What Links Can You Get That Comply with Google’s Guidelines? – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by MarieHaynes

If you’ve ever been the victim of a Google penalty, you know how painful it can be to identify the problem and recover from the hit. Even if you’ve been penalty-free thus far, the threat of getting penalized is a source of worry. But how can you avoid it, when it seems like unnatural links lurk around every corner?

In today’s Whiteboard Friday, we’re overjoyed to have Google penalty and unnatural link expert Marie Haynes share how to earn links that do comply with Google’s guidelines, that will keep your site out of trouble, and that can make a real impact.

Links that comply with Google

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Hey everybody. My name’s Marie Haynes, and today we’re going to talk all about links. If you know anything about me, you know that I’ve done a lot of work with unnatural links. I’ve done a lot of work helping people with Penguin problems and unnatural link penalties. But today we’re going to talk about natural links. I’m going to give you some tips about the types of links that you can get that comply with Google’s guidelines. These links are sometimes much harder to get than unnatural links, but they’re the type of link that Google expects to see and they’re the type of link that can really help improve your rankings.

I. Ask

Number one is to ask people. Now some people might say, “Wait, that’s not a natural link because I actually had to ask somebody to get it.” But if somebody is willing to vouch for your website, to link to your website, and you’re not giving them anything as an incentive in return, then that actually is a good link. So you can ask family members and friends and even better is employees. You can say, “Hey, if you have a blog, could you mention that you work for us and link to us?” Now, if they have to hide the link somewhere to make it actually happen, then that may not be the best link. But if they legitimately are happy to mention you and link to your company, then that’s a good natural link that Google will appreciate.

II. Directories

People are probably freaking out saying, “Directories are not natural links. They’re self-made links.” I’m not talking about freelinkdirectory.com and other types of spammy directories where anybody in the world could create a link. I’m talking about directories that have a barrier to entry, a directory that you would expect that your business would be listed there, and a directory perhaps that people are actually using. A good place to get listed in these directories where you expect to see businesses is Moz Local. Moz Local can really help with the types of directories that you would expect to see your site listed in.

There are sometimes also, though, niche directories that perhaps you have to do a little bit of searching for. For example, let’s say that you’re a wedding photographer. You might want to be listed in a local city directory that tells people where to find musicians for their wedding and venues for the wedding and also wedding photographers. That can be a really good link, and it’s the type of link that would bring you traffic as well, which is another indicator of a good link. A good way to find these opportunities is to search for your competitors’ phone number. You can do a search for the phone number minus their site, and that should give you a list of directories that Google actually thinks are good examples of links to your site. You can approach those directories and see if you can get a link to your site.

III. Industry connections

Most businesses have connections with suppliers, with vendors, with clients, and with partners. These are places where you would expect to see that your business is listed. If you can get listed on these types of lists, then that’s a good thing. A good way to find these is to find out what lists are your competitors on, take a look at their link profiles, and see if there’s anything there where you should be listed as well.

IV. Unclaimed brand/name mentions

This is a place where somebody has mentioned your business, mentioned your website, perhaps mentioned your name, but they haven’t linked to you. It’s perfectly okay to reach out to those people and say, “Hey, thank you for mentioning us. Could you possibly link to us as well?” A lot of the time that can result in a link. You can find these opportunities by using Moz Fresh Web Explorer. Also, I think every business should have set up Google Alerts to tell you when somebody has mentioned your business.

However, even with these set up, sometimes some things get missed, and so I recommend every month that you go and you do a search for your brand name and subtract out your website. You might want to also subtract out sites like YouTube or Facebook if you have a lot of those listings as well. Then, set the date back for one month and see what new mentions have happened in that last month. You may be able to reach out to some of those businesses to get links.

V. Reclaim broken links

A way that you can find broken links to your website is to go to Google Search Console and look at the crawl errors. What I’m talking about here is a place where somebody has linked to your website but perhaps they’ve misspelled the URL. What you can do, there are two ways that you can reclaim these. One is to reach out to the site and say, “Hey, thanks for linking to us. Could you maybe fix the typo?” Number two is to create a redirect that goes from the misspelled URL to the properly spelled URL. When you do this, you lose a tiny little bit of link equity through the redirect, but still it’s much better than having a link that goes to a broken page, because a link that goes to a 404 page is one that doesn’t count for PageRank matters.

VI. Be awesome

Journalists are always looking for stuff to write about. If you can do something with your business that is newsworthy, then that’s fantastic. Something you can do is create an event or perhaps do something for charity, and journalists love to write about that kind of thing.

A good way to find opportunities to do things like this is to do a Google search for local and your profession. Let’s say you were a hair salon. You could do a Google search for local hair salon and then click on news. You’ll see all sorts of news stories that journalists have written about. Perhaps a local hair salon has offered free haircuts for veterans. That gives you an idea of something that you can do as well. That also gives you a list of the journalists that are writing these types of stories. You can reach out to those journalists and say, “Hey, our business is doing this awesome thing. Would you consider writing a story about us?” Generally, that would include a link back to your website.

VII. Get press? Get more!

If you’re getting press, do things to get more of that press. I have a story about a client who had a product who went viral. What he ended up doing was contacting all of those people who had linked to him and offering himself as a source for an interview. We also contacted people who mentioned the product but didn’t link to him and said, “Hey, could you possibly link to us? We’d be happy to do an interview. We’d be happy to provide a new angle to the story.” So if you’re doing something that is going viral, that is getting a lot of press, often that means that people are super interested in this aspect of your business, and you can usually, with a little bit of work, get more links out of that process.

VIII. HARO

…Which stands for Help A Reporter Out. HARO is an email list that connects journalists with businesses, with professionals as well. These journalists are looking for a source. For example, if you’re a dentist, there might be a journalist who’s doing a story about teeth whitening. That journalist might want to use you as a source and then link to you. A tip that I can offer is, if you’re using Gmail, is to set up filters in Gmail so that you only see the HARO requests that contain your keyword or your business. Otherwise, you can get up to three of these emails a day, and it can be a little bit overwhelming and fill up your inbox.

IX. What content is already getting links?

A good way to do this is to go to Google Search Console, Links to your site, Most linked content, and click on More. This is going to give you a list of the URLs on your site and the number of domains that are linking to those URLs. If you download the list, you’ll also be able to see the exact URLs where the links are coming from. If you have content on your site that actually is already attracting links, then this is the type of content that you want to promote to other people to get more links. You can also contact the people who did link to you and say, “Thank you so much for linking to me. Is there something else that we could produce that would be useful for your customers, for your readers?” Often that can give you good ideas for creating new content, and the links are right there if those people are willing to give you ideas to write about.

X. 10X Content

This is creating content that’s 10 times better than anything that’s out there on the web. This doesn’t have to be expensive. It can just be a matter of answering the questions that people have about your product or your business. One thing that I like to do is go to Yahoo Answers and search for my product, for my profession, and see what kind of questions people are asking about this profession or product, because if people are asking the question on Yahoo Answers, it often means that the answer is not easily available on a Google search. You can create content that’s the best of its kind, that answers any questions that people might have, and you can reach out and ask for links. If this is really, truly 10X content, it is the type of content that should attract links naturally as well.

So these are 10 ways that you can get links that will comply with Google’s guidelines and really should make a difference in your rankings. These are going to be harder than just going to a free link directory or using some spammy techniques to make links, but if you can do this type of thing, it’s the type of thing that really moves the needle. You don’t need to be worried about the Web Spam Team. You can be proud of the types of links that you’re getting.

Thanks for watching. I’d be interested in seeing what types of links you have gotten by creating great things, by doing things that Google would expect businesses to do. Leave a comment below, and I’m sure we’ll have a great discussion about how to get links that comply with Google’s guidelines.


For more educational content and Google news from Marie, be sure to sign up for her newsletter or one of her new course offerings on SEO.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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January 20, 2017  Tags: , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

How to Identify Your E-commerce Product Page Keywords Using MozBar

Posted by BrianChilds

A common challenge when doing SEO for e-commerce sites is deciding how to choose keywords for product pages. When it comes to e-commerce in particular, there’s always that question on a page-by-page basis of “Which keyword is right for this page?” Especially for existing sites that need an SEO update, finding time to do page-specific keyword research can be burdensome. But product pages deserve every ounce of SEO they can get. Today, I’ll show you a way to make your e-commerce product page keyword research a lot easier.

My secret weapon?

MozBar.

By the end of this post, you’ll discover how you can easily:

  • Look at the results for keywords related to your topic and get a sense of which words deliver the most similar results
  • Get a sense for how search engines might see your term versus others
  • Find related topics that deliver similar results, note those words, and then use them on your page
  • Save time identifying what represents a good keyword and whether the results match your expectations

Let me show you how.

What makes a good SEO e-commerce keyword?

Since e-commerce pages often have direct competition from other websites, you need to go above and beyond when it comes to optimization. You’ll want to make sure you take into consideration not only the search intent of your desired customer, but also verify that the keyword you choose is actually delivering similar results in the SERP. When people search for products, you want to measure how narrow you have to go before a search result page starts displaying products similar to what you have.

For this example, I’ll use an e-commerce site that sells macbook and car decals. Think of all the different variants of those two broad search terms. There are 12 different subcategories of car decals alone.

One category is family decals, which allows a person to pick and choose amongst individual icons to create a customized family to display on the back of your minivan.

For this family decal segment, there are dozens of different individual product pages, so the goal is to make sure we optimize not just for a broad term like “car decal” but for a more nuanced term like “family car decal.” And then for the products themselves, dig into modifying terms relevant to the features.

Use MozBar to save time researching SEO e-commerce keywords

A common way to figure out what’s showing up for a search term is to just run a search query. But when you have thousands of pages, this can take forever.

This is where the MozBar Page Optimization feature really helps you get the job done. It allows you to stay on the website to do analysis without jumping between tabs to run search queries.

Let’s go through the steps.

1. First, of course, download the MozBar extension for Google Chrome (I’ll wait).

2. Next, go to your product page and activate your MozBar extension by selecting the icon until it turns blue (there are three statuses, FYI — on, DA mode, and off).

mozbarmode.gif

3. Then, select the Page Optimization icon near the top-left of your browser window. The icon looks like a little page with a circle in the corner:

4. A small text box window will appear. You’ll want to have a list of terms ready to go, so if you haven’t done your keyword research yet, head over to Keyword Explorer and use the “Suggestions” tool to get some preliminary ideas. I usually enter a broad category-level keyword, then select “Optimize”:

mozbaroptimize.gif

In addition to all the normal great stuff that MozBar provides, such as Domain Authority and Page Authority, the Page Optimization tool also gives you a quick overview of how well this individual page is optimized for the term you’re researching. This is similar to the information you’d get in the Moz Pro Campaign tools, but here you can see it for any page without having to have Moz open in another tab.

5. Once you’ve entered your search term, select the “On-Page Content Suggestions” tab:

The On-Page Content Suggestions tab shows you a list of keywords that the search engines typically associate with the term you entered. Think of this as other planets in the same constellation as the keyword you entered. You can use these generally to understand what additional words to put on your page, but you can also use them to identify the target keyword for the page overall.

Here’s where this gets awesome. Prepare to shave minutes off of your normal workflow.

Aligning search intent with e-commerce keywords

Starting with your highest-value products, navigate to the product page, open up MozBar, enter in your broad target keyword for the associated category, and then select the On-Page Content Suggestions tab.

Then, look for the keywords from the list that appear most aligned with your specific product. In this example, we’re looking at a family car decal product that exists in a broader category of car decals.

The question to ask is: Which keyword displays products that are most similar to your product?

If you can find results that align closely with your product, then you can understand something about how search engines are interpreting the term and have a higher chance of optimizing for the right keywords.

To see which pages are ranking for a given suggested keyword, simply select the “See top ranking URLs” dropdown. It will display the URL and rank position of sites delivering content similar to your initial target search term:

mozpartopurl.gif

Using this example, you can interpret that “family stickers” definitely delivers results closely aligned with this product. Note that this correlates to the blue “Relevance” bar associated with that suggested keyword.

Make a note of the terms that are providing highly aligned search results pages, and then move onto the next product page. Once you have your list compiled, you’ll be able to be more selective and informed with your page optimization choices.

I hope you find this e-commerce keyword trick helpful. Let me know in the comments section of this article!

Bonus tip for making your life easy:

When doing this kind of research, I recommend saving yourself some time down the road by copying the URLs that show up in the On-Page Content Suggestions tab into a new spreadsheet or document. You can compile and research these URLs later using Open Site Explorer.

When it comes time to think about building links to my optimized pages, you’ll have a ready list of competitors to analyze. Look at their Inbound Links, Top Pages, and Anchor Text in Open Site Explorer in order to create a list of potential linking sites and content ideas.

Get started with MozBar for Chrome

If you’re interested in more keyword research strategies, consider signing up for a Keyword Research Workshop in the Moz Training site. For a deeper dive on MozBar, sign up for our January 24 webinar!

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January 19, 2017  Tags: , , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

What We Learned From Analyzing 1.4 Million Featured Snippets

Posted by Ghergich

What you should know about featured snippets

Recently my agency Ghergich & Co. teamed up with SEMrush to conduct an in-depth study on featured snippets. SEMrush generously compiled and shared 1,400,000 featured snippets from their database for us to analyze.

What makes this study different?

Our study focused on 30 questions, prepositions, and comparison search phrases instead of a random set of keywords.

Anecdotally, many other SEOs and I saw that pages that answer questions — such as who, what, when, where, and how — tend to be great at earning featured snippets.

Our goal was to see if our “gut feelings” were backed by data. In most cases they were, but with a few surprising caveats. Let’s dive into the findings.

Featured snippet questions

Featured snippet questions: who, what, where, when, are, will, etc.

Group findings

  • The questions group as a whole is fantastic at earning featured snippets, especially paragraph snippets.
  • “How” (46.91%) and “Have” (17.71%) significantly outperformed the other questions when it came to earning lists.
  • “Which” (16.20%) was the top performer by a wide margin for earning tables.

Breakdown of featured snippet questions:

Featured snippet prepositions

Featured snippet prepositions: For, like, to, with, without

Group findings

  • The prepositions group, as a whole, earned lists at the highest rate of any group.
  • “For” (11.38%) was best at earning table snippets.
  • “Like” (94.09%) was the best at earning paragraph snippets.

Breakdown of featured snippet prepositions

Breakdown of featured snippet prepositions: what percentage earned tables, lists, or paragraphs?

Featured snippet comparisons

Featured snippet comparisons: compare, comparison, compared, comparing, price, pricing, priced, versus, vs

Group findings

  • The comparison group as a whole excelled at earning tables.
  • “Price” (38.56%) keywords earned tables at more than double the rate any other keyword in the group.
  • Our “SEO gut” told us “vs” and “versus” keywords would rock at earning tables. Our gut was wrong. Instead, they were fantastic at earning paragraph snippets (99%).

Breakdown of featured snippet comparisons

Breakdown of featured snippet comparisons: what earned the highest percentage of tables, lists, and paragraphs?

Featured snippets overall breakdown

Featured snippets overall breakdown: did questions, prepositions, or comparisons earn the most lists, tables, or paragraphs?

I find it interesting that each group of keywords had a very telling overall pattern.

The comparison group earning 11.72% tables seems like a low number. Remember, though, that the content has to exist in the top 10 search results and be in a proper table format.

In my opinion, there are many cases where Google simply does not have a good table to show, so it defaults to an easier format, like paragraphs.

Optimal featured snippet lengths

Optimal featured snippet lengths

Key findings: Featured snippet paragraph lengths

The optimal length of a featured snippet paragraph is roughly 40 to 50 words, or around 300 characters. An earlier study by SEMrush also showed 40 to 50 words to be sweet spot for paragraphs, so I feel confident in this number.

Optimal featured snippet lengths chart

Key findings: Featured snippet list lengths

The average number of items in a list was four, but that number is not what we should focus on. Instead, focus on the maximum number of items in the list. Here’s why that matters:

Screenshot: SERP & snippet for "benefits of link building"

When creating a list, it’s a good idea to make it longer than the eight-item maximum (when possible). This prompts Google to display the “More Items…” text, which can lead to better engagement.

For that same reason, make each bulleted item have enough words in it so Google truncates each item. This can also be helpful if your list is shorter than eight items.

Key findings: Featured snippet table lengths

Like with lists, focus on the fact that Google is going to show a maximum of three columns and up to nine rows per table.

Screenshot: SERP & snippet for denny's menu prices

A few things are going on here:

  • You can see Google is showing “143 more rows,” just like it does with lists.
  • However, the website Restaurant Meal Prices is actually outranking the best source for this information: Denny’s themselves.
  • The problem is that Denny’s does not have their data formatted the way Google wants to display it — in a table.
  • Google used to show “more columns,” but seems to have dropped that support and now just picks the most relevant 3 rows.
  • Clearly my new low-carb diet is not affecting my search behavior.

Practical application #1: Snatch featured snippets from competitors

Here’s how:

  1. Review your top 10 rankings for keywords that show featured snippets, but that someone else is ranking for.
  2. Check to see if your content matches the format of the featured snippet.
  3. If you have a format issue, fix it. If the format is correct, tweak your answer to better match search intent.
  4. Once you upload your new content, use Search Console to force Google to quickly re-crawl that page.
  5. You may earn the snippet within 30 minutes, but it will most likely take a few days.
  6. If more than a week goes by, repeat steps three and four.

Examples

I ran steps one and two on Moz’s The Beginner’s Guide to SEO, which is a great example of what foundational SEO content should look like. Let’s look at some low-hanging fruit.

Keyword: “How search engines work”

Screenshot: SERP & snippet for "how do search engines work"

Moz ranks #1, but Google believes that Makeuseof.com is doing a better job of answering the search’s intent.

Keyword: “What is link building”

Screenshot: SERP & snippet for "what is link building"

Again, Moz’s guide is ranking #1, but it isn’t earning the featured snippet. These are just two examples out of many I was able to quickly find for The Beginners Guide to SEO.

I believe Moz could snatch featured snippets like these with simple text or format tweaks. The same opportunities are likely there for your site as well.

Bonus: Once you are in a good place with this process, expand it to featured snippet keywords you rank 11th through 20th on. Typically, with a content refresh and some internal linking or promotion, you can move those to at least the 10th position in Google. Once you do that, you can earn the snippet.

Practical application #2: Earn featured snippets during content production

It’s easier to snatch snippets than to earn them from scratch, so start there. However, you are constantly creating new content, right? …Right?

When you craft new content, tailor it to earn featured snippets right out of the gate.

Here’s how:

  1. Compile a list of keywords in your niche that show snippets you don’t rank in the top 20 for.
  2. Create new content optimized for the format Google uses to display the snippet.
  3. Start with content that reaches people in the bottom of the funnel, like comparisons.. The volume is low, but the conversions can be high.
  4. Rinse and repeat.

Using this technique will give your editorial team a break. I’ve had the pleasure of presenting with Chris Bennett several times. To paraphrase one of his key points about content creation: When you use data to fuel topic ideation, content creation becomes more about resources and less about brainstorming.

Bonus: Once you’re in a groove with new content production, you can branch out to keywords you think Google would show a featured snippet for if the optimized content existed.

Keyword: “How to choose keywords”

Screenshot: SERP & snippet for "how to choose keywords"

Moz ranks second. To earn a featured snippet, it could incorporate a list format on this page or encourage a contributor to create a new post formatted specifically for this topic.

Remember, you don’t have to create an ordered list. For example, consider the following:

Fine, but not necessary:

  1. Collect Underpants
  2. ???
  3. Profit!

This format works, too:

  1. Collect Underpants: The collecting of underpants is a proven way to 10x…
  2. ???: This second step has been shrouded in mystery. However, if you RT this post, give me your email and five of your richest and most gullible friends’ emails, I will show you exactly how to…
  3. Profit!: I know what you’re thinking: Wow! This is too good to be true! But it’s not! Simply input your credit card number to unlock my automated underpants-collection and profit-making system. Believe me!

Closing thoughts

Do your site a favor. Conduct a featured snippet audit and start snatching, earning, and creating data-driven content targeted toward featured snippets.

Do yourself a favor. Follow people like Dr. Pete, Rob Bucci, Eric Enge, Cyrus Shepard, and Glenn Gabe on Twitter. They all share studies, insights, and presentations on featured snippets (among other things). I plan to share a lot more snippets as well, so feel free to follow me, too: @SEO (shameless plug).

Lastly, be sure to snag the raw numbers in this Google Doc.

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January 18, 2017  Tags: , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

MozBar Revived! How We Rebuilt MozBar to be More Robust Than Ever—Plus a Brand-New Feature

Posted by Roxana_Nelson

2016 was quite a year for MozBar…

I’m so pleased to announce that we’ve completely rebuilt the foundation for MozBar, making it more robust and reliable, and we’ve launched a new MozBar Premium feature: On-Page Content Suggestions!

Download MozBar for Chrome

But before we get into the fun, new feature stuff, I want to be completely transparent about some of the challenges we faced early last year:

We’re listening and taking it all to heart. Thank you for having our back with your excellent feedback!


So what the heck exactly happened in the first half of 2016?

We had a roadmap of features that we wanted to release in 2016, but soon realized MozBar hadn’t been built to support the growth we had planned for it going forward. We wanted to continue to innovate but it just wasn’t scalable.

For the longest time, all MozBar projects were shipped by a small, self-contained team consisting of a product manager (yours truly), a designer, and our contract developer. In May, our rockstar contract developer left to pursue his own projects. We had big dreams for MozBar but now found ourselves without a developer, without a process, and with big scalability issues on the horizon.

In the midst of all this, we found a major vulnerability to our API via MozBar. It was putting too much pressure on our servers and negatively affecting data for our users. To address this, we urgently needed to add in security layers, such as requiring a login and a CAPTCHA. This ended up being a really complicated process. As we attempted to roll out fixes, one new fix seemed to inevitably break something else. It was no fault of anyone person, just a symptom of the mounting technical debt we had accrued. Avid MozBar users quickly noticed the problems we were having. It was making their jobs harder — the antithesis of what MozBar was created for. We could not let this go on.

We knew what we needed to do.

We created a dedicated MozBar team to work all-hands-on-deck to rebuild MozBar from the ground up to make it fast, reliable, and ready to launch a new feature by the end of the year. And I’m happy to say, we did it! We made stabilizing MozBar our number-one priority and were able to build a new backend service that would resolve the data issues that plagued MozBar throughout all of summer 2016. This brand-new foundation would also give us a solid ground to launch innovative new features in a smart, sustainable way. After we stabilized MozBar, our first order of business was to revamp the Page Optimization feature of MozBar Premium (exclusive to Moz Pro customers) and add On-Page Content Suggestions!

How can On-Page Content Suggestions help you?

Content Suggestions helps you easily find ideas for the page you are optimizing to help build your topical authority. These suggestions are topics that are influencing the SERP for the keyword you’re optimizing for. Use these content suggestions to beef up any thin content on your page and become the expert on your topic. As a bonus, you can even use content suggestions as a keyword list to help round out keywords you’re already researching.

How does it work? We take the top results for the keyword you’re optimizing for, extract the most popular topics, then order them by frequency. Sound familiar? This feature also lives in Moz Pro.

The benefit of having this feature in MozBar as well is that you now have the flexibility to analyze any page and keyword combination, not just ones you are tracking in your campaigns. And it’s super easy to use! Just enter a keyword you would like to optimize a page for, hit enter, and all of your page optimization factors and on-page content suggestions are surfaced in one view:

Be sure to check out an upcoming MozBar tutorial post from Brian, Moz’s very own product trainer, and sign up for the first-ever MozBar webinar he’ll be hosting next week. Also keep an eye out for Rand’s deep-dive post on how to get the biggest bang for your buck with On-Page Content Suggestions. You will not want to miss these.

I am so incredibly proud of the MozBar team and all of the contributions they’ve made to the toolbar in the past year. We know we still have room to improve and grow; believe me, there’s a long list of things to do. There’s also a long list of exciting new features that we have planned for you, too!

Ready to check it out?

And most importantly, we are so appreciative of all of you who’ve stuck with us, have been vocal about issues as they pop up, and worked directly with us to troubleshoot issues that you’ve encountered. If it weren’t for your feedback, support, and patience, we’d be in the dark, so thank you.

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January 17, 2017  Tags: , , , , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

Programmatic Delivery: The Future of Content Marketing and Promotion?

Posted by SimonPenson

Content promotion is hard. Disparate audiences and an ever-growing proliferation of channels to reach them through has made the life of a content marketer incredibly tough.

What would you say, however, if there was a single solution to reaching EXACTLY the right people at exactly the right time, across any and every channel in real time?

It may sound like a pie-in-the-sky opportunity but the reality is such an option is actually very, very close. In fact, for some it already exists.

That option is ‘programmatic.’

Although still in its infancy from a content perspective, the technology and methodology behind it offers massive potential for the world of content marketing, and even SEO.

So, what is programmatic?

For those not fluent in the often complex and seemingly inaccessible world of programmatic and its associated buzzwords and acronyms, let’s go back to the basics for a second.

Programmatic is a term used to describe the buying of advertising using software and algorithms.

It’s something that is currently lighting up the world of advertising as it takes out the ponderous and inefficient human element, allowing advertisers to reach the right people when they are in exactly the right place.

We can see below just how fast the uptake is expected to grow over the next couple of years:

There’s no escaping its grasp, so we ought to find out how it works, right?

In the simplest terms here’s what it looks like.

At one end of the ‘system’ you have what is called a Demand-Side Platform: a place where all advertisers queue up and share what kinds of people they want to reach.

On the other side we have the Supply-Side Platform: an inventory library where media owners, publishers, and so on tell the ‘machine’ what they have available to sell.

So far, so simple!

In the center lies the Ad Exchange, into which those publishers pour their available impressions and buyers use the tech in the Demand-Side Platforms to pick what they want to buy. This is usually done via an interface that allows you to target based on anything from demographics to recent purchase behavior and interests, and even intent.

The process of buying and selling then happens REALLY fast, in the time it takes to load the page(s) being bid on. During that split second, an auction takes place, with the highest bid winning the right to show inventory in that spot.

This is called Real-Time Bidding and is what many rightly believe is the future of programmatic and advertising in general. The platform we use to ‘play’ in this space is called Cadreon, but there are a plethora of different routes to market, either directly as a client or via an agency solution.

Before we move on and talk about why this matters to marketers, it’s worth mentioning that there is another version of programmatic known as Advanced Programmatic (or Programmatic Direct), where larger agencies pre-buy inventory at scale in order to obtain discounted pricing for buying in bulk or to secure premium and in-demand inventory. They can then use that ‘space’ as they wish, deploying it via the same system to take advantages of the audience targeting opportunity.

To get a more detailed overview of programmatic, we’ve created this free guide as part of a ‘beginners guide pack’:

So this is for advertising, right?

By now you may well be thinking that I’ve lost my mind and gone all ‘advertising’ on you. But this is entirely the point.

The world sees this as a pure-play advertising opportunity, but the reality could be quite different.

Yes, it reinvents advertising. But if you think about those adverts as simply ‘holes in the Internet,’ then we can begin to bring content into the conversation.

Holes in the Internet

At risk of stating the obvious, advertising creative is not ‘content.’ At its worst it shouts to gain our attention, and at best it still tries too hard to connect directly to a brand, or direct response opportunity.

Imagine, then, if we used those spaces to highlight an amazing piece of review content, like this fantastic ‘Which Macbook Should I Buy?’ guide by Wirecutter. Using programmatic, we could target that at people that have visited a retail store that stocks Apple within the last two weeks and have also been to the Apple site.

Another example: a great video review like this by a prominent UK automotive media brand of the best sports car to buy to someone that has just test-driven an Audi R8.

The opportunities are endless.

Native advertising

Some might say this is the natural extension of the currently rudimentary opportunities presented by the ‘native advertising’ world through platforms such as Outbrain and Taboola.

This is, however, like comparing use of the Google Display network for ad creative distribution with using real-time programmatic: a walled garden restricted to just Google publisher websites versus a programmatic play that could reach out to almost every site on the web and across some really exciting other areas like TV, radio, and out-of-home, to boot. We’ll come to how they fit in shortly.

While native advertising helps us position the opportunity in our heads (using space traditionally seen as for adverts for content), it is important to understand how much more powerful programmatic reach is.

There is one really interesting player starting to make waves in this space, and that is a Florida-based company called Triple Lift.

The model offered allows brands to buy native inventory using programmatic tech, offering advertisers a way into those ‘walled garden’ spots within content areas. This is grade-A real estate for content marketers as we look to blend the line between advertising and content further.

Interestingly, however, and probably due to the tech only being sold into advertisers as opposed to content marketers, the examples show ad-based creative as opposed to engaging content. Below, however, we can see how an article looks placed through the platform on Digg:

Adding in other channels

While traditional digital advertising is either based on keyword targeting (Adwords, for example) or is more audience-focused but limited to a single network or small pot of ‘networks’ (see Google Display Network or Facebook Audience Network), the best programmatic platforms reach much, much further.

Any good system will give you options across the following, for example:

  • Doubleclick Bid Manager for access to the Google stack
  • Amazon
  • Tube Mogul for video solutions across the web, including Facebook and Instagram
  • AOL, including Microsoft and Yahoo properties
  • Private large site marketplaces such as Pubmatic and Rubicon Project, proving access to the likes of Time Warner, Zoopla, and The Times
  • Radio channels
  • Out-of-home inventory – digital billboards, etc.
  • TV advertising

There are then a number of intermediaries whose job it is to specialize in connecting media opportunities together such as Drawbridge and Tapad for cross-device targeting. A quick overview guide of the players in the ecosystem can be seen below and should be explored as part of any strategy:

The benefit of this whole-of-market approach was summed up brilliantly in an article for Marketing Week by Jonathan McCauley-Oliver, the online sales manager at National Rail Enquiries in the UK.

They use programmatic to ensure that ads against the millions of page impressions its website receives each month are served smoothly and to their target audiences.

He explained:

“If I go to a marketer and say that I can deliver your message to the one person who is likely to buy your product, that is worth a lot. If I can do that in five seconds to 8 million users, they’ll bite my hand off. This one-to-one relationship is afforded by these advancements in technology.”

Imagine this as a central tool in your content distribution arsenal…

How could this work in the wild?

With a ‘full stack’ of Supply-Side options at your disposal, the world looks very, very exciting, especially when you start to think about how you can follow and interact with your audience, almost irrespective of where you are.

The process starts with an understanding of where your audience can be found elsewhere on the web. We can use a number of tools and platforms that you may already be well aware of as part of the wider audience understanding work you do across marketing to do this.

Audience understanding

Before you start any campaign, you MUST have a clear idea of where your target consumers are. To do this, I follow a basic process:

1. At Zazzle we have access to a great tool called Global Web Index. It’s something I’ve written and spoken about several times recently, as it’s becoming a core cog in the overall strategic wheel. In this process we use it to tell us which channels our audience uses regularly, such as in the example below.

Here we see three similar brands compared to the UK average (purple). It is clearly telling us that they use search and consumer review sites. This provides validation that our targeting will work.

2. Next, we want to get more granular. To do this, we start with Comscore and Hitwise, a leading supplier of audience insight data. From within it we can extract information on everything from which sites our audiences go to before and after ours, as well as a broader view of interests and visit behavior. You can see below an example of what an upstream report looks like for the BBC website in the UK:

Using these two tools, you can quickly build up an accurate picture of where your audience is hanging out, either by analyzing your own site or those of your competitors or industry leaders.

For those that can’t stretch to such enterprise tools, Alexa and Similarweb can give you similar information, albeit from smaller data sets.

3. We can also layer over a multitude of other data here. These are usually segmented into the following pots:

In reality, you would rarely need to worry about individual data providers. However, many of the programmatic platforms aggregate this into their systems to give you a one-stop solution to target correctly (we talk about example platforms a little later).

Creative

In creating this guide we are assuming that you already have the process of creating the right kind of content nailed. I’ve written previously about how to design content strategies and campaigns to maximize impact if there are any question marks over your approach, but the beauty of this delivery mechanism is that it’s just as effective for articles and guides as it is for major campaigns.

To understand what I mean, let’s look at a couple of theoretical examples and how that could play out:


Example 1: Video review content for a person buying a sports car

Imagine the scene: You’ve been thinking about buying a new car for several months and finally, after several attempts, you’ve got a weekend free to test out that car of your dreams.

On Saturday you test three rival brand options and go away more confused than ever, as the car you thought you wanted wasn’t the best to drive.

That night, as you ponder that decision, those brands want to be front-of-mind. The smartest of the three has deployed a programmatic ad content strategy. By collating geo-location data alongside information from its own test drive database and by looking at Google searches, YouTube viewership, etc, the brand can work out which cars are in the frame.

This presents a unique opportunity.

Rather than deliver a display banner, all the data within the setup could provide us the opportunity to deliver a richer content experience. If we know that a user lives in Brighton, currently drives a sports car that is 3 years old, and has been researching new cars, we could tailor his brand experience accordingly (e.g. content could provide local Brighton dealerships, knowing user already has sports car and lease could be expiring soon).

Or, even smarter than that, it could serve up a YouTube-hosted video favorably comparing their car with that of the rivals.

A call-to-action could then take that person to the brand site and onto a dynamically personalized page that presents the strongest argument for buying their car.

I don’t know about you, but I would be pretty impressed by that experience.


Example 2: A person buying a laptop

It’s a similar story for businesses in the retail sector. Let’s say you run an ecommerce business and want to help add value at the critical point of the purchase funnel: when a potential customer is making their final decision on which product to buy.

This could play out in any purchase process, but for the sake of this second example, let’s imagine it is for laptops.

The decision is down to the last two options (Macbook Air and the Surface Pro). We know this as search behavior has included reading reviews and looking at comparisons.

Imagine if we could place our own review slap-bang into the middle of that process, in real time. As they trawl the Internet for info, our in-depth comparison review follows them. The likelihood of interaction is huge and we can even include dynamic call-to-action creative within it, offering a personalized discount or incentive to ‘buy now’ and from our site.


So how do I get involved?

By this point, you should be thinking about how you may go about adding to your 2017 strategy but wondering where on earth to start.

The choices, as explained earlier in the piece, are still relatively limited simply due to the relative immaturity of the market and tech. Things are changing fast, however.

If your budgets are larger, then chances are you’re already using the approach as part of your paid media mix. In this situation, the challenge is to reimagine the strategy with greater emphasis on content as opposed to commercial ad messaging. Think of it as softening the message and attempting to add value more. Talk to your agency or team and challenge them to test it.

I’ll almost guarantee they’re not thinking about the distribution method as a platform for anything other than advertising message, so make it your mission to push them and help them understand that it may be more powerful as a delivery mechanism for value-adding articles, videos, and interactive assets.

This switch in thinking represents a huge opportunity for those that are willing and able to try it first, and the good news is there are a number of easy-to-use tools out there allowing you to give it a go.

Programmatic for smaller business

If, like the majority, you are in charge of smaller budgets and don’t have the ability to onboard a global network agency with in-house proprietary tech like Cadreon, don’t think you’re out of luck. There is an ever-growing pack of platforms designed specifically for this market.

A personal favorite is Admedo, an easy-to-use system for those with little or no programmatic experience. With its own DSP (Demand-Side Platform), you can customize to your heart’s content. We have seen some brilliant results from it.

Others worth considering include:

  • Zypmedia – Great for local advertising campaign work and for businesses where geo-location is critical.
  • Pocketmath – Another great option for the small business owner wanting full control of targeting, creative, and delivery.
  • Brandzooka – A good choice for those looking to focus campaigns on video creative.

Next steps

So, fancy giving programmatic a go? If you do, spend ten minutes reading our Simple Guide to Programmatic, available for free by clicking the button below. You can also download our Programmatic Planning Template to help make the planning process as easy as possible. Good luck!

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January 16, 2017  Tags: , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments



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