share his giveaway and subscribe to his newsletter. I mean, how seriously will people participate in a giveaway for free software? Apparently, overwhelmingly! Earl got 482,044 visitors to his blog and 187,991 subscribers to his email list within 11 days, all thanks to the giveaway.

If done right, a giveaway can be very massive for your list building. There’s a right and wrong way to do it, though. Here are some tips:

First make sure the incentive you offer to your audience is relevant and in high demand. Many people offer gadgets, but if you run a health website how likely are people to be interested in your emails after they sign up for the gadget giveaway? The more relevant your giveaway is to your target audience, the better.
Make it a requirement that people join your newsletter to participate in your giveaway — that’s the point of all this in the first place.
Incentivize people to share your giveaway; give them bonus points for sharing your giveaway and inviting their friends.
Run a Challenge:

A challenge is very powerful for list building for two reasons:

It can massively boost the size of your email list
Due to the nature of the challenge, it creates a bond between you and subscribers — making them much more valuable than if you had gotten them from other means.

Running a challenge was exactly what Natalie Sisson did to give her email list a boost and help her book launch. The challenge was so successful that Sisson reported it to be the most successful initiative she has done on her blog. It resulted in over 1,000 new subscribers to her email list, her book becoming a #1 bestseller and a 100 percent increase in traffic.

Survey your audience to see what their major struggle is, and run a challenge around this — make it a requirement to join your email list to participate in the challenge. You will be surprised to see how successful this will be.

Content Upgrades:

The content upgrade became really popular a while back, but you can be rest assured that it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, content upgrades will be even more effective in 2017 for two reasons:

It allows users to get relevant offers — someone interested in getting traffic won’t get an ebook on making money. This makes the second benefit much more powerful…
It allows you to segment people. In fact, this is so powerful that many email service providers now actively include automation in their package. Research from MarketingSherpa shows that you can get up to a 208 percent boost in conversion rates by segmenting your email list and sending targeted emails to subscribers.

When you consider the above two factors, you can clearly see that content upgrades are the future of email list building and they will become more prominent in 2017. Brian Dean famously reported a conversion boost of 785 percent in one day simply by implementing content upgrades.

Expanded Guest Posts:

Similar to the content upgrade is the expanded guest post: it is basically you offering a content upgrade inside your guest post on another blog. The only difference with an expanded guest post is that your content upgrade is offered inside a guest post, instead of directly on your blog.

Expanded guest posts have been so successful for a lot of influencers: Bryan Harris reports getting 500 subscribers from every expanded guest post.

There are a few things you should keep in mind to make expanded guest posts work for you:

Put great work into your guest post; the more comprehensive and practical it is, the better. Not only will this increase the number of subscribers you can get, but it also reduces the chances of the host blog removing your content upgrade.
Make your content upgrade a resource if possible — a lot more people will want to download a resource that complements your post.
Hint at your content upgrade early in the guest post; this will create desire and massively boost conversions.
When you finally introduce your content upgrade, make sure you direct people to a landing page specifically customized for the blog your guest post will be published on.

Just as it has always been in the past, email will still be very important in 2017. Hopefully you’re able to record a massive increase in the size of your email list by implementing the above techniques.

John Stevens is a marketing consultant and the founder of Hosting Facts.

Four predictions for email marketing in 2017


Here’s what will happen with email in 2017:


Nothing is going to change until we as marketers change how we think about email.

Look at the last 10 years or so. The email-marketing industry has not seen the explosive growth of other advertising media, such as social, apps, wearables, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Those areas have taken vast leaps forward that enabled marketers to deliver more consistent, personalized messages to their customers. Advertising platforms like Google and Facebook abandoned cookies in favor of being able to identify the consumer individually.

We’ve seen advancements everywhere except in email. That’s why I see nothing changing in email in 2017 until we rethink our approach to email.

If you’re not willing to do that, you should stop reading right now. Unless you want to see what could come your way if you invest a few more minutes.

Four predictions for 2017

I hope to see more marketers become “first-person” marketers. They’re the ones who will profit most by these predictions.

1) More marketers choose first-person marketing.

First-person marketers reject the notions that “batch and blast” is the best way to email and they need test only the subject line.

First-person marketers focus on each customer as an individual instead of just another email address in a database. Every email they send gets them closer to marketing to their customers as individuals.

First-person marketers work hard for incremental changes. They realize that their own system, budgets, company structures and internal politics won’t allow them to make big leaps. But, they can change one thing at a time and then build on that progress.

A first-person marketer doesn’t just send a campaign but also personalizes messages to ensure that the campaign appeals to every recipient.

2) First-person marketers will focus on wearable devices.

This does not mean obsessing over how the email will look on a smartwatch, because wearables and mobile devices are all about notifications of information rather than the information itself.

It does mean marketers need to figure out their customers’ expectations and how they access and perceive information.

Wearables and other mobile devices by themselves will not fundamentally evolve the email industry. What will evolve the industry is how the consumer uses that information.

3) Marketers will catch up to mobile-first consumers.

We are squarely in the mobile-first age; maybe even mobile-only.

Google has said it would assign negative points for websites that aren’t developed for mobile viewing. The percentage of people checking their email on mobile will keep increasing, too.

For email marketers, the issue has gone beyond using responsive design for mobile readers. Developing metrics and KPIs for mobile is what’s important.

We’ll stop looking at email proofs on our desktop computers and look first on our phones to see how they render and behave.

The first-person marketer will look at how their customers consume information, not just if they did.

4) Global privacy comes to the forefront.

The “private right of action” clause in Canada’s anti-spam law goes into effect in July 2017. This allows individuals as well as government agencies to initiate complaints against companies.

Further, companies will start reviewing their data gathering and protection practices to make sure they comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, which goes into full effect in May 2018.

Here in the United States, we’re way behind the curve on privacy, although it’s a major concern for many consumers. The FTC is already rolling on privacy, and we might even see some action in Congress.

First-person marketers see the global privacy debate as important to the trust relationships they develop with their customers and subscribers.

First-person marketers will advocate for their customers’ rights and will work with their legal departments to make sure their companies not just comply with data protection and privacy but also make sure their actions meet the highest standards.

These first-person marketers will join organizations like the Email Sender and Provider Coalition to stay ahead of domestic and international privacy laws and regulations.


Predictions are fun, but, like elections, nobody really knows what new fad, trend, app or unicorn company will rise up over the others.

If you’re a first-person marketer, these predictions will guide what you should be focusing on. You don’t have to act on everything immediately. But, you do have to understand the effect on your customers.

The Rise of Emoji and Google’s Mobile-First Movement

We’re constantly tuned in to the Internet as well as the new technologies and amenities that spawn from it.

Emoji — those little smiley faces and symbols used in your mobile device’s messaging keyboard — used to be used exclusively for text messaging. Their meanings are simple. Unlike shorthand acronyms like LOL, emoji have the ability to convey universal messages, like laughter and joy.

Emoji are now integral in the digital vocabularies of people of all ages and backgrounds and are used not only between individuals, but by companies, too.

A Brief History

Before emoji were introduced in the U.S., they originated in Japan. Created by Shigetaka Kurita, who worked for the mobile communication company DoCoMo, Emoji were intended to be a means of communication through pictures that didn’t use much data. Meanwhile in the U.S., emoticons, pictorial representations created using punctuation marks, were more widely used, as few devices could recognize emoji.

The success of the emoji did not go unnoticed, and Apple launched an emoji keyboard in 2010. Soon after, emoji were standardized by Unicode, which allowed the images to be recognized on all devices.

Unlike emoticons, emoji faces are far more detailed and represent a wider range of emotions. Additionally, emoji keyboards include objects, like food, plants, flags, buildings, etc.. They are able to modify sentences and answer questions without text. In fact, in 2015, “emoji” was named the fastest growing language as well as named the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year.

It wasn’t long before corporations began hopping on the emoji bandwagon. With social media and email marketing, companies could use emoji to convey messages to their customers. Coca-Cola, one of the world’s most valuable and recognized brands, was one of the first companies to use emoji as an effective marketing tool when they launched the #ShareaCoke campaign on Twitter. To set a world record for “World’s Largest Cheers,” Coca-Cola used a branded emoji, exclusive to Twitter. When users would use #ShareaCoke, two clinking coke bottles would appear in the tweet automatically. This campaign actively engaged audiences worldwide, garnering the media’s attention. It is considered one of the best uses of emoji marketing to date.

Other forms of emoji marketing tactics include branded emoji, like Kim Kardashian’s “Kimoji” keyboard, Ikea’s keyboard, which includes a plate of Swedish meatballs speared with a Swedish flag, and even Domino’s emoji-order text service, which allows hungry customers to simply text the pizza emoji to open an order.

Emoji Domain Registration

Domain registration continues to be a hot market. It’s clear that some domain names are more effective than others, causing a lot of competition over certain domains.

Since the introduction of the emoji in the U.S., emoji are able to be registered in domain names, but the process is difficult. Through a method called punycoding, emoji are translated to text, allowing search engines to recognize the images as standard text and route a user to a web page.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, Coca-Cola was one of the first corporate giants to launch an emoji domain name.

“One has to have a reasonably sophisticated knowledge of punycode and whatnot to even look to see whether domains are available,” according to GoDaddy, a domain registrar and web hosting company. “From there, the setup is a bit of a pain.”

That’s why GoDaddy has launched an emoji domain registration page on its own. https://❤❤❤.ws/ is the company’s official, chosen domain, which is translated to ASCII in the browser, because computers are only able to recognize numerical text.

“Driven by the rise of mobile Internet usage, which now accounts for over 60% of traffic, consumers are integrating emojis into their conversations on social media, messaging and beyond,” said Theresa McGinness Geraghty, the GoDaddy senior director of product marketing.

The Future of Digital Marketing

Years ago, the marketing departments in many companies made the shift to digital-first. We’ve seen the disintegration of a number of newspapers in lieu of online news sites, as well as the shift from mail coupons and deals to email-first. Now, as digital media consumption patterns among Internet users continues to evolve, more companies have put emphasis on mobile marketing tactics.

According to Nielson, 92% of consumers are more influenced by peer recommendations and word of mouth marketing — otherwise known as earned media — than all other forms of advertising. Consumers like conversational patterns, the study finds. Many potential buyers look for consumer reviews instead of checking out the most recent ad, or are more apt to search in-store to find out if a product is worth it. Emoji, which is primarily used in messaging format between friends, family, and colleagues, is highly conversational, which leads many to believe why it is so effective for marketers.

Google has even taken action to keep up with the shift. On Nov. 4, 2016, Google announced its plan to move forward with mobile-first indexing. Previously, the search engine giant would index desktop content. As users continue to search using a smartphone or tablet, they continuously run into sites ranked highly in the SERPs, but do not have nearly as much content as their desktop counterparts.

For some companies, this isn’t worrisome. Responsive websites allow the same robust content to be published across all media and will not count against the site’s Google rankings. Responsive sites are extremely important for SEO. For mobile sites that are more empty, this is a wake-up call to make the shift to mobile-first marketing, or else the rankings will plummet.

As mobile Internet usage continues to rise and an optimized mobile site is of much higher stakes than before, it’s a curious question to ask, how will emoji come into play?

Emoji are recognizable on desktop computers, but much harder to access. With the exception of Apple’s newest MacBook Pro, which has a touch pad in place of a function bar, keyboard shortcuts or click-in keyboards are needed to access emoji on a desktop or laptop computer.

Among a number of other uses, the new MacBook Pro touchpad is able to access an emoji keyboard which can be swiped and searched, much like it is on an iPhone. This method is highly user-friendly, especially for those familiar with emoji via mobile devices.

Though GoDaddy’s emoji domain registration is expected to be successful — many have already registered a number of emoji combinations, if only for the resale value — we still haven’t seen a huge amount of these domain names in the mainstream. Since most desktop keyboards do not support emoji typing, it’s far more difficult to search an emoji domain organically.

Emoji domains are fully Google-compatible, and have been for some time now. In May 2015, Google’s John Mueller said that they would be removed and hopefully filtered out of the titles of search results, as they started to look spammy.

“I thought that looked really cool when I saw the first pages that were using [emoji],” said Mueller, “But I think it’s really easy to over do that, so I think it’s something we’ll take action on it at some point.”

Eventually, Google did filter out the emoji titles. These sites were not penalized in their rankings, but it is interesting now, considering the probable hike in emoji domains, how the SERPs will look going forward. With a mobile-first index, it is likely that emoji URLs will appear higher in the SERPs than they would on desktop, but it’s too soon to tell whether Google will adjust the appearance of these results based on how they look.

Five most important 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’ve got key trends in content marketing for 2017; why social media is the preferred channel for product launches; and how to use an Exact Match Domain (EMD) without being penalised for spam by Google. And in probably unsurprising news, John Lewis’ annual heartwarming Christmas ad is this year’s best performing yet.

The eight most important content marketing trends in 2017

It’s December already, and you know what that means – every publication you follow will be winding down for the end of the year by reviewing the highlights of 2016, while simultaneously gearing up for next year by making predictions for 2017.

Tereza Litsa has given us an early start on Search Engine Watch’s sister site ClickZ with a round-up of the eight most important content marketing trends we’re likely to see in 2017. From personalisation to ephemeral content, VR and AI, she’s listed the key trends and practices that will make content marketing in 2017 easier and more effective. Follow the link to read more, and decide whether or not you agree!

Marketers are turning to social media for product launches

A new study by marketing communications firm Five by Five has found that nearly three-quarters of marketers (74%) consider social media to be the highest-priority medium for promoting new products.

The study polled over 700 marketers in the US, the UK and Australia to find which marketing channels they consider to be the most important for product launches. Behind social media, sales promotions and email were the second- and third-most popular promotional channels, respectively.

Al Roberts took a look at the study’s findings for Search Engine Watch and delved into why social is the top choice for marketers looking to promote a new product – and whether it’s enough to generate buzz.


What is an Exact Match Domain (EMD), and how can you safely use one?

Exact Match Domains, or EMDs, can be a tempting way to try and boost your website to the top of search rankings. An EMD is a domain name which exactly matches a keyword or search term you’re hoping to target – such as “watchmoviesfreeonline.com“.

But EMDs, more often than not, tend to be employed by spammy websites, harming the quality of search results and running the risk of incurring a penalty by Google for their practices. As Christopher Ratcliff wrote for Search Engine Watch,

“EMDs have been long thought of as having an unfair advantage.

As opposed to websites that rise to the top of Google through quality content, solid architecture, trusted backlinks and assorted other white hat best practices, Exact Match Domains can just rise to the top by shoe-horning in a few tasty keywords.”

Is there a way to use an EMD safely, or is it another black hat technique that self-respecting SEOs should avoid? Christopher takes a look at the pros and cons of EMDs, and how EMD users can stay on the right side of Google.

Everything you need to know about changes to the local press

The regional press has come under enormous pressure in recent years from the twin challenges of falling advertising sales and the growth of online news. Yet local news outlets are still a highly trusted form of media, and attract the most effective response to adverts.

What this means for the world of marketing is that while PRs should never underestimate the importance of the regional press, the challenges mentioned above have given rise to drastic changes in the way the local papers now look and work.

Andrew Brookes has written a thorough breakdown for Search Engine Watch of how these titles have changed, how the changes affect your marketing efforts, and the best way to adapt to them in order to ensure a good response.

Too many spam messages in email

Buster the Boxer tops the most shared ads of 2016

The annual John Lewis Christmas ad is an institution, managing every year to become one of the most memorable adverts on TV, and creating a formula that many other advertisers have sought to emulate.

This year’s ‘#BustertheBoxer’ ad is no exception – and has managed to beat even John Lewis’ own records. Christopher Ratcliff reported on Search Engine Watch’s sister site, ClickZ, that the ad has topped the list of Unruly’s Top 20 Global Video Ads to become the most shared ad of 2016, with close to 2 million shares. Since its launch on 9th November, #BustertheBoxer has become the 5th most shared Christmas ad of all time, and the most shared John Lewis ad ever.

In his article for ClickZ, Christopher runs down the other top charting ads this year, and takes a look at the methodology used in Unruly’s rankings. And if you haven’t seen #BustertheBoxer yet, give it a watch below – it’s a good’un.

2017: The Year of Machine Learning, Intelligent Content and Experiences


It is common knowledge that the amount of information available in the digital ecosystem is exploding. By 2020 it is expected to have grown from 130 exabytes to 40,000 exabytes.

Digital (and in our case search and content) data holds the keys to marketing success. It contains the critical patterns on consumer intent and behavior, preferences, and content/topics that brands need to provide customers with that critically personal, one-to-one experience that people today want to see.

The problem, however, is that the human brain is only capable of processing 1m gigabytes of memory. In other words, the amount of information available far exceeds the processing ability of humans. The term ‘Big data’- although often overused and misunderstood – is the science that drives the art of content marketing creation and engagement. However, it can only solve the critical questions of the modern marketer if people can learn how to use it. In 2017, the key to effective content marketing – that attracts, resonates and converts – is incorporating machine learning and automation into the production process.

The role of machine learning

As we head into 2017, machine learning, deep learning and artificial intelligence will be the cornerstone of understanding data.

Machine learning has been part of a marketer’s everyday life for decades, without many realizing it. Modern day examples of machine learning are found with Google, Apple’s Siri, IBM’s Watson, Facebook recommendations, Quora and (related questions) and any technology that says ‘suggestions’.

Taking Google as an example. On October 25th last year Google introduced RankBrain to focus on Machine Learning. In short, this can be described as the ability of machine programs to ‘learn’ and predict behaviors. Machine learning can recognize patterns on its own and learn to predict responses.

According to Greg Corrado, a senior research scientist with Google:

“Search is the cornerstone of Google. Machine learning isn’t just a magic syrup that you pour onto a problem and it makes it better. It took a lot of thought and care in order to build something that we really thought was worth doing.”

More recently, in this article on Wired, Google machine learning is now begin to write featured snippet descriptions and using “sentence compression algorithms” on desktop results.

When brands equip themselves with technology to sift through the massive amounts of available information to find the discernable patterns and begin to make sense (learn) of the data, they will be able to walk away with actionable projects that can help them better engage their target audience.

The customer journey today has been disrupted by technology. It is no longer predictable and linear. It is also no longer led by the brands themselves. Instead, it is now in the hands of customers. This customer journey can now better be described as a series of micro touch points– moments in time when customers realize that they have a question or need and turn to the internet to address their concerns.

Creating content and optimizing for these one-to-one experiences that address the unique needs and intent of the individual, however, will only be possible when using machine learning to better understand the data flowing in from consumer behavior and the patterns that emerge.

To use an example, at BrightEdge (disclosure, my company) Data Quant, is a virtual team of data scientists built into the platform, that combines massive volumes of data with immediate, actionable insights to inform marketing decisions. Machine learning can also be used to detect anomalies in a site’s performance and interpret the reasons, such as industry trends, while making recommendations about how to proceed. This allows marketers to make decisions faster and accurately, capitalizing on positive gains and minimizing losses.

Machine learning and its ability to detect changes in interests and consumption behavior allows these organizations to be on the forefront of their industry and produce the material that people need before their competitors, boosting their reputation. Brands will also be able to understand the strategies put forth by their competitors. They will see how well they perform compared to others in their industry and can then make adjustments to their strategies to address the strengths or weaknesses that they find.

The Importance of automation in this process

As brands capture the critical information they need through machine learning, they will find that they still need the capability to take advantage of it quickly, before their competitors. As brands have begun to better understand the central role of the online world in modern commerce, the production of content has also picked up.

An estimated 77 percent of marketers plan on increasing content production in the next year. This means that competition is tight. Just about every industry has multiple brands vying for the attention of customers– and many sectors are completely over saturated. For brands to establish themselves within this crowd, they need to understand how to use the data from their machine learning capabilities quickly: automation will be as important as mining the data. There is no space available for unnecessary content.

When companies decide to produce a new piece of content, basic steps such as uncovering important topics, help with content optimization, and access to information about the content already written on the topic should be completely automated. Brands should optimize material as they write, allowing it to be published fully equipped to rank as highly as possible from the moment they post it to the web.

The content produced will need to incorporate the information gleaned from machine learning, including competitor activities, what customers want to read, and where this particular piece of content will fit on the buyer’s journey. When this process can be largely automated, it will allow brand writers to produce the material ended quickly and efficiently while also creating more effective content and enhancing the position of the brand online.

Automation and Scale

Incorporating machine learning and automation into the content development process allows brands can now look beyond the insights they can gain from their own analysis and their ability to produce effective content based upon their intuition.

Automation will help these brands select the right topic and guide them through the optimization process as they write. This means that the content will rank as highly as possible as soon as they hit publish. Automation creates a more efficient process and maximize the content production ability of the brand, allowing them to compete against others in their industry. Ideally, the automation capabilities should also include the ability to link to other, related pages of content on the site, boosting engagement for the brand.

Kraft is a great example of a brand that has utilized machine learning to understand and automate. Kraft used it to track more than 22,000 different characteristics of its audience based upon how they interacted with the brand’s online content. As a result, Kraft now receives the equivalent of 1.1 billion ad impressions a year and its content marketing produce 4 X ROI.

Balancing Machine Learning and Human Capital

As the digital ecosystem becomes more complex and increasingly filled with unimaginable amounts of data, brands are going to have to turn to technology to effectively understand this information and use it to improve their content production and organic optimization efforts.

Machine learning will never replace humans as the main source of creativity; it will only help make our content production and optimization efforts more efficient. Machine can not manage people and foster creativity, emotion and cultures that drive organizational content and organic search marketing efforts.

7 Timeless Reasons Why & How Content Goes Viral


Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? Planking? Tebowing?

At one time, these memes crossed the line from obscurity to mainstream. Even though Facebook and Twitter play a huge role in amplifying a challenge or helping memes go viral, the origins of that meme can usually be traced to anonymous social networks, like Reddit and 4chan.

Viral content tends to start in smaller, closed networks (that often don’t use real names or identities). Vine and Snapchat – even Facebook Groups – are other places that bring together smaller, more tightly-knit communities with shared and interests and identity that tends to help incite participation.

The meme or challenge takes off in those environments and eventually break into larger, more public social networks.

These smaller networks allow a message to more easily hit a critical mass internally. Once the meme hits Twitter and Facebook, it’s basically mainstream.

So what makes content go viral? And what makes people participate in these phenomena? There are many factors, but here are seven timeless reasons why (and how) some things go viral while others just die.

1. Smartphones Make it Simple to Participate

It’s incredibly easy for us to shoot and edit pictures and video with our smartphones and share it one to one, or one to many. Fundamentally, the rise of memes/challenges is as much a result of the low barrier to entry as much as it may be any cultural trend.

The inclination to share funny ideas and participate in group activities may have always been present in society, but it was just required a lot more effort than before.

Things have always spread by word of mouth. But now technology essentially amplifies how far word of mouth ideas can spread. Also, it’s no longer limited to words – it’s simple to have imagery and video, too.

2. Emotional Content Triggers Sharing


Although the Internet is a multimedia platform, day-to-day usage is still a kind of passive and internalized reader experience. However, studies have shown that content that is able to trigger emotions tends to be the thing that gets shared.

Similar studies have shown that news (e.g., articles or world news) tends to be shared among similar peer groups with similar knowledge needs. In other words, we don’t share news with just anyone – we share it with the people we know will get the most utility out of it.

That means that some stories may not “go viral” as a form of self-censorship is at play, limiting the potential reach of the content. Yet, equally, other stories may go viral just within a specific community of shared interests (otherwise known as social media “echo chambers”).

However, emotionally resonant content sort of jumps those implicit social and political barriers. Everyone can relate to emotions and share the feelings, so that kind of stuff spreads faster beyond and between social circles.

3. Positive Sentiment Helps Content Go Viral


The same studies have shown that good news spreads faster than bad or news with negative spin or connotations.

Challenges and memes are essentially fun. This positive quality is what makes them a phenomenon today.

In fact, it’s extreme emotion in general that spreads fastest. One could also argue that it’s deep shock and outrage that also leads to cyber bullying or mob mentality, another online phenomenon that is characterized by starting with a viral moment. (I’ve written quite a bit about Chinese “human flesh search engines,” which is an unusual term for an online witch hunt.)

4. It’s About People


Mainstream media can’t easily reproduce these kinds of phenomenon because they are broadcast mediums rather than one to one. People have diverse sets of values they want to reflect, whereas mainstream media has to find the lowest common denominator position.

Mainstream media can’t always reach people virally – certainly not via happiness. They are far more likely to have viral success with images and video of shock and outrage.

Personal values can be shared on one-to-one basis, whereas Mainstream media has to reflect values as a whole. Mainstream media is at the end of the cycle, when the meme has already reached a minimum threshold of virality. But once they get hold of the content, they will massively amplify the most successful story angle.

5. Visuals Are Amazingly Powerful


The combination of video and imagery and one-to-one communication has created the ability for everyone to share emotions more viscerally than anyone could before.

“A picture speaks a thousand words” is as true as ever. Now everyone can create a share a picture, video or GIF to communicate their feelings on this more visceral level.

For instance, a GIF of a sloth handing someone a flower communicates the internal world and experience of friendship and respect so much better than writing it!

When an image or animated gif radically simplifies the message, it is easier for others to share with anybody, such that the meaning of the content and can even cross language barriers.

6. Participation Is In Our DNA

Challenges and slacktivism are similar sides of the same coin. But it does speak to a need for people to participate in their society (in a kind of Rousseau social contract) in a way that most people can’t by, say, voting in elections. That, perhaps, may be a bit too philosophical, but on point nonetheless.

People want to create their society and culture. If politics doesn’t enable their self-expression, we tend toward easier ways to demonstrate and stand for our values – even if they might be trivial beliefs in the grand scheme of things, such as believing “that everybody should smile.”

Put another way, there is a natural tendency towards sharing ideas that powerfully represent our most personal and intimate beliefs.

7. Predictably Unpredictable Random Connections


Anything can go viral. You have to choose your topics wisely, of course, but the risk factors of getting it wrong are in your favor.

With the Ice Bucket Challenge, not everyone was worried about the cause (ALS). It succeeded because it was a really simple idea that was real visceral to understand. Watching those videos, you can “feel” in your mind what it’s like to be doused with cold water. That feeling is so easy to relate to, that it went viral regardless of the message.

But then if you look at something like #22Pushups, which was also about an important cause (veteran suicide prevention), it didn’t go viral in the mainstream. However, the people who took part passionately believed in the cause, and probably also already believed in maintaining a healthy lifestyle (the campaign inspired people to do more than 42 million pushups combined). They took part because it reflected their values – not because it was mainstream.

In the end, the reason for something going viral is often random. And sometimes when people express their individual values about a meme, it can cause the story to flip into a whole new narrative that can take off more powerfully.

For instance, my sister, Emma Allen, painted herself as the World Cup trophy and the image of her ended up going viral in two different parts of the world for two completely different reasons.

On the first day the image was released, the image became mascot of pride – she posted the images in time for England World Cup tournament semi-final match in Brazil. The second day Brazilian news media shared the image as representative of the England team’s shame of losing the match and being kicked out of the tournament.

Arguably, the original image represented neither of these things, and was simply a remarkable example of face painting, but it was two different communities that imbued the image with two different meanings that caused it to be viewed over 650,000 times and shared over 51,000 times on social media in just 48 hours.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to point out the great viral successes. After all, those are the only ones we see.

But here’s the thing. You only see virality when it succeeds. We never see the thousands of failed memes and challenges that couldn’t generate critical mass among a small cadre in the first place.

Don’t let your brilliant marketing ideas be shot down just because it might not be wildly successful. You’ll never create anything of value if you’re only thinking of the outcome. And it is actually impossible to imagine the response to a project that goes truly viral.

Virality working well means only the right people see it and the wrong people don’t. True virality is highly targeted.

For example, in 2009 I created 50 SEOs, 1 Question as a marketing experiment for the newly launched (at the time) Facebook Video. Not everyone in the SEO community saw it, but the people who loved it, absolutely loved it, and I was offered a life-changing job in New York as a result.

You can have a viral success even if you only reach a tiny segment of your community and the rest of the world never sees it. When your idea works, you will have made a difference and touched those people to whom that issue matters most to. That’s why you shouldn’t hold back.

If your idea isn’t a viral success, then you’ve lost nothing because no one saw it.

So experiment! The risk to reward ratio is in your favor!

Jonathan Allen is the President of Longneck & Thunderfoot, a brand publishing and digital marketing company. He is the former director of Search Engine Watch 2009-13), an AZBEE award winning blog on search engine marketing, and former co-founder of Moblog, a Webby, MEGAS, RTS award winning & BAFTA nominee, social network for amateur photographers and citizen journalists.

Marketers now turn to social for product launches


When it comes time to launch a new product, the majority of marketers in the US, the UK, and Australia are now turning to social media.

Five by Five, a marketing communications firm that specializes in product launches, polled more than 700 marketers in these countries and found that nearly three-quarters (74%) of them consider social media to be the highest-priority medium to promote new products.

Sales promotions and email were the second and third most popular launch marketing medium, respectively.

According to Five by Five creative director Martin Flavin:

“Social media has become the most important way to generate buzz for new products and services before they appear. Shareable content and social engagement allow brands to create a groundswell of pre-launch interest in a way no other channel can match.”

Social media is now more popular a launch marketing medium than PR/press, television and direct mail.

Is social enough?

Social’s popularity among marketers for product launches isn’t just based on the fact that social channels like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat offer access to billions of consumers around the world.

According to Five by Five, social’s popularity is also based on the fact that it’s a readily accessible medium that marketers can turn to in a pinch, which is increasingly important given that products are being conceived, built and launched much more rapidly than ever before.

In fact, two-thirds of the marketers the firm surveyed indicated that they usually have no more than six months to prep a new product launch, which can make it more difficult to execute launch strategies that rely on mediums that aren’t as accessible.

But social isn’t necessarily a perfect medium. Despite its accessibility, it can be very difficult for marketers to cut through the clutter on the most popular social channels, and attracting attention is only likely to become more difficult as marketers put the bulk of their eggs in the social media basket.

For those that are able to attract an audience and generate buzz for a new product, that buzz can also be short-lived thanks to the speed with which the social media world moves, so marketers shouldn’t expect social buzz to sustain a new product.

Instead, they’ll need to plan for a relatively quick transition to post-launch marketing, which will usually include marketing mediums other than social, including search, which as PR Week’s Robert Smith notes, has been called a more powerful medium than social by WPP chief Sir Martin Sorrell.

10 mistakes businesses and brands make with social media

Social network sphere

With social media reach and engagement rates having dipped so precipitously over the last year or so, paying to play is the only option for most brands now.

But what about businesses and brands that can’t afford to advertise on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the like? Not everyone is willing, never mind able, to carve out the budget necessary to keep their content in front of a critical mass of relevant followers on a regular basis.

Those organizations can be particularly creative or incredibly persistent, but the most effective strategy they can embrace may be to get all hands on deck in the form of an employee advocacy program.

Of course, to go in this direction, every team member needs to be on board with their new tack, despite an abundance of reasons to be uncooperative, unknowingly or not.

Employers need their employees working together toward the same goal if this social media strategy is to be effective. And in many cases, that’s just not going to happen anytime soon without proper training, guidance, incentive and rewards.

Here are 10 BIG mistakes many businesses, brands, teams and their leaders are making with social media…

Not providing enough education

Social media isn’t rocket science, but it requires a huge leap of faith for the uninformed and uninitiated. Not only can it be daunting, it can be downright difficult for a newbie to craft even a simple tweet, never mind write a blog post or record a video.

A comprehensive, mandatory educational program is key to bringing employees up to speed.

Not providing enough incentive

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that job descriptions seem to include everything but the kitchen sink nowadays. So why not add learning social media to employees’ list of responsibilities?

Seriously. Everyone’s a marketer. Everyone’s in sales. And everyone’s on social media. Which should mean repping your employer every once in a while.

Not connecting with others

There’s power in numbers, especially when it comes to propagating content. No reach, no engagement. Don’t be afraid to suggest that team members broaden their networks, even if their roles have nothing to do with sales and marketing.

Employees shouldn’t be kept under wraps. After all, there’s a lot to be said for the multiplier effect.

Not sharing organizational content

All for one, one for all. That should be an internal team’s creed. Someone writes a white paper, everyone shares it. That’s a no-brainer if you ask me. Every employee – certainly those in marketing, advertising, PR and social media – should be sharing content created under the corporate roof.

Their personal brands should include the professional brands for whom they work.

Not producing original content

There’s a rule in group communications called 90-9-1. This rule suggests that 90% of the members simply lurk while 9% add something to the conversation and a mere 1% contribute the most. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You can’t be effective on social media if you’re being anti-social. Key employees and related stakeholders should be more than encouraged to create their own content, they should be rewarded for doing so on a regular basis.

Not keeping up with changes

Call them luddites, laggards, naysayers or just plain stubborn. Whatever you call them, call them late to the party, almost too late to gain entrance.

Anyone serious about their career in this day and age who hasn’t at least started to use social media risks falling dangerously behind their colleagues, connections and competition on the job. And looked upon as being not that serious after all.

Not looking at the big picture

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people dismiss social media as a passing fad or an inconsequential trend despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. By 2018, 33% of the world’s population, or 2.44 billion people, is expected to be using social media.

Social media is the biggest revolution in mass communications since the printing press. Anyone who can’t see that by now can’t see the forest for the trees.


Not brave enough to experiment

A tendency to take risks isn’t one of the hallmarks of a corporate executive, so any fear and trepidation among this set isn’t surprising to me. But this is not the time for analysis paralysis.

Social media represents a transformative change in the way people, not just business people, communicate. Like it or not, it’s not going anywhere soon, so resistance is futile.

Not aware of their capabilities

Most employees don’t realize how easy it is share content on social media, contribute to the conversation at large and actually help move the algorithmic needle in favor of their respective organizations.

Whether they’re intimidated, confused or just plain misinformed, they think social media is difficult, complex and ineffective, while it’s actually quite the contrary. They can do it if they try.

Not leading by example

People will rarely take it upon themselves to share work-related content on their personal accounts. They’re afraid it’s irrelevant and off-putting to their audience. But if leaders are doing it themselves as an example to their teams, that’s another story altogether.

Employees will quickly see the benefits of supporting their employer’s brand if they see senior managers practicing what they preach and walking the talk on social media themselves.

Five powerful lead generation and sales prospecting tools for small businesses


Small businesses struggle to build visibility online due to tight budgets and limited work force.

These five marketing platforms offer small businesses affordable lead generation and sales tools to provide them with some competitive advantage.

Small businesses need lots of support these days. With huge budgets being shifted online by large corporations, competing for the web presence has been harder and harder.

Luckily there are tools that offer great solutions for small businesses making their lives much easier and allowing them to be seen online.

1. Leadfeeder

One of the most pleasant discovering of this year, Leadfeeder has been my recommended tool in a couple of articles already. It is really simple to use, takes seconds to set up and works like a charm. I love the efficiency and simplicity of the tool.

Leadfeeder connects to your Google Analytics and identifies companies behind your site visits. It saves all the data and scores each identified company visit based on how much they have interacted with your site (e.g. repeat visits, how many pages they have viewed before leaving etc.)

  • See which companies visited your site, which page they landed on, where they came from and how long they stayed
  • See the company contact info and employees (as well as how you are connected to them on LinkedIn)
  • Create filters to see company visits based on the source (for example, see company visits which were referred to your site from Twitter) to better customize your pitch
  • Receive regular email alerts with the most recent company visits prompting your immediate action (the sooner you pitch, the better chances are they will remember who you are).

Basically, Leadfeeder turns your site visitors into well qualified prospects opening lots of follow-up opportunities for you.

2. Hatchbuck


Hatchbuck is a solid CRM and marketing automation system for small businesses that makes it easy to nurture prospects and drive more sales. Some of the more useful features include:

  • The real-time dashboard: see customer activity on the fly. Monitor your contacts’ activity: See who’s visiting which pages.
  • Dynamic tagging to organize your prospects: for example, you can assign a tag to anyone clicking a link in an email you send. This way you can start a campaign or send them another email on that topic.
  • The form and link actions to follow-up on clicks, visits and online forms: for example, you can trigger actions based on clicks inside an email.
  • Easy email templates that look rich and professional

Hatchbuck prides itself on having the best customer service (which customers seem to agree upon) which already makes it worth exploring. They offer free real-time demo allowing you to make up your mind if it fits your needs.

They are also quite affordable and easy to understand which makes it a perfect solution for small businesses that have limited sales budget and no in-house engineering departments.

3. DrumUp Employee Advocacy Feature


There’s one marketing opportunity most small businesses fail to be willing to benefit from: utilizing their whole teams to capture and nurture leads.

Luckily, this trend is quickly changing as we witness a few really huge companies changing their social media policies to give their teams more freedom and encourage their employees to vouch for them online.

According to Inc, a well set-up employee advocacy program is able to to result in 5x more traffic and 25% more leads.

DrumUp is a cool social media management platform giving any company all the necessary tools to organize employees’ social media activity and turn them into brand advocates.

  • You can connect your blog, press or other content feeds to DrumUp. As soon as a new article is added to the feed, it is automatically broadcast to employees for them to easily share across multiple social media channels.
  • Set up monthly contests to reward most active and eager employees. DrumUp offers easy and transparent leaderboard tracking for that.

4. Linkedin Sales Navigator

Linkedin Sales Navigator

LinkedIn has really been pushing their Sales Navigator, a premium service that gives users greater control over the site’s features. It also provides products for sales prospecting, lead generation, B2B networking, and more.

According to their stats, signing up for the Sales Navigator increases productivity by 80%, and vastly improves sales results. Users (they claim) will be 51% more likely to meet their quotas. It includes better communication with targets, so that is at least one benefit you can find from it.

They don’t go based on teams, but instead on individual seat pricing. Each member is $79.99 per month, and it includes a premium LinkedIn profile.

Here’s a solid tutorial guiding you through Sales Navigator feature.

  • Find and organize leads: use a useful search feature to find leads, save them and keep an eye on their updates
  • Build B2B contacts: save companies in your account which allows you to track new leads, follow updates and receive company news so you’re well-informed before your first conversation with a prospect
  • Utilize your employees’ connection: Use TeamLink to filter your search results to see bridged or team connections. If TeamLink identifies a personal connection between your prospect and a team member, you can ask a mutual connection for an introduction.

5. Cyfe


Cyfe is my go-to tool on so many levels which is almost unbelievable. I use it to track my social media channels, keep an eye on my customer service teams, monitor my site performance and more. Cyfe can be used to create a powerful lead generation.

Create a separate dashboard with one or many of the following widgets to keep an eye on different aspects of your lead generation process:

  • Google Analytics real time visits
  • Google Analytics most recent referrals
  • Zendesk tickets
  • Optin stats and recent subscribers (Many email marketing platforms are supported, others can be connected via API)
  • Recent leads and prospects

Cyfe is surprisingly affordable which makes it a perfect monitoring solution for small businesses.

Are there any other tools that belong in this list? Let me know in the comments!

Are you using too many questions in your headlines?


It’s been said that there are no stupid questions. But are there stupid question headlines?

People ask search engines questions all the time. People are seeking answers to all kinds of questions. They want to know the who, what, where, when, why, and how on a variety of topics.

These types of pages also tend to rank well, get shared, and attract links. For example:

  • Google kills Right Hand Side Ads: what does this mean for marketers and users? Search Engine Watch (3K shares, 226 links)
  • Microsoft Wants Autistic Coders. Can It Find Them And Keep Them? – Fast Company (47K shares, 93 links)
  • Trump’s history of corruption is mind-boggling. So why is Clinton supposedly the corrupt one? – Washington Post (867K shares, 144 links)

But could question headlines actually hurt how your content performs in the long-term, especially in organic search?

Yes. Yes they could.

Don’t get me wrong. Question headlines aren’t bad all the time. Asking questions inspires curiosity, which can inspire your audience to click and even contribute their thoughts to the discussion.

But there are times when you should question your question headlines.

Here are six questions to consider when you’re considering using a question headline.

1) Have you actually answered the question?

Question headlines fail when you fail to provide an answer. So many publications ask big questions, but then either tend to cop out toward the end or never really answer the question in a satisfactory way.

How many times have you seen an article end with some variation of “only time will tell”?

If you’re going to ask questions from the outset, you better answer them by the time your readers reach the end of your content. Otherwise, what was the point?

2) Is your answer better than other existing content?


Chances are that a piece of content on the web has already asked and/or answered your question. Before you hit publish, type your question into your favorite search engine and see what content pops up.

Chances are also good that you can create a better piece of content. One that provides a more concise answer, or a more thorough answer, or an answer that showcases your brand’s vast expertise, or that challenges or counters the “wisdom of the crowd”.

Don’t just aim to be yet another answer – there’s enough average content on the web. Make sure your content is the best answer (and also interesting and memorable).

3) Can the question be answered with a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’?


One of the most popular questions to ask in our industry is “Is SEO Dead?” These types of posts always generated tons of page views and quite a bit of outrage.

Why? Because, in the end, this question can be answered not with 1,000 or so words, but with one: NO!

But there are plenty of other examples of “yes” or “no” question headlines like this. Just check out this site, which compiles headlines that fail Betteridge’s law of headlines (which states that any headline ending in a question mark can be answered by the word ‘no’):

  • Did Facebook Really Elect Trump President? (No.)
  • Hamilton’s Message to Pence: WAS IT HARASSMENT? (No – and WHY ARE YOU YELLING?)
  • Do We Need to Use (and Discard) So Many Plastic BAGS EACH YEAR (No, and WHY ARE YOU YELLING?)

Asking questions that can be answered with a yes or no is pointless. So why do it?

Betteridge claims that publications use that style of headline because “they know the story is probably bullshit and don’t actually have the sources and facts to back it up, but still want to run it.”

Damn right.

4) Are you withholding information?


If you withhold information simply in the hopes that you’ll get more clicks and views, essentially you’re dealing in clickbait.

Rather than just throw a question mark on the end of a headline, spend some time developing an actual angle or position.

5) Is the answer unknown?


Sometimes you have a theory or some ideas that you want to share in order to get people thinking or solicit feedback.

For example:

  • Where is Google heading with mobile local search?
  • Penguin 4.0: what does it mean for SEO practitioners?
  • What does Google AMP mean for ecommerce?

Other times you may be writing about something you’ve seen but can’t confirm with 100% certainty at publication time. For example:

  • Is Google testing out green labels for PPC ads?
  • Is Google manipulating autocomplete results for UK political parties?
  • Is Google Testing a Knowledge Vault Update?

In these cases, question headlines are entirely appropriate. Because there is no answer.

However, just make sure that you’re not using a question-based headline as rhetorical device. The question should be important enough that it warrants asking in the first place.

6) Can you write a more compelling headline?

Question headlines can be a lazy way to make a point, according to Jonathan Allen, president of L&T Co. Also, if you’re asking a question, the reader might automatically assume there is no new information and won’t bother clicking.

“One thing that no reader wants to commit to is an unending discussion with no conclusion, so anything that looks like waffle, probably is waffle,” according to Allen. “Question-based headlines often look like a lot of waffle is going to follow.”

If you were to restate your original question-based headline as simply a headline emphasizing your core idea, you are likely to attract more attention and clicks. Why? Because you’re signaling to the reader that you have new information or arguments to which they can agree, disagree, or find out more, according to Allen.


So what’s the answer here? Question headlines aren’t by nature bad. But when done poorly, they won’t help you.

So if you’re going to use question headlines, make sure that you:

  • Include keywords so readers have an idea about what they’re about to click on.
  • Answer the question with your content – and answer it well.
  • Aren’t using them to avoid taking a side or clear position.
  • Aren’t publishing crap.

What do you think about question headlines – good, bad, or it depends?

Danny Goodwin is a content strategist at Longneck & Thunderfoot, a brand publishing company. A professional editor, writer, and ghostwriter with over 10 years of experience in marketing, he has created content for SMBs and global brands alike, spanning all things search and digital. He was formerly the editor of Search Engine Watch. Follow Danny on Twitter.