The new wave of visual search: what it can do, and what might be possible

google image search

Visual search on the web has been around for some time.

In 2008, TinEye became the first image search engine to use image identification technology, and in 2010, the Google Goggles app allowed users to search the physical world with their phone cameras.

But in the last couple of years, visual search has come into new prominence, with companies like Pinterest and Bing developing into serious contenders in the visual search space, and search engines like Splash conceptualising new ways to search the web visually.

We now have an impressive range of visual search methods available to us: we can search with images, with part of an image, with our cameras, with paint on a digital canvas. And combined with applications in ecommerce, and recent advances in augmented reality, visual search is a powerful tool with huge potential.

So what can it do currently, and where might it develop in the future?

Then and now: The evolution of visual search

Although the technology behind image search has come on in leaps and bounds in the past few years, it’s as a result of developments that have taken place over a much longer time period.

Image search on the web was around even before the launch of reverse image search engine TinEye in 2008. But TinEye claims that it was the first such search engine to use image identification technology rather than keywords, watermarks or metadata. In 2011, Google introduced its own version of the technology, which allowed users to perform reverse image searches on Google.

Both reverse image searches were able to identify famous landmarks, find other versions of the same image elsewhere on the web, and locate ‘visually similar’ images with similar composition of shapes and colour. Neither used facial recognition technology, and TinEye was (and still is) unable to recognise outlines of objects.

Google reverse image search in 2011. Source: Search Engine Land

Meanwhile, Google Goggles allowed users of Android smartphones (and later in 2010, iPhones and iPads) to identify labels and landmarks in the physical world, as well as identifying product labels and barcodes that would allow users to search online for similar products. This was probably the first iteration of what seems to be a natural marriage between visual search and ecommerce, something I’ll explore a bit more later on.

The Google Goggles app is still around on Android, although the technology hasn’t advanced all that much in the last few years (tellingly, it was removed as a feature from Google Mobile for iOS due to being “of no clear use to too many people”), and it tends to pale in comparison to a more modern ‘object search’ app like CamFind.

You tried, Goggles.

CamFind is a visual search and image recognition mobile app that was launched in 2013, and while it doesn’t appear to be able to solve Sudoku puzzles for you, it does have an impressive rate of accuracy.

Back when Google Glass was still a thing, Image Searcher, the startup behind CamFind, developed a version of the app to bring accurate visual search to Google Glass, activated by the command “OK Glass, what do you see?” This is the kind of futuristic application of visual search that many people imagined for a technology like Google Glass, and could have had great potential if Google Glass had caught on.

camfind-keyboard

The CamFind mobile app has an impressive accuracy rate, even down to identifying the brand of an object.

When the ‘pinboard’-style social network Pinterest launched in 2012, it was a bit of a dark horse, gaining huge popularity with a demographic of young-to-middle-aged women but remaining obscure in most conventional tech circles. Even those who recognised its potential as a social network probably wouldn’t have guessed that it would also shape up into a force to be reckoned with in visual search.

But for Pinterest, accurate visual search just makes sense, as it allows Pinterest to serve relevant Pin recommendations to users who might be looking for something visually similar (say, the perfect copper lamp to light their living room) or hone in on the specific part of a Pinned image that interests them.

In 2014, Pinterest acquired VisualGraph, a two-person startup which was cofounded by one of Google’s first computer vision engineers, bringing the company’s visual search know-how into the fold. In the same year, it introduced and began refining a function that allowed users to highlight a specific part of a Pin and find other Pins that are visually similar to the highlighted area – two years ahead of Bing, who only introduced that functionality to its mobile image search in July 2016.

Bing has pipped Pinterest to the post by introducing visual searching with a smartphone camera to its native iOS app (I can’t comment on how accurate it is, as the Bing iOS app is only available in the US), something that Pinterest is still working on launching. But it’s clear that the two companies are at the vanguard of visual search technology, and it’s worth paying attention to both to see what developments they announce next.

pinterest-object-detection

Meanwhile, Google is yet to offer any advance on Google Goggles for more accurate searching in the physical world, but you can bet that Google isn’t going to let Pinterest and Bing stay ahead of it for too long. In July, Google announced the acquisition of French startup Moodstocks, which specialises in machine learning-based image recognition technology for smartphones.

And at Google I/O in May, Google’s Engineering Director Erik Kay revealed some pretty impressive image recognition capabilities for Google’s new messaging app, Allo.

“Allo even offers smart replies when people send photos to you. This works because in addition to understanding text, Allo builds on Google’s computer vision capabilities to understand of the content and the context of images. In this case, Allo understood that the picture was of a dog, that it was a cute dog, and even the breed of the dog. In our internal testing, we found that Allo is 90% accurate in determining whether a dog deserves the ”cute dog” response.”

Visual search and ecommerce: A natural partnership

How many times have you been out and about and wished you could find out where that person bought their cool shoes, or their awesome bag, without the awkwardness of having to approach a stranger and ask?

What if you could just use your phone camera to secretly take a snap (though that’s still potentially quite awkward if you get caught, let’s be honest) and shop for visually similar search results online?

Ecommerce is a natural application for visual search, something which almost all companies behind visual search have realised, and made an integral part of their offering. CamFind, for example, will take you straight to shopping results for any object that you search, creating a seamless link between seeing an item and being able to buy it (or something like it) online.

camfind-carex

Pinterest’s advances in visual search also serve the ecommerce side of the platform, by helping users to isolate products that they might be interested in and smoothly browse similar items. An ‘object search’ function for its mobile app would also be designed to help people find items similar to ones they like in the physical world on Pinterest, with a view to buying them.

With the myriad possibilities that visual search holds for ecommerce, it’s no surprise that Amazon has also thrown its hat into the ring. In 2014, it integrated a shopping-by-camera functionality into its main iOS app (and has since released the function on Android), and also launched Firefly, a visual recognition and search app for the Amazon Fire Phone.

Even after the Fire Phone flopped, Amazon refused to give up on Firefly, and introduced the app to the more affordable Kindle Fire HD. The visual search function on its mobile app works best with books, DVDs and recognisably branded objects, but it otherwise has a good rate of accuracy.

Other companies operating in the cross-section of visual search and ecommerce which have emerged in the past few years include Slyce, whose slogan is “Give your customer’s camera a buy button”, and Catchoom, which creates image recognition and augmented reality tools for retail, publishing and other sectors.

Although searching the physical world has yet to cross over into the mainstream (most people I’ve talked to about it aren’t even aware that the technology exists), that could easily change as the technology becomes more accurate and increasingly widespread.

But ecommerce is only one possible application for visual search. What other uses and innovations could we see spring up around visual search in the future?

The future of visual search?

Aside from the fairly obvious prediction that visual search will become more accurate and more widespread as time goes on, I can imagine various possibilities for visual search going forward, some of which already exist on a small scale.

The visual recognition technology which powers visual search has huge potential to serve as an accessibility aid. Image Searcher, the company behind CamFind, also has an app called TapTapSee which uses visual recognition and voiceover technology to identify objects for visually impaired and blind mobile users. Another app, Talking Goggles, performs the same function using Google Goggles’ object identification technology.

Although these are purely recognition apps and not search engines as such, Image Searcher have used a great deal of the feedback they receive from the visually impaired community to integrate the same features into CamFind. It’s easy to imagine how the two concepts, if developed in tandem, could be used to provide a truly accessible visual search to visually impaired users in the future.

And if camera-based visual search were combined with recent advances in voice search and natural language processing, it’s possible to imagine a future in which the act of searching visually becomes virtually interface-free. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, demonstrated a very similar capability at Google I/O when he showed off Google’s new voice assistant, Google Assistant.

“For example, you can be in front of this structure in Chicago and ask Google, ”Who designed this?” You don’t need to say ”the bean” or ”the cloud gate.” We understand your context and we answer that the designer is Anish Kapoor.”

In this example, the unstated context for Pichai’s question “Who designed this?” is likely provided by location data, but it could just as easily be visual input, provided by a smartphone camera or an improved Google Glass-like device.

I mentioned something called Splash earlier on in this article. Splash, a search interface developed by photo community 500px, is a different type of visual search than any we’ve looked at so far. The interface is designed to allow users to visually search 500px’s image library using colour, digitally ‘splashing’ the paint onto a canvas.

As far as visual search engines go, Splash is more of a fun novelty than a practical search tool. You can only search for images in one of five categories – Landscape, People, Animals, Travel and City – so if you want a picture of something that doesn’t come under one of those, good luck to you. The search results also tend to respond more to which colours are on the canvas than to what you’re trying to depict with it.

splash

Not really what I was after…

Even so, I like the different take that Splash gives on searching visually, and I think that the idea has a lot of interesting potential if it were developed and refined more. Other types of visual search that we’ve talked about so far depend on having a picture or an object to hand, but what if you wanted to search for something you knew how to draw, but didn’t have an example of to hand?

Another thing I would find incredibly useful in my work as a journalist (where I’m often called upon to search for stock images) would be the ability to search for a visual concept.

Say I’m looking for a picture to represent ‘email ROI’ for a piece I’m writing. It would be really helpful if I could run a visual search for any images which combined visuals relating to email, and visuals relating to money, in some way. Maybe a keyword-based search could get close to what I need, but I think a visual search would be able to cast a wider, and more useful, net.

Finally, if developing visual search continues to be a priority for companies like Pinterest, Bing and Google, I think the most natural evolution of the technology would be to incorporate augmented reality. AR is already advancing into the mainstream – not just with Pokémon Go, but apps like Blippar which fuse AR with visual discovery and visual search to add an extra dimension to the world around us.

There’s clear potential for this to become a fully-fledged search phenomenon, say with text overlays providing information about objects you want to search for, and the ability to interact with items and purchase them, removing even more friction from ecommerce and enabling users to buy things in the moment of inspiration.

I don’t foresee visual search replacing the text-based variety altogether (or at least, not for a very long time). But does opens up a world of exciting new possibilities that will play a big part in whatever’s to come for search in the future.

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP): one year on – stats and infographic

amp-one-year-on

We’ve written an awful lot about Google’s open source accelerated mobile pages project (better know as Google AMP) over that last 12 months.

AMPs implications are far reaching, for marketers, for publishers (big and small) and for ecommerce.

Implementing faster mobile web pages mainly benefits users, who are increasingly frustrated with slow loading times. The latest Google research shows that 53% of people will leave a site that fails to load in three seconds or less.

But AMP will soon be a key battleground in search, as AMP listings are now spreading throughout organic mobile results. Publishers and organisations may find the need for AMP implementation will reach the tipping point early in 2017. And although AMP may not be a ranking factor yet, time will tell.

In order to celebrate AMP’s one year anniversary, David Besbris, VP Google Search, AMP Project Lead at Google has revealed a plethora of stats to convince you of AMP’s success, as well as an infographic republished at the bottom of the page.

The biggest participants so far in the AMP format:

  • WordPress — AMP’d up tens of millions of websites in addition to VIP publishers
  • Reddit — announced tens of millions of pages in AMP
  • Bing — iOS and Android app supports AMP
  • Ebay — AMP’d up 15 million product category pages
  • Pinterest — Uses AMP for Pins
  • Google — Launched AMP in search web results

Results for publishers using AMP:

  • Washington Post — 23% increase in mobile search users who return within 7 days
  • Slate — 44% increase in monthly unique visitors and a 73% increase in visits per monthly unique visitor
  • Gizmodo — 80% of Gizmodo’s traffic from AMP pages is new traffic, 50% increase in impressions
  • Wired — 25% increase in click through rates from search results, with CTR on ads in AMP stories up by 63%.
  • Relay Media — in the last 30 days alone has converted over 2.5 million AMP pages for publishers like The Daily Dot, Hearst Television and The Miami
    Herald which says mobile users who start with an AMP article spend 10% more time than those who land on regular mobile pages.

Ad performance

A DoubleClick study earlier this year compared ad performance on AMP and non-AMP mobile pages across 150 publishers.

The results are as follows:

  • 80%+ of the publishers realized higher viewability rates
  • 90%+ of the publishers drove greater engagement with higher CTRs
  • The majority of the publishers saw higher eCPMs (Impact and proportion of lift varies by region and how optimized the non-AMP sites are)

Of course all the above findings should be taken with a pinch of salt, as they are directly from the Google AMP team. Implementing AMP isn’t as easy as it’s made out to be, and in some cases, AMP is leading to lower CTR.

There’s also no guarantee that Google won’t ditch this format in 12 months time, much the same way it did with authorship. And AMP is ultimately another way of keeping you anchored to yet another Google property.

But hey, here’s a nice infographic to make you forget all your anxieties…

Seven ways marketers can use Twitter Moments

How to create Twitter Moments

Twitter has opened Moments to all users and is therefore taking curation to the next level. What does this mean for brands?

Twitter Moments used to be a curation of the best tweets of the day; an overview of the news and the important tweets you need to check out. It may not have reached the level of adoption Twitter was hoping for, but it was still an interesting perspective on how we can consume information without leaving the platform.

Now Twitter Moments is gradually expanding to all users so they can facilitate storytelling through a series of tweets.

This could be Twitter’s response to Snapchat (and Instagram) Stories, but luckily it’s not directly imitating these two.

Going beyond users, this is also a useful feature for brands and publishers, making content creation and curation easier and more appealing.

If you’re wondering how you can use Twitter Moments, here are some suggestions:

Curation

Twitter can be very useful for content curation and Twitter Moments can help you organise your favourite sources and curate the content in a more organised way.

For example, if a topic is trending and you want to jump in, you might create a Moment with curated sources to show that you’re following the topic and you’re interested in adding value in your own way.

Storytelling

Twitter Moments can be very effective in storytelling, as they may help tweets go beyond the 140 character limit, creating a narrative among them. Moreover, Twitter Moments may increase the lifespan of your tweets and they may offer a great way to repurpose your existing ones, even after a year if there’s the right context.

Collecting the best tweets from a big event

If your brand wants to join a big event (Super Bowl, popular TV shows, movie premieres, politics, trending stories, etc) a Twitter Moment may help you collect the best tweets, either for news coverage, or even for a humorous aspect or a different way to present a trending story.

Organising the news of the day

How about using Twitter Moments the way Twitter does to organise the most important news of the day? You can customise it according to your brand, your content and your audience and create your own most important news of the day in a series of tweets, all organised in a Twitter Moment.

Creatively promote your campaign

Twitter Moments can help spread your campaign, or promote it in a different way. For example, after creating the tweets for a brand new campaign, you can collect them all to create a story with a complete concept for your campaign. This could be a new creative direction for brands trying to use Twitter for the promotion of their products.

Budweiser was among the first brands to try Twitter Moments and here is a great example on how to use the new feature as part of your campaign.

Click to explore every detail of the America can in all its glory. #ThisBudsForYouhttps://t.co/FS25yZ5Lj3

— Budweiser (@Budweiser) August 8, 2016

Collect user-generated content

There are many reasons to collect user-generated content and the best tweets about a topic, and all of them could make a great Twitter Moment. You may even include UGC as part of a campaign and collect the best tweets in a story to encourage more users to join.

Promote again your latest posts

How about promoting your latest posts in a Twitter Moment to make a compilation of them and find another opportunity to reach your audience? You may even divide your posts by topic to promote evergreen content, which would lead to further creative ideas on how Twitter Moments can be used.

How to create your own Twitter Moment

It’s easy to create a new Twitter Moment, provided that you see the tab “Moments” on your profile*.

Click on it and start creating your new Moment.

Seven ways marketers can use Twitter Moments

Then add title, description, image and you’re ready to include all the tweets.

You can add them by searching on your latest tweets, clicking a user’s profile, performing a Twitter search, or add them through Twitter links.

Seven ways marketers can use Twitter Moments

When I tried to find my tweets by browsing the latest ones, I was only able to go to my last 15 days (which may depend on the number of tweets), so I also used the specific links for the rest I had in mind.

Another useful tip for brands is to focus more on images when posting tweets. It makes tweets more appealing as part of a story.

*Moments are not available yet to everyone, but according to Twitter, it should be soon.

Eight tools to help manage every step of the email marketing process

Hellobar

Email marketing can be overwhelming, especially if you are new. Lots of tweaking, designing and testing. These eight tools will help you manage email marketing like a champ!

Some of these tools may have a lot of alternatives but I left them out to keep this list clutter-free!

You can find more tools in my previous article: 10 tools for generating red hot leads.

1. Optimize your site for lead generation: Hellobar

The first thing to do when you are launching a website is to create effective opt-in forms. You can experiment with designs and placements for as long as you manage your website, but there’s always a room for improvement.

The easiest way to start is to set up Hellobar though. You can add more forms later but Hellobar is likely to stay there forever. It’s non-intrusive, easy to design and doesn’t irritate the user.

2. Manage your email lists: Mailchimp

Mailchimp

Another marketing platform mainly designed around emails, Mailchimp is my go-to for seminars and marketing advice.

One thing that you’ll find especially useful is automation. Have you ever subscribed to email courses? It is probably on a platform like Mailchimp, which allows you to set milestones to automatically go out to your customers.

3. Automate more: WebEngine

WebEngine

WebEngage is an automation platform for marketers, and a decent one. I personally haven’t used it that much, so I wasn’t sure if I would include it on this list.

It was the push notifications and in-app messages features that pushed me to do so. If those are a tool you could use, you may be able to drive conversions with simple messages letting the user know about the option. It is pretty good for mobile CTAs.

4. Improve your targeting: PadiAct

PadiAct

PadiAct is an awesome platform for improving email subscription calls-to-action, which for many of us is our number one way of reaching potential customers and making repeat sales.

It has a number of useful features letting you place your call-to-action at the right moment, exactly when the user is most likely to opt-in.

5. Optimize your email templates: Mosaico

Mosaico

Content isn’t just about blog posts, podcasts, graphics and videos. It is email marketing, as well. Email marketing is actually the number one method of promotion, above other ways.

But you need a strong template to get you going. Mosaico lets you generate branded templates for newsletters, welcome letters, drip campaigns, sales announcements, and more. Best of all, it is free to use.

All templates are responsive and professional grade, you use drag and drop for easier customization, and you are supporting open source apps every time you try it out.

6. Manage your leads properly: Contactually

Contactually

What contacts are the most valuable in your networking list? Who should you be taking special care to cultivate, and which are better left with a more general approach to communication?

Contactually takes the guesswork (and a lot of the work itself) out of communicating with potential or long term customers. It connects with Google Accounts or Office365, syncing up your contacts lists and going through interactions to find the key points of focus for you. They have a mail service that can be used to separate those key contacts away from the usual drip email herd.

I like Contactually because it uses what is already there to personalize your targets based on your past interactions; not just outside information that ranks them based on influence. After all, Mark Cuban may be a better prospect than the supplies manager at the Kinkos down the street. But who is more likely to go into a partnership with you?

7. Improve your conversions: SalesLoft

SalesLoft

A child product of Saleforce, you can connect the CRM with SalesLoft seamlessly to integrate your CRM with this helpful sales development platform. They claim to be able to improve successful demos and appointments by a stunning 300%, and to drive those leads from opportunities to actual sales.

They start at $75 per month for smaller teams, giving the core features that will help you to increase those sales numbers. For just $25 more you can get their professional platform, though some of the features on that one may end up unused until the team grows. In any case, it is worth having and using to get those sales really pumping.

Are there any email marketing and lead nurturing tools that need to be added to the list? Share them below!

10 reasons your content will fail and what you can do about it

google-trends-content-marketing

Creating content is easy. Creating great content? That’s much tougher.

Just 10 short years ago, the barrier to entry was much lower for companies. Content marketing wasn’t even a thing. But once 2010 came around, it started exploding, as seen on Google Trends:

In the past six years, the amount of content has grown exponentially. Everyone has bought into the now clichéd mantra: content is king.

Yet, although brands, businesses, and publishers are cranking out more content every year, conversion rates aren’t increasing. Why?

It goes back to the first sentence: creating great content is hard!

Yet for all the changes we’ve seen, there are many basic things that are often overlooked by companies looking to generate traffic and leads from their content marketing efforts. Here are 10 of them.

1) Your headline is boring

Headlines are the most important element. It’s the first thing people see. You need to hook them instantly or risk losing them permanently.

There are a variety of headline types you can choose from – news, opinion, how-to, question, listicle, etc. – but your headline must accomplish several things.

Let’s use Tereza Litsa’s excellent post on ClickZ, 15 writing tips to rank higher on social and search results as our example.

  • Set expectations for the reader. When I click on this story, I expect that I’m going to discover a list of 15 tips about writing. Sure enough, there are 15 subheadlines that deliver on my expectation.
  • Convey a reader benefit. The benefit here is ranking higher on social and search results. Who doesn’t want that?
  • Include a keyword. In this case, “writing tips” jumped out at me, but perhaps the keyword is something more like “ranking higher in search results”. It might have been more helpful to target a phrase like “content writing tips” or use “SEO” or “Google” rather than the term “search results”. (Nitpicky, I know, but it could be the difference between a good amount of traffic and a great amount of traffic – think about how a user will find your article via organic search).

There is one missing element from this example, however: an emotional hook. Words that convey happiness, awe, urgency, curiosity, fear, or anger can be incredibly powerful and get more people to click on your headline.

A great headline can be positive or negative sentiment, but above all is must be one readers find impossible to ignore.

Tip: If you have trouble writing interesting headlines, run it through one of my favorite tools, CoSchedule Headline Analyzer. CoSchedule analyzes for word usage, length, emotional impact, keywords, and sentiment.

The headline tool ranks Litsa’s headline at 65, which means there’s room for improvement (I always shoot to have headlines that score a 70 at minimum – such as my headline for this post, which scored a 75).

2) Your content is vanilla

Content that dares wins. Yes, you want to make sure your content is educational, entertaining, inspiring, or informative – but there’s no excuse for being boring and just sticking to facts or having the dull, robotic tone of a poorly written textbook.

Have an opinion. Throw in some humor. Show your own personality.

Give your content a fun theme. Do something that separates you from your competitors and helps you stand out in your industry.

Just look at Larry Kim, who is as much known for his obsession with unicorns as he is for his obsession with PPC marketing. The topic of search can be a bit boring at times because it’s often approached in a technical way – yet he finds a way to make his content stand out.

3) You make your content too hard to share

I’m still amazed when I come across publications and blogs that either don’t have social media buttons, or make them hard to find. Don’t make it hard for people to share your stuff!

If you make people click on a “Share” link or button to access the ability to share your story via Twitter or Facebook, that’s an added step that increases the odds people won’t share it. Reduce friction for your users! Put the share buttons right on your website.

Just look at SEW. This publication makes it super easy to share a post, with buttons right below the headline, and even within the article:

sew-share-buttons

sew-share-buttons-in-article

If you post long content, it might be worth having share buttons at the bottom of your post as well – or you could anchor your share buttons on the left side so people can share at any point they want.

4) You failed to properly promote your content

Don’t just promote your article once. Promote your article multiple times on all relevant platforms.

For example, one tweet on Twitter is not enough. Have you tried pushing out a new tweet for the same piece of content (perhaps with different copy) every three hours to reach people in different time zones?

Don’t just tweet about your content one day. Tweet about it for a week. And it never hurts to promote older content on Twitter as well – only a small percentage of your followers see all of your tweets.

If your posts aren’t getting enough organic visibility on Facebook – and it’s pretty like you aren’t – consider boosting the post. Facebook has lots of great ad targeting options.

Also, make sure your content team and company are regularly promoting your content with their personal networks. Suggest they set up a tool like TwitterFeed to automate the process and share articles automatically anytime they publish.

If you’ve got a really good piece of content, don’t be afraid to send an email to your industry friends or influencers – perhaps even with some pre-written text that they can simply cut, paste, and schedule. A simple, “Hey I just posted this really cool thing, check it out” could help your content get some great traction.

5) Nobody knows your brand

great-content-horatio-caine-meme

The old idea if you create great content it will be found has been thoroughly debunked. You won’t become the next Mashable or BuzzFeed just by writing about social media or pumping out listicles about things I won’t believe.

Established brands with existing audiences have a clear advantage – they have become a habit. It’s like trying to convince a Google search user to switch to Bing or an Apple user to switch to, well, anything else.

If you’re a new brand, you’re at a big disadvantage. In addition to creating great content consistently, you must also grow your audience. It can be done, but it will take time and will greatly depend on how much you’re willing to invest. It may take years to escape obscurity and start really growing your following.

Consider:

  • Using display ads and remarketing.
  • Running social media ads.
  • Attending and networking at conferences or meetups.
  • Speaking at industry conferences or events.
  • Growing your personal network – online and offline.
  • Teaming up with other brands.
  • Writing content for large and influential websites, blogs, or publications.
  • Building relationships with the media.

6) Your content is ugly

Many web pages are simply ugly. Just long blocks of text. Ick.

the-ugly-is-strong

Break up your text. Make it look pretty.

Use short sentences. Try to limit your paragraphs to 2-3 sentences.

Use visuals.

Use formatting smartly to make your text for scannable and less overwhelming to readers:

  • Subheadlines
  • Unordered or numbered lists.
  • Bolding and italics.

7) Your content is too promotional

Content that is designed simply to promote your brand won’t perform well. People will see through it and be turned off by it.

Create content that helps your audience. Create content that answers questions or provides helpful information.

Content isn’t about you. It’s about them (your audience).

8) Your content fails to spark an emotional response

A great emotional response goes beyond just the headline. Your content must also make readers feel something, whether it’s happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, or disgust.

According to a Fractl study, one of the top reasons people share a piece of content is to make their friends feel something. This is even more true for women.

Facts are far more impactful when you can put a human face on it. Tell great stories that evoke emotions.

9) Poor grammar and spelling

Nothing is worse than clicking on an article and seeing a typo in the first sentence. A small error can turn a great piece of content into worthless content.

When I was editor of Search Engine Watch and a typo slipped through, we heard about it! You’d see comments like, “I was going to read this article, but I stopped after I read the typo in the second paragraph. I expect more from Search Engine Watch!”

Poor grammar and spelling wrecks the reading experience. This is why it’s so important to make sure you have a great editor and an editorial team that is laser-focused and dedicated to writing well.

Maintain high editorial standards. Or else you risk looking unprofessional, ruining your reputation, and losing readers.

10) You don’t have a strategy

Content may be king. But content without strategy is the equivalent of the town drunk.

Make sure you know who your target reader is and what you want them to do after they read your content. Remember, you may have several different targets within your existing audience.

For example, Bas van den Beld looks at audiences based on actions they are likely to take. Those are:

  • Seekers: People who are searching for information. These are “top of funnel” people who may not yet know about you or your brand.
  • Joiners: This is your community and your loyal audience. People who know you and like the content you consistently produce, so they’ve decided to follow you on social media or sign up for your email newsletters.
  • Sharers: These are people who help spread your content through their personal networks.
  • Buyers: These are the people who have bought from you or are ready to buy from you.

There may be some overlap in these, or there may be none. People might read your content and never sign-up for buy from you. Or you may have people who discover you, subscribe to your newsletter, follow you on Facebook or Twitter, share your content with their personal networks, and eventually purchase your product.

Have a purpose for every piece of content you create. Your content strategy should help you achieve your larger marketing and business goals. So make a plan, measure it, and learn and adjust based on your successes and failures.

Danny Goodwin is a content strategist at L&T Co., 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.

Use of virtual reality reaches tipping point

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The use of virtual reality headsets is reaching a tipping point with increased opportunities for brands to exploit their growing popularity, according to new research published by ClickZ and Toluna.

A poll of consumers in the United States has found that more than a third (37%) have now used either their own or someone else’s VR headset, almost double the equivalent figure of 19% in the UK.

The survey of 1,000 US and 1,000 UK consumers was carried out by ClickZ Intelligence using Toluna software, the world’s leading provider of real-time digital consumer insights.

Of those US consumers who have used a VR headset, the most common drivers of usage were for gaming (55%), watching a film (42%), and experiencing adrenaline sport or a holiday destination (both 31%). Gaming and watching films were also the most common VR activities for UK consumers, cited by 44% and 32% of respondents respectively.

As the chart below shows, a significant proportion of US consumers had also used VR headsets for visiting a car show room or test-driving a car (27%), visualizing a home or property (also 27%) or visiting a college campus (25%).

If the opportunity presented itself in the future, more than half of US consumers said they were ‘very’ or ‘quite’ likely to use VR to visualize a home or visit a property (61%), watch a film (60%) or experience a holiday destination (55%).

Cybersex

Just over a fifth of US consumers surveyed said they had used VR headsets for cybersex (22%), more than twice the proportion as in the UK (10%).

For those who haven’t experienced VR usage, the main reason cited by both US and UK consumers was that they hadn’t come across it, cited by 34% and 36% of respondents respectively. Concerns about ill effects remain an issue for the VR industry, with 10% citing the worry of ‘feeling dizzy’ as a reason for not embracing this technology.

The research suggests that there is an excellent opportunity for brands to harness virtual reality technology to engage with consumers. Pioneers in this area include tequila brand Patrón which used a drone to film a virtual tour of its tequila distillery from the perspective of a bee.

Marriott has also used the technology to help soon-to-be-married couples to experience virtual honeymoons in destinations such as Hawaii.

The same ClickZ Intelligence / Toluna survey, carried out in August five weeks after the launch of Pokémon Go, also covered the uptake of augmented reality apps.

Mark Simon, Managing Director, North America, and Managing Director, Toluna Digital, said:

Consumer sentiment and technology usage continues to converge. Applications such as Virtual Reality offer brands a truly unique and immersive way to garner strong customer interest and engagement for their offerings and services.

Surveying how and why buyers use technology to ‘try out’ the latest fashions, ‘experience’ the interior of a new car or ‘explore’ vacation destinations can help marketers be more responsive to their most tech savvy purchasers.”

Six social media advertising ideas to make you look like a big deal

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Perception is everything. In the business world, people are naturally attracted to the biggest names, whether you call them influencers, experts, or [insert industry here] rock stars.

But what if you aren’t a big name yet? What if you’re just starting out and looking to make a name for yourself? How can you get on the radar of people you want to do business with in the future?

Social media advertising makes it super easy to appear superbad. You can bias the way people think about you and make yourself (or your company) appear bigger than you are.

Here are six crazy ideas that will help you look like a really big deal using social media ads.

1. Target ads at specific company employees

Is there a company you want to partner with? Before you even get to that first meeting, you want to make sure some important people who work there have heard of you.

How do you accomplish this? Start bombarding employees who work at that company with Facebook Ads.

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Because Facebook Ads have super specific targeting, all you have to do is target people who work at the company with certain job titles. You don’t want to target every employee at a company, especially really large ones. You just need to make sure the right people see your ads (e.g., people with “marketing” job titles).

The goal of these Facebook ads is simply to build brand awareness for you and/or your company. You’ll want to start this process about 90 days ahead of time.

You’ll know if you’ve achieved your goal when you finally talk to them and you hear the magical words: “I’ve heard of you guys.”

2. Promote your guest posts

One way to gain some exposure with a new audience is to do a guest post for a large, established industry publication. When you finally get this opportunity, you need to make the most of it.

Spend no more than $50 for a promoted post on Facebook and a promoted tweet on Twitter. Send some targeted traffic to your inaugural guest post.

Most publishers live and die by pageviews. Unless they’re crazy, the editors will try to lock you up and make you a regular contributor in the hopes you’ll keep sending them thousands of pageviews every month.

3. Do an engagement campaign

Want to really make someone take notice of you on social media and appear more influential than you are? Tag someone in a Facebook post or tweet and then pay to promote it.

For example, let’s say you’re trying to get the attention of an editor at a publication where you want to become a contributor. You could tweet: “Great post by [insert Twitter handle here]” also making sure to include the headline and link to the story.

That might catch their attention when they get the notification from Twitter – for a couple seconds. But once you start promoting it, you’ll REALLY grab that person’s attention as it starts getting retweeted and liked hundreds or maybe even thousands of times.

“Wow, this guy is kind of a big deal,” they’ll think. They’ll want to work with you.

4. Spike your Medium posts

Are you publishing on Medium yet? You should be. It’s a great way to grow your audience and expose your best content to more people.

To get really big on Medium, you need recommendations. If you can get 200 people to click on the Medium heart on your post within 24 hours, it’s extremely likely that your story will be one of the top posts for the day and featured prominently, both on Medium and in the Medium Daily Digest they send out to users via email.

unicorn-medium-publishing

How do you get that many hearts in 24 hours? By spending no more than $50 on social media ads.

Facebook and Twitter ads that are targeted to people who have a Medium account will help send some great traffic to your posts. Hopefully this will be enough of a catalyst to turn your post into a unicorn that gets lots of hearts and reads.

5. Get on the Front Page of Reddit

Of all the ideas in this post, getting on the front page of Reddit is the most difficult. But when you do manage to get there, you’ll get tons of traffic.

Basically, if you do nothing proactive, the odds that a redditor will discover and submit your post are about 1 in a-very-large-number-with-a-lot-of-zeroes-on-the-end. Also it’s not easy to identify redditors on other social media sites because they have random aliases.

What you can do is try to get on the radar of Reddit power users. Results aren’t guaranteed, but here’s how you do it.

Let’s say you work for a company that sells home and gardening products. You’ll want to create social media ads that target people who are interested in the home and gardening category and Reddit.

Chances are good that someone who is authoritative on Reddit will follow Reddit on other social platforms. They’re always looking around for interesting things to submit.

Although it may seem like you’re still sort of blindly hoping a high-profile redditor will submit your post, this technique has actually been surprisingly successful. Basically this will narrow your odds from 1 in a gazillion to something more like 1 in 10.

Before trying this out, my posts had never made it to the front page of Reddit. Since using this tactic, I’ve managed to successfully get to the front page about 10% of the time.

6. Become a trending story on LinkedIn Pulse

The biggest factors in the LinkedIn Pulse algorithm are traffic and engagement. Pulse will highlight posts have gotten the most views, likes, shares, and comments in the past few minutes.

There are two things you can do to help your LinkedIn posts start trending.

Become associated with a channel

LinkedIn Pulse has more than 100 channels for topics including entrepreneurship, leadership and management, productivity, and marketing and advertising. No matter what you write about, you’ll find a channel that’s right for you.

If you want to help your LinkedIn article become a unicorn, more people need to see it and engage with it. Your personal network is limited, but some of these channels have millions or hundreds of thousands of followers.

So in addition to doing some basic optimization as you write (using the right keywords to help Pulse as it analyzes and categorizes your article), you’ll want to tweet to @LinkedinPulse and ask them to feature your post in a specific channel.

Use social media ads

Being featured on a Pulse channel isn’t enough to start trending. You also need a catalyst to drive lots of traffic and engagement to your post.

This is where Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn promoted posts come in. You can use these ads to quickly drive lots of traffic to your LinkedIn article.

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Again, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on these ads. You can even target your ads so they only show in countries you normally don’t care about to make it even cheaper – all LinkedIn cares about is traffic, not where that traffic is coming from.

You just need to spend a few bucks until the ads provide enough of a surge to push your post to the top. Once your post starts trending, it will be self-sustaining as people visit the channel and read the day’s top stories. Yours!

TL;DR

If you’re lacking in influence or name recognition and want to appear bigger than you currently are, try out these ad ideas. For a small investment, social media ads will help you get noticed and viewed as a serious force in your industry so you can grow your audience, influence, and business.

This article was originally published on the WordStream blog and is reprinted with permission: Social Media Ad Ideas.

Amazon steps into the ring with Spotify and Apple Music, but how much of a battle will they have?

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The big story in streaming this past week is the anticipated arrival of Amazon’s new on-demand music service.

Rumours have been floating around for a while now but sites such as The Verge are guessing that the online retailer could jump into the ring with Spotify and Apple Music etc. over the next few weeks; with a service for customers already using the Echo device.

It is expected they will launch an additional $10-per-month ‘open to all’ cross-device service in early 2017.

Amazon certainly have a weighty legacy to leverage from, as well as a wealth of recorded media they already offer through their Prime service which they can now bring to the table. But I thought it would be interesting to look at the streaming market as it stands to see just how much of a fight they are going to have on their hands.

Sizing up the competition

Recent data from GlobalWebIndex finds that 2 in 3 internet users across the US and UK say they are using music streaming services each month. Spotify and Apple Music are dominant, with 20% of internet users using the former and around 10% using the latter.

Spotify’s proliferation among younger internet users is significant. It better reflects the lay of the land more generally for the overall market, with 77% of millennials globally using such services according to the same research (GlobalWebIndex’s Entertainment Summary for Q3 2016). Young people are certainly the keenest music streamers.

What Amazon can bring to the fight

The initial Amazon streaming service aimed at Echo users certainly looks to add value to the brand’s latest audio device.

The option for users to be able to search a bigger catalogue of music than is currently available to Prime subscribers will be a big asset for the device alongside it’s voice-activated functionality, its ability to search the web and its quick connection to make orders from the Amazon website.

So we can see Amazon may already be aiming for a different demographic than Spotify, at least initially. Of course, the brand also has in excess of 300 registered users they can quickly target to try out the service – a factor which is especially important with their proposed cross-device service tipped to be launched by early 2017.

As an indication of the hill they need to climb, however, Spotify surpassed 100m users this year and there will no doubt be many Amazon-using music fans already wedded to one of many streaming services available currently.

Distractions and disruptions that might be thrown in the ring

Amazon will certainly be eyeing up Spotify and Apple Music as key competitors, but US internet radio giant Pandora also looks set to jump into the streaming market with a $10 a month service coming off the back of its acquisition of several assets from Rdio late last year.

There could be further significant changes to the landscape too. The Financial Times reported last month that Spotify was in talks with Soundcloud in a move which could see the Swedish company acquire the web platform which is much beloved among independent bands and producers.

If the deal between Spotify and Soundcloud comes off, we can expect a massive jump in the size of the Spotify library (which already boasts more than 30m tracks) and an interesting development in the increasingly democratised landscape of independent music publishing.

Outcomes?

It’s an interesting time for music consumers. We can see that Amazon is seeking to give users a number of options for purchasing and listening to new music and their Echo device will be the place in which these are consolidated – at least, for users who want a home-based system.

By next year, we can expect that Amazon’s more universal streaming service will be aiming to entice users who may not want the Echo device, but who know the brand and are keen to try streaming out.

It’s not too far-fetched to guess that certain demographics may well be more trusting of the Amazon name than they are of Spotify. And we can expect the brand to tap into its vast (and diverse) existing membership to promote its new services.

Spotify and Apple Music will not be easy to compete with, however. Both services are still seeing significant membership growth and we can expect additions to their respective assets in 2017 which will likely prove positive for the platforms and for the consumers who use them.

Guide to Black Hat SEO: which practices will earn you a manual penalty?

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A couple of weeks ago we published an article covering 12 high profile websites that have been hit with a Google penalty.

Not all of these companies were in anyway directly to blame. For many it was a lack of education around SEO best practice. Or in some cases an errant SEO consultant earned them the punishment.

In order to elucidate further on the behaviour that will lead to a penalty, let’s take a look at the ‘black hat SEO’ practices.

What is Black Hat SEO?

Any on-page or off-page practice that intends to falsely manipulate a website’s search position. There are many ways a website can do this, all of which are bad for your site, bad for search engines and ultimately bad for the user.

Don’t do any of the following…

Automatically generated content

Anything that looks like it was written by a piece of software is bad for the reader, as the language will be unnatural, nonsensical and stuffed full of keywords.

Even before a penalty is issued, chances are visitors will have already sussed you out and your bounce rate is poor.

Cloaking and irrelevant redirects

Cloaking occurs when different content is served on a website than what a visitor expected to see when they clicked through from search.

You can should also be careful when using 301 redirects that you’re sending visitors to a page with similar content.

Doorway pages

These are webpages used for spamming a search engine by creating multiple pages for specific high-value phrases but end up just sending visitors to the same destination.

Hidden text and links

Hiding text or links can manipulate search rankings, and lead to a ban. There are a number of different ways to hide text on a webpage… you can simply use white text on a white background, use CSS to position text off screen or behind an image, set font size to zero, or hide a link in single character.Like a full stop at the end of a paragraph.

Don’t go looking for it, it’s not there. It was tempting though.

Keyword stuffing

You should use keywords appropriately and in the proper context of the article. Although the value of keywords is diminishing over the years, you should still make sure the title tag, first paragraph and meta description all include your specific keyword. However if your keyword density is too high, this can be a red flag.

Link schemes

Any kind of scheme where links are bought and sold is frowned upon, however money doesn’t necessarily have to change hands. It can be any kind of trade.

Be aware of anyone asking to swap links, particularly if both sites operate in completely different niches. Also stay away from any automated software that creates links to your site.

If you have guest bloggers on your site, it’s good idea to automatically Nofollow any links in their blog signature, as this can be seen as a ‘link trade’.

All sponsored content should also have Nofollow enabled.

Bloggers have also been warned to Nofollow any links to any websites who exchanged a product or service for a review.

Scraping

If you take articles from a site and republish them without permission you will cause all manner of duplicate content issues, and bring down the wrath of Google.

Unnatural link promotion

Much like the link schemes above, this is any kind of trade where one site promises to include links to another in exchange for content or some other promotion. This is particularly noticeable if the links appear to be irrelevant to the content.

User Generated Content (UGC) spam

Comment sections in your website can be a haven for webspammers, so make sure you automatically Nofollow all links that may appear. You should also regularly clean up your comment sections for anything that doesn’t genuinely contribute to the conversation.

Google’s biggest ever product announcement: what are the implications for search?

Google has been prepping a slew of new products for the limelight and after slowly and (probably) intentionally leaking those over time, it made the official announcement on October 4th.

New products include a pair of Pixel smartphones, Google Home smart speaker, Daydream VR set, Google Wi-Fi router, and a higher-definition Chromecast streaming dongle.

Something to note right off the bat is that the products themselves don’t offer new functionality for the consumer. In fact, they overtly mirror the utility offered by comparable products in the market, most notably Apple’s gold standard iPhone and Amazon’s wildly popular Echo platform.

So what’s the motivation?

Extend the search experience to new channels

Google’s first (literally) cardboard VR experience was available for just $15. Now Google is upping the ante with a still very affordable $79 Daydream View headset custom tailored to Pixel devices.

Turnkey advertising solutions won’t exist here out of the gate, so brand opportunities will revolve around content.

Imagine a relatively seamless transition from a Google search for say, “St. Regis Princeville,” to a branded 360-degree VR experience on YouTube. It is exciting to dream up what the consideration phase will look like in another five years as brands begin to sponsor content creation in new, widely adopted formats.

Voice search is becoming less of a fad and more of a simple reality. 20% of searches are already driven by voice commands. Google has already begun developing AdWords reporting to share voice search performance data with advertisers.

However, Google Home isn’t only about monetizing more search queries, but building new pathways to capture search intent.

Google Home will answer basic questions about the weather, the presidential debate schedule, or the number of quarts in a gallon, but we should consider more unique extensions – such as integrations with Google Express, Google Maps, or Uber to reduce friction on local purchase intent.

Diversification away from search ads

We are nowhere near peak-Google. CPCs are remarkably flat while ad inventory continues to increase. Google can still offer advertisers more paid clicks for low or no marginal cost, but continues to grow its own revenue aggressively.

Everyone is still invited to the paid search party; more paid clicks are coming from new ad formats and more ad slots across Google properties.

That said, opportunities to drive new search ad revenue are not infinite. It is undeniable that Google is trying hard to find a niche outside of search. Right now, none of its ‘other bets’ can rival its ad sales. In fact, they are really good at bleeding money and creating shareholder anxiety.

Google will always have a strong ad sales organization, but long term growth depends on non-advertising revenue streams. Smart devices powering smarter homes isn’t a moonshot like self-driving cars, but it’s far more aligned to Google’s core value proposition of offering solutions to consumers’ rapidly evolving needs.

Bridging mobile search to consumer electronics

Everyone knows that Google wants to win at mobile. Mobile search accounts for a strong majority of Google search traffic and Google’s own AdWords platform was an early adopter of a mobile-first mentality.

Google must be looking over its shoulder at Facebook’s astonishing 84% mobile share of ad revenue and wondering how to become a larger piece of the user’s mindshare.

Google’s suite of free apps and services like Gmail, Google Drive, Chrome, Docs, and YouTube has long been subsidized by advertising revenue and made available to consumers in a device-agnostic way. Google’s Nexus line was moderately priced to increase accessibility.

The question is: Can moving away from Nexus to offer a premium device with competitive tech specs make a compelling enough case for consumers to buy Pixels?

Based on what we know now, the Google brand itself is the mechanism being asked to mobilize an audience large enough to carry a new standalone consumer electronics offering to heights it hasn’t been able to achieve with Nexus.

Takeaways

As marketers, it’s our job to understand macro trends and potential impact on advertising channels that may represent opportunities for our clients. After reflecting on Google’s largest product announcement ever, it is clear that Google is going all-in on the smart home.

Consumers are more likely than ever to start the purchase journey on Amazon versus a search engine. Both Apple and Amazon are using Bing search results for voice searches coming through their devices. Google Home is a strong signal that Google doesn’t think it can’t win in voice search with Android powered devices alone.

Amidst significant challenges from competitors, Google’s success in the smart home will depend on its ability to build new and innovative connections for the consumer. The quality of these executions have the potential to differentiate Google Home from other smart speakers in a material way.

Tom Murphy is Associate Director of Performance Media at DigitasLBi.