Monday, September 12, 2016

Is inoffensive marketing offensive?

Will brands ever worry that they’re not being offensive enough?

It sounds like an absurd question but I think there are issues around being too safe and bland worth considering. I’m not suggesting that I’ve the answer here. I certainly don’t. I do wonder whether I’m alone in spotting this rising conflict between respect and expectations so let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

When Snapchat’s Yellowface filter was in the news and labeled as a mistake I saw the issue discussed, in Facebook, by anime and manga fans (most of whom were younger than 25). The group’s conclusion was the filter wasn’t racist, it was funny, and people should get over it. This was the same network of fans who were outraged at Scarlett Johansson being cast as Motoko Kusanagi rather than an Asian actress.

I was surprised when a similar demographic divided into warring factions on the infamous Gamer Gate scandal. The same people who would defend your right to cosplay as anyone you want, despite your gender, size or colour, became extremely agitated at the suggestion fewer computer games should cast sexy princesses needing to be rescued (for example). The loudest voices against the ‘social justice warriors’ where the young female computer game fans. So what was going on there? Defending a culture against perceived ‘meddling from outsiders’?

These are just snapshots, of course, and it is always dangerous to generalize from individual pockets of opinion. After all, it might just be a coincidence that I keep on bumping into them. I keep bumping into them. Increasingly I’m encountering people who are offended at how easily other people are offended. Yeah, there’s an irony there.

More recently, a series of adverts created for the Paralympics by Mars for Maltesers created some chatter. Was it a good idea to be making sex-meets-disabilities jokes in order to sell chocolate balls? From the reactions I saw: it was.

At the time of writing Mars have over 6,400 thumbs up on that video with only 800 or so thumbs down against it. It seems to me the ad was well worth doing - even if it offended some people.

It's not easy. It's not as if we don't still have loads of work to do in representing women and all cultures in ads (in all media). The Maltesers example shows that us discovering ads treating disabled people as people are still so are that they’re a talking point.

Launch a new product for a female audience that’s essentially a pink coloured version of an established product and you’ll find out what I’ll mean. Some data, somewhere, will have said it was a good idea – that you needed to get women to buy your product – but the internet will soon rip you a new arsehole for being so stupid. Ask the team behind “Bic for Her”.

As I said, these are just snapshops, but I think they’re symptomatic of a larger issue; of a diverse and changing cultures.

It feels to be me that a growing percentage of potential customers are turned away by a lack of respect but also by a lack of guts.

The challenge is finding that balance.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Affiliate Huddle 2016 and SEO value

Search Engine Watch have just posted my Nine considerations for movie-based SEO outreach campaigns. My final tip is to consider your affiliates.

If you have an affiliate campaign you've dozens, perhaps hundreds, maybe thousands of micro-publishers hungry for your content. Using them to ignite interest in your movie-related offering should be a no-brainer and certainly far cheaper than getting a different agency to approach the same people.

The post reminded me I hadn't shared or blogged about my Affiliate Huddle 2016 presentation from a few months back.

In this I make the point that affiliate marketing needs to break itseld out of self imposed silos. That's true. I stand by that. However, it's fair to say that if other digital marketing channels new a little bit more about affililaite marketing then it would help!

Last month I was at Affiliate Expo making the case that merchants and networks could do more to help content affiliates (unless they're happy with the current cash back and voucher code situation - then don't bother) and a common grumble back at me was "but it's too expensive".

No, it isn't. The key thing is that brands are doing this sort of activity anyway. It costs nothing to let your affiliates know.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Facebook's new Like alternatives present brands with measurement problems

I like to warn brands – be careful what you measure as you tend to get it. An example of this would be brands who optimise their Facebook activities around the number of Likes they get. A Like is rarely a meaningful business objective. Facebook strategies can still be shaped in order to boost the number of Likes, though, sometimes at the expensive of better objectives.

But at least a Like is a countable, understandable and comparable metric. A post that scored 100 Likes was liked twice as much as a post that scored only 50.

This means Facebook’s new range of responses: Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad and Angry will present some brands with measurement problems. Does a Love count the same, or more, than a Like? Should a Sad subtract from the total?

Each reaction is still an engagement. Perhaps Sad is the correct response to a post designed to pull on the heartstrings.

We don’t yet know how Facebook’s algorithm will respond to the data that the new reactions generate. Currently, Facebook rewards posts with exposure if their engagement metrics are good. Will that change if Facebook’s algorithm notices that people who have to rate posts with Sad tend to spend less time on the platform?

It's hard to measure if we don’t know the value of beans we’re counting. It’s even harder to strategize if we don’t know the effect.

My advice, as always, is to think like a publisher.

Your goal is to grow your business; to get more from less while making sure you’re future proofed. Connect with potential audiences and grow their ranks. Your audience will include potential customers, advocates, SEO signal generators and, of course, current customers. Your Facebook strategy should be all about monetising the relationship you have with that audience, which means being useful to them, while sticking to your brand’s ethos.

While Facebook begins to study how today's rollout of new reactions means for the algorithm – so should you. This will likely mean doing your own analysis and, the scary part, it will mean producing content to explore the 6-wide new range of response emotions.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Google's big changes mean you should review your affiliate PPC strategy

A big piece of news this week is Google dropping right rail ads for desktop and moving to sit above the organic results only. In a bit I’m going to explain why this means brands should re-visit their affiliate tactics.

In addition, for some competitive query there may be as many as four PPC ads at the top of the page.

As you might imagine there been plenty of discussion about this. Clients want to know what this means for PPC campaigns. Agencies are sharing their viewpoints. Rightly so.

I’m not going to use this blog post to dig into the PPC discussion. The summaries agencies and pundits are producing pretty much agree; competition for fewer spots means higher prices so the usual tactics of finding out exactly which keywords to target and refine are even more important. The main disagreement from agencies seems to be whether this is a good, long term, decision that helps align desktop with mobile, or a bad idea.

There’s also been chat about what this means for SEO. It’ll certainly influence clickthrough rates for organic positions. The more expensive the PPC and the harder it is to appear on the first page means that SEO success becomes even more attractive. It may also be the case that for some queries there’s above the fold real estate for organic results. Overall; let’s call this a score draw for SEO.

Google’s own advice to websites is not to load the top of the page with ads. Let the jokes fly.

I’m yet to see much discussion on what the changes mean to affiliate marketing. I think, for some brands, this change represents a huge opportunity and therefore a challenge.

The default affiliate strategy these days is not to allow affiliates to bid on brand terms, on related terms or straight through to the merchant’s site. Affiliates have to build their own niche sites, that aren’t anything like a merchant’s site, and look for matching niche keywords to bid on. Coupons and voucher codes grew from niches into a huge industry.

There are other strategies though.

Search term domination
Affiliates can be used by brands to dominate the PPC results. Imagine you’ve a brand and two affiliates, driving traffic to allied sites, bidding on key brand hybrid terms. In Google’s old PPC landscape that wouldn’t have filled up all the paid search results. In the new PPC landscape that could (add one extra affiliate to make sure).

Further supporting this approach is the news that Google will shutdown Google Compare in a month. This removes one of the ways competitors could get some of their financial products in through your PPC wall of domination.

Cost optimisation
This is very much in the test and learn category. Usually, an analysis of whether it makes sense to let affiliates bid on key terms (especially brand or brand hybrid) comes to conclusion that it is not cost effective. Letting the affiliates in simply increases the action in the auction and therefore pushes prices up.

Will this be the case in the new limited space auction? It might be that the bid prices competitors are coming in with are above that of affiliates. If so then letting affiliates in won’t affect your bid price, if you’re determined to have a winning placement, but might act as a secondary catchment.

Performance PPC
On the far end of the ‘cost optimisation’ model is to run a brand’s PPC campaign entirely as a performance model/affiliate deal with an agency. The agency is paid a commission based on profit rather than a management fee.

Performance deals tend to be most popular with brands when it is hard for them to run a profitable PPC campaign in-house and when it doesn’t make sense to look for economies of scale by awarding a media agency combined PPC, display and other biddable media responsibilities.

If Google’s new PPC landscape makes it very hard to make a margin on PPC in some verticals then brands may well start to look around again for purely performance-based partnerships.

Double check brand bidding
By now, hopefully, most brands have a schedule for testing and re-testing whether brand bidding, along with core keywords, makes sense or whether the approach is just cannibalising PPC.

Google’s changes means that the testing schedule for this needs to be moved forwards. Competitors will be changing their strategy and affiliates, yours and theirs, will be changing their strategies. It’s a new world. Double check the basics.

What's your take on the new PPC world order? How do you think strategies will change?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

What is influencer marketing?

I remember debating with an agency-side Head of Social whether influencers really existed. She thought not. I thought so. However, even as I made my case I agreed with many of her points; there’s a big difference between reach and influence.

For example; I followed Kanye West’s Twitter rant this week, it reached me even though I’d normally have nothing to do with the guy, but he’s not one of my influencers.

Influencer marketing, I argue, is essentially another spin off from “press relations” and like SEO it should have been owned by the PR industry, it isn’t because it’s heavily digital, and instead is used mainly by SEO, content marketing and social agencies.

So, what is it? I think we’re all publishers now which means it isn’t just newspapers, magazines and traditional media outlets that can reach audiences nor is influence the preserve of those channels. Today, celebrities, bloggers, community owners and curators are all capable of influence.

Influence doesn’t always manifest as encouragement to buy product. Today’s influence might simply be used to generate clicks and valuable impressions, it might spark conversation which could lead to increased social clout or additional editorial coverage, perhaps links, for SEO value.

Influencers are generally approached to help promote a story. A common tactic is to get the influencer involved in the story thus giving them and any loyal audience skin in the game.

Influencer marketing is easy to talk about but hard to get right. You can spend a lot of money for very little in return or you can spend a little and unlock great value.

This post is inspired by the news that Bloglovin’ has bought Sverve. I knew both companies.

I never got into Sverve, I don’t think, as a blogger. I looked at it but couldn’t quite reassure myself that they had the scale and pitch quite right but always felt they were nearly there. Being bought by Bloglovin’ might be exactly what they needed to push over the success line.

I’ve mixed feelings about Bloglovin’. I love the community, didn’t need the RSS reader alternative and corrupted the follower count system.

Let me explain the latter. The number of people following your blog on Bloglovin’ (the RSS reader alternative) is public. The more you have the more popular your blog looks. My problem with that comes from my agency experience; most of the people who use Bloglovin’ are other bloggers. The Bloglovin’ follower count simply measures the echo chamber.

In some cases I think it makes sense to subtract the amount of Bloglovin’ followers a fashion or lifestyle blogger has from their Twitter or Facebook followers, for example, in order to get a better feeling for what their natural audience size is (sans fellow bloggers).

The new platform, replacing Sverve, is called Activate by Bloglovin’. Let’s hope it doesn’t lean too heavily on Bloglovin’ echo chamber metrics.

I think the match up is a good one. I bet Bloglovin was frequently approached by brands and agencies looking to do some influencer marketing. With Sverve/Activate by Bloglovin’ in place they’re better able to handle those requests and turn a profit.

Hopefully Bloglovin’s awareness of what bloggers are writing about (trending posts is already a thing in their platform) can combine nicely with Sverve’s own influence metrics and the new platform can really help identify a range of influencers (small to large) and empower people to pitch them safely and effectively.

The proof is in the pudding; I've signed up to see how things go.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Ecosia is a search engine that plants trees

The UK has a search engine called Everyclick, that’s powered by Yahoo, and raises money for charity. Thanks to Everyclick I’m familiar with the concept and challenges of third sector search engines.

That’s why Ecosia caught my attention. As I search and click (interacting with income generating ads is key) it earns money and then donates that to tree planting progams.

Ecosia has planted over 3 million trees in this way. That’s about one every 12 seconds.

Bing powers Ecosia’s first page. It’s a good test of search relevancy. Without familiar logos you might well wonder whether you’re looking at Google results.

As it happens, Ecosia has a Google tab and the search engine has become a new favourite way to compare Bing to Google results. I’ve planted 5 trees with it.

Is there a catch? I noticed Ecosia wasn’t registered as a charity and asked founder Christian Kroll about that.

We believe in the power of social business. Instead of only trying to maximize our profits, we try to maximize the number of trees we can plant in the long term. We make this very transparent by publishing all our donation receipts and monthly business reports. As a social business we have the possibility to scale and generate more revenue to donate than we would as a charity. Thanks to its business model, Ecosia has been cash flow positive from the beginning. There is a lot of money in search advertising and we want to make use of that so people can do good without any further costs or effort on their side. We've already been very successful with this in the past, as the number of trees we've been able to finance, shows. Our next goal is to exponentially grow our number of users, so we can reforest the planet even faster.

So is Ecosia just an oddity and of interest to digital marketing geeks like myself? Perhaps not. The search engine’s market share is tiny but growing. Kroll was able to provide me with some stats;

Our worldwide market share might be miniscule compared to a monopolist like Google, but 10% of all non-Google users in the DACH region use Ecosia. This percentage is currently quite noticeably growing in other regions, too. Especially in the UK, probably due to Google's tax situation. The fact that users now change to Ecosia shows us, that the future belongs to tools that capitalize on a daily habit to offer an additional social or environmental benefit.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

A world first? Human virus downgrades computer game

We know about computer viruses messing up computer games but now we have a human virus, which is far more serious, also being able to impact on games. I think this is a sign of the times and an indicator of just how culture is being interwoven with technology.

The game in question once belonged to Google but spun out last year, raising funds on the way. That’s almost unheard of, right? Google just shuts down companies it owns but doesn’t want any more. They didn’t even sell the Google Affiliate Network (once part of DoubleClick). They just closed it.

Niantic Lab’s Ingress is different. It left Google and then got funded by Google and other backers like the Pokemon Company.

Ingress is also a different sort of computer game than you might be expecting. It’s a smartphone game that requires you to get off the sofa and roam around your city to play. I’d call it an augmented reality game since it’s a virtual overlay, using your location data, on the real world.

In Ingress there are two factions fighting for the future of mankind. There’s the Enlightened (in green) who want to harness a mysterious alien energy and help humanity grow. There’s the Resistance (in blue) who recruit agents by claiming the mysterious alien energy (and the unseen aliens) are dangerous and should be opposed but who have now been exposed, in the game’s three year plot, as actually working for a second alien faction all along. Traitors. Yeah, it’s a twisty plot but there’s a summary video at the end of this post.

The rivalry between the two factions is significant because Niantic organise large clashes, twice a year, known as Anomalies. One of the main Anomalies this year was supposed to be in Rio. This is the same Rio that’s supposed to be having the 2016 Summer Olympics.

This week Niantic downgraded the Rio event and moved the main clash of factions to Seattle. This makes sense; Ingress is a game where you have to physically be in the right location to play and an Anomaly in Rio would mean players from around the world (and 14 million people have downloaded the game; millions play every month) would have to travel to Brazil.

In a Google+ update Niantic said;

... due to escalating concerns by the World Health Organization regarding the Zika virus, and the challenges it presents, the #Obsidian Rio event has been reclassified as a Satellite Flash Shard anomaly. The new Primary city for the events occurring on 27 FEB will be Seattle …

In other words; as Ingress blends reality with gameplay an event in Rio would mean exposing computer game players to the Zika virus.

I think this may be a first. In the future I think we’ll see more real world and augmented reality clashes where events in one affect decisions in the other.

If you’re interested in joining Ingress, helping the Enlightened fight for choice and turning your daily commute into a game then scribble your email down here and I’ll get in touch.

Monday, February 01, 2016

What's Next ... In Media

DigitasLBi’s “What’s Next” phrase isn’t supposed to be used as a question; it’s supposed to be used in the context of digital transformation and those agencies that can help brands achieve that.

But I like using it as a question. I like questions. Asking questions is what keeps us savvy, keeps our heads up and eyes open while we predict what’s next rather than just try and cope with it when it comes.

Thankfully, the "What’s Next ... In Media" day we held in London last week raised lots of questions. Here’s a quick video summary.

Lots of high profile and intelligent speakers. I was very pleased to see a mix of publishers and brands. I’m an advocate of thinking like a publisher. This is not because I’ve a content marketing proposition to sell but because brands have no choice. Brands are now publishers whether they like it or not.

I think Anna Watkins, the MD of Guardian Labs, made some great points. Many years ago I once called the combination of anchor text -> title tag -> h1 the holy trinity. Those days are long gone. Anna uses the phrase to describe the need for world class content, technology to help distribute at scale and data to target the right audience.

In particular, I was interested in the challenge around “cut through”. How do you get noticed when everyone else is doing the same thing? This is the media challenge. This is the point of media – creating value from your assets by connecting with audiences. Branded communications, publishing and media campaigns (paid or earned) the overlap is huge.

Anna said there’s almost an obesity crisis when it comes to creating content. Branded content marketers may have a harder job than journalists (I’d suggest they’re less trusted, certainly).

I think this “cut through” challenge is both “What’s Now” and “What’s Next” in media.

Friday, January 22, 2016

SEO finally comes to organic Facebook posts

Noticed how your free Facebook posts have had fewer and fewer people view them? I don’t blame paid ads for this.

Facebook tells us that on average users would have 1500 updates to see in the news feed each day. Facebook is partially to blame for this as they’ve made so many actions potentially news feed worthy – friends liking stuff, for example. The platform uses interest based filters to decide what to show people. If Facebook thinks a user is likely to be interested in a post then they’ll show it to them. That's tough for marketers. If only there was a way to nudge Facebook's system to consider a particular audience as you're pretty sure they might be interested in your post.

The problem with the busy news feed is that it’s now full of brands, pages and your next door neighbour all keenly sharing stuff that you might like. Brands suffer the most because they work hard on “branded content” or other expensive, quality, content that meets their own branding rules while trying trying not to look like corporate messaging. Facebook natural reach is declining because it’s busy; not just because there are ads.

If you’re sceptical then watch this video from Facebook’s Eric Sodomka, which explains this in detail. Watch it before Facebook realises what’s been said and asks the Simons Institute to delete it.

So what’s this about SEO for Facebook?

Wouldn’t it be good if you could use tags to optimise a free, organic, post so that its targeted specifically at people within your audience who might like that tag?

Sure, right now you can use Facebook’s Interest Targeting feature to mark posts – but why would you? What Interest Targeting does is to restrict who can see the post to only those who match the interest. Essentially, all that Interest Targeting does is reduce the chances of your post picking up Likes and Shares.

Today, Facebook has announced that Interest Targeting will go and will be replaced by Audience Optimization. It talks to my SEO genes.

Facebook’s new Audience Optimization comes in three parts;
  1. Preferred audience - tags that encourage Facebook show the post to people who might be interested in the tag.
  2. Audience restrictions - a bit like the old interest targeting; you can say who might not be interested in the post.
  3. Audience insights - want to see how the content actually performed against your tags? This will show you.

To recap;

This coming week, for English language Pages, you’ll be able to call out interest tags for your posts and Facebook will optimise the delivery of those free posts to matching people.

You’ll be able to analysis how successful your interest tagging strategy is. You’ll be able to see how different subsets of audiences are engaging with your content.

This is powerful

Imagine what can be done with this. Off the top of my head;


Brands will be able to see which of their celebrity product champions actually resonate with their audiences and sports clubs will be able to see which brands might be the best match for them (or take the money anyway and apply audience restrictions to all-on going posts to reduce the impact of the sponsorship to fans who couldn’t care less about the sponsor.

Viral building

By deploying a series of test and learn posts marketers will be able to determine which interests in their audience are most likely to trigger shares and likes. Brands will be able to target vital candidates.

Media companies will be able to see which news angles work best with which audience subsets.

Linkbait and SEO

Using Facebook to help connect linkbait content with audiences with a high propensity to create links and other quality signals?

Facebook’s Audience Optimization for Publishers will allow brands (aka publishers) to refine that strategy; offering up insight on both the type of content to use and the audience to target.

I need to know more

It’s early days yet. Audience Optimization is rolling out as we speak and needs to be switched on by hand if your page has less than 5,000 likes.

It’ll take practice.

Facebook has already published Introducing Audience Optimization for Publishers and an Audience Optimization Get Started guide.

Here’s hoping your social media platform supports the new feature. Eh, Hootsuite?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Have we lost it? SEO integration with design and build

There was a time when websites were built by people who didn't have SEO high up on their agenda. It was common for brands, big and small, to create a whole site and then appoint an SEO agency as part of their launch strategy.

It was rubbish.

New sites went live with all sorts of serious problems. Huge amounts of money were wasted as big changes were made. Agencies were left looking pretty silly.

Things got better. With that much money in the equation progress was inevitable. Four things happened;

  • Clients / brands understood the importance of technical SEO in the build
  • Web developers improved their SEO skills
  • SEO agencies dealt with senior decision makers
What about the fourth? An important but often forgotten consideration is this;
  • Google got better
Search engines can now cope with a wider range of web design and coding techniques. I still wouldn't build a site in AJAX and frames but Google is better able to understand your JavaScript, for example, than ever before.

What's the problem with SEO and web build?

SEO changes. The stage in the web design and build project that SEO is generally thought about hasn’t changed.

Back in early 2014 I wrote about Innovation in SEO and the "technical build". My argument back then was that getting the coding right, worrying about URL structures and similar wasn't enough. The build strategy in today's SEO world had to consider how the site would operate now that we're all publishers.

Examples I gave at the time included;
  • Having an easy and appropriate location on the site for linkbait publishing
  • Landing page strategies for retargeting, affiliates, etc
  • A page retirement strategy built into the CMS
It's now 2016 and I see very little progress. These considerations, and others related to current SEO techniques, are more important than ever. Sites are going live with an SEO disadvantage and CMOs and CIOs are beginning to waste their money again.

When was the last time an SEO took a look at a core revenue driving page of your site (a product page, for example) and said "That would be an excellent page for outreach"? Or "It'll be easy to make that page a key part of the publicity campaign"? Have you been asked by the boss to prove that the blog is driving sales?

Are we really all publishers now?

Yes, whether it's Facebook updates or your Fitbit sharing your weekly step total in an email to friends; we're all creating content.

When it comes to SEO this means we've so many more brands competing for attention. Just take a step back and look at all the companies still pumping out infographics. Look at the brands working with bloggers on co-creation projects. There's been tremendous growth in branded communication and content.

This all equates to publishing. Publishers (games, books, music...) are on the same evolutionary path as marketing agencies. It's about growing audiences and making money from those connections. It’s too early to say where we’ll meet – transmedia campaigns based around IP franchises with profitable commercial models and loyal fans, perhaps – but there will be a meeting. Just look at publishers like Buzzfeed or The Drum who already have their own agency-like agency assisting content units.

There may be some who haven't come to the same conclusion as the rest of us. They may not think we're in a messy battle for attention. It doesn't matter as even this small tribe recognises that modern SEO is very much about getting certain audiences interested in and aware of certain content (even if they’re just doing it for the links).

What does this mean? What do we need to do?

It means that we need to start making web sites - digital assets for our company - that have a fighting chance during the coming years of "peak attention".

Brands need websites that will be relevant and useful. Having a web site with a blog annex isn't enough.

Sure, you might have a cool video of a fashion vlogger trying on some of your hats but do you have the means to turn that into a custom landing page, social enough to be interesting and yet ecommerce savvy enough to sell hats? No? Just going to publish the video on a blog post, link to some of your hat product pages and email some fashion bloggers to see if they care? That's not going to be enough.

In this example, if you had had the opportunity to integrate modern SEO in to your new website then your hat product pages should have been able to display the video. They should have been able to act as a hub or anchor point for the story. If you were, somehow, able to get fashion bloggers interested in the video then such an approach would hugely increase your chances of earning those vitally important editorial links to your product page.

This is hard

Yes, this is hard. This is one of the reasons so few people do it. A range of skills and collaboration is needed.

Another reason why so few sites are built in this way is because SEO is not a consideration while this sort of site design is being thought about. It's rare to find SEO minded people in the room so early on in a new website's lifecycle.

But it should happen

My hope is that SEO can get back to where it needs to be when it comes to site design and build.

New projects like AMP may help - sites being expanded with a Google defined mark-up designed to load quickly in mobile.

The importance of SEO will help. Savvy client-side decision makers will help too and there are plenty of those (fighting against old company structures and silos, generally).

Image credit: Kevin Dooley.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Why Google's new Visit-in-Person query type deserves some attention

SEO is always changing. One of the reasons why true SEOs are rare is the skillset changes. The changes are sometimes subtle which require instinct as much as hands-on experience to detect and master. I think Visit-in-Person queries are one of those subtle, but important, changes.

One of the biggest Google updates ever was Florida. It hit just before Christmas and destroyed the rankings of retailers. How could retailers, almost universally, all loose the search positions? The Florida update was the one which brought the idea that people like to research before they buy to Google. The Flordia update helped create the three core query types Google used for 10 years.

  1. Navigational Searches
  2. Research Searches
  3. Commercial Searches

Those three core search types have different names today but they’re still around. There’s also a fouth – Visit-in-Person.

Page 72 of the formerly confidential but now public Google Quality Tester Guidelines spells the differences out for us.

Know queries (which we might have called Research before) are those for which the searcher is trying to find something out – which tablet to buy, for example.

Do queries are those in which the searcher is trying to take an action – buy an iPad, for example. There’s a subset of Do queries known as Device Action and these are incredibly important to know about as well. Device Action queries are those commands give Google to control your smartphone. Google gives the example [open facebook app] as an example.

There’s Website queries in which the searcher is looking for a site or a page. I speculate “Navigation” isn’t quite as an appropriate term as it was before as users may wish to navigate to apps on their phone.

Visit-in-Person queries are exactly what they appear to be. Google’s illustrated guidelines hardly seem necessary. These are search terms which suggest the user will make a physical visit to a real world location.

It’s easy to see how this might influence SEO going forward. Here’s a whole chunk of searches in which a digital asset isn’t the ultimate destination. These searches won’t drive traffic to your site.

Visit-in-Person queries are easy to understand but they’re difficult to study and predict. Using Google’s guidelines we can list all known queries with Visit-in-Person intent.

  1. [chinese restaurant]
  2. [gas stations]
  3. [pizza]
  4. [yoga class]
  5. [coffee shops]
  6. [movie showtimes]
  7. [car repair]
  8. [dentists]
  9. [bank of america atm locations]
  10. [starbucks near me]

It’s interesting that Starbucks needs a “near me” qualifier on it to be considered a VIP whereas [chinese restaurant] doesn’t. It’ll be the brand effect.

Neither Starbucks nor any nearby Chinese restaurant will be aware of the search in their own site analytics. Starbucks will be able to see the search term driving impressions but not clicks in their Search Console provided one of their URLs is included in the mobile results. That’s an interesting SEO decision – do make the effort to create pages, with sufficient authority, to rank well enough to allow you to track a query?

One of your main traffic drivers, perhaps a former Website/Navigational search could become a VIP search overnight. That’ll knock your numbers for six. I’ll use [pizza] as an example here. Google’s data tells them people are looking to buy pizza from a shop and not look up the recipe. That would be tough to swallow if the keyword has been a big traffic driver for your food blog or magazine site.

The implications go on. VIP searches are matched to locations, not websites. You may not even need to have a website to benefit from them.

As it happens [burger] is also a VIP search (at least from my location – all searches are location dependant). The results include a small restaurant around the corner, which doesn’t have burger in its name, which doesn’t have the keyword in its Google Local description and for which the word “burger” appears in only a few reviews. So once again we cycle back to the importance of UGC even though the very Google Quality Tester Guidelines that explain Visit-in-Person searches urge quality testers to be cautious with UGC.

It’s also worth noting that many venues had the word “burger” in their UGC and weren’t selected for the VIP results. In fact, one of Google’s three suggestions was over a mile away whereas venues only a few hundred metres away were omitted.

It’s important not to write Visit-in-Person searches off as just Local searches. They’re not. They’re more specific than that. There’s a stronger, clearly defined, offline intent with a Visit-in-Person search. It’s not the same thing as looking for a local florist to order online from.

It’s also important to consider that Visit-in-Person query might be the first, not the only, internet to real life mapping Google supports. Connected Cars may allow for more and Google does have an OS for cars. Just as the ‘Do’ category has the Device Action sub-category; we may Visit-in-Person grow to include specific actions or means of locomotion.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

How badly are bloggers poisoning the well?

It’s still fashionable for brands and agencies to work with bloggers. How long will it be until it may be harmful to do so?

The problem is with disclosure and authenticity. Bloggers aren’t keen on either and there’s danger that either the public or Google will notice. Google, in particular, is a stat crunching monster. Once the algorithm decides that mathematically the chances are that links from blogs will have been arranged or incentivized and therefore should be a negative quality signal rather than a positive one?

I’m not just picking on bloggers in this post. Back in 2014 I wrote a piece that made it clear agencies and client-side teams were encouraging this behaviour by not refusing to take part. If a blogger takes cash for a piece and “forgets” to put nofollow on the links for Google or to clearly state “this is an advert” for human readers then all too often that’s seen as a bonus win.

That same year I wrote tips for evaluating blogs that tried to steer people to safety. In particular, the Colleen/Jac test was designed to see whether the blogger actually had something unique to contribute or whether the platform was just sprouting reviews, rewiewbait (posts written to score freebies) and paid-for placements.

Since 2014 I don’t see much of an improvement.

I appreciate bloggers, more and more, want to make a living off their blogs. Blogs want to be treated like businesses. That’s fine. I just wish more blogs could actually be given business rates!

What’s the average CPM for a remnant or RTB ad brought from a big brand publisher these days? A few pennies? Let’s pop over to the Passionfruit Marketplace and see what bloggers are charging. I like Passionfruit and they’ve given bloggers a better steer on what to charge than the current prices most bloggers ask for.

The average of the 5 most active Beauty bloggers, by month;

  • $17 for a banner ad shown to a 1/10th of the (undisclosed) traffic
  • $9 for a small sidebar ad shown to 1/6th of the blog's 101,000 monthly pageviews
  • $85 for a button ad shown to undisclosed traffic
  • $400 for a square ad (smaller than a MPU) shown to undisclosed traffic
  • $15 for a small banner shown to 1/5th of the blogs 6,000 pageviews. Weirdly the blogger says you're not allowed to promote anything with the banner.
Using the two blogs who are kind enough to disclose traffic figures that makes an average of about 9000 pageviews a month (not uniques) for an average of about $105. That's a $86 CPM.

A $86 CPM is ridiculous.

There are good deals and less intelligent deals on Passionfruit. The goal of the above is to indicate just how rare traffic reporting is – bloggers much prefer social reach – and to indicate how expensive it is to advertise on blogs if CPM is your metric.

Most brands and agencies don’t buy ads on small blogs though. They’re much happier (and better off) using advanced platforms in a real-time bidding systems to show the same people ads for one thousandths of the cost.

What about disclosure and knowing when to nofollow links? Using a platform (who’ve asked to be nameless) who email offers and opportunities to bloggers, I went through 5 “You get to keep the product” offers and found between three and six reviews from blogs for each.

What percentage of bloggers disclosed they got the product as a freebie?

What about nofollow links? Counting only the blogs that linked back.

It’s great to see that %100 nofollow on an incentivized deal. That tells me either the bloggers – more likely the agency – knew the risks. It’s also worth noting that links were not an asked for requirement in Offer 5. That’s the review deal with the most follow links. That’s how it’s supposed to work. If links are editorial then you’ve more chance of scoring that positive quality signal.

It’s also interesting to see that bloggers seem to be better at nofollow than they are at disclosure these days. That’s probably for two main reasons; the bloggers don’t want to risk Google anger whereas still too many bloggers don’t understand disclosure rules.

If you were Google’s algorithm, though, you’d be able to read the clues clearly here. Sites that look like blogs have a high chance of linking out and, increasingly, those are links that shouldn’t count. The only way bloggers can ensure blogs remain positive quality signals is to keep those follow links rare, precious and appropriate.

I’m a blogger. I see hope for the hobby. Travel, beauty and fashion bloggers need to work on their own personal brand as much as their blog – they need to charge celeb rates rather than platform rates. Gamer and gadget blogs have other ways to earn cash – gadget blogs, in particular, should do more with affiliate marketing. Gamer blogs have communities to grow.

Image credit: Thomas Hawk