Category Archives: SEM Info

SEM Info

The rapid growth of social over search

Take a look at this graph pulled from Google Trends comparing the search terms ‘social media marketing’ and ‘search marketing’.

Blue: social media marketing
Red: search marketing

google trends social media mkt search

I wonder if this keeps any folks at the mighty G up at night? Even if we as users still rely heavily on search, you could make the argument that marketing as a discipline has shifted its interest in the direction of social.

Funny that 2011 represents the watershed, at least for these search terms. In the social media industry, we tend to think of this as the year social finally came of age.

Food for thought?

 

Do you consider SEO to be part of your product development?

Just saw this throwaway tweet from search guru Danny Sullivan, who I guess is currently attending SMX East in New York:

What this would suggest is that HTC looked at what people were searching for around their phones (say ‘htc purple’ or ‘htc evo fuchsia’) and realized that there was latent demand that they weren’t addressing. As a result they are now bringing out a line of multicolored phones that presumably will be on the end of these searches in future, leading to more satisfied customers and obviously a few more dollars in the bargain.

What a great example of using one of the cheapest market intelligence tools out there: internal and external search metrics. For external search, query your web analytics tool for your keyword referral data. Look at what search terms are used on Google, Yahoo, Bing and the other major engines to reach your site. Are there terms for which you don’t currently have neat product placement, but could provide something with relative ease? (If it’s longer term you may need to work it into the product roadmap). Perform the same exercise with your internal site search engine. Most solutions in this space will provide metrics on what are the most commonly searched terms on your site.

If you want to look further afield at what people are searching for on Google, you can also poke around on the Google Keyword Tool. In this example you can see related terms for the base keyword ‘htc’:

The next step is perhaps the toughest: particularly if you work for a large enterprise. Somehow you need to get this information over to your product team. They may already be clued on to what you can learn from the web and embrace your research. My experience is that there is generally some education to do (and possibly the building of a process) before you can embed this search-based market intent into product development. Still, at least you know your product portfolio will become more closely aligned to the (online) market.

Do you have any examples/experiences of your own to share?

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:

Engaging a social media agency? SMG provides template questions

Those far-reaching tentacles of Shel and Neville over at the FIR Podcast picked up an informative new document from the Social Media Group titled ‘Social Media RFP Template’.  As more and more agencies from across the marketing spectrum (and in particular SEO and PR) now offer social media services, how do you separate the wheat from the chaff?

Apart from dealing with the obvious stuff you’d cover with any agency engagement, such as agency background and their past experience in this area, the RFP also covers the following areas:

  • Integration of social media across marketing/communications functions
  • Social media channels employed
  • Reputation management and social media monitoring
  • Establishing social media profiles
  • Influencer outreach
  • Crisis management
  • Social media training
  • Compliance with legal requirements
  • Metrics and measurement

I’d say this list is equally valid if you are in the situation of having to prepare a job description for a social media manager or associated role.

Download the report

SMG also run the hugely popular Social Media Today blog aggregator. If you write in this space, you should definitely hook up your blog!

Comment creep: will Google Sidewiki explode the conversation?

The For Immediate Release (FIR) Podcast recently covered the release of Google Sidewiki, a browser plugin that allows you to add and share comments on any page on the web. The service comes bundled with the enhanced features of the Google Toolbar (available for Internet Explorer and Firefox, but notably not Google Chrome), allowing you to open a sidebar next to any page to see previous comments and add your own.

Commenting on web pages has become a part of our online lives since being popularized by the growth in blogs and has been adopted by many web publishers for other types of content. Google Sidewiki extends this feature beyond the reach of web publishers, allowing visitors to comment on any page across the web (as long as you have Google Sidewiki installed).For instance, here are the comments on Microsoft Bing, a major Google competitor in the search space:


(See actual page)

This tool raises a number of issues such as comment moderation and ranking (Google says it uses automated scripts and the nebulous measure of authority for this), and the ability of web publishers to control commenting on their pages. However, I’d like to center on one issue that is by no means restricted to Google Sidewiki but is definitely highlighted by this service. That is the issue of comment and feedback proliferation.

Proliferation of commenting systems

As was pointed out in the FIR podcast, there are already a number of ways of sharing comments on content. Let’s highlight some of these:

  • A website’s own commenting system (as ships as standard with most blogging platforms)
  • Social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed, Posterous, etc.
  • Comment networks like Disqus
  • And now browser-based systems like Google Sidewiki

Will Google Sidewiki be the last entrant into this space? Probably not. The upshot is that it becomes increasingly difficult to monitor these conversations and the multiple threads that can roll out of them. These systems are by their very nature distributed and autonomous. If, for instance, a comment thread grows on Google Sidewiki, someone browsing through the Disqus comments on a blog page who doesn’t happen to have Google Toolbar would remain blissfully unaware of this.

The problem has been around for some time on social networks. For instance, there are a number of services that allow you to post to Facebook from Twitter, so your Tweets appear to both audiences. Now if a Tweet that appears on Facebook attracts a number of comments, these aren’t passed back to your Twitter followers. So although your original missives are shared across the networks, the ensuing comments and conversations are not.

No easy solution presents itself, largely due a lack of standards when it comes to this form of communications. Going back to that earlier example, comments on Facebook are a completely different format and can be much longer than a reply on Twitter. Now throwing Google Sidewiki into the equation complicates the situation further, given that this system is browser-based and not strictly web-based.

So whilst Google Sidewiki throws up an enticing proposition (that of being able to comment on any page across the web), it really adds to the growing problem of comment system proliferation. Are we just building ourselves a fresh new Tower of Babel where online streams of conversations grow up in isolation of each other?

More on Google Sidewiki

Install Google Sidewiki
Google Sidewiki and Google Wave integration (VB SEO)
Google Sidewiki vs Brands in Public (Tim Aldiss)
Google Sidewiki explained (Search Newz)

The Dirty Little Secret of Social Media: Longevity

In what seems like a lifetime ago (about 4 years past), I worked search marketing on the agency side. As an account manager, I spent many a meeting reassuring hyperactive marketing execs that great Google rankings (well, this also included Yahoo and Microsoft back then) were just around the proverbial corner. With search, the grunt work happened up-front and once the content was put in place and scooped up by the mighty indexing engines, the rankings and associated traffic would largely drizzle down like snow in pre-war Narnia. You just had to wait for the reward.

This didn’t always reflect the way the campaigns were sold, mainly for the following reasons:

  • The demand to offer short term results
  • The desire of the agency to garner a long term maintenance contract
  • The lack of a crystal ball to tell us exactly when the results would come in

The same can be true of marketing-led social media campaigns.

Like a merry-go-round that you continually tug with the same force while it slowly gathers momentum, social media campaigns can often need more than a year of development and careful nurturing before they come to fruition. You build a platform, seed content and promote the hell out of it, but meanwhile have to appease the executive whilst you act, measure, and patiently wait. Whether you’re setting up a blog, forum, social network, Twitter profile, YouTube channel or whatever, if you’re not one of the legendary few to achieve instant cult status, be prepared for the toil.

Then, after months or more, if you got your planning and strategy right upfront, the crowd gathers and the chatter grows. Now you have a successful social media campaign on your hands and you have graphs pointing in the right direction to show the powers-that-be.

socialMediaResults

How long does the glow hold?

Depending on the nature of the campaign, you may find yourself having to do little more to keep those page views coming. Not that I’d recommend it, but you can put a social network out to pasture and (almost in spite of yourselves) still see information grazers stumble by. In 2002 we froze an academic/business community we had spent two years building and it still continued to out-rank our corporate site on Google for our core target keywords for at least six years after.

So where’s the issue?

With all the attendant hype around social media at the moment, this activity is often bolted on to that lead generation machine within the marketing department that’s charged with building the sales pipeline. I’ve heard rightful skepticism within field marketing departments that claims over-hyped social media is heavily lubed in snake oil. I can definitely see where this point of view comes from. Marketing circles are abuzz with talk of how you’ll achieve greater results than ever before by using social media. The statement is expressed in the present, rather than future tense. I’ve seen networks shut down because of this.

Greatest treasures lie in the murkiest depths

On those grounds, should social media be foresaken? You can probably guess my response, but I think not. Social media marketing campaigns are at their most effective when they are stripped of the constraints of short-term lead generation. Most efforts work on creating Awareness and Thought Leadership:

Social Media Lead Generation

(Note there are social media activities that go beyond the point of sale, but these are often driven by other departments, such as support.)

As you can see above, there is little crossover between social media and lead generation across the sales cycle. So measuring success based on lead generation metrics will show few results. Just like the PR function which is measured on metrics other than the prospects it brings to the pipe, so social media campaigns need to develop their own yardsticks – whether it be the added visibility or the kind of engagement metrics online news sites are measured against. This will feed the sales pipe, but indirectly, just like PR. Now for the icing on the cake: few other marketing initiatives show such on-going returns. With social media you’re often building an asset that will show little depreciation over time.

More tortoise than hare

Try and keep social media campaigns away from the demands of lead generation. Have goals but make sure the top brass aren’t expecting to see results in the same quarter. Chances are, they’ll be paltry. But keep in it for the long haul and assuming all the pieces come together, manifold results will head your way.

Interview with senior tech blogger James Taylor

At our recent DIALOG user conference I managed to catch up with marketer/IT consultant/uber-blogger James Taylor. He was there as a live blogger and attracted awe from the other journalists for the pace at which he could get out informative yet opinionated posts. Beyond that, James is one of the early adopters of corporate blogging as a marketing tool and is an authority blogger on the subject of business rules (and the larger discipline of business intelligence).

Live blogging

James is what you could call a veteran (if such a term is applicable in this nascent industry) in the area of live blogging and it shows: he is one of those rare writers who can cover sessions real-time. James claims it’s all about ‘how quickly you can edit’. Getting thoughts down isn’t a problem, but organizing these into a coherent flow is the hard part. It’s easier when the presenter has a clear structure but can be more troublesome for panel events where the sequence works well live, but not so well on paper.

From emailer to blogger

James was effectively blogging before the medium existed. Whilst holding a senior marketing role at Fair Isaac, he began sending out his interpretation of articles he found online via email to the sales and marketing organization. Keeping the distribution list organized was a problem with this approach. As blogging was emerging as a communications tool, James realized that this would be perfect to deal with his distribution problem. The blog was rapidly picked up by the inside sales team and officially went live in 2005. By mid 2006, the blog was outranking the corporate website on Google for key terms like ‘business rules’ and ‘brms’ (as it continues to do to this day).

A lot of this success he puts down to not trying to position the blog as a promotional tool for his own company, but rather was more interested in participating in the growing online discussion. Many companies fall foul of this distinction:

“A problem many corporations run into is confusing blog technology with a blog.”

James explains you can use the blogging technology to put out press releases, event notifications or other news that has inherent corporate bias. This is a different approach to an individual who writes about an industry or who tends to write posts that are responses to other articles. This naturally is not promotion. Following on from this idea, James believes “to write a blog you have to read other blogs”. Blogging is all about being engaged in a conversation online. This cannot be automated.

That doesn’t mean that you should ignore expertise within the organization: sales engineers are a good source of information as they are technical but also clued in to the customer base and what are their needs and pain points.

Blog management

So, what advice for the blog owner/manager? Given a blog’s reliance on search engines to deliver traffic, the blog owner should ensure that the blog takes in SEO (search engine optimization) best practices and that the bloggers are aware of target keywords the blog should be ranked for. A good point given that most corporate blogs still receive the majority of their traffic from the Google.

When it comes to structure and layout, corporations will have to start acting more like media: showing the content that changes and injecting more personality. Most corporate blogs could segment more and move away from the traditional single scrolling page, especially as these blogs generally cover a number of topics or subject areas. For instance, you could follow the approach of USA Today and include channels for each author of a multi-author blog. On the subject of personalization, having a photo of each author is a good idea.

Just as traditional media generally demarks editorial and advertising content, on corporate blogs the corporate messaging (eg. PR section) should be separated from the personality-led blogging.

Maintaining a blog requires both resource and widespread organizational acceptance. So if senior people are willing to participate, this really helps.

Use of Twitter

James’ view is that few companies write interesting Twitter feeds. Many offer little value on top of already-existing RSS feeds. This makes sense given that the tool is great for aggregation and output. Developing good content is the tricky bit.

James suggests setting up internal feeds and then being the traffic cop – that is moving content where it should go and deciding what should jump the firewall.

Measuring blog value

When it comes to measuring success, do not get obsessed about the metrics: concentrate more on building up your place in the blogging community and thinking whether something should pique interest. If you get this part right then the traffic will come. Having said that, James does keep an eye on where his blog ranks for key searches (and I presume occasionally pepper keywords into content for lower-ranked terms).

Deriving an exact ROI for a blog can be tricky. One of James’ blog objectives is to drive up sales of his book [link]. However this is tricky to calculate. The only thing James can say is he is surprised at the number of inbound leads for his consulting business that come through the blog.

For more information, read James’ EDM blog. You can also follow him on Twitter.

An SEO perspective | Corporate blogging news digest

If you are involved in setting up or running a corporate blog, you are probably well aware that one justification for the effort is the love Google will probably show you for your regular, fresh content and wonderful referrals (links) from the blogging community.Using a blog to garner links is growing in popularity as SEOs find that old methods such as obtaining sponsored links are becoming more and more difficult.

As SEO Ninja points out: ‘As link building becomes a more exhaustive and costly task, blogging is an area of the web, where savvy webmasters show a more kind-hearted approach to providing links. A blog can be positioned within or out with a company’s primary domain name, meaning that any residual page rank can be distributed to the sales page from highly content-relevant material.’ Read the full post

News highlights

Google Reader now allows direct commenting
Google Reader now allows you to add comments to the blogs you read directly within the interface. These comments are viewable by your Google Reader friends and at the moment can’t be exported out of Google Reader (to say, Friendfeed). Beware: yet another reason for your feed-reading audience not to visit your blog.

Twitter Is the ‘Five-Tool Player’ of the Social Web (Forrester)
Twitter can be used by businesses in a variety of ways, writes Josh Bernoff of Forrester. The multi-purpose tool can deal with everything, from customer support, to brand energizing to research.

Twitter grows 33 percent over the past month
The Social Times reports that Twitter is currently going through a massive growth spurt. Note that 8 million of the 10 million visitors are based in the US.

Spam-to-Content: A Ratio of Junk (Gartner)
This problem plagues us all. Personally, I find Akismet a useful solution to strip out most spam. This post raises another point: how far do you go with comment moderation?

Timing Your Tweets for Success (Twitip)
Timing is everything. Especially in the Twitterverse, where your 140-character nugget can easily get deluged by the stream. This is a big issue for Twitter, given the reliance of this broadcast medium on instant communication.

Corporate Blogging Guidelines (Brian Hurley)
You know you need them (and we’ve covered the issue of corporate blogging guidelines before), but check out some great examples from Brian Hurley. Yahoo, Plaxo and IBM are included in this list.

Scoble recommends use of low-cost cameras eg. Flip Mino HD (which costs about $200) for online video
If you want to turn your blog into a vlog (video blog) consider Flip Mino HD, which costs about $200. Robert Scoble shot almost all of the recent videos on Fast Company TV using one.

Mashable innovates with new Twitter ad format
A new kind of advertising is born: let brands post their Tweets on your pages. Will Twitter work this into their business model? Tweetsense?…

10 ways to measure social media success (Econsultancy)
Ever wonder whether all the effort you’re putting into social media is pulling any results? Some say it can’t be done, but Chris Lake approaches the subject of how you can measure social media success.

Robert Scoble’s Corporate Weblog Manifesto
More like a historical document rather than news, this is still earily accurate 5 years later. My personal fave: ‘If your life is in turmoil and/or you’re unhappy, don’t write.’

15 Useful Twitter Hacks and Plug-Ins For WordPress (Smashing Magazine)
If you are a WordPress user who happens to Tweet (who doesn’t?), here are some plugins and code samples that will help you synch your blog with Twitter.

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