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What to Know About Local SEO: Interview with Andrew Shotland

Local searchSteeped in Local SEO and search for some 13 years, Andrew Shotland is a leading expert in this highly competitive space. He is the proprietor of Local SEO Guide, an SEO and SEM consultancy (and blog) he founded nine years ago. Andrew has also authored Search Engine Land’s monthly local search column since 2009.

Before launching his own business, Andrew headed up business and product development for Insider Pages, a local search startup. As its Chief SEO Officer, he developed an SEO program that attracted over 3 million unique visitors/month to the site.

Here, Andrew answers questions about Local SEO best practices and search trends, as well as the challenges faced by brands competing on a local level. Enjoy!

Could you briefly summarize the essential ways that Local SEO differs from the SEO for big national brands? 

Google, Bing & Yahoo typically show separate local business listings for queries they deem to have significant local intent. The methodologies to compete for rankings in these “local packs” are somewhat different than those you would apply to non-local SEO.

Local SEO also includes appearing well in local-specific search services such as Apple Maps, Facebook Local, Yelp, the Yellow Pages sites and various vertical search engines. It’s a huge, complex space to play in.

If you were to list Local SEO best practices, what would be the top 3? Why?

The Top 3 Local SEO Best Practices in no particular order:

  1. Compete for relevant queries where you have a physical location. It’s hard to show up in the local results without a physical location in the searched city.
  2. Make sure your Google My Business (GMB) and top local search site business profiles (e.g. Yelp, YP.com, etc.) are claimed, up to date and consistent with your N.A.P. (Name, Address & Phone Number) that appears in text on your website.
  3. Don’t ignore the non-Local pack results. These can generate significant traffic. So do all of the typical SEO things to your site to help it rank well: Ensure Googlebot accessibility, use smart keyword/content targeting and get links from other sites.

Last week, Mike Blumenthal (and other local SEO experts) reported that Google had dropped businesses’ G+ pages from its “Places” search results, instead returning URLs from its “Maps” API. Do you think this is just part of Google’s mobile agenda, or is it, as Blumenthal suggested, another indication of the impending “divorce” of local search from G+? What would you say are the implications?

I don’t think this is that big a deal. Google is trying to untangle all of its services from Google+. Google+ for businesses was pretty confusing so perhaps this might end up making Google My Business easier to deal with. I don’t think this changes how we approach Google Local at all. Perhaps this will screw up some services that relied on the API for data, but that’s about it.

In your monthly Search Engine Land (SEL) column, you frequently cite how a well-optimized Google My Business (GMB) page can boost local businesses’ rankings. What specific things would you recommend a Webmaster (or site owner) do to fully leverage their GMB page?

There are a few things you can do to leverage your GMB page:

  • Make sure all of the info is up to date
  • Make sure your business categorization is correct
  • Make sure it links to the most relevant URL on your site (this one is huge)

(Editor’s note: You can view Andrew’s Local SEO Guide GMB page here)

What are some challenges brands face with Local SEO?

Multi-location brands have some of the biggest problems with Local SEO, but some of the biggest opportunities, too. On the problems side, dealing with the data issues involving tens, hundreds and even thousands of locations can be a huge task.

In particular, managing their Google My Business issues requires a lot of well-honed processes to do it at scale. Unfortunately you can’t just use a cookie-cutter approach because the problems you encounter change every day.

On the plus side, when you have scale, you can use that to your advantage once you get the basics right, in terms of content, links, etc. We typically see multi-location brands able to rank for their target queries en masse much easier than single locations, all things being equal.

Given all the Google updates to its Local SEO algo over the past two years that you recently summarized in your September SEL column, what do you see trending for Local SEO and search?

We think two big opportunities at the moment are Facebook Local and iOS Search/Apple Maps. Both of these local search systems are generating huge traffic right now but it seems like most of the Local SEO world is ignoring them. That’s great for our clients 🙂

Any parting words about Local SEO and/or Google’s local algo updates? 

It’s a great business because it’s always changing and it’s one of the biggest markets there is. It’s very satisfying to be able to help both large and small businesses navigate their ways through this ridiculous stuff. Sometimes I have to laugh that this is what I do for a living. It’s certainly fun.

Connect with Andrew on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+

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“Weird, Useful, & Significant”: World Building with Ian Lurie

planet earthAs an online writer and/or digital marketer, at some point you are sure to come across Portent’s CEO of 20 years, Ian Lurie (if you haven’t already). His wicked sense of humor is matched only by his expertise in all things content and internet marketing.

Here, Ian addresses questions about content visibility beyond the blog, world-building (he loathes the term “content marketing”), and creating “entry points into our world: weird, useful, and significant.”

Hope you enjoy Ian’s interview as much as we did!

In your recent ConfluenceCon presentation you covered a lot of digital marketing ground. One of your main points was about making great content visible beyond the on-site blog.

Specifically, you mentioned using the Open Graph (OG) Protocol and Twitter Cards for social visibility. Could you translate what those are in non-techie speak?

Twitter cards and OGP markup improve the way your content is represented out in the world. In terms of world building, they make the entry points more attractive, and make it more likely that customers will take the first step towards interacting with you.

In practical terms, Open Graph Protocol is something Facebook uses when you embed a link in your newsfeed. Sometimes, when you embed a link, the result includes an image, a site name, etc. The site owner can provide that information to the Facebook crawler using Open Graph Protocol. The more information they provide, the more Facebook can enhance the listing.

In nerdier terms, Open Graph Protocol is a markup standard. It’s code you can embed in a web page that provides additional information, just like meta tags. With it, you can define the page’s topic, title, author, a thumbnail image you’d like displayed when the page is cited and a bunch of other information.

There are also specific OGP attributes you can define for music, videos, products and such.

Twitter cards are similar to OGP. They let you specify images, videos and such that can attach to a tweet of a specific web page. You can link to direct download/install of mobile apps, embed videos, audio, images and thumbnails and set properties like titles, descriptions and the linked site.

You also addressed off-site content marketing, citing SlideShare and free Kindle e-books. What are some general tips for content creators to best leverage these platforms?

It’s all about audience. Use the platform that gives you entry into the biggest, most relevant potential audience. That’s the whole reason for doing it. I know – duh. But when you’re leveraging third party sites, you want to be very, very deliberate about it:

  1. Make a really good case to yourself for using this or that site
  2. Understand the upside if your content is super-successful
  3. Understand what super-successful means on each site

Here are a few examples:

Most people visit the SlideShare for business information. If you want to get visual content in front of millions of business professionals, it’s the place to be. If you don’t have visual content, look elsewhere.

On SlideShare, it’s all about being selected “SlideShare of the Day”. That gets you home page placement, mentions on Twitter by @slideshare and all sorts of other publicity.

LinkedIn owns SlideShare. So success on SlideShare may transfer over to LinkedIn because users can easily share your presentations with their connections.

If that happens, you’ll get lots of visibility. But SlideShare also lets you place lead generation forms in those presentations. I’ve seen that generate leads in the past. Finally, you can let readers download your presentation. That puts your content in a person’s hands, which is great – it’s a permanent invitation to spend more time with you.

SlideShare delivers a very strong, clear invitation to enter your world.

You might write for Medium because you have long-form text content. Medium has a huge audience who come to the site expecting to see great writing in longer format. Medium recommends content to users – play your cards right and you can build real visibility.

There’s no direct business benefit, but Medium is niche-independent. I can make a case for using Medium if I have a unique topic, a non-business topic or a long-form piece in mind and no need for direct lead generation. Medium is the place to make a low-key, sincere invitation to the audience to enter your world and look around on their own.

Finally, look at Kindle e-books. Millions of people monitor Amazon for new free e-books. If you can crack any of the top lists, those people will notice. They can download your e-book and read through it. I’ll use Kindle if I have something text-based in long form and want to create a really lasting impression. Kindle is the rulebook – the detailed map for your audience to enter your world, start learning and really dive deep.

An intriguing part of your presentation is how each marketing campaign is a “little community”, and that we create many “entry points into our world: weird, useful, and significant.” How does a content writer find their “weird” and connect those dots?

You might find “weird” purely instinctively: For instance, I’m a cyclist. I know most cyclists are technology nerds. So I might write something about smartwatches, or the best cell phone cameras (for cyclists who want to take snapshots of that long climb they just did).

You can also find “weird” using tools that dig up random affinities: Ideas, likes and wants linked only by the fact that some people like both. That’s all about collaborative filtering tools.

For example, I love using Amazon’s “people who bought also bought” tool. Did you know people who buy cookbooks are really into de-cluttering (ironic)? Sounds obvious now, but I wouldn’t have thought of it. Or that people who buy diet books also read survival stories and books about direct selling?

And, of course, I hit Facebook a lot. You can use their ads tool to test interest categories and see what Facebook suggests. Before I knew Van Diesel played Dungeons and Dragons, I did a search on D&D and his name popped up. That’s pretty random (by the way, my lifetime ambition is to run a game for him). Also, did you know tennis fans like boxing? I wouldn’t have made that connection.

Collaborative filters aren’t always right. Sometimes they’re hilariously wrong. But they’re a great tool for mining the weird.

In regard to content marketing (“whatever that is”, as you said): what content opportunities are you most excited about right now? Why?

Hmmm. As a writer, I tend to always be excited about content J. No matter what the delivery device, it’s about our ability to effectively communicate. I love it.

But you’re going to ask me again, I bet. So… I’m very excited about this ongoing democratization: Sites like Medium and Netflix delivering their own series and increasingly sophisticated social platforms mean we can engage in some really interesting world building.

Real-time information delivery like Google Now is really exciting, too. I can see some real potential for ‘ambient’ content that provides a great user experience. Imagine being able to stand in a location and ask your phone, “What happened here in 1850?” As a history nerd, I find that pretty exciting because we can curate our environments. That may sound creepy, and chances are marketers will completely trash the concept, but a guy can dream.

So how would you define “content marketing”? Do you have a more accurate definition of what we actually do?

I hate the phrase “content marketing” because it’s become a cliché that refers to cranking out dozens of crappy blog posts. I’ve avoided it because the meaning’s been twisted and over-simplified.

What do we actually do? OK, get ready for some seriously trippy metaphysics:

People are surrounded by content. We’re steeped in it, with clumps and clusters of related content forming worlds around, say, our favorite football team, or the car we want to buy, or childcare advice.

Usually, those worlds are pretty random. We see an article here, a social media post there, a blog post in another place, and then we link them together in our minds.

Content marketing – or whatever you call it – deliberately creates worlds around products or ideas. It creates new content and links it to old, or vice versa, or one or the other. Then it creates points of entry – advertising – to bring people into those worlds. It’s intentional, and it’s immensely powerful.

That’s content marketing. Or, as I call it, world building. I don’t expect that term to ever catch on. It’s too geeky. But I like it. So there.

Connect with Ian on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+

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Under the Influence? Eric Enge Talks Influencer Marketing

How do you influence an influencer?

How do you influence an influencer?

Today we’re happy to feature Eric Enge, CEO of Stone Temple Consulting. As a recognized, wicked-smart digital marketing and SEO expert, he brings a lot to any table. He’s served up many delightful and insightful dishes to our readers over the years, and his latest spread concerns influencer marketing.

Feast on his insights into this latest online marketing buzz!

There’s a lot of online chatter about “Influencer marketing” of late, as you well know. In your recent Stone Temple blog post, you outline a “script” with 7 steps for building a relationship with an influencer. Of these, which would you consider paramount, and why?

Focus on building a relationship. You need to view this as a give and take situation. Think of it as you are approaching them for purposes of benefiting them. Once you get this part right, the rest of what you need to do becomes much easier!

Most copywriters – both in-house and freelance — likely approach influencers either for their company or on behalf of their clients. As an influencer yourself, you’re likely inundated with requests to connect, help with something, or help promote something. So what makes you take notice of a request, as opposed to filing it in the “I don’t have time” pile?

In keeping with the prior answer, do some hard work up front. Read lots of their content. Read lots of their social posts. Find out what makes them tick. Then add value and engage them in a way that interests them.

Then, start slow. Don’t stalk them, don’t send them 10 messages in 2 weeks, or anything like that. Just take it a step at a time. Retweet their Tweets. +1 their blog posts. Add comments to their posts, these types of things.

Wait to you start to get some acknowledgement of your activity. Then when the time is right take another step forward in the relationship. Whatever you do, don’t ever ask them to share your stuff or link to you. That’s just plain offensive. Take your time with it, and let it develop, just like you would any other relationship.

This is essential. It’s not about you (at all). It starts, begins, and ends with them. Once you learn to approach people this way, they will start taking some of their energy and making it about you.

That’s how you create that magic win-win that you are looking for.

Related to the previous question: in your experience what is a completely original approach that worked really well? And what is your “horror story” of an approach that failed miserably?

The positive:  I left a Red Sox game one day, and noticed a famed baseball writer standing on a street corner, as he had just left the game as well.

I went up to him and the first thing I said was “Has anyone ever done what Koji Uehara almost did today?” (which was strike out the site in the 9th inning of a game to clinch a playoff series).

He warmed right up to me and we spent 15 minutes talking baseball like little kids. All the while, lots of other people were coming up and fawning all over him, and he more or less ignored them, while he and I just kept talking about the game.

Now this was not a content marketing based reason for my approaching him, I did it just for fun, but it still illustrates the point of how it’s done.

The negative: For a long time, people would simply generate mailing lists of people and blast messages out to them. Gradually, they got more sophisticated and cut down the volume, and added a very basic level of personalization. However, this still doesn’t work.

I know of one case where someone built a list of targets and robotically went through the process of getting emails sent out. They didn’t notice that one of the email addresses was donotspam@somedomain.com. The site owner submitted to a variety of services for tracking spam email accounts, and got their email account blacklisted. Ouch!

About a year ago, Barry Feldman (Feldman Creative) posted “30 Action Items to Get Serious About Influencer Marketing”. One of the items he emphasized is to “make LinkedIn your social center.” Do you agree with that? Or is there another social hub you’d recommend?

I don’t think that LinkedIn is necessarily the right social center for everyone. Yes, it’s a powerful network, and it has ways to contact people, and tons of people have LinkedIn accounts.

But, I think the right hub for you is probably where you have the largest audience related to your products. If you are into photography for example, Instagram, Pinterest or Google+ would probably be better picks than LinkedIn.

All of these approaches assume that an influencer will eventually contact and build a relationship with you. However, what about those influencers who won’t give you the time of day? Maybe they’re too busy. Maybe you’re not part of their “in” crowd. Maybe they just don’t care to build a relationship. When do you walk away and figure it’s not going to happen?

You can’t force it. Some people won’t want to connect, no matter how hard you try. But, it’s not about connecting with everyone on day one. You should have multiple people you are trying to build a relationship with. Do the hard work, do your best.

If you approach five, and you start to make a connection with one, then great! Move on with the others. And, as I noted below, with each one, take it slow, and let the relationships develop naturally.

To play Devil’s Advocate here…what would you say to people who think “influencer marketing” is one-sided — that is, someone is trying to ride on an influencer’s coattails/get help from them, and that’s the only reason they’re approaching that person? After all, don’t influencers have better things to do than help everyone who asks?

This pretty much feeds into everything else I said. Don’t let it be one-sided. If you are looking for someone to use, then influencer marketing is not for you. If you are looking to form real bonds and establish mutually beneficial relationships … now we’re talking.

How much time do you personally spend on influencer marketing? How much time would you recommend people spend on it?

Honestly, I am not quite sure. It starts with my deciding that someone is of great interest to me, not just because they have influence, but because they see things in a way that’s very similar to how I see them, and I think we could have a mutually beneficial relationship.

Then I start reading their stuff, both in terms of articles/posts and social media posts. I will start interacting with them. I might be working on a few of these at a time. Or I might only be pursuing one at that moment. If I had to guess, it’s anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour per day for me.

If you are just getting started on this, then you might want to spend a bit more time on it. But probably not too much more. You need to spend some time on producing your own great, original content and doing your regular work as well!

Connect with Eric on Google+, Twitter, and LinkedIn 

Photo credit to Ryan McFarland | Flickr.com

 

 

Beyond SEO: The Semantic Web & Knowledge Graph

knowledge-graph-by-the-seaAs the go-to expert for all things Google patents for some ten years now, Bill Slawski of SEO by the Sea and Go Fish Digital has made an art and science of predicting and explaining the deep water currents driving search engine results.

Lately, Bill has focused on the changes to search results brought on by Google’s “Knowledge Graph” and the Semantic Web.

You’ve likely come across these terms in your work as an SEO copywriter, but what do they mean, exactly? And why should you care?

In this interview, Bill offers a straightforward explanation of these latest forces impacting search results, and why you should have a handle on them.

What should an SEO copywriter understand about the Semantic Web (vs. Traditional SEO/Search)?

Google appears to have gone into a different mode when answering search queries, which illustrates one of the big differences between the worlds of SEO and the Semantic Web.

Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) have traditionally been a list of links to resources found on the Web that respond to a specific query typed into its search box. Google finds these resources by crawling Web pages, indexing their contents, and then returning links to the user.

In doing so, Google creates snippets representing those pages, and provides these snippets as well as their corresponding URLs and page titles, in its SERPs.

A Semantic Web approach has Google crawling web pages on a search for entities (specific people, places and things), collecting information about those entities, and adding that data to a fact repository — now known as Google’s “Knowledge Graph.”

So how does the Knowledge Graph work in the Search Landscape?

The Knowledge Graph, or “knowledge panels,” is part of the search results interface that Google uses to share information about entities – again, these entities may be specific people, places and/or things.

As for “things” — it’s important to note that they may include ideas, brands, and products.

For example, when someone performs a search that includes an entity (as many searches do), a knowledge panel about that entity appears at the top of the search engine results page. This panel provides more information about that specific entity, and often includes other related topics that people usually search for when entering their initial query.

So, search results are no longer just lists of snippets pointing to pages that are ordered by information retrieval scores and PageRank. With its knowledge panels and the Semantic Web, Google has added a number of other ways to decide what it might show on its SERPs.

Given the significant changes in search results brought on by the Semantic Web and Google’s Knowledge Graph, what would you advise an SEO copywriter do? Should s/he cite entities for better SERP rankings?

If entities appear in your content — as they often do — see if you can make the mentions of them richer by fleshing them out. Remember that a named entity includes ideas, brands, and products.

Including more information about the entities within your content can help make it more interesting, more likely to be noted by others, and shared socially.

This can mean including information about related entities, as I previously referred to. Adding this relevant, related content could make your own rank well for a wider range of search queries.

What resources would you recommend for a deeper dive into the brave new world of the Semantic Web and Knowledge Graph?

I’ve been fortunate to have teamed up with Barbara Starr, who is a founder and co-organizer of the San Diego Semantic Web Meetup Group (she added me as a co-organizer.) Barbara has strong roots in the Semantic Web Technology community, and also likes to research Google’s patents.

On June 23rd, Barbara and I collaborated on a presentation for the San Diego Semantic Web group, titled Ranking in Google Since The Advent of The Knowledge Graph

I also highly recommend this recent (May 2015) Search Engine Land article from Barbara on changes to how Google handles search results via the Knowledge Graph: Structured Data and the SERPS: What Google’s Patents Tell us about Ranking in Universal Search.

In this post, Barbara describes how a Google patent titled Ranking search results based on entity metrics (https://www.google.com/patents/WO2014089776A1) might feature different knowledge panel content based upon metrics involving notability, relatedness (as in related to other entities mentioned), contribution, fame and prize.

So if you are creating content for pages and mentioning entities within that content, understanding more about these metrics can give you a sense of what might appear for entity-based content in search results, and perhaps give you some ideas of what to write about.

Going forward, what do you see happening with the Semantic web? Will it eclipse “traditional SEO”?

Many commercial businesses have been relying upon SEO on the Web to bring them traffic to their pages, and through their doors.  But searchers often want answers as quickly as they can get them, and Semantic Web approaches are geared towards sharing data as quickly as possible.

The search engines see searchers as their primary customers, but also rely upon business owners to advertise on their pages. This may mean that traditional SEO may have some life left in it.

Connect with Bill on Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn

Photo thanks: ©William Murphy | Flickr.com

 

 

 

Real link building requires sales

Want to build links? Jon Ball advises you to put your sales hat onThere are a lot of buzzwords right now in SEO such as ‘link earning’, ‘inbound marketing’, and ‘relationship building’. But the truth is, successful link building requires sales.

The simple fact is that if you’re going to spend time creating quality and linkable content, you need to spend an equal amount of time outreaching that content – which is really just a form of sales. Basically, you’re selling the concept of the content and pushing for a specific result – further sharing.

There’s an internal movement in the SEO industry to rebrand from a technical field to a marketing sub-department. I support this in part—it’s a natural fit, and increases the power of SEO—but I believe the baby is being thrown out with the bathwater. Specifically, I’m talking about link building.

With the release of Penguin (and more recently, Penguin 2.0), Google has changed the face of link building. No more can SEOs go out and build 100 quick links and expect to see positive results. Now, links need to be authoritative, editorial, and more than anything relevant.

Many SEOs struggle with this new link building, and are afraid to aggressively pursue links.

And that fear is a good thing. We shouldn’t be building links like they were built in the past. We need to keep in mind Google’s guidelines, because if recent years have taught us anything, it’s that eventually punishment will come.

But that doesn’t mean link building should be left behind.

Baldy said, link earning is too passive. Building content and authority and hoping for links is a result of trying not to anger the Google gods, and it’s erring too far to the left. ‘Link earning’ leaves too much to chance, too much to hope. Creating great content deserves promotion, in the form of sales as well as marketing.

So, if you’re really trying to get some serious link building done, put on your sales hat.

Marketing vs. Sales

Inbound marketing can earn links. Unfortunately, it’s a spray and pray approach. Instead of targeting your efforts, you create great content and market it to a large audience hoping something sticks to the wall.

Link building is sales. You’re vetting a specific target audience, approaching them on a one-on-one basis, and working to acquire a link. You’re actively working for each specific link.

Although there are no guarantees, link building as a strategy will produce far more results for 99% of sites over inbound marketing.

That other 1%? They’re the sites that have established authority, credibility, popularity, and have a large amount of eyeballs on everything they do. Something that doesn’t happen overnight. Or even a year. Just ask Rand Fishkin how long it took to grow SEOmoz (now Moz) into an inbound titan.

A quote from his AMA on Inbound.org earlier this year:

“We had to flee an office space we were renting at one point, because we couldn’t afford to pay the next month’s rent. Matt (Inman, who was the first real programmer we hired) and I traded off who was taking paychecks home a few times (that sucked). Gillian didn’t take a paycheck from ~2001 to ~2006.”

You can’t help but to admire Fishkin’s bootstrapped success. But will his business model work for everyone? I’m not so sure.

Real Link Building is Sales

The very essence of link building is sales – we’re basically selling our website, directly or indirectly, to other webmasters. We’re convincing them that the site is worth sharing with their audience, and that their audience will appreciate the link.

Indirect sales can work if you’ve already built trust, brand, content, and popularity. Which means, of course, that the majority of sites on the web have to rely on direct sales if they really want to build links.

A direct sale within link building looks something like this:

  1. Consistent creation of quality content
  2. Marketing to the public
  3. Pursuing leads
  4. One on one outreach to a specific site/webmaster (warm lead)
  5. Selling both the site and content (product)
  6. *Negotiating the link (sale)
  7. Closing the sale (link acquired)
  8. Nurturing the relationship

*Please note, I absolutely don’t mean paying for a link. Negotiating a link can take a variety of forms – including the placement, anchor text, specific page, content exchange, interview, etc., etc.

That’s what real link building looks like. As much as it would be nice if you could simply stop at step number 2 – marketing your content to the public – and see the links roll in, sadly that’s very very rarely the case.

Instead, let’s take a look at a real example of link building.

Link Building in the Real World

First, let’s take a look at a common example, a guest post.

For the sake of contrariness, let’s say you’re starting from scratch, with no contacts and a relatively fresh website.

Of course, you’ve spent time making a great website that’s useful, user friendly, and an overall betterment to the web (right?). Now you want to share it with the world, drive traffic and build great links. In order to do so, you’ve decided to contribute across your industry and build links in the form of guest posting.

Here are the steps you’d take:

1)  Compile a list of target sites you’d like to contribute to and receive a link from

  • Make sure they’re relevant to your industry
  • Make sure they have the authority and traffic to justify time investment
  • Make sure they’re open to communication and contribution

 

2)  Begin the outreach process. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Social media engagement
  • Commenting on their blog or community websites they’re also contributing to
  • Directly emailing (don’t forget to follow up if at first you don’t receive a reply)
  • Web form (try and avoid this – web forms receive terrible response rates)

 

3)  Build trust

It’s not enough to simply outreach – you need to establish trust. Often this takes the form of honest communication and thoughtful interaction. Ask an intelligent question, praise their website, find common ground.

4)  Negotiate a link

Once you’ve introduced yourself and (hopefully) had some positive interaction, it’s time to negotiate the link. Ask appropriately, based upon your previous interactions. In the case of guest posting, mention that you have an idea for an article and if they’d be interested in seeing it and sharing with their audience.

While discussing article details such as content, length, angle, etc., don’t forget to mention that you’d like a link back to your site in the post. Communicating clearly and up front prevents any ill feelings down the line and gives you the power to negotiate up front. Will they give you a link in content? A branded link in the bio?

5)  Deliver and Close

Once you’ve negotiated make sure you deliver in a timely manner. Closing the sale and securing the link is more than just simply emailing over the article. Ask for feedback. When will it be posted? Promote it through your social media channels. Thank them for their time and the opportunity.

6)  Follow up

Finally, don’t get a link and disappear. Nurture the relationship; drop them an email from time to time commenting on the industry, their site, your shared interests, etc. Often the next link opportunity comes through the contacts you’ve already made.

Characteristics of a Successful Sales/Link builder

I’ve employed a few successful link builders in my time, and I’ve found that it truly helps to share a core set of personality characteristics with salesman (salespeople?), which help them thrive in the link building world.

A few characteristics I always look for when the time comes to hire, outside of technical knowledge:

  • Natural charisma
  • Optimism
  • High energy level
  • Naturally friendly/open personality
  • Social intelligence
  • Problem solving
  • Persuasiveness
  • Determination
  • Competitiveness

All these traits definitely have value in the link building world. They’ll help empower link builders to pursue their job successfully, and make them resilient to a harsh reality faced by both sales and link builders – rejection.

Link building is a hard pursuit, and can be a rather thankless job. Having the built in drive to succeed and secure links is very similar to the desire to close a sale.

Recap

At the end of the day, link building requires sales – or at least a close approximation to it. Simply marketing your content isn’t enough. Real link building requires dedicated members going out, finding targets, and outreaching in a personal one-on-one environment.

The process is already naturally parallel to a sales position, so don’t forget to look for key sales characteristics when finding professional link builders.

What do you think? Is there anything I missed? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

 

About the Author ~ Jon Ball

Jon Ball is VP of Business Development for Page One Power. Jon specializes in the implementation of highly effective link building strategies for clients across the globe. In his previous life he was a professional portrait photographer, and still passionately pursues photography. Page One Power is a link building firm that focuses on relevancy and transparency.

You can connect with Jon on Twitter at @pageonepower.

photo thanks to Denise Krebs (mrsdkrebs)

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Make your SEO content shine in search with Schema

SEO expert Carrie Hill shows how using Schema mark-up can be a valuable SEO skill setAs an SEO content writer, you’re constantly looking for ways to expand your offerings and set yourself apart from others in your niche.

While skill and great training can set you apart from a good many, being able to offer marked up content that is search-engine friendly is going to set you apart from 99% of the others.

It is an advanced SEO skill set worth its weight in gold!

Adding Schema.org protocols to the content you write – and that of your clients – can improve ranking results and add some much needed click-through support to search engine listings.

Advising clients to mark up their existing content with address, product, and review or event markup can expand the reach of the SEO content you write and, in turn, increase your freelance copywriting rates accordingly!

A few weeks ago, I gave a presentation to Heather Lloyd-Martin’s SEO Copywriting Certification students and grads about how to use Schema mark-up and its value as a prized SEO copywriting skill set. Here are some of the highlights:

What are the best Schema protocols to learn as an SEO content writer?

First, I recommend you start small.  Learn how to do one type of markup and do it well.

You can write the code for Schema.org and place the code in the Rich Snippets Testing Tool to see if it validates correctly.

Always check your validation before publishing and right after publishing.  (See the tools I like in the “Tools” section below.)

1. Location & Mobile

If your client has a location-based brick-and-mortar business, marking their address up with Schema.org/LocalBusiness markup makes a lot of sense.  It’s one of the easiest schemas to implement and it can affect not only search engine traffic, but I speculate this could help immensely with Mobile search in the future.

If you use Google Now, and are familiar with their “card’ system – you can see how data that is structured could be very useful to search engines and other local search websites.

Use this code by copying and pasting into a text editor like Notepad and replacing the generic text with your clients’ data:

<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/LocalBusiness”>

<a itemprop=”url” href=”http://www.ClientWebsite.com”><div itemprop=”name”><strong>Client’s Company Name Here</strong></div>

</a>

<div itemprop=”description”>A short description here – maybe 1-2 sentences. You CAN leave this out, but it helps if you can use keywords and the city state in the description</div>

<div itemprop=”address” itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/PostalAddress”>

<span itemprop=”streetAddress”>1234 Oak Street, Suite 444</span><br>

<span itemprop=”addressLocality”>Anytown, </span><span itemprop=”addressRegion”>CO </span><span itemprop=”postalCode”>55555  </span><span itemprop=”addressCountry”>USA</span><br>

<div itemprop=”telephone”>555-123-4567</div>

</div>

</div>

2. E-Commerce Product Descriptions

Many writers are contracted to write new products descriptions for their clients.  Adding the markup to outline a product with Schema.org/Product or Schema.org/Offer code can help your client’s product stand out from the pack.

To go along with product and offer schema, review schema will add the rating stars to the search engine result listing, which can have a big impact on click through rates:

Bunn Thermal Coffee Maker

 

 

 

 

3. Events

Event markup is a fairly easy process, but is done rarely, and surprisingly  – not very well.

There are a handful of event companies and directories that do it right (check out Eventful.com for a good example) and that lack of accuracy is an opportunity for you.

Are you writing content about an event your client is putting together? Creating a listing that has an enhanced look in the search engine results is a great side –benefit.

You can see from the example below how useful that would be to the viewer:

Upcoming Events:Colorado

 

 

 

 

 

Essential Tools to Use

 

Closing Thoughts

This is an opportunity for you as an SEO copywriter to set yourself apart from your competition!

Some of the implementation of the Schema.org markup may take collaboration with the clients’ website teams, but the results could definitely be worth the effort.

You may consider offering the first bit of markup as a “freebie” to show the benefits with regards to ranking and click-through, proving to the client the value behind your expertise.

However you approach it, knowing more about how to make content rank well, and achieve a larger number of clicks, can only enhance your reputation as an SEO content writer.

 

About the Author ~ Carrie Hill

Carrie Hill is the Director of Online Marketing for KeyRelevance, LLC.  She specializes in technical SEO and social media – and absolutely loves email marketing.  She is also a regular author for SEMClubhouse.com.  When not immersed in all things search, she’s a big fan of hanging with her kiddos, reading, cooking, gardening.  Find Carrie on Twitter @CarrieHill or on Google+.

image thanks to crazyseo20 (Crazy Seo)

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Social search? Author rank? Terry Van Horne has his word

Candid interview with SEO/search expert Terry Van HorneTerry Van Horne is widely known and esteemed by the SEO and search community for many reasons.

He is held in high regard for championing SEO and search industry standards as the veteran SEO professional that founded SEO Pros. He is recognized as the Director of the not-for-profit Organization of Search Engine Optimization Professionals (OSEOP). He is known for his work with David Harry at the SEO Training Dojo.

Terry is also distinguished by his colorful character, straightforward manner, sharp wit, and merciless honesty when offering his opinion on industry matters – and I’m delighted he has done so here!

In this interview, I ask Terry for his take on social search, Google’s authorship, and the related G+ attribution issue. (His choice words about the latest buzzword, “outbound marketing,” were entirely unsolicited.) 🙂

There’s been a lot of discussion about Google’s authorship and its future as a ranking signal. Where do you see this whole author tag thing going?

Author Rank is a gleam in every popular blogger’s eye. I don’t think it has a hope in hell of ever being a bigger ranking factor than it is now.

In other words, if someone is plugged into the mother ship they see their friends and those they follow. Beyond that, author tags are only suitable for use in a very limited way.

The day they make it a ranking algo is the day you start seeing author tags on e-commerce pages.

In our initial discussion, you had mentioned a glitchy issue with Google’s attribution loop. What needs to be corrected?

Glitchy? I bet those getting caught in the “glitch” have a more colorful word for it.

To some extent it is broken with too much mis-attribution. Spammers are now picking up and targeting sites that are vulnerable to mis-attribution.

Google is trying hard to complete the circle between G+ profiles and anywhere they are found, so if a site is not using the author tag they are vulnerable to someone commenting and including a link to a Google profile.

Another way is if an author links to a G+ post. To some extent Google is forcing the use of the tag by making those not using it a target for highjacking authorship.

There’s also a lot of buzz about “social signals” in search and “social SEO”… What’s your take?

Think about it. This is SEO 101! If it is not indexable, it can’t affect rank. Correlation is not causation!

Most of Twitter is not indexable! Large portions of Facebook – same deal. Even Google + is limited by the privacy settings.

David Harry and I were interviewing Joe Hall for our “Search Geeks Speak” around the time he was promoting a social search tool, and he shared with us that he was surprised how much data is hidden on Facebook by privacy and other impediments.

IMO, Social is about verifying other signals like links and general promotion with buzz and legitimate engagement. For instance, an increase in the velocity of link acquisition should be accompanied by increased “mentions” and other Social buzz.

We found the easiest way to move video up the rankings was to accompany it with social activity. It is even more important for press releases and other more temporal searches, such as for events.

What are your top 5 favorite sources of SEO & search information?

SEO Training Dojo and the SEO Pros Community, David Harry, Bill Slawski, Webmaster Help Desk and Google Search – the last of which is by far the most useful resource I have to learn about anything from SEO to programming or the phone number of Buzz Buzz pizza! The best pizza in Toronto!

I don’t read many blogs as I would rather filter info through the community I’m hanging in. I see what’s worth reading or worse, what people need to be protected from.

As a veteran SEO professional, what words of wisdom would you offer the new SEO copywriter?

Concentrate on writing good copy because good copywriting naturally uses primary and derivative keywords which make the copy more understandable/readable and RELEVANT – because in the end “Google does not buy anything! Their users do!!”

Please the users and you please “the Google”.

You are known as an advocate for SEO & search industry standards. Could you discuss your work at SEO Pros?

SEO Pros and the Ontario registered NFP (Not For Profit) OSEOP (Organization for Search Engine Optimization Professionals) have been around since 2003. We were the first organization for Search Engine Professionals.

At times we have participated in the discussion of SEO Standards, and have always had upholding standards a requirement for being included in the OSEOP directory.

Currently we are moving our focus from Standards (basically there are many ways to the same goal) to Risk Assessment, which is less of a moving target.

I’m also a big supporter in the belief it has to be an inclusive process. I like the ideals of the RFC (Request for Comments) process* where anybody can participate by just following the framework.

Any parting thoughts you’d like to share?

People say SEO has changed a lot. On page optimization is same as it ever was and well, quite frankly, I don’t see link building and lot of what others call SEO as actually being SEO!

IMO, it is internet marketing/promotion or the new buzz word that annoys the F…. outta me … outbound marketing.

There ya go boys’!  An F bomb – the reputation remains unsullied!

CYa@DaTop!

Tmeister

* Request for Comments is the process by which many Internet Specifications and Protocols evolve.

 

About Terry Van Horne

Terry Van Horne has been developing and marketing websites since the early 90’s in various marketing and development positions, including: working as internet marketing manager for one of Canada’s largest real estate developers; SEO for an award-winning real estate company; and as search engine and marketing manager for ecommerce stores in the apparel and musical instrument industries. In 2007, he developed a YouTube Marketing Strategy for WorldMusicSupply, and to date those 300+ videos have received over 26,000,000+ downloads.

He is currently a partner with David Harry in the award winning SEO Training Dojo, a learning community, as well as three other marketing and industry news sites. Terry founded SeoPros.org, an organization for consumer advocacy and search engine optimization professionals, and is currently a Director of the NFP organization OSEOP that grew out of it.

photo thanks to fdecomite

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Interview with SEW’s Jonathan Allen/2: A Search Manifesto

Today we make good on our promise and post part 2 of our interview with SEW’s Jonathan Allen.

In this second half of the interview, “The Englishman in New York” and Search Engine Watch Director shares with us his thoughts on Google’s Search Plus and social (G+) networking ambitions, as well as where he sees the search marketing industry going with his self-described “manifesto on search.”

This year has been a tumultuous one with Google’s string of search & social initiatives and algorithm updates. What do you make of Google’s ambitions with Google Plus Search, Google+, and its Panda/Penguin algorithms?

In my view, Blekko has a lot to answer for in terms of the direction Google has taken in the last two years. By highlighting the problem of webspam, they whipped up a frenzy of pressure on Google.

To its credit, Google responded incredibly fast and seemed to fast-track a lot of features that were probably already in development. Larry Page taking the throne probably has a lot to do with this too, as what we have seen is a return to Google’s roots with a scrappier more reactive company. They are operating more like a startup.

I think it is important to ‘get’ that most of the features and updates we see today such as Search Plus Your World and Panda/Penguin were inevitable developments for search engines – and in particular, Google.

Whilst the link graph was already democratizing the distribution of information, people still needed to have the ability to actually code up a link. With the advent of social, the social networks have democratized information sharing even further, so that anyone can share from any device at the click of a Like or RT button – no coding required.

Even Google knew it was inevitable that links couldn’t be a ‘search signal’ forever, and that their algorithm first favored a kind of technical elite.

Replacing linking signals with social signals

Despite all reports to the contrary, Google still has not cracked social signals either.

Whatever role social signals do play in search is currently miniscule, and they are certainly no closer to a true concept of author rank. There are attempts at it, but in my opinion our industry overplays the importance of it.

Google is still trying to get a social graph, let alone analyze it. Proof of that is in the fact that Panda and Penguin are both algorithm updates that attempt to fight automation and reward the people who are content creators.

If Google did have a social graph already, they wouldn’t need a manual or algorithmic intervention. The very nature of social media is that it is self-policing and weeds out spam.

And this is where the rub is for search marketers.

As Google relentlessly pursues the goal of becoming a social platform (and cloud OS for their users), rather than just an interpreter for the web, search marketers are going to have to become self-policing too. And that is a huge threat to the relative anonymity we have been enjoying.

We either have to embrace the panopticon of Google+ or revise our understanding of the web and return to fundamentals that leave Google out of the equation.

Both positions are valid and ultimately imply the same thing – you have to think about your online marketing in terms of the true information needs of your potential customers and not the information needs of Google’s algorithm.

Google’s search rankings & illusions of absolutes in quality and relevance

The only reason Google delivers results in a ranked format is because that is the only possible way to manufacture the most important search signal there is – end user data.

Rank lists are just a byproduct of semiotic analysis – within one list of 10 results Google is showing all possible “Paradigms” (categories of information) and “Syntagms” (sets of information) that are present in the concept of the search query.

Put another way, paradigms and syntagms represent “all possible worlds” of the information need the user might have. It’s not until the user selects a result that Google can calculate relevance – namely, “meaningfulness” to the user. Everything before the click is just an estimate.

Google’s brand of relevance is little more than a Turing test because there is simply no such thing as absolute relevance – only the semblance of it. The less the results resemble a computer-generated list, the more confidence we have in the result and believe they are relevant.

But it’s an illusion to think that Google has any essential concept of quality or relevance.

Outputs, rather than inputs, are more important to Google – I cannot stress this enough – and chasing the input is a losing game.

You can analyze links and social shares as much as you like to get a sense of why things are ranking, but it is still just incidental data. For Google, the rank list is only the beginning of the journey to determine relevance.

The click that occurs after the rank list is the most important signal – the vital data – by which time all factors controlled by the machine and our SEO strategy are out of our control and the chaotic order of culture simply takes over.

Ultimately it is culture that dictates what ranks on the web – not links, not shares.

Google’s “semantic data” & culture

Despite announcements to the contrary from Amit Singhal, I would assert that Google is no closer to semantic data than anyone else because the principles of semantic data are fundamentally simple.

All you need is a reliable set of classifications, which pretty much anyone can create.

What is actually difficult is leveraging a training set for semantic data and apply that at web scale. Google has the best chance of all, given their super computing power, but that only serves to elevate the importance of end user data.

And end user data is simply a reflection of the cultural climate. At best, search can only reflect the status quo, which is simply the relationship of all “things” (web objects) to each other. To change the status quo online you actually have to transform the underlying relationships.

So “what is old is new again” 

So all in all, my sense of the latest round of Google changes is simply that “what is old is new again.” You need to market a business, not a search engine.

Your market for your business is people’s requirement for information they can trust. Therefore the only strategic difference between marketing in general and marketing on Google is that to succeed in the latter, your best chance of success is to adopt a “Googley business model” which offers freemium services.

The freemium offer you must make must be to freely offer the most important and useful information to help your potential customer make the right decision for their life, not your profits.

And if readers are looking for SEO tactics, then throw yourself at the opportunity that is Google Search Plus Your World – for the first time ever you can be on top of the pile for a generic term with relatively little work. Search results are going to be distributed and ranked according to your Google+ social graph, so grow that as fast and as quickly as possible.

Aim to tune into the real information needs of that subset of Google+ users because they are going to dictate the “relevance” of your site. As long as Twitter and Facebook lock their doors to Google, the Google+ social graph is the next training set of semantic data that Google is chasing.

And where do you see the search engine marketing industry going?  (a.k.a., Jonathan’s Search Manifesto)

The search engine marketing industry has matured.

To some degree, we’ve lost the cool factor to ‘social’ (whatever that really means), but what ‘search’ has gained is a huge amount of business and recognition that it is a required component in marketing.

However, the wider trend is that actual online advertising platforms are emulating search to take advantage of the search marketers’ skill set, whilst ironically, Google is starting to look less like a search engine everyday and seems to be utterly dismantling the search marketers’ toolset.

Simultaneously, as big brands have got smarter about online marketing, they have hit upon the realization that search only plays a certain role in the entire marketing equation.

Brands need a multiplicity of skills to tackle an end-to-end online marketing strategy. The problem is that in our industry, regardless of whether we are talking about SEO or PPC, or whatever satellite skills our industry implies, we tend to get pigeon-holed for working only in search, which is often seen as a closing tactic at the end of the customer purchase journey rather than the beginning.

So we get targeted and paid according to our ability to be efficient rather than on our ability to generate demand.

This attitudinal shift has also been a threat to Google as brands are asking, “how do we create demand in search engines?” Previously brands were concerned with just meeting demand via search and only a few were leading the pack with these “more essential” questions.

“These companies are now, quite literally, eating our lunch”

On the face of it (please excuse the pun), Facebook seems to offer ‘brand marketers’ something more ‘essential’ in terms of traditional marketing metrics: A closed network of “real people” (rather than queries) who spend a lot of their time in that environment.

The opportunity is closer to TV, which has traditionally been a good means for building awareness and brand recognition, and that is seen to ultimately drive demand.

But this is just Facebook mastering mystique in the market.

Facebook is actually more complicated than any media platform preceding it and its hidden complexities are a useful foil to Google’s “straight man in the market.” Brands have to go direct to really succeed – or invest heavily in tools.

In response we see that Google is leaning more heavily on YouTube as their brand-building opportunity to advertisers, whilst simultaneously gaining the social data they need to match Facebook via Google+.

In seeking to solve the problem of demand generation for brands, Google can match Facebook’s apparent dominance of the web – and ultimately forge deals directly with the brands by leveraging their market share.

It is an elegant solution for Google, because it solves the problem of complexity for brand advertisers, whilst they can quietly continue to dismantle a lot of the tools and tactics search marketers used to rely on.

These companies are now, quite literally, eating our lunch.

It’s on us, the SEO/search marketing specialists

The losers in this equation are SEO/search marketing specialists. By becoming a “no-brainer” strategy for brands to execute, it’s dropping down on the agenda amongst campaign planners in the boardroom – as its PPC and SEO are just naturally factored in.

It’s ironic that the increasing complexity of leveraging digital media for marketing is through generating demand to work directly with Google and Facebook rather than through agencies and specialists.

However, these step changes are natural and the fault lies with us as much as our ‘overlords.’

The online market has not fundamentally transformed, just accelerated. As an industry we have not been claiming the wins, and specifically the impact, that we as a marketing community have had on every aspect of digital marketing.

We don’t trump the good as much as the bad. Yes, few businesses were first built on search – they built a great product first – but search was key to their long-term growth.

Search marketers are naturally anti-authoritarian yet we don’t stand for something and so fall for anything.

Generally speaking, every practitioner still gets tarred with the ‘spammers’ brush and yet, every single digital marketing platform is to play more fluidly with the search marketing skill set – namely bidding, keyword/market research, relationship building and interoperability.

All of these skills are rooted in sourcing demand online, rather than in search engines per se. To drive our careers forward we need to recognize that we all have more essential skills.

Demand generation plays nicely with ‘ethical’ SEO tactics such as content marketing. Whilst I do not want to discount the importance of link building in SEO, as an industry we need to understand the actual, natural behavior behind link building. Most of the time it is a by-product of good marketing, good content and good relationships.

So what do we, as search/SEO marketers, stand for anyway?

The problem I see is that by obsessing too much about search algorithms and being too Google-centric, search marketers are losing touch with some of the genius that got us to where we are in the first place.

As an industry we are at risk of not owning our role in the web eco-system and we are becoming increasingly split over “what we should call ourselves” rather than who we should be.

To me, it makes no difference whether you call yourself an SEO guru, PPC expert, social media ninja, digital, connected or inbound marketer. What all of those titles lack is any kind of manifesto as to what we really do and what values we stand for.

Redefining the role of ‘search/SEO marketer’

There is an urge for us to redefine the role ‘search marketers’ play in the web, but rather than pulling together we are pulling in different directions. It might be time to drop ‘search’ from the equation and become just ‘marketers’ – namely, generalists rather than specialists.If we must remain specialists, then let’s specialize in what we actually do and not in Google.

Namely, meeting the average web users’ information needs.

We are the original relationship builders and tacticians of the web!

Online marketing success has always been dependent on relationship building, regardless of whether we are talking about links, video channel subscribers, or social shares.

This is what we know best.

For search to be sexy we have to position ourselves at the top of the customer food chain rather than the bottom.

Therefore, I believe that all search marketers and search marketing agencies should drop keywords, rankings, social media and conversion optimization as the starting point for discussions with their customers.

Instead strike at the heart of the matter: raise the question of how to generate demand, because if demand-generated, it will ultimately be reflected in search. This is our strength!

Tell your customer that their product exists in a market in which their customer can ask any question, any time, on any device, and receive an answer anywhere, at any time from anyone. Then ask them, “what are the long term information needs of your target audience?”

Search or social, inbound or outbound, every subsequent strategy, tactic or action flows down from the question of how you will fulfill the challenge of what your customer needs to know.

 

Our heartfelt thanks to Jonathan Allen for this most honest, thorough, and candid interview, as he honored us last Thursday with part 1 and with this eloquent, closing “search manifesto”! He’s now doing his thing at SES Toronto this week, but we’re sure he’d love to hear from you!

You can connect with Jonathan on Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube, all via  jc1000000 <that’s 6 zero’s> You can also find him hanging about SES Conferences & Search Engine Watch 🙂

 

 

 

Interview with the Englishman in New York, SEW’s Jonathan Allen/1

If you’re at all familiar with SEO and search, then you must be familiar with Jonathan Allen. The self-described “Englishman in New York” heads up Incisive Media’s Search Engine Watch (SEW), having taken its helm as director in December of 2009.

As its new director, Jonathan was charged with transforming Search Engine Watch into a “vibrant, collaborative community” of search and tech marketing professionals. This he accomplished, along with a new voice and website design for SEW, a year ago.

On this one-year anniversary of SEW’s revision and new design, we’re honored that this philosopher, lover of literature, and distinguished search expert has agreed to so generously share with us the intimate details of his story, including how he came to be head of Search Engine Watch, as well as his “manifesto” on the search industry as it is today.

In this first of a 2-part series, Jonathan talks about his background and how he came to be the director of Search Engine Watch.

Would you share a bit about your background and how you came to be a search marketer?

I’ve been doing online marketing ever since I graduated the University of East Anglia (UEA) in 2001. I didn’t intend to get into this field and saw myself as more of an academic with a particular love for philosophy and literature, despite always having the sense that vocationally speaking, they were completely pointless degrees. That didn’t matter too much to me at the time (as I studied that stuff for the love of it), but I anticipated that my career would be a bit of a non-starter and that there would always be a tension between my professional life and personal hobbies.

However, my first job out of UEA was working for a web design company that was creating an online 2001 holiday gift catalogue. My job was to search the web all day and find shops selling “cool gifts” that might want to advertise in our catalogue. The plan was that when the catalogue was ready to go live, a big PR push through magazines and offline media would drive visitors to the website where they would buy online. It was going to be ‘revolutionary’.

Unsurprisingly, the PR campaign and magazine push was a complete failure – and 10+ years later, it is still very difficult to use offline media to drive visitors to online pages. So, we needed a second strategy to drive awareness and traffic. My boss came over one day and dropped a printed-out PDF on my desk and said, “You are searching the internet all day, why don’t you work out how to get us to the top of the search engines?”

The PDF was a guide to writing meta tags and how search engines index keywords. Reading through it, it became apparent to me that a search engine is really just a giant question and answer machine using data crowd-sourced from web content.

Ultimately, what that meant to me was that just like philosophy, users had to ask the right questions to get the right answers, and just like literature, the right words and phrases had to be used to steer the reader into asking the right questions.

Getting hooked on SEO

Soon, I was hooked on SEO and became obsessed with the question, “What is the real intention behind this search query?” that is to say, what are users really looking for when they enter keywords into a search box? Most importantly, what are their information needs? So, I’m lucky to say that in the end I have married my hobbies with my profession.

Soon afterwards, I set up my own consultancy but that was more like a lifestyle business rather than a money spinner. It kept me in the black financially doing things I found interesting rather than “working for the man.” Eventually this wasn’t sustainable so I tried working at an agency but hated working for someone else. So I tried my hand at startups, teaming up with some good friends from UEA to build Cohack, an analytics platform for AdWords (pre-Google Analytics) and also Moblog, a mobile blogging social network for camera phone users (pre-Twitter/Twitpic).

Both enjoyed their share of successes, but ultimately we were all “too green” to make them into viable businesses. Nonetheless, working for yourself allows you to make some big mistakes and learn from them, and the risks we took then have paid off in terms of experience and confidence ever since.

I met a lot of my personal “influencers” during this period, such as Mike Butcher (European Editor of TechCrunch), Alfie Dennen (Creative Technologist, Bus-Tops), Ben Godfrey (Head of Product Delivery at Wonga), Mat Brown, Rob Chant, and Vincent Camara – all of whom have shaped my thinking about “online” in fundamental ways and probably don’t really know it. Principally, they instilled in me a practical appreciation for online communities.

So how did you come to be the Director of Search Engine Watch?

In 2006 I joined Incisive Media in the UK as a search marketing specialist to work on their job boards. Never looked back. Incisive is a company full of smart people, and senior management is composed of generous listeners who are quick to back ‘talent’ and take their fair share of risks.

Back then I was lucky to have two amazing mentors in Sophie Chesters (now, Head of Marketing at Google Analytics) and John Barnes (Managing Director of Digital & Tech at Incisive Media and Chairman of AOP, UK) who backed my strategies for better or worse, and helped me do “crazy cool stuff” under their command. They kind of opened the doors for me to pursue unofficial projects which, in a roundabout way, eventually led me to join SEW.

Although Incisive already owned SEW, I had little connection with the SEW team at the time. John sent me to SES (Search Engine Strategies) London (2009) to brush up on my skills, and I was working on an unofficial internal project with Vincent Camara from Intruders.tv at the time. We were doing interviews with tech people for a new TV channel we were creating for another Incisive brand, theInquirer.net. Knowing that there would be a lot of important tech geeks at SES London, I took a camera to shoot interviews.

“50 SEOs, 1 Question”

However, Vincent wanted to try out a completely different approach to B2B video interviews and had always been knocking around this brilliant idea to do a parody of “50 People, 1 Question.” SES London seemed like the perfect place to reach 50 outgoing business people. It sounded fun but I didn’t know what question to ask until I spoke to my friend at the BBC who suggested I ask, “what should we do with the Black Hats?”

Thus 50 SEOs, 1 Question was born:

I conducted the video interviews and shot the 50 SEOs video in the same day. One of the interviews I did was with Mike Grehan (the last gent on the video), who sort of grudgingly accepted to do a separate interview after ceaseless pestering from me. In the bar, at the end of the day, he came over and told me that it was the best interview on SEO he had ever given and gave me his card in case I was ever looking for a job.

I was thrilled to hear it, but honestly, I just thought he had had a few too many glasses of sauvignon blanc… I never suspected that coincidence would lead us to work together within the year.

With the help of another good friend, Joel Craigs (now, Technical Director at The OMC), the 50 SEOs video came out a few months later and the community response was awesome! In particular, Matt McGowan, who had just been made Managing Director of Incisive Media‘s Americas and Interactive Marketing, absolutely loved it.

Six months later, Matt asked Mike Grehan to join Incisive Media to head up the entire content strategy for SES, ClickZ and SEW. Matt heard that I was looking for a career change and keen to work abroad, so John Barnes suggested I go for a job opening at SEW in the NYC office. The coolest part of it all was Mike dispensed with the routine job interview and simply asked, how would you like to move to NYC and “help SEW get its Mojo back?”

I was like, uh, let me think about that… YES.

What I learned from the whole project and the outcome is that the role of content in SEO is to build relationships rather than produce it for it’s own sake. I’m indebted to SEO Chicks’ Judith Lewis and Lisa Myers for their encouragement during shooting, as there were times when I wanted to give up. Also Bas Van Den Beld (State of Search) and Kevin Gibbons (SEOptimise) too, for being the first blogs to post the video online.

It’s been a year now since you’ve redesigned Search Engine Watch: how has that played out?

Although we were eager to re-launch SEW sooner rather than later, Associate Editor Danny Goodwin and I wanted to “cut our teeth” working together as an editorial team par excellence and win readers based on content and not just a glossy design.

We were also dealing with how to differentiate ourselves in the market and, with help from Frank Watson (who had been with the brand for longer than both of us put together), and a lot of trial and error, rediscover SEW’s ‘voice’. In the end we decided that we would be the east coast brand for search marketers.

We started redesigning Search Engine Watch in early 2010 with the blessing of Mike, Matt and John to try something completely different – and depart from the traditional site design concepts of Incisive Media. I had been following Ultra Knowledge for three years and their unique approach to publishing chimed with my intentions for the site – namely to put a search engine at the heart of the platform.

For the Love of New York City: Rebranding SEW

For about a year we experimented with a lot of different concepts on a staging server but formal plans didn’t really come together until the very end of 2010. It wasn’t until another old friend, Neil Tweddle, came to visit me in November and fell in love with New York City, that the visual concept of a re-branded SEW materialized.

Neil had just quit his ‘day job’ to start his own design boutique and in light of his obvious enthusiasm for the city, I asked him if it was possible to design a brand identity that screamed “New York City” – without resorting to the compulsory device of a skyscraper/empire state building.

We hit upon the subway theme as it was the perfect expression of not only where the brand is located, but also what the new SEW would be all about – complex, overlapping topics tackled by our writers and distilled into simple-to-use guides.

Fantastic feedback, killer core team & a supportive community

The redesign has been a hit with readers – within 6 months site traffic had grown by 80% (YOY pageviews) and in fact broken the record on every success metric for the site (since our records began). I’m pleased to say that a year later, our monthly stats for 2012 are on average 47% higher than 2011.

It’s obviously a harder challenge to grow as significantly purely on content, but that has been our focus for 2012.

Danny Goodwin’s editorial focus has been the mastermind behind this year’s sustained growth, but also the relatively recent addition of Miranda Miller as SEW’s official news correspondent has had a huge impact in terms of keeping our coverage fresh. Thom Craver has also been a massive support over the last two years and is now our resident MC for all SEW in-person events – he will be hosting the new eliminator quiz at SES Toronto next week – it’s gonna kick ass!

That’s the core team working daily on SEW, but we’re also privileged to have an extended family of contributors who are also really walking the walk and talking the talk every day. They are all influencing the direction of the brand internally and down tools at a moments notice to offer insights and new perspectives.

And from the sidelines, communities like the SEO Dojo often help us to find our “sea-legs” on difficult topics such as the fall-out from an algorithm update – a bit like the The Lone Gunmen from the X-files.

The goal for SEW going forward is to keep bringing the buy-side and sell-sides of the community together. Our role is to educate buyers as to what to expect and to give sellers the tools to educate their customers and train up their staff as quickly as possible. But our focus shall remain on steering practitioners into genius marketing initiatives that make use of all platforms – not just search, not just social, and not just video.

I want our readers to combine every online platform, tool, strategy and tactic under the sun – literally stitch the web together to make it work for their campaigns.

Be sure to check back on Tuesday, June 12th, for part 2 of this interview with Jonathan Allen. He’ll be offering his own “manifesto” on the state of search marketing, Google updates, and much more then!

 

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