Thought leadership as a strategy for innovation and growth

blockbuster

The fast pace of business in the digital age means that businesses (and business models) are shifting more rapidly than ever.

New technologies and innovations can quickly sweep away well established and seeking solid business models within just a few years. There are plenty of such examples from the digital age, Blockbusters and Kodak to name just two.

In the latter case, Kodak failed to adapt to the growth of digital photography and the concurrent decline of photographic film, and a company which had traded for more than 100 years was forced to file for bankruptcy.

Blockbuster, which had itself been a disruptive company which saw the growth in home video and build a very successful business around this from the 1980s, failed to see the decline of video and DVD and the potential for online video.

It failed to adapt to the change and has fallen by the wayside while players like Netflix (which it famously passed up the chance to buy) dominate the same space today.

To underline the pace of disruption in this digital age, consider this fact: just 12% of the Forbes 500 from 1955 still existed in 2015.

So how can businesses remain relevant to their customers in these circumstances? The answer is to do what Blockbuster and others failed to do, and to adapt and innovate to survive.

The impetus, and thought leadership behind this needs to come from executives. They should lead from the front, and encourage their teams to think progressively and kick start innovative thinking within the business.

This isn’t thought leadership as it’s often understood: a kind of self-promotion practised in guest articles and conferences, but rather actually inspiring people within a business with innovative ideas and practical steps to turn these ideas into reality.

According to Editor Eye CEO Nick Gregg:

Thought leadership is a powerful way to inspire people both inside and outside of your company. Telling a credible story around a macro shift in your industry using real-life disruptive examples or insights builds authority and a consistent view across your team – driving innovative thinking and alignment on how the team needs to adapt to meet future client needs.

The challenge for executives, the Heads of Digital, Marketing Directors, Directors of Strategy and so on is to remain up to date with trends and developments in fast-moving industries when they already have so many demands on their time, stretched budgets and different priorities.

This has to be overcome for businesses and their executive teams though, as the ability to remain on top of events and how innovation and technological changes have the potential to affect their markets and clients is increasingly important.

The next stage is how executives can become the thought leaders within their organisations and find and disseminate key information to help them and their stay of top on events.

Seven ways to future-proof your digital strategy

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Nurcin Erdogan Loeffler, head of strategy and innovation, Vizeum China, outlines the seven ways businesses can future proof their digital strategies.

With more than two years in China and a background in strategy, Nurcin Erdogan Loeffler shared her thoughts on future proofing a business strategy with the audience at ClickZ Live Shanghai.

While the future for many of us is seen as something unpredictable and scary, the definition on Wikipedia is quite simple: “The Future” is the time after the present.

But what does that actually mean?

“When we look at the reality, especially in our industry, the future is now. We are already used to seeing science fiction as science fact,” says Erdogan Loeffler.

To understand the three stages of time, Erdogan Loeffler quoted from Steve Case’s book: The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future.

The first wave: The first wave is the past. This was a period of infrastructure building to bring the technology to the people. Think Microsoft and Cisco.

The second wave: The second wave is the present. This is about the software. “It’s about all those smart kids in their parents garages with a good idea that changed the world. It was about being agile, disruptive and empowering,” says Erdogan Loeffler.

The third wave: The third wave is the future which is already here. This will not be disruptive but constructive, says Erdogan Loeffler. “It will be different in terms of changing the world in terms of partnering up and growing further with existing partners.”

The futurist Gerd Leonhard, sums up how “change” itself will be disrupted in the future in this short video.

Digital transformation: are you ready for exponential change? Futurist Gerd Leonhard, TFAStudios

Here are Erdogan Loeffler’s seven tips for future proofing your business strategy.

1. Don’t have a digital strategy

It is very important at this moment in time where we are speaking about where we are in the future, that having a digital strategy doesn’t make sense, says Erdogan Loeffler.

Having a business strategy that is built for the digital world on the other hand, is the future.

At the World Economic Forum in 2015, Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google (now Alphabet), caused a stir when he said the Internet would disappear.

“What he really meant is the Internet will become like air. The Internet will become everywhere. Today, when we talk about digital, we see it as medium, as a part of our marketing mix. But tomorrow, CEOs will become the head of digital… or vice versa,” says Erdogan Loeffler.

Once we start to accept that digital will be everywhere we will start to understand why it is not relevant to have a digital strategy.

“Having a digital strategy will be as absurd as having an electricity-enabled fridge. The Internet of things is almost over. The Internet of everywhere will become a reality very soon,” she adds.

2. People and their needs FIRST

Another of Erdogan Loeffler’s favorite writers is James Harris and his book, Think More Analogue, Be More Digital. In it, Harris underlines five global human needs that drive all digital behavior.

These are:

  • Distraction
  • Learning
  • Recognition
  • Relationships
  • Progression

To confirm whether China fits into this global stereotype, Vizeum looked at annual Chinese consumer research involving the surveying of 70,000 people across the country. And the China results are not so dissimilar to global digital behavior.

The top three reasons for spending time online for Chinese consumers are:

  • They want to be kept updated with trends (64.4%)
  • It’s a good source of learning (61%)
  • It puts me in a good mood (60%)

*Source: Vizeum / CCS 2015

The big difference however is that the sophisticated Chinese consumer has one key motivation – to stand out.

  • Almost 50% of Chinese adults what to stand out as an individual.
  • Almost 50% like to buy products that stand out as being different.
  • 80% of millennials believe that to be successful it is worth expressing my true opinion in front of others.

“What is important for future proofing your business strategy, is that behind every device is a human. They don’t really remember what you are saying or what you are doing. They only remember how you make them feel. So emotional connections will always mean a better return on investment,” says Erdogan Loeffler.

3. Turn data into actionable insights

Data is like a jungle – it’s dangerous and it’s so big you can get lost in it, says Erdogan Loeffler.

“And unless you know your route and which animal you want to hunt, you have to be very careful or data can hunt you.”

Data is only meaningful when it can really be used and leveraged as an actionable human insight, she says.

Here’s a case study of how Vizeum worked with Marina Bay Sands to close the loop within the digital network.

Marina Bay Sands / Vizeum APAC

4. Content is the king

In 1996, Bill Gates first used the slogan, “Content is King” and it’s a strategy still being used today – 20 years on.

Erdogan Loeffler says the global rule for creating content that works is content that:

  • Lets you love
  • Makes you cry
  • Stimulates some desire

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*Source: Vizeum

Here’s how SK-II’s emotional “left over women” campaign brought many viewers in China to tears.

Good content, inspired by good insight always works, she says.

5. Context is the queen

Every king needs a queen.

“It’s not enough to have great content – it needs to deliver the right message to the right person, in the right medium at the right place and the right time – and this is what we call context marketing,” says Erdogan Loeffler.

With the average attention span of a person now at about three seconds, advertisers have a small window to ‘catch’ the consumer. Therefore, it’s very important to have the right content mixed and married with the right context, she says.

Here’s how Vizeum worked with BBC Earth to launch in Asia, using behavioral and contextual data.

BBC Earth / Vizeum APAC

6. Watch your body language

A large part of human interaction is non-verbal – 60%. And it’s no different for brand marketing, says Erdogan Loeffler.

“As brands we are saying we are amazing but behind that are you lying? Through social media the consumer can really understand a brand’s body language.”

She cites KLM’s brilliant use of ‘body language’ through its digital customer service channels.

“KLM is openly talking. It creates a profile beyond the brand, being helpful, being reactive. Ask them a question and within one hour they will reply.”

(Read a case study on KLM’s use of WeChat for customer service in China here.)

7. Close the loop (or somebody else will close it for you)

In China, ecommerce, social commerce, m-commerce and brand commerce are well established.

Path to purchase used to be quite simple whereas now it’s quite complicated, says Erdogan Loeffler. Gone are the days of a direct route, today’s marketer never knows when the transaction will happen so it’s important that every interaction has the potential to close the loop.

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Concluding her presentation, Erdogan Loeffler left the audience with one final piece of advice.

“I believe all of theses points are very important but one key takeaway is to remember that people are not cookies or devices or audiences or consumers. People are people.”

Reliable search volume data: a glimmer of hope

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While poking around in the Google AdWords keyword research tool recently, I noticed something that made me do a double take.

I refreshed my browser and re-inputted the same keywords as before. Same result.

Something had changed, and I think it’s for the better.

First, some background

For the past couple months, I’ve struggled to see the value of Google’s update to the Keyword Planner which now shows aggregated search volume for keywords and close search variants. There have been a number of write-ups about this if you’re curious about how searchies have reacted to this change.

Spoiler alert: not super well.

The logic behind the update is sound: someone searching for “doghouse” is looking for the same thing as someone searching for “dog house.” As such, these terms should be considered a single concept and the reported search volume should reflect this.

However, the logic is only as good as the data that obeys it. While Google seems to understand that “doghouse” and “dog house” are the same thing, other terms that should follow this logic just don’t.

For example, Google still shows drastically different volume numbers for “best multivitamin for women” and “best multi vitamin for women.”

So, what’s the big change?

While these glitches (or, shall we say, opportunities for improvement) are still plentiful, I noticed a new change: when you search for terms that Google now qualifies as close variants, only one term will show up in the data table:

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Google had previously shown both terms with the same volume. In this instance, the tool used to show:

  • masters of business administration – 550,000 avg. monthly searches
  • mba – 550,000 avg. monthly searches

This was a real kick in the shins for those of us who exported AdWords data into Excel for further keyword analysis. It required manually removing keywords that were – or at least appeared to be – duplicates in order to accurately understand the popularity of a search term.

Otherwise your analysis would assume that a concept like “mba” was twice as popular in search as it truly is.

Minor, but Momentous

While this update hasn’t yet been applied to the majority of close search variants like the multivitamin example above, it demonstrates a step in the right direction.

We now have greater visibility (read: proof?) into what words are considered variants of each other.

As Google continues to refine keyword data, we should see less of this:

keyword-data

…especially when Google explicitly tells us that it considers these two queries synonymous.

synonym search

With better data, we’ll eventually be able to identify keyword variants that seem similar but show unique volume numbers. This may hint at similar terms that actually have different intents and should be addressed with unique content.

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Although these two terms may seem the same, the user’s mindset could be vastly different when conducting these searches.

A search for “international shipping” might skew towards listings for companies that provide this service (Consideration phase), while a search for “shipping internationally” might emphasize more informational resources (Interest phase) – what instructions and tips would be helpful for a user to know about shipping something internationally?

Do better, Google

While still inconsistent and admittedly a bit unsettling, the AdWords data shakeup is the latest overhaul illustrating how search is evolving from a database of words to a system of concepts.

In addition to good, old-fashioned data cleanup, this seems like an ideal time for some internal data sharing between product teams at Google.

After all, one of the inputs needed to clean up AdWords data – synonyms and typos – is the specialty of another team right down the proverbial hallway. Perhaps a conversation over a plate of peanutbutter – I mean peanut butter – cookies is a good place to start.

Laurel Marcus is Sr. Manager of SEO & Digital Experience at Tank Design. You can follow Laurel on Twitter.

Five Google Shopping tips to help nail your Q4 ROI

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We all know Q4 is the biggest time of the year when it comes to ecommerce.

Google Shopping tends to be a strong revenue driver for businesses investing in digital marketing. So how do you make sure you are being as efficient and effective as possible on Google shopping?

Below are some key tips to make sure you are capitalizing on the holiday opportunity:

1) Optimize the product titles in your feed

Titles in the feed make the biggest difference in capturing more traffic. When optimizing your feed, remember that the titles play a significantly larger role in capturing traffic than descriptions.

You still want to have a proper description, but you absolutely must invest the right amount of time in optimizing titles.

Use your top-performing and top-volume search queries in your titles, and remember to be as descriptive about the actual product to ensure relevance to the query. As with most ad elements, we recommend that you test different titles to see what impact each variation may make.

2) Use smart segmentation

If you have significant volume coming in on brand terms, segment out your campaigns by brand and non-brand to ensure you are maximizing impression share on your branded terms while also ensuring you aren’t overpaying for them.

You can find a more detailed description of this here.

3) Group similar products to get usable data

Identifying negative keywords to add to your shopping campaigns can often be a challenge due to lack of significant data.

One trick you can use is determine key tokens shared across a number of products – roll up the data to get more volume and then determine if they are poor performers.

For example, let’s say you are selling hats and you are finding queries that don’t perform such as “Nordstrom hats”, “black hats Nordstrom”, “Nordstrom caps”, etc. Although each query may not have a lot of volume, if you roll up Nordstrom queries it may show that negging out Nordstrom from your list would be the right thing to do.

4) Use Merchant Promotions

When you build out ad campaigns for your holiday sales, you absolutely must take advantage of Google’s Merchant Promotions. This is beneficial because it makes your product stand out by showing a special offer – and it speaks directly to consumers looking for a deal.

Below is an example of a merchant promotion. Overall, this helps with increasing CTRs and driving traffic to your site.

merchant-promotions

5) Go granular with ad groups

Lastly, if you have a smaller number of products (less than 100), you may want to consider creating single-product ad groups.

When you have ad groups with multiple products, you won’t be able to tell what queries match to what exact products within the ad groups. Often, certain terms will perform well for certain products and horribly for others.

By separating the terms into single-product ad groups, you can truly understand the performance of terms to products and add negatives and adjust bidding accordingly.

Google Shopping has become more and more competitive over the years, so CPCs are sure to be higher this season. Make sure your fundamentals are solid so you’re doing more than holding your own, and watch the revenue roll in. Good luck!

Guide to Google ranking signals – Part 4: content freshness

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Last week we published the third instalment of our complete guide to Google ranking signals.

It concentrated on the rather nebulous term ‘quality content’ and the practical signals you can provide Google to prove the text on your webpage is worthwhile.

This week we continue diving into on-page content factors, with content freshness.

Freshness

How recently your webpage was published is a ranking signal. However different searches have different freshness needs. (Source: Google Inside search post)

Google checks content for freshness by monitoring the following types of searches…

  • Recent events or hot topics: Anything that begins trending on the web, that searchers want to find the latest information on immediately.
  • Regularly recurring events: These are events that take place on a regular basis, such as annual conferences or presidential elections. Without a specific qualifier, you probably expect to see information on the most recent event, and not one from years ago.
  • Frequent updates: These are searches for information that changes often, but isn’t a recent or regularly occurring event. These tend to be searches for frequently updated tech products or car brands.

Google will then check for spikes around search volume, whether news publishers and blogs have begun writing about the subject as well as social media mentions.

So if your content manages to ride the crest of the above, you may see a rankings boost for being first on the scene, or by regularly updating your content to remain fresh.

Moz recently looked at whether content freshness is a factor and went into further detail on all the possible ways Google determines content freshness. The following insights come from Moz’s research by Cyrus Shepard, so click on the link for more information.

1) Freshness by inception date

A web page can be given an immediate freshness score based on its publication date, which decays over time as the content becomes older.

2) Regular updates to content

Google scores ‘fresh content’ that’s updated regularly in a different way to a news article that doesn’t change.

3) Changes to a webpage’s core content matters more than other areas

Changes made in the main body of the article are far more important than other areas, such as Javascript, comments, navigation, etc.

4) How often the content changes

Content that changes more often is scored differently than content that only changes every few years.

5) New page creation

Websites or blogs that publish new webpages more frequently will earn a higher freshness score than those who only publish once in a while.

6) Rate of new link growth may signal freshness

If a webpage sees has an increase in the number of external sites linking to it, this could be seen as a sign of relevance to Google.

7) Links from sites rated ‘fresh’ will pass freshness on to you

Links from sites determined to have a high freshness score can raise your own freshness level.

8) Traffic and engagement metrics may signal freshness

Standard engagement behaviours on SERP results, such as click-throughs and time on page, can be an indicator of freshness and relevance.

9) Changes in anchor text pointing towards your site may devalue older links

If your website or webpage suddenly or gradually changes focus over time (say from a carpentry guide to a best practice SEO guide – sounds unlikely, but you never know), then anchor text pointing to you will likely change in line with the different topic.

Google may then decide that your page has changed so much that the old anchor text is no longer fresh and devalue those older links.

10) Older is often better

The newest result isn’t always the best. For older, less news-worthy topics, an in-depth, authoritative result that’s been around a long while may rank highest.

Google News

11) Of course you can ensure that Google recognises that your content is fresh, and may immediately place you on the first SERP in its News section (or Top Stories on mobile), if you have successfully submitted your site to Google News.

You can check the guidelines for Google News submission here.

Six most important search marketing news stories of the week

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

This week we have Google unleashing Penguin 4.0, AMP coming to organic mobile SERPs, Twitter making some changes for the better and the introduction of Google’s own personal messenger service, Allo.

Penguin 4.0 is finally rolled out

As I reported earlier today, Google has finally confirmed that its Penguin algorithm update is now rolling out in all languages.

The spammy-link killing update will feature the following improvements…

Penguin is now real-time

Penguin data is refreshed in real time, so any changes will be made as soon as the affected page has been recrawled and reindexed.

Previously affected webmasters would have to wait for the next update before any penalties could be cleared.

Penguin is now more granular

Penguin now devalues spam by adjusting ranking based on spam signals, rather than affecting ranking of the whole site.

This means the specific page will be penalised, rather than the entire website.

Google AMP is coming to organic search results by the end of the year – confirmed

Google’s Rudy Galfi, Google’s lead product manager for AMP, revealed this week that the global rollout of AMP in mobile organic search would be complete by the end of the year.

A screenshot of a mobile search results page for 'Finding Dory review', featuring an AMP result from The Guardian in the middle.

In further remarks posted on Search Engine Land, Galfi clarified that AMP still isn’t a ranking signal. And although Galfi wouldn’t share specific user-response data, he did state, “We’re seeing great user response.” He also said that Google has been “humbled” by the industry’s adoption of AMP.

The Coalition for Better Ads to make digital ads great again

As Al Roberts reported this week, a new organization called The Coalition for Better Ads, has been launched to “leverage consumer insights and cross-industry expertise to develop and implement new global standards for online advertising that address consumer expectations.”

This basically means that the coalition will identify new standards that can improve the digital ad experience, implement the technologies needed for these standards, and promote the standards so that they’re put into use.

Worth switching your adblocker off for? We’ll see.

Twitter makes a few changes – good ones too!

Although Twitter has threatened various unpopular changes over the last 12 months – introducing verification for non-celebrities (celebrities hate this, and by celebrities I mean, Pewdiepie), killing share counts, a 10,000 character increase – here’s one that we’ve been crying out for…

Actually, why tell you via this article, when I can show in embedded tweet form.

Very Important News everyone… You can now ramble for an entire 140 characters in tweets and still have room for this sweet Gif. What a day pic.twitter.com/QxDy1jOld5

— christopher ratcliff (@Christophe_Rock) September 20, 2016

Same goes for images too. Annoyingly links and @mentions still take up characters though.

Still, we got our sweet gifs though, huh gang?

Google launches its ‘private’ messenger service Allo

Because all the kids are leaving social in droves because they like private messenger apps and not being spied on, Google has realised it wants a piece of that action.

So say allo to Allo – another channel to be pinged on by one or two early adopters while desperately trying to keep up with your WhatsApps, Facebook Messages, texts, emails and all the notices on the office fridge to stop eating all the humous.

Yeah. Let’s escape to the mountains together. Come on, I’ll pack some sandwiches, you bring a torch.

Here’s what Allo will look like…

blog-image-screens-6

Cute, although a few sloth emojis won’t persuade Edward Snowden to use it anytime soon.

Google will continue to display Quality Score data until October 10

As reported by Matt Southern on Search Engine Journal, Google claimed it would be returning null quality scores for new and underperforming keywords in AdWords as of September 12th.

However as Matt points out, if you’ve logged in to your AdWords account lately you may have noticed you still have quality score information for new and underperforming keywords.

This is because Google has pushed the date back to October 10th, in order to “give advertisers more time to review their reports, filters, rules, and scripts that rely on Quality Scores, null Quality Scores will now roll out the week of October 10th, 2016.”

Penguin 4.0 is finally here, Google confirms

After a couple of years waiting, and various algorithm fluctuations described as ‘normal turbulence’, Google has finally confirmed today that it’s Penguin algorithm update is rolling out in all languages.

The last update in 2014 – Penguin 3.0 – may have only affected less than 1% of US/UK searches, but that ultimately translates to 12 billion queries.

Here we’ll detail all the changes you can expect from Penguin 4.0 according to Google’s blog post. But first a little refresher…

What is Penguin?

According to Adam Stetzer in his post on the delayed Penguin update, Google first launched the Penguin update in April 2012 to catch sites spamming the search results. Specifically the ones who used link schemes to manipulate search rankings.

Penguin basically hunts down inorganic links; the ones bought or placed solely for the sake of improving search rankings.

Before Penguin, bad links were simply devalued and needed to be replaced in order to recover search rankings.

But according to Chuck Price, after Penguin, bad links became ‘toxic’, requiring a link audit and removal or disavow of spammy links and a Penguin refresh was usually required before one could see any signs of recovery. This could take a while.

Thankfully this one of the things addressed in today’s update…

What to expect from Penguin 4.0

The following improvements were among webmasters’ top requests to Google:

Penguin is now real-time

As we stated earlier, the list of sites affected by Penguin was only periodically refreshed at the same time.

According to Google..

“Once a webmaster considerably improved their site and its presence on the internet, many of Google’s algorithms would take that into consideration very fast, but others, like Penguin, needed to be refreshed.”

But now, Penguin data is refreshed in real time, so any changes will be made as soon as the affected page has been recrawled and reindexed.

Google also states that it not going to comment on future refreshes.

Penguin is now more granular

Penguin now devalues spam by adjusting ranking based on spam signals, rather than affecting ranking of the whole site.

So any penalties will be delivered to a specific page rather than an entire domain, which seems much fairer in the long run.

We’ll bring you more information and follow-up stories on the update as soon as we have more insight.

How National Geographic uses visual storytelling to stand out in social media

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National Geographic is known for its impressive visual content. How did it use it though to create a highly successful social presence?

There are not many brands that can explain the power of visual storytelling as well as National Geographic, a media brand with a history of 128 years in science and photography that uses all its resources to create a compelling social presence.

Nadine Heggie, Vice President of Global Partnerships for National Geographic Partners Europe & Africa, offered an insight during Social Media Week on how the brand dominates social media with the use of storytelling and the power of the community.

National Geographic is already reaching 730 million people each month, but according to Nadine Heggie, it was social media that fuelled the growth of the business, with a social footprint of 270.9 million followers, 1.6 billion actions and an engagement that is 8x higher than any other media brand.

What led to this success? Here are the five key points that any brand can study when seeking social success.

1. Leading with the visuals

Instagram is the ideal platform for National Geographic to narrate a visual story and it reached 60 million followers by handing the account to its contributing photographers, curating images from their assignments, or even their daily lives.

This led to stunning and authentic visual content that the audience appreciated, which encouraged the brand to experiment even more.

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The next step was to drive conversation through visual storytelling, enhancing the participation to establish NatGeo’s feed as an account more users would like to follow.

In fact, National Geographic is among the most popular accounts on Instagram, being surrounded by celebrities, which means that people are still interested in unique storytelling, provided that the brand can meet their expectations.

2. Invest in storytelling and storytellers

Storytelling cannot occur without a collaboration with photographers, filmmakers, journalists, or even scientists and explorers in the case of National Geographic.

The goal is to bring the experience closer to the consumers closer and powerful images can make it easier.

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‘Wild Life’ with Bertie Gregory is another attempt of National Geographic to promote talent and narrate new and authentic stories, through a series of YouTube videos that bring the audience closer to nature.

The content is optimised for all social networks and this both provides new content, but also makes users explore places they wouldn’t imagine.

3. Where, when and how consumers want it

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Success in social media cannot happen if you don’t understand your audience. National Geographic is determined to go where the users are, and its latest discovery is Snapchat.

It partnered with Discover channel to experiment with a more playful voice and a new type of content, reaching a younger audience that is still interested in the brand’s unique storytelling.

4. Be flexible and adaptive

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Flexibility may help your brand discover new platforms, or types of content that can offer new experiences to the consumer.

Facebook live is another effective method for National Geographic to bring its audience closer to authentic storytelling, with a significantly higher engagement comparing to other types of content.

For example, a recent example was a live video from two explorers from mount Everest, where users felt closer than ever to their experience, with the real-time engagement (likes, comments, shares) being impressive.

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5. Lean into purpose

Storytelling should still have a bigger purpose, aligning with the brand’s goals, especially when it’s about raising awareness on important issues.

National Geographic frequently collaborates with ambassadors and photographers to highlight crucial issues that need to be addressed and one of the examples was the successful campaign for World Ocean Day.

The idea was to use all social networks to promote the day, using the power of social media to change the world.

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“World Ocean Day” reached 77.7 million fans with storytelling and relevant content, while Snapchat’s content was seen by 7.8k viewers, using the platform’s ephemerality for a good cause.

Why a brand should use storytelling

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You don’t have to be National Geographic to tell a good story. Any business can stand out with its own story, provided that it’s showcasing its authenticity.

Social media users appreciate branded content that is genuine and unique and storytelling can increase the chances of turning a visitor into a loyal customer.

What makes storytelling powerful is the ability to help a brand go beyond its promotional content and rather use a story as a way to describe more about its values, its goals, or its company culture.

People feel closer to a brand that can build an emotional connection with them and storytelling is a great way to achieve it.

Storytelling in branded content can:

  • bring a human element to a brand
  • build trust
  • create a relationship
  • make content interesting
  • help repurpose older content
  • provide new creative opportunities
  • help a brand stand out

It’s important to remember that there are no set of rules on how you should tell your own story through your brand. All you need is the inspiration to showcase what makes you stand out.

12 tips for content marketing from an SEO perspective

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How can you create content marketing which works for search, right from the start?

Many of us probably think of SEO as something which is done after the fact: you create your copy, then you think about how to optimise it. But at the Content Marketing Association’s Digital Breakfast last week, Kevin Gibbons from BlueGlass proposed a radically different approach.

To make your content work for SEO, Gibbons’ advice is to “start with the end in mind”. You need to be thinking about promotion from the word go, he said; so that when it comes to publishing your content, you already have a distribution and promotion strategy in mind, and have crafted your content towards that goal.

So how can you carry this out in practice? Here are twelve tips from Kevin Gibbons’ presentation that will ensure your content works for search from beginning to end.

Break down ‘silos’ when creating your team

I’m not the biggest fan of the word ‘silos’; in fact, in seven months of writing about digital marketing and search, I’ve become heartily sick of it. But essentially what it means in this context is bringing people together across different departments – SEO, content strategy, creativity, PR and social media – to work on content.

Content marketing is a team effort, and your team should combine a variety of talents; in Gibbons’ words, “Get the right people on the bus!”

He warned against doing too many different things, and trying to spread yourself too thin. Ideally, you want to put together a team of people who specialise in their different areas, rather than trying to have one or two people be good at everything.

Know your goals

Once you’ve got your awesome team assembled, it’s time to set some goals. First off, understand your brand: what is your purpose and the story you want to tell? What are your core values, and how can you communicate them?

As an example of this, Gibbons cited Apple’s 1997 ‘Think Different’ slogan and the adverts that Apple put together to communicate this message:

Second, know your audience and understand who you are targeting. As John Romero, video game entrepreneur, once said: “Market to your best customers first, your best prospects second and the rest of the world last.”

Thirdly, what’s the aim of your content marketing, and how can you measure and prove it? Success looks different depending on what you’re trying to achieve, and different metrics can be important to measuring different kinds of success.

Are you tracking conversions, traffic, social engagement, equivalent media spend? Are you looking for an improvement in customer support or sales?

Finally, Gibbons recommends creating clear content guidelines to work out what you should and shouldn’t be publishing. “Don’t be afraid to say no – being selective is good to keep focused on what’s really important.”

Image: BlueGlass

Do a content audit

Before you strike out and create new content, take stock of what you already have with an audit. Can you improve on it? What worked, and what didn’t go over so well? What has generated the most traffic, or social engagement and links?

Knowing what content you have is also hugely useful in developing a good internal linking strategy, which is key for SEO. And if customers are going to be finding your brand through this content, even just occasionally, it’s important to make sure it’s up to date and relevant!

Don’t create content for content’s sake

They say that every minute on the internet, there are 400 hours of video uploaded to YouTube, 3.3 million Facebook posts, over 400,000 Tweets, and over 1,200 WordPress blog posts published. So how can you differentiate your content amongst so much noise?

Make your content is quality, necessary and worthwhile – don’t just create content for the sake of publishing content. Google’s algorithms prioritise quality content, so publishing less and publishing well, rather than churning out generic content, will help the content that you do have rank better. In the words of copyblogger:

“SEO can’t, by itself, make a popular blog. First, you need remarkable content, and then you optimize it for search engines. Skip the remarkable part, and all the optimization in the world won’t help you.”

Create data-driven content – and make it newsworthy

When putting together your quality, well-crafted content, one thing that Gibbons recommends doing is incorporating data. Find out what data your client has, and look at how you can use that in your content. More data increases your credibility, and data can also be a great hook when pitching to journalists, especially if you can find a good news angle.

Get exclusives for your content (but make sure you’re the source)

This is a tactic that works well if you have data-driven content and/or content with a good news angle. Agreeing an exclusive with a publisher in advance can help to get their buy-in on covering it, plus it helps with additional outreach to other publishers afterwards.

The coverage helps both to amplify your brand and to boost your SEO with backlinks; just make sure that you’re credited as the source!

Create content that answers questions

Creating content which answers your audience’s questions is a sound principle on multiple levels, both in terms of content value and in terms of SEO. First of all, by researching your audience and understanding their pain points, you better understand the people who your content is targeted at.

Secondly (if done well), it allows you to create evergreen, quality content that your audience can come back to repeatedly as a valuable resource.

How-to guides and ‘tutorial’ style content are always a good bet for both audience value and SEO, as people often search with a specific question in mind.

This is particularly true for voice search, where people tend to phrase their searches in the form of a whole question – so Q&A style content is especially well-suited to ranking for voice searches.

A useful tip that Gibbons gave is to start by answering people’s questions on sites like Quora and community forums, which will give you an insight into what they want to know. Then turn your most popular answers into more in-depth content!

Understand what triggers Quick Answers, and play to it

Also known as ‘rich answers’ and ‘featured snippets’, Quick Answers are those informative boxouts at the top of Google search results which quickly supply the information you’re searching for.

Rather than being drawn from the top ranking result on the SERP, they’re drawn from the content that Google thinks best answers the query.

featured snippet

So if you gear your content towards these boxes, they can be a fantastic way to ‘leapfrog’ to the top of search results and get your branding – and content – up there at the top.

Happily, ‘how to’ style content, which we mentioned in the last point, is ideal for this, along with Q&A style content and bullet point lists.

For more on how to hack Google’s Quick Answers, read Jim Yu’s guide to the ABC of Google Quick Answers.

Make the customer the hero

Involve your audience! If you think your content is about you, says Gibbons, you’re missing the point – when people share content, they share it about themselves, not you. And by involving your audience, you have an in-built reason for people to share and talk about your content.

Another speaker at CMA’s Digital Breakfast, Scott Davies, CEO of social TV and advertising company never.no, gave some great ideas as to how this can be used to jazz up a marketing campaign.

For example, when tasked with promoting a fairly boring household item – a mop – never.no asked people to submit their own videos on Vine and Instagram of doing different things with the mop. The result was a plethora of hilarious short videos that made for a great ad.

Another piece of advice that Gibbons gave was to play on people’s egos. Your audience loves to talk about themselves and where they’re from. Play on rivalries between cities, between countries, between areas.

Buzzfeed is a pro at this kind of content, because it’s so shareable – just look at 45 Reasons The North Of England Is Better Than The South, or 31 Reasons To Avoid South London.

Remember that you’re building an audience – not just traffic or links

People like to consume content in different ways, so think about how you can recycle the same content into multiple formats. You could turn an in-depth study into a series of short-form articles, or build up a long article into a downloadable guide or whitepaper. You could create interactive content, infographics or data visualisations, email newsletters, video.

You can use these additional pieces to create “content upgrades” – offering a resource that’s unique to each blog post, or other piece of content, that readers need to submit an email address or share on social media in order to receive.

The result is more value for your audience, more mileage for your content, and a huge boost to your email subscribers or social backlinks. Backlinko has a more detailed guide on how to make and use content upgrades.

Explore relevant syndication partners

Think about where you can cross-post your content both to amplify its signal and to create backlinks. Outlets like LinkedIn and Medium can be great for attracting an audience that your site might not get otherwise.

Just remember two things: one, don’t spread yourself too thin by trying to cover every platform – work out where your audience is, and concentrate on those outlets.

And two, remember that you’re still publishing to someone else’s platform, with their brand and their rules. And even though the traffic is going to your content, it’s still going to their site.

Walled gardens make up so much of the internet that it’s all but impossible to avoid them, but you can be savvy about publishing to them.

For example, post the first half of a blog post on LinkedIn, and then once you’ve got your reader hooked, invite them to read the rest of the content on your site.

Hopefully they’ll take the bait and follow the link to where you want them. (This tip comes courtesy of my colleague Ben Rabinovich, editor of PaymentEye – thanks, Ben!)

continue-reading

Just do it!

Don’t second-guess yourself with questions like, “What if everyone knows this already?” or “Why would I share all of this information if people can just copy it?” What people don’t get, says Gibbons, is the biggest risk is not doing it at all. Take a gamble on that adventurous content idea, and it might just pay off – but it won’t if you don’t!

CTR as a ranking factor: what we know so far and how to action it

rand-tweet

For the last two years there has been much discussion and debate around whether click through rate (CTR) is something Google uses to determine where to rank a site.

It all began way back when Rand Fishkin did an interesting experiment which provided some evidence behind his theory that CTR is in fact something that could influence rankings.

This theory makes sense; why wouldn’t Google be looking at user based signals to improve search results?

Just as we do user testing on our websites to increase the number of conversions, Google will surely want to be looking at user signals to ensure they are fulfilling their goal of ‘organising the world’s information’ in the correct order in SERPs.

Why CTR is not a ranking factor, from Google

However, many times when Google, and more specifically Gary Illyses, has been questioned on this we have received the response of the opposite. That Google does not use CTR as a ranking factor due to it being a ‘noisy signal’ and something that could be gamed by spammers.

See this response from Gary Illyses in an interesting interview with Kwasi Studios:

ilyes-quote

We also received the same response from Gary when he mentioned the topic in June 2015 at SMX Advanced.

At the event Gary did, however, say CTR is being used for personalisation, meaning search results change if you frequently click on the same site. This can be especially useful for ambiguous terms.

For example, if a user searched for ‘Jaguars’ a ‘Query Deserves Diversity’ (QDD) algorithm will take effect and display results for the car brand, the Jacksonville Jaguars as well as the animal.

jaguar-search-term

If the user then clicks on the car brand and does that frequently, Google will be more likely to show the Jaguar car brand due to the high CTR for the Jaguar site. Other than that, Gary says click data is not being used.

Why CTR is an indirect ranking factor, from Google

Due to this negative feedback received from Google around the topic, some have dismissed CTR as something that Google does not make use of.

However, conversely we have had other statements from Google that specify they do in fact use CTR in some circumstances.

The primary evidence we have from Google that CTR is being used for more than just personalisation is in this excellent presentation by Paul Haahr titled ‘How Google Works: A Ranking Engineer’s Perspective’.

If you have not watched the presentation yet, I highly recommend it! You can find a video of it here.

From this video, we can gather Google is using click through rate, but not to adjust rankings directly. They are instead using it indirectly in controlled situations to validate the quality of search results.

They are also using it to verify that an algorithm change has the desired results. ‘Controlled situations’ means they are taking a portion of search results, testing changes and using CTR as a metric to measure if the changes had the desired impact on improving user engagement.

Following what Google has said regarding CTR, this means that it is not being used in a way to directly change search results. It is instead being used to test whether changes to direct ranking signals such as content and links are improving user engagement and the quality of search results.

This is explained in this slide on Paul Haahr’s presentation:

intepreting-live-experiments

Other ways Google is measuring the quality of search results

As explained in the presentation, CTR is only one of the ways Google is testing search results are showing up in the correct order.

They are also taking a more manual approach with human rater experiments. This is where Google will show an actual person a search result that has an experimental algorithm change on it, and they get them to score the page based on whether the needs have been met (does the page fulfil user intent), and the quality of the page.

scales-of-ranking

What this means is gaming the system explained here by artificially increasing CTR becomes virtually impossible, as along with live experiments, there is a manual review of pages before algorithm changes take place.

I am sure CTR and human rater experiments are only some of the ways Google will be testing algorithm changes.

While this was never mentioned as a user engagement metric in the presentation, there is a high chance they are also paying attention to pogo sticking and dwell time. If this is true, it makes metrics such as average time on site and bounce rate important things to consider.

Here is a bit of data sourced from our in-house ‘Roadmap’ technology that looks at over 160 potential ranking factors and shows correlations in search performance.

And yes, I know correlation does not mean causation, but it can give us a good indication what Google is taking into consideration when ranking sites. Here is how average time on site correlates:

average-time-on-site

Source: Stickyeyes Roadmap

Of course, this does not mean Google is directly creating algorithms that change rankings based on things such as average time on site.

It does, however, inform us that Google is favouring sites that searchers stay on.

This metric could be used in a similar way to how Paul Haahr explains Google uses CTR, where they will adjust traditional signals such as content and links depending on whether the user stays on the site or not. Again, this is all speculation with a bit of data to back it up.

Why CTR Is a direct ranking factor (sometimes), from Rand

Despite what we know is 100% correct, as Google has confirmed it, we still have Rand Fishkin’s CTR experiments that say Google is not telling us everything they use click data for.

This is where we have to speculate based on the information the SEO community has managed to get out of Google.

Thankfully some insight into this was given by Googler Andrey Lipattsev in a Q&A show back in March 2016 when Rand questioned him on it. Here is Andrey’s response to Rand asking why exactly that happened:

“Andrey: It’s hard to judge immediately, without actually looking at the data in front of me. But, in my opinion, my best guess here would be the general interest that you generate around that subject, and you generate exactly the sort of signals that we are looking out for, mentions and links and social tweets and social mentions, which are basically more links to the page, more mentions of this context. I suppose it throws us off for a while until we’re able to establish that none of that is relevant to the user intent, I suppose.”

From Andrey’s response, I believe he is explaining part of Google’s algorithm that is a temporary ranking factor that identifies hot topics or searches and then adjusts rankings accordingly depending on social signals, and possibly user behaviour.

We already know Google tries to push rankings up for fresh content, and this algorithm seems similar to the freshness algorithm (announced way back in 2011).

When this ranking change occurs, it is more than likely that Google applies the technology they have to combat click fraud in Adwords. I believe this experiment that came to the result the CTR was not a ranking factor by using bot traffic backs this up.

What we know – summarised

From all of the above we can summarise what we know into the following things:

  • Firstly, CTR does seem to have an immediate and temporary impact on rankings in some cases. This is more than likely due to an algorithm that aims to spot trending content and hot topics, and then adjusts rankings depending on which page is the most popular and seems to be fulfilling user intent. Again, this ranking change is temporary, and I imagine will be tough to try and game. It worked so well when Rand ran his experiment because he did it with actual people, not bots. In this instance, CTR is a temporary direct ranking factor.
  • Secondly, Google is using CTR in live experiments to quality-check their results. This is not being done across all search results but in a controlled manner across a portion of different SERPs. Based upon the results, Google will then adjust other algorithms to do with links, content, etc. In this case, CTR is an indirect ranking factor.
  • Thirdly, Google is using CTR to personalise results for individual users.
  • How to improve click-through rate

    It is evident user engagement and sending users to the correct website is important to Google, because of this we also know optimising CTR is something we should be doing.

    The rest of the post will be about how to identifying click through rate opportunities, and then how to improve it.

    Finding low CTR terms

    The only reliable data we have on CTR comes from Google itself in the Search Console search analytics report.

    To help with identifying these terms I have made this CTR Opportunity Analysis template Google sheet. This sheet finds out what the average CTR is for keywords ranking position 1 – 100 from a GSC export, and then compares each keyword against your site’s average CTR for that position.

    This allows you to identify if there is a significant opportunity to improve click-through for a particular query. You can see whether there is an opportunity as it will tell you in the ‘Optimise CTR’ column.

    If you rank higher than position ten it will simply say ‘Improve Rankings’. If you have your own data on average CTR for it each position, there is a hidden sheet called ‘CTR Ref’ where you can fill this information in. You could also replace it with data from this Moz CTR study.

    To find queries that that have a low click through rate do the following:

  • Navigate to the search analytics report in GSC.
  • Add the below filters (change country depending on your location, you may also want to add a device filter if desktop or mobile is your focus):
  • search-console-filter

  • Download the results as a CSV (bottom left of the page). Then open up the CSV and format the position column so it has 0 decimal places (this will make more sense after the next step).
  • Make a copy of this spreadsheet by going to File > Make A Copy.
  • Paste the corresponding columns from the Google Search Console CSV into the template. At this point, you can scrape Google for each keywords position instead of relying on GSC’s average position if you want to.
  • search-console-links

  • Once you have this information set out like the above you can then filter the ‘Optimise CTR’ column to only show results that return a yes.
  • Next, you can sort from high to low on impressions. The high-impression keywords that also return low scores on the ‘CTR Difference from Average’ are your top opportunities for optimising CTR.
  • Copy one of these keywords, and head back to Google Search Console. In the queries filter add a filter for that keyword exactly.
  • filter-query

  • After that select ‘Pages’ in the filter bar at the top to show pages ranking for that keyword.
  • The page listed first should be the page you need to optimise.
  • Top ways to optimise for CTR

    By now, we have the keywords and pages that we need to optimise for. We just need to go through the process of actually improving our pages. Here are some different things you can do to improve CTR:

    • Adjust title tags to contain the words or phrases you are getting a low CTR on. You can improve this further by combining your SEO focused keywords with other call to actions that will entice users to click your listing. Another thing you can do is compare your listing to what is currently in the titles for Adwords listings. What is in these titles has usually been optimised and tweaked heavily to improve CTR, because of this taking inspiration from them is a good idea.
    • Optimise meta descriptions to include terms you are trying to improve CTR for. Including the term means they will be bolded in search results which will increase the chance of them being clicks. It is best practice to optimise each description individually to increase the chance users will click it, so try to avoid generating these based off of a couple of variables if possible. Again, for meta descriptions you can also look towards Adwords listings for inspiration.
    • Optimise URLs to include target keywords. Similar to meta descriptions including target terms in URLs means they will be bolded.
    • Add relevant schema markup to the page to generate rich snippets on your listing. This can have a pretty dramatic effect on CTR, especially for schema markup that substantially enhances your listing such as review and product markup.

    Once you have done any or all of the above, check how organic traffic changes. Then go back and retest something different. You can rinse and repeat this process until you are seeing diminishing returns from improving CTR for a page.

    Final words

    Overall we can say that CTR is something that is being used by Google one way or another. Rand seems to have uncovered ways in which it is used directly and temporarily to modify search results.

    Paul Haahr from Google has informed us it is used indirectly to measure the quality of search results. Because of the above, and because it can simply increase organic traffic, CTR is something you should be taking into consideration when optimising your site.

    Along with focusing more on click through rate, SEOs need to become more aware that while getting a site technically fit for purpose, writing great content, and building quality links is important.

    We should also spend more time thinking about user engagement and UX, as they are both becoming a more and more important aspect to consider when trying to perform well in search results.

    Let me know how the CTR Opportunity Analysis template works for you, and any thoughts you have on CTR or user engagement as a ranking factor in the comments!

    Sam Underwood is a Search and Data Executive at Zazzle Media and a contributor to SEW.