Embrace Google Hummingbird, “Keywords Not Provided” for Better Content Marketing

If Google’s new Hummingbird algorithm doesn’t force you to be a better writer, nothing will.

The new evolution from the Panda/Penguin updates, combined with Google’s practice of no longer providing keyword data, are going to leave content marketers in the dark.

I couldn’t be happier.

HummingbirdBefore Panda and Penguin, SEO professionals used all kinds of tricks, both sneaky and legitimate, to game the system. Panda eliminated “thin” content — too-short blog posts, posts that contained 20 words and then took you to another page — and Penguin eliminated a lot of backlinking strategies.

Hummingbird is going one step further. According to TechCrunch,

(it) allows Google to more quickly parse full questions (as opposed to parsing searches word-by-word), and to identify and rank answers to those questions from the content they’ve indexed.

In other words, Google is no longer looking for results that match the collection of words you put into the search bar, they can identify the question, identify the intent behind the question, and find the best possible results.

Hummingbird is geared toward, and has been shaped by, mobile and voice search. People open their Google Maps or Google Search on their smartphones and speak their search as a question. Or they get on Google on their tablet or laptop and type in their question:

  • How do I delete my Twitter account?
  • How do I ask a girl out?
  • How do I get a passport?

“But, how do we know which keywords to write about?”

How Do I on GoogleYou don’t. You just write about the things that you think people want to know about.

You can figure that out by looking at your page visits and seeing which pages have the most visits, and then writing about those topics some more.

You can figure that out by searching in your email archives for the phrase “how do I.” Repost the answers you sent.

You can figure that out by writing about leading stories and trending news in your industry. (Read David Meerman Scott’s Newsjacking to find out how to get ahead of the competition in these instances.)

You can figure it out by paying close attention to the things you sell and the problems they solve.

You don’t need keywords to figure out what people are looking for. You need to look at your readers’ behavior, figure out why they came to your site, and respond to the things they want.

(Of course, you could just call up a few of your customers and ask them too.)

But most importantly, you need to quit trying to game the system by dinking around with keywords and just start writing real content that people want to read.

 

Photo credit: AnnCam (Flickr, Creative Commons)

5 Questions to Ask Your Social Media “Expert”

The term “social media expert” is thrown around and debated so much, it has nearly become a punchline.

Someone told me once that when the economy recovers and the bartenders and waiters get their old jobs back, the number of social media experts will be cut in half. And I keep reading lately that a lot of advertising agencies are starting to embrace digital media as one of their new offerings.

Meanwhile, there are real social media firms who have been using the product for more than a few weeks, don’t limit their Facebook time to playing Farmville and Pirate Clan, and don’t think that ROI is the name of that Canadian goalie playing for the Colorado Avalanche.

So when you go to hire your next social media consultant, ask them these questions, and pay careful attention to their answers.

1. How long have you been blogging? How often do you publish? The correct answer is anything longer than a year. People who write about a particular topic have to know something about it. And your social media expert can and should be blogging about some aspect of social media. Basically, if they’re not blogging, they’re probably not doing their job correctly.

They should also be publishing at least once a week. More is better, say, 2 – 3 times per week. But if they go for a few months without publishing anything, they’d better have a good reason why. “We’ve been executing some national campaigns for our clients, and I barely have enough time to sleep” is a pretty good excuse. A blank stare and a mumbled “I dunno” is not.

2. What blog platform do you use? The correct answer is “WordPress dot org. If they say WordPress.com, Blogspot.com, or anything else, ask them why. Anyone who has the technical knowledge to use WordPress.org will have the technical know-how to use the other tools you may need for your campaign.

I say this as someone who has different blogs on different platforms. I really like Blogspot.com for my personal blog, my favorite short blog platform is Posterous, and I will acknowledge the existence of Joomla. However, I embrace my elitism and snobbery when it comes to WordPress.org for client blogs.

3. What are some automation tools that you use? You don’t really care what they say, you just need to hear that they have an automation process. They should talk about things like Twaitter.com, Twitterfeed.com, Ping.fm, TweetDeck, and HootSuite.

If they carefully craft each blog promotion (i.e. including yours) by hand, they either don’t have enough work — which means they’re new, and they’re going to learn how to do this on your dime — or they’re inefficient — which means your work may fall through the cracks.

4. What analytics package do you use? For measuring blog or website traffic, if they say “Google Analytics,” that’s acceptable. We use Google Analytics quite a bit on our client blogs. However, better yet is “Yahoo Analytics” or “Going Up,” or one of the many other professional-level packages. For social media tracking, if they say “you can’t measure social media effectively,” thank them for their time, and ask them to leave. If they say “Google News Alerts,” give them a B– for trying.

The real social media experts will either cobble together their own system (B+/A–) or use a paid service like ScoutLabs or Radian6 (A+). Just keep in mind that those services are pricey, so if you want top-notch analytics results, that will be added to your budget.

5. What kind of ROI should I expect? Trick question: they shouldn’t be able to answer right away. Anyone who promises you a specific increase is just guessing. We’d love to tell you that you’ll see a 25% increase in sales, but we can’t. We’d love to say that you will see amazing growth in just a few months, but we can’t. The truth is there are too many variables to make an accurate prediction, just like with any marketing. We can’t predict the future, but we can measure it when it happens.

Follow up question: What kind of ROI have you gotten for other clients? While you would like to see significant numbers, what you’re more interested in is whether there are any numbers. A good social media practitioner will be able to track what business came from their campaigns.

Most of the social media poseurs will not be able to give you a good answer to most of these questions. Your true social media expert will have more than just a deep understanding of the tools, but will understand how to find your target audience and be able to create the right messages to reach them. But they should also be able to answer these five questions satisfactorily.

Photo credit: Pro Blog Service generated by Wordle.net
Yewenyi (Flickr)

Accuracy in Web Metrics is a Myth. Go for Real Time Analytics

It’s online marketers’ dirty little secret: Web metrics are not very accurate. None of them.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be.

Users can block script and pixel based systems and proxy servers (servers that cache content to reduce bandwidth use on networks, like say, your ISP’s or corporate network) prevent your server’s weblog from recording every page view (I wrote in a little more detail on accuracy issues here). On top of network issues, there are some basic software limitations in browsers and metric packages that prevent every click and visit from being counted.

How bad is it? Somewhere between 4% and 12%. And it’s almost, almost always missing clicks, visits and page views.

So, do web analytics have value? Yes. But despite what you may think, their value isn’t counting every single click you get on your site. It’s for identifying trends. Knowing what is happening and what has happened in aggregate has great value. Even with a 6-12% margin of error.

The problem is, many web metrics solutions are on a time delay (like Google Analytics) that prevents you from seeing what is happening now. On the internet “NOW” means everything. And if you want to see what is happening minute to minute, your options are rather limited.

Here’s a situation that happened with one of my clients:

We had a client who had just started a $90,000, 48 hour advertising campaign for a major affiliate network. We didn’t realize it, but some bad code was preventing people coming to a landing page for step 3 in the registration process. A real-time analytics package allowed us to see the problem and fix it in about 15 minutes, but a once-a-day analytics package would have only pointed out the problem halfway through our 48 hour schedule.

Should we have tested the landing page better? Yes. Reality is that marketing sites are often done on much tighter deadlines than traditional software development and sometimes testing isn’t that great. That means real time metrics are critical.

If we had waited 12 hours for metrics to become available, my client would have lost 25% of sales and 25% of the money they had spent on the campaign.

Real time matters more than you think. If you’re not investing in it, you need to consider it.