Why Meaning Will Ultimately Determine Your Brand's Content Marketing Success

Posted by ronell-smith

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In 2009 Fletcher Cleaves was a top high school football prospect ready for the next level, eager to do in college what he’d done in high school: rack up yards as a running back. But before Cleaves could realize his dream of playing at the next level, a texting, distracted driver plowed into the car he was driving, forever changing his life’s trajectory.

Today, Cleaves, paralyzed from the chest down as a result of the accident, serves as a tragic reminder of something as seemingly harmless as texting and driving can alter lives. It’s impossible to watch the video below and not immediately realize three important facts:

  1. Texting and driving is a big deal.
  2. This young man was unfairly robbed of his future.
  3. This big brand nailed the messaging.

Telecommunications brands (and airline companies) enjoy some of the worst customer service ratings on the planet. And to make matters worse, their core messaging via print, radio and online ads is equally atrocious, doing very little to make would-be customers give them a second look.

However, with the latest iteration of the “It Can Wait” campaign, which is rich with stories and features stunning video recreation, AT&T did something all brands looking to make a mark in content marketing should copy: They delivered content with meaning.

The end of utility

We live in a world rich in information and teeming with data. The ability to analyze the results of our content marketing efforts, even in real-time, is as astonishing as it is mesmerizing and revealing. Our teams can know, before a word is written, a design delivered or a report is generated what the results should be based on the assigned key performance indicators (KPIs). The automation present in online marketing can make it feel as though the world we inhabit is more fantasy than reality, as if the press of a button will always lead to the results we expect.

Yet we still struggle with how to create content that commands attention, that nudges prospects to take immediate action, that leads to the vast majority of our customers moving from brand loyalists to brand ambassadors and advocates.

Why is this?

I propose that we’ve misread the tea leaves.

In the last three years, marketers (even this one) have sung from the rooftops that your content must be useful and relevant, have immediacy, and deliver impact. And if you followed this advice, you likely found a modicum of success, if only for a short time.

How could we expect any different when the customers we’re all clamoring for are being bombarded with thousands of messages every day? When that happens, even the most resonant voices get drowned out. And for those of us who’ve thrown our hats into the usefulness and relevance ring, we’ve largely committed ourselves to a life of struggle that’s tough to recover from.

This line of thinking occurred to me in July of 2014, as I finished Jay Baer’s book Youtility during the plane ride home from MozCon 2014. I agree with and applaud Baer for bringing to light the novel term, which he defines as “Marketing that’s wanted by customers. Youtility is massively useful information, provided for free, that creates long-term trust and kinship between your company and your customers.”

But I’m afraid this ship has largely sailed. Not because usefulness is any less importance, but because the threshold was so low that every brand and their sister jumped online via websites, social media, forums, message boards and everywhere else with information that temporarily sated prospects’ appetites but did little to create a lasting impression.

If your desire is to create a brand whose content is sought-after and, indeed, clamored for, you must bake meaning into your content.

Without meaning, your brand’s content is adrift

Like many of you, most of my early content-creation efforts were centered around pleasing Google, whereby my inspiration was for thinking in terms of queries:

1: Informational: Where prospects are likely to look for information

2: Navigational: What prospects are likely to be looking for on those sites

3: Transactional: What prospects are ready/likely to buy

The result of this thinking (outlined in the graphic below) was the myriad 350-word posts that now clog the web.

There’s a better way.

It’s time your content led with meaning, and that process begins with a revamping of the thought process surrounding content ideation and content creation. Why is that important?

We cannot win otherwise, says Bill Sebald, founder of Greenlane SEO, a Pennsylvania-based SEO firm.

“Think about it,” he says. “Many brands are still writing low-quality articles that deliver little value and have zero impact to their customers or prospects. That’s bad enough, but when you consider the prevalence of these thin content pieces, is there any wonder how the Panda Update evokes fear in these same brands? Being useful is great. It can and does work fine, for a while. But what you want as a brand is lasting impact, people seeking you out, top-of-mind awareness. As it regards content marketing, that only happens when your brand is known for delivering content with meaning, which sticks in the gut of the folks who read it.”

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In All Your Content Doesn’t Matter Without Meaning, Sebald shared five easy-to-follow questions he thinks brands should ask themselves as they work to create content with meaning:

  • Did I say anything new?
  • Did I say something that will get someone’s attention?
  • Is the content part of a strategy?
  • Am I really an expert in this topic?
  • Did my copy focus on relationships Google knows about?

Any brand committed to asking themselves at least three of those questions before any content is created is swimming in the deep end of the pool, having moved away from the pack and on the way to delivering meaningful content.

After reading Sebald’s post, I dug into my notes to discern what I think it takes to win the race for content marketings next frontier.

If your brand is looking to separate from the back, I’d like to share three ideas I’ve seen work well for brands of all sizes, even in boring verticals, such as HVAC and plumbing.

1. Be where your prospects are, at the time they need your information, with a message so good they cannot ignore you.

As a lifelong angler, I’m keen to compare marketing to bass fishing, whereby bait and location are pretty much all that matters. Or so I thought, until one day I got my hands on an underwater camera and could see fish swimming all around my lure, which they ignored.

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That’s when I realized bait and location are only as good as timing.

No matter how great the quality of my tackle or how well-placed was my lure, the fish must be ready to bite for me to find success.

How your brand can put this thinking to work: Personalize your company’s blog by adding bi-weekly or monthly interviews with people who’ve used your services/products, and who can share information that’s hyper-relevant to issues prospects are likely dealing with at the time.

For example, in the month of October a pool company might highlight a customer who maintains their own pool but who hires a pool company for winterization help. Or, in the same month, an accountant might share a video blog of a couple who owns a small business and does a great job of staying on top of expenses.

You might notice that I never said the person spotlighted mentions the brand or even uses them for service. That’s immaterial. What’s key is (a) the person shares a compelling story that’s (b) delivered on your blog and (c) is information they can use right away for where they are in the decision-making process. (It’s important that the content not appear salesy because too often the prospects who’re most likely to need your services aren’t even looking for those services. They’re simply suckers for a good story.)

2. Make them feel confident about what the brand stands for, not simply the purchase they might someday make.

One of my favorite words from college is ubiquity. Get to know this word if your brand is to produce meaningful content. Your brand should show up in all the places and for all the things prospects would expect to find you ranking for, conversing about and, more important, being shared by others for.

To instill your content with meaning, it must show up in places and for things prospects likely would expect to find it showing up for. This isn’t simply about ubiquity. It shows empathy.

A brand that does this better than most is Seattle-based REI. It’s amazing the range of terms they rank highly for. If they sell it, there’s a great chance REI shows up somewhere in or near the top of the SERPs for the category.

For example, I simply typed “snow goggles” into the search box, and voila, look who shows up. Also, look who they show up above. Better yet, imagine all of the large eyewear brands they’re outcompeting for this position.

By clicking on the query, you immediately see why they’re at the top of the SERPS: The content is rich in visuals and answers every question a prospect would ever have surrounding snow goggles.

I discovered the strength of REI’s content ideation and creation efforts in 2013, while completing a content strategy roadmap for one of the largest two-way radio manufacturers in the world.

Despite the brand’s heft, REI was always ahead of them in the SERPs, with social shares, in online conversations, etc.

When I visited with Jonathon Colman, formerly the in-house SEO for REI, at Facebook headquarters in

San Francisco, I understood why REI had content ubiquity: “From the start, they did something right that continues to [work in their favor],” says Colman, who works for Facebook in the areas of product user experience and content strategy. “They simply focused on creating and sharing the best content for their users, not on marketing.”

Those words resonated with me, as they should with you.

How your brand can put this thinking to work

Stop thinking like a marketer and start thinking like a customer. I’ve written before about keeping and sharing a document that lists the questions and comments prospects and customers share during calls, on social media and via any any other platforms used to capture customer sentiment.

This document could form the basis for content that’s written and shared by your marketing team. However, your brand must go farther to deliver meaning through it’s content.

An approach I’ve recommended to clients and seen good success with works as follows:

  • Focus on creating one big piece of content per month: This pulls your team away from thinking about creating content for content’s sake. It also ensures that the team is able to marshal its resources to research, design, and create content with meaning. The goal with each big content piece is to answer every reasonable question and/or objection a prospect might have before doing business with you. For example, an SEO agency might, in month one, create a big content piece titled “How Small Companies Can Win With Personalized Content,” detailing in depth how becoming a popular local expert can earn the brand links, gain press attention and increase overall business. In month two, the same agency might go all-in on a post titled “How Your Mom and Pop Shop Can Beat the Big Guys,” whereby they outline an actionable plan for how to smartly use their blog, one social media platform and a small PPC budget to generate awareness, site visits, links and earned media. Prospects are likely to see the agency as the one to help get them over the hump.
  • Ignore the competition: Instead of checking the SERPs to see what’s ranking highest for content in your vertical on the topic you wish to create, look at the content that’s being shared outside your area by brands that have no relation to your vertical. You cannot win long-term by copying a strategy that your competition is better equipped to deploy, so don’t emulate them. Look at what non-competing brands are doing to deliver meaningful content. It could be a TV show, even, which you study for how characters are developed. Think of the regional car dealerships who grew to be household names in the late ’90s by delivering sitcom-style commercials and ads based off popular TV shows that meant something to the audience. Your brand can find similar inspiration by looking outside your area.
  • Make consistency a mainstay: REI wins at content marketing in large part because the brand is consistent. No matter where you find their content, it’s thorough and deserving of its place in the pantheon of content marketers. Don’t simply pour your heart into the big content piece, then allow everything else to fall by the wayside. Your brand must imbue every area, all departments and any content shared with meaning. This effort takes shape as the development, design and product teams placing users in the driver’s seat early on in the process; the marketing team only sharing information that, first and foremost, addresses the needs of the audience; the customer service team creating customer happiness, not quashing complaints; and sales team members frequently checking on prospects, even when no sale is imminent.

The goal here is to, as the saying goes, be so good they cannot ignore you.

3. Help your customers become the best versions of themselves

It’s likely you’ve seen the graphic below online before, maybe even on the Buffer Blog, which is where I found it. The image expertly sums up where I think the brands who ultimately win at content marketing will have to go: Turning away from their own interests and keying in on how the brand can better enable the customer to (a) better do what they endeavor to do and (b) become a version of themselves they never imagined possible.

(image source)

Sound far-fetched? Imagine the car commercials showing an average Joe who is all of a sudden a handsome hero admired by beautiful passersby because of his new wheels.

Your brand can become the means-something-to-prospects darling of its industry, too, with the adoption of three simple steps applied with conviction:

  1. Personalization — Develop people (at least one, but a few would be even better) in your company who can become the public face of the brand, who make it easier for prospects to form a connection with the company and more likely that content is shared and amplified more frequently as their popularity increases.
  2. Become a helper, not a hero Stop thinking that your content or your product or your service needs to be life-changing to get the attention of prospects. They desire to be the heroes and sheroes of their own journey; they simply need an assist from you to create a lasting bond they won’t soon forget about.
  3. Make users’ stories a core of your marketing efforts — Let’s get this straight: No one gives a damn about your story. Your brand’s story only becomes relevant when prospects have been made to feel important, special by you then desire to explore further the meaning behind the brands. How do you accomplish that task? By integrating the stories of customers into your marketing efforts.

How your brand can put this thinking to work

The importance of using an engaging personality to deliver meaning for your content cannot be overstated. In fact, it’s likely the shortest path to winning attention and garnering success.

I’ll use Canadian personal trainer Dean Somerset as an example. I discovered Somerset a few years ago when he dropped a few helpful knowledge bombs in the comments of a fitness blog I was reading. I then found a link to his blog, which I have now become a religious follower of. Over the years, we’ve traded numerous emails, interacted myriad times via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and I’ve even hired him for training assessments.

Why?

Aside from being brilliant, he’s a goofball who takes his work, not himself, too seriously.


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But most important, the core of every post he creates or video he shares or every Facebook Q&A he offers is helping others become better at physical health and physical fitness than they ever imagined they could.

The result is that, in a relatively short time span, Somerset has become one of the top young minds in the fitness industry, in no small part because he creates heroes with nearly every piece of content he shares. (If you doubt me, watch the video below.)

Don’t think for a second that your brand can’t do the same:

  • Look for members on your team who have personality and who are uniquely qualified to create content (e.g., video, text, SlideShare, etc.) on topics readers care about. Empower them to share, converse and engage around this content, whether locally (e.g., Meetups) nationally (e.g., conferences) or online (e.g., blogs, social media, etc.).
  • The script these experts must work from, for everything they share, should begin with the question, “How can this [blog, video, etc.] help at least one person do something better tomorrow that they cannot yet do today?” Answer this question, and you won’t simply create meaning for your content, you’ll create meaning, relevance and top-of-mind awareness for the brand as well.

It’s hard for a brand to escape being successful if this mindset is ever-present.

The last area we’ll look at is storytelling, which is very popular in content marketing. And almost no one gets it right.

Yes, people do love stories. They eat them up, especially compelling, heart-wrenching stories or, even better, tales of tremendous uplift.

However, people are not interested in your brand’s story — at least not yet.

The only story brands should be telling are those of their users. The brands who have realized this are leaving the brand storytellers in the dust, while turning up the dial on meaning and significance to the audience.

A great example is Patagonia and their Worn Wear video series. Instead of creating ads showcasing the durability of their products, they filmed actual customers who’ve been using the same Patagonia products for years and who wouldn’t trade the brand’s products for those of any other company.

These are rabid fans, loyal to the nth degree.

Don’t drink the brand storytelling Kool-Aid. Tell the stories of your users.

Identify a handful of ardent fans of your product or service, then reach out to them via phone to ask if they’d mind being part of a short-video series you’re doing to showcase people and brands doing great things. (I mentioned a similar approach earlier, which is ideal for the smallest companies. I think this effort plays into a much broader strategy for larger brands.)

Depending on your budget and their location, you could either have a small camera crew visit their office or walk them through how to shoot what you need on their mobile devices. You could also provide them with a script.

Here’s the kicker: During the video, they are not allowed to talk about your brand, product or service in any way shape or form.

The goal is to get video of them going about their day, at home and at work, as they share what makes them tick, what’s important to them, who they are and why they do what they do.

This is their story, remember? And as such, your brand is a bit player, not a/the star. Also, the lack of a mention washes away any suspicion viewers might have of your brand’s motives. Most important, however, you get a real, authentic success story on your website and domain, so the implication is that your brand was a helper in this heroic journey.

If this post accomplishes anything, my wish is that it makes clear how necessary and how realistic it is for your brand to create meaningful content.

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Interview with Data Driven Business

In the third post in my series of interviewing some of our partners, I speak to Eliot Knepper from Rising Media who is organising Data Driven Business which takes place in London next month.

Why should people attend Data Driven Business?

Data Driven Business is a consolidation of three conferences focusing on different segments of the Online Marketing & Analytics world. By merging them under one roof we allow maximum knowledge exchange and networking between attendees, speakers and exhibitors.

DDB consists of 5 parallel running conference tracks with over 50 sessions and more than 60 speakers from around the globe, including companies like Google, adidas, Swisscom, Barclays, Gore-Tex, Vistaprint and many more.

To understand the value of Data Driven Business it is important to emphasize the concept behind the individual shows a bit further.

Conversion Conference focuses on the science of conversion optimisation and allows the attendee to leave with the latest in concrete, actionable strategies and tactics for driving more revenue from your website – while increasing customer satisfaction.

eMetrics Summit, existing for 10 years now is the leading digital analytics conference covering the impact of data & technology on marketing and how to drive business results through data analysis and technology adoption.

Predictive Analytics World, is the cross-vendor event for predictive analytics professionals, managers and commercial practitioners.

Thereby, the knowledge exchange goes further than it usually does by merging business and industry segments which usually do not cross so easily.

 

What kind of audience will attend Data Driven Business?

Due to the structure of DDB we widen the audience dramatically. DDB attracts various management levels from the Online Marketing, Analytics and IT sectors. Again, by offering the attendees this wide spectrum of the optimization and analytics world the show attracts a broader range from show to show.

Data Driven Business

Could you let us know about the speakers at Data Driven Business. How can someone become a speaker?

Each of the three individual conferences is supervised by a conference chair, who is an expert in the topic area, supported by our conference director. We can therefore not only guarantee excellent quality control but also identify both leading established speakers and the rising stars working on new concepts and ideas.

Basically everybody can apply to speak at the conferences and it is our conference chairs’ jobs to identify those who can deliver profound new knowledge to our attendees. We have very strict guidelines when it comes to speaking – for instance, we do not allow for sales pitches but focus on those topics that are new and might change the digital marketing world.

Data Driven Business

What makes Data Driven Business stand out from other conferences?

Again, I believe the way we set up this triple conference is exceptional, so is the network of our conference chairs and partners. However, I believe the agenda speaks for itself. Just have a look here and to see the quality and practical value of the programme.

The combination of the Rising Media team’s knowledge of what makes online marketing events successful and the in-depth knowledge of the various conference chairs and advisory board is a recipe for success. Our combined focus on quality content and speakers above all else delivers a programme that leaves the attendee stunned.

Data Driven Business

How does Digital Marketing differ between the Europe and London?

I think that is is a very complex question to answer in a few sentences. In general, I believe the UK market is closer to the USA when it comes to buying behaviour etc. Just take the strategy “buy one get one free” – that is typical UK and US, not only at a POS but this tendency of „how do I get the best deal“ is very common in the UK digital world as well. Comparing UK to the rest of Europe is hard since every country has individual market behaviours and it is the marketers job to analyse and identify this behaviour to create the most effective communication strategy.

155 bishopsgate London

How long have you been running Data Driven Business?

The individual shows have been running for almost a decade now. We understood the need of bringing the different business sectors together 4 years ago and merged the three conferences in 2011 accordingly.

Data Driven Business3

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Million Dollar Content – An Analysis of the Web's Most Valuable Organic Content

Posted by rjonesx.

As much as we like to debate content vs. links, sometimes great content just seems to dominate. I don’t mean to say that great content doesn’t get great links, or that the purposes of creating great content is not to get links, but simply that some content on the web seems to shine through the SERPs.

Content might not be king, but it has lot of sway in Google’s kingdom.

After sifting through tons of SERP data to find million dollar answer boxes (answer box results that rank at the top for keywords driving millions of dollars in traffic), I decided to dig deep to find content just like it across the web. But I wanted to do something different, something harder. I wanted to find content that didn’t have huge Domain Authority. Sure, it is easy for the Wikipedia’s and YouTubes of this world to rank for huge keywords, but what about the little guy? Are there any pieces of content out there bringing in millions of dollars of traffic coming from domains with Domain Authority around 50 or lower? And if so, what sets this content apart from the rest? Let’s find out!

First, I needed a little help in deconstructing exactly what makes this great content tick. I enlisted the SEO greats – Garrett French of CitationLabs who essentially wrote the book on linkable content, and Mark Traphagen, Internet social guru extraordinaire from Stone Temple.

So let’s begin.

Finding great content

I didn’t want to start with any assumptions. I didn’t want to assume that great content was pretty, or thorough, or authoritative. I wanted to judge content by its results, not its features. I set 3 distinct qualifications:

  1. The content URL couldn’t be a home page.
  2. The domain couldn’t have a Moz Domain Authority above 55.
  3. The content URL had to earn more than $1,000,000 a year in traffic based on a recent click through model, traffic volume, and estimated CPC of the keywords for which it ranks.

With those parameters set, I went digging. With SERPScape and the MozScape API, we quickly uncovered dozens of contenders out of just a sampling of the data set. So, what did we discover? What patterns did we find across the board? What set this content apart?

Feature #1: On-point

One of the most obvious trends was simply how perfectly and thoroughly the top content answered the users queries. It wasn’t that the content was necessarily long (although in many cases it was). However, the content was highly relevant, regardless of its length. Take for example this “bed sizes” web page on SleepTrain.com.

Most webmasters would be content with just throwing up a quick intro paragraph and dimensions, but the SleepTrain site provides it several different ways…

  1. An overlay comparison image with Dimensions
  2. A textual table listing of sizes
  3. Several separate images showing people placement on the different mattresses
  4. A textual analysis of common bed sizes describing who would and would not fit by their height.

Now, I know what you are thinking. This isn’t all that great!, but everything must be seen in context. Look at the next several listings. Wikipedia is a nightmare of text, BetterSleep is just text, bedding experts is a little better, but doesn’t have the first overlay chart, SleepCountry only has the overlay chart… No other page in the top 10 answers all of a user’s questions as thoroughly but succinctly as the SleepTrain site.

But don’t take my word for it, we saw this over and over again in the data. We know that good, thorough content can rank well, and we saw just that. The average topical relevancy scores of our Million Dollar Content pieces were significantly better time and time again than the average competition in the SERPs.

In fact, some pages had scores that were truly mind blowing. One particular page on resume templates hit 99.96% relevancy! To get that level of precision, not only do you need to be highly thorough, you also have to be highly restrictive to prevent the addition of content that isn’t relevant. That means no filler. Subsequently, this one particular page ranked for over 2,000 related keywords!

Feature #2: Bold

Conventional wisdom rarely helps you win in a competitive atmosphere. If you do what everyone else thinks should be done, you are predictable, and predictable is beatable.

For a few years now, one of the items on my regular audit list has been page speed. We know that TTFB (time-to-first-bite) correlates with search rankings, that fast download speeds correlate with increased conversions and better user engagement, and we even have an official announcement from Google that page speed matters for rankings.

Well, StyleGlam gives Google a giant middle finger when it comes to page speed. The page is bold, image-laden, and is even filled with ads.

The page clocks in at a turtle’s pace of 24.9 seconds to load and an elephant’s weight at 7.49MB in size! But maybe that is the point.

The game of SEO is all about compromises. When you make a page load quickly, you often have to compromise on images, text, and thoroughness. When you make a page informative, you might have to compromise on conversion rates. In this case, the webmasters came up with a completely different balance. They chose not to compromise on thoroughness, information content, conversion points (look at the ads!) and instead let page speed die a horrendous death. But the trade-off worked!

StyleGlam wasn’t the only site we saw throw page speed to the wind in order to go big. Sites in the resume space, calendar, degree and health care spaces often took refuge in being big before being quick.

But we also saw the opposite true. Paired-back resources that answer one question very quickly, very easily, very simply can also win. What seems to never make its way to the top though is conventional content on a conventional sites. If you aren’t a big brand, you better be different, be better, be bold.

Feature #3: Fresh

Can content survive in high spam, high value keyword niches? You bet it can. I was shocked when I came upon this one, as it was just a well managed blog post that was now several years old. It was surrounded by the latest entrants into a niche that was notoriously getting shut down and cleaned out: free streaming movies.

So how does a simple blog post on the best free movie sites manage to bring in $1,000,000+ in traffic not just this year, or last year, or the year before but for years and years on end?

Well, one thing we noticed about it and many others was content freshness. I can’t tell you how many times a client has been scared to update their content that already ranks. “But what if I break it? What if I lose rankings?”

Not updating your content IS breaking it.

The truth is that if you are not updating your content regularly, Google will have to assume that your content is losing its reliability. So why not? Over time, you will build up a great backlink profile by sheer longevity, while at the same time keeping content as fresh as new competitors entering the space.

The author here found a great opportunity. People wanted to find these sites, they kept disappearing, and someone needed to keep an up-to-date record of the best ones. Now, the webmaster didn’t create it once and leave it, or update it annually. They updated it regularly. The net result?

This piece of content has enjoyed long-term, million-dollar rankings while competitors have come and gone. They have ranked for thousands of keywords for several years by simply creating great content and keeping it fresh.


Linkable million-dollar pages


I am now going to turn this study over to Garrett French. Garrett is the founder and chief link strategist of Citation Labs, a link-building agency and campaign incubator. He’s developed multiple link-building tools, including the Link Prospector and the Broken Link Finder. He also co-wrote The Ultimate Guide to Link Building with Link Moses himself, Eric Ward. Garrett and his team lead monthly webinars on enterprise content strategy and promotion from the Citation Labs Blog.


Only 34% of the content studied has at least 1 link in OSE. That’s right – there are tons of pages getting $1,000,000+ worth of organic search traffic yearly that have few if any external links. A lack of links does not necessarily demonstrate a lack of linkability, but I will say that overall these pages don’t seem “designed” for linkability.

Before we get to individual examples of linkability though (they do exist in this set!) I’d like to outline some basics on how we evaluated these pages.

  • At Citation Labs, we divide linkers into “curators” who collect URLs for a single existing resource page and “editors” who publish new topic pages. Tactically speaking, the curators support broken link building and “link request” efforts, while editors support PR and guest posting campaigns.
  • We believe that it’s primarily the linkers themselves who define a document’s linkability – both by their decision or not to link and how many potential linkers there happen to be.

URLs Linkable to Curators

Linkable Document – Timberline Knolls

Drug addiction, a subcategory of mental health, is one of the single most linkable topics we’ve encountered in our work thus far. This URL provides clear and comprehensive information for concerned loved-ones of a potential heroin user. These concerned loved-ones are a “linker-valued audience.”

To get a quick read on how many curators might be out there for this topic, search for this query heroin inurl:links.html. We use the inurl:links.html portion of the query to get a sense of volume. There’s a ton out there for this document which makes it not only linkable but worthy of further promotion on its own.

Curators are – relatively speaking – quite rare. The existence of curators seems to be topically-driven and are especially prevalent across health and education.

Linkable Document – Wixon Jewelers

I would examine the potential for a broken link building campaign in the “birthstones” area for this URL. In addition, it appears (based on this query: birthstones inurl:links.html) that there are enough potential opportunities to support a request campaign as well.

Birthstones probably won’t get curators linking quite like addiction will. That said, they remain embedded in our collective psyche and if a related URL happens to be dead this could be a great candidate for a linkable page.

URLs linkable to editors

Linkable Document – SMU Mustangs

I’m not a sportser, but this URL stood out in our analysis because it had 60+ root linking domains. This seems to be a hub for SMU’s football team, complete with a calendar. Bloggers, sports journalists, opponents, local events websites, all of these folks should be interested in linking to and supporting this team. Businesses could consider starting a competitive football team to replicate this effort 😉

But seriously, one takeaway, especially for local, is supporting the beloved local sports teams and events.

Linkable Document – The Best Schools

At first pass, my strategy would be to promote via PR, ideally in conjunction with the ranked schools to help them get the most out of their top ranking. Secondly, I’d run a low-scale branded guest posting effort. Guest posting topics could cover “following dreams,” “seizing the day,” “increasing your income,” “going back to school as a parent”, etc. If you repackage the data for a linker-valued audience (Best Online Colleges for Seniors) you could potentially build out a link request campaign too.

Linkable Document – Top 10 Home Remedies

The title – “How to Get Rid of Pimples Fast” – makes this one a tough pitch to skin health curators. That said, I think it could be a fantastic citation opportunity in a guest posting campaign. Target blogs that are more lifestyle oriented – makeup blogs perhaps, dating advice blogs etc – and build out titles that are not necessarily directly related to pimples or blemishes themselves.

Here are a couple more in that same vein – they could work well as supporting citations in a guest posting effort:

StayGlam: Nail Designs for Short Nails

Hair Style On Point: Top 10 Short Men’s Hairstyles in 2015

Most editors would not think twice about allowing those links to live so long as they fit topically and have potential appeal to the reading audience.

Linkability takeaways

The majority of these million dollar pages are not purely linkable, but many could support link building campaigns. Pay close attention to the link profile of the entire domain for link building campaign guidance – the ranking pages may not be there based on their individual link earnings.


Shareable million-dollar pages


So how do these million dollar content pieces actually perform in the very different context of social media?
We’ll let the venerable Mark Traphagen, Senior Director of Online Marketing at
Stone Temple Consulting and
give us some insights on how this high performing content makes out in the world of social media. Mark is a world traveler, speaker, consultant and is
actually a Klout Top 10 Expert for SEO & Content Marketing, meaning he actually does know how to make this social stuff work.


Just as Garrett revealed above that million dollar content does not necessarily have to have a lot of external links (or even any at all), so I found that there is little-to-no correlation between the number of social shares and whether or not content will win Russ’s million dollar prize.

45% of our sample group had no social shares at all (according to Buzzsumo) and 66% had fewer than 300 shares.

Of course, just like having a lot of good links “sure can’t hurt,” having a lot of social shares certainly increases the chances that your content will do well organically. In fact, the page with the highest number of social shares in the sample group (it had over 1 million) also has the lowest domain authority of the group (21). Moreover, 60% of the pages with 1000 or more social shares have a DA of 40 or less.

Now I’m not suggesting that this proves that the million dollar status of those pages was driven directly by their social popularity. In fact, I consider it unlikely that social popularity is a direct ranking factor at the present time. However, it is likely that wide exposure via social media increases the chances of activity that very likely does factor into Google’s ranking algorithm.

Before I take a deeper look at the most-shared content, I have to share two interesting tidbits from my examination of the pages Russ sampled for this study:

  • Facebook is as killer for this type of content as most people think it is. For those pages with at least 100 social shares, a whopping 92% had the vast majority of those shares occur via Facebook. For most of those, almost all the social sharing happened on Facebook.
  • None of the pages that had zero social shares had visible social sharing buttons. To be fair, several of them were simply landing pages linking to other content, and thus not really shareable. But most of the rest have characteristics that typically make content more attractive to shares, yet they provided no easy opportunity for visitors to take that action.

The shareability winners

Let’s examine the factors that most likely made the three most-shared pages in our sample set so shareable.

80 Nail Designs for Short Nails – 1 million shares


This stayglam.com page is almost embarrassingly easy to analyze, as Buzzsumo shows that all but about 800 of its 1 million+ shares came from Pinterest.

If there ever were a textbook example of “made for Pinterest,” it’s this page. The entirety of the content is 80 dazzling images of colorful and exotic nail designs, such as the following:

The images are fashion-centered, brightly-colored, and oriented toward a female audience, the perfect trifecta of Pinterest shareability.

Here’s the kicker: those 1 million Pinterest shares happened in spite of the fact that the stayglam.com page has no social share buttons! This serves as clear proof that if your content is amazingly shareable, and in particular well-adapted for a particular social network, visitors will share it even if it isn’t easy to do so.

It’s probable, though, that the vast majority of those 1 million shares weren’t made directly from the content page. The most likely scenario is that a few influential Pinterest users did the initial sharing, and then thousands upon thousands of other Pinterest users repined those shares.

How to Get Rid of Pimples Fast– 73,300 shares

People love to share “how to” content that they think will be helpful to their social connections. Why? Social psychology tells us that the feeling of being helpful to others conveys as much benefit to the giver as to the receivers, and often more.

A HubSpot study found that content with the word “how” in the title is among the most shared on Twitter.

Furthermore, this content piece speaks directly to a very common (and embarrassing) problem with quick, easy fixes, exactly what people in such a situation seek. The page also has several easy-to-understand infographics, which undoubtedly make it even more appealing to share. The Open Graph image tag is properly set so that the most appealing of those images appears in shares on networks like Facebook and Google+.

Finally, this piece of content, like the previous, exemplifies that highly-shareable content will be shared, even if the site itself does not make sharing easy. In this case, the page does have share buttons for Twitter and Facebook, but they are at the bottom of the page, and below ads and other navigation. Nevertheless, once the content found its way to Facebook (where almost all of its shares occurred), it took off.

Positive & Inspirational Life Quotes– 15,800 shares

Frankly, this page has very little going for it other than the one thing that probably earned it 6.3K shares on Facebook and another 1000 on Twitter. It is well-optimized for a very popular sharing category on both those networks: quotations.

According to a New York Times commissioned study, people share content to satisfy any of four psychological needs. Those needs are:

  1. Entertainment
  2. Self-definition
  3. Relationship building
  4. Self-fulfillment

Inspirational quotes fulfill at least 1, 2, and 4 of the above, and probably help contribute to #3. They are entertaining in that they fit the kind of light, easily-digested, feel good moments that many people turn to Facebook and Twitter for. Quotations also help us define ourselves to our tribe. They are a quick “tag” to aspirations that are likely shared by others in our social circles. Finally, quotes provide self-fulfillment, as sharing them makes us feel like we have contributed something positive to the world (and with very little effort!).

Out of our sample group, this was the only content that had a volume of Twitter shares worth mentioning. Most likely that was because a number of the quotations used a “click to tweet” feature, where a Twitter user can, with one click, share the quote to her Twitter stream. Even though the previous two examples show that highly-sharable content can get shared even without the site providing an easy way to do so, making that content one-click sharable can boost the share volume even higher.

Shareability takeaways

  • Social shares are not necessary to achieving million dollar content status in search. However, in some cases having them may improve your content’s chances in that regard.
  • Content that meets the criteria of being highly shareable sometimes needs little or no boost from the publishing site itself, as long as enough visitors take the initiative to share it themselves. A recent Buzzsumo study published here on the Moz Blog found that “surprising, unexpected and entertaining images, quizzes and videos have the potential to go viral with high shares.” However, the study showed that those content types typically earn few links, even if they are highly shared. This confirms Garrett’s findings above.
  • While making content easy to share (by providing easy-to-find share buttons, for example), while not necessary, can boost the number of overall shares, and/or get the content shared to other networks where an influencer hasn’t done the work already.
  • Despite all the negative press about how much Facebook has reduced the ability for brand content to get organic reach, it remains by far the most “viral-ready” social network. If your content can get a good toehold there by being shared by some influencers, Facebook can still provide organic reach magic. Of course, paid boosting of content can vastly accelerate the chances of that happening, and this study did not examine whether any of the content was supported with paid social advertising.

Overall takeaways

So what are the takeaways? What makes something million-dollar content? I think there are a few standouts…

  1. Go big and bold. You have to stand out from the crowd, and if you can’t do that with your domain authority, you have to do it with your content.
  2. Stay relevant, both in freshness and thoroughness. Know what your user wants and deliver it.
  3. Some sites just get lucky, but other sites make their luck. There were certainly a number of pages that still seemed to rank inexplicably, with average content, few social shares, and even fewer links. Don’t bank on that. Do the leg work and you too can create million dollar content.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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Advice on Overcoming Stage Fright

Across your career you would’ve been asked to pull a report or a deck together and in some cases, then been asked to fill in for your senior manager to present the report, could be to a client, your peers or senior board members. You feel confident in what you have put together, all the numbers, data and reports stack up so it should be an easy 10-30 minutes of talking through the deck.

Now ask yourself, were you nervous at all? Even for the 5 seconds before you stood up at the start? If you’ve answered yes – then you are human! The fight or flight mode has kicked in, which is in us all and you chose to fight and present/talk through the slides.

I have been in digital for over 15 years, worked across a number of industries and brands and I still get that little kick of adrenaline before doing presenting. A few years ago I was invited to present at SES (Search Engine Strategies) in London in the main hall to around 400 people, it was the first time I “big” did a talk in-front of the industry and luckily I had Lee Odden beside me who was cool as a cucumber – I on the other hand was terrified.

I had gone over and over my presentation, so I knew it inside and out, but couldn’t look at it in the morning, couldn’t eat, think or talk to anyone – the fight or flight had me big time that morning, and I was leaning more to the flight and run for the hills and hide.

I wasn’t alone – some people make public speaking look really easy, they “own” the stage, the room and have people sitting in the palm of their hands eagerly waiting their next slide, or titbit to add to a tweet. This post will give some tips from those who we may have all seen at conferences on what to do to stay calm and if they encounter stage fright in any of its guises.

Quick introduction to those who’ve offered advice:

Richard IngramRichard Ingram @richardjingram – Content Strategist and Information Designer at ingserv. Having heard Richard talk at different conferences over the last few years, he seems to have a easy way to discuss and deliver complex ideas and channels with simplicity.

 

Lee Odden - Stage FrightLee Odden @leeodden – CEO of TopRank Marketing. Lee is a busy man, presenting all over the globe, always full of enthusiasm, great personality and thought leader on many subjects. Seems to ooze calmness when on stage, no matter how big or small it is, the audience are always learning from his talks.

 

Shelli Walsh - ShellshockShelli Walsh  @shelliwalsh – Director of ShellShock, delivering Content Strategy and Creative Content Production. She has an uber creative mind, which as you know can be hard to translate to presentations, but Shelli conveys and stimulates her audience through her talks.

 

Dave ChaffeyDave Chaffey @DaveChaffey – An editor for Smart Insights, a published author on varied Marketing Practices. Dave has great characteristics during his talks, from joining up the dots and making his audience nod (a lot).

 

 

Dixon JonesDixon Jones @Dixon_Jones – Marketing Director at Majestic. Presented across the globe to varied audiences, always on the ball, both technical and enthusiastic and when I see him present, I scribble a ton of notes.

 

 

I asked the panel 5 questions on advice around presenting and public speaking – read on and see what that say and if it could help you.

Do you ever get nervous before performing/speaking/presenting (is it a good or bad thing)?

Richard – Yes, pretty much every time. The severity of my nerves depends on whether I’ve given a similar talk before. Usually my heart rate increases and my mouth dries up. That said, I would be worried if I wasn’t a little nervous. I like to think it helps me to prepare correctly and avoid any complacency. The fear of failing in such a public way will always motivate me to put in those crucial hours of practice.

Lee – At first, I was nearly paralyzed and spoke gibberish. Now, not so much. It’s more a feeling of anticipation, which is a good thing.

A little adrenaline improves your senses and adds energy to a presentation. Interestingly, I do get a little nervous from time to time on radio, podcast and webinars where I cannot see the audience.

Shelli – I am very passionate about what I do and can talk for hours about my work, creativity, inspiration and ideas – until people tell me to shut up or fall asleep. But, put me on a stage and I feel like a specimen in a lab and suffer from extreme stage fright. Sadly this has resulted in me turning down many more speaking events and opportunities than I have accepted. Oddly, I have no fear of speaking in front of people at all, put me at a networking event and I can chat to anyone (a skill learned working behind many bars). Being an introvert I am simply not comfortable being at the centre of attention of a crowd.

Dave – Yes, who doesn’t?! The strange thing is presenting a webinar to 10 people you can’t see is far more stressful than 100+ people you can. I enjoy interacting with an audience and seeing reactions – this is trickier online.

Dixon – It’s weird these days… Sometimes I am really nervous and other times I am worryingly calm. What I do know is that I perform much better when I have some nerves. I prepare better and deliver more insight I think.

Do you prefer smaller audiences to speak/present in front of or doesn’t it matter?

Richard – I think they are two different challenges. Addressing a smaller audience will usually mean you’ll continually make direct eye contact with the same audience members. This level of intimacy can make it more stressful.

I think once you’re addressing a group larger than 20 it doesn’t really make that much difference. I prefer larger audiences purely because you are likely to resonate with more people.

Lee – It depends on the kind of presentation. If I’m giving a thought leader, inspirational or keynote type of presentation, then the larger the better – 500 or 5,000.

If I’m giving a workshop, then smaller is better. I once arrived to do a social media marketing workshop in New Zealand where I expected 20-25 students. There were nearly 200! That size of a group required me to do the exercises and group sharing a bit different than normal :)

Shelli – Last year at Brighton I requested to speak on a smaller stage (as I thought it would be easier) and I spoke in The Court House.  Surprisingly, I couldn’t have been more wrong. This is a small venue but very claustrophobic. Having an audience at literally arms length with 250 pairs of eyes so close I could almost see their eye lashes blinking is incredibly unnerving.

This year speaking on the main stage was, even more surprisingly, much easier because you can’t see anyone because of the lights. There is a physical distance and this barrier is a huge comfort. I thought a big stage would be much worse but I now realise, for me, an intimate location is more difficult. Although it does go through your mind that if you fail on a big stage potentially a thousand people will watch you make an ass of yourself – quite sobering.

Dave – I like training workshop formats where you can work with a smaller group and respond more directly to their questions and challenges. That said, I do find it a buzz speaking at a larger event. I’ll never be Matt Bellamy, but that’s maybe the closest I will get!

Dixon – I get more scared with smaller audiences than large ones. Large ones are a nameless crowd (in my head) and I simply have to deliver my prepared speech, but the smaller the group, the more specialised the topic, usually. That means more questions and harder questions. It is harder to create respect in a small group I think. Worse, there is a very real chance that those people know more than I do, so the whole process becomes more 2 way and thus more complex.

What was your worst case of stage fright? (where was it, how many people and how long ago)

Richard – Probably my first big conference talk was the toughest. I’d sat in the audience earlier in the day and watched the first few speakers (who were all industry stalwarts) give these amazing talks.

The stage was set up in such a way that I had no notes to call upon, so I’d memorised my talk in its entirety over the course of two weeks. I felt very raw, tense and completely out of my depth. My legs were wobbling like mad. To make matters worse I experienced a technical hitch right at the beginning with my slides, which forced my to ad-lib for two minutes (but felt like hours). In the end I gave my talk; relieved that it was over.

Afterwards I received plenty of welcome praise, but what the audience had noticed was that I had a tendency to walk around the stage too much. I had feedback like “It was like watching a tennis match” and “you’ve worn out the carpet”. The camera operator had their work cut out trying to chase me around the stage. The footage of this talk still exists out there on the web. I learned a lot about my technique by watching it back, painful as it was.

Lee – This wasn’t really a presentation exactly, but when I jumped out of an airplane with the U.S. Army Golden Knights as part of a conference PR stunt, I got seasick on the way down and cameras were rolling the whole time. I was not myself and couldn’t speak as the camera guy ran up to me to do an interview seconds after I landed. That was a few years ago :)

Shelli – I was very nervous before Brighton (2014). I didn’t sleep the night before, but I was calm and it wasn’t until 10 minutes before I was due to speak that I experienced extreme stage fright. I literally thought I couldn’t speak or move. I thought I was going to be sick and my legs were shaking and wouldn’t move. I felt completely out of body. It took every effort to override my primeval brain that was screaming at me to run away and find a ‘happy place’. The entire 20 minutes felt like forever and I just wanted it to be over. It was quite traumatic.

I did say I would never speak again but found myself facing the same situation at Brighton again (2015) – this time main stage! I went through nerves again but it wasn’t as dramatic as the previous experience. As I stepped out onto the stage it was on the same level of fear as throwing myself off a cliff but I managed to keep control and coherence of what I was doing. I even enjoyed it in a small way. My hand was shaking like a leaf as I began and I struggled to turn the pages of my notes which was amusing in a sadistic way.

It is very common for even seasoned actors to still be experiencing stage fright well into their careers, Kate Bush gave up performing live, Henry Fonda used to throw up before he went on stage even in his 70s and Meg Ryan froze in fear at a high school valedictorian speech. I keep telling myself this to get me through.

Dave – I still get this with webinars as I mentioned, but when I used to train a lot I used to get nightmares about arriving late or being at the workshop but the tech was broken so I couldn’t start even though everyone was ‘expectant’.

Dixon – I was sick 30 seconds before a PubCon presentation. Again, I felt the audience knew more than me! It still happens occasionally.

What do you do to overcome your nerves?

Richard – To control it I think back to past occasions and try to draw on the positive aspects of those experiences. I try to regulate my breathing.

More recently I’ve taken to meeting and speaking with some of the people in the front row. I ask them what brought them there, what they do, and what they are looking to get out of my talk. I find this takes the edge off my nerves and brings me back to a condition which means I’m not completely knotted up when I start to speak

Lee – Know the material and have stories to tell. There is no substitute for being knowledgeable, practiced and passionate about your topic to overcome nerves and deliver an amazing presentation experience for your audience.

Shelli – Overcoming fear and nerves is a personal thing and is different for everyone. I have read much about fear (as I have a fear of flying) and the only way to deal with it is to confront and go against everything your brain is telling you to do. If you hide from fear you live half a life and that is not acceptable for me.

You simply have to find your inner grit. There is no other way.

Whatever you do, do NOT drink alcohol as a means to overcome nerves. Slurring your words and stumbling around the stage obviously drunk will do much more damage to your reputation than looking like a rabbit in headlights

Dave – I don’t really get nervous now, but still usually print a deck to see how I can personalise the start of the talk to the audience/start with a bang. A lot of UK presenters start with an apology which I always think is a shame.

Dixon – Preparation counts for a lot! Starting with a joke that works and talking in front of a mirror. After that, I do breathing exercises before I start. I talk too quickly anyway on stage, but when I am nervous it gets worse!

What top tips would you have for someone who is about to speak/present for the first time?

Richard – Practice. Again and again. Familiarity with your subject, your talk and your notes only breeds confidence. For me, the worst part of a talk is the opening monologue, so I would also suggest preparing more notes and prompts for this part of your talk. This is when your head is most likely going to be in a state of flux because you’re up there; you’re speaking and “oh my, there’s all these people hanging on my words”. Most of my notes are at the start.

Once you’ve settled down and in the zone you’ll need fewer prompts and notes. I also like to start with a personal story that’s loosely related to your subject. You own this story. Nobody else can tell it like you can because you lived it. You know all the details. I find it the most comfortable way to begin a talk.

The only other piece of advice is don’t be knocked off course by watching your contemporaries speaking at the same event before you’ve had your turn. There is no ‘right’ way to present and everybody brings a little bit of themselves to proceedings. Stick to what you’ve prepared. The time for learning those lessons is afterwards.

Lee – First, try to find out about the audience and what their expectations might be. How is your presentation being promoted? What promises are being made about your presentation? Make sure you deliver on those promises.

As for the presentation itself, start with a story. Before planning out the tips, tactics and how to’s, think of a central story you can tell. In fact, if you have multiple stories, even better. Stories are more fun to present and infinitely more interesting to the audience.

Once you have that main story, accentuate and support it with the challenge your expertise can solve, recommended solution and actions the audience can take.

With any kind of content, always be able to answer:

  1. What is it? (the problem relative to the audience)
  2. How does your content solve a problem for the audience?
  3. What should the audience do next?

Find out what your audience cares about, tell them stories and make sure you effectively describe the issue, a solution and what the audience should do next. That’s a great formula for an effective presentation for first timers and old timers alike.

Shelli – If you want to speak I would say it is essential to:

  1. Get your content right, if you have a strong, clear message you cant fail
  2. Join Toastmasters, I cannot recommend enough
  3. Practice, practice, practice

I also posted one of my previous newsletters as a blog, which you can read here for a few more speaking tips: http://www.creativity101.com/how-to-speak-when-under-pressure/

Dave – Well, have a simple structure you explain up front, show why your audience why they should listen and try to start with a bang – something unexpected at the start which will hopefully show you’re worth listening to. Think of a good way to close – I still get that wrong!

Dixon – Apart from the ideas above, the pitch is paramount. Do not think you can “just get asked”. Most conferences ask you to submit pitches. Use the forms and avoid typos. Then, never never oversell your product or your own skill set on stage.

Lastly, time your talk. The other speakers really get annoyed if you overreach on time. I use 1 slide per minute, but your style may vary.

Plenty of advice to use in the future

Personally the best advice given to me is echoed from above (thanks to Bas). I was told to focus on a few select people in the front rows, making eye contact and engaging with them, as though they were the only ones in the room for the first few minutes. It allowed me to slow down (its not a race and as Dixon says, you tend to talk quickly when nervous), get into my stride, regulate the breathing and most importantly convey the presentation – you’ve done all that hard work on the deck, so present and talk through it because you “own” it.

If you have any advice on what you do before presenting, please feel free to leave a comment below – afterall we are only human and what works for one may be different for another. And just remember, it is human to feel the fight or flight feeling, its in our make up!

A last piece of advice

Our founder, Bas van den Beld, is an experienced speaker who travels the world and has seen many audiences. He gives a last piece of advice:

“Be sure you understand the different types of audiences you are talking to, or you may get caught by surprise. For example in the Nordic countries you will get much less interaction from the crowd than for example in the UK or US. Don’t take that personal, it’s just how the culture is. But make sure you are ready for this.”

Bas is currently developing a training course for public speaking. Within the next few months this will be launched. We are looking forward to that course!

Post from Russell O’Sullivan

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Mike

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Scraping and Cleaning Your Data with Google Sheets: A Closer Look

Posted by Jeremy_Gottlieb

Have you ever wanted to automate pulling data from a web page—such as building a Twitter audience—and wanted a way to magically make all of the Twitter handles from the web page appear in your Google Sheet, but didn’t know how? If learning Python isn’t your cup of tea, using a few formulas in Google Sheets will allow you to easily and quickly scrape data from a URL that, were you to do so manually, could take hours.

For Windows users, Niels Bosma’s amazing SEO plug-in for Excel is an option that could also be used for this purpose, but if you analyze data on a Mac, this tutorial on formulas in Google Sheets will help make your life much easier, as the plug-in doesn’t work on Macs.

Within Google Sheets, there are 3 formulas that I like to use in order to save myself huge amounts of time and headspace. These are:

  1. IMPORTXML
  2. QUERY
  3. REGEXEXTRACT

With just these 3 formulas, you should be able to scrape and clean the data you need for whatever purpose you may come across—whether that be curating Twitter audiences, analyzing links, or anything else that you can think of. The beauty of these formulas is in their versatility, so the use cases for them are practically infinite. By understanding the concept behind this, the variables can be substituted depending on the individual use case. However, the essential process for scraping, cleaning and presenting data will remain the same.

It should be noted that scraping has limitations, and some sites (like Google) don’t really want anyone scraping their content. The purpose of this post is purely to help you smart Moz readers pull and sort data even faster and more easily than you would’ve thought possible.

Let’s find some funny people on Twitter we should follow (or target. Does it really matter?). Googling around the subject of funny people on Twitter, I find myself landing on the following page:

Bingo. Straight copying and pasting into a Google Doc would be a disaster; there’s simply way too much other content on the page. This is where IMPORTXML comes in.

The first step is to open up a Google Sheet and input the desired URL into a cell. It could be any cell, but in the example below, I placed the URL into cell A1.

importxml 1.png

Just before we begin with the scraping, we need to figure out exactly what data we plan on scraping. In this case, it happens to be Twitter handles, so this is how we’re going to do it.

First, right click on our target (the Twitter handle) and click “Inspect Element.”

inspect element.png

Once in “Inspect Element,” we want to figure out where on the page our target lives.

twitter inspect element 2.png

Because we want the Twitter handle and not the URL, we’re going to focus on the element/modifier/identifier “target” rather than “href” within the <a></a> tags. We also happen to notice that the <a></a> tags are “children” of the <h3></h3> tags. What these values mean is a topic for another post, but what we need to keep in mind is that for this particular URL, this is where our desired information lives that we need to extract. It will almost certainly live in a different area with different modifiers on any other given URL; this is just the information that’s unique to the site we’re on.

Let’s get to the scary stuff (maybe?): how to write the formula.

importxml formula.png

I put the formula in cell A3, where I have the red arrow. As can be seen in the highlighted rectangle, I wrote =IMPORTXML(A1, “//h3//a[@target=’_blank’]”), which yielded a wonderful, organized list of all the top Twitter handles to follow from the page. Voila. Cool, right?

Something to remember when doing this is that the values have been created via a formula, so trying to copy and paste them regularly can get messy; you’ll need to copy and paste as values.

Now, let’s break down the madness.

Like any other function in Sheets, you’ll need to begin with an equal sign, so we start with =IMPORTXML. Next, we find the cell with our targeted URL (in this case, cell A1) and then add a comma. Double quotation marks are always required to begin the query, followed by two forward slashes (“//”). Next, you select the element you want to scrape (in this case, the h3 tag). We don’t want all of the information in the h3 elements, just a particular part of the <a></a> tags—specifically, the “target” part where we find the Twitter handles. To capture this part, we add //a[@target=’_blank’], which specifies only the target=’_blank” part of the <a></a> tag. Putting it all together, the formula =IMPORTXML(A1, “//h3//a[@target=’_blank’]”) can be translated as “From the URL within cell A1, select the data with an <h3> tag that is also within an <a> tag and also part of the target attribute.”

In this particular case, the Twitter handles were the only element that could be scraped based on our formula and how it was originally written within the HTML, but sometimes that’s not the case. What if we were looking for travel bloggers and came across a site like the one seen below, where our desired Twitter handles are within a text paragraph?

female travel bloggers.png

Taking a look at the Inspect Element button, we see the following information:

sarah v2.png

In the top rectangle is the div and the class we need, and in the second rectangle is the other half of the information we require: the <p> tag. The <p> tag is used in html to specify where a given paragraph is. The Twitter handles we’re looking for are located within a text paragraph, so we’ll need to select the <p> tag as the element to scrape.

Once again, we input the URL into a cell (any empty cell works) and write out the new formula =IMPORTXML(A1, “//div[@class=’span8 column_container’]//p”). Instead of selecting all of the h3 elements like in the preceding example, this time we’re finding all of the <p> tags within the div elements that have a class of “span8 column_container”. The reason we’re looking for <p> tags within div elements that have a class of “span8 column_container” is because there are other <p> tags on the page that contain information we likely won’t need. All of the Twitter handles are contained with <p> tags within that specifically-classed div, so by selecting it, we’ll have selected the most appropriate data.

However, the results of this are not perfect and look like this:

messy results.png

The results are less than ideal, but manageable nonetheless – we ultimately just want Twitter handles, but are provided with a whole bunch of other text. Highlighted in the green rectangle is a result closer to what I want, but not in the column I need (there’s also another one down the page out of the view of the screenshot, but most are where I need them). To make sure we get all the data in the appropriate format, we can copy and paste values for everything within columns A–C, which will remove the values populated by formulas and replace them with hard values that can be manipulated. Once that is done, we can cut and paste the outlying values (one in column B and one in column C) into their corresponding cells in column A.

All of our data is now in column A; however, some of the cells include information that does not contain a Twitter handle. We’re going to fix this by running the =QUERY function and separating the cells that contain “@” from the ones that do not. In a separate cell (I used cell C4), we’re going to input =query(A4:A36, or “Select A where A contains ‘@’”) and hit enter. BOOM. From here on, we’ll have only cells that contain Twitter handles, a huge improvement over having a mixed bag of results that contain both cells with and without Twitter handles. To explain, our formula can be translated as “From within the array A4:A36, select the cell in column A when that cell contains ‘@’.” It’s pretty self-explanatory, but is nonetheless a fantastic formula that is incredibly powerful. The image below shows what this looks like:

queries v3.png

Keep in mind that the results we just pulled are going to contain excess information within the cells that we’ll need to remove. To do this, we’ll need to run the =REGEXEXTRACT formula, which will pretty much eliminate any need you have for the =RIGHT, =LEFT, =MID, =FIND, and =LEN formulas, or any mixture of those. While useful, these functions can get a bit complicated and need to work in unison in order to produce the same results as =REGEXEXTRACT. A more detailed explanation of these formulas with visuals can be found here.

We’ll run the formula on the results produced from running the =QUERY formula. Using =REGEXEXTRACT, we’ll select the top cell in the queries column (in this case, C4) and then select everything after it beginning with “@”, the start of what we’re looking for. Our desired formula will look like =REGEXEXTRACT(C4, “@.*”). The backslash signifies to escape the following character, and the .* means select everything after. Thus, the formula can be translated as “For cell C4, extract all of the content beginning at the “@”.

weekatthebeach.png

To get all of the other values, all we need to do is click and grab the bottom right corner of cell E4 and drag it down until the end of our array at cell C28. Dragging down the corner of E4 will apply the formula within it to the cells included within the drag. We want to include up to E28 because the corresponding cell C28 is the last cell in the array we are applying the formula to. Doing this will provide the results shown below:

whereisjenny.png

Though a nice and clean output, the data in column E is created by formula and cannot be easily manipulated. We’ll need to do copy and paste values within this column to have everything we need and be able to manipulate the data.

If you’d like to play around with the Google Sheet and make your own copy, you can find the original here.

Hopefully this helps provide some direction and insight into how you can easily scrape and clean data from web pages. If you’re interested in learning more, here’s a list of great resources:

  • Xpath Data Scraping Tutorial video (for PC users)
  • The ImportXML Guide for Google Docs
  • A Content Marketer’s Guide to Data Scraping
  • How to Get the Most Out of Regex

Want more use cases, tips, and things to watch out for when scraping? I interviewed the following experts for their insights into the world of web scraping:

  1. Dave Sottimano, VP Strategy, Define Media Group, Inc.
  2. Chad Gingrich, Senior SEO Manager, Seer Interactive
  3. Dan Butler, Head of SEO, Builtvisible
  4. Tom Critchlow, tomcritchlow.com
  5. Ian Lurie, CEO and Founder, Portent, Inc.
  6. Mike King, Founder, iPullRank

Question 1: Describe a time when automated scraping “saved your life.”

“During the time when hreflang was first released, there were a lot of implementation & configuration issues. While isolated testing was very informative, it was the automated scraping of SERPs that helped me realize the impact of certain international configurations and make important decisions for clients.” – Dave Sottimano

“We wanted a way to visualize forum data to see what types of questions their clients’ audiences were talking about most frequently to be able to create a content strategy out of that data. We scraped Reddit and various forums, grabbing data like post titles, views, number of replies, and even the post content. We were able to aggregate all that data to put together a really interesting look at the most popular questions and visualize keywords within the post title and comments that might be a prime target for content. Another way we use scraping often at Seer is for keyword research. Being able to look at much larger seed keyword sets provides a huge advantage and time savings. Additionally, being able to easily pull search results to inform your keyword research is important and couldn’t be done without scraping.” – Chad Gingrich

“I’d say scraping saves my life on a regular basis, but one scenario that stands out in particular was when a client requested Schema.org mark-up for each of its 60 hotels in 6 different languages. Straightforward request, or so I thought—turns out they had very limited development resource to implement themselves, and an aged CMS that didn’t offer the capabilities of simply downloading a database so that mark up could be appended. Firing up ImportXML in Google Sheets, I could scrape anything (titles, source images, descriptions, addresses, geo-coordinates, etc.), and combined with a series of concatenates was able to compile the data so all that was needed was to upload the code to the corresponding page.” – Dan Butler

“I’ve lost count of the times when ad-hoc scraping has saved my bacon. There were low-stress times when fetching a bunch of pages and pulling their meta descriptions into Excel was useful, but my favorite example in recent times was with a client of mine who was in talks with Facebook to be included in F8. We were crunching data to get into the keynote speech and needed to analyze some social media data for URLs at reasonable scale (a few thousand URLs). It’s the kind of data that existed somewhere in the client’s system as an SQL query, but we didn’t have time to get the dev team to get us the data. It was very liberating to spend 20 minutes fetching and analyzing the data ourselves to get a fast turnaround for Facebook.” – Tom Critchlow

“We discovered a client simultaneously pointed all of their home page links at a staging subdomain, and that they’d added a meta robots noindex/nofollow to their home page about one hour after they did it. We saw the crawl result and thought, “Huh, that can’t be right.” We assumed our crawler was broken. Nope. That’s about the best timing we could’ve hoped for. But it saved the client from a major gaffe that could’ve cost them tens of thousands of dollars. Another time we had to do a massive content migration from a client that had a static site. The client was actually starting to cut and paste thousands of pages. We scraped them all into a database, parsed them and automated the whole process.“ – Ian Lurie

“Generally, I hate any task where I have to copy and paste, because any time you’re doing that, a computer could be doing it for you. The moment that stands out the most to me is when I first started at Razorfish and they gave me the task of segmenting 3 million links from a Majestic export. I wrote a PHP script that collected 30 data points per link. This was before any of the tools like CognitiveSEO or even LinkDetective existed. Pretty safe to say that saved me from wanting to throw my computer off the top of the building.“ – Mike King

Question 2: What are your preferred tools/methods for doing it?

“Depends on the scale and the type of job. For quick stuff, it’s usually Google docs (ImportXML, or I’ll write a custom function), and on scale I really like Scraping Hub. As SEO tasks move closer towards data analysis (science), I think I’ll be much more likely to rely on web import modules provided by big data analytics platforms such as RapidMiner or Knime for any scraping.” – Dave Sottimano

“Starting out, Outwit is a great tool. It’s essentially a browser that lets you build scrapers easily by using the source code. …I’ve started using Ruby to have more control and scalability. I chose Ruby because of the front end/backend components, but Python is also a great choice and is definitely a standard for scraping (Google uses it). I think it’s inevitable that you learn to code when you’re interested in scraping because you’re almost always going to need something you can’t readily get from simple tools. Other tools I like are the scraper Chrome plugin for quick one page scrapes, Scrapebox, RegExr, & Text2re for building and testing regex. And of course, SEO Tools for Excel.” – Chad Gingrich

“I love tools like Screaming Frog and URL Profiler, but find that having the power of a simple spreadsheet behind the approach offers a little more flexibility by saving time being able to manage the output, perform a series of concatenated lookups, and turn it into a dynamic report for ongoing maintenance. Google Sheets also has the ability for you to create custom scripts, so you can connect to multiple APIs or even scrape & convert JSON output. Hey, it’s free as well!” – Dan Butler

“Google Docs is by far the most versatile, powerful and fast method for doing this, in my personal experience. I started with ImportXML and cut my teeth using that before graduating to Google Scripts and more powerful, robust, and cron-driven uses. Occasionally, I’ve used Python to build my own scrapers, but this has so far never really proven to be an effective use of my time—though it has been fun.” – Tom Critchlow

“We have our own toolset in-house. It’s built on Python and Cython, and has a very powerful regex engine, so we can extract pretty much anything we want. We also write custom tools when we need them to do something really unique, like analyze image types/compression. For really, really big sites—millions of pages—we may use DeepCrawl. But our in-house toolset does the trick 99% of the time and gives us a lot of flexibility.” – Ian Lurie

“While I know there a number of WYSIWYG tools for it at this point, I still I prefer writing a script. That way I get exactly what I want and it’s in the precise format that I’m looking for.” – Mike King

Question 3: What are common pitfalls with web scraping to watch out for?

“Bad data. This ranges from hidden characters and encoding issues to bad HTML, and sometimes you’re just being fed crap by some clever system admin. As a general rule, I’d far rather pay for an API than scrape.” – Dave Sottimano

“Just because you can scrape something doesn’t mean you should, and sometimes too much data just confuses the end goal. I like to outline what I’m going to scrape and why I need it/what I’ll do with that data before scraping one piece of data. Use brain power up front, let the scraping automate the rest for you, and you’ll come out the other side in a much better place.” – Chad Gingrich

“If you’re setting up dynamic reports or building your own tools, make sure you have something like Change Detection running so you can be alerted when X% of the target HTML has changed, which could invalidate your Xpath. On the flipside, it’s crazy how common parsing private API credentials/authentication is via public HTTP get requests or over XHR—seriously, sites need to start locking this stuff down if they don’t want it accessible in the public domain.” – Dan Butler

“The most common pitfall with computers is that they only do what you tell them—this sounds obvious, but it’s a good reminder that when you get frustrated, you usually only have yourself to blame. Oh—and don’t forget to check your recurring tasks every once in a while.” – Tom Critchlow

“It’s important to slow your crawls down. I’m not even talking about Google scraping. I’m talking about crawling other folks’ web sites. I’m continuously amazed at just how poorly optimized most site technology stacks really are. If you start hitting one page a second, you may actually slow or crash a site for a multi-million-dollar business. We once killed a client’s site with a one-page-per-second crawl—they were a Fortune 1000 company. It’s ridiculous, but it happens more often than you might think. Also, if you don’t design your crawler to detect and avoid spider traps, you could end up crawling 250,000 pages of utter duplicate crap. That’s a waste of server resources. Once you find an infinitely-expanding URL or other problem, have your crawler move on.” – Ian Lurie

“The biggest pitfall I run into these days is that a lot of sites are rendering their content with JavaScript and a standard text-based crawler doesn’t always cut it. More often than not, I’m scraping with a headless browser. My favorite abstraction of PhantomJS is NightmareJS because it’s quick and easy, so I use that. The other thing is that sometimes people’s code is so bad that there’s no structure, so you end up grabbing everything and needing to sort through it.” – Mike King

Do you have any interesting use-cases or experiences with data scraping? Sound off in the comments!

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How to Hack the Amplification Process – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Last month, Rand made a surprise virtual appearance at Full Stack Marketing, part of the Turing Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. He presented a special edition Whiteboard Friday to the audience, and the folks at Stipso who hosted the festival were kind enough to let us share it with you, as well.

Amplifying content to the right audiences is tricky business. It’s easy to hope people will find you organically—particularly if you have really great tools to share—but most of the time, it just doesn’t work out that way. In today’s special-edition Whiteboard Friday, Rand takes an in-depth look at how marketers should be finding the right audiences for their content and tools, effectively hacking the amplification process.

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high resolution version in a new tab!

Video transcription

Let’s talk about how to hack the amplification process. I see a lot of companies, small and medium businesses, startups that are seeking high growth, even enterprises that are launching products, launching services, and they have this problem. They announce to the world like, “Hey, we’ve just launched.” But there’s nobody listening.

Because of that, you get these giant crickets — giant crickets because my stick figure’s leg is about the same size as them – just going, “Chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp.” Nobody is listening.

The problem right here…

is that you might have an amazing product, but when you combine that with a small megaphone that doesn’t reach your audience, you get abysmal adoption.

Solution A:

Look, I see a lot of folks, particularly in the startup, high growth, tech industries thinking like, “Oh, you know what the solution to that is? We need to make the product better.” There’s this mindset mentality that great products will spread virally, and marketing is just for bad products or poor products.

That’s a little crazy in my view. But the process that they therefore use is, “Well, let’s go add some features. We’ll improve the UI/UX, and we’ll push our customers to virally spread for us.”

I won’t argue that this doesn’t work sometimes. I think people point to cases like Google and Slack more recently. They sometimes point to Dropbox. Although, all of those companies, I would argue, had some marketing elements in them that were not just add features and improve UX and make customers do it. But still, I think that mentality, if it works for you, great. But if it’s not working, I’d suggest you try something else.

Solution B:

Another methodology that some folks try is this Solution B I’ve got here. You might say, “Hey, here’s Cindy. She loves our product. Great. Let’s go sell more Cindys on our product.” So that process is very sales driven and sales focused. It’s identify your customer target, find their contact information, and do outreach, whatever outreach might mean. It could mean phone calls. It could mean in-person visits. It usually means email, and LinkedIn is often big for that.

This process can work, and I think if you are a sales heavy, sales focused organization and you have a lot of experience in that area, great, go try it out. If that’s how you want to build your business, terrific.

But I would say that too few folks give this a try. This is an area, this organic amplification that we’re trying to hack here with this Whiteboard Friday today, this is really powerful and has high potential, but it’s a longer, more indirect process. We need to be aware of that when we’re going in, or we can have that slow timed ROI and get cut off by our executive teams, our investors, and our CEO.

Solution C:

So the way that Solution C works is, basically, we identify the folks who are in our audience. They’re potential target customers and people who influence potential target customers. We try and figure out what they consume, what they care about, and then we try and get mentioned, included, visible in the places that they already go to organically.

What’s great about this is it doesn’t cost money. It costs elbow grease. It takes time investment. It takes sweat equity. It doesn’t take direct dollars. Although, you could argue that advertising could go into here and could be a way to scale with dollars or, in your case, pounds.

When we go through this amplification process, what we need to do is identify who our audience are, their influencers, the media and publications, and all the things that they might consume. What will resonate with them? What kinds of messages, content, and branding will resonate? Then we need to test, measure, learn, and improve.

I’ve got some hacks for you. Probably some of you have been through parts of this process or you’re doing it in your day jobs right now. So I have some clever little hacks that I want to share.

Who?

When you’re doing this “who,” trying to figure out like, “Who is my audience? How do I reach them,” well, start with some of these. Try some in-person interviews. Look at surveys. By the way, you can survey your audience, but there’s actually now a process whereby you can identify custom audiences using Google’s audience surveys or SurveyMonkey’s audience features. That will actually let you target folks, specifically across the world, through ad platforms that make you take a survey before you can see content. That can be a very powerful and interesting way to get data.

We’ve used that at Moz ourselves. I did a survey last year, with the help of Mike King from iPullRank, and we got fascinating data about the SEO market from that.

You can also use Facebook ads and Facebook’s audience network to reach potential customers. You can use Google AdWords campaigns. These are usable in two ways. You can use them to identify people who might be in your audience and then market to them directly using advertising. Or you can also use them to reach your audience and then give them a survey so that you can learn more about them and who they are and what they need, what they listen and pay attention to, all that kind of stuff.

Influencers

There are some really great tools here. Followerwonk is one that is run by Moz. There’s actually a great tool that I think is a very impressive competitor to Followerwonk called Klear. It used to be called Twtrland, but they’ve moved to Klear now. I think that’s an impressive tool. I’d urge you to give that a try. It will help you identify influencers, specifically on Twitter. Klear has some Facebook stuff too.

Fanpage Karma, another great tool for finding influencers and influential pages on Facebook specifically and then trying to figure out what other pages people who follow a given page might follow.

Klout and Kred lists, those provide lists of influencers in specific industries and verticals and niches that you can then go identify and do outreach to them.

I actually find that very few people use this, but powerful is going and looking at conferences and event lists and checking out all the speakers. If you see that someone is speaking at an event that you know your audience attends, that’s a great influencer target and potentially someone that you might have missed in these other analyses.

Media and publications

Basically, “What is my audience consuming? If I can figure that out, I can get in front of them with those publications.” I think using Google search is a great starting point.

One advanced search query that very few folks use is the “related query.” So I can type in “related:website.com” and I can see what Google thinks are other sites about that topic or visited by the same people. Pretty cool, actually. You can use this on both domains and pages. So if you see a resource or an article that’s on a journalistic site, on The New York Times, The Guardian, The Observer, or The Independent, you can type “related” that URL and see other articles or other publications that write about those same things. Potentially great for journalist outreach and those kinds of things.

SimilarWeb does something really cool with related sites. I can take a site and kind of hack that process of finding other sites that are visited by that same target audience.

Compass is a tool that I haven’t personally used, but several folks have been recommending to me recently. It’s sort of like SEMrush in that it gives you data, but about ads rather than about keywords. So SEMrush is great for keywords. Compass, give that a try for the ad side. They’ll sort of show you, “Where are my competitors advertising? What ads are they running? What’s resonating?” That kind of stuff.

Then Feedly, as well as Twitter and Facebook fan counts. Feedly will give the you the count of the subscribers for any given blog or RSS feed, so you can get a sense of how popular a given publication might be. Then, of course, you can use Twitter and Facebook statistics for those pages, for that account to figure out how popular those folks are as well.

I’m also a big fan of SimilarWeb for that, for figuring out how a popular a given website is. Please, do not use Alexa, Compete, Quantcast, Hitwise, Nielsen. The data is not good. You’d be better off flipping a coin. No offense, they’re just not good.

What’s going to resonate?

So this is us trying to figure out what type of content that if we could get in front of folks on our own site, on other people’s sites, what kinds of messages, what would work to reach them?

Look, no doubt about it, search is still very powerful. If we know the search terms that people in our audience are looking for and we can rank for those or we can advertise for those, just a direct way to acquire competent, high conversion likely customers.

AdWords is kind of the default, but you can also check out SEMrush and SimilarWeb. SimilarWeb will give you the terms and phrases that are sending traffic to any given website. If you find a competitors’ site, you can plug them in. SEMrush, same story and they’ll also give you a bunch of other keyword options.

Then, I love BuzzSumo. I think everyone in the content marketing world loves BuzzSumo. That will show you content that has performed well around a particular keyword.

You can also check out Open Site Explorer or Ahrefs or Majestic for the top pages to see what are the top performing pages on a given domain.

Finally, trial and error. A lot of stuff, when it comes to content, is going to be you putting things out there, those things failing to resonate, and you learning what your audience does and doesn’t like. There’s no substitute for it. You can learn everything you want from all of these hacks and tools, you’re still going to have to try and have some failure rate. If you’re unwilling to fail, this is not the path for you.

In order to do this effectively, we need to…

Test, measure, learn, and improve.

So hopefully, we’re getting better and better over time. To do that, we need four kinds of analytics.

We want web analytics, like Google Analytics or Omniture, if you’re using that. Product analytics, something like a Mixpanel or a KISSmetrics.

We need some finance analytics, especially if you have a software as a service type product or an ongoing subscription product. My recommendation would be to use Stripe and then something like ProfitWell or Baremetrics on top of Stripe to be able to see all of the data about who’s performing well, what your customer lifetime value is, where you acquired those people, from which channels, etc.

Finally, some search, social, kind of inbound marketing analytics. Moz is fairly good for that. Searchmetrics is another really good choice. We really like TrueSocialMetrics here for the social aspect of getting analytics.

So now you have these hacks. Now you know this process, and I think you can effectively hack the amplification process. I’m very excited to see what you all do, and I hope to be joining you again, next year, at the Turing Festival.

Thanks so much. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Brace yourself for a new flood of cookie alerts

When the European “Cookie law” first reared its head in 2009 the web suddenly became littered with attention grabbing notices about cookie use.  Whether we were concerned about cookie use or not user experience became punctuated with pop-up messages humbly informing us about these small data files being stored on our hard drives.

Whilst many sites still display these notices, many chose not to (and others chose to mock the whole ordeal). With no sign of the law being enforced many site owners assumed the issue had gone away.

Fast forward to summer 2015 and the cookie pop-ups are coming back. Sites that previously laughed at the law are now proudly popping up their notices.  Even websites run from outside the EU are now confounding their visitors with talk of cookies. Interest in Cookie policies hasn’t just re-surfaced, but has spiked.  Why the sudden interest?

There’s a new sheriff in town

The EU has now drafted in help from one of the few organisations that most website owners are guaranteed to pay attention to: Google.

Bad-ass Sheriff

There is no official line on whether this unexpected collaboration came from Google’s desire to respect the data choices of EU citizens or as a result of being kicked around the EU courts like a cheap football. Whatever the background, Google are now making clear recommendations about cookie and data sharing notices, and threatening to enforce them.

It seems that the EU have told Google to do more to ensure that users give consent for cookie use and data sharing that happens in relation to Google products.  As those products are used on other people’s websites it comes down to the website owner to ensure that permission is granted by the user.

What websites need to act?

To date notices have only been sent to websites that use Google’s monetisation products; AdSense, DFP and AdX. All sites serving any of those products to users in the EU are expected to be compliant with the new EU user consent policy  by September 30th 2015.

Google specifically state that this applies to websites with users in the EU.  Sites run from outside the EU but serve visitors who are in the member states also need to comply.   If that sounds like the EU overstepping its boundaries, remember that this is now Google policy not just EU law.

If that leaves you breathing a sigh of relief because you don’t run AdSense, you might want to hold on to that breath just a little longer.

Users love pop-ups (apparently)!!

The EU seems to be convinced that users hate cookies and love pop-ups and other “in your face” alerts.  Site owners worried about the impact of cookie alerts on conversion rate are generally less convinced and concern is focused on what impact cookie alerts have on user experience.  Whilst opinions are likely to vary from one member state to the next, data seems to suggest that UK users at least find the alerts more annoying than the cookies they are warning about.

60.2% of UK users find Cookie notices more annoying than cookies
Source: Are cookie notices the cure that is worse than the disease?

What action needs to be taken?

The actual steps that need to be taken to comply with the new policy seem quite straight forward.  Quite how it will be interpreted and enforced is yet to become clear, but it boils down to three points.

  • Alert EU users if non-essential cookies are being used or if data is being shared with third parties
  • Provide a means to read more information (probably including a link to Google’s “How we use data” page )
  • Have take some affirmative action (such as click) to remove the message

For those looking for a quick fix check out “The easiest solution ever to the AdSense cookie requirements”

The thin end of a very big wedge?

Whilst the September 30th deadline applies to sites using Google’s monetisation products, there are hints that this might not be the end.  Google’s Cookie Choices resource also references Google Analytics.

Google Analytics also uses cookies and requires the sharing of data, raising the question of whether the estimated 30 million websites using Google Analytics will be the next to be forced to show alerts.

An effective wedge

It might be tempting to think that the answer is to stop using Google products (which would undoubtedly please some voices in the EU), but this is not just a Google issue.  If the EU are successful in forcing site owners to comply by having Google police them, then the logical step is to expect the same from other service providers.

Whether you love or love cookie alerts, it seems that we are all going to be seeing a lot more of them in the near future.

Post from Mat Bennett

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Announcing the 2015 Local Search Ranking Factors Results

Posted by David-Mihm

As we head into the thick of fall conference season, I’m happy to announce that the results of the 2015 Local Search Ranking Factors Survey are in.

Click here for the full results

At the very least, I hope they help kickstart your Birds of a Feather roundtable conversations. (Or if you have a local search addiction as debilitating as mine, perhaps even an after-party conversation over over a pint!)

My high-level takeaways

Google’s local search algorithm seems to be maturing

Overall, we’ve seen a continuation of the gradual trend towards Google rewarding quality on all fronts—from citations to links to reviews. And as more companies have implemented the table stakes of site architecture, keyword- and location-relevant title tags, and claiming their Google My Business pages, quality and authority become the differentiators in competitive markets.

The influence of Google+ on local results is on its way out (if it even existed in the first place)

With the removal of links to Google+ pages from Maps and even from the primary SERP, the always-awkward integration between Plus and Local has now been completely severed.

At this point, I view Google My Business essentially as a UI for structured data* and a conduit to AdWords. While Google’s original “business builder” vision may still come to fruition, it clearly won’t be under the social umbrella of Google+.

*as well as photos–increasingly important for conversion in a Knowledge Card-heavy future.

Behavioral signals are increasing in importance

Experts judged behavioral and/or mobile signals to make up 9.5% of the algorithm across pack and localized organic results. Granted, that number is not strikingly high, but it’s up 38% compared with last year’s 6.9%. Research from Darren Shaw and others in the past year has borne out this factor empirically at least in certain markets.

In localized organic results, clickthrough rate was judged the #4 overall factor, and in competitive markets, it moved up 8 spots from 2014, cracking the top ten factors for the first time. A number of experts noted additional behavioral factors beyond clickthrough rate may be playing a role, including post-click time spent on-site or pogosticking.

Citations are still crucial—but your focus should be on quality and consistency

Oddly, citations went from 15.5% to 13.6% as a general ranking factor, but specifically, citation quality and consistency remain top-five factors for both pack results and in competitive markets.

Reading between the lines, it’s the quantity of horizontal citations on traditional directories that is becoming less important. Algorithmically, this makes sense, as many of these sites have been hit by successive Panda releases for thin content. The authority passed by mentions on these sites has clearly declined.

Are links the new links?

Overall, links were up 9% as a general factor compared to last year, and a number of experts noted an increased focus on quality links since the rollout of the Local Stack / Snack Pack. Diversity of inbound links as a ranking factor in pack results moved up 22 spots from last year, and even in competitive markets, it rose 10 spots to #14. And in localized organic results, locally-relevant links, location keywords in anchor text, and product/service keywords in anchor text all moved up at least 10 spots in 2015.

Pigeon’s shift to the user as centroid has “stuck”

The decline of proximity to centroid as a ranking factor, particularly in competitive markets, now seems just about complete. As Google has gotten better at location detection–on both desktop and mobile results–this rather arbitrary factor has been almost completely discarded. We saw this trend start in earnest with the release of Pigeon last summer, and since the snack pack / local stack rollout, proximity to centroid is the factor that experts think took the biggest hit.

On the other hand, proximity to searcher moved up four spots in the pack-specific rankings, and 10 spots in competitive markets. Clearly, the location of a business matters immensely, but only relative to where people are physically conducting their searches.

Wrapping Up

This is always the case, but this year in particular there are so many pearls of wisdom from the survey’s participants that I hope you spend some serious time diving into the comments section of the results. These little nuggets are every bit as interesting as the numbers, if not more so. I truly appreciate the contributions from all participants this year, and look forward to reading comments from our great community members below!

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Want to see the rest?

Take a look at the full results

Interested in Local Search Marketing? Don’t miss MozCon Local 2016, February 18-19, here in Seattle, WA. Check out some of the speakers and register today!

Read more about MozCon Local and Register!

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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7 steps to decide which awards to enter

I don’t know about you but I have lost count how many awards we have for the digital marketing industry and the number seems to be increasing each year. If you also take into account business awards, the number is pretty significant. In fact, I have started pulling together a list of all the awards (primarily UK) and just using my own resources, at the time of writing this post, I already have 67 on that list!

Now don’t get me wrong, I think awards are a great way to recognise the work an agency or brand is doing but with the sheer amount of awards available, I am struggling to keep up and it is impossible to enter them all. The awards industry is an industry in itself!

Let’s take The Drum as an example. They definitely have the lion’s share of the awards industry with a grand total 23!! They have created an award for just about everything from The Scottish Creative Awards through to The Drum Dream Awards. They must be making a huge amount of revenue when you consider that on average it costs around £170 to enter plus an additional £245pp to attend the actual ceremony.

So what can we do to help us to understand what awards we should and shouldn’t enter? I have put together a list of seven things that I take into consideration before I even entertain submitting and entry and want to share that with you.

Ceremony Location

One of the biggest things for me is understanding where the actual award ceremony is being held. In the past, we have entered awards without considering the ceremony location and as a result, we have not been able to attend. I am not saying that awards would do this but I am sure they would prefer for winners to be there on the night so it is important that you can attend the ceremony if you do enter.

You can see the locations for all the awards on our list here.

Categories

Most of the awards seem to come with a lot of different categories. This could be because there are many different marketing campaigns using different channels so it makes sense to have a category for each or maybe the organisers make more money because you need to pay for each entry. My guess is that it would be both of these reasons. The digital marketing industry in particular is constantly evolving and we are finding new ways to market businesses online. This means that trying to fit all entries into just a small handful of categories just wouldn’t work.

Either way, as a business you should make sure you take the time to look through all the different categories and really understand what the judges will be looking for in your campaign if you do enter. If nothing really jumps out at you, then don’t enter. Wait until next year when you are confident you have a campaign that really matches the categories on offer.

Your Chances of Success

Like with the categories, you need to be confident in the campaign you are putting forward for an award. Obviously you don’t know the calibre of the other campaigns that are being entered but if you don’t have full belief in the work that has been done, I would wait until you have a campaign that you fully believe in.

On some occasions you may want to take a chance with a campaign that you think is good enough but you will have more chance of success if you strongly believe in the results generated from the work.

Previous Winners

Having a look over the previous winners from past years can be a good indication of the types of companies and brands that win. If the winners are dominated with big, well known brands and you are looking to enter a campaign for a small business you may be disappointed with the outcome. Big brands more often than not have big budgets meaning that the marketing campaigns can be a lot more creative and drive significant results.

There are a lot of awards out there that are suited to campaigns on all levels so it is wise to fish out those that match your business.

If an award is in its first year and you don’t have previous winners to go by, it could be a good to enter as you just don’t know the types of brands who will be. You may or may not win but in cases like this, you need to be in it to win it.

Entry Cost

Depending on the brand or business that you work for, cost may or may not be a stumbling point. The application costs range depending on the award itself but I would say an average cost is around the £250 mark. If you are entering more than one category or campaign, there is often a discounted rate for multiple entries but this can still add up.

It isn’t only the entry cost that you need to consider. As I mentioned at the top of this post, I would always recommend that you send someone along to the award ceremony if you do get shortlisted so you also need to look at the costs for each person to attend on the night. On average, this is around £200 per person.

When you consider both these costs (plus travel and accommodation), you can easily be spending at least £700 to enter each of them. One of the recent awards we entered cost us:

  • £195 to enter
  • £200 per person for the ticket to the ceremony
  • £40 per person for travel
  • £200 for a hotel

That’s a grand total of £835 and this doesn’t take into consideration two people out of the office for a day and a half.

Imagine the budget you would need as a business to enter all the awards on my current list of 67!!

Application Process

The entry process varies from award to award so it is important to have a look at the level of investment needed to put your application together.

Some awards will just require you to complete a short application form whilst the other more credible and well known awards will want a lot more than that. I have seen some this year that are looking for things like:

  • Application form
  • Short video showcasing your entry
  • Video about you and your company
  • Presentation to the judges in person if you get through to the next stage
  • Testimonials from other businesses you have worked with

As you can see from the above, the time it takes to enter can be significant so you need to understand this before you hand of your money to pay for the entry.

Entry Deadline

Looking at the list of awards I have created, there are certainly some months that are busier than others. The dates in my list correspond with the date of the actual ceremony so deadlines need to be worked backwards from there but typically you will find that the entry deadline is at least two months before the award night itself.

Of the 67 awards I had on my list at the time of writing this post, we can see that there are clear months that seem to be packed! For example, in October there are 15 awards and November there are 17.

Not only would it be a huge amount of work and time involved for someone entering all of those; their waistlines would have expanded with the amount of meals and their livers may not be able to cope with the alcohol consumption!!

In all seriousness, look for the awards you want to enter but I would urge you to pay attention to the deadlines when you do so unless you have a team of people who can assist with preparing the entries.

Who Sits on the Judging Panel?

Finally but still as important as all the other points I consider is the judging panel itself. Let’s say for example that you are an agency looking to get your agencies brand and the results you have delivered for your client in front of some of the leading brands. If the judging panel is packed full of high profile individuals from leading brands across the globe, this could be an ideal way to show them what you can achieve.

This is the same for brands that are looking to build awareness of their brand. Entering awards not only gets your brand in front of an audience if you get shortlisted or better still, win; but you have a panel of influential judges that will also be exposed to your product/service offering.

A Few Final Thoughts

I would love to hear which awards you have entered this year and those that you would recommend others to enter. Please drop a little comment in the section below or if you would prefer, you can tweet me on @koozai_sam.

If you have an award that you would like to add to my Awards List, please drop me a message either below or on Twitter and I will get it added.

Post from Samantha Noble

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Let Me Work, Please: A Case for Fewer &amp; More Productive Meetings

Posted by MTurek

If you feel like your workweek is structured around meetings—like all you’re doing is preparing for and attending meetings, talking about and reporting on your work rather than sitting and doing it—then you’ve reached a point of frustration where you need to regain control of your time.

There are two sides to meetings: not attending them if they’re unnecessary, and when running a meeting, ensuring that it’s purposeful, on-point, and driving a specific outcome. If the meeting lacks purpose and has no desired outcome, what’s the point?

Today’s workplace

The current workplace is operated on a model that doesn’t promote productivity. Many offices are built around the “open office” concept, which serves as an ideal delivery system for distraction. This open-plan environment may promote camaraderie, but constant noise damages attention spans and workplace productivity. Even the most sophisticated noise-canceling headphones cannot defend workers from inevitable but unpredictable waves of interruption: ringing phones, loud chatter, shouting across the office, and more. People go to work every day, but much of the real work happens before or after business hours, on the weekends, at home, in airplanes, in coffee shops—virtually everywhere except the office.

If we want to start being productive at work, the model needs to change. This requires removing distractions and creating longer and longer periods of uninterrupted time devoted to work. Feeling frustrated because of how little you actually get done is a sign you’re feeling resistance against the model in which you must operate.

Creative people require unstructured time to “get into the zone.” As a knowledge worker, whether you’re a programmer or a digital analyst, being unable to complete your work creates internal friction and frustration. According to an Atlassian study, employees are attending up to 62 meetings per month, half of which are considered a waste of time. In a 20-day work month, that averages to 3.1 meetings per day. Now, imagine that these meetings are spread out across the day. That’s a recipe for frustration: a stop-start workday in which you never have the opportunity to take the time to focus on complex work.

To preserve both your sanity and your productivity, you must reclaim your workday.

21 daily habits to master for increased productivity, from Too Busy to Do Good Work.

Finding work/meeting balance

Meetings should be like salt—a spice sprinkled carefully to enhance a dish, not poured recklessly over every forkful. Too much salt destroys a dish. Too many meetings destroy morale and motivation.

– Jason Fried, Basecamp

1. Block out 2–4 hours every day in your calendar for uninterrupted work.

If you’re an early riser and your most productive time is in the morning, you have a better chance of setting up several hours of uninterrupted work time during the day. Create blocks of time in your calendar dedicated to your work, and indicate in the title that this time is blocked off for specific, focused tasks. Indicate which project you’ll be working on and request that no meetings are booked in that time.

2. Review your existing meeting invitations.

Review your calendar at the start of each week, ensuring that you understand the purpose and desired outcome of every meeting you’re invited to. If there’s any doubt in your mind as to the purpose of a meeting, speak to the organizer and determine whether your attendance is required.

3. Ensure that every meeting you attend has a clear purpose.

If there’s no agenda for a meeting to which you’ve been invited, request it. Every single meeting should have a clear, unique agenda that’s outlined at least 24 hours beforehand.

4. How many meetings actually take an hour?

The reality is that there are few meetings that require a full hour to complete. The challenge is that, if the meeting is set to last an hour, the meeting will likely be stretched out to accommodate that timeframe. Start by scheduling your own meetings for 30 or 45 minutes. For meetings that routinely end early, reach out to the organizer and request that the meeting invite be shortened to reflect the actual time required.

5. No-meeting weekday.

This one’s ambitious, but if companies like Asana, with over 100 employees, can successfully manage their workweek with a “No Meeting Day,” then surely your company can, too. This is a decision that must be supported by senior management and implemented by the entire organization. If you are in a position where you can make a recommendation for such a policy, begin by having conversations with the right people.

If you’re not fortunate enough to work at an organization that implements this type of policy, begin by blocking out a no-meeting day in your own calendar, encouraging team members to book meetings with you another day. Your example may inspire others to implement their own no-meeting days, organically spreading this idea across the organization.

21 daily habits to master for increased productivity, from Too Busy to Do Good Work.

Productive meetings: The rule, not the exception

If 20% of an average day is spent on meetings, expressed as a year, that means a meeting you start on New Year’s Day would let out around the middle of March.

– Merlin Mann, 43 Folders

Meetings can be an incredibly effective way for people to share and exchange information, get feedback, plan, collaborate, brainstorm, and make important decisions. To ensure that meetings are adding value to your work rather than detracting from it, hold yourself and others accountable to a higher standard.

1. Avoid over-inviting.

Consider the purpose of the meeting and determine who is actually required to attend. Meetings require employees to drop whatever they’re doing and switch tasks. In a service-based business model, time is one of the company’s most valuable assets. If you’re pulling five people into one meeting, that meeting costs five billable hours. Let’s assume that a billable hour is conservatively worth $200. How confidently can you say that your last meeting, where you may have pulled in 5 senior team members, was worth $1,000?

2. Ban cellphones.

When attendees are checking their phones, they aren’t focusing on the meeting. If distraction is a problem in your meetings, address it by removing that distraction.

3. Write actionable agendas.

Your agenda should be written with action words, not nouns. Each item should address the desired outcome using an action, with the responsible individual indicated. For example, “Agree on ad copy testing plan next steps – Max” is more descriptive and actionable than “Ad copy testing plan.”

4. Send agendas 24 hours in advance.

Ensure that the agenda is updated and sent to attendees 24 hours in advance so that they’re able to review it, contribute to it, and prepare for the meeting.

5. Begin on time.

Make sure to start and end every meeting on time.

6. Prepare for meetings.

Simply attending a meeting isn’t enough. For a meeting to be productive, you need to prepare for the meeting, understand what your role is at that meeting, and be prepared to contribute to its desired outcome.

Meetings are one of the biggest disruptors of at-work productivity and have come to dominate the workday, when in reality creative work should be the core focus of every day. Our most productive work is done without distraction; wasting workday time means we’re working more outside of business hours in order to get things done. Build some quiet time into your day and be vigilant about ensuring that you have at least 2–4 hours dedicated to focused tasks. When you do attend or run your own meetings, ensure that you put in as much effort into making those meetings effective.

Take back your workday and use the skills that you’re paid for to work on constructive, creative projects. If you’re looking for some additional steps to improve your focus and productivity while on the job, download the PDF of my slide deck Too Busy to Do Good Work from MozCon 2015.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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