Category Archives: blog marketing

Google Instant: longer keyword searches on first page?

You probably have seen the latest incarnation of Google search, unless you live in a cave. The Google hype machine swung into operation with a ballsy approach to a teaser followed by the Google Instant announcement and launch in the US the following day.

Since the Big G did such a good job of explaining this, I’ll let them do the talking courtesy of YouTube:

It remains to be seen what users make of this, but one expected behavior, is the use of more complex search terms as users can amend their query instantly based on the results they see. Merissa Meyer, Google’s VP of search products and user experience elaborates here. Let’s say I start looking for ‘android phones’, I can instantly see results for this term, and also derivatives. I can instantly go in the direction of telephony providers, such as ‘android phones t-mobile’ or ‘android phones verizon’. Actually, I notice there is a comparison link with an iPhone on the first page, so I could go in the direction of ‘android phones iphone’ and check out the relative merits.

For users that take to this new way of searching (there are apparently those who don’t), there are potential behavioral shifts that could affect what search results are shown, and, more importantly for us online marketers, what search results are clicked.

A couple of examples:

As noted earlier, search terms are expected to become more complex. This means we could see more traffic coming into our sites from the long tail of search: terms that could be four or more words in length. When we think of what keywords to promote and optimize, we may be able to find traffic even when we widen our portfolio into quite specific niches.

The navigational buttons that take you on to additional pages of results are that much further away. When using Google Instant, most of the clicking and typing happens around the query box at the top of the results. Don’t like what you see on your initial query? Instant makes it much easier to refine that search and see if the follow-up is more successful. This means less time flicking through the second and third page of results in search of relevant links. For marketers, this could well put additional pressure on taking that coveted spot on the first page of results.

It’s early days for this service and user adoption and behavior patterns are by no means set, but Google Instant has the potential to have a significant affect on the field of search marketing.

What the pundits are saying:

Blog posting made easy: Windows Live Writer

If you’ve ever had a problem losing a blog post to an errant web-based WYSIWYG editor, or have struggled cutting and pasting from an MS Word document into a blog post, then you might want to take Windows Live Writer for a spin.

 

This small Windows desktop client plays nicely with all the major blog platforms out there and offers more formatting options than you may get with your standard blogging interface (eg. tables for starters). 

Go ahead and download Windows Live Writer or read my post over on IBM developerWorks for more information on this nifty little app.

Social chat for your blog with Wibiya: friend or foe?

I currently use the Wibiya toolbar on Caged Ether to handle all my social bookmarking and to add other cool features such as the ability to instantly talk about my posts here through networks like Twitter.

I noticed that they have recently added a social chat feature:

I found this intriguing, although not necessarily life-changing.

Advantages:

  • I can engage directly with readers and converse/share in a much more intimate form than the standard blog publishing/commenting system generally allows
  • Visitors can choose whatever network they prefer to login (currently the usual suspects  of Facebook/Twitter + a few others) yet regardless of network they can converse across the chat window
  • Chats can be public or private depending on the topic

Disadvantages:

  • You should be present to monitor the conversations – a potential time drag esp, exacerbated if you happen to be on a different time zone
  • Dealing with trolls and other undersirables who wonder into the chat room could be tricky if you can’t always man the chat room
  • Will anyone really want to stick around and chat, rather than just graze on your content and run?
  • It’s unclear whether the chats can be saved for perusal/analysis at a later time

This makes me think it’s too early to run out and proclaim this a killer app that will transform the world of online publishing. I can see where there could be real applications of this. Large news  sites could use this kind of service to interact more directly with their readership and could take opinions as quotes or at least as a measure of public sentiment). If you are running a big event with an active blog, this could serve as a community around which discussions can congeal.

Therein perhaps lies one of the problems with the Wibiya service. This toolbar tends to be used by smaller blogs (like this one) who may not have the manpower or application for such a service. But maybe Wibiya now has its sights targeted elsewhere.

Any thoughts? I’m afraid you’ll have to comment below: I’m not quite ready to pounce in with the Social Chat feature quite yet 😉

Blogging: the Google way (webcast with Karen Wickre)

The SES team in conjunction with Hubspot recently hosted an excellent presentation by Karen Wikre, Google’s Senior Manager of Corporate Communications. Karen has been at Google for over 7 years and in that time has played a prominent part in bringing blogs into the center of Google’s communication strategy. In the presentation she goes into details of Google’s philosophy of using blogs for corporate communication, focusing on blogging announcements, but also covering other topics such as blog post frequency and the factors in the decision of whether or not to start a blog for a given product.

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Blog implementation: do you risk the fear of success?

The BPI Institute website have an article covering the problems of successfully implementing a business process management  (BPM) solution. Don’t know what a BPM is? Don’t worry – I only have the faintest idea.

What was striking were the reasons for failure the piece lists:

  1. lack of understanding what BPM really is
  2. fear of failure
  3. fear of criticism/losing face
  4. unwillingness to change
  5. fear of success
  6. fear of reality
  7. belief that expensive tools are necessary to get started

It struck me that these apply to the implementation of many technologies, including setting up a corporate blog. For instance, the idea that no one will read your content (fear of failure) is a roadblock to many a blog being setup.

The fear of success really bemused me at first, until I dug further.

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Your blog homepage: To excerpt or not to excerpt?

I manage a small coterie of blogs that on average receive about 20,000 page views per month. Somewhere between 16-19% of these visitors touch the homepage somewhere on their travels. The clear majority actually enter through the homepage. Bottom line: the homepage is pretty damned important.

This recently brought me onto an argument on what is the most effective way of displaying posts. Here I’m not talking about the intricacies of laying out the front page of your blog like a magazine or a photo gallery. Rather just talking the basics: what options do you have with the straight forward roller approach that originally was one of the key defining features of a blog and arguably still remains the most common blog format. It commonly looks something like this:

This opens up a big question: how much of each post do you show on the homepage?

Most blogging platforms, including WordPress, Blogger and the Lotus Connections platform we use here at IBM show the entire post on the homepage. However, you’ll also see many popular blogs abbreviating posts on the homepage with just an excerpt and a link to the individual post in its entirety, eg. Altimeter, Read Write Web and TechCrunch.

Which approach is better?

Here I my thoughts on the blog excerpting question:

Advantages of excerpting posts

  • Easy to scan many posts
  • Easy to track interest/engagement at the post level
  • Added Flexibility: decide on length of excerpt, inclusion of images
  • Works well for group blogs: you have a greater chance of seeing the multiplicity of views from different authors upfront

Advantages of listing full post on homepage

  • Remove an extra click between viewer and full blog post
  • Good for display of short posts (‘Read More…’ could link to only one more sentence)
  • Attracts more comments (visitors can often comment directly from the homepage)

As you can see, there is no clear-cut solution, but I favor the approach of displaying excerpts on the homepage with links to the full articles. Why? To appease the scanners. A homepage listing multiple excerpted posts makes it easy to move quickly through the content and see if you find something relevant. The caveat being if you are a blogger that tends to write short, pithy posts.

Am I over-fixating on a minor detail? Probably. As Mark Murnahan points out, content generally trumps structure. A well written, relevant piece will do well, whether or not it’s excerpted on the homepage. However, I would still contend that if you run a network of blogs and have to and have key objectives and targets to achieve (for instance average page views per article, number of comments per article) playing around with the homepage structure can have a dramatic effect.

How to excerpt with WordPress

If you are blogging using a standalone version of WordPress you can simply excerpt your homepage posts using the the_excerpt function within your homepage template. This will display the first 55 words and will strip out all images and HTML. If you want more control, you can use the Advanced Excerpt plugin which gives a lot more flexibility. I see the main advantages being the option to select which HTML tags to include and options over how much of the post to excerpt.

What exactly are WordPress theme frameworks?

If you are a long-time WordPress developer who understands all the ins and outs of theme development then this post isn’t for you.

OK, now we’ve got that out of the way, for those of you left, let’s try and decipher where the real value lies in theme frameworks. Help comes in the shape of a WordPress Meetup earlier this week in San Francisco. We had the chance to hear a number of case studies from internet marketers, developers and blog owners – each with a different perspective on the utility of theme frameworks.

Alejo Grigera is a product expert at Google but also runs Mr Bluesummers: a blog covering 3D modeling. He talks us through Arjuna, which he terms a ‘robust theme’. What does he mean by that? Let’s step back and look at what a standard theme is.

Standard themes

The basics of WordPress themes means you can take the default WordPress blog theme that comes out of the box:

and turn it into something like this:

Themes give you the power to enforce your own look and feel around your sweet musings.

Robust themes

But what if you want to take this a step further if you have different types of posts (eg. video vs. articles) or different sidebar elements? Well, certain themes out there have a number of options allowing you tweak certain elements. Arjuna is one of these. It allowed Alejo to turn the standard Arjuna theme:

into this:

Notice the changed header (including translation flags) and different elements running down the right hand side. All possible due to options within Arjuna. He also has the flexibility to change the layout based on the type of post (eg. 2 column versus 3 column) – all from within the WordPress admin console.

Theme Frameworks

If you’re still following, let’s start delving into theme frameworks proper. Jeremy Reither from R3R consulting showed us what he has achieved with Thematic on his side project My Family Law. Here customization goes a step further with different sections of the sites having completely different layouts.

Such as the library page:

And the article view:

Again, there’s a way you can code this with PHP but theme frameworks make this level of personalization possible from within the admin console. This is important for My Family Law as there are multiple authors – more skilled in the ways of law rather than development. Each author can have their own blog and some flexibility over how their posts appear, yet still adhere to the overarching ‘framework’.

Thematic also supports a number of widgets from Google Ads to Twitter, and by combining with a plugin like Widget Logic, you can fine tune which sidebar elements you want to display on which pages. Powerful stuff.

Child Themes

A big advantage of theme frameworks prior to WordPress 3.0 was the ability to add child themes: that is related themes that share common elements but can be substantially different. Since WordPress 3.0 came out, this functionality is included in the core, however depending on your implementation, you might still want to use the frameworks to handle children.

What exactly is a child theme? Chancey Mathews from GigaOm summed this up perfectly (he uses the Carrington theme framework). Look at these sites…

GigaOm:

The Apple Blog:

Earth2Tech:

All have the same structure and share common elements (including that signature thick black underline), but there are obvious differences. However they all share the same core display code. This makes it easier to maintain and easier to control updates across all the sites. I can say this from experience having spent hours adding extra navigation to a series of five blogs which were essentially identical save for minimal elements like headers and sidebar links. A framework could have saved me hours.

Anatomy of a framework

Jeremy Reither showed this image explaining where the framework code sits in the WordPress template.

(click on the image for more detail)

The framework effectively wraps its code around the existing WordPress code, extending the functionality. The architecture of each framework does differ so it is worth investigating which one makes sense for you.

I’ve just started work on a redesign of this site using the Thematic framework and so far have been surprised with the ease with which you can built out a fully-functioning site. One word of caution: most frameworks rely heavily on the power and flexibility of CSS (especially in terms of child theme implementation) so brush up on your CSS skills if you are looking to modify an existing theme.

More information on theme frameworks

Theme frameworks covered in this article:

Other popular frameworks:

Further reading:

  • WordPress codex
  • Lorelle on WordPress

Conclusion

So if you are looking to create a stylized blog/CMS with WordPress, look further into the world of frameworks. If you have have experiences to share around theme framework implementation, please comment!

Blogging: the Google way (webcast with Karen Wickre)

Those SES guys in conjunction with Hubspot just hosted an excellent presentation by Karen Wikre, Google’s Senior Manager of Corporate Communications. Karen has been at Google for over 7 years and in that time has played a prominent part in bringing blogs into the center of Google’s communication strategy.

Why the empasis on blogs?

As Karen points out, blogs allow you to reach customers, those who know nothing about you, critics and the press all through a single post. In some ways blogs can be thought of as surrogates for newsletters, where you don’t have to wait to collect 16 articles before publishing. She also points out that posts serve well as your statement on an issue that can exist for years. She draws on the Googlebomb example, where the original post served them well years later when the issue arose again. There is a downside to this approach: especially if you are in an industry/organization where the viewpoint can shift over time. A blog post has a serious shelf life so be prepared to stand by what you say for months, if not years.

Blogs also allow you to put out information that you wouldn’t consider for a press release. Think about the back story into how a product came to life. You can also go further and integrate customer stories, video footage and geeky stuff about what’s going on under the hood. There can be an audience for all of this, but the traditional press release really doesn’t offer the breadth.

As an aside, I’m you’re probably aware that Google owns the Blogger platform so it makes sense for them to adopt this tool for company communications.

Just how many official blogs does Google have?

Karen mentions that currently Google has more than 150 product-related blogs (with over 10 million unique visitors a month). supplement that with around 80 Twitter accounts reaching 2.3 million followers and you get some idea for the scope of this effort and the payback in terms of visibility. There are Facebook pages for the consumer products, however these are a newer addition.

What should you consider when starting a blog?

I think Karen gives as good a criteria checklist as I’ve seen:

  • Do you have a lot of regular announcements?
  • Are you in a busy area with a lot of activity?
  • Do you have a lot of customers (eg. Gmail)?
  • Do you have a strong community of developers (maybe around an API)?

Karen also points out the notable exceptions where blogs can make sense. If you have an area where less frequent detailed stories may exist, this can still make sense for a blog. For instance a research department, or security team. In this case the content does not appear very often, but when it does, it tends to be deep. An external example of this is Clay Shirky. His posts are infrequent, but read like book chapters.

What are key parts of the content strategy?

While Karen points out her team tends to take a light touch approach and isn’t in the business of editing posts, she does give some content pointers that are used in training:

  • A good title is very important: especially as more people consume information on mobile devices and through channels other than directly visiting your web site
  • Use a consistent style (eg. around capitalization)
  • A post should have one designated author, even if it has been worked on by a team
  • If the message is global, think about translating the content
  • For product announcements, specify the availability
  • Offer the most useful links
  • Clearly mark any updates you make and don’t alter either the title or the timestamp

Closely related is the voice with which you write. Google relies on an informal tone (one person talking to another, rather than a company broadcast). The language should be clear and direct, peppered with examples and understandable real-world examples. If humor is used, make sure it is appropriate.

When should a blog be terminated?

Occasionally, it may not make sense to continue with a blog. It could be that the blog is not being updated, there is a new related blog that is more relevant, visitors have stopped coming or a project has been terminated. In these cases the blog should be shut down: a final post should be written as explanation, the blog removed from the public directory, but importantly, the blog should not be deleted. The posts should still be available on the web.

Do Google have official bloggers?

Whilst there are some in the organization who blog frequently (such as Matt Cutts), Google does not have official bloggers. Blogging is a part of the job description of some employees and others may be asked to create a blog post (a product engineer that comes up with a new gadget). Google prefers to go to the source of the story and have that person tell it, rather than have official blogger/journalist types.

Karen provided a great insight into how one of the world’s most successful companies makes blogging a cornerstone to its communications strategy.

More on this topic: