Manage your KLM booking through Facebook Messenger

Be where your audience is. It’s a very common sentence used in marketing. You can hear it at events, read it in articles. The essence of this sentence is that you should try and communicate with your audience on the platforms they are on. Are they on Facebook, go there. Are they on Twitter? Go there. Are they not on Snapchat? Don’t go there. KLM is taking that advice. They went to Facebook Messenger. You can now check your flights and organize your flights by talking to KLM directly, using Facebook Messenger.

Last January, Facebook reported that Facebook Messenger now has 800 million people using the app every month. Wow, that is a lot! So it makes sense to look there when targeting audiences. After all, with such a big audience, your audience must be there. KLM is now the first to work with Facebook on this large audience.

This week KLM announced the launch of its new Messenger service. It offers several services within Messenger to help make the passenger’s life easier. Passengers can book tickets, get updates, get their boarding cards and arrange flight details.

See the video KLM made:

Getting started with this is easy. All you need to do is access your booking or check-in on KLM.com. Do this in a browser you use Messenger in. KLM will then give you the option to get information through Messenger. It doesn’t seem to work on existing bookings as far as I can see, but you will probably have the option with new bookings. Unless this turns out to be an April Fools joke ;-).

Facebook Messenger as personal assistant

This launch fits exactly into Facebook’s plans for Messenger. It’s what Facebook wants, for Messenger to become more of that personal assistant. Facebook “M” was the first step in that. This is a logical follow-up. They talked about this and hinted to these developments back in January when they said:

“You can expect us to keep trying new things, too. Our test of M, our digital virtual assistant, powered by human-trained AI, is going well. It’s still very, very early days, but the growing AI capabilities are bringing unparalleled convenience to simple, everyday tasks like booking a restaurant, sending flowers, and making plans. There will be more innovative developments to come from Messenger this year.”

A first

KLM is the first airline to start using Messenger in this way. Of course, this makes for great PR for both KLM and Facebook. Whether or not this will actually take off, we’ll have to wait and see.

KLM however has the potential of making this work. All the ingredients are there. There is the big platform. The users are there and KLM has the resources. The question remains if people would want to use Messenger for this. Would you? Do you think Facebook Messenger is your next personal assistant?

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AdWords self-optimizing accounts demystified

AdWords is clearly moving towards higher automated and keywords-less accounts, even if a full automatic long-lasting optimization is still yet to come.  Anyway, it is already possible to create campaigns automatically reacting to competitors’ activities and keeping high performances without manual changes.

Being obsessed by usability and CRO, since I made my first campaign (more than 12 years ago) I have always been searching for this PPC Sacred Grail.  Here is what I have found along the road to it…

Account Structure

To auto-optimize your account has to have a flexible structure to naturally target new valuable keywords.  Pure matching types exclusion campaigns are therefore out of the game.

Groups set focus on one or few terms in phrase or exact match, excluding all the rest are rigid by definition and probably even an AdWords developing team believes they are not the best option possible, given the fact that they intentionally weakened phrase and exact matches some months ago.

I am forcing the system this way only when users’ real searches are concentrated on few terms absorbing the majority of the budget and competitors are bidding specifically on these terms, skyrocketing CPC levels and zeroing quality scores for broader matches.

That is why you mainly need campaigns based on broad match long tail keywords or broad modified medium tail keys or directly use dynamic search ads (in my opinion dynamic search campaigns with no keywords at all will be the founding pillar of the next AdWords account generation – be prepared for that).

This approach is undoubtedly more flexible, but still requires to periodically check real users’ queries to exclude unrelated searches with negatives.

Bid management & goals tracking

A real auto-optimizing campaign cannot of course rely on manual adjustments, but only on CPA bidding or optimized CPC.  In my experience I am yet to find any other automated bidding strategy fitting all accounts and working as effectively as these ones.

Moving to CPA definitely requires several daily conversions (otherwise it will worsen your performance), while optimized CPC is more flexible, but requires more control over time.  Of course to apply these bidding automations you need to track all possible conversion actions.

If you are not tracking all your online goals you are using AdWords at a fraction of its power.  If you haven’t enough of them, then you should consider behavioral conversions (besides online sales/contacts), such as newsletter subscriptions, downloads and even long-lasting or deep visits (in terms of number of pages seen) tracked via Analytics.  Now using “Smart goals” and importing data to AdWords this is really easy to set.

Smart Goals Adwords

This is not a way to cheat yourself, but to understand where your top quality traffic comes from, even when you try to sell something with no market, no brand or with a terrible landing page!  In other terms, something that even the best AdWords campaign in the world will fail to sell.

Budget allocation

Another vital feature of auto-optimizing campaigns is the equilibrium in budget and real total daily cost.

If you are spending the maximum every day, you are letting AdWords to decide for which items to show your ads.  In other words, you are randomly losing part of your impressions, while you should cover all traffic peaks of your best performing keys/placements.

Peaks could come from seasonality or your competitors’ campaigns or… who knows (& who cares)!  If in the course of time you have been carefully selecting converting items, you only have to tune their CPCs in order to stay within the daily budget to be sure that all your high potential visitors will actually see your ads.

Adverts management

Besides regular control of real users’ queries, another maintenance task which cannot be demanded to the platform is adding new ads variants and extensions (all of them :-) as often as you can.

The widespread practice of testing only two ads at a time in each group works only if add new ads on a daily basis or so, otherwise will limit the platform internal optimizing algorithm.

Groups without a wide range of variants to auto-test will require much more time and manual efforts to find the best ones for a mobile device, or in certain locations or hours of the day, etc., while leaving active some apparently underperforming ads will not really affect your campaigns, because the platform will rapidly turn their traffic to more clicked or converting ads.

Automatic alerts

You will finally need at least a couple of alerts to email you if something gets wrong and you have to correct it.

The first one should be checking lack of impressions in active campaigns/groups.  It is quite simple to set it with automated rules, and it is going to spot all unwanted interruptions due to payment problems or low CPCs.

Active Impression Alert

The second, and more important one, should be related to conversions drops.  Again you can very easily set an automated rule at campaign or group level, or you will need a script to do it once for an entire account or managing account (former MCC) or can use an Analytics custom alerts.

Custom Alert Adwords

This custom alert only works if you have one AdWords account running and no other platforms using “cpc” as UTM medium dimension (like Bing, just to say one), otherwise you will have to use campaign names (including a specific word in all the ones you want to track will greatly help).

This way you will have an alert when something critical is killing your conversions (or even just lowering them under a fixed threshold).

Final Thoughts

Using a flexible campaign structure based on long tale broad match keywords, middle tale modified keys or dynamic search ads grants you from having to check daily your campaigns for new interesting positive matches.  You will only have to occasionally control search queries to exclude unrelated searches.

Enhanced CPC or CPA bidding coupled with budget and daily expense matching will let you really show your ads to all and only your higher converting prospects.

Occasionally add some new ads variants and extensions starting from the best performing ones will keep you in the game with your most aggressive competitors.

Finally, setting some lifesaving alerts to let you know when campaigns are blocked or underperforming and doing some monthly optimization checks will complete the scheme.

That’s not yet a full automation, but it is really near to the goal.  Paraphrasing what Einstein once said: everyone can complicate an AdWords account, you need a touch of genius to make it simpler without losing conversions.

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All the weird things you can measure with Google Analytics

So you probably have a website, be it a blog, a content or commerce website or any other kind of site. So you installed Google Analytics manually or using Google Tag Manager and you started collecting data about your website’s visitors and their behaviour.

Of course, depending on your level of digital marketing maturity, you’ll be interested in knowing more than just vanity metrics (visits, page views, etc.) and that’s when you’ll start looking into advanced tagging and reporting.

As it turns out, you can capture just about anything you want with Google Analytics, from the basic to the conventional, to the complex all the way down to the unimaginable.

This post explores the principles of information capture with Google Universal Analytics and how to get creative in your data collection efforts.

One API to rule them all

When Google acquired Urchin Analytics in 2006, the focus was on capturing page views, some e-Commerce data but not much more. Then GA “grew up”, eventually catching up with the “enterprise” analytics solutions and culminating in the “introduction” last week of Google Analytics 360 (née Premium). Of course, Universal Analytics was launched in 2012 but that many digital marketers/webmasters saw this as only a change in the tracking code and not in the tracking potential.

Universal Analytics brought about the Measurement Protocol, the new data collection engine that now powers Google Analytics. The Measurement Protocol uses API URLs – also known as endpoints – to capture a pageview, an event, a transaction (and more), along with a bunch of parameters. You may not know it but your website’s tracking code uses that very same protocol to measure sessions, users, pageviews and all that basic data – and a lot more! Either way, the Measurement Protocol is merely a fancy name for the Google Analytics data collection API. It differs from the 2006 tracking code in the way that in order to track website activity, one no longer needs to call the infamous _utm.gif pixel but instead make a call to an endpoint, which can collect just about ay kind of data.

If all you have on your site is the “vanilla” tracking code, all you get is basic visitor data. By taking full advantage of Google Analytics tagging, you can leverage events, custom dimensions and metrics to measure and qualify just about any interaction on your website that is not a pageview.

Let’s push the envelope further and consider how websites use Javascript. Javascript makes your website interactive and helps your browser communicate/interact with the user and with external data sources.

This means you can use any kind of external API to retrieve any kind of data feed and use the information as parameters for a Google Analytics event. The classic example used by my colleague Simo Ahava is to connect to a weather webservice and store the weather type (sunny, cloudy, rainy, etc.) into a custom dimension that is passed along with an event or a pageview. That way, one could see what kind of behavior happened on my website based on which weather a specific segment of visitors was experiencing. Did rainy weather induce more raincoat sales? Do gelato aficionados from Canada convert more in July? You get the idea.

Other popular APIs you can connect to in order to feed Google Analytics include:

  • Hotel/airline reservations
  • Currency exchange rates
  • Social networks
  • Sports results
  • Cooking recipes

Once you’ve realized that this mechanism can be applied to just about anything with an Internet connection that can request a Measurement Protocol URL, you start getting ideas as to how you could measure things.

Apps, apps, apps, apps

You guessed it. The next logical step is to diversify and apply the Measurement Protocol to mobile apps.

Credit: androidandme.comDue to the highly interactive nature of apps, events are the main component in mobile tracking, with screens (pageviews) being used for funnel-like processes. Luckily for you, Google provides an API for both Analytics and Tag Manager so you don’t need to do extensive development to track app interactions (unless you’re masochistic and like to code but that’s a topic for another post).

Apps will also have access to various SDKs and APIs as well as extended device information that would be unavailable in a regular web browser. All that information can be passed to Universal Analytics events and custom dimensions.

Now let’s get creative.

Below are Universal Analytics tracking ideas I successfully experimented with. A few of those involve the very useful and affordable Raspberry Pi mini-computers and Internet connectivity (either 3G, Wifi or Ethernet). The links take you to details of how this can be accomplished.

  • Google Glass for cooking
    So an app for Google Glass transfers the recipe I was reading on a website to my profile. When I open app in Glass, the Analytics tracking in the app links my user ID and “recognizes me”, displaying my recipe onto my Glass, allowing me to happily cook and mix my ingredients, following the recipe out of the corner of my eye. Nifty, huh?
  • Measure in-store activity
    Using Raspberry Pi mini-computers linked to webcam tracking and cash-register software, you can send foot traffic and transaction data to Universal Analytics. This will tell you how many people walk in/out of the store, which areas of the store they visited the most and which products they purchased. That way you can optimize your store sections/aisles accordingly.
  • Gmail productivity
    Little known fact but Gmail has an RSS feed for your inbox and outbox. With a bit of coding, you can automate the parsing of these feeds to analyze how many items you received and sent. How? The code sends events to Universal Analytics detailing your Gmail activity. Creepy? Definitely. A great way to organize your workload? You bet.
  • Track downloads accurately
    Everyone can track clicks on links to PDF files and whatnot; GTM made that very very easy, especially with the arrrival of v2 last year. Unfortunately, this only tracks download intent. In order to track download completions, some code can be added to the webserver hosting the downloads. That code will go through your webserver logs and compare the number of times the file was requested, the actual size of the file and the size that was effectively served/downloaded. By attaching Google Analytics tracking to the code, you can send events that confirm download completions or at least track completion percentage. This will allow you to optimize file sizes or offer alternative download options.
  • Track your dog’s location with 3G over GPS
    Yes, you read that right. This zany proof of concept project uses a Raspberry Pi, an external battery pack, a USB GPS dongle, a USB 3G antenna and a bit of coding. Put everything in a backpack strapped to your dog’s back and monitor his movement as events in Google Analytics: GPS coordinates, direction, distance, the works! You can even export results to draw the dog’s itinerary on Google Maps! Useful? Not really. Nerdy fun? 200%!
  • Monitor your wine cellar
    Again this uses a Raspberry Pi and humidity sensors in my wine cellar. The 4 sensors placed in my cellar detect changes in humidity levels on a daily basis and send the humidity figures to Google Universal Analytics over an event. Then I just use the Intelligence Alerts to send me an e-mail or notification when the humidity gets above/below a certain threshold. That way I can keep my wines in tip-top condition. Hmmm, wine. Then again, I’m French.
  • Monitor your water sprinkler
    A final example using a Raspberry Pi. This time, my “Pi” is already controlling my water sprinklers, opening and closing them at specified intervals and duration in specific areas of my garden. By connecting to both a weather service API and Google Analytics to examine weather history, I can dynamically adjust the watering duration. That way I save both a lot on my water utility bill and the environment!

Pretty neat, huh?

internet of things - Julien CoquetSo as you guessed from this post, some of these tracking ideas are downright zany – but they work!

You’ll get Google Analytics reports about all these data points that you are now collecting and it is now your job as an analyst to make sense of that data in order to understand your users, how to optimize your apps, devices and processes and become more successful than ever before. Get ready to track the Internet of Things!

Before you go crazy and try this at home (which I encourage), I’ll close this post with the infamous Albert Einstein quote:

“Not all that is countable counts and not all that counts is countable”

Do you have creative tracking ideas? What did you measure, how and why? Share your experiments in the comments!

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Web Security for Digital Marketers: How to Discover Site Issues

Coming from an IT background, way back in the late 1990’s I was trained to perform basic server security checks. Despite the fact that in digital marketing we are often confronted with web security issues, I rarely felt the need to revive this old skillset, as I believed website security was not my problem.

Over the years my thinking has evolved, and I’ve come to realise that online security is something we as digital marketers need to take an active interest in. We need to be able to advise clients on best practices to ensure their websites are as secure as they can be.

The evolution of my perspective can be traced back to several occurances where hacked websites resulted in dramatic traffic implications. Both times a lapse in security caused a website to be manually penalised by Google.

The first instance dates back to 2011 when a client website was suddenly hit by a manual penalty. We were baffled until we discovered that a previous domain this client had used, and which still 301-redirected to the current site, had been compromised and now served cloaked redirects to Googlebot.

The second instance was a recent one, and I wrote about it in detail right here on State of Digital.

Both these events have a lot in common: a hacker injected malware to serve specific content to Googlebot for the purpose of SEO spam, which was quickly detected and interpreted by Google as attempts at cloaking. Both resulted in manual Google penalties, which were fortunately lifted in short order once we filed the appropriate reconsideration requests.

The key lesson is a simple one: don’t rely on Google to accurately detect malware. A hacked website can have devastating repercussions; stolen information, compromised databases, or the entire site de-indexed from Google.

As such, I believe every SEO worth their salt needs to take some measure of ownership of site security. If a client has resources in place that look after web security, great. But this is rarely the case. Most clients will never even consider website security as an issue that needs to be addressed. And many SEOs and digital marketers also see it as a remote concern that’s not part of their remit.

We need to change this. We need to get informed about web security, and advise our clients on appropriate actions. This is, in my opinion, not optional.

For many of you, web security concerns are far outside your comfort zone. That’s okay, don’t worry. I’m going to give you some tools and methods for performing basic website security checks, and point you towards further resources that can help you develop your skillset and come to grips with the rudimentary basics of online security.

Phases of a Hack

First we need to have a rudimentary understanding of how hackers operate. A typical hacking attempt will have five distinct phases:

  1. Reconnaissance: in this phase the hacker will gather as much information as possible about the website.
  2. Scanning: the hacker will attempt to find weaknesses in the site by scanning for vulnerabilities
  3. Gaining Access: exploiting a weakness, the hacker will attempt to gain access to the site.
  4. Maintaining Access: once access has been achieved, the hacker will ensure they’ll be able to keep coming back to the site.
  5. Covering Tracks: the hacker will try to cover their tracks and ensure they remain undetected.

Explaining how to defend yourself from all phases of a hack is beyond the scope of this article – not to mention beyond the scope of my limited skills and knowledge – so in this post I’ll focus on the first two phases: Reconnaissance and Scanning.

I’ll show you a few methods that hackers – and you – can use to gather information about a website and spot potential vulnerabilities that can be exploited. The best defence against hacks is to make these initial phases difficult; leaving as little information as possible out there about your website and IT infrastructure, so that hackers will have a hard time finding ways to get in. This will discourage the average hacker and prevent the vast majority of website hacks.

Server & CMS Versions

The first basic reconnaisance most hackers will start with is finding out what software your website runs on. Software is continuously updated to patch security vulnerabilities, so if your website runs on an outdated version of a particular platform, this will make life much easier for any hacker wanting to get in.

This is arguably also the easiest piece of information to uncover – there are many different ways in which you can find out what software a website runs on. I use a plugin called Wappalyzer that shows me exactly what software a site I’m visiting is using:

Wappalyzer

You can also use an online scanner like WhatWeb or BuiltWith to find out what software powers any given website.

When you’ve gathered this information, you should check what the latest version of these software packages is. If your website uses the latest version, that’s fine. But if you run on an older version of a given software package, it would be wise to check if there have been any serious security vulnerabilities patched in the versions between yours and the most recent one.

In my example, my website runs on the newest version of WordPress, but the PHP version is out of date. Updating to a newer PHP version is, however, not a simple task, as it’s likely to cause my entire site to stop working. PHP is a bit of a bugger anyway, as there are many different forks of the software available, and a higher version number is by no means an indication of a ‘better’ version.

Shared Hosting

Small websites often reside on shared hosting servers. This means the website is hosted on a server that also hosts multiple other websites. As a result, your website’s security is only as good as the most poorly secured website on that shared hosting server; if hackers can get in to one website, they are likely to access the entire server and compromise all websites hosted on it.

To find out if your site is hosted on a shared server, you can use a tool like SpyOnWeb. Just input your website’s domain, and you’ll quickly get an overview of all other domains that are associated with that IP address. If these are domains that aren’t yours, your website will be part of a shared hosting server.

SpyOnWeb domains

Simply put, a shared hosting is like putting your website’s security in the hands of the least capable webmaster that shares this hosting with you. For me, it’s not a risk I’m willing to take. Dedicated hosting is the way to go, so if your site is mission-critical and sits on a shared hosting environment, you need to get that migrated to a dedicated server as soon as possible.

WordPress Vulnerabilities

As the most used content management system on the web, WordPress is a prime target for hackers. Chances are at least one of your websites will run on WordPress. Therefore it’s crucial you know how to perform some basic security checks on WordPress sites and can advise your clients about best practices to minimise their risk of being hacked.

First of all, the vast majority of WordPress hacks are the result of websites still using standard usernames. If your WordPress site’s main administrator username is ‘admin’ , you run a huge risk right there, so make sure you change the administrator account’s username.

Another best practice is to change your WordPress site’s login URL. The standard URL is always /wp-login.php, which will be the default URL used by automated vulnerability scanners. So by changing the standard login URL, you reduce your security risk substantially.

The best way to approach WordPress security is to use a plugin like WordFence or Sucuri to help secure your website. These plugins have all kinds of features that will make your WordPress site more secure, so install one of them and work your way through the settings to ensure your WordPress site has at least some basic security features enabled.

Login Folder

If your website doesn’t run on WordPress, that doesn’t mean it won’t get targeted by hackers. Even when you’re using a custom platform that is entirely proprietary, you can still get hacked if you don’t follow basic security best practices.

For example, it’s relatively straightforward to find your website’s login URL, which will give a hacker a prime target to focus on. Often a website will have the back-end login folder blocked in the site’s robots.txt, for example:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /admin/login.php

 

As a website’s robots.txt is a publicly viewable file, this is a bit like broadcasting your login folder to any potential miscreant that wants to force their way in to your website.

Even when you don’t advertise your login URL in your robots.txt, a simple Google query can still provide a hacker with that information:

Google login query

By performing a ‘site:’ search for URLs with ‘login’ or ‘admin’ in them, a hacker can easily find any login page that has been indexed by Google. So make sure your robots.txt doesn’t give away your login URL, and serve ‘noindex’ robots meta tags on login pages to prevent them from being inadvertently indexed by Google.

Google Queries

In addition to finding login URLs, there’s a whole range of Google queries you can use to find out a lot of interesting things about a website, such as indexed PDF and Office documents, SQL error messages (indicating possible SQL vulnerabilities that can be exploited), log files that have been left on the server for Google to index, configuration files, etc. The Pentest-Tools.com website has a whole section on ‘Google Hacking‘ that generates these Google queries:

Google hacking with pentest-tools.com

Make sure you subject your website to every single one of these queries. If you can find potential issues using these Google searches, a hacker can too.

In addition to the Google Hacking query generator, Pentest-tools.com also has a range of other free and paid tools that you can use to gather all kinds of useful information, such as a domain’s active subdomains, open TCP ports, SSL vulnerabilities, etc.

SSL Certificate

Speaking of SSL vulnerabilities, with all the hoohah about switching to HTTPS it’s easy to forget that not all SSL certificates are equal. Many of the cheapest SSL certificates may, on the surface of things, give you that coveted ‘secure’ lock in the browser address bar, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually in any way effective at protecting your website.

Recently there have been a few scares around vulnerabilities in SSL, specifically the Heartbleed and DROWN issues. It pays to invest in a higher grade SSL certificate that is up to date and has no known vulnerabilities.

I like to use the SSL Labs tool to test the quality of SSL certificates installed on a website, and I always aim for a grade A.

Qualsys SSL Test

Make sure you re-test your SSL certificate regularly, as new vulnerabilities are discovered and added to the test, so you stay up to date with the safety of your website’s HTTPS implementation.

Nikto Scan

So far we’ve mainly covered basic online web security aspects that will discourage script-kiddies and most automated hacking tools. However, a dedicated hacker will not be so easily brushed off, and there might be many more vulnerabilities hidden in your website.

One of the oldest and most popular tools to find website vulnerabilities is the Nikto web scanner. This tool is freely available and will test a website against thousands of known issues and vulnerabilities.

You can download and install Nikto yourself. It’ll run on most PCs, as long as you’ve the right Perl software installed, though it’s most often used on Unix/Linux boxes. It’s a command prompt tool which allows you to test a website against a huge array of issues and discover all kinds of information about the site.

Nikto scan

If you’re not comfortable with command prompts, don’t worry – there are plenty of online tools available that will run a Nikto scan for you, such as Pentest-Tools.com and HackerTarget.com. You can use Nikto’s output to find out if your website is vulnerable to known issues and unpatched exploits.

Down The Rabbit Hole

The above is just a very basic introduction to finding some very common security issues on a website. Cyber security is a hugely complicated field with many different sub-specialities, of which web security is just one.

When it comes to learning more about website security, nothing beats talking to real experts on the topic. Chances are there’s a regular cyber security meetup or event nearby where you can make connections. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, that’s the best way to learn. Personally I’ve found local Northern Irish cyber security folks (with Belfast being a bit of a focal point of cyber security businesses in Europe) who attended the recent BelSec meetup to be very friendly and happy to answer questions – though the free flow of beer might have helped. :)

You can also keep an eye on OWASP to keep up to date with goings-on in your area. Find your local OWASP chapter and sign up to their mailing list to get notified of new events.

SEO has always been about embracing change and adapting to different requirements. This is one of those moments. And who knows, you might actually enjoy it.

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The Brand as Publisher Masterplan – Reinventing Content Marketing for the Next Decade

Posted by SimonPenson

[Estimated read time: 20 minutes]

Introduction and background

The how-to process

Setting up your team

Free downloads and help guide


Content marketing has an image problem.

Like all potentially transformational opportunities, the world sees something glistening and jumps in head first to claim a piece of the next “goldmine.”

The ensuing digital gold rush that follows often creates a stampede to be first, rather than best, and normally strategic thinking is usurped and instead replaced with a brain-out approach to delivery.

And in the case of the content marketing revolution, the result has been an outpouring of disconnected content that adds little value and serves very few, leaving many with nothing more than a handful of “failed” content campaigns to show for the effort.

It’s something I see every day, and it is incredibly saddening.

Content marketing, you see, is not the answer to those prayers. It’s simply part of a much broader strategic picture that I call the “Brand as Publisher” play; a reset of the core principles behind the content marketing charge.

This piece is designed to explain precisely how you can take the “Brand as Publisher” approach, what it is, and how it can help your business succeed with content.

I’ve even created a unique Brand as Publisher Toolkit for you to download to help in that quest! Click the banner below (or at the bottom of the post) to grab a copy.

Defining the opportunity

So, what exactly is “Brand as Publisher?” Put simply, it’s changing your mindset to put content at the forefront of your business, almost before the products or services that you sell.

As controversial as that may seem, the idea is that you’re able to build an engaged, loyal audience of value for your brand… an audience you can then monetize later.

It’s a long-term play, without doubt, and one that requires consistent investment in both time, resources, and cold hard cash — but it creates “cast-in-granite” value that your competitors will find impossible to steal away from you.

Those who take the time and effort to do it will beat you in the long run, and there will be little you can do about it!

Changing mindsets

Now, before you close your browser, let me add a dose of reality. The suggestion is NOT that you start a magazine or newspaper for a living, but instead take the value from that business model and leverage it for your gain.

In many ways, you must start to…


“Imagine yourself as THE leading consumer magazine for your market.”


The easiest way to do that is to imagine your business as a magazine, as the leading publication for your specialist market and THE place anyone with even the slightest interest in your area of expertise goes to expand their knowledge.

Think about it for a second. In the same way that newspapers and magazines create “value” by sharing quality content on their specialist area and then building an audience around it, so can you.

Where they then monetize that audience by selling ad space, you may do the same by selling related products or services, or capturing leads.

The ability to create what I call “target audiences of value” in this way is how value has always been created. And with those eyeballs now focused online more than ever before, there has never been a better time to capture it.

The challenge is that few understand how to make content work long-term. While many brands (and agencies, for that matter) make a song and dance about delivering amazing campaigns, there is a very real need to get back to the basics and build, not just a campaign plan, but a longer-term brand content plan.

This excellent piece for Adage does a great job of arguing why we really do now need to focus on “proper content strategy” and not just on delivering content, particularly from agencies.

Recreating it online

This post is designed to share the secrets honed by the magazine industry over the last six decades; to share the principles that will maximize your chance of success with a content-led strategy.

To make that more digestible, the approach is broken down into a series of integral “pillars,” the first of which focuses on audience insight.

Pillar One: Audience understanding

This process starts and ends with people, with a pure understanding of who that already is and, critically, who you want to consume your content.

Traditionally, the process of gathering insight would have been carried out by running reader focus groups, an often fascinating series of meetings with existing readers and those who currently don’t purchase but are very much “in the market.”

It’s a process I ran as editor of a British specialist car magazine called Max Power, visiting six different locations across the country to meet between four and twelve existing and potential readers.

Those candidates were selected by our own subscriptions team and from the wider industry events we attended on a regular basis in order to “stay close to the audience.”

A budget then allowed us to work with a professional research agency to run structured Q&A sessions with them. In reality, however, you can do the same meeting at a bar, providing you prepare the right questions beforehand.

Every business will have different insight needs. One way of determining which questions to ask is to first capture the key outputs you wish to come away with:


1. Who is currently buying your product or service?

2. Why are other people not buying it?

3. What general trends are affecting these people’s lives at the moment?

4. Where would people buy your product or service from?

5. When, where, and how would they use or consume it?

6. Why would they buy it? What need do they want to satisfy?

7. Who is your real competition?

8. What image do people have of your brand vs. your competitors?

9. What do they think about the different aspects of your product or service (name, packaging, features, advertising, pricing…)?

10. What improvements could be made to your product or service to meet people’s needs even better?

11. What is the single most important benefit your brand should be seen to be offering?

12. How can you best communicate that benefit to the people you’re interested in attracting?

13. What is the right price to charge?

14. What other new products or services could your brand offer people?


Questions can then be crafted to capture that information easily, and you’ll go to those research meetings armed and ready.

Digital insight

That real-world data can be further improved with the addition of digital insight. I have written several times about my process for extracting useful customer information from Facebook and also how you can use paid-for tools such as Global Web Index to form an understanding of how your audience interacts with your brand and wider market.

Combing both the qualitative information you collect in the focus group meetings and the quantitative data you can access digitally will allow you to create data-informed personas for your brand as publisher strategy.

Pillar Two: Personas

Having a clear view on who you wish to target helps steer and shape everything you do editorially. If I rewind back to those Max Power days, we went as far as painting those personas clearly on meeting room walls and in the main office so we were constantly reminded of whom we were there to work for.

How you pull personas together is the subject of a lengthy post in its own right, but there are guides like these will help you do just that:

  • Personas: The Art and Science of Understanding the Person Behind the Visit
  • Keyword-Driven Personas

The point is to put a human face on the data you have bundled into audience segments. By doing so, it enables not just the team pulling the information together to understand who they are and how their needs differ, but also the wider business.

It is also a very good idea, as I’ve written previously, to try to align those personas to celebrities. This really lifts each persona into a living, breathing character that everyone can understand in much greater detail. We all know, for instance, how Beyoncé talks, holds herself, and may be portrayed attitudinally.

Pillar Three: Editorial mission statement

With the audience piece complete, the next stage is to then create your “Editorial/Content Mission Statement”: the crystallisation of your content value and objectives.

Any good content team will have this burnt into their retinas, such is the importance of having a statement that outlines what you stand for. This is your guiding light when creating content, focusing on who your audience is and how you’ll serve them. It should be the measuring stick by which you evaluate all of your content.

A great example of this done well can be found hidden within the wider brand documentation for a brand like Sports Illustrated:


“Sports Illustrated covers the people, passions and issues of numerous sports with the journalistic integrity that has made it the conscience of all sport. It is surprising, engaging, and informative, and always with a point of view that puts its readers ‘in the game.'”


It’s a good example for several reasons because it captures all the key focal points for the brand succinctly. Below we can see how they have managed to cover the key pillars in their editorial strategy:

Our positioning on Max Power was also captured in a similar mission statement, succinctly defined as:

“The definitive guide to arsing [sic] around in cars.”

Editorially, we ensured we injected “attitude,” “fun,” and “entertainment” into every issue, while also maintaining our stance as “experts” and “trend setters” in what was a fast-moving youth market.

Pillar Four: Content flow

We knew that by staying close to our audience, we would continue to lead the market due to our reach. But we also knew that as we covered a wider audience of car enthusiasts, we needed to ensure that our publication was reflective of the audience/readership.

This meant thinking very hard about the “flow” of the magazine; what mix of content we included and how it was delivered over time.

Content flow is a process I have written about previously here, but it’s worth covering again, such is its importance. Getting it right is the difference between campaign delivery and truly connected content strategy.

The basis of flow is having the right mix of content to deliver from page-to-page, or day-to-day in the case of digital.

The best way of doing this is via a process known as “flatplanning,” a print publishing technique that also lends itself well to digital planning.

Pillar Five: Flatplanning and regulars (reinventing the wheel)

So, how does flatplanning work?

The concept is a very simple one for print publications: you recreate the pages you wish to fill with lovely content schematically in a document that looks a little like the one below.

You’ll see that I have started populating this to give you an idea of how it worked in the Max Power example we’ve been using.

Above, you’ll see how each element, or content idea, has been added to the plan. Doing it this way it makes it very easy to visualize how the strategy ebbs and flows in terms of the variation of pace afforded by the different types of content you include.

Take, for instance, the first couple of pages here. You can quickly see that we kick-start with some shorter-form, faster-paced news on page 1–12 before we then change pace and move into a four-page longer-form piece on pages 13–16 before going back to a two-page piece.

Obviously, in the print world the ONLY variation you can play with is length of article and style of writing, but when it comes to digital the opportunities are endless.

Flow

In the online world you have a plethora of media types to play with to add extra zing to your content strategy. The key to getting the “flow” correct is to use this flatplan technique, with the pages being hours, days, weeks, or whatever other measurement of time is relevant for your plan.

We often refer to the brilliant Smart Insights content matrix as part of this content type planning process. You can see below that it includes all of the key content types and adds insight into which part of the customer purchase and intent cycle they sit.

I’ve created a new resource to help further with this process, based on the same principles. The Content Flow Matrix helps you understand which content types to use based not only on where they may sit within the purchase funnel (upright axis) but also the relative “size” of the content.

By choosing a mix of content types AND a mix of content “sizes,” you end up with the right mix of variation to ensure your content audience remains engaged and that they come back for more.

Pillar Six: Front cover insight

But while variation is a great thing, it’s also very important to make clear what the cornerstones of that strategy are, and to consistently and clearly reinforce and deliver that for your audience.

The way this works in print is to utilize the cover “sells” to deliver consistent messaging.

One of the very best exponent of this is Men’s Health magazine, a media brand that very much understands its readership and where and how it can add value.

Below you can see a randomly selected front cover highlighting what I call the “Editorial Pillars” of the brand — the cornerstones of its strategy.

Every single month, the cover will feature content that offers to help you improve your mind, body, or sexual performance:

Digital content strategy requires the same focus. Part of your overall strategic planning process should include a session to establish what those pillars are for your brand.

Below, you can see how a template front cover may look, complete with spaces for your editorial pillar planning. I have also included a copy of this in the free Brand as Publisher Toolkit download bundle created specifically for this piece to help you build your own strategy.

What might that look like for my agency, Zazzle Media? Here’s a fun example created by our designers to give you an idea of how it might be pulled together:

Getting it right will mean greater engagement, more return visitors, and more sharing of and linking to your content.

Marketing and incentivising purchase

So, with a clear proposition and great content delivered with variation and clear messaging, you’re ready to roll, right?

Almost, but not quite. Often the key difference between a magazine being successful and just being “OK” was the quality of its marketing strategy.

If anything, this is even truer in the digital sphere. Thinking about how you reach your audience is what this blog is all about.

The challenge, digitally, is that while access to your audience is faster and easier, it means that the barriers to entry that protected traditional media for so long are no longer there. And that means competition, and lots of it.

In print, the only truly effective ways of growing market share was to improve distribution (be in more stores), optimize your position on the newsstand (be more visible), or invest in gifting (giving away free stuff on the cover).

These strategies translate nicely to digital in the following ways:

  • Ensure you have a strategy for all relevant channels (social, search, influencer channels) to maximize reach.

  • Optimise all channels to maximize effectiveness (SEO is especially important here)

  • Incentivize. This will look different for all businesses; for example, in ecommerce this may be money-off codes.

One final area of investment for publisher brands is live events. This is, again, a cornerstone of a brilliant brand as publisher play.

For those dealing with specialist markets (and that is exactly what we all do online), it has always been absolutely critical to stay close to the audience. One of the very best ways of doing that is to create, and run, semi-regular live events.

What they look like is completely dependent upon what market you’re in, but if you truly understand your customers, you’ll almost always be able to add some experimental value.

For some, it may not be possible to do this in person. Where this is the case, regular Hangouts and/or webinars can fill the void.

Max Power was always famous for running regular meets throughout the UK for people to bring (and show off) their cars. It was a forum that kept us connected to the loves and hates of the market, and allowed us to establish strong relationships with the key influencers amongst them.

Events can be seen as the icing on the cake to many, but in reality they are one of the most important slices of the marketing cake.

Pillar Seven: The long tail

Another underestimated area of opportunity can be found within your regular content, the pieces you put out every day and that serve to stick together your bigger-bang campaign content.

In magazines, these pieces help create variation of pace as you turn the page. In the digital world, they can do much more.

Designing your long tail strategy in a way that takes advantage of long tail search opportunity is something I have covered as a standalone subject here at Moz previously, and I’d urge you to read the post to get the most out of your idea planning.

The added bonus now is also taking advantage of Google Answer Boxes.

By designing regular content to answer key questions that your audience is asking (I use Answer the Public and a keyword tool like Keyword Studio to help me understand this), you’re not only adding value to regular visitors’ lives — you’re also creating the opportunity to jump to the top of the SERPs.

Claiming those boxes requires real focus on article structure and good use of headlines, as this amazing study by Razvan at Cognitive SEO explains. If you achieve it, in our experience you can expect to see a 15% increase in traffic from that keyword, versus even being first in the normal SERPs.

Outside of the “content-for-long-tail-search” opportunity, regular content also serves to provide interaction opportunity. Using those “regular” slots to run polls, quizzes, more brand-led pieces and so on will enable you to not just provide variation but also improve brand understanding, resonance, and reach.

Pillar Eight: “Big Bang” content

For many, the campaign content end of the spectrum is where most content strategists concentrate. This is a mistake. While Big Bang pieces can undoubtedly provide greater reach and attract more links, they alone do not constitute a strategy.

That said, they can certainly provide value — and like a magazine full of short-form content only, without them, you lose readers quickly.

The “features” in a magazine — those articles that span four+ pages — are the print Big Bang equivalent. They often fit within those brand as publisher pillars we discussed earlier.

For Max Power, these would often take the form of a car road test, road trip, or interview — but in digital, the world is your oyster.

For instance, we’ve recently produced content campaigns as diverse as a vegetable cookbook, to a supermarket shopping challenge, to the Classroom of the Future, to give you a taste of what that means.

Content types that lend themselves to Big Bang campaigns include:

  • Tools

  • Games

  • Data visualizations

  • Guides

  • Surveys and reports

  • Video

The key, once again, is ensuring there’s variation, even in your Big Bang output. So many brands will find a hit with one type and then stick with it, but that’s missing the point.

As with every part of your strategy, variation will always win. That’s how you stand out from the crowd in the long run.

Pillar Nine: Team structure and resources

Creating this variation is not an easy task. It requires a greater focus than ever on available skill sets.

You may think that what’s needed now from a team perspective is much more demanding than it was before, but that view isn’t necessarily correct.

To give you a view on what it took to pull together an issue of Max Power, we employed the following. I also explain, briefly, their role within the whole:

  • Editor – Responsible for the overall positioning and editorial strategy. Takes a longer term view to issue planning and liaises with commercial and publishing teams to maximize sales opportunities and sales. Works closely with all.
  • Publisher – Commercial-focused P&L owner responsible for distribution deals, production costs, and sales (the number of magazines sold AND ad revenue from it).
  • Deputy editor – Day-to-day ownership of the flatplan. Ensures content is delivered on time and to standard. The editor’s right-hand man/woman.
  • Production editor – Responsible for ensuring everything is produced on time. Liaises with the printers to ensure production standards are upheld.
  • Art editor – Leads the design team and is responsible for upholding design rules and the adoption of brand values throughout.
  • Designers – Layout and design all pages, and will artistically direct shoots to ensure that the design vision for individual features is carried through.
  • News/Features/Section editors – Lead a mini-team of specialist writers and are responsible for their output and the quality of their sections.
  • Writers – On-the-ground journalists who are out and about more than they’re in-office working on the individual articles and features.
  • Photographer – More often has a focus on photos, but may also have video skills.
  • Web team – In the early days of the net, this team ran separately to the “main” print team and often reconstituted print content for the web, ran communities, etc.
  • Advertising team – Responsible for selling all advertising space in the magazine (a key way of monetizing the audience).
  • Production team – Produce the adverts that the advertising team sells and supplies them to the designer team.

As you can clearly see, the cost of a great editorial product has always been high — that will never change — but the value it creates will outweigh the cost if you get the strategy right.

The big question, of course, is what should the right digital version of this team look like?

This is something I have spent a great deal of time looking at in my current role; here’s a view on what a small, medium, and large business could base a setup on. Obviously this looks different for everyone, as different markets demand different areas of focus, but this can be a start point for discussion:

Small business

In this scenario, we’re ideally looking for multidiscipline people. In an ideal world, your journalist will be able to write and PR their written work, leaving you with the possibility of also including someone to focus on paid promotion across search, social, and native.

As with all of these example team structures, the MD/CEO of the business should own the brand as publisher plan, bringing it to the very centre of focus for the business. In larger businesses, that may ultimately be taken on by the CMO, but in any business of hundreds of people or less this needs to have priority focus.

In a small team the focus has to start with owned and earned media, hence the balance of people here. With a writer and designer you can create lots of different types of content, while the PR person focuses on building key relationships and leveraging those connected audiences.

Medium enterprise

In a slightly larger organization with more budget to play with, things start to get much more interesting as roles become more specialized.

In this model (and read each specialty as being scalable with multiple people in each of those teams) we can create more variation. Video and data start to creep in, allowing you to not only create a wider range of content, but also understand who your audience is, where they are online, and what they consume right now.

Interestingly, we find that those who have traditionally sat in SEO roles make for very good data analysts in helping to forge a data-driven strategy, while their abilities in ensuring platforms are still “fit for purpose” means they can fulfill a dual and extremely valuable role.

We then also have the ability to split out PR and blogger relations. That way, there’s focus on both the niche and the big traffic media brands within the distribution plan.

At this level, it’s also critical to have some specialist paid media focus to ensure that the content distribution plan includes a cohesive paid media element.

Large brand

For large-scale enterprises, the sky is the limit! We can go much further in bringing in further data specialists and also how the wider CRM play may come in to include specialists dedicated to best using the whole Inbound Marketing Suite.

We also add in multilingual capability, especially important to international brands, as well as other specialties to give more focus to the overall strategy, ensuring it’s scalable. The sky is the limit here.

Help is here!

We’ve covered a great deal of ground in this post on a subject matter that asks wider questions of all brands and businesses. To help you on a more practical level to work through it, we’ve created an all-encompassing Brand as Publisher Toolkit. In it, you’ll find:

  • Flatplan template
  • Magazine cover template
  • Content campaign planner
  • Editorial calendar
  • Persona template
  • A copy of our Content Flow Matrix
  • Content Style Planning Guide

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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Five Mobile Commerce Myths Debunked

Marketing through mobile devices is not a new concept, however, shopping through a mobile device is still a relatively unknown field for many consumers and retailers alike. And as with all unknowns, there are several myths surrounding mobile commerce that are confusing retailers and delaying them from truly understanding the value of mobile commerce. Below are just some of the most commonly misunderstood mobile commerce myths. 

  1. Mobile is just another ‘channel’

In the early days of mobile marketing, where SMS messaging was as far as your strategy would go, mobile often sat under the ‘direct marketing’ umbrella. But times have moved on. Smartphones have evolved to the point where they have become an indispensable part of the shopping journey, sometimes replacing desktops or physical shop visits altogether.

Defining mobile as just another ‘channel’ indicates that it is therefore an optional channel, or one that merely needs to be considered for sales attribution, but with 66% of the UK population now owning a smartphone and using it regularly to browse and shop for products, retailers can no longer afford to ignore mobile. Instead, they need to think of mobile as a user experience, holding as much value as desktop, and brick and mortar.

Having a mobile commerce strategy that works in combination with all other digital marketing activity, as well as brick and mortar (if applicable) will strengthen the relationship between retailer and customer, provide a much better omnichannel shopping experience, and ultimately increase loyalty.

  1. Mobile Commerce requires an App

Many retailers are under the impression that in order to successfully sell their products via mobile and to attract the right audience, they need to develop a mobile shopping app. The costs associated with creating, maintaining and promoting a good app can be prohibitive for smaller retailers, and therefore the assumption has become that only larger retailers with big budgets can truly be successful on mobile. This is most definitely not the case.

Mobile commerce doesn’t necessarily mean mobile app, in fact many shoppers don’t want to download yet one more app that they may never use again. The shopping journey has become one with a number of touchpoints, often starting on one device for initial research, and finally finishing the journey on another completely different device or even by visiting the physical store. With so many touchpoints and devices involved throughout the decision making process, it’s important that every touchpoint offers the shopper the same level of user experience. If your brand has a fantastic app, but the website doesn’t work on a mobile, then the shopping experience will be marred for those browsing your website on their mobiles regardless of how fantastic your app is.  

For those retailers looking to make sure their mobile visitors convert into customers, the first priority should be to create a great responsive site or a mobile site that’s easy to use, quick to load, that offers a seamless checkout journey on mobile, and isn’t too fussy or complicated when viewed via a smaller screen. Simplicity and ease of use is key.

  1. Mobile Commerce is for Millennials

It’s often assumed that millennials are the only ones shopping via their mobiles and that it’s therefore not necessary to have a mobile commerce strategy in place if your brand targets an older audience. It may be true that millenials have grown up during the mobile outbreak and therefore have more aptitude to shop online, however other age groups are increasingly turning to their smartphones to research and purchase products. 

Recent studies show that older generations, including Baby Boomers, are embracing mobile as a local shopping companion. According to a study conducted in 2015, over 55s are the group most likely to use the internet for price comparisons before making a purchasing decision (68%) and more than two-thirds of this age group that use the internet will go online every day. 35-44 year olds are the group most likely to switch between multiple devices when browsing online, using computers, smartphones and tablets in order to fit internet browsing into a busy work and family life. This time-poor age group is also the one most likely to purchase online (53%). And with smartphone ownership penetration in the UK (see graph below) continuously increasing among the 35+ age group, more and more consumers will be turning to their smartphones for shopping. Whether the consumer ends up purchasing via a mobile is irrelevant, because it’s likely that their journey will start on a mobile, during the research phase. So, while your brand may not experience high conversion rates from mobile, it’s still crucial to capture traffic at the early research phase, and ensure that the experience is good enough for visitors to come back, or to want to visit your store after seeing your website.

mobile penetration by age

Source: Statista

  1. Mobile Commerce Kills Brick and Mortar Retail

It’s true that mobile commerce is gaining popularity and that more consumers are choosing this medium for its convenience, and that is unlikely to slow down anytime soon. Retailers are much better off embracing the growth of mobile commerce rather than seeing it as a threat. Ensuring your brand has a good digital presence across all devices is just as important as ensuring that your shop window has an engaging display and that your shop floor is adequately merchandised.

Although it’s unlikely that mobile will ‘kill’ brick and mortar retail, it’ll very likely become a more important factor for decision making. In fact, retailers that understand the way the consumer journey has evolved and the different touchpoints and devices used before a decision is reached, are the ones delivering better shopping experiences. Showrooming is not a threat, and if factored into the overall marketing strategy, can deliver some very rewarding results. According to a Forrester Research project, 40% of consumers use mobile to research products, yet a majority of those same consumers are most likely to make their purchases in-store. Mobile actually influences 21% of total retail sales, which is significant and likely set to grow. 

  1. People don’t Shop via Mobile when they’re at home

It’s a common misconception that mobile only reaches those who are travelling, and is therefore irrelevant if your brand wants to target consumers shopping from the comfort of their own home. As already mentioned in this article, smartphones are increasingly replacing laptops and computers, and more and more consumers will turn to their smartphones to research and purchase products, where previously they may have used a desktop.

 

More recently, Google reported that 52% of all smartphone users watch television while on their smartphones, and a study conducted by Telefonica’s O2 and Sony Mobile showed that 75% of respondents used their phone while in the bathroom. This is considerable and highlights the growing trend of consumers researching, browsing and shopping via smartphones while in the home.

second screening graph

Source: ComScore

The graph above further highlights the opportunity here, that just because consumers may be at home does not mean they will turn to their desktops instead of their mobiles for shopping or browsing. It therefore remains crucial that the mobile experience be as good as the desktop experience. 

 

So there you have it, five mobile commerce myths debunked and the facts revealed. Let me know if you have heard any other common misconceptions about mobile commerce and we’ll get to the truth! 

Post from Joana Ferreira

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How to Create Content That Earns Engagement, Trust, and Loyalty for Your Brand

Posted by ronell-smith

[Estimated read time: 17 minutes]

A couple of years back, I received a call from the CMO of a small but popular and growing startup about taking on the brand as a content strategist. While I was initially lukewarm to the idea, they were adamant about working together, feeling that I “could help them reach their goals.”

Before hanging up the phone, I asked him to email me the main priority for the onsite content:

“Engaging content (e.g., shares, likes, tweets, etc.),” she wrote.

I thought, I can do engaging.

I reasoned I’d stick with how-to information content, in-depth evergreen content, and maybe a few interviews. In the online marketing vertical, these are what I call “can’t miss elements” for brands looking to create onsite engagement.

But not long after I started working with the brand, I saw some problems that should have been red flags from the beginning:

  • The type of content they wanted for the blog didn’t garner traffic
  • The type of content that did garner traffic didn’t garner engagement
  • When I talked to the CMO, her words were equally confusing: “Conversions are up, but we need to see engagement improve to continue the relationship.”

I was confused.

Is there EVER a scenario where increased conversions was a negative?

Shortly thereafter, the relationship dissolved. The culprit wasn’t a lack of engaging content, though.

Engagement, alone, is a poor choice for a goal

This likely sounds familiar to folks reading this post. Maybe someone says, “We have a shiny new website, so now we need to blog.”

The next question is “Who’s going to blog?”

Then, typically, the question after that is “What do we blog about?”

Someone always, and I do mean always, says, “About what we do. You know… stuff that will get folks talking about our brand.”

The next question and answer dooms us: “What’s the goal?”

  • One blog/week
  • To drive people to our website
  • To increase conversions

Inevitably, the main goal for the content itself, though, is engagement.

The biggest problem brands have in the move to content marketing is creating engaging content.

Why do you think that is?

  • Because it’s hard?
  • Because they don’t have writers who can produce it?
  • Because when they do produce it, folks still don’t engage with it?
  • Because they’re marketing to the wrong audience?

Nope!

Creating engaging content is a nice-to-have, first-step goal. But as the client I talked about earlier found out, engagement alone isn’t going to move your brand forward in what is now a sea of content.

Engagement is a goal; it shouldn’t be the goal.

First, engagement simply means people noticed your content and interacted with it in some, typically small, way. That could mean a social share, leaving a comment, sharing a link, etc. And for those of us just starting on the content marketing journey, that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Where the problem comes is when we use engagement as an all-important Key Performance Indicator (KPI) of how your brand’s content is performing.

I think Avinash Kaushik, Google’s digital marketing evangelist, says about all there is to say about engagement with this quote, taken from his blog:

“Even as creating engaging experiences on the web is mandatory, the metric called Engagement is simply an excuse for an unwillingness to sit down and identify why a site exists. An excuse for an unwillingness to identify real metrics that measure if your web presence is productive. An excuse for taking a short cut…”

He goes further, saying the only people who use engagement as a metric are those who are too lazy to discern the real reason for being for their website.

They refuse to ask “Why does it exist?”

So they assign value to something that is all but impossible to measure in a tangible way.

My experience mirrors those comments. Engagement is an easy, feel-good metric used by brands who lack clear purpose for their content marketing.

My core problem with using engagement as a metric of significance is it’s hard to measure, next to impossible to sustain and, worst of all, easy to copy.

In five simple steps, competitors can kill your engagement strategy:

  1. Visit your website and see which content is doing well: See the Facebook, Twitter ands Google Plus number, and that gets them to thinking…
  2. They go to Google, do a site:search and see what your top-performing content is. Then they tell their copywriting staff to take this idea and expound upon it — more details, richer graphics, etc.
  3. Then they use a tool such as Open Site Explorer to view your site’s backlinks to see where they are coming from and what content is getting the most links.
  4. They’ll reach out to those same brands and say, “We see you’re linking to this content. We created a similar post that has even more details.” They’re likely to add the competitor’s link, but they’re just as likely to unlink to your content.
  5. Your stellar content piece is likely to take a tumble in the SERPs and your site will miss out on traffic.

All because you chased the wrong goal.

I’ll add a huge “however” here: If you’re just starting out, OR if all you really truly care about is creating some potentially engaging content, you can do exactly what we outlined regarding the competition. You find a popular brand in your vertical and copy the content they’re creating, only you make it better: better written, better text, and you commit to outreach. I can tell you that of all the companies I’ve worked with and for — from mom and pop cupcake shops to, moving companies, fitness brands, apparel manufacturers and software companies — this is where the content creation process begins and, sadly, sometimes ends. So copy it. Use it. At least until you get better, see better, and know better what the audience wants.

But never hang your hat singularly on engagement.

What comes easily is just as easily taken.

Brand trust is essential for content marketing success

If engagement is a blind date, trust is going steady. It has to be in place before things get too serious.

In the strictest sense, trust is about how prospects and customers view your brand, how they view the people who represent your brand, what you stand for and how you make them feel.

(Image source)

While asking for prospects to trust your brand this much is definitely pushing it, brand trust is an imperative in today’s online marketplace.

When trust is in place, people come to see your brand as not simply a reliable option, but the reliable option; they feel good about association with it; and, most importantly, they seek out those interactions.

To get there, people need to see your brand and brand representative in lots of places, online and offline, to develop familiarity and form a positive association with the brand. (I call this positive ubiquity.)

That’s why making too big of a deal about onsite content is a mistake. It’s important. But, let’s be honest, if there are only three people reading your blog, your impact is going to be very limited. Wouldn’t you agree?

In addition to writing posts and sharing your brand’s content, you should also be sharing valuable content from other non-competing brands; engaging in meaningful online conversations surround your vertical; interviewing influencers in your space; and creating a presence that moves seamlessly between online and offline, social and content, human to human.

The fact of the matter, though, is that people respond best to people. Not words or images or fancy design. And as reluctant as you might be to have public faces for your brand, you need it to make your content marketing efforts work.

People are what lead prospects to build an affinity, not simply an association, with your brand. It’s akin to going from an encounter to being noticed.

Think…

  • Apple and Steve Jobs
  • All State Insurance and the Mayhem man
  • Blendtec and its zany CEO (shown below)

(Image source)

Make this work for your brand.

Why not highlight subject-matter experts (SMEs) inside the company?

Instead of simply forcing everyone to blog, find out what individual team members are good at and have a passion for, then allow them to express their creativity for the brand in their own way.

  • Maybe another team member is passionate about radio. Why not have her do a podcast for the site, but also share it via iTunes, SoundCloud, or wherever else it makes sense to share it?
  • Every office has the resident know-it-all. Why not create a Twitter handle and associated hashtag for this person, and allow them to spend 30 minutes a day online answering questions for the brand?
  • Maybe you find that someone hates writing blogs, but is interested in theatre and would love doing vblogs for the site as well as posting them on YouTube or Wistia.

(Image source)

And while you’re building that brand affinity, people who aren’t even in the market for your product or service will take note, realizing that your brand cares.

You aren’t out for simply earning a dollar. You’re really helping people, even when those people aren’t likely to buy anything from you.

I know what you’re thinking: “Ronell, who has time or resources for that?”

My answer is, “You don’t have to do any of this. Really, you don’t.”

But I’ll add that if you do at least some of this, consistently, you will be more successful than you likely assume, in large part because most of the competition is unwilling to do it.

Whenever I hear people talking about how difficult it is to find success in content marketing, it reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite strength coaches.

One of his clients said, “Squatting hurts my knees.” After witnessing a demonstration of what the client called a squat, the coach said, “Squats don’t hurt your knees. What you’re doing and calling squats hurts your knees.”

Content marketers are a lot like this, right? We throw ideas at the wall, then call what sticks a success.

We’re better than this.

The path to content marketing success leads to loyalty

Typically, when we set out on this content marketing journey, we, as a team, set these arbitrary goals: We need X number of tweets, X number of Likes and shares on Facebook, Google Plus and so on.

A better way to do it was exposed by Buzzfeed.

Yes, that Buzzfeed.

The site might post an inordinate amount of dumb stuff, but has an amazing data science team. That team studied how content is shared across the web and uncovered some interesting findings.

Leading to what we now know as P.O.U.N.D.: the Process of Optimizing and Understanding Network Diffusion.

We tend to think that a Facebook Like leads to a Facebook Share, which leads to more Facebook Likes and Shares. And a tweet leads to more tweets, etc., etc., for the other social networks.

What they found is network diffusion doesn’t happen in a linear fashion.

Basically, people jump between social networks and links and back again. For example, a Facebook Like might lead to a Facebook Share that leads to a Twitter Share that bounces to a website via a link then back to Facebook as a Like or Share.

This petri dish-looking thing below is really is a graphic depiction of network diffusion, where the dark blue areas are Facebook, the light blue areas are Twitter and the white areas are links.

What Buzzfeed found is that they get links as a byproduct of network diffusion. They don’t need to optimize for links or make link building a focus. The lesson for them, as it should be for us, is that the more they optimize for network diffusion, the more links they’re going to see.

This is not just fascinating; it’s instructive.

Instead of concerning ourselves with link building and outreach and hoping we get links, if we simply optimize our efforts at creating and sharing content, links naturally occur.

Previously, the thinking was to create a piece of content, then build links to it.

But now, with what we know about network diffusion, we’re going to focus on publishing all of our content to the right streams and to the right audience. We’re optimizing for which social streams move the fastest for the specific topic.

As a content marketer, this information should excite you, especially if your team is ready to commit to the right, and best, goal, which is content loyalty.

If that’s not your goal, scrap your goal and adopt this one.

Content loyalty means you aren’t having to work so hard for your content. Your content is working for you.

  • Folks are avid fans, actively seeking out each and every piece of content you create.
  • Instead of you having to carry the load with sharing and promotion, these fans are sharing and promoting like crazy.
  • Instead of worrying about what content to create, your fans, followers, prospects and customers are actively involved helping you via comments on the blog, questions and responses on social media, interactions with the help desk, and sundry other touch points whereby they interact with the brand.

“The shortest path to break through the noise and create a sustainable content strategy is to create content loyalty,” says Moz’s Matthew J. Brown, who is chief of product strategy and design.

It’s difficult but doable.

Parse.ly, an audience insight platform for digital publishers, found that 2.6 days is the median pageview peak for any single piece of content. Pageviews basically fall off a cliff shortly thereafter.

If you get 20% of your traffic from social, things are a little bit better: 3.2 days

But by and large your window is two to three days.

But the biggest takeaway from their research, which looked at hundreds of sites and billions of pageviews, showed that the average site sees only 11 percent of its visitors returning at least once in a 30-day period.

You heard right: 11%.

That number might sound low, and it is. But it highlights an opportunity.

If you can get that number up to 20%, you’re doing 2X better than the competition.

So how do you get there?

A content marketing playbook

Vulture.com conducted a study with Chartbeat to find what on-page content attributes led to content loyalty. They wanted to figure out what led readers to return to their site.

They found that if they could get their readers to return to the first page of their site 5 times, the readers would be what they term “loyal visitors” of their site, returning frequently to consume information.

In other words, five days was their core loyalty metric, and the primary starting place for the brand’s content efforts.

They looked at factors ranging from text length to images and the number of ads on the page, and what they found was surprising and illuminating: For them, the key was the amount of text above the fold.

That is, loyal readers expected to consume a certain amount of content above-the-fold. (Click the link above for the details, which are quite interesting.)

Armed with this information, Vulture.com could focus on a targeted attribute that led to their 5X, loyal, readers.

Nothing is stopping you from doing the same.

Making content loyalty work for your brand

Your first step toward content loyalty, is to define your goal post (e.g., visits per an allotted amount of time), then optimize for the attributes that lead to that goal.

For your brand, it might be content length or number of ads or GIFs or videos.

The key is to dial in those attributes that are specific to your site, then continue to optimize for them.

You likely have some inkling of what content types help earn loyalty in your vertical, based on popularity and such. Same thing for content types. We know that for many industries, blogs, videos, infographics, and the like are the most shared and most linked to types of content.

Your brand can do the same, provided you have the heart and the patience to do so.

One of the reasons brands are struggling with content marketing is they aren’t giving it enough time. Create a program, set a plan, and let it run.

It’s not a 90 day thing.

“The sheer majority of brands will continue to crash and burn with their content creation and distribution efforts. Simply put, most brands resist telling a truly differentiated story, and even those that do tell one aren’t consistent or patient enough to build loyal audiences over time,” says Content Marketing Institute founder Joe Pulizzi.

If you’re willing to put in the work, though, you can have success.

The natural starting place is a content audit.

I know many of you cringe upon seeing that word. But you have to start somewhere, and the content audit is the best somewhere.

Besides, before you get started producing content, you need to know what you have and how well it’s performing.

If, like me, you’ve done content audits, you know they can be a time-consuming chore, especially when done from scratch.

Luckily, you don’t have to start from scratch.

Using the template found in Mike King’s deck from Authority Rainmaker, you can get an excellent snapshot of the strongest-performing content on your site. Then you simply aggregate that data to see what’s resonating with your readers, what’s creating that network diffusion for your brand.

For example, you can find the most shares for various types of content, which can help you better discern what types of content you should be creating and sharing more of.

Once you have your content audit in hand, the next step you want to take, before execution on your new content strategy, is to calculate your ROI. This Content Marketing ROI Calculator from Siege Media allows you to plug in the costs associated with creation, including how many links and shares and loyal visitors, which makes it easier to make the case for your boss or your clients. This is a must-have when you’re trying to not only get buy-in but also get the time you need to execute your plan.

If your brand is like many of those I’ve worked with in the past, meaning you don’t have a wide base of content from which to pull a great deal of data from during the audit, I suggest using tool like BuzzSumo, which is a newcomer that has become very popular very fast in content marketing circles.

And for good reason.

It can help you get up and running really fast, and you can learn a great deal about how your content is performing along the way.

BuzzSumo allows you to view the social landscape across myriad topics for the entirety of your competitive landscape.

So, by the time you get started, you can have a complete list of targets and categories to optimize for, even if you don’t have a strong content inventory.

One of the coolest parts about working with Moz — aside from the Roger notepads and pens — is the great people who are always designing and creating tools for us to use, then share with the audience.

For a while now, we’ve been privileged to play with something called One Metric.

Created by our audience and data teams, it allows us to weight social sharing, traffic and links and on-page attention, and reader engagement to create a more organic content score that ensures we’re looking at the entire picture.

Earlier this year, Moz released Moz Content, which is basically One Metric plus 10 and times one million.

With Moz Content, you can crawl your site, then integrate the various bits of information, including content types, your author performance, your social sharing, your links, etc. Even better, you can create, track, and save multiple content audits, making it possible to see how well your content is doing over time, and with ease.

The goal is to make that first step when performing a content audit much easier.

Even better, using the newly created Moz Context API, you’re able to extract the most relevant topics for your site. It can tell you what topics and what keywords are the most relevant for your site and across the web.

This allows you to create a topic inventory for your site.

Let’s say, based on performance, visitors are engaging with these content types and topics most on your site. That way you don’t have to guess about what content to create.

You can then focus on optimizing for creating and sharing the right content in the right places for the right audience, instead of blindly creating content with the hope that it performs optimally.

Maybe my favorite feature, and the one that I can see many brands using most to position themselves favorably against the competition, is the Content Search feature. It allows you to see topics — -your topics — across the web, enabling you to harness information on what’s getting the most shares, what’s gaining social traction, what’s resonating with your audience.

With this view, you’re getting a bird’s-eye view across the web, so you can see what’s working for the competition, what they’re having success with and what, maybe, you should consider trying.

Full disclosure: Since Moz Content is new, I still rely on BuzzSumo for getting a quick, easy, and clean snapshot at the topical level, then use Moz Content to get a deeper look at the content landscape I’m hoping to track, whether for myself or for a client or prospect. And because both platforms offer a level of free service, I’d suggest using them in tandem, especially at first, to get a feel for which has the features better suited for your needs.

Take your content marketing to the next level

Hopefully, you have a better sense of how to be successful, in addition to having a more in-depth understanding of what it takes to attain long-term success in content marketing. The overall goal for this post, however, was to make it clear that, with regard to the content you create, share and promote, loyalty is THE goal, not a goal.

Remember, content is meant to support your marketing efforts; it should not define them. If the content you create can draw readers to your site consistently, your team can then set about ensuring that the various messaging needed to call attention to or sell additional products are in place, even as you further optimize the content to increase views and viewers.

By making content loyalty your goal, you make it palatable that more of your brand’s goals are attainable.

What are your thoughts? Do you think loyalty is the right goal for your content?

[Ed. note: A big shout-out to Moz teammates Matthew J. Brown and Jay Leary for the insight they provided as I was pulling together the information for this post.]

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12 Tools And Recommendations For Digital Consultants

Another listicle post (a short-form of writing that uses a list as its thematic structure, but is fleshed out with sufficient copy to be published as an article) instead of me arguing about a topic. But if you give me a brief moment I’ll go through the tools for most things digital I work with as a consultant at the Stockholm based agency Curamando. I want to make sure you’re using the same great tools and resources for SEO, analytics and online in general. My intention is to speed up your workflow, give you additional insights and help solve day to day issues.

Managing your digital life and all its glorious tasks

It took me a few years to find the perfect fit for managing my day to day work life. I’ve been a mess, but with the help of experienced colleagues, a good book and a great toolset – I’m on top of things.

1. This is Lean (for reading)
2. Pen and paper
3. Trello
4. Google Keep

I would recommend everybody and their mum to read This is Lean by Niklas Modig and Pär Åhlström. The book thought me how to manage time and tasks, from client projects to that time consuming thief we call the email inbox.

I am also a strong believer of paper and pen. When you write down tasks and ideas, they get stuck in your mind. We all need to scribble more and sort out our thoughts before opening up Powerpoint or tackle that analysis. Always carry a notebook and a pen. Always.

Make Trello work for you, not against you. I’m using Trello daily with a board of tasks sorted by Todo, Doing, Done and Delivered. I’m never adding tasks that are not in the project scope, to keep it clean and manageable. My column named Delivered contains tasks I’ve completed but waiting on feedback from clients or colleagues. It is way more fun getting things done when you actually see them completed. You can use Trello in your browser or as an application for you mobile device. Managing tasks could not be easier.

Google Keep fills a big gap in my world. Location based notifications. With Keep I’m adding “give Carlo that awesome Excel report” and then my phone will notify me when I enter the office. “Ah! Here you go, Carlo. That awesome Excel report is finished”. For a consultant, Keep is a must. I’m adding notes all the time based on my actual location which makes room in my brain for other things – like jazz music or the latest Miami Dolphins news.

Keeping yourself on top of tasks and always writing down notes is all you need. I tried the Trello, email, Slack, Skype, Excel project management sheet, Evernote and post-its on your desk approach. It does not work. Always keep it simple. One channel for communication, one for tasks and their progress as well as one place for your notes. So simple and straight forward.

Working with Google Analytics

Google Tag AssistantIf you’re not managing a Google Analytics account, shame on you! I’m sorry, but analytics is fun. And for us lucky consultants that work with data, we’re going to talk about:

5. Simo Ahava
6. Google Tag Assistant
7. Google Analytics debugger

If you’re not new to analytics, skip this part as you know who Simo is. That guy from Finland that eats Google Tag Manager solutions for breakfast and writes pretty awesome how to implementations for geeks like you and me, on his lunch breaks. Subscribe to Simo’s blog or follow him in social media. This is the shortest way to GTM enlightenment.

Are you back from a few weeks reading at Simo’s blog? Good. Let’s make sure that you’ve installed the Google Tag Assistant extension in your Chrome browser. This little extension will make debugging Google Analytics implementations a walk in the park. The extension have saved me from a headache or two, to say the least.

Getting into the data spirit, we want to install the Google Analytics debugger extension which enables the built in Console (in Chrome) to talk dirty to us. What is being loaded, what is being tracked – basically what is happening behind the scene. Oh mama!

Working with SEO and search

SEMrush domain researchReporting and managing rankings, share of search and the constant changes to our beloved SERP’s can be more than a handful. For reporting, doing research and checking rankings I have two tools that you should have too.

8. SearchMetrics
9. SEMrush

SearchMetrics is a wonderful tool for doing research. Finding out a domains visibility in search, getting ideas and keyword data fast – to get up and going. I’ve worked with setting up dashboards with clients and it does work as intended. Like a charm.

SEMrush is my killer tool which is always evolving with new features that I didn’t know I wanted. For the sake of transparency, I am sponsored by Semrush when I’m our lecturing about SEO. But I am also sponsored because I find the tool to suit my needs in my daily SEO work.

These two tools will not be free, but worth every single penny (or as we say in Sweden, Krona). When it comes to SEO tools, you really get what you pay for. But we’re not quite finished yet. A good digital consultant should use a few more tools that works for you, when you’re too busy drinking coffee or answering emails.

10. Robotto
11. Changedetection

Robotto is great for keeping yourself updated with HTTP responses for your client websites, as well as any changes to the Robots.txt file. But just to be on the safe side when clients start to edit their Robots.txt file (we’ve all seen websites leave Googles index due to bad file handling) let’s use Changedetection to track changes to Robots.txt files. Oh yes, it works for those too. How great is that?

Finally, we have to address the elephant in the room. Speed.

Google Pagespeed Insights gives you insights and actions on how to tweak performance and speed of a website. We all want websites to load fast and without hassle, so let Pagespeed Insights guide you to a better experience for visitors.

Until next time – take notes with a pen, sort your tasks, understand data better for each day, make better informed search decisions with great tools and never lose another domains visibility in search when a client implements a strange HTTP response code or Robots.txt file.

Post from Per Pettersson

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Moz Local Industry Report: Who's Winning Wireless Searches?

Posted by Dr-Pete

Summary: We analyzed 5 mobile phone buyer searches on Google across 5,000 cities (25,000 total markets) to find the winners and losers in both organic and local pack results. Best Buy dominated organic results and performed well in local searches. Sprint won the local pack results, but disappeared from organic entirely. Carriers Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T all performed well, but none covered more than 30% of local search markets.

The wireless industry in the United States is both massive and competitive. According to an IDC report, over 184 million mobile phones were shipped to US customers in 2014, with an estimated 191 million in 2015. The vast majority of consumers, even in 2015, report browsing products online but purchasing in-store (73%, according to PWC’s annual report). This trend may be even more dramatic in the wireless industry, where experts suggest that upwards of 9 out of 10 of all mobile phone purchases in the US still happen in a brick-and-mortar store.

In a competitive environment where most people research phones online but buy them in-store, ranking well in Google search results, especially local results, is critical. Local results can lead consumers not only to one brand over another, but to specific store locations in their area, surfacing store addresses, phone numbers, and operating hours.

For example, here’s a local 3-pack from a search for “mobile phone store” in the Seattle area:

Local packs in 2016 not only contain rich information, including directions, reviews, location, phone, and store hours, but they appear at or near the top of organic results and occupy a large amount of screen real-estate.

This report takes a Google’s-eye view of the mobile phone market in the United States. We ran thousands of searches to determine who were the big winners in both organic and local Google results, who were the losers, and where big brands had gaps.


Report methodology

For this study, we tracked 5 wireless industry phrases on page 1 of Google.com across the 5,000 largest cities in the contiguous 48 states (according to census data), measuring both organic and local pack results. The five searches used in the final study were:

  • “phone store”
  • “mobile phone store”
  • “cell phone store”
  • “wireless store”
  • “buy cell phone”

We deliberately chose keywords that were likely to return both organic and local pack results. Based on initial analyses, we discarded product-specific keywords, like “buy iPhone 6,” because those didn’t typically return local results. Interestingly, searches containing “smartphone” also generally failed to display local results.

Finally, we threw out “phone shop,” because, even searching US locations on Google.com, that phrase tended to return UK-based results. Data was combined across the five keywords, with organic and local results analyzed separately.


Top 5 organic brands (by markets)

If we treat each of these 25,000 searches (5 keywords X 5,000 cities) as a potential market, we can get a sense of how well any given company is covering the total US marketplace. For this analysis, we’ll treat multiple listings on a single page of search results as one “market.” The question is just whether any given brand is represented in that market (not where or how often).

Here were the top 5 brands, by total markets:

Big-box retailer Best Buy and online retailer Newegg led the organic winners, followed by mobile carriers AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. The Top 10 were rounded out by (in order): Walmart, Wirefly, Cricket Wireless, and Boost Mobile.

Surprisingly, Sprint was nowhere to be found in our organic data, showing just one listing (and that one was on a sub-domain). Keep in mind that this study looked only at page-one results. Used phone resellers, including Gazelle (#11), Glyde (#12), and Swappa (#16) made a strong showing in the top 20.


Top 5 organic brands (by clicks)

The “market” analysis doesn’t account for the varying impact of different ranking positions and the populations of the 5,000 cities in this study. So, we did a second, more complex analysis. If we take a shallow click-through curve (see below), where the #1 position gets the most clicks and then click-through rate (CTR) trails off, and then we multiply each of those CTRs by the city’s population, we can get a proxy for total click volume.

Obviously, not everyone alive is running these searches, and we’re going to cheat and assume clicks total 100% (they don’t, in reality), so instead of looking at total counts, we’ll rely on percentage of total click share. Here were the top 5 by click share:

Adjusting for CTR and population, Best Buy held onto the top spot, and most of the top 5 was the same. The notable exception was AT&T, which fell to #8. Digging deeper into the data, this appears to be a function of CTR. On average, AT&T’s rankings are appearing lower on page 1 than the rest of the top 5. Cricket Wireless moved up from #8 to round out the top 5.


Top 5 local brands (by markets)

Now, let’s look at just the local pack results for those same 25,000 markets. Keep in mind that local packs did not occur in all markets, and there are a maximum of 3 sites in any local pack (compared with up to 10 organic listings). Here were the top 5 local winners:

Sprint, nowhere to be seen in our organic data, led the pack in local results. Other major wireless companies rounded out the top 5. Best Buy maintained a strong position at #6, but organic leader Newegg.com fell completely out of the local results, having no physical storefronts.

Clearly, the biggest disconnect between the organic and local data here was Sprint — taking the #1 spot for local, but disappearing completely from organic rankings. Newegg flipped that around, dominating organic but having no local presence. This was a direct and obvious result of having no physical locations.

Another big difference between organic and local was Apple.com. Apple naturally has a strong presence for product-specific (i.e. iPhone) queries, but ranked #47 in our organic results for general phone-buying searches, appearing in only 95 (of 25,000) markets. Apple stores, however, ranked #8 in local markets.


Top 5 local brands (by clicks)

Like organic, we can apply our click share analysis to local pack rankings. The Top 5 local domains, weighted by CTR and population, looked like this:

Other than some position shuffling, the Top 5 were the same as the simpler local-pack analysis. T-Mobile took the top spot from Sprint when adjusted by CTR and population. It looks as if the major brands were distributed pretty well across a variety of populations and ranking positions.


Top 5 overall winners (by clicks)

What if we combine the organic and local totals, using the click share data across all markets? Here are the winners of the combined data:

Verizon and Best Buy were in close competition for the top spot, with T-Mobile just behind. Best Buy’s #6 spot in our local analysis was easily boosted by their #1 spot in organic, making the big box store a strong overall contender. AT&T squeaked into the top 5, hampered a bit by their #8 position in organic search. Cricket Wireless rounded out the top 5.


Winners, losers, and takeaways

Best Buy dominated our organic winners and took an impressive #2 overall, performing well in local searches. This matches Best Buy’s leading spot in real-world mobile phone sales, an advantage enhanced by representing multiple brands and carriers under one roof. Best Buy’s performance is even more impressive given that they have considerably fewer total locations than most of the major carriers.

Sprint was the biggest winner in local results, given their relatively small retail footprint compared to other major carriers. Publicly-reported location data shows Sprint having half or less of the locations that each of Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T operate, which makes their local dominance even more impressive. Sprint’s recent acquisition of as many as 1,700 Radio Shack storefronts could double their retail locations and make them a force to be reckoned with in local search. Sprint does, however, need to address their complete absence from organic results for general mobile keywords.

Mega-carriers Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T performed well in overall results, as expected given their marketing budgets and massive retail footprints. Verizon struggled somewhat in local rankings, relative to other carriers, bolstered in the overall standings by their strong organic presence. AT&T had the opposite problem — they had a strong local presence, but trailed a bit in organic once CTR was taken into account. It appears AT&T has room for improvement in their ranking positions for general mobile phone terms.

AT&T can count a second win in their column. As of 2014, they own Cricket Wireless, who was our #4 overall winner and had a top 5 position in both of our click share analyses (organic and local). Cricket’s dominant position is undoubtedly good for revenue, although it can be argued that both their organic and local search share represent a branding challenge for AT&T.

No single major carrier dominated market coverage in local pack results. Of the 25,000 markets we studied, 21,143 displayed local packs. Sprint ranked in local packs in about 1/3 of available markets, AT&T and T-Mobile ranked in just under 30%, and Verizon ranked in roughly 20%. Given their retail footprints and marketing budgets, all of the major carriers have significant room for improvement in their local rankings.

Even as the competitive landscape in the wireless industry shifts, Google’s local search landscape will continue to evolve. Google’s current local 3-packs have only been in full effect since August of 2015, and the search giant is constantly experimenting with new formats and features. No one carrier or reseller dominates the entire picture, and all of them will have to fight hard for organic and local search share in the foreseeable future.

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