Posted by randfish
From search ads and SEO to display ads, content, and your social efforts, there’s a lot to consider when creating the correct marketing concoction. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand goes over advice on how and why you should be auditing your funnel to ensure you have a balanced, effective marketing mix.
Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about how to balance your marketing mix. Specifically, I want to talk a little bit more about search ads and SEO versus kind of content and social, those traffic channels that you invest in, either paid or organic, that can drive traffic kind of more at the top of the funnel or more in the conversion process.
But this is actually a complex equation, and the marketing mix overall is something that a lot of folks struggle with and that I find a ton of misplaced energy and misplaced dollars happening. So the way to solve for this, in my opinion, is we can start with a pretty simple auditing process. We can ask ourselves kind of strategically, “Where are we facing funnel challenges?”
Determining where your funnel challenges are.
I see lots of businesses — from tiny, small startups and small businesses on the web to giant companies — having this issue where they say, “We have a problem with the consideration and comparison phase. We feel really good that people are aware of our brand, and they come for that first visit. They come back for the return visit. But then they get to the consideration phase and we feel like we’re losing out against our competitors right there before conversion happens.”
Well, guess what? If you’re spending all your marketing dollars on display or on offline forms of display marketing, which go to awareness, and very little in the consideration and comparison set, where things like search can be great, especially your brand versus competitors, or your competitor versus your own brand, or features, or what to buy, or recommendations, or reviews, all those kinds of things, ranking for that stuff, buying those key terms, having content that serves them and maybe doing some display advertising to people who’ve already been to your website through a retargeting that’s trying to convince them, well, all of those forms of marketing can reach that set. But the problem is you’re spending all your time and energy, and people, and dollars up in awareness.
I see this across the board. I’ve seen people spend a ton on first visit and return visit, and nothing on recidivism and retention. I’ve seen them spend a ton at the point of conversion, but nothing up here to drive awareness. So they have a great-looking funnel for a very small number of people.
If you know where you have this problem, if you can identify where your issues lie, then you can invest in the right channels. You can change up your marketing mix and your people, your time, and your dollars accordingly.
Also, don’t be too narrow. My view here is a little bit narrow. But you should consider whether channels like community building, email marketing, offline advertising, or in-product, in-app marketing can actually be part of this mix and how they should be part of this mix. I don’t want you to limit it just to search, social, content, display. There’s a lot of opportunity there.
Validate that your investments can actually move the needle.
You can invest a lot of time and energy, and dollars, and people into one of these channels to try and move the needle on something, and get what look like good results in the channel itself. Like, “Oh, search is driving lots of traffic.” Or, “We have high rankings.” Or, “We are spending a lot on this display channel, and we’re seeing lots of people visit.”
But then, when you actually dig in, you see that you’re not moving the needle on what you need to. You’re not improving the problem that you have in your funnel.
So you might ask: “I’ve got a retargeting ad or a whole set of retargeting ads. Are we effectively improving conversion rate, or are we just bringing people back to the site? Which was our goal? Were we doing retargeting to earn return visits? Or are we doing retargeting so that we can increase conversion or so we can improve consideration and comparison against the competition?”
“Is this piece of content, or our content strategy overall, or the tactic of producing a daily blog post or a monthly report, or a white paper every quarter, is that reaching a broad enough audience? Is it targeting enough of our visitors and their influencers? Is it driving return visits? Is it driving conversion? Is it getting us a lead that we can then follow up with? What’s happening there?”
You can ask that question in SEO and in PPC as well. Does ranking for this keyword bring in the right qualified potential traffic? Does it bring us enough?
Are we ranking for a keyword where, you know what, it sounds like a great keyword and it would convert great. But we’re not getting enough people because Google has a knowledge graph and an instant answer up top. So the keyword opportunity score is way down low in the toilet, and it’s just not going to drive any traffic. So maybe we need to expand that keyword set. Maybe we’re doing great with SEO, but we need to do more of it for different keywords.
If you are doing this auditing process and you identify whether the tactics are actually moving the needle in the places you think they are, you can now move on to, “We know our funnel problems, where they exist, where they don’t. We know which tactics work and don’t.”
Analyze your resource allocation to match against the problems and ROI.
Now we can say, “You know what? Let me look at my marketing mix.
Let me look at my resource allocation and say, ‘Oh, maybe I’m putting 20% of my budget to display and 18% to paid search. Maybe I’m putting 15% to offline, and I’m putting 12% to social and 8% to content.” Whatever the numbers may be, “Is that the right mix? Does that effectively sound like it’s doing the right things over here, or should I be changing this up?”
Should I say, “Huh. You know what? We saw that we have a bunch of opportunity in SEO, or we have a bunch of opportunity in content. We have a lot of time and energy and people being spent in display. Could we put that on autopilot for a little bit? Let our display run for a quarter. Maybe do a weekly or monthly check-in from one person. But ask those people to go concentrate on content, and then have our SEOs help them become sophisticated and savvy with how to promote that content.”
Maybe. Maybe you can. The questions I like to ask in the resource allocation phase are: Are any of these already purely on autopilot? Are they just sort of running and they haven’t been audited? Because that can speak to why the tactic isn’t working, or why it’s not targeting the right phase of the funnel.
How many people and hours, not just dollars are going to each? Because a lot of folks, when they look at their marketing budget from a CFO level or a chief marketing officer, they’ll look purely at the numbers, not at the people. That can be very dangerous too, because if you say, “Hey, we’ve got a bunch of our budget is allocated to display. We have almost no budget to allocate it to SEO. But that’s intentional because SEO is a free channel.” Ahh. Pull out your hair. That’s crazy.
Or the only dollars that we have assigned to it are our SEO consultants, rather than people and hours, and time, and energy, which is what you need to be successful with an inbound marketing flywheel, like the content, search, social, email, community system.
Are any of these maxing out? If you’re seeing that you’re putting more dollars, more time against them, but you’re getting lower and lower ROI over time, that could be a sign that you’re sort of maxed out in that channel, and you either need to get more creative on how you’re reaching more people, or you might think about switching some of that expenditure of time and people and dollars.
Then, finally, do any of these have tracking or data issues? I find that in a huge number of organizations the reason they’re not solving the funnel challenges that they want to, and pursuing poor tactics and not investing in channels like search and social and content, is because they have no good way to measure it. So the first step might be admitting, “You know what? We’re bad at measuring the ROI of content. So that’s the first thing we have to do.”
We have to be able to say, “Did someone come to visit us for the first time from a piece of content? What happened in the 90-day window, or 120-day window, whatever the cookie lasts, however long we can make the cookie last? Did we see that person come back again and go to consideration and comparison phase, or go to conversion, or become more of a recidivist for our products or a highly-retentive customer who’s subscribing to us?”
If the answer to those things is yes, then you know what? Data is the place to invest. When you do that, then you’re able to effectively allocate your marketing channels.
So hopefully, this will kick off an exercise in audit for many of you. I’d love to hear from you in the comments with your shares about places you have reallocated dollars, places you’ve seen present lots of opportunity or present poor opportunity. Then, I’d love to see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.
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There are opportunities everywhere for content marketers.
Different channels, different types of content, and different websites.
One that I think is criminally underutilized is a little site you might have heard of:
It’s by far the largest video sharing site—nothing even comes close to it.
Get this: YouTube has over 1 billion users.
Those billion users account for over 4 billion video views a day.
You can find literally any type of audience on YouTube, which means that just about any business can find a way to benefit from marketing on it.
And while other video sites have decent levels of traffic, most businesses could start today on YouTube and do fine because it’s far from saturated.
In truth, few businesses actually invest in YouTube marketing.
Because it’s difficult. Compare a video and a blog post about the same topic and of similar quality levels, and the video will cost more.
Smart businesses know that the cost can be worth it, but the higher barrier to entry scares away the rest.
If you’ve been considering marketing on YouTube, or you’ve just started and haven’t really found your feet, this post is especially for you.
I’m going to show you all the key components of creating a YouTube channel that thrives. Your videos will get views, and those views will lead to subscribers and sales for your business.
Video is still content, so you need to start with an audience
You should treat a YouTube content strategy just like you would treat a content strategy on any other channel.
Your content needs to be created for a specific audience you want to reach.
The more you define your niche, the more your content will resonate with viewers.
At this point, there are three main aspects you need to determine.
Aspect #1 – The type of person: First up is the type of person you want to create content for, which should be the same type of person who buys your product(s).
For example, if I were creating a channel from scratch today, I would be creating content for business owners and marketers because they are also the ones who buy my training courses and hire me as a consultant.
Try to get even more specific than that. For example:
- beginner marketers
- expert marketers
- marketers in North America
You can often narrow your audience by being more specific about their knowledge level of your topic and location.
A narrow audience is a good thing because it allows you to make your content just that more targeted.
You can’t create content for beginners and experts at the same time, so if you try to, at least half will always be dissatisfied.
Aspect #2 – What do they want to do? The second part of defining your audience is to specify their main goals.
Are they trying to make more money? make their home look better? learn to cook better? get in shape? And so on…
Determine the things they care about the most. Ideally, it will relate to your product as well, but it’s not always necessary.
For example, I could create content for “expert marketers who want to get in better shape.”
Even though those videos wouldn’t be directly related to my products, they still attract the attention of my target market. This would allow me to get my marketing advice in front of them and, eventually, my products as well.
The main point of content marketing, including videos on YouTube, is to attract the attention of your target audience.
So, if you see a need that hasn’t been filled, jump on it regardless of whether it’s directly tied to your product.
Aspect #3 – How do they want to consume it? Finally, you just want to do a common sense check and determine whether the audience you’ve nailed down actually wants to get their solutions in the video form.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be the whole audience, but it should be a large part.
Video is great for certain types of content:
- overviews of strategies
- education on a specific topic
- product reviews
Marketers, and just about any audience, would love to get fitness tips through videos. It makes sense because it’s the simplest way you can show movements and explain complex topics.
But it won’t suit all types of content.
For example, let’s say your audience wants to find resources.
You can’t exactly put a list of tools and resources in a video because it’s not easily scannable.
Once you’ve come up with an audience with a specific need that can be fulfilled with video, you’re good to move on to the next step.
3 Steps to videos that attract views
Marketing on YouTube has a lot of similarities to SEO.
To get views, one of your main goals will be to rank in YouTube’s searches without putting in more effort than your initial promotion.
You could try some black hat tactics, just like in SEO, to get the extra views, but that’s never a long-term solution.
Instead, you need to create videos people actually want to watch. There are three steps to it.
Step #1 – Accomplish or entertain, pick one: Ask yourself why someone watches a video. There are really only two reasons why.
Either they want to learn something to solve a problem, or they want to be entertained.
You need to make sure that your video accomplishes at least one of these, if not both.
The reason why understanding this is so important is because it will shape how you make your videos.
Does a super long introduction help your viewer learn what they want? No, they don’t care about a theme song. This isn’t a TV show.
Does the viewer care about an in-depth history to the problem? Again, no.
They want their solution delivered as concisely as possible.
Your goal is to make your videos as useful as possible because that’s what’s going to bring you subscribers and long-time viewers.
Step #2 – Quality always comes first: Even though YouTube is far from saturated, one aspect that really impresses me is the quality of the videos put out by popular channels.
They’ve quickly figured out that viewers won’t watch low quality videos.
Compare this to blogging: the standard level of content has only gotten to a high level in the past few years, and there are still plenty of businesses producing ugly content without much value.
There are two main types of high quality videos that you’ll come across and that you’ll probably want to produce yourself.
Let me clarify what I mean by quality: I’m talking about how good the video looks.
High quality videos look professional: they have good lighting, aren’t blurry, and look like someone invested some time and effort in them.
The first type is the classic white background. Derek Halpern often uses it in his videos:
Not only does it look professional, but it keeps the focus on you rather than some random things in the background.
The other kind of popular video is the whiteboard video, where narration is done alongside drawings on a whiteboard:
These look great and are an entertaining way to explain complex products.
How do you make videos like these?
Well, the white screen background (you could also go with a green screen) type of video is pretty easy.
It’ll cost you a few hundred dollars in a photography store to get set up the first time (for a low cost version), but that will last you a long while.
Here’s a great video on how to get your own setup:
Once you have the screen in place, you just need a decent camera, and you’re good to start filming.
The whiteboard videos are a bit trickier unfortunately.
If you don’t have the illustration skills yourself, you don’t have any choice but to hire someone to do it for you.
Create a job posting on any of the major freelance sites to find a whiteboard explainer video creator or designer, and you should get a few applicants with experience:
On top of filming a high quality video, you will also need to edit it.
Good editing allows you to make the video flow nicely from one section to another to keep the viewers’ attention.
Again, you’ll need to hire a freelance video editor if you don’t have the skills yourself.
Step #3 – You need to make a name for yourself: Having your own YouTube channel is a lot like having your own TV show. You need subscribers who will watch your videos on a regular basis.
That’s why a single video, no matter how good it is, is not enough for YouTube marketing success.
Compare it to the pilot episode of a TV show. Even if it gets good ratings, that doesn’t ensure that it gets picked up for a second season.
You need to commit to making regular videos for your channel.
Take Derek Halpern, whom I mentioned before. He has close to 90 videos on his channel from my quick estimations.
He created those over a period of a few years.
This does a few major things.
Firstly, it gives him the chance to accumulate subscribers. Even if your first video doesn’t impress a viewer enough to make them subscribe, maybe another one of your videos in the sidebar will.
On top of that, every time a subscriber sees a video, there’s a good chance they will share it. This will lead to more views every time you release a new video.
The number of views your videos will get is not linear. It will start slowly, but like a snowball, it will grow exponentially over time.
If you’re going to do whitehat video marketing on YouTube, plan to give it a year or so before you see real results—but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to get them sooner.
Start with basic video SEO
The next step of making your videos work for you is optimizing them for search.
Your primary goal is to get a video to rank in the results of YouTube searches, but it’ll have an added benefit of ranking in Google results as well:
Videos often show up in Google results, and it can drive a decent number of views to your video.
I wouldn’t rely on showing up in Google because videos don’t show up in all searches. However, it can be a nice boost to your views, and you can maximize your chance of showing up in searches by targeting phrases with the following keywords in them:
- what is ____
- how to ____
Now back to YouTube optimization. There are two major parts of the ranking algorithm that you need to optimize for.
Part #1 – Your video information: The first thing YouTube looks for is whether your video is relevant to a search.
It’s a fairly simple search engine; it looks for keywords in three areas of your video:
- the title
- the description
- the tags
You don’t need to—and shouldn’t—keyword-stuff.
Include your keyword once in the title, once or twice in your description, and in the tags if it makes sense.
Here’s an example of the description from Brian Dean’s “advanced SEO” YouTube video that he ranks highly for:
He mentions the keyword at the very start and the very end of it.
But notice there’s a lot more to the description than just the keyword.
YouTube doesn’t have much to work with when it comes to ranking videos. The title is only a sentence long, and tags can’t be weighed too heavily because they contain limited information.
This makes the description the main source of additional information for YouTube’s algorithm.
By including a detailed description of the video, you’ll naturally include related terms the algorithm can use to understand the topic of your video. This will make it easier to rank for relevant terms.
Part #2 – User engagement and feedback: Not surprisingly, YouTube’s algorithm has taken an approach to ranking videos that’s similar to Google’s approach.
Instead of just using the basic information an uploader provided with a video, it also looks at how users interact with your video.
The simple concept behind it is that if users are indicating they really like your video, it’s probably a good one to show to more people. Naturally, the algorithm ranks it higher.
So, what does it look at?
There are a few major areas of user feedback YouTube can consider when evaluating a video.
The first is how much of the video most viewers are watching.
If they all drop off after the first 10 seconds, that’s a bad sign. But if 50%- 60% of your viewers watch the whole video, that’s fantastic.
You can check this in your account’s statistics, where you’ll see a graph similar to the one above.
Where else can YouTube get feedback from?
- Overall views – From YouTube’s perspective, if a video is getting a lot of views without its help in the search rankings, it must be good. More views typically lead to better rankings (as long as the audience retention is good).
- Rating (thumbs up and down) – Users can also rate a video by giving it a thumbs up or thumbs down. The higher this ratio is, the better.
- Views to subscribers – If a video is really good, a lot of people who view it will click the “Subscribe” button underneath. Similarly, no one will subscribe after watching a bad video.
- Views to favorites or social shares – Just like with subscribing, people will also share a video only if they like it.
- Comments – If a video is inspiring a lot of comments, it may be good. YouTube can’t put much weight on the comment count since comments could be negative too.
Using all these factors, YouTube comes up with an appropriate score for each video to decide how to rank it.
The biggest thing you can do to optimize these engagement factors is to make high quality videos (as discussed above).
There are a few other small things you can do as well, which I’ll show you throughout the rest of this post.
Views rule YouTube rankings
While there are several factors that contribute to YouTube rankings, quality views are the most important.
When I say “quality views,” I mean a situation when the average viewer watches most of the video.
For almost any term you search, the results will have one thing in common: all the videos will have a lot of views. Here is an example:
For “advanced SEO,” the lowest view count of the top results is over 3,600.
It’s important to understand what “a lot” is to an algorithm.
The difference between zero and 2,000 is greater than the difference between 2,000 and 200,000.
Once you have a few thousand views, you have what you need to rank.
Why? Because now YouTube has a large enough sample size to compare your video’s engagement to the others’. Things such as retention and rating become viable ranking factors.
You don’t need to get hundreds of thousands of views to rank well, but you do need to find a way to get your first few hundred and, if possible, first few thousand on each video.
As you get more and more subscribers, you don’t have to focus on promotion as much because your videos will automatically get thousands of high retention views from your fans.
When you’re starting out, you have many options to promote your videos. I’m going to show you four of the best ones.
Option #1 – Cross-promotion: If you already have a bit of a name in your niche, cross-promotion is a great place to start.
The idea is to participate in a video hosted by the top YouTubers in your niche in order to get exposure to their audiences.
Rand Fishkin does it often:
At the end of this video, you should be able to ask the viewers of the channel your video is featured on to subscribe to your channel. Make sure you place a link for it in the description.
To find these channels, search for big keywords in your niche on YouTube, and check out the number of subscribers the users on the first page have.
For example, I could take a look at Josh Bachynski’s channel as he ranks highly for “advanced SEO”:
Clicking his name under the video will take you to his profile, where you can see his subscriber count in red:
Obviously, the bigger the number, the better.
Try to target at least 20-30 users with a solid base of subscribers. Find their email addresses, and send them a pitch offering to create a video for them.
Ideally, you’ll get at least a few guest opportunities.
Option #2 – Promote your videos to your email subscribers: If you’re producing high quality videos, why wouldn’t you share them with your audience?
Better yet, why don’t you create a blog post to accompany each and embed the corresponding video into the post? This is exactly what Derek Halpern often does:
Then, readers can choose whether they want to read your post, watch your video, or do both.
When they watch the video while it’s embedded on your site, it still counts as a view.
If you have a couple of thousand email subscribers already, you can get your YouTube channel going really fast if a good portion of those subscribers watch your videos as well.
Option #3 – Email outreach: Videos on YouTube are just like any other type of content. One of the most effective ways to promote them is with email outreach.
Make a list of top bloggers in your niche, and send them an email about the video.
Ask them to share it with their audience if they think their audience would enjoy it, but also explain why you think the audience would.
Option #4 – Advertising: YouTube also allows businesses to buy ads on the site to promote their videos:
The average cost is about $10-$30 per thousand views. With practice, I think you could get the price down even further.
If you’re spending a few hundred dollars (at the minimum) to make a video, doesn’t it make sense to spend $50 to promote it initially?
I think it does, particularly when you don’t have many subscribers.
Don’t waste those views! Here’s how to make them count
At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of how you’re going to make videos and get those initial views.
Assuming your videos are solid, you should be getting a stream of organic traffic from YouTube itself.
But remember what the whole point of creating a YouTube channel is.
It isn’t to get views. It’s to increase your business’ sales.
To do this, let’s take a step back and consider where YouTube would fit within your sales funnel:
It’d be right at the top.
It’s the marketing channel where you get the attention of your potential customers.
But the next step has to be to get them onto your website and onto an email list.
Part #1 – include a call to action to get subscribers on YouTube: When you want to get someone to do something, you need to ask them to do it.
In this case, you want your viewers to subscribe to your channel.
Subscribers will get notified of your latest videos, and a decent portion of them will watch all your videos as you release them.
Not only does this help you rank better, but it also gives you another opportunity to get these people to your website.
And sure, some viewers will subscribe to you without any prompting, but most won’t. A call to action will significantly impact your viewer-to-subscriber conversion rate, which is why all top YouTubers do it.
You have a few different options for a call to action; I recommend testing them all with your audience.
The first option is to create a nice big “Subscribe” button at the end of your videos.
You can see why that’d be effective.
To add the button, you’ll need to modify your Google Adwords settings to allow you to have access to the CTA (call to action) panel in YouTube itself.
Here’s a great video that shows you the entire process:
Your next option is to simply use annotations on your videos, which you can configure when you upload your videos.
For example, look at the way “BBALLBREAKDOWN” uses annotations to prompt viewers to either subscribe or watch another video hosted on the channel:
They compared the conversion rate of this approach with not having any CTAs and found that CTAs converted an impressive 31 times better.
Finally, you can also take a few seconds at the end of the video to ask viewers to subscribe. This can work better because most viewers won’t shut off the video while you’re (or your narrator is) still talking.
Part #2 – put a link to a landing page in the description to capture email addresses: In order to get people to your website, you’ll need a link somewhere.
You can test adding it to your videos, but the best place is your description.
You should add a link to a landing page for a relevant newsletter to all your video descriptions:
Don’t just link to a blog post because those won’t convert nearly as high as landing pages will.
3 Simple but crucial tips about YouTube marketing
By now, you know just about everything you need to know about building a successful YouTube channel.
However, there are a few final tips that I’d like to give you that can make a big difference in your success.
The first is that building a successful YouTube can take time.
If you have a large email list or existing relationships with influencers to leverage, you can get thousands of views in no time.
But if you don’t, like most businesses, expect to create great videos for at least a few months before you start getting thousands of organic views. Don’t give up if a few videos fall flat—keep going.
The second tip is that you will get negative comments from time to time.
There are two types of negative comments, and you should handle them differently:
- troll comments – these are not serious comments; they are made just to get a reaction out of you. There’s nothing you can do about them except ignore them.
- honest comments – when you first start out, you have a lot of room to improve. If someone says something legitimately negative about your video, take it as an opportunity to learn and improve your future videos.
My final tip is to remember YouTube is a marketing channel. Like with any other marketing channel, you should not build your business on it.
Instead, always look to drive those YouTube users back to your website so that you can grow your email list. This way, even if YouTube bans your account for some reason, your business will still be fine.
YouTube is a fantastic marketing opportunity for businesses interested in content marketing.
Almost all audiences use YouTube, and there really isn’t too much competition yet.
I’ve shown you everything you need to know, including the type of videos you should be making, how you can get consistent, how to get free views to them, and how to turn viewers into customers.
Now, you need to take action.
If you’ve been considering YouTube marketing, pull the trigger. Create a plan based on this post, and create your first video as soon as possible.
If you have any questions about how to determine whether YouTube is right for your business or how to make the most of it, let me know in a comment below.
Posted by ajfried
Thinking in templates
We all judge people on first impressions. When we see someone for the first time, we’re quick to decide what type of person they are — based on the clothes they wear, how they style their hair, and anything else we notice that immediately puts them in a group.
It’s certainly not fair, but it’s human nature. And I’d like to keep my faith in humanity and argue that lots of us try NOT to prejudge others.
Google is judging you
Believe it or not, Google is the same. It judges, too. Some might disagree with this theory, but our internal research supports it, as you’ll see in the data below. Google pre-classifies every single search term into a group for later recall.
Is that fair?
Is Google fair about how it does this?
Imagine, for a moment, that you’re about to walk onto the stage of MozCon. You’ve spent months preparing and you have new and thought-provoking research to share. You are legend and you’re about to blow everyone’s mind. And as you make your way up… SPLAT! You fall right on your face. I mean, really wipe out.
You’ll probably recover, because you’re dynamic and you’ll still nail your presentation. However, you’ll also be forever stamped as the one that fell on your face during the conference.
Is it fair that people treat us this way? Or how about Google? Is it fair that Google judges us like this, that we’re classified into select groups, or that Google may show years-old negative content about us or our clients?
I think most people would agree: it’s not. Something that’s truly not relevant to an individual’s or brand’s storyline shouldn’t be appearing prominently in a query for their name. An event that’s nothing more than a blip on the radar shouldn’t become the most important thing you see about them.
Yet, often it is. More often than you think. Some of the biggest brands in the world are dealing with this problem — having unfavorable content appearing for their name — and desperately try to get rid of it.
How does Google feel about ranking content?
On Google’s About page, Larry Page describes a perfect search engine as something that “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.”
As an example, it states: “This means making search smarter and faster, so it can understand that when you type in [jaguar] you’re looking for the car, not photos of the animal.”
Well, first of all, they might want to find a different example, because queries without context can’t hint at intent, as you’ll see below.
Intent is really difficult
It’s a basic issue of not knowing what the context is for the query. And, arguably, some of the most important searches don’t have context. A brand? An individual? There’s nothing necessarily unique about these searches to give them context. For example, if I search for “Applebee’s” from my phone, there’s context behind it. I’m on my phone, I’m in the vicinity of a restaurant, I’m probably hungry. But a query for, say, a gentleman named “James Young” is useless, as it gives Google no context or basis for figuring out which results might be most relevant. Do I want to know where he lives? When he was born? What kind of work he’s in?
|Arguably, these queries without context are the most important queries, and they’re where audiences form opinions about brands. [Tweet this]|
So, is Google out to get you?
Sometimes, it can seem like it is when your search results don’t reflect who you are or the content you’re putting out into the world. Truth is, though, Google’s probably not out to get you — in reality, it’s an emotionless machine.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I don’t believe it’s evil. I think it’s a machine controlled by an algorithm, with imperfections and flaws. Choices must be made based on the information available. Sometimes there isn’t enough to work with, or the right information that it’d like to show is missing, so it makes the wrong choices.
So… How do we change what Google wants to show?
Learning from Google’s templates
Google’s job is to show you what you’re looking for. This can only be done by finding patterns and trends. Behind all the search results are templates that every query needs to fit in to.
When you perform a search in Google, you’re effectively seeing whatever information it wants to show you on that day. It’s a ton of information — but it’s not data. If you’re able to collect all that information and trend it, an unbelievable amount can be learned.
For example, among the top 100 hedge funds:
- 74% have their homepage at position 1
- 72% have a knowledge graph
- 38% have Wikipedia at average position 4.41
- 74% have LinkedIn on page 1
Having this data, you start to uncover a deeper meaning behind the search results. You expose the template Google has created for this “type” of query. It should come as no surprise that these templates will change from industry to industry.
Understanding search result templates and trends by industry
The graph below gives a breakdown of what shows up in search results for these industries. (Note: the percentages are the percentage of Google page 1 results.)
Some notable observations:
- Telecommunications companies have more results that are corporate on page 1 of Google than pharmaceutical companies do.
- Pharmaceutical companies will have significantly more media content appearing in their search results than an engineering/construction company.
- Food/drug stores don’t usually get stock quotes appearing in their results.
Using data to create the content Google wants to show
Armed with this information, you can now identify what kind of content Google wants to show for you or your brand.
While we’ve all heard a million times that “content is king” and we should create more content, the reality is that only the RIGHT content is what’s going to make the difference. Content is not churning out post after post after post of products and other junk. Rather, content is about creating an impression that enhances the brand in the viewer’s mind.
Practically, this idea of templates becomes extremely important in planning the right content for your brand. If you can use these templates to identify certain trends appearing for brands similar to your own, you can create the content Google wants to show.
Case studies and analysis
To help articulate this point, I want to share a few case studies.
Case study #1: The not-for-profit president that seems unfavorable
Take, for example, a client we had in the not-for-profit industry. He was the president of an organization and notable enough to have a Wikipedia profile, as did all of his competitors. His corporate site and social profiles were ranking relatively consistently with everyone else, and he authored content regularly. However, he had a disproportionate amount of media coverage about him compared to his competitors, causing negative content to rank prominently.
What became clear was that all the authored content was on his corporate sites, as opposed to a leading industry publication. Content creation was happening, but it was being put in the wrong place. According to the data, someone like this individual should be generating content on reputable industry publications.
Result: We worked to migrate some of his content to relevant publications. With a few relevant links, it began ranking within a few weeks.
Case study #2: The CEO gets all the news!
Another example was the CEO of an asset management company who had a disproportionate amount of news content appearing about them, some of which was negative. This caused frequent changes to the search results for the individual’s name and a lack of branding around their name.
When you examine the results closer, you notice that on average, the CEO of a company like this would have two non-owned, executive-style profiles on sites like Forbes, Bloomberg, or Fortune.
Result: This individual was missing from notable lists, specifically the Forbes billionaire list. Working with the communications team, he was included in the list, displacing some of the negative content.
Case study #3: The need for more ownership
The final example I’ll offer was of a client who had been trying to brand themselves through the use of content, blogging, press releases, and other similar information.
The biggest problem they had? They already had a nice amount of “ownership” within their search results. That means they had full and total control over half of the results appearing. Based on the peer analysis, it was going to be highly unlikely that they’d get more than that.
However, when we ran a frequency analysis, we noticed that every single one of their competitors has a GuideStar profile appearing.
The only differentiator between our client and their competitors was the level of their profile, which is earned by completing it. They were at silver, while everyone else had gold status (Note: there’s some speculation about the level of status).
Once we helped them build up their profile to gold, we added a few easily-attainable and relevant links pointing to the profile. Easy ones, like from their corporate website. It doesn’t get more legit than that.
Result: Within a matter of weeks, we saw the profile ranking at the bottom of page 1, displacing negative content about the brand.
Practically using this information
At the end of the day, Google is nothing more than an organized system. We sometimes give it too much credit because it happens to be REALLY good at understanding what we want and mean. But this is based on an organized understanding of how we (all humans that use Google) use the search engine.
Not all content can rank for all types of queries. Just because a certain result appears for one query doesn’t mean that another will; randomly creating a bunch of profiles is not going the solution. For example, if you happen to be one of the 200 richest Americans in the world, Pinterest is not likely to rank for you. (It appears for 3 of them on page 2: Randa Williams, Milane Frantz, and H. Ross Perot Sr).
Using historical and competitor analysis, understanding what type of content is frequently appearing will give you tremendous insight into the kind of content you should be building to fit into the template Google has built for your brand.
One final note
The only loose end in this process is the thought that you’re now “stuck” in a template. Once Google perceives you a certain way, is that it? Are you stuck? Can the CEO who loves arts and crafts convince Google that Pinterest should rank prominently for queries with their name?
There is some subjectivity to this, to be sure, but the entire process above is by far the path of least resistance. This is the content Google wants to show for queries about you or your brand, based on trends of others in your industry.
If you create an experience on that network that’s highly popular, engaging, and something in which you invest a lot of time and effort, I think it’s fair to say that it could change how search engines classify you. But convincing someone to blog or use social media when it’s not something they’ll do aggressively or passionately usually doesn’t end well. Most people have these profiles, but that doesn’t mean they actively use them.
These templates exist because of the type of information that typically shows for these queries. It’s low-hanging fruit. If you have info that doesn’t make sense for who you are, it likely won’t appear right away without really hard work.
Work with the algorithm and make sense of which content it’s clear that the search engine wants to show. If you create that content, it will rank.
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