In Search, Your Competition Isn’t Who You Think

August 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Online Marketing, Search Marketing, SEO

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SERPS Competition“Who are your competitors?” asks the Online Marketing consultant to the new SEO client. “Company XYZ and 123″ says the VP of Marketing. The consultant goes to Google and does a few searches on the key solutions offered by the client’s business. Company XYZ and Company 123 are nowhere to be found in the search results.

This situation happens a lot in the search marketing world. Companies tend to see competitors solely as who they bump up against when going after new business, or who prospects say they are also considering. But in the search world, the competition extends beyond other companies in your industry. It also includes any kind of content or information source that appears in search results wherever prospects are looking.

Accounting for the fact that search results or SERPs can vary by your location, logged in/out status and other settings, let’s say that a search for the new SEO client’s key topics reveals that the “competition” in search results includes lesser known players who have invested smartly in good Search Engine Optimization as well as entries from 3rd party information sources like Wikipedia, Videos from YouTube, News items from Google News and a smattering of Government and University websites. That’s not the competitive mix the sales team is thinking of, but content that can attract prospects away from discovering and consuming your marketing content is potentially a lost sale.

If your search competition isn’t your competition in the industry, what do you do differently?

Understanding and tracking the landscape of search results can reveal numerous opportunities to gain visibility on the first page of Google while the brand’s SEO effort optimizes, socializes and builds links to achieve it’s own top organic search visibility. While it always makes sense to pay attention to industry competition, if those same companies are not your competitors within Google search results, don’t get distracted. Focus on the SERPs!

How to gain benefit from other people’s SERPs:

For example, let’s say the search results distribution is as follows:

  • #1 – Wikipedia entry
  • #2 and #3 are industry competitors
  • #4 and #5 are news stories on the topic
  • #6 and #8 are blog posts
  • #7 is another industry competitor
  • #9 and #10 are articles from a Universities.

If the company has a page on Wikipedia already with citations on the topic in question, then there may be a potential edit possible on the page for the search term citing the brand’s blog or more likely their contribution to research published in a mainstream media publication (or similar). Companies are not supposed to edit their own pages. Also, if your company doesn’t have top shelf, third party citations, move on.

The news story pages should be checked as well as the blog posts to see if commenting functionality is enabled. If so, the brand marketer might add a highly valuable comment with a link back to the corporate blog or to a specific piece of useful content about the subject that they’ve published. The objective is to create awareness and for relevant referring traffic.  Example: Someone searches on a keyword phrase, they visit the article page, see your comment and click on the provided link and are now on your website. All without your website itself ranking well for the target phrase.

Further, on the blog it may be worthwhile to see if there’s a guest posting opportunity. If the blog has a post that’s already doing well on the topic, another compelling post on the topic may have an opportunity to do well also. You might even consider hiring the blogger to write an article for you and you can give them the OK to cross post to their own blog, as long as they link to the version on your own site.

The University articles are trickier, but imagine one of them is rather out dated. It’s possible that the brand marketer could create an updated version of the article following the same writing style and include an author bio or credit that links back to deeper resources on the brand’s blog or resource center. This has to be very non-commercial.

These are just a few ideas to get mentioned on the pages that already show well for important industry search terms, ie your “search competition” while the SEO effort works to Optimize and Socialize brand content to rank well on its own.

Understanding the difference between Industry Competition and Search Competition is key to taking effective SEO strategy. The things a brand marketer can do with their SEO program to gain visibility on competing, non-commercial web pages can attract direct traffic as well as provide signal that will be useful in building top visibility for brand content in search.

Have you ever had challenges with defining the competition in an online marketing effort? Have you encountered brand marketers that refuse to accept the difference between search results competition and industry competitors?

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In Search, Your Competition Isn’t Who You Think |

The Junction of Social Media & Content Marketing in New Zealand

social media junctionIn a little over a week I’ll be giving the opening keynote at a social media conference in Auckland, New Zealand called Social Media Junction. The topic? The answer to one of the most common questions asked about social media:  ”The Truth About Social Media ROI”.

New Zealanders aka “Kiwis” are an active bunch on the social web with more than 2 in 5 interacting with companies via social sites and 84% of mobile social networkers there having visited Facebook (Nielsen). The social media momentum is growing and companies are hungry for information and perspective.

I’ll follow up the keynote presentation with a workshop, aka Masterclass Programme, the following day focused on Social Media Content Strategy that drills down into the mechanics of social media marketing, content marketing and SEO.  Here’s a bit of a preview on what I’ll be presenting in the workshop:

Optimized Content Strategy

Grass New Zealand

Photo: Stuck in Customs

If content or media can be searched on, they can be optimized. People who have heard me speak or who read Online Marketing Blog are familiar with this perspective. It’s a holistic approach to search that takes full advantage of all the digital assets and content types that search engines want to include in their search results and therefore, translates into opportunities for being where customers are looking.

An Optimized Content Strategy is thoughtful of customer information needs as well as search engines.  Great content is worthless unless someone reads it and in today’s competitive online marketing world, shares it with others.  Content optimization goes beyond keywords to making sure content distribution and promotion are as much a part of the content strategy as how relevant and useful the content is to readers for reaching business outcomes.

Social Content & Marketing Roadmap:  Laying the Foundation

Hahei New Zealand Cathedral Cove

Photo: vtveen

Setting up accounts on Facebook, Twitter and publishing a blog isn’t a social media strategy. Rather, understanding the who, what, when, where and why of your customers and industry influentials is essential for developing a strong social content plan that engages, persuades and converts. Social media efforts that work together are far more productive than the siloed activity so common amongst companies just starting out.

The foundation of an effective social media content effort starts with Listening via social media monitoring tools, participation and web analytics. First hand experience in combination with analytics is priceless for setting objectives and developing profiles for the audience segments you’re trying to reach.

How a company decides to reach those customers is often a mix of social content creation and engagement. Being reactive or proactive with a social content strategy is another consideration before identifying the social media channels and tools that will serve as the best connections for engaging with customers. We started with measurement through listening tools and it’s analytics that closes the loop with an approach that measures the KPIs or proxies to social media marketing success.

Cycle of Social Media Interaction

Auckland NZ Skyline

Photo: Travelling Pooh

Speaking of closing the loop, the Cycle of Social Media & SEO is what enables a social media marketing effort to stay fresh, inspired with relevant and effective content for customer engagement.

Starting with keyword optimized content that is promoted while social networking helps build channels of engagement and distribution, the likes, follows, subscribers and links that result from great content intersect with interested audiences. That interaction between sharable content and social influencers expands the reach of brand stories and messages to an even greater audience empowered to publish, share and link.

The increasing activity creates an opportunity to mine data that will effectively inform future editorial plans, making content even more productive in terms of meeting customer needs and helping reach business objectives.

Blogging to Power Up Your Social Media Engagement

Remarkables New Zealand

Photo: Wandering the World

One of the most effective models my social media marketing pros at TopRank have implemented for clients is a hub and spoke scenario with blogging at the center connected to outposts of social content and networking.  There are myriad reasons for a blog as the center, but there’s no reason another strategy might not put Facebook or YouTube at the center.

The point is to link from outpost social activity to a conversational destination (Tweets link to the blog) vs. linking directly to corporate website pages that offer no opportunity for discussion or easy sharing.

Social Media Marketing Applications

Great Alpine Road, Castle Hill New Zealand

Photo: WanderingtheWorld

The social media, networking and application websites and services used in an optimized content marketing effort depend on where end consumers spend time as well as the major influences on those target audiences.

Some of the most popular social applications are: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, FourSquare and social mobile apps. But there are others that can provide more effective connections with people a brand is trying to engage depending on their content discovery, consumption and even sharing preferences.

For example: Flickr, SlideShare, Delicious and niche social networks powered by have created some formidable connections with influencers leading to media coverage, new hires and new business.

Digital Asset Optimization

Kaikoura New Zealand

Photo: Jason J.

Search engines have an insatiable appetite for content and media to include in their search results. Content = inventory for search engines to run ads against and expand the search engines’ ability to be useful to people that search.

Google has made tremendous changes in the past few years including Universal search in 2007 that can potentially include different types of media besides standard web pages in the search results. Companies that expect to drive traffic through search would do well to be aware of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) landscape, including what kind of media are appearing besides web pages.

Each document or file that has a unique URL can be a potential entry point via search and a destination for someone else to link to. Links to content are how search engines find content to include in the search results. Links are also used in ranking that content.

Digital Asset Optimization is something TopRank started promoting in 2007 that deals with taking inventory of all digital assets that a company could possibly optimize for search. That includes images, video, blogs, news, real-time content, MS Office docus, PDFs and so on. These different document and media can attract customers through search, especially as part of a long tail strategy. They also fold well into social content marketing, which is why DAO is part of the SMJ Masterclass agenda.

Essentials for Social SEO in 2011

Rotorua - North Island - New Zealand

Photo: TylerIngram

How do Social Media and Search Engine Optimization intersect? What are the opportunities for companies to make the most of these two disciplines as part of a unified social content strategy? Those are important questions and the basis for planning what key approaches companies can take in the coming year to make the most out of the optimized content created as part of social media efforts. They also answer how to best leverage SEO tactics such as link building through social channels.

There’s nothing dead about SEO, but it is definitely changing and any marketer focused solely on traditional search optimization is clearly not paying attention to shifts in search behaviors. Search within social media will continue to increase and in combination with the changing landscape of search on sites like Google, can provide a tremendous channel for discovery, customer engagement and acquisition.

Social Media Measurement & ROI

Catlins Coast New Zealand

Photo: StephenChipp

It’s the most popular question companies ask: How do I measure ROI from social media?  I like to counter with, how do you measure ROI from the company telephones?  Understanding the business value of being more social as a company means better understanding the impact of creating better relationships with customers, building thought leadership and expertise and activating employees, customers and industry peers as evangelists for your brand.

Problems solved or mitigated though social media extend far beyond Marketing > Sales > Revenue.  There are situations where it’s completely fine to make direct response offers through social channels and with the right tracking, the ability to directly measure an increase in sales as a result.

What’s the value of lowered Customer Service costs, increased ability to attract top-shelf employees, a boost in industry media coverage, improved product development and review cycles? Here are 10 questions about social media measurement I’d recommend tackling to give you a better perspective.

Sound interesting? Think you could handle an entire day of me doing a brain dump on Search, Social and Content Marketing?

Nicholas O’Flaherty, Managing Director at Bullet PR and a pretty good sized group of Marketing, PR and Communications professionals gathering in Auckland, New Zealand are willing to give it a go Nov 16 & 17th. Of course, there will be a lot more knowledge dispensed than from the likes of me. Social Media Junction includes speakers from Deloitte & LinkedIn as well as representations from a variety of industries such as Banks, Government, Retailers, Telecom and a Beer company.

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Content Marketing Book Review: Audience, Relevance and Search

October 14, 2010 by  
Filed under Content Marketing, Online Marketing, Search Marketing

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audience relevance searchA few months ago, the PR folks working with IBM Press sent me a copy of “Audience, Relevance and Search: Targeting Web Audiences with Relevant Content” by a trio of authors: James Mathewson, Frank Donatone and Cynthia Fishel. I have somewhat of a connection with IBM Press because of editing the Social Media Marketing chapter of Mike Moran and Bill Hunt’s Search Engine Marketing Inc., 2nd Edition. (Interview)

Funny Story: Fast forward to Oct 13th and I’m on my way through the MSP airport to catch a plane to Las Vegas where I’m speaking at Blog World New Media Expo. I complain on Twitter about $36/day parking (highway robbery in my book) and James Mathewson chimed in with advice on parking at Terminal 2. Ironically, the book I picked out to read on the plan was Mathewson’s “Audience Relevance and Search”. On top of that, James is a fellow Minnesotan and we’ve never met or had any kind of correspondence before. Writing this review was simply meant to be :)

Essentially, “Audience, Relevance and Search” is a book for folks in the content creation business to better understand writing for the web. More specifically, writing for search engines.

Many online marketers, myself included, evangelize “write for people first”. The authors of this book put a lot of faith in Google’s ability to emulate the information understanding needs of searchers and therefore focus on writing for search engines first.

A point of clarification: When I advise people to write for people first, then search engines, I’m talking about writing content in a way that is designed to guide the reader to a particular outcome. The content should be able to stand on its own, regardless of the source that brought the visitor to it.

This is in contrast to some who write for search engines only, resulting in keyword stuffing, nonsensical passages and other tactics simply to rank highly in search results. Of course, that’s not the kind of “search engines first” writing Mathewson, Donatone and Fishel are talking about.

The book discusses how to understand customers through search and social keyword research and writing copy according to how best to connect with web content consumption, which is decidedly different from pring.

The first chapter covers the essence of the entire book from keywords to information architecture to social media to measuring the success of web content. Advice is not too dissimilar that what you’d find in better blogs that cover these topics but one thing I found interesting was Chapter 2: “How the Web Medium Has Evolved from Its Oral and Print Origins”.

There are strong academic influences to the writing style and topic of this book. Chapter 2 is certainly a good example of that and provides some interesting context for how different web writing is from print. In particular, that web content is unstructured, meaning on the web is determined by the reader not the writer, the reader is in control of the story not the writer and that web writing is never finished.

If you’ve read one of my favorite books, Search Engine Marketing Inc, then you should know that Audience, Relevance and Search is a great complement to it. It drills into the importance of meaning, context and purposefulness of writing for the web.

Many writers produce content in situations where the primary medium is traditional, like print. That same content is also published to the web. That scenario is not writing for the web. This book will help content creators understand how to write specifically for web audiences and incorporate search friendly perspectives througout.

The effect of better understanding such web content creation, especially across and organization, is the effect of operationalizing SEO. Instead of having a SEO “optimize” content as an extra step in the content process, following the advice in this book should help websites create optimized content from the start, saving time, likely money and increasing website marketing performance.

The best thing about this book is that it’s a good primer for the mechanics of implementing a Content Marketing strategy that places importance on the value of Search Engine Optimization and Social Media. If those are goals for your online marketing efforts, then this book is worth checking out: IBM Press.

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Content Marketing Book Review: Audience, Relevance and Search |

10 Resources on Google Instant & What it Means for Search Marketing

Google InstantYesterday Google implemented their new search experience, Google Instant and the SEO and Tech blogs lit up like a Christmas tree. It’s nice to see something get these folks excited for a change. While the notion of instant search isn’t new, Yahoo had it in 2005, Google commands the vast majority of search engine market share so such a major, public change to the Google interface warrants attention.

Essentially, in Google’s quest to improve user experience and increase speed, they’ve already lowered the time it takes to return results on a query.  The actual act of searching and refinement of queries by users is what takes time, so Google Instant is designed to shorten the time it takes for users to find what they’re looking for by showing search results as you type. If you’re logged in to Google, those results are personalized as they have since personalization was implemented.

TopRank Ranks for Search Engine Optimization

Personalization has meant that different users searching on the same phrase can see different search results. That change affects the kind of SEO that focuses on specific queries and “ranking” over matching customer-centric keywords with useful content. Good optimization for search has everything to do with holistically viewing the SEO opportunities of any content that can be searched on (digital asset optimization) and presented to searchers. SEO has evolved as marketing designed to engage customers and help make it easier for the search engines to do their job and for customers to buy what it is they’re looking for. Good SEO drives revenue and business growth and is so far beyond the notion of “rankings” that people who say SEO is “irrelevant”, sound a lot like those that say the “world is flat”.

As with any big change there are the FUD (Fear Uncertainty Doubt) perpetrators when Google announces something new:  (Google Instant could lead to blackhat SEO problems and Google Instant Makes SEO Irrelevant). But there are also clever, interesting and smart insights coming out of the search community. Here are 10 posts that cover all aspects of Google Instant ranging from what it is, to how to get the most out of it as a user, what the impact is on SEO and PPC and suggestions on how to leverage Google Instant as a marketer.

Matt Cutts – Thoughts on Google Instant – Q: Does Google Instant kill search engine optimization (SEO)? A: No!  Q Will Google Instant change search engine optimization? A: I think over time it might. The ability to explore the query space and find out new things will inevitably lead to changes for SEO.

Nine by Blue (Vanessa Fox) – SEO is Dead and/or Irrelevant With Google Instant? – I’ve always advised looking at audience needs and building a site that addresses them holistically rather than fixating on ranking for a single keyword phrase. And that strategy continues to be a sound one in light of Google Instant.

Search Engine Land –  Google Instant: The Complete User’s Guide – Does Google Instant “Kill SEO” or Impact Rankings?  In my opinion (Matt McGee): no chance. As long as humans use search engines (like Google) to look for information online, that content will need to be optimized. A well-rounded approach to content development and optimization should actually benefit from Google Instant.

SEO Book – How Google Instant Changes the SEO Landscape – Google instant only increases the value of a well thought out SEO strategy. Why? Well… it consolidates search volume into a smaller basket of keywords. It further promotes the localization of results. It makes it easier to change between queries, so its easier to type one more letter than scroll down the page.

Google Webmaster Central – Google Instant: Impact on Search Queries – “With Google Instant, you may notice an increase in impressions because your site will appear in search results as users type.”

Fast Company – Why Google Instant Is Good for Microsoft – How could Bing ever set itself apart with Google’s reactionary mindset? The answer now is to simply stay where they are — remaining, in effect, as Google Classic.

AdAge – Google Instant Changes Game for Brands – At first blush, the real-time results appear to give more prominence to the web’s biggest brands. Google execs were quick to note that natural search results, and techniques companies use to land higher in Google search results, won’t change. But Johanna Wright, director of product management for Google Instant, said one difference is that they will direct users to “page two” results faster. “As you continue typing and narrowing your search, the instantly changing and refreshing results below the search box will be giving you more relevant results,” she said. “So if you previously looked on the second page, now those same results come to the top of the pile for you.”

Google AdWords Help – What is Google Instant? - Although Google Instant won’t change the way ads are served, ads and search results will now be shown for a new “predicted query.” Google Instant might increase or decrease your overall impression levels.

Search Engine Watch – Google Instant – 10 Things Marketing Teams Need to Know – Google Instant is of equivalent significance to marketers as the Universal Search update, which previously amalgamated their video, news, blogs, maps and image search properties into one search engine results page (SERPs). As was the case then, lost real estate for organic search results presented new opportunities for the savvy marketer. The same is likely to be true now.

FeedBlitz – SEO: Three Things you must do NOW with Google Instant - Disable Search Personalization, Search for your company / product / service and for pages you don’t control, make a comment that links back to your site, Repeat for competing companies, terms and products. Start a quick-hit SEO project and Tune your site for these terms.

It remains to be seen how much of an impact the preference towards brands and the change in impressions will have on marketers ability to leverage Google Insight in new ways.  Some marketers have already published tips on how to track Google Instant using Google Analytics, which will assist in developing insights on what has impact and will be instrumental in learning what to refine.

What do you think of Google Instant?  As a user? As a marketer?

A few additional posts worth checking out:

TechCrunch – Google Spam Fighter Matt Cutts Weighs In On The “Death” Of SEO (Or Lack Thereof)

Outspoken Media – Dear Mainstream Media – Please Remove Foot From Mouth

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© Online Marketing Blog, 2010. |
10 Resources on Google Instant & What it Means for Search Marketing |

Video Interview: Dave Roth of Yahoo

August 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Online Marketing, Search Industry News, Search Marketing, SEO

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Dave Roth works as Director of Search Marketing at Yahoo. That means Dave is a Search Engine Marketer that works for a search engine. I’ve known Dave for several years and we finally decided to do a video interview. Watch the interview below to learn what a search marketer that works for a search engine does, especially the challenges and opportunities in communications on search marketing performance in a large company.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Of course, we couldn’t talk to someone like Dave at Yahoo without mentioning the transition of search results to Bing over on the Yahoo site. What does this mean for SEO? What does it mean for Paid Search?  What’s the fate of Site Explorer and where does it fit within Bing Webmaster Tools? Is SEO good or bad for search engines? How much of a signal does social media provide search engines? We discuss these topics and more.

Thanks Dave!

Blog: Industrial Strength SEM
Twitter: DaveRothSays

The video is available in 480 and 780 formats as well, just click on the size drop down.

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Video Interview: Dave Roth of Yahoo |