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Reclaiming Lost iOS Search Traffic

December 19 2012 // Analytics + SEO // 29 Comments

Have you noticed that direct traffic year over year is through the roof? Maybe you scratched your head, wrinkled your brow and chalked it up to better brand recognition. In reality, no such thing happened. What is happening is search traffic from iOS is being attributed to direct traffic instead.

Your organic search numbers are being mugged.

[Update] Frank Zimper notes that this problem also exists for those running Android 4.0 and higher. I've confirmed this via the same process you'll read below. The only saving grace is that Android is usually a smaller traffic driver and the version migration is far more gradual. Yet, it'll clearly continue to syphon search traffic off over time unless Google addresses this problem.

iOS 6 Search Theft

Stolen Search Traffic LOLcat

The reason these visits are being mis-attributed is a decision by Apple to move Safari search to secure (SSL) in iOS 6. The result of this decision is that the referrer isn't passed. In the absence of a referrer Google Analytics defaults those visits to (none) which shows up in direct traffic.

The web browser on iOS 6 switched to use SSL by default and our web servers don’t yet take that fact into account. Searching still works fine, but in some situations the HTTP referer header isn’t passed on to the destination page. We’re investigating different options to address this issue.

As Google investigates different options to address this we're left dealing with a serious data problem. Personally, I think Google Analytics should have a message within the interface that warns people of this issue until it's fixed.

RKG did a nice job of tracking this and showing how to estimate the hidden search traffic. But for some reason this issue doesn't seem to be getting as much traction as it should so I wanted to demonstrate the problem and show exactly how you can fight back. Because it's tough enough being an SEO.

Organic Search Traffic Graph 2012

At a glance it looks like this has been a decent year for this client. But it's actually better than it looks in October and November. Follow along to see just how much better.

Create iOS Advanced Segments

The first step is to create two Advanced Segments, one for iOS and one for iOS 6.

iOS Advanced Segment in Google Analytics

In May the labeling of Apple Operating Systems changed from specific devices to iOS. So include all four so you can see your iOS traffic for the entire year.

iOS 6 Advanced Segment in Google Analytics

The iOS 6 segment is straightforward and will only be used to demonstrate and prove the problem. Also, if you want to perform this analysis on multiple analytics properties be sure to save these segments to any profile.

The Scene Of The Crime

Once you have your advanced segments you want to apply them as you look at direct traffic by month.

Search Theft Underway

This plainly shows that direct traffic suddenly jumped from traditional levels upon the release of iOS 6 in late September.

Reclaiming Stolen Search Traffic

Every SEO should be reclaiming this stolen traffic to ensure they (and their clients) are seeing the real picture. Here's my simple method of figuring out how much you should take back.

Three Month iOS Direct Search Ratio

I've taken a three month slice of iOS traffic composed of April, May and June. From there I'm looking to see direct traffic as a percentage of the sum of direct and organic. The reason I'm not doing direct as a percentage of the total is to reduce any noise from referral spikes, paid search campaigns or other channel specific fluctuations.

In this instance direct comprises 10.5%. If you want to go the extra mile and quell the OCD demons in your head (or is that just me) you can do this for every month to ensure you've got the right percentage. I did and am confident that the percentage for this site is 10.5%.

Be aware, it will be different for each site.

Next I look at November and perform the same calculation just to confirm that it's out of whack. At 46.6% it's clearly departed from the established baseline.

November Direct and Search Traffic for iOS

I simply apply the proper direct traffic percentage (10.5% in this case) to the sum of direct and organic traffic. That's the real amount of direct traffic. I then subtract that from the reported direct traffic to find the lost search traffic number.

The equation is none-((organic+none)*percentage). In this case I just reclaimed 79,080 search visits!

Better SEO Results

Get the credit you deserve and apply those stolen search visits to organic traffic.

November Search Lift from iOS Search

A very quick calculation shows that reclaiming iOS search traffic produced a 4.6% bump in organic traffic for this client. That's the best 32 minutes I've spent in a long time. Now it's your turn.

TL;DR

Changes in how Safari searches are passed to Google Analytics is causing organic searches to be listed under direct traffic. Give clients the real picture and get the credit you deserve by properly attributing iOS traffic.

Keyword Match Ratio

October 27 2012 // Analytics + SEO // 35 Comments

That awkward moment when you realize you've been staring at interesting data for years without knowing it.

That Awkward Moment When ...

Every day you're probably using Google Keyword Tool query volume in your SEO research. Of course you have to be careful to use the correct match type, right? You don't want to make the mistake of promising broad match level volume to a client.

Recently I began to wonder about the differences in match type volume. Because they are substantial.

Keyword Match Ratio

What am I talking about? The keyword match ratio is the broad match volume of a keyword divided by the exact match volume of a keyword.

Keyword Match Ratio Examples

I know these are completely different keywords but the difference is pretty astounding. This metric should be meaningful. It's not some end-all-to-be-all metric, but I believe the keyword match ratio is useful.

Here's how I've been looking at and using the keyword match ratio.

Determining Intent

One of the main ways I've been using this new metric is in determining intent. Or, more specifically, is the intent uniform or fractured?

A low keyword match ratio indicates a more uniform syntax which often maps to uniform intent. In other words, there aren't as many keyword variations of that term or topic. Uniform intent is great from a search perspective because you can more easily deliver a relevant and valuable experience for that traffic.

A high keyword match ratio indicates a less uniform syntax which may indicate fractured intent. That means there might be a lot of ways to talk about that topic or could point to a whole modifier class. Fractured intent is more difficult to satisfy since users may come with different expectations of value.

Unfortunately, determining intent got more difficult when Google reduced the level of category detail during the merge of Google Trends and Google Insights for Search.

Google Trends Category Data Limitation

You can still see that there's potential fractured intent here but the old version would have presented the various percentage breakdowns for each category which was quite useful. Keyword match ratio provides a new way to validate whether you should be concerned about fractured intent.

Identifying Content Opportunities

The other way I've been using the keyword match ratio is to identify areas ripe for content creation. In this case, a high keyword match ratio indicates a potential for different modifiers and phrases for that keyword.

Hardwood Floors Keyword Match Ratio and Content Ideas

The term 'hardwood floors' has a pretty high keyword match ratio and even the suggested ad groups provide ample content ideas. Go a step further and use related searches and Google Autocomplete suggestions to get more ideas that match query syntax.

Hardwood Floors Related Searches

Hardwood Floors Google Autocomplete Suggestions

Look at all those content opportunities! Follow high keyword match ratios to uncover content ideas and opportunities.

Benchmarking

While I can usually just tell whether a keyword match ratio is high or low, or simply compare it to other keywords in a list, I wondered if I could create a benchmark. Enter Dr. Pete, who was kind enough to share the 1,000 keywords that comprise MozCast. (Thank you.)

The first thing I did was see how the keyword match ratio changed with query length.

keyword match ration by query word count

As you might expect, the ratio declines as the number of words in the query increase. I like when things make sense! What this allows me to do is identify specific keywords that are materially outside of the norm.

What about the 2 word query with a ratio of 226.3 or the 2 word query with a ratio of 2.2. The ratio tells you something about the behavior of that keyword. It's your job to figure out what it is.

Competition

My next idea was to map the ratio to keyword difficulty. I experimented with using the competition number via the Google Keyword Tool as a proxy but the numbers were all over the place.

So ... I generated the keyword difficulty for 92% of the list five painstaking keywords at a time via the SEOmoz Keyword Difficulty Tool. (There's a 300 a day limit so I didn't quite get through the entire list.)

Keyword Match Ratio by Keyword Difficulty Graph

There might be a trend there but it was difficult to tell with all the noise. So I rounded keyword difficulty into deciles.

Keyword Match Ratio by Keyword Difficulty Trable

No terms fit into the 0, 10 or 100 deciles so I removed those rows from the table. What's left does seem to indicate a rising keyword match ratio with increased keyword difficulty. That's interesting and makes a bit of sense too. Competitive terms often have more volume and likely have a greater number of variants.

Putting It All Together

The question is how you can use all of this information together? To be honest, I haven't come up with the perfect formula but I find it interesting to take terms and see where they fall against these benchmarks.

Swedish Fish

What about the term 'swedish fish'? This 2 word keyword has a keyword match ratio of 3.3, well below the 2 word benchmark. In addition, with a 41% keyword difficulty it falls into the 40 bucket, which again puts it below the standard keyword match ratio for that difficulty.

That tells me the intent behind the term 'swedish fish' is uniform and it might be an area where a well optimized piece of content could rank well. Yum!

A term with a low keyword match ratio and low competition is a great SEO opportunity.

The syntax and intent are clear and you can provide relevant and useful content to fill that need. Of course, all of this has to produce productive traffic. We're not doing SEO just for gold stars and pats on the back, right?

Solar Panels

What about a term like 'solar panels'? It has a keyword match ratio of 13.5, above the 2 word benchmark. With a keyword difficulty of 70% it also scores slightly over the average.

That tells me optimizing for 'solar panels' is going to be a hot mess. Instead, I'd want to look for phrases and modifiers that might be more attractive instead, with the long-term goal of building up to this head term.

Locate the specific intents and keywords that contribute to a high keyword match ratio and produce relevant content that satisfies and engages.

Context, Brains and Disclaimers

A couple of things you should know about the keyword match ratio. You need to use it in conjunction with other tools, in particular your brain. Context is important and different verticals and modifiers will have different keyword match ratio patterns.

So while I provide the benchmarks above you should be thinking about how the ratio fits into the keyword universe for your site, or for that particular modifier. If you were a coupon site you might want to see which store + coupons terms had the highest and lowest keyword match ratio.

There's also the possibility that the set of data I used for the benchmark isn't representative. However, I think Dr. Pete has done a pretty good job here and while some of the terms are strange and mundane that's not a bad reflection of reality.

You'll also note that I'm not doing any heavy duty statistical analysis here. While I understand and enjoy those endeavors I think pattern recognition can take you pretty far pretty quickly. Maybe someone else can pick up this thread and create something more statistically valid.

In the interim, I'm using the keyword match ratio as an SEO hack to help me find potential diamonds in the rough and areas for content creation.

TL;DR

The keyword match ratio measures the ratio of broad match volume and exact match volume. This metric is not fool proof. You need to use your brain when looking at it. But if you've got a good head on your shoulders the keyword match ratio can help you determine intent and sniff out content opportunities.

Reading May Influence AuthorRank

September 25 2012 // SEO // 50 Comments

Yesterday a friend sent me an interesting screen capture of an Authorship search result. I'm not sure this result is here to stay but over the course of the next day I figured out how to replicate it and learned a lot along the way.

Here's what I found out.

Authorship Bounce 

The instructions to trigger this Authorship result were to search for a specific term, click through on the first result, stay on that destination page for five or ten minutes and then use the back button to return to the SERP.

I tried this a few times without luck but ... I was anxious and might have clicked the back button too quickly. So I fired it up in an incognito tab and tried to forget about it. I returned to it 20 to 30 minutes later, hit the back button and the new Authorship presentation appeared!

Google Authorship SERP for The Atlantic

Lets be clear, the only reason Google would present these results is if they think it would improve the search experience. The signal being sent by the long dwell time is that the content (and therefore the author) was satisfying.

Now, using my handy structured data testing tool bookmarklet I found that this specific Authorship configuration was completely borked.

Authorship SNAFU on The Atlantic

The tool tells me Authorship isn't in place. It does however find the real author of this piece, as well as another author who is prominently displayed on the page. James Fallows does appear on the page but he is not the author of this or any of the other linked pieces.

Authorship Bounce by Publisher

So an incorrect Authorship result for a page that doesn't validate as having Authorship in place. That was unsatisfying but I remained curious. Could I replicate this new Authorship presentation with another publisher?

Google Authorship for Marketing Land

I sure could! This time I was seeing the Authorship image and all of the linked pages were actually correct and showed me more Marketing Land content from Matt McGee. Things were getting more interesting! I ran it through the structured data testing tool.

Google Extracted Author Name

The tool actually claims that this piece of content doesn't have Authorship attached, though clearly it does. The thing is, Matt doesn't have Marketing Land in the Contributor to section of his Google+ profile. And I don't believe he uses a Marketing Land email address. (I know a bit more about this because I email Matt back and forth quite a bit.)

This is just more evidence that Google is attempting to complete the verification loop for authors by looking at other attributes on the page, in other social profiles and on their Google+ profile.

For example, who is Step Guide and why are they showing up as an author on this page? Well, it's actually pretty simple.

Google Authorship 'by author' pattern matching

Google is trying to extract the author by using a standard byline pattern matching technique. This seems reasonable in some ways but can clearly go awry in various other ways, this being just one of them.

Authorship Bounce by Author

My next question was whether this was just on publishers or if I could trigger this result based on an author. I used myself as the guinea pig this time.

Google Authorship AJ Kohn

Sure enough I can get that to work too. What is really shocking here is that the other links are not to my site but to my Google+ posts. Now, that doesn't matter too much to me, though I'm not entirely happy with the result. But larger publishers will go bat shit crazy seeing links to other properties based on their own content.

Here's another example using an author which also shows that this presentation doesn't only appear as the first result.

Google Authorship Mixed Site Results

I'm sure Google would tell you that the intent of the query was the author and not the publisher. So it makes sense not to filter those Authorship results by publisher. I get and largely agree with the logic but it won't make publishers very happy, particularly if a number of those links are going to Google+ posts.

Cue the Google is evil meme.

Authorship Bounce by Article

Now what about if I just look for a specific article? I tried this again and again and again and again but couldn't get the new Authorship presentation to appear.

[Update] After publishing this I put out the bat signal on Google+ for more examples and Mike Arnesen (a new and intelligent voice in the community) came through with a great one.

Google Authorship Result Using Article Name Only

Not only is this Authorship bounce result triggered without an author or publisher but it returns two other domains outside of SwellPath. How do they feel about that?

SwellPath encourages team members to have personal blogs and guest blog on other sites. We want to see our team members' content being promoted, even if it is not on our own site.

That's an enlightened view, though SwellPath isn't a typical content publisher building a business on page views.

Double Rainbow What Does It Mean

Authorship Engagement

This new Authorship presentation shows that engagement is used as a measure of author satisfaction and may contribute to AuthorRank. That's big news! In this case engagement is measured in the amount of time you spend on that piece of content. It confirms the importance of long clicks versus short clicks not only for Authorship but for any page and site.

The use of dwell time as a proxy for engagement and satisfaction may also point to problems with using more obvious social signals such as +1s. The latter might not indicate true authority but simple popularity. I've been concerned about how Google might untangle these two concepts. Here I see a glimmer of promise that content that is simply perceived as valuable because of the source or author will be discounted.

This also shows why bounce rate is a lousy optimization metric out of the box. The real danger is pogosticking and even then I can think of many instances where this metric would lose fidelity. If you're going to use bounce rate you have to modify that measure in Google Analytics. I recommend you read this, this and this to get you started.

Long story short, getting people to actually read your content is important.

Authors Are Entities

The fact that I can't get this result to trigger unless there is a publisher or author in the query is telling. Both authors and publishers are entities and Google can clearly associate the two when they see fit.

It seems like an easy step to roll-up the AuthorRank of contributing authors to the publisher level, allowing Google to assign the domain a new type of quality metric. Authorship is creating new dynamics in the author and publisher relationship and this new Authorship bounce presentation should only increase the tension between the two.

Who needs who more?

Extracted Authorship

The adoption of Authorship has been mixed with some studies showing a substantial amount of adoption and others the opposite. The increasing use of extracted authorship tells me two things.

First, that Google isn't satisfied with the adoption rate and second, they're still eager to increase adoption and use Authorship as a signal. Why else would they bother trying to do all of these connection gymnastics?

This is further bolstered by the new Authorship Project emails many have been receiving, which I believe is tied to the new Rich Snippets Structured Data Testing Tool.

Multi-Author Pages?

Hints at Multi-Author Results

There's also a subtle takeaway from the structured data results. The phrase 'as one of the authors' appears in the extracted author name. This seems to indicate that Google is gearing up for having more than one author attached to a page. This is in line with the original Agent Rank patent and would make sense if a Google commenting product were released.

Testing 1-9-4

It pains me to say this but the structured data testing tool can't be trusted. Or at least it can't be when it comes to Authorship. The new UX and name hasn't changed the janky results it returns.

While this might be related to the many ways in which Google is trying to complete the loop without author intervention it creates a fair amount of confusion for Authorship evangelizers and likely reduces adoption rates.

This makes me sad. Please fix this Google.

TL;DR

The new Authorship bounce presentation shows that engagement is used as a measure of author satisfaction and may contribute to AuthorRank. It also debunks bounce rate signal claims, sheds light on entity relationships and exposes weaknesses in the structured data testing tool.

Content Recall

September 19 2012 // Marketing + SEO // 37 Comments

"Produce great content." No doubt you've heard this phrase over and over again as content marketers bask in the sun of Google's animal algorithm updates. You've probably even heard it from me.

But what is great content? It's a dreadfully fuzzy term that often disintegrates into a less that satisfactory 'I know it when I see it' explanation. Maybe our focus on great is misplaced.

Instead of creating great content, create memorable content. 

Recall

Peter Gabriel I Don't Remember

The definition of recall is fairly straightforward.

A measure of advertising effectiveness in which a sample of respondents is exposed to an ad and then at a later point in time is asked if they remember the ad. Ad recall can be on an aided or unaided basis. Aided ad recall is when the respondent is told the name of the brand or category being advertised.

Advertisers are keen on recall because it's a measure of mind share and true reach. It doesn't matter (as much) if your ad was seen by millions of people if no one really remembers it. Particularly if they can't connect that ad to your brand.

Ads are just another form of content. So shouldn't content recall work the same way?

Memorable Content

Online, we can't easily identify those who saw a specific piece of content and then ask them whether they recall it two weeks later. (Though that's an interesting little product idea.)

Yet, the absence of this data doesn't mean we can't begin to think about what type of content is memorable. Bill Sebald wrote something that struck a chord for me recently.

I tweeted that out after reading another “top x link building tactics” list. A fluffy, chewed up piece of tactics we’ve all seen before. It didn’t claim to be written for beginners – which would have at least described the intended action of the content – but it was just more noise that wasn’t helpful for a reasonably experienced SEO. It was also praised in the comments and shared quite a bit … but so are the annual “SEO is dead” posts, and I’ve yet to find a new takeaway from that topic either.

I shared this post with a headline of '124 Reasons This Post Could Save the Internet in 7 Seconds'. Because I'm tired of these cookie-cutter posts too.

Mind you, we see them because they do well by some measures. I'd argue it's because of the perceived value and not the real value. Too often we think more is better. So getting 96 tips must be hugely valuable right?

I believe very few of those tips are actually read. People aren't going to read all of them so they scan and maybe they think a few are good. But how many are really remembered?

I suppose you could argue that this shotgun method ensures that some of the tips are found. Users simply cherry-pick the ones that matter to them. But that's a lot of work for the user. Instead, the Paradox of Choice kicks in, people decide not to engage at all and it gets sent to some read-it-later hell where it collects dust until it's ultimately deleted or succumbs to bit rot.

Those long list of posts may get you kudos but I think it's a 'I should think this is awesome so I'll say it is awesome' type of reaction. Maybe that's okay for you, but it isn't for me.

Because it speaks to the real problem with this kind of content. If you didn't read it you're not going to remember it.

Can you honestly recall that specific list versus another one? How often are you trying to find a list of content you saw a few months ago?

Reading Is Fundamental

Reading Rainbow with Levar Burton

The first obstacle to memorable content is getting it read. You can't remember something if you haven't read and understood it.

While there's certainly a component of reach involved (getting people to the content), I'm more concerned with whether those who actually view the content are truly reading and comprehending it.

That's why readability is so critical. Making your content more accessible - more scannable - actually helps it get read. They might not read it word for word, but you'll increase the chance of them reading important passages that will stick.

This excerpt on why we mangle quotes shows how the brain craves readability.

Our brains really like fluency, or the experience of cognitive ease (as opposed to cognitive strain) in taking in and retrieving information. The more fluent the experience of reading a quote—or the easier it is to grasp, the smoother it sounds, the more readily it comes to mind—the less likely we are to question the actual quotation. Those right-sounding misquotes are just taking that tendency to the next step: cleaning up, so to speak, quotations so that they are more mellifluous, more all-around quotable, easier to store and recall at a later point. We might not even be misquoting on purpose, but once we do, the result tends to be catchier than the original.

Don't you want your content to be easier to store and recall? I sure do.

How We Remember

Memento Polaroid

It's not just about getting your content read, but remembered. Yet, memory is a tricky thing. Here's an excerpt from UX Booth on the concept of 'Roomnesia' applied on a macro-level.

Recent research suggests the Internet is becoming an external part of our memory and that we are experiencing “reduced memory for the actual information, but enhanced memory for where to find the information.” In other words, we can’t remember the name of the director of Memento but we can remember where to find that information. It’s easier to remember one “room” (IMDb) rather than the many actors and directors that inhabit our world. By delivering high quality content through a trustworthy website you help to make your site memorable as the store of relevant information.

The concept of remembering one "room" is incredibly important when extended to content marketing. Obviously you must be focused and stay on topic. A reader has to be able to easily attach a phrase to your content. How do you want them to describe that post to a friend? If you can't do it in a sentence you're in trouble.

But think about how this applies to guest blogging. What room am I going to put a guest post in? The one that provides the most cognitive ease, right?

So your post on the power of evergreen content on SEOMoz? Odds are that's going to go in the 'SEOMoz' room and not the 'author' room. At some point you might have enough pull, but Rand and team have done a pretty stellar job of branding, haven't they?

This isn't just theory. You can see how this plays out as people respond to guest content. Mackenzie Fogelson recently blogged on John Doherty's site. Here's the first comment on her piece.

Comment to Publisher, Not To Guest Author

So even with prominent text telling readers it was a guest post, it seems like an engaged reader associated this content with John and not Mackensie. I don't think this is the fault of the reader (nor John or Mack). It's just cognitive ease at work.

That's not to say that guest blogging can't be part of the mix. If I didn't make it clear before, find publishers that are in a different and complementary vertical. Content recall goes up since users are more likely to put that content in the 'right' room based on the unusual topic.

Even if they don't, you don't want a lot of competition when people are searching for or re-finding this content. It's a lot easier to find a specific piece of content about SEO on Bloomberg than it might be on Search Engine Land.

Modified Branded Search

I'd argue that when we remember content we're using a root modifier strategy. The root is usually what the content is about - the topic. The modifier is usually the room where you stored that memory - the author, publisher or brand. So our content searches look something like this:

"hacking Jeff Atwood"

"Old Spice viral video"

"scamworld The Verge"

You can measure content recall by looking at your modified branded search terms and traffic.

Modified Brand Search Terms

Are people remembering and associating specific content I produced with my brand? Now, mind you I've got some odd things going on with my name versus my brand and a brand that can include a number or a word but I'm following Tim Gunn's advice and making it work.

Monitor these metrics when embarking on a content marketing effort. Is your modified branded search traffic going up? Are the breadth of terms in your modified branded search traffic expanding? What content (and syntax) is getting the most traction?

Memorable content leads to brand awareness.

Spontaneous Mentions 

I know that content has been memorable when it is spontaneously mentioned in another piece of content. The number of Tweets, Likes, +1s and comments all show a certain amount of popularity but it's these mentions and links that truly matter.

It's funny how this resolves down to contextual citations, the real backbone of most search algorithms.

Of course the link is nice but it's the knowledge that it was read, understood and remembered that counts. Your content and brand is a meme of sorts and those spontaneous mentions show how far it's reached.

My post about the decline in US desktop search volume wasn't particularly popular in comparison to other posts. Yet I was able to get a spontaneous mention from TheStreet. That's pretty awesome in my book.

That's why this focus on numbers, on the volume of Tweets or Likes, may be a false positive. That minute of fame feels good! Gamification 101 right? It's so good you might try to replicate it again and again. But producing 15 posts that meet these numbers adds up to 15 minutes of fame and nothing more.

Track spontaneous mentions (not total backlinks) as a way to measure the strength of your content.

Fill In The Blank

Mad Libs Logo

Gabriel Wienberg recently put a different spin on recall.

He's the _______ guy. That's the _______ startup. Isn't that the __________ search engine?

Unfortunately, the way we are wired means we generally don't like to put more than one thing in those blanks even though most people and companies would prefer more words.

In other words, people often make poor choices of leading characteristics. They take the path of least resistance, insert their own biases, repeat hearsay, etc.

Once again we see cognitive ease at work here and the importance of recall. Are you using your content to continually play to your leading characteristic? Do you know how people are remembering your brand?

Memorable content can help ensure the right words go in those blanks.

Multi-Content Stories

A real content strategy should be about storytelling. It should promote your brand (personal or corporate), message and value proposition. Not every piece of content has to do everything at once, but together they should be moving your brand forward.

I think about each piece of content as an opportunity to tell a story and reinforce brand.

It’s not that our memory is a glitchy wetware version of computer flash memory; it’s that the computer metaphor just doesn’t apply. Roediger said we store only bits and pieces of what happened—a smattering of impressions we weave together into feels like a seamless narrative. When we retrieve a memory, we also rewrite it, so that the time next we go to remember it, we don’t retrieve the original memory but the last one we recollected. So, each time we tell a story, we embellish it, while remaining genuinely convinced of the veracity of our memories.

While this passage from Scientific American is about specific memories I think it can also apply to your memory of a person or brand. I want to ensure that each new piece of content shapes how other pieces of content are remembered and retrieved.

Because not every piece of content deserves to have the same level of recall. They'll have different goals and meet different types of user intent. Not every piece of content has to be some epic War and Peace tome. But they should all fit your narrative and help perserve or improve the memory of the content corpus.

We're constantly rewriting the memory of that person or brand or site. Your job is to shape memory through content.

Have A Take, Don't Suck

Animotion Obsession

Recent posts seem to indicate that creating controversy or, at a minimum, provoking emotion is the pathway to success. To me this is focusing on the result instead of the product. The goal isn't to make someone cry, create controversy or generate enemies.

Despite what you've heard, any press is not good press. Not only that, but usually those trying to force these emotions are far too transparent. (Remember, don't feed the trolls!)

Instead, follow Jim Rome's advice: "Have a take, don't suck."  Have an opinion and back it up with solid reasoning and logic. Have a point of view, but make it your point of view, not someone else's point of view or one specifically created to generate a desired reaction.

Don't obsess about whether your content is going to elicit emotion, bring your own to the table. Create passionately not programmatically.

TL;DR

Great content is only great when it's read and remembered. Track metrics that measure content recall so you can produce a content marketing strategy that ultimately leads to increases in brand equity and awareness.

US Desktop Search Volume Declines

September 12 2012 // SEO // 20 Comments

The latest comScore search engine rankings were released today. I'm sure many will focus on the small movements in market share between Google, Bing and Yahoo. Yet, there is big (really big) news buried in this release.

US Desktop Search Volume

I've been tracking this metric for more than seven years.

Monthly US Desktop Search Volume

August 2012 was the first time we've seen US desktop search volume decline year-over-year. Specifically, volume in August 2011 was 17,122 versus 17,046 in August 2012.

This is a big turning point for search.

Search Trends Matter

This doesn't mean that search is dead, it's simply moved from desktops to phones and tablets. Unfortunately, I don't have a reliable source of search volume data for mobile search. The industry desperately needs one.

What it does mean is that mobile is not something you should think about, it's something you must think about.

Nearly a year ago I wrote about these search trends so I won't repeat those here (but go and read it ... now). However, I think they did make a lot of SEOs look better than they were, helped Google rise to prominence and will make Facebook's post IPO prospects far less rosy.

As an industry we need to start thinking about how search is going to evolve and the different type of context and intent implied by phones and tablets.

Search, it's never boring.

Readability and SEO

August 13 2012 // SEO + Web Design // 89 Comments

Content marketing is the hot new thing in the wake of Google's animal themed algorithm updates. Marketers are doubling down on content. Yet, the majority of content on the web is not optimized for readability.

It's not just what you say, it's how you present it.

What Is Readability?

There are a lot of definitions of readability, some of which stir up a fair amount of debate. My version is aligned with Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think, Giles Colborne's Simple and Usable, the legacy of David Ogilvy and the research of Jakob Nielsen.

Readability is about making your content accessible and comfortable. Never make it a chore.

Readability Improves SEO

hey girl I like your blog posts

If you make your content difficult to read the value of that content goes down. Lack of readability frustrates comprehension and reduces sharing. This, in turn, limits the social echo of your content and lowers the chances of it obtaining organic links.

In short, readability is a valuable but overlooked part of SEO. Here's my guide to producing readable content.

People Don't Read, They Scan

The first thing you have to come to grips with is that people are not reading every word. Study after study after study shows that people scan instead of read.

On the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.

That doesn't mean you should skimp on good writing. Instead, you just need to structure your content with scanning in mind.

Use A Font Hierarchy

First You Looked Here, Then Here

One of the better ways to meet that scanning behavior is to use a font hierarchy. Too often I see people using the same font size for their subheads, thinking that a simple bold is going to make the difference. It doesn't.

If you look back through this blog you'll see how I figured this out over time. Older posts don't use a proper font hierarchy and that makes them more difficult to read.

There are some guidelines on the proper ratio for your font hierarchy, but there are so many variables, from the font you're using to the length of the piece to name just a few. My advice is to use five foot web design to make sure you can read your subheads from a distance. Sometimes I just read my subheads to see if they tell enough of the story by themselves.

I've settled on using 14px for body text with a 24px subhead and always want the subheads to be in one line.

Subheads Are Your Friends

The key is to allow people to see the sections of your post at a glance. Make your subheads large enough and descriptive enough so readers can determine whether they'll actually take the time to read that section word for word.

Use subheads as an advertisement to that section of content.

Subheads are also a great way to logically outline your content. What are the different points and aspects of the topic you're covering? Most of my blog posts (including this one) start as an outline, which is an asset to creating content that communicates and engages.

Legibility Matters

Using Impact As Body Text Font

Of course you need to use a font face that is legible. Above, I've used Chrome's Developer Tools to change the font on a recent Google blog post to Impact instead of Arial. Impact works on LOLcats when it's large white text with a black border on a photo background, but using Impact as your body text font? LOL!

There's a interesting study that shows that the ability to retain information improves when you use unusual fonts. The problem is that people would abandon that content altogether if they weren't in a controlled setting.

I like (and use) a nice san serif font like Helvetica. But don't get hung up on the serif versus san serif argument. Research conducted by Alex Poole indicates that it's likely a matter of personal preference.

So if you like Georgia or Times New Roman, go for it. Sure, there have been some studies that show different fonts produce different reading speeds, but I wouldn't obsess over it.

Get Line Height Just Right

Legibility is actually the most straight forward part of the equation. Readability is composed of a combination of factors that include the font, size, line height (leading), character spacing (kerning), content width and other typographic variables.

One of the bigger components is line height. Lets look at the same content using different line heights.

Line Height Too Small To Read

Line Height Too Big to Read

Right Line Height For Reading

The first is too tight, the second too loose. They both frustrate easy reading. I think the line height I use (the third one) is decent. However, I found the golden ratio argument and calculator to be pretty compelling. So maybe I'll increase my line height slightly.

Color Contrast

Bad Color Contrast

If you haven't noticed I'm a big fan of black text on a white background. I'm in the Ogilvy camp on this one. Not only that but I see far too many people using colored fonts with some sort of colored background. Maybe the color palette is yellow and purple but there's no good reason to have yellow type of a gray background. It's difficult to read.

Don't let a style guide get in the way of readability.

I'd rather go with the easy black on white. But if you're going to start futzing with colors I recommend that you download and use this Contrast Analyzer tool to ensure it passes all of the various color tests.

Color Contrast Brightness ResultsColor Contrast Luminosity Results

Highlight The Important Stuff

You want your readers to walk away from your content having learned or at least remembered something, right? Make it easy for readers to find the important stuff by highlighting those points. This could mean bolding those sentences or, you know, actually highlighting them.

The goal is to make sure that the memorable stuff jumps out to the reader.

Use Short Paragraphs

Deal With It Glasses

There are studies on this but, isn't this just common sense? Huge chunks of text are an instant turn-off to readers. For instance, why do you think there are only a few people in the SEO community who read patents? Those things have massive soul-crushing chunks of text that make your eyes cross.

Remember, you're not reading Jonathan Franzen, that's a different type of reading. Context is important.

In general, I keep my paragraphs to three to four sentences at most. And I'm never afraid to use one sentence paragraphs if I think it's an important point I want to get across to readers.

I'm sure many of you might be thinking that long paragraphs are just fine. The right people will read it, the one's who appreciate the fine art of writing, right? Wrong!

It's not only your job to write well, but write in a way that is accessible.

Crush Pronouns

Him and Her instead of Romeo and Juliet

When you're writing, you're doing so within a mental flow. You're making a logical argument and linking concepts in prior sentences and paragraphs with those in the current one. But what happens to the reader who is scanning that text? If they haven't read the paragraph above word for word (or even at all), then those pesky pronouns are completely useless to the reader.

Now, I'm not saying you should remove all pronouns but I do recommend that you go back after you've completed your piece and replace those that make sense.

But isn't that going to make the content stilted? In a word, no.

Using nouns is a more accurate description of your content. You're creating sign posts for your readers so they know exactly what they're reading at all times.

Nouns help users and search engines better understand what your content is about.

I also believe in a type of visual osmosis. At a glance you're able to digest a whole lot of what is on the page without actually reading it. It might be why it's so difficult for computers to emulate the human evaluation of pages.

Remember too that when you are truly reading, those nouns are visual short codes. You're not really reading the name of a character in say, Harry Potter, every single time they're mentioned right? Nouns are a way for you to understand context.

Use Images

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

The web is getting more and more visual. Take advantage of that by using images to break up the flow of your content. Not only that, but you can use images to augment the text. You can tell a story or a joke with that image or make a connection for readers that they might not have made through the text.

Do not let me catch you writing content without at least one image. I mean it!

In addition to all of the benefits it has within the content it's also vital to ensuring that your content is portable. If you're lucky enough to have your content shared on social networks you must optimize for appearance. Because people scan (yup, again) their news feeds.

If your content doesn't have a good image, or has a default image like a magnifying glass (I'm looking at you Google) or RSS icon, then the odds of that content being seen, read and shared go down precipitously.

Reduce Clutter

If you work in advertising or design for any amount of time you'll hear people refer to white space. It's that part of the page that is left untouched so that the remaining content can breath and shine.

Many websites try to cram as much as they can onto the page leaving very little white space. In fact, the Readability app is a reaction to these overly cluttered environments.

Your banner ad, your timed pop-up, your premium newsletter sign up, your Hello bar, your Greet Box, your social icons and a whole host of others might be distracting users from getting value from your content.

Link Your Paragraphs

Pass the Baton in Your Writing

I had an English teacher in high school who I absolutely hated. His name was Dr. Flynn. He was a tall, ill-tempered man who would bark out his lessons and become red-faced with rage at our incompetence and insolence.

I remember one week where we had to bring in a topic sentence every day. Each of us had to read our that sentence out loud at the beginning of class.

"Wrong!"

"Wrong!"

"Good!"

"Wrong!"

This was just about getting the topic sentence right, never mind how the first paragraph should detail all of the points you'd cover in the following paragraphs.

But what stuck with me most was the idea that the last sentence in a paragraph should be linked to the first sentence in the next paragraph. There was order and logic to how you constructed a paper or essay.

When I got to college I realized that Dr. Flynn had done me a huge favor. Because a lot of my classmates were clueless. When I mentioned some of the lessons he'd drilled into me, I'd get vacant stares in return. To this day I am still thankful for Dr. Flynn's lessons.

So whether you call it story telling or creating a logical flow, make sure that you're linking your paragraphs and sections so that it makes sense to the reader.

Reading Difficulty

Of course there's also how you write. There are a number of different ways that you can assess the difficulty of a piece of content. How many words are in each sentence? How many syllables are in each word? How many sentences in each paragraph? On and on and on.

There are a number of tests to help assess the reading level of your content. Cloze, Flesch-Kincaid, Gunning Fog, Coleman Liau, SMOG and others can all be used to determine an objective reading difficulty. Arienne Holland put together a good list of online readability tools on the Raven Blog.

Your writing should be focused and concise. Now, I don't always follow this advice. Many of my blog posts are a bit long and I do indulge in some word play from time to time.

I tend to believe that my personality comes through via my writing and it's that type of authenticity that is compelling to readers. However, I do edit myself quite a bit, chopping whole chunks of text that, while enjoyable to have written, are superflous in nature.

And I rely heavily on other forms of readability to make up for this deficiency. So, do as I say, not as I do in this instance.

TL;DR

Readability is an overlooked part of SEO. Those who embrace readability will have a leg up as content marketing becomes more and more important. Because great content isn't great unless it gets read.

(Thanks to Micah France for introducing me to Simple and Usable and to Rand Fishkin for inspiration.)

Ripples Bookmarklet

July 20 2012 // SEO + Social Media + Technology // 26 Comments

Who shared your post and how did it spread on Google+? That's what Ripples can tell you, allowing you to find influencers and evangelists.

Google+ Ripples

You can find Ripples in the drop down menu on public posts.

Google Plus Ripples Drop Down

But I noticed that there was also a small URL entry field on the Ripples page.

Google Ripples URL Field

Sure enough you can drop in a URL and see Ripples for any page.

Google Ripples Example

(Interesting how each of my shares of this post are shown separately.)

Ripples Bookmarklet

I didn't want to go traipsing back and forth to enter URLs, so I created a bookmarklet.

Find Ripples

Drag the link above to your bookmarks bar. Then click the bookmark whenever you want to see Ripples for the page you're on. [Clarification] This is for non-Google+ URLs only. Ripples for Google+ URLs are only available via the drop-down menu.

So stop wondering and find out who's sharing your content (or any content) on Google+.

I Don’t Guest Blog

July 15 2012 // SEO // 75 Comments

I don't guest blog.

Resist Penguin Panic

You can't throw a rock these days without hitting upon advice and tips on guest blogging. It's not a new practice but interest and activity has spiked now that the Penguin update has made getting links more difficult.

The theory goes that you're trading your content for exposure and a link. But is the desperation around the all mighty link clouding your judgement?

Who's Brand Are You Building?

Build Your Own Brand

For me it comes down to a simple question. Who's brand are you building? Perhaps I'm just selfish but if I'm going to spend the considerable amount of time and effort to create a blog post I want to make sure it's building my brand. All too often guest posts don't do that but instead simply build the brand of that blog instead.

Your opinions, thoughts and content are your intellectual property and I see no reason to fritter it away for so little. I've used the same argument when people ask me about unpaid internships. Why would I give away my time and effort for free? I know many argue that the experience gained is invaluable. It might be, but it doesn't mean I shouldn't get paid for my work.

If you don't value your time highly, others won't either.

Second Billing

But what about all the great exposure you get through guest blogging? I'd argue you often aren't getting that much exposure.

How often do you remember where you read something instead of who wrote it? It was on Search Engine Land or SEOmoz right? Sure there are some notable exceptions but I think they're exceptions and not the rule.

For the sake of argument lets say that it does get your name out there, how many are following that link back to your site and subscribing? You'll pick up a few subscribers but it's not going to be a huge net gain. Why? There's simply too much friction.

A reader first has to understand that it's a guest post. Next, they have to seek out the link to the author's site, usually at the bottom of the post in a bio section. Then they have to assess your site and actively subscribe. Lets hope you spent enough time creating great content for your site instead of others, right? Otherwise those few precious downstream clicks could be wasted.

In the end, they're subscribed to that other blog, not yours.

Where's The Traffic?

Empty City Highway

I've seen this numerous times from a marketing perspective in projecting traffic from syndication agreements. The business development team secures a relationship with a major Internet portal or site. That site gets hundreds of thousands of visits a day so appearing on that site is clearly going to drive huge traffic, right? Rarely!

A lot of the time people don't understand the volume of traffic to a section or specific page. Think of it as the difference between broad match and exact match. The site might get a lot of traffic, but the individual post is going to get substantially less.

And what percentage of people are going to click-through from that content. You should think of that attribution link you get as the 10th position on a SERP, if you're lucky.

The Right Links

The Right Stuff

Links are getting tougher to come by. But instead of using your intellectual capital for someone else to get a link (or maybe two) wouldn't you rather spend it creating great content.

Think about what happens if you write something great for someone else. Where do you think people link? Yeah, it's not to your site, that's for sure! You can try to rationalize that the PageRank earned on that other site is then passed on to you but in the end I want my content to generate links for me.

Use your content to generate links for you, not someone else.

I'd rather those same blogs cite my content. Those are hard won and important links. Those are the ones I want and the ones I prefer to give to others.

Marketing Biz

The Soup Logo

You could argue that I'm a hypocrite because of my Marketing Biz column over at Marketing Land. (You're an avid reader of course, right!?) But I don't view that as a guest post.

Danny and Matt have been extremely generous in allowing me the freedom to curate and comment on whatever I feel is relevant each week. These are topics that I share on Twitter or Google+ but don't on Blind Five Year Old. It's not competing with my blog content, it's a complement to my blog.

Am I helping them to build their brand? I hope so. But I think it's an even trade since it's a column that allows me to showcase my insights on a wider range of issues. In my delusions of grandeur I'd compare Marketing Biz to The Soup.

Personal versus Business

I'd also draw a distinction here between personal and business. Because I actively recommend guest blogging for many clients but with some serious caveats.

First, they must establish a strong base of trust and authority on their own blog. Your site or blog has to be the main repository of information. Invest in your own content assets. You want people to recognize and come to you for insight, advice and information.

Next, they must actively be socializing their content by promoting it through their own social channels and by commenting on and citing their material on other blogs. Quite simply, you have to refuse to be ignored.

When you do look for guest blog opportunities they should be in complementary fields.

If you're a plumber and you have a great post about how to save money on your bath remodel don't seek out other plumbing blogs. Instead, seek out life hacking or money saving blogs. You want to stand out as an expert on a topic that isn't fully covered by that site. You're more likely to build your brand that way instead of giving all that expertise to a competing site.

Slow Success

The undercurrent in a lot of the guest blogging tips is that you can somehow use it to shortcut your way to success.

Monthly Traffic To Blind Five Year Old

The truth is it takes a long time to establish yourself in a community. I've blogged on Blind Five Year Old since September of 2008. Should I have thrown in the towel after a year? Two years?

I think I've gotten better at blogging and delivering valuable content. I've learned the value of commenting on other blogs and using different platforms to promote my content. But the magic ingredient was time. It took time to build a track record and a personal brand.

I know others have succeeded by guest blogging and maybe I'll regret not doing so at some point. But I hope my journey shows that it's not required and that there are many ways to get from point A to point B.

TL;DR

Think twice before you jump on the guest blogging bandwagon. Think about who's brand your building and whether the content your producing is generating links for you or for someone else.

Twitter Cards Are Rich Snippets For Tweets

June 18 2012 // SEO + Social Media + Technology // 28 Comments

On Thursday Twitter announced something called Twitter Cards. What are Twitter Cards? They're essentially rich snippets for Tweets and I predict they're going to be essential for making your content more portable.

Twitter Cards

There are actually three different types of cards: summary, photo and player. The summary is the default card while the photo and player cards are specifically for images and videos. Here's the example Twitter provides for a summary card.

Twitter Card Example

Yes Twitter, you definitely have my attention.

Transforming Twitter?

Twitter Cards could transform Twitter from the text based default it has languished in for years to one that will compete with the more appealing and popular visual feeds like Instagram, Path, Foursquare, Tumblr, Google+ and Facebook, the latter two most notably on mobile.

If the summary card is open by default your Twitter stream would look vastly different. It might also change the behavior of those using Twitter and cause people to trim the number of those they follow.

Twitter desperately needs to capture more time and attention to fully realize their advertising business. Transforming the feed through Twitter Cards could be a big step in the right direction.

Twitter Card Properties

All of the cards support some basic properties.

Basic Twitter Card Properties

You can optionally (and ideally) also include attribution in your Twitter Card.

Twitter Card Attribution

The summary card is probably the easiest one of the three with very few required properties.

Twitter Summary Card Properties

Note that you can only have one card per post. If you have the time, I recommend you read through the Twitter Card documentation.

Twitter and Open Graph Tags

You might be thinking to yourself, good god, I have to figure out another set of markup? Well, not exactly. Twitter will actually fall back on Open Graph tags should you already have those in place.

But the Open Graph tags aren't comprehensive. So if you've got Open Graph tags in place then you'll just need to add a few more to get the most out of Twitter Cards. In particular, you won't get the attribution which is very attractive in my opinion.

As an aside, there's no mention of whether Twitter will parse schema.org markup or fall back even further to standard markup like the title tag or meta description.

How To Implement Twitter Cards

I have the Open Graph tags on Blind Five Year Old but decided to implement all of the Twitter tags because I want to be certain I have full control over what is being delivered. I think portability is increasingly important so I'm not going to take any chances.

Now, a lot of what I'm going to show you is based on prior hacks and on the plugins I happen to use. So you may not be able to replicate what I do exactly, but it should give you an idea of how you can do it yourself.

Check Your Head

Check Your Head

The first thing to understand is where to put these tags. They go in the <head> of your posts. The <head> is essentially an area (invisible to the user) located before the actual content of a page. It's where you give instructions to browsers and search engines about the page. This can be all sorts of things from the title to styling of a page. It's also where you declare the values for all these tags.

Think of it this way, you need special glasses to watch that 3D movie, the <head> is where you'd be given those glasses.

View Page Source

You can see what's in the <head> by doing a simple right mouse click on any page and selecting 'View Page Source'.

View Page Source

That will open up a new tab with a whole mess of code for you to review and inspect.

Page Head

My <head> is a bit messy with all the stuff I've done and use, but it still works and at some point I'll come back around to clean it up. Next, we'll make sure these new Twitter tags show up here.

Edit Your Header

In WordPress, go to your Dashboard and select Appearance > Editor.

WordPress Appearance Editor

Next, select the header file which will likely be header.php.

Edit Header.php File

This is where you're going to be placing your code.

Now before you go any further, copy all of the code in your header.php and paste it into a text editor. So if you happen to screw things up you can just copy back your old header.php file and start again. (Seriously, do this! I've broken my site so many times and it's that backup copy I have in a text file that often saves the day.)

Drop In The Code

Now it's time to actually put the code in place. You're going to put it directly before the closing </head> tag.

Twitter Card Code

I've posted a version of the Twitter Card code on Pastebin so you can easily copy and tweak it for your own site. (Do not just copy and paste it into your own file!)

The first line is a comment and does not actually show up on the page nor give any instructions. It just makes it easier for me to see where this code resides once it's live.

The second line starts with a statement that I only want this on posts. This is accomplished with the if(is_single()) function.

Next I declare the card type (summary) and then the creator (my Twitter handle). I've hard coded the creator since I'm the only author on Blind Five Year Old. If you run a single author blog then it's easy to do this. If you run a multi-author blog or site you'll have to build in some logic and get the Twitter handle for the author of that post.

To get the URL I simply echo the get_permalink() function. The echo is essentially saying to not only find the permalink but to put what it finds there into the code.

To get the title I echo the get_the_title() function. Yeah, that's a pretty self explanatory function isn't it?

For the description I echo the get_post_meta() function which is a collection of meta data about posts. I'm asking for a specific piece of that meta. In this case it's the _aioseop_description which is the meta description I've entered via the All In One SEO Pack.

I sort of cheated by doing a Google search that brought me to a WordPress Support thread that contained the right syntax for this field. If you didn't know this you'd have to go and find the name of this field in your database via something like phpMyAdmin.

You might also be able to use the_excerpt() or to echo get_the_excerpt() here but I like the specificity since I know I've entered something for the meta description myself.

For the image, I've essentially replicated what I do to get the Open Graph image but changed the property to name (swapping og for twitter) and content to value. Again, you really don't need to do this since Twitter says they'll fall back on the Open Graph image. But I feel better having it explicitly spelled out.

Read through my Snippet Optimization post to learn more about how to use a simple custom field (og_img) to generate a featured image for each post. Seriously, it's not that hard to do.

After you put your code in you hit update file and then go to a post and view source. Hopefully you see the Twitter Card markup populating correctly. (Check this post for an example.) If not, go back and try again paying close attention to the syntax of your code.

At present Twitter does not have a testing tool like Facebook or Google, but it's something we may see in the future.

(Please comment if you can improve on, see errors in or can provide additional details such as tips for other platforms or field names for other plugins. A special thanks to Ron Kuris who helped to debug my PHP code.)

A Velvet Rope?

I need To See Some ID LOLcat

It is unclear who exactly will be able to participate in Twitter Cards initially.

To participate in the program, you should (a) read the documentation below, (b) determine whether you wish to support Twitter cards, and then (c) apply to participate. As we roll out this new feature to users and publishers, we are looking for sites with great content and those that drive active discussion and activity on Twitter.

It sounds like Twitter is going to review each site and create a whitelist for those they wish to support. But I have to think that this will become an open standard in short order. So get a jump on things and implement Twitter Cards now.

TL;DR

Twitter Cards are rich snippets for Tweets. Implementing Twitter Cards could transform Twitter into a more appealing visual feed and makes optimizing your Twitter Card an essential part of social portability.

Want Links? Reduce Friction and Destroy Inertia!

June 07 2012 // SEO // 18 Comments

I've never been a big fan of going out and trying to 'build' links. I've done it and it's worked in varying degrees. But I never thought it was a long-term solution. Instead, I thought (a lot) about how to get more organic links. The kind of links everyone wants. There has to be a way to get more 'real' links, right?

Yes, there is.

Friction and Inertia

Inertia Is One Hairy Monster

I spent a few years building product and embraced the idea of reducing friction. Make it easier for users to perform a task. This simple concept can be applied to getting links. Because the real goal is to make it easier for users to follow through on their natural evangelism.

All too often that desire is thwarted and squelched. Why? Inertia is a big hairy monster. So any amount of friction that gets in the way stops people in their tracks. You're fighting for their time and attention. And let me tell you, there's not a lot of that to go around.

Sometimes you're reducing the friction of your own content. Sometimes you're reducing the friction of people getting to your content. That's right it still starts with ... content.

Make It Awesome

Be Awesome Instead

You've heard this before but it bears repeating. Valuable content obliterates inertia. People are compelled to share and link to great content.

Yes, you could crank out a bunch of good content but then you'd have to work and hustle to get links. Instead, put the time into the content so others will do the linking for you.

Being awesome reduces friction.

A lot of you who think you're producing great content ... aren't. Even if you are, sometimes it doesn't look like it.

Make It Readable

First You Looked Here, Then Here

Don't make me work to read your content. I don't want massive chunks of text that make my eyes glaze over. I don't want paragraph after paragraph of text all in the same font size. I don't want to figure out what's really important.

It's not just what you say but how you say it.

So always have at least one image in your content. No exceptions. Always use a font hierarchy to better break up your content into scannable chunks. Bold and/or highlight the important parts like you would in a textbook (that you still hope you can sell back to the campus bookstore).

Make It Portable

Portable Music

Make it easy for people to share your content. Sure, sharing doesn't mean you're getting a link (now), but if you believe in the social echo, then you know the more times your content is shared the better chance you have of getting links.

The first step is making your sharing options highly available. I am a big fan of the floating share bar (that one following you down the page right now). You might also experiment with adding a call to action to frame those buttons.

Sometimes you have to shove inertia in the back when it's not looking.

Next you have to make sure that your content looks good when it's shared. Reduce the friction for people who are viewing your content on Twitter or Facebook or Google+ or LinkedIn. Having the right title and image are critical as these things scroll through a social feed.

We've moved beyond just making sure your RSS icon isn't the sharing image (I did that for a while). It's time to optimize your titles for social and come up with images that are going to both attract and add value to your content. Your social snippet should tell a story. Draw the user in and make them want to know more. You're supposed to be a marketer, right?

Make Comments

Lets assume you've got all your ducks in a row in terms of content. Now it's time to reduce the friction of people getting to your content.

Blog commenting is actually a great way to do this. This is not some scrapebox astroturfing campaign nor is it about finding do-follow blogs. Remember, this isn't really about getting a link, it's about getting people to your content.

Seek out other high quality pieces of content where you can add value. If a user is reading something related to what I've written about and I think my content is complementary I want to reduce the friction of that user finding it. What do I do?  I link to my content in a comment.

Now, there's a bit of an art to this because you don't just want to pop in and say 'this post is okay but my post is the boom-diggity, go read it now'. That's not being a good member of your community. Read the post and make a constructive comment. Remember that comments are just another form of content. Treat them as such.

Make Lemonade

Life Give You Lemons, Keep Them, Because, Hey, Free Lemons

I've done this type of blog commenting quite a bit. In fact, I've done it so much that Akismet thinks I'm a spammer. This bummed me out and I was rather irked for a while. I swore off commenting and even wrote something about it to get it out of my system.

But here's what I learned. By landing in the spam folder I created a natural opportunity to contact the blog owner. Now, I'm not exactly shy that way anyway but it's nice to have an excuse to ping someone and see if they can fish your comment out of spam. I've inadvertently reduced the friction of chatting with someone from my community.

See what I did there?

Give Answers

You can do the same type of thing you do with commenting with answers. Hang out on Quora or other Q&A sites and answer questions, using your content (and those of others) to support your answers. You're simply reducing the friction of people getting to your content.

You don't want to be a self-promoting whore, so don't force it. But odds are that if you're answering something you've probably got some content that might help shed additional insight on that topic. I mean, you're not just running around answering questions at random, are you?

Answer Links on Quora

One of the techniques I use is to simply refer to my content as additional or related reading as I did in this example from a SlideShare SEO question. I recommend you follow that link to see my answer. It should give you an idea of what a constructive answer looks like.

Be Authentic

Be You

One of the intangibles here is being authentic. A lot of clients will ask about how they can hire someone to do their link outreach (aka community management) or manage their social marketing efforts.

I'm happy to provide them with options but the truth is that having one of your own do this is far more effective. The reason is that they're going to be authentic. You just can't fake that level of interest and passion.

When I ran telemarketing programs (a long time ago now) I used to tell callers that what you put out there is what you'd get back. If you were in a bad mood or weren't confident, the person on the other end of the phone was going to be unenthusiastic and wary.

People are pretty good at sniffing out fakes and posers and search engines are starting to get better at it too. Don't give people a reason to doubt your motivations and actions.

Being authentic reduces friction.

Be Responsive

Inbox Zero
Talk to the people in your community. Respond to those who comment on your blog. When someone takes the time to email you, get back to them.

Don't build links build relationships.

Sure that's a trite little soundbite but it doesn't mean it's not true. I've struggled with this lately because I've been crazy busy. So this is a reminder to myself to aspire to being as responsive as I can.

Offer Embeds

You've done all of the above and you still want some other ways to reduce friction and destroy inertia? Okay.

I still like widgets and badges as ways to reduce the friction to obtaining links. Now, these are high-risk, high-reward type of endeavors. You need to understand your audience, have a viable distribution channel and deliver enough value through these assets to overcome inertia.

If you're going to go this route you also need to ensure that the anchor text on these widgets is rotating between 3 to 5 variations. This is more important with the looming specter of Penguin but I've been doing this for ages. It's just smart.

Run Contests

8-Bit Winner

What better way to reduce friction than a contest. Any type of ego based content provides people with an impetus to link to you. In fact, the people in the contest will actively solicit their followers to help them 'win'. Appealing to ego is a surefire way to reduce friction.

You also see this in action with posts with built in reciprocity. These include interviews and 'best of' lists of people, sites or content.

Don't go overboard. You don't run a contest just for the sake of getting the links. You should have a real goal for identifying something of value through the contest. And mix in interviews and lists sparingly.

Curate Content

What, you're still here? Well okay, here's one more tip. Curate content in your vertical.

I'm not talking about some fire hose of everything you're reading or sharing what's 'popular'. Instead, get good at picking out what's really interesting and valuable. Become a resource for your industry. Do not take this lightly.

Remember, you're fighting for time and attention. Becoming a source of information means you've carved out a very valuable portion of attention. As a result, you'll also make friends with the folks in your industry (destroying inertia) and be able to reach more people with your own content.

I hope my Twitter and Google+ feeds are good examples.

Analogy Time

Tortoise And Bugs Bunny

The best thing about most of these is that they are sustainable and act a lot like compound interest. They build on each other and it begins adding up to more and more over time. But time is a factor. This does not happen overnight.

Those other methods of 'building' links are sort of like payday loans. Sure, they get you what you need but you're paying a lot for it and you're not building any interest. That means you're going to have to take out another payday loan and then another and another.

TL;DR

The best way to get links is by reducing friction and destroying inertia. Help people to follow through on their natural evangelism by making it easy for them to get to your content and to share it with others.