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Social Signals and SEO

April 07 2014 // SEO + Social Media // 99 Comments

Do social signals (Tweets, Likes and Pluses) impact search rankings? The answer to this question is yes, but not in the traditional sense. That's why so much misinformation exists on the topic.

So before you run off and get all your friends to Tweet your post (or worse yet buy Likes etc.), read on to understand the math and real reason why social works.

Social Signals Are Not Part Of The Algorithm

Cat On A Leash

No matter how much we want it, or how many times we think it would make sense, it's just not happening.

Social is not currently part of Google's search algorithm.

At SMX West 2014 Amit Singhal stated that Google+ doesn't have an impact on the relevance of non-personalized search results. (I was there and heard those words come out of his mouth.)

That's the head of Google's search effort telling you that they're not even using their own social signals to improve search. So they sure as heck aren't using Twitter or Facebook, sources in which they have less visibility and trust.

Using social signals in the algorithm is wicked hard for a number of reasons. While I'm sure smart people at Google and Bing are working on ways to use them, they aren't currently being used. Period. End of story.

But ... Correlation!

Correlation Does Not Equal Causation

Of course you've seen all the correlation studies that seem to show that social improves rankings. Now, the thing is, social is correlated with improved rankings, just as ice cream consumption and amount of clothing worn are correlated.

The key is to find the confound or confounding variable, that thing that explains why those two things are correlated. In the case of ice cream and clothing the confound is (of course) temperature. This is what is generally missing in the conversation around social signals and SEO.

Finding The Confound

It's not the actual social activity that matters, but what happens as a result of that activity. 

One of the best things that can happen is if your content is seen by creators, the 1% of users who create all the content floating around the Internet.

Before we continue, you might want to acquaint yourself with the concept of participation inequality, something I talk about frequently, most recently as it relates to blog commenting. Because I'm going to mash-up social, participation inequality and the link graph to make my point.

Creators power the link graph and that's why social can be so important if you follow the math.

Social SEO Math

How Social Signals Impact SEO

Say I get 100 Tweets on a blog post. Those 100 Tweets are seen by 10,000 people. I'm using round numbers here to make the math easier. But the idea is to understand the reach of those social shares.

If we use the standard distribution of participation inequality we determine that 1% of those 10,000 people are creators who might decide to include your brand or site in a future piece of content.

So, if 10,000 people see your content and (on average) 1% of those are creators then you've reached the eyeballs of 100 creators (10,000 x 1%), the folks who power the link graph.

Some of those creators will follow through and include you (links and mentions) in their content. It's something I've referred to as the 'Social Echo' in the past. But how do we measure and steer our efforts with this math in mind?

All Social Shares Are Not Equal

Does the share from your buddy with 10 followers (half of which are actually accounts for his pets) mean as much as a share from an industry leader with 20,000 followers? Of course not.

This is one of the reasons why buying Tweets or Likes just for the sake of pumping up that number is a waste of money. Shares that fail to find an audience with the appropriate creator mix will do nothing for SEO ... or your marketing efforts in general.

Even the size of the following might not help you. It all depends on the creator mix.

Creator Mix of Followers Matters

For instance, 50,000 followers with a creator mix of .1 (a tenth of a percent) would only give you the opportunity to get in front of 50 creators. On the other hand, 10,000 followers with a 3% creator mix would give you the opportunity to get in front of 300 creators. (Note to self. Someone should come up with a way to quantify the creator mix of someone's followers.)

The caveat here is that some of those 50,000 followers might re-share that content and they might have a better creator mix and get you to more creator eyeballs. You can see how this can quickly get complicated.

Long story short, the number of creators following someone who shares your content is important.

Did They See It?

Polar Bear Covering Eyes

You'll notice that I say that you have the opportunity to reach a certain number of creators with those social shares. But there's no guarantee that those creators actually see that one specific share amid all the other content passing through their social feeds. And there's an argument here that creators might be more difficult to reach based on their time constraints.

So while I'm not in love with the idea of timing your social shares, it actually make a bit of sense. Because you want to maximize the potential for creators to see your content. Be warned, this is highly dependent on your vertical and will change over time so don't get lazy and rely on cookie-cutter data.

You must win the attention auction. That means optimizing your social snippets, using paid organic amplification to get things off the ground and sharing your content more than once (second chance Tweets etc.) among other things. At the end of the day you want to do everything you can to ensure creators are seeing your stuff.

Optimize and maximize creator impressions.

Creator Conversion Rate

Red Neon Yes No Maybe So

The last variable in the equation might be the most important one of all - the percentage of creators who wind up linking to you as a result of a social impression.

So lets go back to my initial math: 100 shares produce 10,000 impressions of which 1% or 100 are creators. How many of them are going to do something with your content that will impact the link graph?

I don't have any hard data on this and, frankly, it is super dependent on the content. Really awesome content that's relevant, timely and memorable might have a high conversion rate. Content that makes creators roll their eyes and curse themselves for clicking through in the first place may not get a single link.

I tend to use a 1% conversion rate when discussing this with clients. So in my example, those initial 100 shares would net 1 link.

That's it folks. Links are the confound in the correlation between social shares and rankings.

Content that hits that sweet spot, getting a high number of shares that creates downstream links from creators (particularly in a short period of time), produces wildly successful results. Those additional references by creators often creates a tailwind of sharing on the original content, reinforcing the correlation we all recognize exists.

Fuzzy Math

Evil Distribution Plushies

Now, I've provided math on why I believe social is a valuable part of SEO. Downstream links matter. No doubt about it.

But it's more than just a mathematical equation of links. Social drives more people to your site who might convert and become a reader or customer. Those people might wind up sharing in the future and the traditional math above kicks in again.

You'll gain additional followers and true fans who help to distribute your future content. Guess what? You're just optimizing the top of the Social SEO funnel. More shares lead to more impressions lead to more creator impressions and more opportunities for gaining authoritative references (i.e. - links).

You also might get more direct traffic as a result, as the mere exposure effect takes hold and they begin to associate you with specific topics and visit your site as needed. Even this could probably be reduced to math if you really wanted to go down the rabbit hole.

Good things happen when your brand is seen by more people.

TL;DR

Social has an indirect but powerful impact on search rankings. It's not the actual social activity that matters, but what happens as a result of that activity. Optimizing and maximizing creator impressions increases the chance of obtaining links from the group of people who power the link graph.

Are You Winning The Attention Auction?

January 20 2014 // Marketing + SEO + Social Media // 30 Comments

Every waking minute of every day we choose to do one thing or another.

For a long time we didn't have many choices. Hunt the mammoths or mind the fire. Read the bible or tend the crops. I can remember when we only got six television stations on an old black and white TV.

But as technology advances we're afforded more choices more often.

Freedom of Choice by Devo

We can decide to talk about the weather with the person next to us in the doctor's waiting room or stare into our phone and chuckle at a stupid BuzzFeed article. We can focus on that Excel spreadsheet or we can scroll through our Facebook feed.

You can sit on the couch and watch The Blacklist or you can sit on that same couch and read Gridlinked by Neal Asher on a Kindle. You could go out and play tennis or you could go out and play Ingress and hack some portals.

I was going to overwhelm you with statistics that showed how many choices we have in today's digital society, such as the fact that the typical email subscriber gets 416 commercial emails every month. That's more than 10 a day!

I could go on and on because there's a litany of surveys and data that tell the same story. But ... we all know this from experience. We live and breath it every day.

We all choose to look, hear and do only so many things. Because there are only so many hours in each day.

Our time and attention is becoming our most valued resource. (Frankly, we should really guard it far more fiercely than we do.) As marketers we must understand and adapt to this evolving environment. But ... it's not new.

The Attention Auction

Content Doge Meme

There's always been an auction on attention. That critical point in time where people decide to give their attention to one thing over the other.

Recently, there's been quite a kerfluffle over the idea of content shock. That there's too much content. There are some interesting points in that debate but I tend to believe the number of times content comes up in the auction has increased quite a bit. We consume far more content due to ubiquitous access.

Sure there's more content vying for attention. But there are more opportunities to engage and a large amount of content never comes up in the auction because of poor quality or mismatched interest.

There are hundreds of TV channels but really only a handful that are contextually relevant to you at any given time. Even if there are 68 sports channels the odds that you are in the mood to watch sports and that there will be something on each of those stations at the same time that you want to watch is very small. If you're looking to watch NFL Football then Women's College Badminton isn't really an option.

More importantly, I believe that we've adapted to the influx of content. It's knowing how we've adapted that can help marketers win the attention auction more often.

We Are Internet Old!

Sample Geocities Page

Adolescents often do very reckless things. They run red lights. They engage in binge drinking. They have unprotected sex. While some point to brain development as the cause (and there's some truth to that), I tend to believe Dr. Valerie Reyna has it right.

The researchers found that while adults scarcely think about engaging in many high-risk behaviors because they intuitively grasp the risks, adolescents take the time to mull over the risks and benefits.

It's not that adolescents don't weigh the pros and cons. They do and actually overestimate the potential cons. But despite that, they choose to play the odds and risk it more often than adults. In large part, this can be attributed to less life experience. They've had fewer opportunities to land on the proverbial whammy.

As we grow older we actually think less about many decisions because we have more experience and we can make what is referred to as 'gist' decisions. From my perspective it simply means we grok the general idea and can quickly say yea or nay.

So what does any of this have to do with the Internet, attention or content?

When it comes to consuming digital content, we're old. We've had plenty of opportunities to experience all sorts of content to the point where we don't have to think too hard about whether we're going to click or not. If it fits a certain pattern we have a certain response.

Nigerian Email Scam

Nay! A thousand times nay.

The vast majority of content being produced is, to put it bluntly, crap. Technology has a lot to do with this. It is both easy and free to create content in written or visual formats. From WordPress to Tumblr to Instagram, nearly anyone can add to the content tidal wave.

Of course, the popularity of 'content marketing' has increased the number of bland, "me too" articles, not to mention the eyesore round-up posts that are a simulacrum of true curation.

People have wasted too much time and attention on shitty content. The result? We're making decisions faster and faster by relying on those past experiences.

We create internal shortcuts in our mind for what is good or bad. It's a shortcut that protects us from wasting our time and attention, but may also prevent us from finding new legitimate content. So how do we address this cognitive shortcut? How do you win the attention auction?

You can ensure that you fit that shortcut and you can add yourself to that shortcut.

Fit The Shortcut

Getting Attention

Purple Goldfish

Fitting the shortcut is simple to say, but often difficult to execute. Make sure that, at a glance, you get the attention of your user. There are plenty of ways to do this from writing good titles to using appropriate images to leveraging social sharing.

When '1-800 service' pops up on caller ID you're probably making a snap decision that it's a telemarketer and you'll ignore the call. When it's the name of your doctor or someone from your family you pick up the phone. This same type of process happens on nearly all social platforms as people scan feeds on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

Recently Facebook even admitted to the issues revolving around feed consumption.

The fact that less and less of brands' content will surface is described as a result of increased competition for limited space, since "content that is eligible to be shown in news feed is increasing at a faster rate than people's ability to consume it."

Now this is a bit disingenuous since Facebook is crowding out legitimate content for ads (a whole lot of ads) but the essence of this statement is true. Not only that but your content is at a disadvantage on Facebook since much of the content is personal in nature. Cute pictures of your cousin's kids are going to trump and squeeze out content from brands.

So with what space you're left with on these platforms, you better make certain it has the best chance of getting noticed and fitting that shortcut. The thing is, too many still don't do what's necessary to give their content the best chance of success.

If you're not optimizing your social snippet you're shooting your content in the foot.

Be sure your title is compelling, that you have an eye catching image, that the description is (at a minimum) readable and at best engages and entices. Of course, none of this matters unless that content finds its way to social platforms.

Make sure you're encouraging social sharing. Don't make me hunt down where you put the sharing options or jump through hoops once I get there.

Ensure your content is optimized for both social and search. And when you're doing the latter rely on user centric syntax and intent to guide your optimization efforts.

Your job is to fit into that cognitive shortcut by making it easy for users to see and understand your content in the shortest amount of time possible.

Keeping Attention

Bored One Ear To Death LOLcat

Getting them to your content is the first step in winning their attention. At that point they're giving you the opportunity to take up more of their time and attention. They made a choice but they're going to be looking to confirm whether it was a good one with almost the same amount of speed.

When you land on a new website you instantly (perhaps unconsciously) make a decision about the quality and authority of that site and whether you'll stick around.

A websites’ first impression is known to be a crucial moment for capturing the users interest. Within a fraction of time, people build a first visceral “gut feeling” that helps them to decide whether they are going to stay at this place or continue surfing to other sites. Research in this area has been mainly stimulated by a study of Lindgaard et al. (2006), where the authors were able to show that people are able to form stable attractiveness judgments of website screenshots within 50 milliseconds.

That's from a joint research paper from the University of Basel and Google Switzerland about the role of visual complexity and prototypicality regarding first impression of websites (pdf).

Once they get to the content you need to ensure they instantly get positive reinforcement. Because at the same time there are other pieces of content, other things, battling for attention.

Grumpy Cat Nope

So if they don't instantly see what they're looking for you're giving them a reason to say nope. If what they see on that page looks difficult to read. Nope. If they see grammatical errors. Nope. If they feel the site is spammy looking. Nope.

There is a drum beat of research, examples and terms that underscore the importance of reducing friction.

Books On Reducing Friction

Call it cognitive fluency or cognitive ease, either way we seek out things that are familiar and look like we expect. Books such as Barry Schwartz's Paradox of Choice and Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think make it clear that too many choices reduce action and satisfaction. And we should all internalize the fact that the majority of people don't read but instead skim articles.

That doesn't mean that the actual content has to suffer. I still write what are considered long-form posts but format them in ways that allow people to get meaning from them without having to read them word for word.

Do I hope they're poring over every sentence? Absolutely! I'm passionate about my writing and writing in general. But I'm a realist and would prefer that more people learn or take something from my writing than have a select few read every word and laud me for sentence construction.

I still point people to my post on readability as a way to get started down this road. Make no mistake, those who optimize for readability will succeed (even with lesser content) than those that refuse to do so out of ego or other rationalizations (I'm looking at you Google blogs).

I will shout in the face of the next person who whines that they shouldn't have to use an image in their post or that they only want people who are 'serious about the subject' to read their article. Wake up before you're the Geocities of the Internet.

Tomato

The one thing I do know is that being authentic and having a personality can help you stand out. It can help you to at least get and retain attention and sometimes even become memorable. Here's a bit of writing advice from Charles Stross.

Third and final piece of advice: never commit to writing something at novel length that you aren't at least halfway in love with. Because if you're phoning it in, your readers will spot it and throw rotten tomatoes at you. And because there's no doom for a creative artist that's as dismal as being chained to a treadmill and forced to play a tune they secretly hate for the rest of their working lives.

The emphasis is mine. Don't. Phone. It. In.

Add To The Shortcut

Using Attention

Dude Where's My Car?

When you do get someone's attention, what are you doing with it? You want them to add your site, product or brand to that cognitive shortcut. So the next time a piece of that content comes up in the attention auction you've got the inside track. They recognize it and select it intuitively.

For instance, every time I see something new from Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal, I give it my attention. He's delivered quality and memorable content enough times that he doesn't have to fight so hard for my attention. I have a preconceived notion of quality that I bring to each successive interaction with his content.

Welcome to branding 101.

Consistently creating positive and memorable interactions (across multiple channels) will cause users to associate your site, product or brand as being worthy of attention.

Let me be more explicit about that term 'interactions'. Every time you're up in the attention auction counts as an interaction. So if I choose to pass on reading your content, that counts and not in a good way. We're creatures of habit so the more times I pass on something the more likely I am to continue passing on it.

Add to that the perception (or reality) that we have less time per piece of content and each opportunity you have to get in front of a user is critical.

Now, if I actually get someone to share a piece of content, will it be presented in a way that will win the attention auction? If it isn't not only have I squandered that user action but I may have created a disincentive for sharing in the future. If I share something and no one gives me a virtual high five of thanks for doing so will I continue to share content from that source?

Poor social snippet optimization is like putting a kick-me sign on your user's back.

Memorable

Make A Short Cut

If you want to be added to that cognitive shortcut you need to make it easy for them to do so. You need them to remember and remember in the 'right' way.

I've read quite a bit lately about ensuring your content is useful. I find this bit of advice exceedingly dull. I mean, are you creating content to be useless? I'm sure content spammers might but by in large most aren't. Not only that but there's plenty of great content that isn't traditionally useful unless you count tickling the funny bone as useful.

Of course you've also probably read about how tapping into emotion can propel your content to the top! Well, there's some truth to that but that's often at odds with being useful such as creating a handy bookmarklet or a tutorial on Excel. I suppose you could link it to frustration but you're not going to have some Dove soap tear-jerker piece mashed up with Excel functions. Even Annie Cushing can't pull that off.

Story telling is also a fantastic device but it's not a silver bullet either. Mind you, I think it has a better chance than most but even then you're really retaining attention instead of increasing memory.

Cocktail Party

You have to make your content cocktail party ready. Your content has to roll off the tongue in conversation.

I read this piece on Global Warming in The New York Times.

I heard this song by Katy Perry about believing in yourself.

I saw this funny ad where Will Ferrell tosses eggs at a Dodge.

Seriously, when you're done with a piece of your content, describe it to someone out loud in one sentence. That's what it'll be reduced to for the most part.

As humans we categorize or tag things so we can easily recall them. I think the scientific term here is 'coding' of information. If we can't easily do so it's tough for us to talk about them again, much less find them again. As an aside, re-finding content is something we do far more often than we realize and is something Google continues to try to solve.

Even when we can easily categorize and file away that bit of information, we're not divvying it up into a very fine structure. Only the highlights make it into memory. We only take a few things from the source information. A sort of whisper down the lane effect takes place. You suddenly don't remember who wrote it, or where you saw it.

We're trying to optimize the ability to recall that information by using the right coding structure, one that we'll be able to remember.

Shh Armpit

It's the reason you need to be careful about if or how you go about guest blogging. This is also why I generally despise (strong word I know) Infographics. Because more often than not if you hear someone refer to one they say 'That Infographic on Water Conservation' or 'That Infographic on The History of Beer'.

Guess what, they have no clue where they saw it or what brand it represents. Seriously. Because usually the only two things remembered are the format (Infographic) and the topic. When I ask people to name the brands behind Infographics I usually get two responses: Mint and OK Cupid. Kudos to them but a big raspberry for the rest of you.

"But the links" I hear some of you moan. Stop. Stop it right now! That lame ass link (no don't tell me about the DA number) is nothing compared to the attention you just squandered.

I'm not saying that Infographics can't work, but they have to be done thoughtfully, for the right reasons and to support your brand. Okay, rant over.

Ensuring people walk away with a concise meaning increases satisfaction. And getting them to repeat it to someone else helps secure your content in memory. The act of sharing helps add your site or brand to that user's shortcut.

If there were a formula you could follow that would guarantee great content, why is there so much crap? If we all knew what makes a hit song or a hit movie why isn't every song and film a success? This isn't easy and anyone telling you different is lying.

Consistent

Janet Jackson

You can also add to the shortcut by creating an expectation. This can be around the quality of your content but that's pretty tough to execute on. I mean, I completely failed at generating enough blog content last year. I'm not advocating a paint-by-numbers schedule, but I had more to say and at some point if you're name isn't out there they begin to forget you.

There's a fair amount of research that shows that memory is a new mapping of neurons and that the path becomes stronger with repeated exposure. You inherently know this by studying. The more you study the more you remember.

But what if the memory of your site or brand, that path you're creating in your user's mind, isn't clear. What if the first time you associate the brand with one thing and the next time it's not quite that thing you thought it was. Or that the time between exposures is so great that you can't find that path anymore and inadvertently create a new path. How many times have you saved something only to realize you already saved it at some point in the past?

Now, I'm out there in other ways. I keep my Twitter feed going with what I hope is a great source of curated content across a number of industries. My Google+ feed is full of the same plus a whole bunch of other content that serves as a sort of juxtaposition to the industry specific content.

One of the more successful endeavors on Google+ is my #ididnotwakeupin series where I share photos from places around the world. It's a way for me to vicariously travel. So every morning for more than two years I've posted a photo tagged with #ididnotwakeupin.

The series gets a decent amount of engagement and if I tried harder (i.e. - interacted with other travel and photography folks) I'm pretty sure I could turn it into something bigger. I even had an idea of turning it into a coffee table book. I haven't though. Why? Because there's only so much time in every day. See what I did there?

Another example of this is Moz's Whiteboard Friday series. You aren't even sure what the topic is going to be but over time people expect it to be good so they tune in.

Or there's Daily Grace It's Grace on YouTube where people expect and get a new video from Grace Helbig every Monday through Friday. Want to double-down on consistent? Tell me what phrase you remember after watching this video from Grace (might be NSFW depending on your sensitivity).

Very ... yeah, you know.

That's right. Repetition isn't a bad thing. The mere exposure effect demonstrates that the more times we're exposed to something the better chance we'll wind up liking it. This is what so many digital marketing gurus don't want you to hear.

Saturation marketing (still) works because more exposure equals familiarity which improves cognitive fluency which makes it easier to remember.

It's sort of like the chorus in a song, right? Maybe you don't know all the words to each verse but you know the chorus! Particularly if you can't get away from hearing it on the radio every 38 minutes.

In some ways, the number of exposures necessary is inversely proportional to the quality of the content. Great content or ads don't need much repetition but for me to know that it's JanuANY at Subway this month might take a while.

Climbing Mount Diablo

And the biggest mistake I see people make is stopping. "We blogged for a few months and saw some progress but not enough to keep investing in it." This is like stopping your new diet and exercise regimen because you only lost 6 pounds.

You always have to be out there securing and reinforcing your brand as a cognitive shortcut.

Does Pepsi decide that they just don't need to do any more advertising? Everyone knows about Pepsi so why spend a billion dollars each year marketing it? You just can't coast. Well, you can, but you're taking a huge risk. Because someone or something else might fill the void. (Note to self, I need to take this advice.)

Shared

Everywhere

The act of sharing content likely means it will be remembered. To me it's almost like having to describe that content in your head again as you share it. You have that small moment where you have to ask questions about what you're sharing, with who and why it's interesting.

So sharing isn't just about getting your content in front of other people it's helping to cement your content in the mind of that user.

Of course, having the same piece of content float in front of your face a number of times from different sources helps tremendously. Not only are you hitting on the mere exposure effect you're also introducing some social proof to the equation.

To me the goal isn't really to 'go viral' but to increase the number of times I'm winning the attention auction by getting there more often with an endorsement.

You might not click on that 'What City Should You Actually Live In?' quiz on Facebook the first time but after four people have posted their answers you just might cave and click through. (Barcelona by they way.)

Examples

Breaking Bad

Walt and Jessie Suited Up on The Couch Eating

How did Breaking Bad become such a huge hit? It wasn't when it first started out. I didn't watch the first two seasons live.

But enough people did and AMC kept the faith and kept going. Because enough people were talking about it. It was easy to talk about too. "This show where a chemistry teacher becomes a meth dealer." Bonus points that the plot made it stand out from anything else on TV.

And then you figured out that you could watch it on Netflix! People gave it a try. Then they began to binge watch seasons and they were converts. They wanted more. MOAR!

Of course none of it would have happened if it weren't a great show. But Breaking Bad was also consistent, persistent, memorable and available.

BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed Logo

I know what you're thinking. BuzzFeed? Come on, their content sucks! And for the most part I'd have to agree. But it's sort of a guilty pleasure isn't it?

Here's why I think BuzzFeed works. You've found yourself on a BuzzFeed 'article' a number of times. It's not high quality in most senses of the word but it does often entertain. Not only that it does so very quickly.

If I'm 'reading' the 25 Times Anna Kendrick Was Painfully Accurate post I'm only scrolling through briefly and I do get a chuckle or two out of it. This has happened enough times that I know what to expect from BuzzFeed.

I've created a cognitive shortcut that tells me that I can safely click-through on a BuzzFeed post because I'll get a quick laugh out of it. They entertain and they respect my time. For my wife that same function is filled by Happy Place.

Blind Five Year Old

Blind Five Year Old Logo

How about my site and personal brand? I've done pretty well but it took me quite a while to get there, figuring out a bunch of stuff along the way.

Seriously, I blogged in relative obscurity from 2008 to 2010. But over time the quality of my posts won over a few people. But quality wasn't enough. I also got better and better at optimizing my content for readability and for sharing.

I use a lot of images in my content. And I spend a lot of time on selecting and placing them. I still think I botched the placement of an image in my Keywords Still Matter post. And it still irks me. No, I'm not joking.

The images make it easier to read. Not only do they give people a rest, they allow me to connect on a different level. Sometimes I might be able to communicate an idea better with the help of that image. It helps to make it all click.

I use a lot of music references as images. Part of it is because I like music but part of it is because if you're suddenly singing that song in your head, then you're associating my content with that song, if even just a little. When I do that I have a better chance of you remembering that content. I've helped create a tag in your mental filing system.

I try to build more ways for you to connect my content in your head.

TL;DR

We have more choices more often when it comes to content. In response to this we're protecting our time and attention by making decisions on content faster. Knowing this, marketers must work harder to fit cognitive shortcuts we've created, based on experience, for what is perceived as clickable or authoritative content.

Alternatively, the consistent delivery and visibility of memorable content can help marketers create a cognitive shortcut, giving themselves an unfair advantage when their content comes up in the attention auction.

Closing Google Reader Is Dangerous

March 14 2013 // Social Media + Technology // 39 Comments

I'm a dedicated Google Reader user, spending hours each day using it to keep up on any number of topics. So my knee-jerk reaction to the news that Google will close the service as of July 1, 2013 was one of shock and anger.

I immediately Tweeted #savegooglereader and posted on Google+ in hopes of getting it to trend or go hot. These things are silly in the scheme of things. But what else is there to do?

I've written previously that the problem with RSS readers is marketing. I still believe that (it's TiVo for web content people!) but in the end that's not why closing Google Reader is so dangerous. And it is dangerous.

Google Reader Fuels Social

Google Reader Is The Snowpack of Social

Photo via double-h

The announcement indicates that, while having a loyal following, usage has declined. That's a rather nebulous statement, though I don't truly expect Google to provide the exact statistics. But it's who is still using Google Reader that is important, is it not?

Participation inequality, often called the 90-9-1 principle, should be an important factor in analyzing Google Reader usage. Even if you believe that the inequality isn't as pronounced today, those that are contributing are still a small bunch.

Studies on participation on Twitter have shown this to be true, both from what content is shared and who is sharing it. That means that the majority of the content shared is still from major publications and that we get that information through influencers. But where do they get it?

Google Reader.

RSS readers are the snowpack of social networks.

Organizing Information

Jigsaw Puzzle Pieces

Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. By extension that is what Google Reader lets power-users do. Make no mistake, Google Reader is not a mainstream product. Google (and many others) have screwed up how to market time-shifted online reading.

The result is that those using Google Reader are different. They're the information consumers. They're the ones sifting through the content (organizing) and sharing it with their community (accessible) on platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ (useful).

Google Reader allows a specific set of people to help Google fulfill their mission.

Losing Identity

AJ Kohn Cheltenham High School ID

There are replacements to Google Reader such as Feedly. So you can expect that the people who fuel social networks will find other ways to obtain and digest information so they can filter it for their followers. Problem solved, right? Wrong.

Why exactly does Google want to hand over this important part of the ecosystem to someone else? With Google Reader they know who I am, what feeds I subscribe to, which ones I read and then which ones I wind up sharing on Google+.

Wouldn't knowing that dynamic, of understanding how people evaluate content and determine what is worthy of sharing, be of interest to Google? It should be. It's sort of what they want to excel at.

Not only that but because Google Reader has product market fit (see how I got that buzzword in there) with influencers or experts, you're losing an important piece of the puzzle if you're thinking about using social sharing and Authorship as search signals.

Data Blind

Data Blind

In the end, I'm surprised because it makes Google data blind. As I look at Unicorn, Facebook's new inverted-index system, I can't help but think that Facebook would love to have this information. Mining the connections and activity between these nodes seems messy but important.

What feeds do I subscribe to? That social gesture could be called a Like in some ways. What feeds do I read? That's a different level of engagement and could even be measured by dwell time. What feeds and specific content do I share? These are the things that I am endorsing and promoting.

By having Google Reader integrated into the Google+ ecosystem, they can tell when I consumed that information and when I then shared it, not just on Google+ but on other platforms if Google is following the public social graph (which we all know they are.)

Without Google Reader, Google loses all of that data and only sees what is ultimately shared publicly. Never mind the idea that Google Reader might be powering dark social which could connect and inform influencers. Gone is that bit of insight too.

Multi-Channel Social

Daft Punk Discovery

As a marketer I'm consumed with attribution and Google Analytics clearly understands the importance of multi-channel modeling. We even see the view-through metric in Google Adwords display campaigns.

The original source and exposure of content is of huge importance. Google might have Ripples but that only tells them how the content finally entered Google+ not how that content was discovered.

I'm certain that users will find alternatives because there is a need for this service. Google just won't know what new sites influencers might be reading more of or which sites might be waning with subject matter experts. Google will only see the trailing indicators, not the leading ones.

TL;DR

Google Reader allows information consumers - influencers and subject matter experts - to fuel social networks and help fulfill Google's core mission. Closing Google Reader will put that assistance in the hands of another company or companies and blinds Google to human evaluation data for an important set of users.

2013 Internet, SEO and Technology Predictions

December 31 2012 // Advertising + Marketing + SEO + Social Media + Technology // 15 Comments

I've made predictions for the past four years (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012) and think I've done pretty well as a prognosticator.

I'm sometimes off by a year or two and many of my predictions are wrong where my predictions were more like personal wishes. But it's interesting to put a stake in the ground so you can look back later.

2013 Predictions

2013 Predictions Crystal Ball

Mobile Payment Adoption Soars

If you follow my Marketing Biz column you know I'm following the mobile payments space closely. Research seems to indicate that adoption of mobile payments will take some time in the US based on current attitudes.

I believe smartphone penetration and the acceptance of other similar payments such as app store purchases and Amazon Video on Demand will smooth the way for accelerated mobile payment adoption. Who wins in this space? I'm still betting on Google Wallet.

Infographics Jump The Shark

Frankly, I think this has already happened but perhaps it's just me. So I'm going to say I'm the canary in the coal mine and in 2013 everyone else will get sick and tired of the glut of bad Infographics.

Foursquare Goes Big

The quirky gamification location startup that was all about badges and mayorships is growing up into a mature local search portal. I expect to see Foursquare connect more dots in 2013, making Yelp very nervous and pissing off Facebook who will break their partnership when they figure out that Foursquare is eating their local lunch.

Predictive Search Arrives

Google Now is a monster. The ability to access your location and search history, combined with personal preferences allows Google to predict your information needs. Anyone thinking about local optimization should be watching this very closely.

Meme Comments

A new form of comments and micro-blogging will emerge where the entire conversation is meme based. Similar to BuzzFeed's reactions, users will be able to access a database of meme images, perhaps powered by Know Your Meme, to respond and converse.

Search Personalization Skyrockets

Despite the clamor from filter bubble and privacy hawks, Google will continue to increase search personalization in 2013. They'll do this through context, search history, connected accounts (Gmail field trial) and Google+.

The end result will be an ever decreasing uniformity in search results and potential false positives in many rank tracking products.

Curation Marketing

Not content with the seemingly endless debate of SEO versus Inbound Marketing versus Content Marketing versus Growth Hacking we'll soon have another buzzword entering the fray.

Curation marketing will become increasingly popular as a way to establish expertise and authority. Like all things, only a few will do it the right way and the rest will be akin to scraped content.

Twitter Rakes It In 

I've been hard on Twitter in the past and for good reason. But in 2013 Twitter will finally become a massive money maker as it becomes the connection in our new multi-screen world. As I wrote recently, Twitter will win the fight for social brand advertising dollars.

De-pagination

After spending years and literally hundreds of blog posts about the proper way to paginate we'll see a trend toward de-paginating in the SEO community. The change will be brought on by the advent of new interfaces and capabilities. (Blog post forthcoming.)

Analytics 3.0 Emerges

Pulling information out of big data will be a trend in 2013. But I'm even more intrigued by Google's Universal Analytics and location analytics services like Placed. Marketers are soon going to have a far more complete picture of user behavior, Minority Report be damned!

Ingress Becomes Important

I'm a bit addicted to Ingress. At first you think this is just a clever way for Google to further increase their advantage on local mapping. And it is.

But XM is essentially a map Android usage. You see a some in houses, large clusters at transit stops, movie theaters and doctor's offices, essentially anywhere there are lines. You also see it congregate at intersections and a smattering of it on highways.

Ingress shows our current usage patterns and gives Google more evidence that self-driving cars could increase Internet usage, which is Google's primary goal these days.

Digital Content Monetization

For years we've been producing more and more digital content. Yet, we still only have a few scant ways to monetize all of it and they're rather inefficient when you think about it. Someone (perhaps even me) will launch a new way to monetize digital content.

I Will Interview Matt Cutts

No, I don't have this lined up. No, I'm not sure I'll be able to swing it. No, I'm not sure the Google PR folks would even allow it. But ... I have an idea. So stay tuned.

Twitter Will Win The Social Brand Advertising War

November 26 2012 // Advertising + Social Media // 42 Comments

Twitter will steal Facebook's bacon and become the most powerful brand advertising platform on the planet.

That's saying a lot since I previously called Twitter the Underpants Gnomes of the Internet. But Twitter has changed and is no longer simply an altruistic agent of social change with revenue as a side gig. In 2013, Twitter means business.

That's Entertainment

That's Entertainment

Those who have been on Twitter the longest probably still think of Twitter as an information source. You may remember back in 2009 when people began talking about how Twitter was their replacement for RSS feeds.

I was not one of those people. Don't get me wrong, I found some value out of Twitter from an information perspective (and still do), but the signal to noise ratio was never that good.

But here's what I've realized. Twitter is not about information anymore. It's meta-entertainment.

Mark Cuban recently called Facebook a time waster, an alternative to boredom that looked far more like TV than a Google search. I think he's right and his description applies to both Facebook and Twitter.

Supporting the idea of social media as entertainment is a March of 2012 The Hollywood Reporter study.

Nine of 10 respondents view social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook as a new form of entertainment, and more than half say social media sites are important tastemakers in determining what to watch and buy. Perhaps more surprising, 80 percent of television viewers visit Facebook while they watch.

Of course I have to believe these numbers might be a bit over-inflated based on who commissioned the study, but the general thesis resonates and seems solid.

Mobile Is Where It's At

Twitter was mobile before it was sexy to be mobile. Mind you, it wasn't really Twitter who figured out mobile. They had a robust community of third-party developers who led them to that conclusion over the course of many years. With all that data staring them in the face they moved quickly to double down on mobile. And it's paid off.

Oh, did you notice the hashtag in that Tweet? Hello McFly!

Multi-Screen Viewing

Twitter's lead in mobile has allowed them to capture the multi-screen viewing market. Make no mistake, this is the future of content consumption. Twitter understands that they can play a huge part, perhaps the connective tissue, between TV and other screens.

Multi-Screen Viewing

These are not this or that experiences but this and that experiences. Twitter is adding value to mass media content.

Pew found that 52% of adult cell phone owners use their phones while watching television. That's the popular stat but it gets even more interesting if you look at just smartphone users.

Fully 74% of smartphone owners reported using their devices in one way or another while watching television in the preceding 30 days, compared with 27% of non-smartphone owners.

Of course, smartphones comprise the majority of phones (and rising), making this even more important. Yet, an April 2012 Forrester report shows that smartphones are already being displaced in many ways by tablets.

Tablets are displacing PCs and smartphones as the “couch computer” of choice: 85% of US tablet owners use their tablets while watching TV, and according to Nielsen, 30% of total tablet time is spent while watching TV.

The real takeaway here isn't which screen is winning but that we're entering a multi-screen viewing environment. Twitter, not Facebook, seems best positioned to capitalize on this new reality.

Owning The Hashtag

 

Twitter Hashtags

The hashtag is Twitter's secret weapon.

While anyone can use a hashtag most consumers see it as synonymous with Twitter. I have to say I wasn't a huge fan of the hashtag at first. Or, rather, I didn't like the way many abused it, using more hashtags than normal words in a Tweet. (I still think that's moronic.)

But hashtags are clearly a great way to aggregate content on a topic or event. Just watch a stream of Tweets from a conference and you'll begin to understand the value of hashtags.

What's more, when you're attending a multi-track conference you often use the stream of Tweets from the sessions you don't attend as a comparison and cheat sheet. It's not unusual to hear someone complain that they were in the wrong session based on a comparison of Tweet streams.

Yet, I was still annoyed by hashtags until I read a piece by Denton Gentry on the use of hashtags to improve communication. Sure hashtags were great functionally but Denton made me realize that they were also ways to add expression.

Why does this matter in this context? The hashtag became entertainment. Hashtag memes were born and those brands who understood how to tap into this dynamic could create entertainment.

Collaborative Entertainment

We Are The Entertainment

The hashtag and Twitter's short form anti-conversation content has created an opportunity for collaborative entertainment. It's not about conversations it's about the ever-changing aggregate of opinion, insight and snark.

I was recently down in Los Angeles on business and happened to be in the airport during the second Presidential debate. How did I wind up 'watching' it? On Twitter using the #debate stream. It was actually quite easy, interesting and fun to follow the debate this way.

I wasn't going to wade into the mess of politics with my own Tweets but it was an entertaining way to view the debate and how others were interpreting it.

Pages vs Hashtags

Since the introduction of the Open Graph I really thought that Facebook wanted to kill Pages. In the last few years Facebook has made it more and more difficult for brands and businesses to make Pages worthwhile.

Yes, yes, I know you have a client or a case study that shows they're killing it on Facebook but from the reduced functionality and reach I think most are swimming upstream on Pages.

I actually think it's a smart idea to get rid of Pages but that's a post for another day. The problem is Facebook has no alternative place to aggregate brand conversations. Unfortunately, Facebook doesn't support the hashtag.

Facebook conversations are with brands. Twitter conversations are about brands.

This is really the functional difference between the two platforms right now. Many still cling to the notion that people want to have conversations with brands. I simply don't think that's true. Conversations with brands are not social. Yet that's the implicit goal of Facebook Pages.

Conversely you need not follow a brand on Twitter to view that stream of hashtag content. I can tune in when I want and it doesn't even need to be explicitly brand centric. Examples are littered over our television screens. Think of the hashtags on Survivor (#rewardchallenge and #immunitychallenge) or The Soup (#satanstoaster) to name just a few.

The hashtag is both a connection and platform for multi-screen collaborative entertainment.

User Centric Engagement

You don't have to follow CBS or Survivor. You tune in when you want to tune in. Think about how scary and powerful that is!

The brand account could still be a valuable part of the ecosystem but it wouldn't need to be the center of the brand experience. That might allow accounts to add value instead of incessantly trying to collect followers and figure out ways to break through the noise or crack the EdgeRank algorithm.

In fact, brands can participate in the hashtag stream along with everyone else, supplying 'official' announcements or insider content when appropriate. The role of an official account is to egg on your fans to provide that meta-entertainment.

Sure, the number of fans or followers seems comforting but we've all seen how little engagement results from these massive numbers. In the end it comes down not to who you follow but what content you're engaging in.

Viewers Like You 

Red View-Master

Imagine knowing which hashtag streams a user has viewed! How valuable would that information be? How easy would it be to advertise to lapsed viewers? Or to understand the other programming or products you might be losing out to based on viewing behavior. This isn't about the brands I say I like but the ones I'm actively consuming.

The hand-wringing over active users as defined as those who Tweet or how many people they follow may be completely specious. The pure 'lurker' may be just as valuable, particularly for brand advertisers. I'd be far more interested to know about interaction based how many hashtag streams users viewed and the dwell time on those streams.

And there's a really interesting opportunity to map hashtags to brands and categories, not to mention crawling the public social graph of accounts to develop demographic data. It would become relatively easy to match advertisers to users who frequently view a variety of hashtag streams.

The discussion around viewers makes me think about traditional TV advertising. Twitter seems to think so too if comments by Joel Lunenfeld at IAB MIXX are any indication.

A campaign on Twitter, he said, is “the ultimate complement to a TV buy.”

Can they make it any more clear?

Beyond Text

Twitter Gets Visual

Twitter is doing a lot to make the experience more visual which is critical not just to keep up with competitors but to get mainstream adoption. And the new email Tweet feature continues to push them to a broader audience.

Again, I think Twitter is being relatively transparent in how they're approaching this issue.

People tell incredible stories on Twitter through photos and videos. When you search for a person, an event or a hashtag, you can now see a grid of the most relevant media above the stream of Tweets.

You can also see media instantly in your search results stream on iPhone and Android. Photos and article summaries automatically show previews to give you a bird’s eye view on what’s happening.

This makes Twitter far more visual, compelling and ... entertaining. The need for a consistent experience is also the reason why Twitter pulled back on the third-party apps and ecosystem as a whole.

You need a reliable, safe and consistent platform when securing major brand advertisers.

Context Matters

Facebook has a lot of advantages in being able to capture attention and profile interests. But there's a fundamental problem with Facebook. It's far more about navel gazing than anything else. The context is still largely personal.

Facebook aggregates your social graph while Twitter aggregates everything around a specific topic.

Even when someone shares something on Facebook it's as much about who shared it with you as what is shared. You're connected with the person not the content. Twitter is the other way around, with content coming first and people reduced to a filter.

Twitter Hashtag Filter

Both platforms deliver a type of social voyeurism as entertainment, but the context is different.

Checking out the photos from a friend's marathon run is not the most effective time or place to advertise running shoes. Sure the topic is right but the context is all wrong. I'm not looking at the marathon photos with shopping in mind. Heck I could hate running. Instead, I'm doing so because I want to keep up with my friend.

The person is important, the content isn't. That's not an optimal environment for advertising, even for intent generation.

Twitter Advertising

Twitter has been busy building out different advertising opportunities culminating recently in interest targeting. I'm not sure how this will all work for small businesses, but I don't think anyone has fully solved that one yet.

However, I believe Twitter is laying the groundwork to catch traditional offline brand advertising dollars moving online. Twitter is creating a comfortable and recognizable entertainment platform that allows advertisers to connect and extend traditional channels.

Not only will brands and businesses want to advertise against these new forms of meta-entertainment, but they'll seek out ways to create their own. There's been a lot of talk about content marketing lately but what I see is the dawn of content advertising.

TL;DR

Twitter has quickly evolved into a collaborative entertainment platform that serves as the glue of multi-screen viewing. Their focus on mobile, visual makeover and tacit ownership of the hashtag puts Twitter and not Facebook in a position to capture the lion's share of brand advertising dollars moving online.

The Future of Twitter is Twumblr

August 02 2012 // Advertising + Social Media // 18 Comments

Twitter is changing and a lot of people don't like it. Developers are howling at being cut out and users are concerned about change. But the fact of the matter is that for Twitter to flourish it'll need to evolve. Twitter needs to become Twumblr.

The Internet Is Visual

Surprised and Shocked Looking Cat Drawing

Remember, Twitter was established before the launch of the iPhone or Chrome. Yeah, think about that. Twitter has been around for over six years with a virtually unchanged UX. During that time the Internet has changed dramatically. It's become vastly more visual in nature.

Many argue Facebook built their business on pictures. Look at the popularity of Flipboard, Pinterest and Instagram. Not to mention the incredible power of memes.

Twitter Cards

In light of this trend, Twitter recently introduced Twitter Cards, new structured mark-up that essentially creates rich snippets for Tweets. (Here's how you can implement them.)

What this does is transform Twitter from a text based medium to a visual medium. Right now the default for Twitter Cards is closed, but what would happen if the default was set to open?

Twitter Cards Make Twitter Look Like Tumblr

Suddenly Twitter looks a whole lot more like Tumblr, doesn't it? And that's not a bad thing as far as I'm concerned. Nor does it seem like a bad idea to Twitter.

As for the platform itself, Costolo said Twitter is heading in a direction where its 140-character messages are not so much the main attraction but rather the caption to other forms of content.

That's a really interesting insight from Twitter's CEO. I'm not sure you could make it any more clear than that.

Advertising Demands Attention

The reason this is all so important is that advertising demands attention. Twitter simply doesn't have enough of it right now. People don't sit on or browse Twitter. Instead, Twitter functions like the digital version of those black electricity power lines that cut across our landscape, ferrying people to interesting content where it is then monetized.

You'd think being a utility of sorts would be a good place to be, but it requires charging for the delivery of that content. The problem is, Twitter doesn't own the power plants (content) nor limits who uses their service. All they really own are those wires and that's important but ultimately ... a commodity.

Twitter realizes that they need to be a destination. They need attention and eyeballs so they can monetize that content. They don't want you reading Tweets on LinkedIn or in a third-party application. They want you to read them where they can advertise against them.

There have been many arguments recently about whether Twitter is looking to usurp those publishers. That there's a tension there that will ultimately cause a rift. There might be, but perhaps not if Twitter can pull this off (which is not altogether clear.)

Twitter Wants to Monetize Sets of Content

If we think about Twitter less as an Internet megaphone and more as a curation service, you begin to see how it benefits users, Twitter and publishers.

Your stream becomes a highly curated set of content. It's that set of content that Twitter seeks to monetize, not each individual piece. It is then up to individual content creators to ensure their content is optimized for that environment. That means good titles and great visuals to take advantage of scanning behavior.

Of course Twitter will allow advertisers to promote content into that steam, but it is all on the premise that the set of content displayed is valuable and secures attention.

Frictionless Engagement

Instead, I'm far more interested in how this impacts engagement. Because Tumblr is on to something.

Frictionless Engagement Example from Wil Wheaton

They've reduced the friction of engagement by asking users to perform only one of two actions: reblog or like. And if you scroll back up and look at those open Twitter Cards you'll note that the same metrics are displayed: retweets and favorites. That's not a coincidence in my opinion.

The huge numbers on Tumblr are not an aberration either. There is a very connected and engaged audience there. Marketers should be falling over themselves to get their brands in front of these people.

This is also the reason I'm not convinced that limiting third-party development is some sort of death knell. It's always hard to put the horse back in the barn, but you can have a decent developer ecosystem that builds value into your platform, not outside of it.

Conversation Killer?

Someecard About Conversation

The question for me is about conversation and comments. Tumblr is frustrating in this regard. Yet maybe that's by design. Sure, you can integrate DISQUS into Tumblr but it's certainly not the out-of-the-box default. Deeper engagement is found on the publisher site or other social networks.

The question to me is whether publishers want to own the conversation. Do they want users to comment and converse on their site? Many seem to think comments are more trouble than they're worth but I have to believe that being the place where conversation is happening is good for business, if only for the extra page views.

That's where Twitter has a problem. Because many use Twitter like a public instant messaging platform. The problem? It's far from instant. You wind up having these clipped asynchronous conversations that feel like deep space time delay communication.

And the 140 character limit doesn't even work to provide any type of real dialog. Other platforms like Google+ are far better at fostering strong conversations.

So, does Twitter want to try to hijack those conversations and foster deeper engagement on Twitter proper? To me, that's the greater threat to publishers. Sure, Twitter wants to be a destination but not the destination.

TL;DR

Twitter needs to embrace radical change and evolve to stay relevant. The future of Twitter is one in which they monetize a visual set of ever changing curated content that captures attention but not conversation.

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+.

Twitter Cards Are Rich Snippets For Tweets

June 18 2012 // SEO + Social Media + Technology // 27 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.

Social Echo

May 01 2012 // SEO + Social Media // 14 Comments

How many Tweets does it take to impact rank? How important are +1s? Should I care about LinkedIn shares? Are Likes more important than Tweets?

I'm seeing these types of questions again and again and again as people try to understand the impact of social on search. Many seem to think there's a formula. They want to know that if they get 145 Tweets and 62 +1s that their efforts will be rewarded by some specific amount.

Birch tree trunks in forest

These are all interesting studies but do they miss the forest for the trees?

The Social Echo

In truth, it's not about those specific Tweets, Shares, +1s and Likes. It's the echo of those events that is meaningful. It's the fact that someone sees that Tweet, goes and reads your content, finds it valuable and then decides to save, comment, share or link to it.

If a blog post gets 100 Tweets and those Tweets are seen by 100 people each then you've gotten your content in front of 10,000 people. Of those 10,000 people you're hoping that some percentage of them wind up talking about and citing your work.

The strength of the social echo is what translates into search success.

Not Just Links

So the social echo is just about getting more links? No. Mind you, links are important and doubly in this instance because these are the organic links you really want. But the social echo goes beyond links.

Good things happen when your content is shared. More people are exposed to (and will recall) your brand. You'll get more followers and subscribers to your blog or site. People are more likely to talk (in the real world!) about your site or blog. You'll get invited to speak at industry events. (True story.)

It's just good marketing.

A Numbers Game?

Olivia Wilde Thirteen

If you get more Tweets, +1s and Likes, are you more likely to receive that social echo? Yes and no.

Obviously if you have 5,000 Tweets, some of them are going to find there way to people who will take meaningful actions. So the law of numbers does work when you get to scale.

But buying Likes or getting your 'tribe' to Tweet your content will produce a very low social echo. The motivation behind social action matters! The odds that these types of manufactured events spread to others, create conversation and result in downstream links is extremely low.

Artificially increasing those numbers will not do you an ounce of good. Okay, it may provide you with social proof that could encourage a few other sheep people to share your content, but that's about it.

Quality over Quantity

I'm not talking about content (though this turn of phrase fits there too) but about followers or fans. Kevin Kelly's 1000 true fans comes to mind, but isn't a perfect match for the social echo. Why? You need to connect with other creators and curators.

The social echo follows the 90-9-1 rule of contribution. Get the right people talking about your content and your social echo will explode. Yes, having a bunch of people willing to endorse (aka Tweet, Like, +1) your content is great. But other creators need to see value in and use your content.

That's when things get interesting.

How To Increase Your Social Echo

Spinal Tap Volume

There's no formula but there are ways to give your content a better chance of being saved, shared, engaged on and referenced by others.

Be Authentic

Being fake isn't going to get you very far in social. Authenticity doesn't mean you're the smartest or that you're 'right' or even that you're original. It means that you're being real.

Pick Your Platforms

You only have so many hours in the day and to remain authentic you need to choose platforms that work for you and your audience. Your audience may be on Tumblr or HackerNews or Inbound.org. Maybe you just don't like using Facebook (or is that just me?) You want depth, not breadth, so pick judiciously.

Produce Great Content

I know you're sick of hearing this but it's true. Not only that, but great has to be defined by others, not you or your loved ones or your employees. Find someone who can tell you that your baby is ugly.

Make Your Content Portable

Reduce the friction to sharing your content. Make it easy to share on your site and on other sites by implementing better sharing buttons and optimizing your social snippet.

Follow Up

Respond to people who comment on your blog. Thank those who promote your work. Discuss your content with people on various social platforms. You need not be present for every conversation but you can't afford to be J.D. Salinger either.

Curate and Comment

It's not just about being active on your own content. Engage in the content of others. Curate and share the best from your industry. Comment on their blogs in a thoughtful way. ("Excellent post" does not count.) This isn't about stalking influencers, it's about following and joining relevant conversations in your area of expertise.

Rinse and Repeat

It won't happen overnight. When you start it'll feel like nothing is happening. You will look at those numbers and feel like a failure. Get over it. Overnight success happens through years and years of work. (And work is never over.)

TL;DR

Success in social is not measured by the number of Tweets, Shares, Likes and +1s but what happens as a result of those actions.

Google+ SEO

January 20 2012 // SEO + Social Media // 228 Comments

This comprehensive Google+ SEO guide covers every aspect and angle of Google+ and how it impacts search. My normal TL;DR has been replaced with a Google+ SEO Best Practices section located at the bottom of this post.

I will be periodically updating this post (updated January 23, 2012) as things inevitably change. Please don't hesitate to comment or contact me with observations or when certain features change. I also thank the many people (on Google+) who helped in the research phase of this guide.

Google+ Search

Most of the attention is on the integration of Google+ in Google search results. However, internal search on Google+ is a fascinating product and lays the groundwork for search integration.

Google+ Search Facets

Google+ search queries return results with a standard selection of facets.

Google+ Search Facets

Sometimes Google selects these facets for you. Specifically, it will default to People and pages for many queries. These are generally category or head terms like SEO, Photography, Chef, CEO, Gardening etc. But a query for something like 'banana bread' will not return a preselected People and pages facet but just provide an Everything feed of content.

You can select certain types of content using what I call the content facet.

Google+ Search Type Facet

This is all pretty self explanatory. I'm still not certain why Sparks has survived though. Next is what I call the universe facet.

Google+ Search Universe Facet

Here you can select what universe of results you want to search. The 'From you' option is extremely handy in finding your own Google+ content. And finally there is what I call the location facet.

Google+ Search Location Facet

At present you can search for Google Check-ins in certain cities. This facet does not get trigged when you use a location modifier. This isn't super useful right now but it does point to future local search opportunities.

Google+ Search Results

The actual results are a live stream of Google+ content.

Google+ Search Time Facet

Most recent is just what it sounds like. So the real-time search everyone thought was going to transform the world is a small feature in Google+ search.

You can switch to Best of which delivers results based on a combination of who is in your Circles and engagement (+1s, comments and shares) on those items with some Sparks content thrown in for good measure. There's some sort of time component at work here as well that skews results to more recent content.

I see this in action when I search for 'I did not wake up in' which returns a number of posts from my personal travel meme, the first few of which are from this week. (Please note that your results may look vastly different than mine.)

Google+ People and Pages Results

The content results are, therefore, pretty straightforward from and SEO perspective. It's the People and pages that are far more interesting and potentially valuable. The question is how these People and pages are selected.

Google+ Search Results

Google+ search results are personalized but through some crowdsourcing I've been able to determine the search signals.

The most important signal is whether the query term appears in the Introduction, Employment, Education or Places lived section of your profile. Danny Sullivan rarely shows up in a search for SEO because he doesn't have the term in any of those fields. He does in his tagline but that's not used in the internal search algorithm. Or if it is, it's not heavily weighted.

Google+ Danny Sullivan Profile

After the query match it's all about who you have in your Circles. If you have more than six people in your Circles who also match the query then it comes down to a mixture of Circle count (heavily weighted), name verification (moderately weighted) and engagement (lightly weighted).

Occupation is not used. How do I know this? I've had Purple Jellyfish Farmer as my occupation for months. A search on this phrase returns no results.

Google+ Purple Jellyfish Farmer Results

Bragging Rights is also not used for People and pages search.

At present results also seem to favor People over Pages. But if you don't have enough People to fill out these results Google backfills with Pages that have that query term in the name and a high Circle count.

Circle count is clearly important but some sort of engagement metric might be at play when the set of people returned is low. It's difficult to say if or to what degree engagement plays a part right now.

Using a new Google+ account I was able to see 'unbiased' results.

Google+ Search Results for New User

While Jonathon has SEO in both Introduction and Employment (having it both places seems to help a lot) and enjoys a solid Circle count I find his inclusion here over others to be curious. These results point to a slight added weight on those who are verified. How you get verified is still a mystery to me. I'm hoping to figure this out in the very near future.

Google+ search results can change quickly. Here's my search for SEO the day after my initial research.

Google+ Search Results for SEO

Danny Sullivan is now appearing instead of Bill Slawski. Why?

Google+ Danny Sullivan Profile Updated

Yup. Including SEO in his Introduction now ensures that Danny will be returned for internal Google+ queries on SEO.

The Places lived section is also used for internal search purposes.

Google+ Search City Modifier Results

The problem here is that I haven't lived in Elkins Park in the last two decades. And if users are looking for people and pages using Google+ then there will be a lot of false positives.

Google+ Search Spam

Clearly there's also an invitation to spam the Places lived section. If I wanted to show up for searches in numerous cities I could just say I lived in all those places. In fact, there are a lot of areas ripe for spam right now.

Google+ Spam for SEO

Arpeet is ranked well up in a search for SEO. I don't know Arpeet. He might be a fine SEO but I found it curious that he was ranked among some of the better known folks in the industry.

Google+ Other Name Spam

Clearly Arpeet is dropping every SEO related keyword in his Introduction but he's also spammed Google+ by claiming his Other name is SEO.

Education can also be spammed.

Google+ Education Spam

The Google+ spam cop (who is not Matt Cutts) will need to keep an eye on these and other methods of spam and over-optimization. Right now it seems way too easy.

Search+

Sorry but I am not going to use that silly name or acronym and instead will refer to the new integration of Google+ into search as Search+. While I will speak to the controversy  surrounding this integration my focus will be on the implementation and what it means for SEO.

In a nutshell Search+ transforms your search results based on the connections, interactions and activity you have on Google+. It is the largest search personalization effort ever attempted by Google.

Search+ can be turned on and off using icons near the top right of the page.

Search+ Icons

This helps to address critics of the filter bubble phenomenon. You can set the default view by clicking the gear icon and selecting search settings.

Search+ Settings

Among other things on the page you can set your Personal results preference. This doesn't mean that you won't be able to access one or the other, it simply sets one as the default view for your search.

People and Pages

One of the bigger features of Search+ is the promotion of People and pages for certain topics.

Search+ People and Pages Example

A search on SEO returns the profiles for Rand and Danny. The screen capture above is in a logged out session. If I were logged in I'd see whether these individuals were in my Circles. If they weren't I'd be given the opportunity to add them right from the search result. Powerful stuff.

So, as it stands the rich seem poised to get richer.

Because Circle count is a primary factor in how these People and Pages are selected. It's not the only thing as I'll soon show you but it's a large part of the equation.

But first, how useful is it to see People and Pages that are already in my Circles? Might it be more interesting to show People and Pages I don't have in my Circles?

Danny and Rand might be the most relevant results but are they relevant if I've already 'found' them. If search is about discovery, then you'd think that the default should be to present people you don't already know. This would actually make this feature interesting for a wider audience.

The assumption here is that all search is about discovery. But it's not. Prior attempts at personalization provided Google with insight into how we use search to re-find content. This can be as simple as navigational search or as detailed as searching for a phrase in hopes of it returning 'lost' content.

While I believe that Search+ tries to address this intent I'm not sure the People and Pages section should be applied to that task. But I digress.

How are People and Pages selected?

First you can click the See more link and look at the list of people.

Search+ See More Results

This is the same personalized list you get when doing an internal G+ search. But the order doesn't map to the selections for People and Pages. In fact, we know that Danny wasn't even optimized for SEO until just recently. Yet, during that time he was being presented in People and Pages for SEO.

So is it just flat out Circle count? No. Here are the People and Pages for Social Media.

Search+ Social Media People and Pages

Makes sense right? But if I click See more I find that Robert Scoble is returned.

Search+ Social Media See More Results

And we all know that more people have Robert in a Circle than Brian or Chris. In fact, he has more than them combined. So it's not just about Circle count. Instead they feel like curated lists. Yet, that flies in the face of Google's steadfast reliance on algorithms.

But it's pretty clear that there is a list of people for each of these terms. Some lists are longer than others. For 'blogger' you can refresh and get a few different people.

Search+ People and Pages BloggerSearch+ People and Pages BloggerSearch+ People and Pages Blogger

But try as I might, no matter how many times I refresh, only Rand and Danny are returned for SEO and Brian and Chris for Social Media. I'm left to conclude that People and Pages are defined, curated lists of people by topic. That means there's nothing you can really do to optimize for these slots. Cue the torches and pitchforks.

[Update 1/25/12] The lists for both 'seo' and 'social media' have been expanded to include a handful of other people. Hit refresh a few times and you'll see them cycle through the list for that topic.

Google+ Posts

Of course what we're paying the most attention to is the actual Search+ results.

Search+ Personalized Results Example

My search for great science fiction returns two personalized results in the 2nd and 5th position. Each of these posts contains a link to a site outside of Google+, as well as a those that lead directly to Google+. While a lot of attention is focused on the latter (Google is biased they scream!), I'm more interested in the former. Because here's what the non-personalized version of this query returns.

Search+ Unpersonalized Results Example

The two sites in my personalized results do not appear in these results. In fact, a site I've already visited (NPR) appear below these personalized results. To optimize for Search+ it is vital that sites produce relevant content that is easily shared. Of course the other element is the reach of those sharing that content. Those who are in more Circles and get more engagement will provide greater exposure for that content.

And if it tips and turns up in What's hot, the reach for that item could be quite substantial. As an experiment, do a Google search for OCD and see if I am one of your personalized results.

This is where Ripples provides some insight. How is your content transmitted through the system? Which users helped to provide your content more reach? Identifying those people and engaging with them could help give your content more search visibility.

Search+ Algorithm

The current Search+ algorithm seems fairly rudimentary and is composed of only a few factors which can sometimes produce results that are less than desirable.

Search+ Algorithm Issues

This humorous post by Steven Hodson won't help me if I'm looking to purchase a mirror.

One of the over-riding factors in the Search+ algorithm is a simple text match on the query. There is no real determination of context or intent which can often produce these types of irrelevant results. This is a real achilles heel in the current implementation from my perspective.

This text match only occurs on those who you have in a Circle. This does limit the potential for spam since you'd hope you haven't Circled a spammer. This also means that your Search+ results will, in large part, be a product of the number and type of people you Circle.

I have a fair amount of people Circled so my Search+ results can often look chaotic. Someone using Google+ just for family might have fewer personal results. Will they be more relevant? Well, think about posts on Google+ (or Facebook) from your own family and decide for yourself.

Where those results rank within Search+ results is another matter. It's clear that engagement, both with that person and on that specific piece of content, is important. Content from people you engage with more often or content that is more popular overall will rank better. 

When content was shared on Google+ also seems to be an influence with Google placing a moderate to heavy weight on recent content. We're still in the beginning phase of the integration so I'm not sure exactly how much weight is being put here yet.

Anecdotally, I've also noticed that non-Public content seems to be given a lesser weight. I'll look to validate this moving forward since this, in some ways, seems backward.

Looking forward I would think that Search+ would need to better understand context and intent to deliver the type of relevance most users are seeking. Don't get me wrong, it works well sometimes but the signal to noise ratio can go sideways quickly, particularly if users are increasing their Google+ Circles and usage.

One way Google may think about solving these issues is by using and automatically filtering by Circle, particularly if they start to provide self-organizing Circle suggestions based on their acquisition of Katango. So instead of searching all your Circles Google may identify the query as being about photography and personalize those results based on your 'Photographers' Circle.

But we're a long way off from that. For now it's all pretty much spaghetti against the wall.

Google +1 Button

The prevalence of explicit social annotations has diminished since the introduction of Search+. The +1 button on search results is now only shown when you hover or rollover that result. The implication here is that the primary use of +1s is to deliver content into the G+ environment where it can then be used for Search+ personalization.

So instead of getting a bunch of visual cruft about how many people +1 this result and that result, they've decided to leverage all that data to deliver personalized results.

That doesn't mean the +1 button isn't important. It is. You want people to +1 your content so that it shows up on Google+ where it can drive traffic and engagement. The total number of +1s may be a social signal, but I'm unsure to what degree.

Google+ +1 Button

The +1 button number only reflects +1s from that URL. It does not take into account the +1s that occur on Google+ as a result of that initial +1. I sense that the latter metric might be more important to Google than the former.

Though if Google wanted to boost the adoption of +1 they could match Facebook and base this number on the +1s of that content from that URL and on Google+ as well as the total number of shares and comments. A higher number presented on the +1 button creates stronger social proof and may actually create additional +1s.

Either way, having the +1 button prominently available is vital for Google+ SEO optimization.

Google+ Social Snippets

I mentioned above that making content that is easily shared is vital. This means that you should make your +1 (and other) buttons easy to find and use. I've had great success with the floating share bar on this blog and on client installations.

Making them available is only half of the battle. How those snippets look is the next part of the optimization process. I have a detailed guide on how to optimize social snippets but will provide a few examples of why it's important to get this right.

+1 Button Optimization Gone Wrong

Google is actually one of the worst offenders when it comes to snippet optimization. They can get away with this but you can't.

+1 Button Optimization Problems

eConsultancy might not be getting as much social engagement on this item because of the poor snippet. The description here is clearly not related and the image, while branded, does nothing to tell me anything more about the story.

Optimizing your social snippets leads to more clicks, more comments and more shares. This is your content on the go and presented in an environment where people are scanning very quickly. Forget the 5 second test, this is the 2 second test.

This isn't even that bad of a snippet since they do have their brand image. Worse is when you see a big RSS or Facebook icon. It happens. It happened to me before I decided I no longer wanted to shoot myself in the foot. So if it's happening to you, get up and do something about it.

Google+ Content

It's not just about content being shared on Google+. Content created on Google+ can also rank well under certain circumstances. This was true well before Search+ was launched. I innocently asked if people would know what I meant if I said 'half measure and full measure'.

Search+ Native Google+ Nonpersonalized Search Results

Sure enough, there I am as the 7th result for this query with an Authorship treatment that is likely to get me a fair amount more clicks than a normal 7th place result. This Google+ post has been as high as 4th. Now, it's a long-tail query but make no mistake, you can create content on Google+ and get it to rank without personalization.

But now we'll look at this same query with Search+ personalization turned on.

Search+ Native Google+ Personalized Results

That post ranks 9th in personalized results but only because of the research I did recently for this very post which now ranks 2nd.

Search+ Personalized Results for Half Measure and Full Measure

In fact, the speed in which Google+ posts are indexed is incredible, sometimes showing up within minutes of being published.

Google+ Formatting

Also notice that the Titles for Google+ posts are optimized in the personalized environment.

Search+ Personalized Title

Compare that to what it looks like without personalization.

Search+ Unpersonalized Title

That prefix is pretty ugly from my point of view and reduces the chances that someone will click on that result. But let's think about this for a moment.

Most users really just scan Titles to decide which result is most relevant or will satisfy their query intent. What would happen if users clicked on a Google+ result without knowing it was going to Google+?

That prefix is a very big and loud sign that tells users that the content is different. Sure, the result is in a SERP leading to Google+ and it has a fancy Authorship treatment but Google is also making it very clear where that click leads.

You should also format your Google+ posts to optimize for this presentation. That means creating a title for each post using bold formatting. You do this by placing a * at the beginning and end of what you want in bold (i.e - *This is the title*). When you share that post the * will disappear and the text between will be in bold (i.e. - This is the title).

Make your Google+ posts as readable as possible.

Google+ Brand Pages

You want to grab one of these and use it for, at a minimum, reputation management. The issue here is how much interaction and time you'll need to dedicate to this social media outpost.

Managing a Facebook page (the right way) is actually a lot of work. A Google+ page would be just as much work, if not more. The major difference between the two is that Search+ can deliver a lot more people to your Google+ brand page.

Search+ Brand Page Result

A branded search for AT&T brings up the AT&T Google+ page. This only occurs for a very small select group of brands right now. The question brands have to ask is whether they want that much exposure? Conversations are right there on the search results. A lot of negative sentiment could then be just one click away. So if you're not prepared to really be social, I'd be wary about this type of implementation.

Of course, brands can also show up as People and Pages suggestions.

Search+ People and Pages for Cars

The actual conversations aren't visible which is less scary in my view. I should note that Ferrari and BMW are the only two that show up for this query, further supporting the idea that these are curated lists.

I see this as a war of attention or perhaps a war of resources. How much time is a business willing to spend maintaining a social presence on both Facebook and Google? Surfacing the brand pages in search forces that issue.

Google+ Page Optimization

Optimizing your Page is far more difficult than your personal Profile. There are fewer fields to fill out, the current algorithm relies heavily on the Page Name and verification via rel="publisher" is rather confusing.

The first thing to understand is that Pages do seem to be second class citizens from a search standpoint.

Google+ SEO Consulting Results

Here you can see that I don't get a full set of People and pages results even though there are others that could qualify here (both People and Pages.) But in nearly every instance Pages are trumped by People.

That might not always be the case though so we'll explore the current ordering by clicking View all.

Google+ View All Link Building Results

I've switched to a 'link building' query and am showing the second page of results after a host of people such as Eric Ward, Julie Joyce, Ivan Dimitrijević, Jim Boykin and other notables. These folks are all doing a bang-up job of optimizing for this term by having the keyword in their Introduction and often in their Employment as well.

But once I get past those in my Circles it really becomes about the Name field, even more so if it's a Page. That's not surprising since the only relevant fields for a Page are Name, Tagline and Introduction. While all of these fields do seem to be used the Name is given an enormous weight for Pages.

That doesn't mean you should change your Page name to rank. That's short-sighted and won't help your brand. But you should be cognizant of this current limitation and ensure you fill out the Tag Line and Introduction thoroughly to boost your chances of being returned as this algorithm evolves.

The other reason not to change your name willy-nilly is that you will break your Page verification.

Rel="Publisher"

A Google+ Page can and should be verified.

Verification badges helps users to confirm the authenticity of a profile or page. This way when you find a profile or page about a celebrity or popular business, you can be sure that the profile or page actually belongs to them.

Jon Ray got me pointed in the right direction about the mechanics and requirements of getting verified. The first step is linking your Page to your website. This is actually pretty straight-forward.

Google+ Page Verification Link to Website Instructions

So far so good. But now you have to link back from your website to your Google+ Page.

Google+ Page Rel=Publisher Verification

Two things to understand here. First, the rel="publisher" link must use the canonical version of your Google+ Page. The problem is that the canonical URL is never actually presented to users. Here's what my Page URL looks like.

https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/105091680524136911230/105091680524136911230/about

But here's what the link must look like.

https://plus.google.com/105091680524136911230

This isn't a big deal for me but it certainly introduces a substantial area for user error.

More importantly, you should only place the rel="publisher" link on your site's home page. Yet, there are instructions on the Google+ Pages help page and within the badge generation code that tell you to place the rel="publisher" link in the <head> section of your page. That essentially places the rel="publisher" link on every page of your site.

If you implement it in this way and are also using rel="author" (which you should be) then the Rich Snippets Testing Tool will give you this error and warning.

Google+ Rich Snippets Testing Tool Error

So instead you need to find a way to place the rel="publisher" link only on your home page. Thankfully my sidebar is dynamic and I'm able to present a link just after my Blog Roll list that contains the appropriate mark-up.

Google+ Rel="Publisher" Mark-Up

To confirm that you've set this up correctly you then drop your home page into the Rich Snippets Testing Tool.

Google+ Rel Publisher Success

This is what you want to see. You'll want to test both your home page and a post page to make sure that you are verified appropriately from a publisher and author perspective.

Done right? Wrong.

The last step is to submit a Google+ Page verification request. But before you do make sure you meet all of the requirements.

Google+ Page Verification Requirements

1,000 people must Circle your Page to be eligible for verification. Not a trifling amount for a small business. While I still recommend implementing the rel="publisher" mark-up, you'll have to decide whether it's worth the time and investment to get to that 1,000 mark.

Google+ Authorship

Google+ is an identity platform. One of the primary benefits is the ability to confirm authorship of your content.

Google+ Authorship

Authorship delivers a rich presentation that increases the click-through rate on that result. The image immediately draws the eye, just as other rich snippets do on search results, while the Circle count delivers additional confidence via social proof.

There is a clear short-term SEO benefit. But it's the long-term benefit that might be more important. I'll get to that a little later on.

If you're interested in Authorship (and you should be) I have a Google Authorship guide to help you set it up.

Authorship Links

The Authorship presentation also has links to that author and a link to More by that author.

Search+ Authorship Presentation

The author link just goes to the profile page but the More by link does something different.

Search+ More by Author

The More by link produces a compound search of sorts with your name and the keyword term. In this instance it does a nice job of pulling up some contextually relevant posts from my blog, a random Tweet that was archived by Buzz and my own post on Google+ that contains a link to the Bounce Rate vs Exit Rate post. Overall, I'm pretty pleased and it's mildly compelling for users.

But it doesn't always work that way.

Search+ More by Author Bad Example

If you were to find my post on Tom Wilkinson and then click More by AJ Kohn the compound search would provide the above results.

The two other posts referenced from my blog are not related except for the fact that they were the previous and next post. The remaining results match on some or portions of the compound search but are not at all related. And more to the point, they are not authored by me.

This seems like a bug that should be fixed since the intent of that click is to see more by that author. More by author links do not deliver on the implied promise or fulfill query intent.

I'm doing all of this without Search+. Turn it on and in some ways this gets even worse.

Search+ More by Author Personalized

The photo with Billy Idol and the Beastie Boys is on another post and makes it here because of the previous and next text attached to that image. That's not relevant but it is authored by me. But down below is a result from Matt Cutts. I like Matt and it's not a bad thing to be associated with him but that post is not authored by me. Nor is the one below it (not pictured) which comes from Quora.

I am participating in conversations on these other sites, but that's just not the same. I'm not thrilled with this but from a personal brand standpoint it might not be terrible. I stand behind the dialogs and conversations I have on other sites.

If I'm a publisher I'm probably freaking out because you could potentially be sending users to other destinations. But before we freak out lets think a bit more about intent.

Authorship and Intent

If I'm searching for 'bounce rate vs exit rate' my intent is to learn about the difference between these two metrics. The idea that a substantial number of users would click on the author name or More by link instead of the link that fulfills their query intent is, well, ludicrous.

Some users might click those links by accident. But what do you think happens then? If they click the author link and wind up on a profile, that doesn't fulfill the query intent. The majority will likely return to the search result and click the correct link.

Click the More by link and the odds are that they'll wind up at the same end destination link because it's at the top and it's the most relevant to your initial query intent.

The number of clicks that are lost to Google+, other sites or abandoned searches as a result of the Authorship implementation is extremely low when you layer on query intent. That tiny loss is more than made up for by the increase in visibility and click-through rate.

Google+ Influence

I've written a number of times about Google creating an influence metric that will impact how content is ranked within search. Google+ and Authorship are at the center of this effort. The long-term potential for AuthorRank is not a fantasy. We're not talking about some Klout number that is essentially a reflection of activity. No, this would be a far more nuanced metric that would never be made public.

Not only will Google be looking at the quality of the content you produce, they'll look at how it is received. Google+ allows Google to mine the engagement graph. Who shared your content? How many +1s did it receive? How many comments? How many shares? What was the sentiment of those comments? Were those comments valuable? Who made those comments? Were those comments from people influential on that topic?

Remember that Authorship is attached to content created on Google+ as well, both posts and comments. So your +1s and shares and comments are all being analyzed. The push for more engagement on Google+ is, in part, to expand the engagement graph and acquire more data so it can implement an AuthorRank algorithm with confidence.

Panda separated low-quality and high-quality sites. AuthorRank would do the same for people and their associated content. As the tidal wave of digital content roars in Google's ears finding ways to sort the good from the bad quickly will be of increasing importance.

Content without Authorship could become a second-class citizen.

Circle Count

What can you do, aside from Authorship and creating great content, to increase your Google+ influence. First and foremost is to have a large following or Circle count.

Circle count isn't as easily gamed on Google+ because of identity. While the pseudonym debate has gone silent I wouldn't be surprised if Google didn't assign a confidence score to each account. If you have a large following from accounts that Google doesn't fully trust, your large Circle count will be less meaningful.

Obtaining a high Circle count means sharing and creating a lot of great material. One personal tip I can share is that your content doesn't need to be on just one topic. If you look at my Google+ stream I'm all over the map. It's essentially a look at what I come across and am thinking about from day to day.

That means you'll get what I feel are the best articles on SEO, UX and other professional disciplines as well as inspirational images and a healthy does of LOLcats.

What that really comes down to is sharing more of yourself. Be human.

Engagement

I am sure that some people will say they do all that but no one engages with them. The truth is, this isn't easy and it takes a lot of work on your part to make it happen. You can't just post and think the world will engage with you. I see far too many experts claiming that Google+ is a ghost town because of this phenomenon. I don't often say this but, those people are doing it wrong.

If you're in the 1% of Internet celebrity then engagement will follow you from platform to platform. Robert Scoble, Ben Parr, MG Siegler, Danny Sullivan, Thomas Hawk are established and will see engagement no matter where they go. They've put in an enormous amount of time and effort to get there.

The 99% of us left have to do the same and earn engagement. So how do you do that? There's no real formula but here are my personal observations and tips.

Post to Public. By not doing so you limit yourself and the ability for others to find you and your content. This means you should be aware of what you're posting. You can be personal but you should have boundaries.

Respond to engagement. If someone +1s your post go and Circle them if you haven't already. If they comment, reply to that comment using their @name. If someone shares your content go and +1 that share and add a thank you comment if appropriate.

Flag people down. Use the @name function wisely to reference people who might have a view on that content or to which you want a response. Do not over do this or you will piss people off. But done right you can actually bring the right people into a great debate.

Create conversation. Comments meant to engage should not be of the 'great post' variety but should be valuable. Thoughtful comments that bring up issues and add value are more likely to get a response.

Cultivate engagement. Keep track of the people who engage with your content most frequently. Put them in a Circle and you can share directly with them, kick-starting engagement on your post and increasing the probability of more engagement.

Circle people. Circle people in your area(s) of expertise. You're not looking for them to follow you back (though some will) but instead you're looking to interact with the content they produce. It's that engagement that will translate into more people Circling you.

Monitor real time searches. You can quickly find, monitor and engage with specific content by searching by keyword and jumping into the real time stream of results. Yes, real time can be useful in this instance.

Google+ Real Time Results

Find some searches that work for you and save them so you can access them again and again. This is the way I was able to monitor and respond to those who were sharing this guide.

Google+ SEO Best Practices

Here's a quick checklist of 9 items critical to your Google+ SEO success.

Optimize your Google+ Profile

Fill out your Introduction, Employment, Education and Places lived understanding that the text in these sections is used for Google+ search. If you want to be returned for the term 'SEO' you need to have that term in one of these fields.

Placing the term in two or more fields seems to deliver some added benefit. Do it if it makes sense but don't go overboard.

Get Verified

A verified name with that small checkmark icon seems to have some influence on Google+ search. When I figure out exactly how to make this happen I'll let you know.

Confirm Authorship

Google+ is an identity platform that allows you to claim Authorship of your content. Doing so delivers a type of rich snippet in search results that will increase the visibility and click-through rate on your content today and may put you in the catbird's seat when Google implements AuthorRank.

Use the +1 Button

Put the +1 button on your site prominently so users can deliver your content to Google+. Not only will this result in traffic to your site, it allows Google to understand how people are engaging with your content.

Optimize Social Snippets

It's not enough to just create content and have the +1 button on your site. Optimize your social snippet to ensure you're getting the most engagement out of your content.

Create Great Content

Put this in the 'no duh' category, but really, create great content. It's not enough on its own but everything gets easier if you do this.

Share Great Content

Great content takes time so you won't always be sharing your content. Instead, share the great content of others. Make your Google+ feed valuable and interesting and you'll be rewarded.

Format Google+ Posts

Just putting a URL as your Google+ post won't cut it. Create a bold title for each of your (longer) posts. Not only is this easier to read it's what Google will use as the browser Title on Search+.

You should also start to use hashtags, sparingly, to ensure your posts are aggregated appropriately.

Use Google+

Really use Google+. Using it for the express purpose of SEO won't be successful. Do or do not. There is no try.