≡ Menu

Next week I’m going to be getting together with some good friends to talk shop. One of the main topics of conversation will be what is commonly referred to as content marketing but is arguably just an extension of a solid SEO and social media strategy.

I like to call it SEO-friendly content (e.g. blog posts, infographics, videos, etc).

This type of content has been around for a long time – well before buzz phrases like “social media” were invented – and it has always been extremely effective in terms of driving search engine authority because it facilitates the securing of both solicited and unsolicited inbound links from bloggers, digital publications, and other authoritative websites. Some might say that it’s the ultimate form of link and PR fodder, especially if it’s coupled with effective outreach.

And yet only a fraction of businesses – large or small – are able to actually implement this tactic effectively. This is fairly odd in my opinion, since most industry surveys demonstrate that SEO is often one of if not the highest of priorities within the overall marketing mix. In other words, companies know that SEO is important and yet they are unable or unwilling to leverage one of the most effective weapons in the SEO arsenal.

The reason, based on my experience, is that SEO-friendly content marketing is counterintuitive to most traditional marketers and business stakeholders.

Here’s what I mean by that:

  1. Most marketers and business executives I’ve worked with think that the goal of every content asset is to explicitly promote the brand or sell a particular service or product
  2. Most marketers and business executives are trained to use conversion and revenue as the primary (or in some cases the only) success metric to gauge the effectiveness of a piece of digital content
  3. Most marketers and business executives have no real understanding of how and why non-promotional content assets can profoundly impact natural search authority (especially when coupled with targeted outreach)
  4. Most marketers and business executives don’t know how to utilize web analytics data to demonstrate how non-promotional content (and outreach) can result in measurable increases in natural search conversion and revenue

Many of you reading this are probably either incredulous (e.g. “Hugo, you’re crazy. How can most marketers and execs not understand these things? It’s practically 2013 for goodness’ sake!”) or demoralized (e.g. “Hugo, tell me something I didn’t know.”) and that’s ok.

If you’re in the former camp, consider yourself fortunate since you’ve obviously work in a very progressive marketing environment. If you’re in the latter camp, don’t fret. Just learn to frame the counter-intuitive nature of content marketing in a manner that resonates with your colleagues. Get them to take their traditional marketing hats off for a minute and find the case studies and data points that help drive home the tangible business value both in terms of SEO as well as other softer metrics like social reach.

And who knows. You could end up dragging your organization (kicking and screaming in some cases) towards a measurable increase in digital marketing ROI.

{ 19 comments }

For several years now, I’ve been working on a data-driven marketing platform of my own over at www.engagefinder.com (eight years if you count the time that I spent manually executing the link building technique that is the basis for this platform). I’ve shared it with handful of industry confidants to get their thoughts as well as work through some bugs and now I’m ready to share it with everybody.

It’s not a fancy tool-set like you’ll find in industry-leading portals like SEOmoz, SEO Book, or Raven Tools and it definitely doesn’t have the the myriad of enterprise-level bells and whistles of a truly robust platform like Conductor. It just does one thing and it does it extremely well; find completely new referring sites that are likely ready and willing to be an ongoing sources of SEO-friendly inbound links and social media influence.

Anyhow, if you want to know more about the platform or the story behind it feel free to do so.

In the meantime, understand that this decision to build a data-base driven marketing platform is a reflection of what I think the digital marketing industry is moving towards. It seems that with every passing day I come across a very specific tactical methodology that can fairly easily be turned into an automated and alert-driven process that saves time and insures that no important data points fall through the cracks. And as a matter of fact, that’s what this tool does; it takes a multi-step process that requires:

  1. a fair amount of finagling with analytics platforms like Google Analytics
  2. extensive amounts of Excel-jockeying
  3. a significant amount of sheer will power to continue the process of fishing for data that might prove to be devoid of any actionable information

and automates the entire process. The platform takes care of all these aforementioned tasks for me automatically and on a daily basis. And the kicker? It sends me a frickin’ email anytime it finds an actionable piece of information (a completely new referring domain in this case) and sends me nothing if there are no new referrers on a certain day! Sure, I can log in and review historical reports and custom cuts of the data if I want. But the real value is the hours of manual work that are no longer needed and that I can reinvest into more strategic pursuits.

I plan on building out many other similar automated data processes like this one, extending out across various marketing channels, and I know that many other really smart people are doing the same thing. What’s really beautiful, though, is that despite all of these efforts, we as an industry have barely scratched the surface on what data science and quantitative analysis can do for digital marketing and general business optimization.

And don’t worry. I’m fairly sure that there will always be a place for gut feeling, aesthetic principles, and bouts of spontaneous creativity. It’s just these traditional marketing elements are going to be surrounded by a sea of automation and artificial intelligence.

That’s a very good thing, by the way, because who the hell wants to sift through referral data and build out a constantly growing master spreadsheet of historical data manually when our new robot overlords underlings could do it for us?

: )

P.S. If you do decide to take the platform for a spin and run into bugs or have questions about how to get the ball rolling please don’t hesitate to ping me. That’s what I’m here for.

{ 0 comments }

Several months ago, I decided to become a data scientist. It was an easy decision when you consider the impact that algorithm-driven business models are making, but the actual manifestation of the goal is a different manner entirely. It’s been one of the most humbling and downright frustrating experiences in my life. I thought I had some mathematics and computer programming chops, but the material I’m pouring through on a nightly basis often leaves me pondering if I’m simply too obtuse to ever reach the upper echelon of the hacker set.

But I’ll continue pushing through, spending at least a few minutes of every day working on my core math skills as well as my coding ability, because the last two times I did this, the long-term ROI was staggering.

The first time around, I was a sales rep with zero web or marketing experience, who raised his hand when the boss asked for volunteers to learn about this “internet marketing” thing everyone is talking about (there year was 2002).

The second time around, it was 2007, and I was already knee deep into this interactive marketing thing of ours and seemed to be holding my own. Yet I realized that I simply did not have the verbal and visual communication skills needed to reach the upper tiers of leadership, so I decided to become a professional presenter.

It was settled. I would hone my Powerpoint skills and learn how to present to a room full of people.

And man did I suck at those two things.

But over time, as I invested more and more time reading books, watching the true pros, and practicing as much as possible, the challenges seemed less daunting and the progress seemed to come faster. Mind you, I’m still far from elite in terms of building a persuasive deck or mesmerizing the crowd when presenting in person.

In fact, on most days, I review the finished product and come away thinking that I more or less still suck.

However, I’m definitely orders of magnitude better than I was when I started this adventure, and every so often a decision is made and business gets done as a result of an idea I’ve presented and I realize that all of the effort I put in has paid off.

And so the process begins again with regards to data science. I’ve come to realize that my mathematical and statistical skills are sorely deficient. I’m definitely no Nate Silver. But I also know that time and dedication will result in a significant improvement in both tactical skill and strategic perspective.

Those are crucial weapons to wield in a marketing landscape that is become more sophisticated with every passing day.

P.S. Don’t fool yourself into believing that you’re already “good enough” at whatever skills you deem necessary for long-term success. Many a career and business idea has been stagnated by “good enough”, so always strive to shift from good to great.

{ 10 comments }

I’m reading a fascinating book on the evolution of math and statistics over the past 100 years, and its impact on the scientific method of inquiry. This particular passage really caught my eye:

“A scientific career is peculiar in some ways. Its reason d’etre is the increase of natural knowledge. Occasionally, therefore, an increase of natural knowledge occurs. But this is tactless, and feelings are hurt. For in some small degree it is inevitable that views previously expounded are shown to be either obsolete or false. Most people, I think, can recognize this and take it in good part if what they have been teaching for ten years or so comes to need a little revision; but some undoubtedly take it hard, as a blow to their amour propre, or even as an invasion of the territory they have come to think of as exclusively their own, and they must react with the same ferocity as we can see in the robins and chaffinches these spring days when they resent an intrusion into their little territories. I do not think anything can be done about it. It is inherent in the nature of our profession…”

Make no mistake about it. Marketing, and digital marketing in particular, is a science (or at least it should be). And we are all – including me – subject to the type of folly outlined in Ronald A. Fisher’s aforementioned quote.

Keep this top of mind in your day to day. It will help you avoid falling into the trap of believing that your years of experience and measurable ROI have somehow inoculated you from being wrong at least some of the time. It will also help remind you to constantly question even your most cherished conclusions.

This is crucial, because the coming years will bring about a literal avalanche of data-driven marketing methodology that will likely falsify many of the “best practices” that many of us have leaned on for years.

{ 8 comments }

A colleague of mine shared a presentation with me. It was about the correlation between TV air time and revenue generated by our website. There were some fascinating data points, some of which were counter-intuitive, which is always a good thing because data that goes against intuition is what typically gets the gears to start turning.

What stood out to me is the fact that this study was addressing a question that had never been asked before. Namely, how does TV promotion impact e-commerce?

These are the golden moments that can lead to new questions, new KPIs, or perhaps even a completely new way of prioritizing and setting business strategy. They are definitely not an everyday occurrence, and unfortunately for some businesses, they are not an occurrence at all. Why? Because a lot of businesses are satisfied with conducting business as usual.

Don’t be that business. Learn to cultivate those “nobody’s ever asked that before” moments.

“But how do you go about doing that” you ask?

I’m sure that there are a lot of ways, but here are a few that have worked for me over the years:

  1. Don’t lean on mainstream publications to inform your strategic approach – Sadly, the majority of colleagues I’ve had over the years subsist solely on information gleamed from mainstream publications and consultancies. Well guess what? That means you’re feeding your mind from the same trough that virtually all of your competitors are feeding from. And that will almost never lead to these golden moments. This approach a recipe for mediocrity in a marketing climate that’s rapidly becoming more and more of a zero sum game.
  2. Test anything and everything, especially if its new – Over the years, I’ve witnessed countless companies pass on strategies and tactics because they seemed foreign and outside of the mainstream marketing consciousness only to go into reactive mode a year or two (or ten) later once said tactic or strategy had reached the tipping point in terms of widespread acceptance.
  3. Invest in data science – The smartest people I know with access to the most privileged information around tell me that this is where the smart money (and people) are going. And I can tell you from personal experience as well as empirical data that few companies, even at the enterprise level, are fully leveraging data science to improve their business, let alone to improve their approach to marketing.

This third bullet point is a biggie for me. I spend a ridiculous amount of time playing with bigger and bigger sets of data (e.g. the kind that forces you to abandon Excel and learn SQL) and I’m also refreshing my math skills with an eye towards returning to school to pursue a degree in applied mathematics.

Why? Because data has revolutionized our understanding of the real world in the past 100 years or so and it will do the same to this marketing thing of ours in the coming years.

{ 0 comments }

I was going to put together a highly technical article to support my hypothesis, even going as far as to invoke shades of constructor theory, but then it hit me that’s its best to cover a counter-intuitive concept with a simply visual metaphor.

Simply put, good social media marketing is a bit of a magic trick.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I mean is that much like a good magic trick, it goes against common intuition. Still not following me? Well then let me lay out a few examples:

  1. Social media content shouldn’t overtly promote or market anything – instead it should be editorial in nature. This is a very difficult thing for many marketing executives to grasp – even at the enterprise level. They constantly get hung up on how a particular campaign or content is going to promote a particular product, service, brand, etc. They insist on making direct-response revenue the one of, if not “the”, primary KPI. Instead, strive to create editorial content that provides some sort of value to the human beings engaging with it first and foremost. Said content can be loosely related to the types of products/services your brand offers, but that should be far from the primary goal. Instead, the primary goal should be to make something interesting; something a human being will actually want to remember and share with friends. Sadly, this often not the case, because many marketers are still stuck in the traditional marketing mindset and insist on promotion when they should instead be focus on getting permission. Incidentally, if you do adopt this approach but your brand insists on working in some promotion, insist on an 80/20 rule (80% of the good stuff, 20% of the overtly promotional stuff).
  2. Social media’s best method for generating direct-response conversion is via natural search (e.g. SEO) – I often refer to this as a magic trick because when done properly, social media promotions can result in a steady stream of influential links from influential websites, which in turn, can drive improved natural search positioning (assuming you have all of the technical SEO facets in order). And once that happens, all it takes is a little bit of nimble analytics reporting to demonstrate how the social media had a direct impact on SEO conversion/revenue. The same magic trick can be employed by PR leaders looking to validate their efforts, but I digress…
  3. Social media is about much more than marketing – Astute marketers should immediately look to partner with cross-functional stakeholders in PR, customer service, and other key business divisions (including the C-suites) so that they can build out a fundamental social business strategy. Then and only then can you fully leverage the data and insights that digital social networks can provide.
Some of these ideas go directly against the grain of what most self-professed social media gurus are preaching these days. But as you likely already know, social media gurus are a dime a dozen. Measurably successful social media strategy is a much rarer gem.

 

{ 3 comments }

Every so often, Google Webmaster Tools adds a new wrinkle that makes life measurably easier for SEO leadership at large organizations. Index Status is one of those wrinkles.

This nifty little feature - which was released this past summer but has gotten relatively little fanfare considering the profound insights and leverage it can provide – does two things that I find crucial:

  1. It helps quickly diagnose very serious issues with duplicate and/or non-canonical URLs that could be wasting your daily allotment of crawl budget while simultaneously confusing the hell out of search engine crawlers.
  2. It provides a very intuitive data visualization that can be used to tell a very compelling story to cross-functional stakeholders, which in turn, can lead to the site and server-level implementation to overcome duplicate and canonical issues.

Now there are a few things to keep in mind that will help ensure that you get the most value possible out of this feature. For starters, in order to get to the really interesting data you need to click on the “Advanced” tab. That’s how you can gain access to “Not Selected” data, which essentially refers to URLs that have been crawled by Google but not indexed because of duplicate content issues or because of server-side redirects that are in place (and other issues as well). This is an important piece of data because it can give you a fairly accurate sense for whether or not you have major issues with rogue – often auto-generated – URLs.

In my experience, it’s normal to see a fairly high ratio of “Not Selected” to “Indexed” pages. In other words, more often than not, you’ll have a significant portion of your site’s URLs not selected for Google’s index particularly if you’ve had to implement a lot of server-side redirects (which is often the case for enterprise-caliber websites). However, if you have a ridiculous ratio of “Not Selected” to “Indexed” URLs or if you have a ridiculous overall number of “Not Selected” URLs (I’ve seen instances of sites with tens of millions of “Not Selected” URLs) or if the graph shows a major spike in either the ratio or absolute number of “Not Selected” URLs than it’s likely time to invest some significant resources into really opening up the hood to understand why, how, and how often Google is finding all of these URLs and why they are choosing to exclude them from the index.

Fact of the matter is that this Google Webmaster Tools feature won’t dive into granular details (e.g. provide the actual URLs being labeled as “Not Selected”, etc.) so you will need to employ advanced server log file analysis techniques like the one in the article I linked to above as well as other data-driven operations in order to figure out what URLs are being excluded, why they’re being excluded, how they’re being generated in the first place, and what you can do to remedy the situation in a scalable and technically feasible manner.

But even though this feature isn’t capable of any sort of deep dive, I still find that the simple ability to monitor this key metric and share visualizations with key organizational stakeholders in order to persuade them to make important technical and architectural changes make this feature really valuable.

Managing your site’s crawl budget is key, and that makes Index Status a nifty little tool indeed.

 

{ 6 comments }

I didn’t go to school for marketing. In fact, I never took as much as a single course in marketing during my college days. And in hindsight, that might have been a good thing.

Why?

Because with every passing day, I see some of the more traditional, subjective facets of marketing (what some refer to as the “art” of marketing) giving way to a much more analytical, dare I say mathematical, approach to marketing (what some refer to as the science of marketing). And I know that I’m not alone. It seems like with every passing day, more and more of the big opportunities lie in disciplines like marketing finance and big data science. I’m even starting to see some of the big players including skills like SQL in marketing leadership jobs that have historically focused on “idea” people as opposed to analysis people.

Even at the day to day level, it seems like more and more of the meetings I attend deal with statistical significance, A/B splits, and data integrity as opposed to campaign tag lines and marketing hooks. I’m loving it because I’m a big believer in creating a culture of testing, and creating that type of culture requires moving away from subjective approach to executing marketing campaigns and initiatives. Yet at the same time, it’s got me thinking that I should be spending my spare time sharpening up my mathematical, statistical, and programming skills (and perhaps even returning to school) so that I can keep pace with breakneck speed at which analytical sophistication impacts the various digital marketing channels that I work with.

And then I think about folks I’ve worked with that consider themselves “traditional marketers.” Pivot tables are foreign to them. A/B tests are a necessary evil if not an encumbrance. Marketing is all about getting credit for the next “big idea” or about documenting process or about schmoozing with colleagues and business partners.

Mind you, there’s certainly a place for big ideas, process, and schmoozing. There likely always will be. But as digital begins to overtake traditional individuals with a skill set geared only for the latter and not at all for the former will likely find themselves outflanked by individuals that took the time to develop both simultaneously.

And you can forget about it once TV finally succumbs and becomes a truly digital channel that’s subject to interactivity and analytics tracking.

So the moral of this story is this:

If you’re already knee deep in the scientific side of marketing, don’t become complacent. Keep refining and developing those skills and that knowledge base, because I can guarantee you that there are new generations of super smart and tech-savvy kids who could soon be nipping at your professional heels.

And if you’re one of these traditional marketers, recognize that you’re at a crossroads and take the steps necessary to ensure that you don’t become obsolete in the digital long run.

 

{ 8 comments }

Anyone who’s ever worked with me or for me knows that I’m not particularly fond of meetings. Especially if they’re unproductive. I’m the kind of guy that’s always asking for a few minutes back towards the end of a meeting if we’ve already worked through all of the key agenda items. I also encourage my direct reports to cut meetings short or cancel them altogether if there’s no productivity to be had.

I find that even at the enterprise level, a quick and informal five-minute chat can be just as productive – if not more so – than 30 minutes of a formal “go through the motions” staff meeting.

So what’s an enterprising digital marketer to do? After all, we know that meetings are an unavoidable part of corporate life and that those dreaded calendar invites are never going to stop showing up in your inbox, right? Well I think that I have found a few ways to leverage that very calendar program to help boost my actual marketing output and so I figured I’d share them with you.

Here are some of the most effective ones I’ve stumbled across thus far:

  • Schedule shorter meetings – I’m probably a bit on the extreme side and have been known to send out invites for five minute meetings (seriously) but it’s ok if you’re not ready to be that bold. What you can do is schedule 15 minute meetings instead of the typical 30 to 60 minute time slots. You’ll be surprised at just how much you can cram into a 15-minute segment when you condition yourself and your colleagues to work within that time constraint.
  • Replace your “To Do List” software with your calendar – For years, I use Outlook’s Task Manager application to manage my to-do list because it was great for prioritizing items as well as setting up recurring tasks. I also dabbled with awesome apps like Evernote. Eventually, I figured out that I could simply use my Outlook calender in the same manner (e.g. for scheduling to-dos) and this provided an additional and very subtle advantage. Adding just a few key recurring tasks made my calendar look busier and discouraged folks from booking too many meetings with me. And this is a beautiful thing because the truly necessary meetings that have real business value are still scheduled while those fluff meetings end up being sent my way less frequency. Mind you, I’m not out to intentionally deceive colleagues. Lying is not cool. It’s just that at the end of the day those time slots represent my time and I value my time greatly. The to-dos I add to my calendar represent real work deliverables that typically drive measurable business value and so I don’t feel bad about booking up those slots.
  • Set long-term goal reminders – It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while I get a good idea. Unfortunately, I can’t always act on the idea right away due to competing priorities. Instead of jotting them down on a post-it note or letting slip away into the background of my consciousness I set a calendar reminder on a date in the not-so-distant future and this helps ensure that said idea doesn’t fall through the cracks. The same goes for keeping tabs on an emerging technology or a cool up-and-coming vendor I don’t have time or budget for at the present time.
If you’re like me, you actually love and have a real passion for the work that you do. Therefore, you’d rather spend less time in a conference room or on a conference call and more time making the needle move.
Ironically, that very technology that brings all those time-suck meetings your way can also be a weapon in your productivity and marketing ROI arsenal.

 

{ 5 comments }

One of the few downsides of moving up the ranks in the enterprise marketing space is the gradual distancing that occurs between the more technical aspects of optimization and your day-to-day responsibilities.

I don’t get to perform keyword research or craft title tags or adjust bids or A/B test subject lines or suggest ad creative that often anymore.  I rarely get to perform email outreach. And I almost never get to play database administrator or web analytics dashboard creator.

Mind you, it’s not for lack of trying. I’ve made it a point throughout my career to make sure that I keep my tactical skills sharp, because I’m convinced that much like great military leaders, great marketing leadership is always close to the front lines and ready to role their sleeves up and get their hands dirty.

And speaking of rolling the sleeves up, let me tell you a story about togetherwerise.org.

My lovely wife turned me onto them a while back when she heard about their mission on a TV show. In a nutshell, they’re dedicated to improving the lives of children in foster care, and if you know anything about the plight and prospects of most foster children, you instantly realize the just how noble their cause truly is.

My wife was so touched by their mission that she decided to reach out to the organization and let them know that her husband was a digital marketer who would be willing to pitch in and help with their marketing and promotion efforts. I’m glad that she did, because their founder Danny responded, and as is the case with most non-profit organizations, they simply do not have the resource or expertise to maximize their reach via digital channels.

Fast-forward to today and we’ve begun a friendly dialogue between Danny and I, whereby he asks questions about search, social, etc. and I provide him with my point of view as well as useful marketing resources that will help them help themselves.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that most of the digital marketers out that I’ve befriended over the years (either virtually or in person) are truly good, altruistic people. At the same time, I’m painfully aware that modern society suffers varying degrees of apathy, resulting in a woeful shortage of volunteerism. After all, we’re all busy with work, family, partying, fantasy football, Reddit, celebrity watching, reality TV, scrolling through our iPhones, etc.

But I digress.

This is a digital marketing blog, so the main point of this post is to demonstrate how providing pro bono marketing consulting to a non-profit (or two, or ten) of your choice can help you keep your tactical skills sharp. Give it a shot when you get a chance.

It gives the acronym “ROI” a whole new meaning.

{ 2 comments }