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.

Are Your Customers Talking About You? Five Ways to Find Out

In our last post, we talked about how Twitter helped start a revolution in Moldova, and how the ruling Communist party was caught unaware that any protest was going to begin until it actually began.

People are talking about your organization, whether you know it or not. The Communists were not following any discussion on Twitter or social media, and were completely caught off-guard by the protests. The best way to find out if someone is talking about your company on social media? Use social media.

So how can you find out whether people are talking about your company or not? Can you even measure it? There are a few basic ways that any social media practitioner uses:

Plain ol’ Google – We’ll start with the most obvious one. Just type in your company name, product name, or even your name, and see what comes up. If you’ve done nothing else online, hopefully your website and a Google map came up. If it didn’t, learn search engine optimization and start blogging super quick and fix this.

Google News Alert – If you like what you see in your Google search (i.e. not “nothing”), you can set up a Google Alert to let you know whenever your name, your company, your product or industry have appeared in a news article, website, and even blog. We use Google Alerts to monitor issues in our industry, see what our clients are up to, and to even see where our own names are appearing (we’re very needy that way).

Twitter searches – We use Twitterment.com, TwitterFall.com, and of course, Twitter’s own search feature. Twitterment does a keyword search, especially in a Twitter bio, so you can find people based on their background or interests. TwitterFall lets you search for keywords and then drops them on a website page for you to see (TweetDeck’s search feature will do the same thing, but without the clunky web interface.), and Twitter search will look at every tweet for your search term.

Radian6 – A social media measurement service that actually seeks out and tabulates social media conversations people are having on Twitter, blogs, and other social networking sites. It’s a subscription-based service. We use it for some of our clients here, and have been able to not only find conversations about their topic, but find out who started it, how much of a social reach they had, and determine what the potential impact a positive or negative message could have on them.

Bloglines – Search blogs and get the results emailed to you. It works a lot like Google Alerts, but delivers the results to your home page and RSS feeds, rather than your email (Google Alerts can only send results to your email).

So what did you find? Are people talking about you? Are they saying mean and nasty things about your horrid lack of customer service, or are they singing your praises because you deliver more than you promise, you’re on time, and provide a great value?

Or did you find nothing? If you’re a glass-half-empty kind of person, that’s great, because no one is saying anything bad about you.

On the other hand, if you’re a marketer, this is awful news, because no one is talking about you! You are NOT the subject of anyone’s conversations. You have barely made a dent in the mindshare of your market. And you’re probably destined for more of the same until your company shuts down, which may be any time now.

If you want to jumpstart a conversation about your company, now is the time to start blogging and participating in social media. Read this blog, read Kyle Lacy’s blog, read Doug Karr’s blog. Or you can even give us a call.

Just start doing something right away.

Your Company Should Not Use Social Media. Ever.

Okay, maybe your company should, but not some of the more. . . tightly-clenched companies we’ve seen.

(Yeah, I realize we just pulled the social media equivalent of “SEX! Now that I have your attention. . .”, but this article truly is about social media.)

BL Ochman, over at the What’s Next blog, wrote a great post about why certain companies shouldn’t be on Twitter. A few reasons include “every Tweet has to be approved by Legal,” and “you are not going to respond when people direct Tweets at you.”

We see this a lot at Pro Blog Service. There are companies who want to enter the social media realm, but they shouldn’t.

With apologies to BL Ochman, here is our own list of reasons your company should not be doing social media.

    1. You have to deal with Legal or Regulatory Compliance issues. Ochman may have said it, but it bears repeating. A lot. I’ve had to deal with Legal departments in the past, and at best, they’re mild annoyances. But when they feel they need to actually dictate the marketing message, they become a roadblock to everything. That’s when the Marketing Department either needs to turn control of marketing to Legal, or ask for the rights to edit and rewrite all legal briefs. Then point them to Alexander Kjerulf’s post about BMW’s latest ads about how bureaucracy sucks.

 

    1. You don’t have the time to invest in it.We tell people all the time that you should spend at least 1 hour on social media per day. Every day. Week in, week out. Yes, you can take a break once in a while, but don’t let that break turn into a regular pattern of not doing anything. An abandoned blog or rarely-used Twitter account will wreck any social media goodwill you have gained. People will believe that you can’t stay committed to anything, whether it’s social media, or even customer service. (And yes, people do make this illogical leap, and then tell their own social networks about it.)

 

    1. When you’re in the middle of a crisis. Let’s face it, if you find yourself smack in the middle of a crisis, you’re too late. Domino’s learned that the hard way, after some employees posted a gross-out video on YouTube on April 13. Domino’s had a YouTube video and Twitter account ready to combat the negative fallout. Two days later. That’s right, Domino’s didn’t react to this PR nightmare for nearly two business days. Long enough for 1 MILLION people to see it on YouTube. Long enough that Google searches for “Domino’s” brought mention of the video up in 5 of the first 12 results. The time to set up social media is now, before a crisis or emergency hits, not after it does. Still, better late than never, so if you find yourself embroiled in a crisis, grab the closest recent-college-grad, plunk them in the PR department, and put them in charge of your social media response.

 

    1. You don’t want to track the ROI. Actually, this isn’t a bad thing, but measuring ROI is something we take seriously in the social media world. We measure things. We determine its effectiveness. We leave un-measurability and the “we’re just building the brand” excuses to PR and billboard companies. But not tracking the ROI often leads people to believe that 1) social media is not working, or that 2) something else resulted in the increased sales. If you want to be sure, measure it.

 

  1. Your IT department has a stranglehold on what websites and services the entire company can use. This one isn’t a deal-breaker, but when it comes a showdown between your department and the IT department, you’d better hope IT blinks first. Most IT departments take a Theory X “if you have fun, you’re not working” view of the rest of the company, and won’t allow anyone access to anything not directly related to work or occupational torture. For example, several months ago, one state government agency’s commissioner released an important public service announcement through YouTube, yet no one in the entire 900+ person agency was able to see the video, because the IT department blocked all access to YouTube, except for the one person who was able to upload it. If you want to get past the IT roadblock, make sure you have buy-in from someone with enough authority and firepower to make IT do their bidding.