For most brands and marketers, social media is an important and necessary component of their overall digital marketing strategy. Not only does social media help build brand awareness, but it also provides a conversational space for brands to engage their audience outside of their company website or brick and mortar stores or offices.
But let’s face it, competition for audience attention and engagement is stiff. With nearly all brands and marketers using social media, coupled with frequent platform changes to improve user experience, brands are fighting for organic visibility. In fact, 40% of marketers say social media marketing has gotten more difficult for them in the last 12 months, according toSocial Media Examiner’s 2016 Industry Report.
While it may be more difficult to grab attention these days, the good news is that your target audience is still there, ready to be inspired by your company’s story and creativity, as well as some of your product or service promotions. According tosurvey findings from MarketingSherpa, 85% of U.S. consumers said they used social media, with 58% all respondents saying they follow brands on social media.
And the success of your social media efforts boils down to one thing: Likeability. People will follow your brand because they just plain like you and they like what you have to offer on social media, such as quality and entertaining content, discounts and special promotions, or customer service.
So how can your brand be more likeable on social media and stand out from the competition? Below we offer a few tips and examples that can help.
#1 – Be real.
If you want to grow meaningful connections—as well as your number of page likes and follows—the importance of authenticity cannot be overstated. Social media gives brands the opportunity to show their target audience who they are, not just what they sell.
Develop a brand voice and marketing strategy that brings a human element and some personality to your social media pages. This means it’s time to lose the jargon or sales pitch, and talk to people on their level. In addition, ask thoughtful questions and be timely in your responses to keep the conversation going and to show your audience your dedication.
Ben & Jerry’s, the makers of some of the most delicious ice cream on the planet, have blended their brand with creativity and humor, as well as some tongue-in-cheek references from time to time, into their Instagram postings.
#2 – Provide value through a mix of content.
Providing your audience with a mix of quality content is key for raising your likeability factor and showing your value.
Share links to helpful content on your website, but also make sure you’re calling their attention to other relevant and helpful pieces of content or news items that are out there. This will show them that you’re in the know and that you’re dedicated to providing them with something useful, even if it doesn’t have your name on it.
In addition, do not forget to include visual content as part of your mix. Humans are visual by nature and research shows that visual content can seriously boost engagement on social media.
Also, consider posting content natively within your platforms to eliminate the barrier between your audience and your content. While you give up some immediate website traffic, native content—especiallynative video content—allows your audience to interact with your content in the moment and can also boost engagement.
#3 – Don’t be overly promotional.
If your brand is only posting promotional messages, you need to stop. That’s not what your audience is looking for and you’re probably not seeing much ROI. Your audience wants to know who you are, what you stand for and what you can offer, which goes well beyond your line of products or services.
#4 – Invite discussion.
Social media is all about giving people a place to share their thoughts and experiences with one another. As mentioned above, ask your community engaging and thoughtful questions to get the conversation going and tap into their insights.
If you’re sharing industry news, ask them for their thoughts on recent developments. If you’ve recently launched a new product, ask for their feedback.HubSpotis constantly asking their audience for their thoughts on a variety of related topics, encouraging conversation and prompting shares. Here’s an example of a recentFacebookpost.
If you’re on Twitter, consider posting a weekly poll on a relevant topic to inspire engagement. Here’s an example from our very own, Lee Odden.
#5 – Nurture your following.
If you really want to become a more likeable brand, you have to invest in social media community management. While your social media marketing efforts help drive your brand toward specific goals—such as increasing brand awareness or engagement—social media community managementis all about nurturing your audience to grow a stronger, larger and more engaged following.
One great way to do this is to leverage the unique conversations and engagements happening across your social pages. As an example, use the information you extracted from a Twitter poll as fodder for a Facebook or Instagram post. This not only gives you the opportunity for additional discussion and engagement, but also reminds your audience that they can follow and engage with you on multiple platforms.
#6 – Don’t shy away from negative feedback.
Every brand and business dreams of complete customer satisfaction, but that’s rarely the case. Things happen and social media is often an easy place for your customers to air their grievances. While it can be scary to allow mistakes to be visible for the whole social media world to see, use any negative feedback as an opportunity to show humility, understanding and your drive to take care of your customers.
Sun Country Airlineshas this down. On Twitter, the company is on-top of what their audience is saying about their services—good or bad.
Here’s a recent example from a disappointed customer. The brand responded promptly and offered their assistance.
But here’s another example of someone who’s happy to be flying with them. Not only was this a quick response, the purple heart was sweet and spoke to the customer’s whole reason for flying.
The bottom line? Take the bad with the good to show your value and up your likeability factor.
#7 – Tell your company’s story.
As previously mentioned, social media is not the place for being salesy. It’s the place where you let your followers get a deeper look at who you are and what value you offer.
IBM does a fabulous job of company storytelling. The company’sFacebook pageis filled with inspiring videos, articles and quotes that showcase the amazing innovative technology they’re bringing to the world and how’s transformed over time.
OnInstagram, the company provides its audience with a deeper looking inside the company and the people who work there.
If You’re Good Enough and Smart Enough—Doggone It, People Will Like You
The beauty of social media is that it give brands the opportunity to put themselves out there and create meaningful interactions with their audience. But in order to be a likeable brand, you need to provide good, quality content and be smart about how you engage with your audience. Hopefully these tips and examples can help you on your way.
What have you done to increase your brand’s likeability on social media? Tell us in the comments section below.
Want to incorporate Instagram Stories into your marketing?
Wondering how other businesses are using Stories?
Instagram Stories let you engage your customers and prospects with a more complete message than a single image can provide.
In this article, you’ll discover four ways to use Instagram Stories for business.
Discover four ways to use Instagram Stories to market your business.
Why Instagram Stories?
Instagram Stories lifts its functionality straight from Snapchat’s own Stories feature. Stories differ from your main Instagram feed in that they lack permanence. They’re photos and videos that last for only 24 hours, and like Snapchat, they can be enhanced with drawings or special filters.
But don’t treat Instagram stories just like Snapchat’s, which is a platform that’s meant to be more gritty and raw. For most businesses, that style won’t play well with the more polished look of the Instagram platform. Unless you are your business’s brand, avoid being too personal in your stories.
You can enhance your Instagram stories with drawings and filters.
To fully harness the power of this feature, make sure your stories enhance your brand. It’s best to post them at an optimal time, since they last only 24 hours. Further, the more stories you post, the more likely you’ll appear at the top of someone’s Instagram feed while they’re on the platform.
Here are four ways to leverage this wonderful social feature for your business.
#1: Deliver Special Offers
Special offers seem extra-special when combined with the unique traits of Instagram stories. The point to remember is that the scarcity of Instagram stories gives them power. So if you use stories to distribute your business’s special offers, your offers and branding efforts will deliver a better result.
One way to deliver offers via stories is to refer viewers to the link in your bio. Post a “coupon” as an Instagram story and announce that the offer expires at the end of the 24-hour story period. The coupon can direct users to the link in your Instagram bio, which will take them to a landing page where they can learn how to redeem your special offer.
The time-critical nature of the Instagram story engenders a sense of urgency for your customers and potential sales leads. They’re far more likely to pay attention and heed your message as a result.
This Foundr Magazine Instagram story offers viewers a chance to download a free Richard Branson issue.
Another tactic is to have viewers use Instagram’s Direct Message (DM) feature to claim your offers. Ask users to reply right away to one of your Instagram stories via a private message. For example, you could say, “Reply right back to us and we’ll provide you with this limited-time special offer!” Using messages provides another touchpoint for engagement and another chance for customers to develop a deeper relationship with your brand.
A quick note, though: Make sure you offer something valuableto your customers! If you go with low-value offers and giveaways, they’ll tune you out.
Whether you post a simple photo that asks users to message you or focus on a lead-magnet video, Instagram stories are fantastic for producing offers that benefit from their inherent scarcity.
#2: Show Off Your Creative Process
Maybe it’s an early design sketch, a video of you visiting the manufacturer behind your product, or simply a high-quality product shot of the final item. These kinds of targeted looks at your creative process can build a new level of trust with your audience.
Also, consider doing a special feature that gives viewers a peek at an unannounced product or a servicefor a client. Sharing your work with your audience can be compelling and lets you show the power of your brand and what services you’re capable of providing. Naturally, make sure you first have the client’s permission to include them in your Instagram marketing.
In this Instagram story, a home remodeling company shows off a current kitchen remodel for a client.
#3: Share a Raw, Informal Glimpse Into Your Business
Instagram stories may be temporary, but their effect on your overall brand isn’t. Polished stories that show a real, but still tactfully created look at your business are key to humanizing your brand to existing customers and potential sales leads.
Consider showing brief behind-the-scenes looks at your business. Here, popular activewear label Lorna Jane highlights one of their team members at work.
Use your Instagram story to spotlight some of the people who work for your business.
#4: Sign On for a Takeover
An Instagram story takeover is a quick way to grow your account. It involves either taking over another Instagram account, generally for a 24-hour period, or having a person or business take over your account.
It’s a fun exercise that draws special attention from your audience, as well as the existing built-in audience that the other person or business doing the takeover brings. Takeovers are special because they act as a partnership to provide a mutually beneficial exchange of value. It can be a key tactic for growing your audience.
Pro tip: Avoid the “all about me” Snapchat model. Your Instagram stories should always include a sharp focus and a strong call to action.
Instagram is now a behemoth in the social media world, boasting approximately 500 million monthly active users. This compares to only 100 million active Snapchat users. Furthermore, 68% of users engage with brands regularly on Instagram.
Despite Instagram’s power as an amazing platform for business and a top channel for growth, only 36% of marketers are on Instagram. This is a huge mistake on their part. Instagram is incredible for growth. Truthfully, if you’re already on Facebook, you need to be using Instagram and its new Instagram Stories feature.
If you’re not sure what content to share on your Instagram stories, why not ask your audience what they’re interested in seeing from you? Use this valuable feedback to inform the content direction of your future stories to improve engagement.
If you consistently apply best practices and make a sincere attempt to harness the power of Instagram stories, the positive results for your business should be abundantly clear in short order.
What do you think? How are you using Instagram stories for your business? What tips can you offer? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Tips on four ways you can use Instagram Stories to engage business prospects.
When I woke up on Monday morning, I was sad. The only thing I can think to compare it to is taking an amazing vacation in a warm sunny spot, and getting back home to blistery weather and cloudy skies. I had just spent a week with some of my amazing team members at the Disneyland of marketing conferences, theMarketingProfs B2B Marketing Forumand it was time to get back to reality.
Ann Handley(or Mary Poppins for the sake of this blog post) and her team at MarketingProfs have created something truly magical. From the moment you walk in the door to the time you board your plane home, you feel like you’re surrounded by people that “get you” and experience the same B2B marketing struggles that you do.
Last week, we had the honor of attending the 10th anniversary of the forum and could not have been more giddy for the opportunity. We attended some awesome sessions, met amazing people, connected with some of our favorite clients and friends, hosted a TopRank Marketing fiesta (complete with a caricature artist) and dove head first into the experience.
For those of you who weren’t able to attend (although I would strong suggest attending next year if you can), we’ve put together some highlights from our magical adventure through the MarketingProfs B2B Marketing Forum.
What makes someone influential? Is it popularity? Is it celebrity? Is it the fact that they have niche expertise? And how do you identify, activate and continue to build on your relationships with influencers? In his session, TopRank Marketing CEOLee Oddendelivered actionable tips, tools and examples that answered all these questions and more.
The creative struggle is real for marketers. Creativity is necessary and intertwined with everything we do. But we often find ourselvesaspiringto be more creative than actuallyharnessingwhat’s already inside us as creators. In this post,Jay Acunzo, founder, host and writer of Unthinkable.fm, drops a few truth bombs about creativity that will inspire new confidence in your abilities.
The C-Suite is becoming more and more frustrated with marketing performance. More times than not, marketing is seen as a cost center, not a profit center. Now more than ever, marketers have an opportunity to shift the perspective and hyper-focus on what really matters. GE Digital’sChris Moodytook a deep dive into what’s wrong with B2B marketing today, and steps that marketers can take to mend what’s broken.
We are creating more and more content to the point that our audiences are overwhelmed and having trouble finding the gems amongst all of the garbage. If you really want to rock your B2B content thenJason Millerof LinkedIn is just the person to listen to. Jason shared helpful tips on everything from building your strategy to creating big rock content and repurposing.
When the Godfather of Content Marketing, Joe Pulizzi has a session that describes how to profit from content creation, it’s time to pay attention. Why? Who better to speak on the subject than someone who has built a content media company from the ground up, with enormous success?
When it comes to creating quality content that informs, entertains, engages and inspires action from our target audience, we marketers wish we knew one thing: exactly what our audience is thinking. While that may not beexactlypossible,Aberdeen Group’s Director of Content StrategyMatthew T. Grantand Research AnalystAndrew Moravickshared three options for getting closer to savant status during their session.
The most successful account based marketing strategies integrate sales and marketing efforts. In this piece,Jon Miller,CEO of Engagio details the difference between traditional demand gen & account based marketing, and provides actionable tips on how sales and marketing teams can coordinate.
While social media marketing has existed for over five years, many marketers don’t inherently look to social as a means of driving revenue. In this session,John Foley Jr.andKaren DeWolfof InterlinkOne provide tactics for using social media as a prospecting tool. They also answer some burning social media marketing questions in a Q&A.
As content marketers, we need to be in the business of storytelling if we want our content to resonate and inspire. In his presentation, Chief Creative Officer and Co-Founder of Contently,Shane Snow, dove into why storytelling is so important and provided a framework for telling those stories better.
I may have been sad on Monday morning but now that reality has settled in, I’m excited to put everything that I learned into practice with my team at our home office. You had better believe that we’re counting down the days until we get to return to the magical land that is the MarketingProfs B2B Marketing Forum.
If you attended the event or just read the buzz online, what do you think was the most important takeaway from the event?
Disclosure: LinkedIn Marketing is a TopRank Marketing client.
Marketing departments typically have unlimited resources, astronomical budgets and more hours in the day than your average person. Wait, that doesn’t sound right.
If the statement above sounds right to you, congratulations!
For the rest of us trying to find a way to do more (quality and quantity) with less, this is a topic that is typically top of mind, every day.
In his presentation at MarketingProfs B2B Forum, Chris Moody, Content Marketing Leader at GE Digital helped ease the pain for B2B marketers. Chris shared insight into some concepts that can you do more with less, as well as some tips and tricks to get you on the right path.
What is the Current State of Marketing?
He opened with a quote from one of my favorite shows, Silicon Valley.
“Failure is growth. Failure is learning. But, sometimes failure is just failure.” – Gavin Belson
There are currently two major places where marketers are falling flat. Recent research from Forrester found that 82% of enterprise marketers have no centralized view of the customer, and that 65% of CMOs cant measure ROI for digital marketing.
If that doesn’t scare you, nothing will. While each company has a slightly different audience and a slightly different value, there are some key ideas that ring true for most B2B marketers.
If the CEO feels like you’re not showing ROI, you’re not showing ROI.
Why CEO’s Think Marketers Suck
Fournaise found that 80% of CEOs are not impressed by the work done by marketers. Yikes! Where did we go wrong?
There are three key ways that marketers are missing the mark today:
They cannot prove the ROI of marketing activities.
They’ve lost sight of what their job really is.
They’re not business performance-obsessed enough.
CEOs do take some of the “blame” though and believe that they’ve lost trust in the ability of marketing to be successful. And they’ve given up on holding marketers accountable.
It’s Time to Shift Perspective
Whether we believe we’re rockstar’s or not, how leadership teams within our organizations perceive our value is an incredibly important aspect to our success.
The only barrier to information today is laziness.”
With the pure amount of information available at our fingertips, there is no excuse for not being able to answer the questions (even the tough ones) that our C-Suite wants the answers to.
While there are some things that cannot be taught, there are no born abilities that marketers have to possess to be successful. The odds are not stacked against us. It’s a matter of effort, education and focus.
The best way to get more resources is to get results first.”
The first thing we have to realize that if we want to build and grow, results have to come first. We also need to stop chasing the next big thing and focus on doing our job better.
5 Steps to Getting Shit Done
It’s safe to assume that many of us are busy in our day-to-day activities. But take a step back and ponder how many of the things you’re doing are tied to measurable results. These five steps will help you refocus your efforts on the things that matter most, impact.
Step 1: Define Your Mission Define what your “one thing” is and what you stand for as a company. For example, when people think of the brand Apple, innovation comes to mind.
Step 2: Determine Your Main Goal This should be the one thing that you really need to get done. For example you might say: Our main goal is to generate more leads that become sales qualified.
Step 3: Document Your Plan In order to achieve your main goal, you have to document your plan for to achieve that goal. Remember, if it’s not written down, you will not be as effective. If your goal is to drive more sales qualified leads, your plan might include:
Looking at the top sales qualified lead assets and replicate/repurpose
Running one influencer webinar per quarter
Sponsoring and conducting original research
Identifying and engaging industry thought leaders
Step 4: Identify Metrics There is no one-size-fits-all solution. It’s important for your team to sit down and determine what metrics are most important for your company and team to measure. Sample metrics might include:
Leads to MQLs to SQLs to Opportunities to Revenue
Share of voice and awareness metrics
Top converting assets
Step 5: Establish A Baseline A baseline is simple. If you don’t have existing data, you start with a flat line. What you want to see is when things change, when they spike and fall and what is happening to cause those things.
How to Get Results
If you’re ready to make a shift to a results focused approach to marketing, focus on these 4 things:
Answer every question your audience cares about.
Talk to your current customers.
Stop trying to hit homeruns with every content asset.
Realize that content is everywhere.
Capturing the attention of audiences today is hard. But if we aren’t pushing the boundaries and approaching it with a results focused mindset, we’ve already lost the battle.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to other marketers to help them focus on the right things?
True to form, LinkedIn’s Jason Miller rocked his presentation at the MarketingProf’s B2B Marketing forum by opening up with some inspirational words from The Clash:
If you don’t like the world, then change it.”
As Jason shared, the Clash changed the world, and so can today’s B2B marketers. But they’re facing some interesting challenges such as the fact that:
60% of B2B content goes unused (Content Marketing Institute & MarketingProfs)
44% of consumers consider ending a brand relationship because of irellevant promotions (Chief Marketing Officer Council)
How can marketers overcome these challenges? Below are a few ways that LinkedIn built their content empire.
Focus on Goals, Objectives, Strategy & Tactics
When starting down this journey, LinkedIn had a singular goal:
To create a world class global content engine that fuels demand generation, increases brand awareness, and drives thought leadership.
To meet that goal, the team put together a series of measureable objectives, which are universal for other B2B organizations and included:
Increase awareness of marketing opportunities on LinkedIn
Increase MQLs driven by big rock content
Increase referral traffic by x% by Y date
Increase direct traffic y by x% by Y date
Increase blog subscribers by x by y date
When you lead conversations that matter, you give audiences a reason to follow.”
To accomplish the overarching goals and objectives, there had to be a sound strategy in place. For LinkedIn, this was: Create helpful, relevant content and deliver it to the right person at the right time.
Exact tactics for execution will vary by organization. You need to utilize the content tactics that resonate most with your audience, and to be honest, those that you know your team is capable of executing. Some of the tactics that you could deploy might include:
Big Rock Content, Turkey Slices & Repurposing
It’s important to think about the full spectrum of elements and repurposing opportunities for each content campaign that you create. To be truly effective, your content must be focused on the questions customers are asking. In order to identify the conversation you should be having with content, you have to conduct the proper amount of research.
In his session, Jason gave kudos to the TopRank Marketing team for the work that we have done to help LinkedIn Marketing uncover what it is that their ideal audience is looking for based on extensive SEO research.
While most top of funnel content programs will contain big rock content (such as an eBook or whitepaper), it’s also important to consider the other smaller pieces of content that will accompany it.
If you have a big rock asset such as an eBook, there are opportunities to create other forms of content and promotions that might include videos, webinars, blog posts and infographics.
A well-structured content campaign will also include many opportunities for repurposing. A great example of how you can repurpose content is The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to LinkedIn included below.
Explore New Content Formats
Great content marketers always set aside time to push the limits of their capabilities. In many cases, that includes testing new content formats. It could be that most of the content you’re creating is focused on blog articles, while your audience is actually very interested in video or audio content.
Based on data, Jason knew that his audience consumes video, and a lot of it. Also, recent industry research has found that over 90% of B2B customers watch videos online.
At last year’s B2B Marketing Forum, Jason decided to try his hand at creating some influencer driven video content to see how it resonated with his audience. While the first attempt was not as perfect as he would have liked, it was a step in the right direction.
Here’s a preview that his team created prior to releasing all of the videos:
These tips only scratch the surface of the helpful and actionable information that Jason shared during his session. However, it gives you a great starting point for planning, executing and adapting your B2B content strategy.
What do you think are your biggest areas of opportunity for creating more impactful and measurable B2B content?
Disclosure: LinkedIn Marketing is a TopRank Marketing client.
Do you use LinkedIn to find new customers and clients?
Want to get more value from LinkedIn?
LinkedIn is a great platform to find and connect with potential partners, customers, and clients.
In this article, you’ll discover how to use LinkedIn to find your target prospects.
Discover how to find target prospects on LinkedIn.
#1: Create a Buyer Persona
A prospect is anyone in a company, business, industry, or organization you believe needs your service, is aware of that need, and would like to take advantage of what you offer. Besides the obvious prospect (people who might buy your product or service), prospects can be donors for your non-profit, employers (if you’re looking for a job), employees (if you’re hiring), vendors, mentors, strategic partners, and others.
To find your target prospects or leads, you need to know who they are. Whether you’re using LinkedIn for lead generation or another purpose, you should create a buyer persona. If you don’t yet have one, look at the people you currently work with or want to work with and visualize who they are: age, nationality, education level, and gender. Also, consider what they do, such as their title and role in their company and industry. Then make a list.
Once you home in on the qualities of your buyer persona, you can start to look for them.
#2: Do an Advanced Keyword Search
The fastest way to find your buyer persona on LinkedIn is through the advanced search. Simply click the Advanced link to the right of the search bar on LinkedIn.
Click the Advanced link to the right of the search box.
Advanced search options include Keywords (terms people might use to identify as or with), Title (HR, consultant, job-seeker), and Company. You can also use School (where your prospects studied) and Postal Codes (where your connections live). LinkedIn will only let you search by gender or age if you do LinkedIn ads. Everyone can search for a variety of other fields.
Use advanced search as your first step to seek target prospects.
LinkedIn limits search results for free accounts, so the more refined your search, the better. (You might get fewer people in the results, but they’ll be of higher quality and potential.) To get more refined results, use Boolean qualifiers (AND, OR, NOT).
Use OR to search for multiple terms. People use different words to describe themselves and their skills in their profiles. A business owner might use the words CEO, managing director, president, founder, or partner, so use OR to include multiple titles. For example, search for
CEO OR “Chief Executive Officer” OR Founder OR Owner OR President
Use AND to refine your search to include a specific term or terms. So if you want to tackle an executive in a certain industry, search for
CEO OR “Chief Executive Officer” OR Founder OR Owner OR President AND beer AND microbrewery
Use NOT to exclude people from your search. For example, search for
CEO OR “Chief Executive Officer” OR Founder OR Owner OR President AND beer AND microbrewery NOT LinkedIn Expert NOT spammers
Note: Always capitalize OR, AND, and NOT when you do a Boolean search. Use quotation marks to hold words together.
Use Boolean qualifiers to refine your search results.
For accuracy and efficiency for later searches, here’s a pro trick:
Create your search first in Word. This will allow you to check your spelling and easily edit and adjust your search. You’ll also have a copy to keep for future use.
Once you create a search on LinkedIn, save the search link. Copy the URL from the browser and paste it into a Word document. Then when you want to repopulate that search, all you have to do is click on that link.
Save the link for special searches so you can repeat them later.
LinkedIn lets free accounts save up to three searches. When you get a search result that you like, click on the Save Search link on the top right of your advanced search. The benefit is that LinkedIn will send you the new people who fall into this search every week.
#3: Look for Prospects by Company, Group, or Alumni
Here are three other ways to do a targeted search for your buyer persona.
You can search for prospects and gateway people for any company that has a LinkedIn company page. The benefit is that you can see whom you already know at a company you want to work with.
To find a company, do a basic search and sort by company.
Search for companies to find connections on LinkedIn.
On the right of the company page, there’s a sidebar that shows to whom and how you’re connected. Click the See All link.
There’s a snapshot of your connections on a company page. Click See All for an organized list.
LinkedIn sorts your connections by level of connection. From there, you can send a message to a first-level connection and invite others to connect.
Look at company employees and then message, connect, or send InMails to them.
If you don’t have any connections to a company employee, you may have to send an InMail. These are paid messages you can use to send private messages to people who are not your first-level connections. Note: If you have the free LinkedIn account, InMail costs you $10 each time.
Always check connections at any company before you reach out. You may be pleasantly surprised to see someone you know at one of your ideal companies.
LinkedIn groups are a good source for finding prospects because you already have something in common with the other members. This also gives you a reason to connect and engage with them.
Once you’ve joined a group, click on the number of members to do a search by name or title. From there, you can easily message or invite members to connect. Warning: don’t click on the blue Member link because then you’ll leave the group.
Message other members of your groups.
Sharing private messages on LinkedIn is one of the best ways to develop relationships and grow your brand through personal engagement. Just be mindful of what you send. Don’t spam your current and potential connections.
Alumni are people who can help you build your business. The fact you went to the same school creates an initial connection.
To find alumni, click My Network and then click the Find Alumni link. Search for alumni according to when you (or they) went to school, where they work, where they live, what they do, what they studied, what they’re skilled at, and how you’re connected.
Find alumni to connect with on LinkedIn.
If people are first-level connections or you share a group, you can send them a message. If they’re second-level connections, you can invite them to connect. This is a great way to get back in touch with old classmates as well. Plus, they may even work at a company that can help you grow your business.
#4: Connect and Communicate With Your Target Prospects
After you locate your targets, connect with them. Here are some ways to do that:
Send a customized invitation. Even though you’re limited to 300 characters, add as much of your voice and personality as you can to the invitation to new connections.
Ask for an introduction. Sometimes, emailing or phoning a shared contact is the best way to ask for an introduction. However, you can also click the Introduction link on your prospect’s profile.
Search your connections’ connections. Find people your connections know, like, and trust. Go to a connection and click on the blue number of connections in their bio section to see their network. (If the number is black, your connection has this service blocked.) Click on the little magnifying glass to expand it into a search box. Now, do a search on a keyword or title.
Search your connections for their connections.
Invite a connection’s connection. When you send a request to someone with whom you have a mutual friend, be sure to reference that person. A simple “Hello (name), I see that we share (your mutual connection) in common. I would like to add you as a connection in my network.”
Remember, only use LinkedIn Messenger to share valuable information and content with your prospects and clients. Don’t spam your connections with your free webinar or a pitch for your new product. After a few messages back and forth, you can ask for a phone call or a meeting.
Even though there are many methods to reach out and connect with your ideal clients, partners, and prospects, don’t invite everyone. You’re limited to 3,000 invitations in total.
If you ask, LinkedIn might give you more, but they’ll look at your history and refuse if you have too many people who’ve said they don’t know you. To solve this, you’ll need the email addresses of your invitees when trying to connect with anyone else.
Use search to find the people who will best benefit your business. Then in both personal and professional scenarios, develop relationships to find mutually beneficial situations.
What do you think? How do you find prospects on LinkedIn? Do you have any advice for creating buyer personas or developing relationships with prospects? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Tips on how to find and connect with your target prospects on LinkedIn.
Are you struggling to connect with your audience on social media?
Do you feel like social media won’t work for your business?
It’s not easy to put every business on social media, but the right approach can help even the most difficult cases reach their customers.
In this article, you’ll discover three ways any business can use social media.
Discover three social tactics for businesses that struggle to connect.
#1: Tell an Outside-the-Box Story
Many marketers create content around topics that relate to their value proposition, but that might be difficult to do if you’re in a “boring” industry. The good news is that even if your industry isn’t inherently exciting, you can still create content that appeals to your audience.
Look to Shoulder Niches
Suppose you’re a timber merchant. You might start with content about wood quality, FAQs about timber, and suggestions on what to look for when buying timber. However, these ideas can only go so far.
This is where “shoulder niches” come in. Consider niches that are related to your industry. For example, you might create detailed blog posts and videos that show how to build different kinds of furniture. This type of content will attract top-of-funnel traffic and encourage social sharing to boost your reach.
To generate content ideas for your business, grab a pen and paper and jot down your industry in the middle of the page. Then add related keywords and topics around your industry keyword until you find an idea you can research further. For the timber example, you might end up with something like this:
Brainstorm content ideas for your business.
Craft a Unique Narrative
Another way to appeal to your target audience is to tell a story. Zendesk effectively transformed the “boring” customer service space with their story of support ticket #24.
This lighthearted video shows the blossoming connection between a support rep and his customer. The video generated a huge amount of media attention and social shares, but most importantly, it attracted Zendesk’s ideal customers.
Measuring results for this type of content depends on the format. If you’ve created a video, you’ll want to measure views, engagement, and referral traffic. For a long-form blog post, track engagement metrics such as time on page and number of users. Make sure to include the all-important call to action, and track the conversion rateof readers to subscribers and leads.
#2: Deliver a Quick Call to Action Via Micro-content
People have short attention spans. Studies show that 50% of users stay on a website for less than 10 seconds. Short-form educational and entertaining content, called micro-content, can help appeal to a distracted audience.
How do you create micro-content that has a high chance of going viral? Make the content short, keep text to a minimum, and be sure to accompany it with visuals.
Always include a call to action as well. The connection you make with your audience should be the first step to tangible business goals. Micro-content should lead to a micro-yes, whether that’s clicking a link or providing an email address.
This Books-A-Million Instagram post grabs attention with a creative visual, the text is easy to digest, and it has a clear call to action.
Grab attention with bite-sized, consumable content.
With your calls to action in place, it’s easy to measure performance. Use UTM codes and shorten links to track each campaign. You can do this in Google Analytics under Acquisition > Campaigns > All Campaigns.
#3: Connect in Real Time With Live Video
Live video is a powerful addition to the customer retention toolbox that makes one-to-one connections even stronger. While Periscope is a key player, Facebook Live is becoming increasingly popular. Whenever you go live on Facebook, your existing fan base is notified.
What content should you stream live? Hold live Q&As to give customers a platform to post questions and get answers in real time. Broadcast product launches live to give your audience a sneak peek at new releases and features, making them feel part of something exclusive.
You can also show customers what your business looks like behind closed doors. Allow employees to express their personalities so they can form connections with customers. This is the foundation for increasing customer loyalty on social media.
General Electric has adopted the full nature of Facebook Live, sharing what happens behind the scenes with their audience. They used Facebook Live for “Drone Week” during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Through the eyes of a drone, they gave Facebook Live viewers a rarely seen perspective of how GE’s infrastructure helped make the Olympic Games run.
Give your fans a behind-the-scenes look at your business.
Measuring live video engagement on platforms like Facebook is easy, and the viewer count is displayed within the content.
Social media marketing requires patience if you’re trying to gain traction organically. That’s why many business owners and marketers supplement those efforts with paid advertising.
There are several ways to test ads on a small budget before scaling up. The first is to amplify your best-performing content. Look through your Google Analytics reports and run your domain through BuzzSumo. Set up campaigns that distribute the content with the highest engagement and conversion rates.
The second approach is to go beyond content and test campaigns that focus on bottom-of-funnel goals. Sharing free trials or discount coupons via Facebook or Twitter can help you generate qualified leads at all stages of the sales cycle.
Ad targeting is an area that many small- and medium-sized businesses underestimate. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn all offer granular demographic and psychographic targeting information. For instance, to welcome remote workers into their store, a coffee shop could advertise to people ages 16 to 30 who like business and startup thought leaders.
Be sure to A/B test different approaches and rotate your ads regularly. See what copy, calls to action, and designs work best, and then double down on those with high conversion rates.
What do you think? How do you create content to appeal to your target audience? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Tips on three social media tactics any business can use.
Web technologies and their adoption are advancing at a frenetic pace. Content is a game that every type of team and agency plays, so we’re all competing for a piece of that pie. Meanwhile, technical SEO is more complicated and more important than ever before and much of the SEO discussion has shied away from its growing technical components in favor of content marketing.
As a result, SEO is going through a renaissance wherein the technical components are coming back to the forefront and we need to be prepared. At the same time, a number of thought leaders have made statements that modern SEO is not technical. These statements misrepresent the opportunities and problems that have sprouted on the backs of newer technologies. They also contribute to an ever-growing technical knowledge gap within SEO as a marketing field and make it difficult for many SEOs to solve our new problems.
That resulting knowledge gap that’s been growing for the past couple of years influenced me to, for the first time, “tour” a presentation. I’d been giving my Technical SEO Renaissance talk in one form or another since January because I thought it was important to stoke a conversation around the fact that things have shifted and many organizations and websites may be behind the curve if they don’t account for these shifts. A number of things have happened that prove I’ve been on the right track since I began giving this presentation, so I figured it’s worth bringing the discussion to continue the discussion. Shall we?
An abridged history of SEO (according to me)
It’s interesting to think that the technical SEO has become a dying breed in recent years. There was a time when it was a prerequisite.
Personally, I started working on the web in 1995 as a high school intern at Microsoft. My title, like everyone else who worked on the web then, was “webmaster.” This was well before the web profession splintered into myriad disciplines. There was no Front End vs. Backend. There was no DevOps or UX person. You were just a Webmaster.
Back then, before Yahoo, AltaVista, Lycos, Excite, and WebCrawler entered their heyday, we discovered the web by clicking linkrolls, using Gopher, Usenet, IRC, from magazines, and via email. Around the same time, IE and Netscape were engaged in the Browser Wars and you had more than one client-side scripting language to choose from. Frames were the rage.
Then the search engines showed up. Truthfully, at this time, I didn’t really think about how search engines worked. I just knew Lycos gave me what I believed to be the most trustworthy results to my queries. At that point, I had no idea that there was this underworld of people manipulating these portals into doing their bidding.
SEO was born of a cross-section of these webmasters, the subset of computer scientists that understood the otherwise esoteric field of information retrieval and those “Get Rich Quick on the Internet” folks. These Internet puppeteers were essentially magicians who traded tips and tricks in the almost dark corners of the web. They were basically nerds wringing dollars out of search engines through keyword stuffing, content spinning, and cloaking.
Early Google updates started the cat-and-mouse game that would shorten some perpetual vacations. To condense the last 15 years of search engine history into a short paragraph, Google changed the game from being about content pollution and link manipulation through a series of updates starting with Florida and more recently Panda and Penguin. After subsequent refinements of Panda and Penguin, the face of the SEO industry changed pretty dramatically. Many of the most arrogant “I can rank anything” SEOs turned white hat, started software companies, or cut their losses and did something else. That’s not to say that hacks and spam links don’t still work, because they certainly often do. Rather, Google’s sophistication finally discouraged a lot of people who no longer have the stomach for the roller coaster.
Simultaneously, people started to come into SEO from different disciplines. Well, people always came into SEO from very different professional histories, but it started to attract a lot more more actual “marketing” people. This makes a lot of sense because SEO as an industry has shifted heavily into a content marketing focus. After all, we’ve got to get those links somehow, right?
While I, naturally, disagree with these statements, I understand why these folks would contribute these ideas in their thought leadership. Irrespective of the fact that I’ve worked with both gentlemen in the past in some capacity and know their predispositions towards content, the core point they’re making is that many modern Content Management Systems do account for many of our time-honored SEO best practices. Google is pretty good at understanding what you’re talking about in your content. Ultimately, your organization’s focus needs to be on making something meaningful for your user base so you can deliver competitive marketing.
Changes in web technology are causing a technical renaissance
In SEO, we often criticize developers for always wanting to deploy the new shiny thing. Moving forward, it’s important that we understand the new shiny things so we can be more effective in optimizing them.
This was actually my primary role at Google from 2006 to 2010.
The really interesting parts were (1) trying to make sure that rendering was deterministic (so that identical pages always looked identical to Google for duplicate elimination purposes) (2) detecting when we deviated significantly from real browser behavior (so we didn’t generate too many nonsense URLs for the crawler or too many bogus redirects), and (3) making the emulated browser look a bit like IE and Firefox (and later Chrome) at the some time, so we didn’t get tons of pages that said “come back using IE” er “please download Firefox”.
I ended up modifying SpiderMonkey’s bytecode dispatch to help detect when the simulated browser had gone off into the weeds and was likely generating nonsense.
However, regarding SEO, the key difference between Angular and React is that, from the beginning, React had a renderToString function built in which allows the content to render properly from the server side. This makes the question of indexation of React pages rather trivial.
AngularJS 1.x, on the other hand, has birthed an SEO best practice wherein you pre-render pages using headless browser-driven snapshot appliance such as Prerender.io, Brombone, etc. This is somewhat ironic, as it’s Google’s own product. More on that later.
View Source is dead
To illustrate the point further, consider this View Source view of Seamless.com. If you look for the meta description or the rel-canonical on this page, you’ll find variables in the place of the actual copy:
If instead you look at the code in the Elements section of Chrome DevTools or Inspect Element in other browsers, you’ll find the fully executed DOM. You’ll see the variables are now filled in with copy. The URL for the rel-canonical is on the page, as is the meta description:
Since search engines are crawling this way, you may be missing out on the complete story of what’s going on if you default to just using View Source to examine the code of the site.
HTTP/2 is on the way
One of Google’s largest points of emphasis is page speed. An understanding of how networking impacts page speed is definitely a must-have to be an effective SEO.
Before HTTP/2 was announced, the HyperText Transfer Protocol specification had not been updated in a very long time. In fact, we’ve been using HTTP/1.1 since 1999. HTTP/2 is a large departure from HTTP/1.1, and I encourage you to read up on it, as it will make a dramatic contribution to the speed of the web.
Quickly though, one of the biggest differences is that HTTP/2 will make use of one TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) connection per origin and “multiplex” the stream. If you’ve ever taken a look at the issues that Google PageSpeed Insights highlights, you’ll notice that one of the primary things that always comes up is limiting the number of HTTP requests/ This is what multiplexing helps eliminate; HTTP/2 opens up one connection to each server, pushing assets across it at the same time, often making determinations of required resources based on the initial resource. With browsers requiring Transport Layer Security (TLS) to leverage HTTP/2, it’s very likely that Google will make some sort of push in the near future to get websites to adopt it. After all, speed and security have been common threads throughout everything in the past five years.
As of late, more hosting providers have been highlighting the fact that they are making HTTP/2 available, which is probably why there’s been a significant jump in its usage this year. The beauty of HTTP/2 is that most browsers already support it and you don’t have to do much to enable it unless your site is not secure.
Definitely keep HTTP/2 on your radar, as it may be the culmination of what Google has been pushing for.
SEO tools are lagging behind search engines
When I think critically about this, SEO tools have always lagged behind the capabilities of search engines. That’s to be expected, though, because SEO tools are built by smaller teams and the most important things must be prioritized. A lack of technical understanding may lead to you believe the information from the tools you use when they are inaccurate.
When you review some of Google’s own documentation, you’ll find that some of my favorite tools are not in line with Google’s specifications. For instance, Google allows you to specify hreflang, rel-canonical, and x-robots in HTTP headers. There’s a huge lack of consistency in SEO tools’ ability to check for those directives.
It’s possible that you’ve performed an audit of a site and found it difficult to determine why a page has fallen out of the index. It very well could be because a developer was following Google’s documentation and specifying a directive in an HTTP header, but your SEO tool did not surface it. In fact, it’s generally better to set these at the HTTP header level than to add bytes to your download time by filling up every page’s <head> with them.
To my knowledge, none of the other crawling tools are doing this yet. I do recognize the fact that it would be considerably more expensive for all SEO tools to make this shift because cloud server usage is time-based and it takes significantly more time to render a page in a browser than to just download the main HTML file. How much time?
A ton more time, actually. I just wrote a simple script that just loads the HTML using both cURL and HorsemanJS. cURL took an average of 5.25 milliseconds to download the HTML of the Yahoo homepage. HorsemanJS, on the other hand, took an average of 25,839.25 milliseconds or roughly 26 seconds to render the page. It’s the difference between crawling 686,000 URLs an hour and 138.
Ideally, SEO tools would extract the technologies in use on the site or perform some sort of DIFF operation on a few pages and then offer the option to crawl headless if it’s deemed worthwhile.
Luckily, until SEO tools catch up, Chrome DevTools does handle a lot of these things. For instance, the HTTP Request and Response headers section will show you x-robots, hreflang, and rel-canonical HTTP headers.
You can also use DevTools’ GeoLocation Emulator to get view the web as though you are in a different location. For those of you who have fond memories of the nearEquals query parameter, this is another way you can get a sense of where you rank in precise locations.
Chrome DevTools also allows you to plug in your Android device and control it from your browser. There’s any number of use cases for this from an SEO perspective, but Simo Ahava wrote a great instructional post on how you can use it to debug your mobile analytics setup. You can do the same on iOS devices in Safari if you have a Mac.
What truly are rankings in 2016?
Rankings are a funny thing and, truthfully, have been for some time now. I, myself, was resistant to the idea of averaged rankings when Google rolled them out in Webmaster Tools/Search Console, but average rankings actually make a lot more sense than what we look at in standard ranking tools. Let me explain.
SEO tools pull rankings based on a situation that doesn’t actually exist in the real world. The machines that scrape Google are meant to be clean and otherwise agnostic unless you explicitly specify a location. Effectively, these tools look to understand how rankings would look to users searching for the first time with no context or history with Google. Ranking software emulates a user who is logging onto the web for the first time ever and the first thing they think to do is search for “4ft fishing rod.” Then they continually search for a series of other related and/or unrelated queries without ever actually clicking on a result. Granted. some software may do other things to try and emulate that user, but either way they collect data that is not necessarily reflective of what real users see. And finally, with so many people tracking many of the same keywords so frequently, you have to wonder how much these tools inflate search volume.
The bottom line is that we are ignoring true user context, especially in the mobile arena.
Rankings tools that allow you to track mobile rankings usually let you define one context or they will simply specify “mobile phone” as an option. Cindy Krum’s research indicates that SERP features and rankings will be different based on the combination of user agent, phone make and model, browser, and even the content on their phone.
Rankings tools also ignore the user’s reality of choice. We’re in an era where there are simply so many elements that comprise the SERP, that #1 is simply NOT #1. In some cases, #1 is the 8th choice on the page and far below the fold.
With AdWords having a 4th ad slot, organic being pushed far below the fold, and users not being sure of the difference between organic and paid, being #1 in organic doesn’t mean what it used to. So when we look at rankings reports that tell us we’re number one, we’re often deluding ourselves as to what outcome that will drive. When we report that to clients, we’re not focusing on actionability or user context. Rather, we are focusing entirely on vanity.
Of course, rankings are not a business goal; they’re a measure of potential or opportunity. No matter how much we talk about how they shouldn’t be the main KPI, rankings are still something that SEOs point at to show they’re moving the needle. Therefore we should consider thinking of organic rankings as being relative to the SERP features that surround them.
In other words, I’d like to see rankings include both the standard organic 1–10 ranking as well as the absolute position with regard to Paid, local packs, and featured snippets. Anything else is ignoring the impact of the choices that are overwhelmingly available to the user.
Cloaking is officially defined as showing search engines something different from the user. What does that mean when Google allows adaptive and responsive sites and crawls both headless and text-based? What does that mean when Googlebot respects 304 response codes?
Under adaptive and responsive models, it’s often the case that more or less content is shown for different contexts. This is rare for responsive, as it’s meant to reposition and size content by definition, but some implementations may instead reduce content components to make the viewing context work.
In the case when a site responds to screen resolution by changing what content is shown and more content is shown beyond the resolution that Googlebot renders, how do they distinguish that from cloaking?
Similarly, the 304 response code is way to indicate to the client that the content has not been modified since the last time it visited; therefore, there’s no reason to download it again.
Googlebot adheres to this response code to keep from being a bandwidth hog. So what’s to stop a webmaster from getting one version of the page indexed, changing it, and then returning a 304?
I don’t know that there are definitive answers to those questions at this point. However, based on what I’m seeing in the wild, these have proven to be opportunities for technical SEOs that are still dedicated to testing and learning.
Accessibility of content as a fundamental component that SEOs must examine has not changed. What has changed is the type of analytical effort that needs to go into it. It’s been established that Google’s crawling capabilities have improved dramatically and people like Eric Wu have done a great job of surfacing the granular detail of those capabilities with experiments like JSCrawlability.com
Similarly, I wanted to try an experiment to see how Googlebot behaves once it loads a page. Using LuckyOrange, I attempted to capture a video of Googlebot once it gets to the page:
I installed the LuckyOrange script on a page that hadn’t been indexed yet and set it up so that it only only fires if the user agent contains “googlebot.” Once I was set up, I then invoked Fetch and Render from Search Console. I’d hoped to see mouse scrolling or an attempt at a form fill. Instead, the cursor never moved and Googlebot was only on the page for a few seconds. Later on, I saw another hit from Googlebot to that URL and then the page appeared in the index shortly thereafter. There was no record of the second visit in LuckyOrange.
While I’d like to do more extensive testing on a bigger site to validate this finding, my hypothesis from this anecdotal experience is that Googlebot will come to the site and make a determination of whether a page/site needs to be crawled using the headless crawler. Based on that, they’ll come back to the site using the right crawler for the job.
I encourage you to give it a try as well. You don’t have to use LuckyOrange — you could use HotJar or anything else like it — but here’s my code for LuckyOrange:
Window.__lo_site_id = XXXX;
if (navigator.userAgent.toLowerCase().indexOf(‘googlebot’) >)
var wa = document.createElement(‘script’);
wa.async = true;
wa.src = (‘https’ == document.location.protocol ? ‘<a href="https://ssl">https://ssl</a>’ : ’<a href="http://cdn">http://cdn</a>’) + ‘.luckyorange.com/w.js’;
var s = document.getElementByTagName(‘script’);
// Tag it with Googlebot
window._loq = window._low || ;
window._loq .push([“tag”, “Googlebot”]);
The moral of the story, however, is that what Google sees, how often they see it, and so on are still primary questions that we need to answer as SEOs. While it’s not sexy, log file analysis is an absolutely necessary exercise, especially for large-site SEO projects — perhaps now more than ever, due to the complexities of sites. I’d encourage you to listen to everything Marshall Simmonds says in general, but especially on this subject.
To that end, Google’s Crawl Stats in Search Console are utterly useless. These charts tell me what, exactly? Great, thanks Google, you crawled a bunch of pages at some point in February. Cool!
There are any number of log file analysis tools out there, from Kibana in the ELK stack to other tools such as Logz.io. However, the Screaming Frog team has made leaps and bounds in this arena with the recent release of their Log File Analyzer.
Of note with this tool is how easily it handles millions of records, which I hope is an indication of things to come with their Spider tool as well. Irrespective of who makes the tool, the insights that it helps you unlock are incredibly valuable in terms of what’s actually happening.
We had a client last year that was adamant that their losses in organic were not the result of the Penguin update. They believed that it might be due to turning off other traditional and digital campaigns that may have contributed to search volume, or perhaps seasonality or some other factor. Pulling the log files, I was able to layer all of the data from when all of their campaigns were running and show that it was none of those things; rather, Googlebot activity dropped tremendously right after the Penguin update and at the same time as their organic search traffic. The log files made it definitively obvious.
It follows conventionally held SEO wisdom that Googlebot crawls based on the pages that have the highest quality and/or quantity of links pointing to them. In layering the the number of social shares, links, and Googlebot visits for our latest clients, we’re finding that there’s more correlation between social shares and crawl activity than links. In the data below, the section of the site with the most links actually gets crawled the least!
These are important insights that you may just be guessing at without taking the time to dig into your log files.
How log files help you understand AngularJS
Like any other web page or application, every request results in a record in the logs. But depending on how the server is setup, there are a ton of lessons that can come out of it with regard to AngularJS setups, especially if you’re pre-rendering using one of the snapshot technologies.
For one of our clients, we found that oftentimes when the snapshot system needed to refresh its cache, it took too long and timed out. Googlebot understands these as 5XX errors.
This behavior leads to those pages falling out of the index, and over time we saw pages jump back and forth between ranking very highly and disappearing altogether, or another page on the site taking its place.
Additionally, we found that there were many instances wherein Googlebot was being misidentified as a human user. In turn, Googlebot was served the AngularJS live page rather than the HTML snapshot. However, despite the fact that Googlebot was not seeing the HTML snapshots for these pages, these pages were still making it into the index and ranking just fine. So we ended up working with the client on a test to remove the snapshot system on sections of the site, and organic search traffic actually improved.
That’s not to say that HTML snapshot systems are not worth using. The Googlebot behavior for pre-rendered pages is that they tend to be crawled more quickly and more frequently. My best guess is that this is due to the crawl being less computationally expensive for them to execute. All in all, I’d say using HTML snapshots is still the best practice, but definitely not the only way for Google see these types of sites.
According to Google, you shouldn’t serve snapshots just for them, but for the speed enhancements that the user gets as well.
In general, websites shouldn’t pre-render pages only for Google — we expect that you might pre-render pages for performance benefits for users and that you would follow progressive enhancement guidelines. If you pre-render pages, make sure that the content served to Googlebot matches the user’s experience, both how it looks and how it interacts. Serving Googlebot different content than a normal user would see is considered cloaking, and would be against our Webmaster Guidelines.
These are highly technical decisions that have a direct influence on organic search visibility. From my experience in interviewing SEOs to join our team at iPullRank over the last year, very few of them understand these concepts or are capable of diagnosing issues with HTML snapshots. These issues are now commonplace and will only continue to grow as these technologies continue to be adopted.
However, if we’re to serve snapshots to the user too, it begs the question: Why would we use the framework in the first place? Naturally, tech stack decisions are ones that are beyond the scope of just SEO, but you might consider a framework that doesn’t require such an appliance, like MeteorJS.
Angular 2 has a whole host of improvements over Angular 1.x, but I’ll let these Googlers tell you about them.
Before all of the crazy frameworks reared their confusing heads, Google has had one line of thought about emerging technologies — and that is “progressive enhancement.” With many new IoT devices on the horizon, we should be building websites to serve content for the lowest common denominator of functionality and save the bells and whistles for the devices that can render them.
If you’re starting from scratch, a good approach is to build your site’s structure and navigation using only HTML. Then, once you have the site’s pages, links, and content in place, you can spice up the appearance and interface with AJAX. Googlebot will be happy looking at the HTML, while users with modern browsers can enjoy your AJAX bonuses.
In other words, make sure your content is accessible to everyone. Shoutout to Fili Weise for reminding me of that.
Scraping is the fundamental flawed core of SEO analysis
Scraping is fundamental to everything that our SEO tools do. cURL is a library for making and handling HTTP requests. Most popular programming languages have bindings for the library and, as such, most SEO tools leverage the library or something similar to download web pages.
Think of cURL as working similar to downloading a single file from an FTP; in terms of web pages, it doesn’t mean that the page can be viewed in its entirety, because you’re not downloading all of the required files.
This is where headless browsing comes into play.
One of the more popular headless browsing libraries is PhantomJS. Many tools outside of the SEO world are written using this library for browser automation. Netflix even has one for scraping and taking screenshots called Sketchy. PhantomJS is built from a rendering engine called QtWebkit, which is to say it’s forked from the same code that Safari (and Chrome before Google forked it into Blink) is based on. While PhantomJS is missing the features of the latest browsers, it has enough features to support most things we need for SEO analysis.
As you can see from the GitHub repository, HTML snapshot software such as Prerender.io is written using this library as well.
PhantomJS has a series of wrapper libraries that make it quite easy to use in a variety of different languages. For those of you interested in using it with NodeJS, check out HorsemanJS.
For those of you that are more familiar with PHP, check out PHP PhantomJS.
A more recent and better qualified addition to the headless browser party is Headless Chromium. As you might have guessed, this is a headless version of the Chrome browser. If I were a betting man, I’d say what we’re looking at here is a some sort of toned-down fork of Googlebot.
To that end, this is probably something that SEO companies should consider when rethinking their own crawling infrastructure in the future, if only for a premium tier of users. If you want to know more about Headless Chrome, check out what Sami Kyostila and Alex Clarke (both Googlers) had to say at BlinkOn 6:
Using in-browser scraping to do what your tools can’t
Scraping this way allows you to skip a lot of the coding that’s required to make sites believe you’re a real user, like authentication and cookie management that has to happen on the server side. Of course, this way of scraping is good for one-offs rather than building software around.
ArtooJS is a bookmarklet made to support in-browser scraping and automating scraping across a series of pages and saving the results to a file as JSON.
A more fully featured solution for this is the Chrome Extension, WebScraper.io. It requires no code and makes the whole process point-and-click.
How to approach content and linking from the technical context
Much of what SEO has been doing for the past few years has devolved into the creation of more content for more links. I don’t know that adding anything to the discussion around how to scale content or build more links is of value at this point, but I suspect there are some opportunities for existing links and content that are not top-of-mind for many people.
Google Looks at Entities First
Googlers announced recently that they look at entities first when reviewing a query. An entity is Google’s representation of proper nouns in their system to distinguish persons, places, and things, and inform their understanding of natural language. At this point in the talk, I ask people to put their hands up if they have an entity strategy. I’ve given the talk a dozen times at this point and there have only been two people to raise their hands.
Bill Slawski is the foremost thought leader on this topic, so I’m going to defer to his wisdom and encourage you to read:
I would also encourage you to use a natural language processing tool like AlchemyAPI or MonkeyLearn. Better still, use Google’s own Natural Language Processing API to extract entities. The difference between your standard keyword research and entity strategies is that your entity strategy needs to be built from your existing content. So in identifying entities, you’ll want to do your keyword research first and then run those landing pages through an entity extraction tool to see how they line up. You’ll also want to run your competitor landing pages through those same entity extraction APIs to identify what entities are being targeted for those keywords.
Similarly, Term Frequency/Inverse Document Frequency or TF*IDF is a natural language processing technique that doesn’t get much discussion on this side of the pond. In fact, topic modeling algorithms have been the subject of much-heated debates in the SEO community in the past. The issue of concern is that topic modeling tools have the tendency to push us back towards the Dark Ages of keyword density, rather than considering the idea of creating content that has utility for users. However, in many European countries they swear by TF*IDF (or WDF*IDF — Within Document Frequency/Inverse Document Frequency) as a key technique that drives up organic visibility even without links.
After hanging out in Germany a bit last year, some folks were able to convince me that taking another look at TF*IDF was worth it. So, we did and then we started working it into our content optimization process.
In Searchmetrics’ 2014 study of ranking factors they found that while TF*IDF specifically actually had a negative correlation with visibility, relevant and proof terms have strong positive correlations.
Based on their examination of these factors, Searchmetrics made the call to drop TF*IDF from their analysis altogether in 2015 in favor of the proof terms and relevant terms. Year over year the positive correlation holds for those types of terms, albeit not as high.
In Moz’s own 2015 ranking factors, we find that LDA and TF*IDF related items remain in the highest on-page content factors.
In effect, no matter what model you look at, the general idea is to use related keywords in your copy in order to rank better for your primary target keyword, because it works.
Now, I can’t say we’ve examined the tactic in isolation, but I can say that the pages that we’ve optimized using TF*IDF have seen bigger jumps in rankings than those without it. While we leverage OnPage.org’s TF*IDF tool, we don’t follow it using hard and fast numerical rules. Instead, we allow the related keywords to influence ideation and then use them as they make sense.
At the very least, this order of technical optimization of content needs to revisited. While you’re at it, you should consider the other tactics that Cyrus Shepard called out as well in order to get more mileage out of your content marketing efforts.
302s vs 301s — seriously?
As of late, a reexamination of the 301 vs. 302 redirect has come back up in the SEO echo chamber. I get the sense that Webmaster Trends Analysts in the public eye either like attention or are just bored, so they’ll issue vague tweets just to see what happens.
For those of you who prefer to do work rather than wait for Gary Illyes to tweet, all I’ve got is some data to share.
Once upon a time, we worked with a large media organization. As is par for the course with these types of organizations, their tech team was resistant to implementing much of our recommendations. Yet they had millions of links both internally and externally pointing to URLs that returned 302 response codes.
After many meetings, and a more compelling business case, the one substantial thing that we were able to convince them to do was switch those 302s into 301s. Nearly overnight there was an increase in rankings in the 1–3 rank zone.
Despite seasonality, there was a jump in organic Search traffic as well.
To reiterate, the only substantial change at this point was the 302 to 301 switch. It resulted in a few million more organic search visits month over month. Granted, this was a year ago, but until someone can show me the same happening or no traffic loss when you switch from 301s to 302s, there’s no discussion for us to have.
Internal linking, the technical approach
Under the PageRank model, it’s an axiom that the flow of link equity through the site is an incredibly important component to examine. Unfortunately, so much of the discussion with clients is only on the external links and not about how to better maximize the link equity that a site already has.
There are a number of tools out there that bring this concept to the forefront. For instance, Searchmetrics calculates and visualizes the flow of link equity throughout the site. This gives you a sense of where you can build internal links to make other pages stronger.
Either of these approaches is incredibly valuable to offering more visibility to content and very much fall in the bucket of what technical SEO can offer.
Structured data is the future of organic search
The popular one-liner is that Google is looking to become the presentation layer of the web. I say, help them do it!
There has been much discussion about how Google is taking our content and attempting to cut our own websites out of the picture. With the traffic boon that the industry has seen from sites making it into the featured snippet, it’s pretty obvious that, in many cases, there’s more value for you in Google taking your content than in them not.
With Vocal Search appliances on mobile devices and the forthcoming Google Home, there’s only one answer that the user receives. That is to say that the Star Trek computer Google is building is not going to read every result — just one. These answers are fueled by rich cards and featured snippets, which are in turn fueled by structured data.
Google has actually done us a huge favor regarding structured data in updating the specifications that allow JSON-LD. Before this, Schema.org was a matter of making very tedious and specific changes to code with little ROI. Now structured data powers a number of components of the SERP and can simply be placed at the <HEAD> of a document quite easily. Now is the time to revisit implementing the extra markup. Builtvisible’s guide to Structured Data remains the gold standard.
Page speed is still Google’s obsession
Google has very aggressive expectations around page speed, especially for the mobile context. They want the above-the-fold content to load within one second. However, 800 milliseconds of that time is pretty much out of your control.
Based on what you can directly affect, as an SEO, you have 200 milliseconds to make content appear on the screen. A lot of what can be done on-page to influence the speed at which things load is optimizing the page for critical rendering path.
To understand this concept, first we have to take a bit of a step back to get a sense of how browsers construct a web page.
The browser takes the uniform resource locator (URL) that you specify in your address bar and performs a DNS lookup on the domain name.
Once a socket is open and a connection is negotiated, it then asks the server for the HTML of the page you’ve requested.
The browser begins to parse the HTML into the Document Object Model until it encounters CSS, then it starts to parse the CSS into the CSS Object Model.
Once all of this is complete, the browser constructs the Render Tree, which then builds the layout of the page and finally the elements of the page are painted.
Additionally, external resources contribute significantly to page load time. For instance, I always see Chartbeat’s library taking 3 or more seconds just to resolve the DNS. These are all things that need to be reviewed when considering how to make a page load faster.
Essentially, AMP exists because Google believes the general public is bad at coding. So they made a subset of HTML and threw a global CDN behind it to make your pages hit the 1 second mark. Personally, I have a strong aversion to AMP, but as many of us predicted at the top of the year, Google has rolled AMP out beyond just the media vertical and into all types of pages in the SERP. The roadmap indicates that there is a lot more coming, so it’s definitely something we should dig into and look to capitalize on.
Using pre-browsing directives to speed things up
To support site speed improvements, most browsers have pre-browsing resource hints. These hints allow you to indicate to the browser that a file will be needed later in the page, so while the components of the browser are idle, it can download or connect to those resources now. Chrome specifically looks to do these things automatically when it can, and may ignore your specification altogether. However, these directives operate much like the rel-canonical tag — you’re more likely to get value out of them than not.
Rel-preconnect – This directive allows you to resolve the DNS, initiate the TCP handshake, and negotiate the TLS tunnel between the client and server before you need to. When you don’t do this, these things happen one after another for each resource rather than simultaneously. As the diagram below indicates, in some cases you can shave nearly half a second off just by doing this. Alternatively, if you just want to resolve the DNS in advance, you could use rel-dns-prefetch.
If you see a lot of idle time in your Timeline in Chrome DevTools, rel-preconnect can help you shave some of that off.
You can specify rel-preconnect with
<link rel=”preconnect” href=”https://domain.com”>
or rel-dns-prefetch with
<link rel=”dns-prefetch” href=”domain.com”>
Rel-prefetch – This directive allows you to download a resource for a page that will be needed in the future. For instance, if you want to pull the stylesheet of the next page or download the HTML for the next page, you can do so by specifying it as
<link rel=”prefetch” href=”nextpage.html”>
Rel-prerender – Not to be confused with the aforementioned Prerender.io, rel-prerender is a directive that allows you to load an entire page and all of its resources in an invisible tab. Once the user clicks a link to go to that URL, the page appears instantly. If the user instead clicks on a link that you did not specify as the rel-prerender, the prerendered page is deleted from memory. You specify the rel-prerender as follows:
There are a number of caveats that come with rel-prerender, but the most important one is that you can only specify one page at a time and only one rel-prerender can be specified across all Chrome threads. In my post I talk about how to leverage the Google Analytics API to make the best guess at the URL the user is likely going to visit next.
Finally, keep in mind that rel-prerender does not work with Firefox, iOS Safari, Opera Mini, or Android’s browser. Not sure why they didn’t get invited to the pre-party, but I wouldn’t recommend using it on a mobile device anyway.
Rel-preload and rel-subresource – Following the same pattern as above, rel-preload and rel-subresource allow you to load things within the same page before they are needed. Rel-subresource is Chrome-specific, while rel-preload works for Chrome, Android, and Opera.
Finally, keep in mind that Chrome is sophisticated enough to make attempts at all of these things. Your resource hints help them develop the 100% confidence level to act on them. Chrome is making a series of predictions based on everything you type into the address bar and it keeps track of whether or not it’s making the right predictions to determine what to preconnect and prerender for you. Check out chrome://predictors to see what Chrome has been predicting based on your behavior.
Being a strong SEO requires a series of skills that’s difficult for a single person to be great at. For instance, an SEO with strong technical skills may find it difficult to perform effective outreach or vice-versa. Naturally, SEO is already stratified between on- and off-page in that way. However, the technical skill requirement has continued to grow dramatically in the past few years.
There are a number of skills that have always given technical SEOs an unfair advantage, such as web and software development skills or even statistical modeling skills. Perhaps it’s time to officially further stratify technical SEO from traditional content-driven on-page optimizations, since much of the skillset required is more that of a web developer and network administrator than that of what is typically thought of as SEO (at least at this stage in the game). As an industry, we should consider a role of an SEO Engineer, as some organizations already have.
At the very least, the SEO Engineer will need to have a grasp of all of the following to truly capitalize on these technical opportunities:
Document Object Model – An understanding of the building blocks of web browsers is fundamental to the understanding how how we front-end developers manipulate the web as they build it.
Critical Rendering Path – An understanding of how a browser constructs a page and what goes into the rendering of the page will help with the speed enhancements that Google is more aggressively requiring.
Structured Data and Markup – An understanding of how metadata can be specified to influence how Google understands the information being presented.
Page Speed – An understanding of the rest of the coding and networking components that impact page load times is the natural next step to getting page speed up. Of course, this is a much bigger deal than SEO, as it impacts the general user experience.
Log File Analysis – An understanding of how search engines traverse websites and what they deem as important and accessible is a requirement, especially with the advent of new front-end technologies.
Chrome DevTools – An understanding of one of the most the powerful tools in the SEO toolkit, the Chrome web browser itself. Chrome DevTools’ features coupled with a few third-party plugins close the gaps for many things that SEO tools cannot currently analyze. The SEO Engineer needs to be able to build something quick to get the answers to questions that were previously unasked by our industry.
HTTP/2 – An understanding of how this protocol will dramatically change the speed of the web and the SEO implications of migrating from HTTP/1.1.
Let’s Make SEO Great Again
One of the things that always made SEO interesting and its thought leaders so compelling was that we tested, learned, and shared that knowledge so heavily. It seems that that culture of testing and learning was drowned in the content deluge. Perhaps many of those types of folks disappeared as the tactics they knew and loved were swallowed by Google’s zoo animals. Perhaps our continually eroding data makes it more and more difficult to draw strong conclusions.
Whatever the case, right now, there are far fewer people publicly testing and discovering opportunities. We need to demand more from our industry, our tools, our clients, our agencies, and ourselves.
Let’s stop chasing the content train and get back to making experiences that perform.
At last week’s MarketingProfs B2B Marketing Forum, Andrew Davis had the crowd roaring with laughter as he impersonated a marketer with a fresh piece of content.
“Let’s put it on the blog!” he exclaimed.
“Let’s put it on Facebook! And Twitter! And Pinterest! And Flickr! And Google+, for the two people still using it.”
It was funny, because for a lot of marketers, it’s true. Too many of us fall victim to the “spray and pray” approach to social media marketing. We push our content anywhere we can get it, and cross our fingers hoping one of these posts turn into an engagement, a new relationship, a sale. That’s why I was so excited to attend the session titled “How to Use Social Media to Generate Actual Sales”, led by social media gurus John Foley Jr. and Karen DeWolf of InterlinkOne.
The Difference between Social Media Marketing and Prospecting
The duo began by explaining the difference between social media marketing and social media prospecting, and the importance of using both in an on-going social strategy.
Social Media Marketing: This is very much a content based approach. We, as marketers, push out content that we hope people are going to consume; and usually we hope they somehow get to our website and become a lead. While it’s important to make sure your company has a steady stream of information going out on social, the “spray and pray” technique will not effectively drive revenue. Here are the three attributes John and Karen use to describe social media marketing:
Publishing educational and contextual content for the purpose of brand awareness
Primary focus: acquisition of more social followers, generation of inbound
Listening for purpose of customer service and reputation management
Social Media Prospecting: The differentiator here is one-to-one engagement. You conduct sales by finding your customer’s problem and then solving it. You do that by listening and having conversations, which can be conducted on social media. The three attributes John and Karen use to describe social media prospecting are as follows:
It’s a simple process: gather, qualify, refine, retarget
Primary focus: reaching and connecting with targeted customers and prospects
Listening for purposes of lead generation for sales, solving problems, thus driving additional revenue
When a company is interesting in utilizing social media to drive revenue, social media prospecting is the winning strategy.
The Social Media Marketing Struggle is Real
One of the biggest realizations I had walking away from this session was the fact that even though social media marketing has existed now for over five years, for many marketers the social media marketing struggle is still very real. And it’s not for lack of trying. It’s because social media is an ever-changing environment; there are new tools, new social platforms, and new tactics clashing with old-school misconceptions and unproven “best practices.”
Luckily, John and Karen saved the day, answering the audience’s most pressing social media marketing questions. Here are a few of the questions from the audience, and their expert answers.
Q: How do you get the sales team involved in social prospecting?
John: You need to get C-suite buy-in. Educate these folks. Find some content with statistics that prove a methodology and share it with them.
Q: When it comes to social bios, do you think it’s more effective to describe your personal or professional passions?
Karen: You have to humanize your brand (company or personal brand). Have a mixture of professional and personal insight into yourself. You might start a new relationship in an online experience, but people still buy from people.
Q: What are some good examples of B2B brands with successful social marketing programs?
John: Cannon… IMB… BMC… Dell…. There are actually quite a lot of great B2B examples out there.
Closing out the session, John and Karen provided some actionable tips to support the sales funnel and ultimately drive revenue through social media. Below are some of the quick social media marketing tips from the pros.
4 Tips to Improve Your Bottom Line
Prospecting: As mentioned earlier, social media prospecting is more about listening, less about shouting your message. Work to build new relationships and support existing relationships on the social channels your audience is most likely to use.
Pre-call research: Before a sales representative picks up the phone, they should spend some time researching the prospect via social media. Pre-call research can help uncover recent news about the prospective company, mutual acquaintances or common passions.
Following-up: If you hit a road block contacting a prospect by phone or email, try following up with a message on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.
Maintaining long lasting relationships with customers: It’s far more cost-effective to sell a product or service to an existing customer, than someone you don’t have a relationship with. Use social media to stay in touch with your customers, send helpful articles their way and engage with their posts to keep the relationship embers burning.
Turn Social Media Into A Revenue Driver
This interactive and engaging session spawned amazing questions and conversations amongst the audience. It became clear that for many marketers, social media marketing remains a hot topic of discussion, and Karen and John expertly guided the audience through actionable tips to transition social media into a revenue driver.
Let’s keep the conversation going on our blog. Comment below or tweet us at @TopRank to share your unanswered social media marketing question.
Acunzo acknowledged the question was a bit silly. It’s like asking if you want more time in your day or more resources for your team. The answer is always an unequivocal “yes.”
But while this may seem like a weird question to ask marketers, it actually gets to the heart of the creative struggle we all feel: Of course we want to be creative; creativity is necessary and intertwined with everything we do. But we often find ourselves aspiring to be more creative than actually harnessing what’s already inside us as creators.
Boom. Truth bomb dropped. And the truth barrage was just getting started.
Below I dive into some of the inspirational creativity truths that Acunzo brought into focus during his presentation. They certainly inspired new confidence in my own marketing abilities—and I hope they do the same for you.
#1 – Creativity isn’t an idea or aspiration; it’s a work ethic.
We often put creativity on a pedestal, wishing and hoping for just a small piece of it to come our way. But the truth is: Creativity isn’t something we’re given; it’s a work ethic.
Let’s stop thinking about creativity as something we’re always reaching for, and start believing that hard work and a strong work ethic will allow us to tap what is already inside us.
“Let’s get to work,” Acunzo encouraged. “Our jobs are not to be creative. Our jobs are to create.”
#2 – When you break away from the conventional, you can stop playing and start shaping.
We’ve all been told to color outside the lines, think outside the box or challenge the status quo. But fear, uncertainty or lack of confidence can prevent us from trying something new.
As Acunzo said: “Sometimes you have to zig when others zag.”
The bottom line? You can’t build something big if you’re doing what everyone else is doing. Questioning the conventional will allow you to shape your brand and your message so you can stand out in the noisy marketing world.
#3 – In order to embrace your creativity you need to trust and embrace your intuition.
We often think that going with our creative intuition is a big leap of faith. But really, we’ve actually worked our way there through a series of small steps. And once we’re there, sometimes we just have to do what feels right.
#4 – Constraints fuel creativity.
Think about it. When you’re working within certain boundaries and requirements, you have to find a way to make the most out of it—and that can bring your creativity to a whole new level.
#5 – Resourcefulness beats resources every time.
We often feel like we don’t have the tools, technology, the team and the talent to be highly creative. But that really couldn’t be farther from the truth.
We marketers are scrappy. We’re innovative. We can and have made the absolute most out of whatever resources we’re given. But the key to success here isn’t luck. You have to tinker. You have to experiment. You have to practice. This will not only help you refine you process, but also find opportunities to use your resources in new ways.
#6 – You’re the key to your creativity. You’re the starter.
After telling a delightful story about the rivalry between two pizza joints in his hometown, Acunzo revealed that it isn’t the ingredients that set these pizza places apart—but rather the starter used to make the pizza dough.
You see, like each of us, no two starters are the same. The experiences and elements we’re exposed to make us who we are as unique individuals. Use that uniqueness to your advantage to set your marketing efforts apart from your competitors. Be the starter.
Creativity vs. Creating
In the end, creativity isn’t something that should be aspired to or worshiped. It something inherent in us, coming out when we put our minds to the task of creating something.
So, we shouldn’t be asking ourselves: “Do you want to be creative?” The real question is: “Do you want to create?”
How do you use your experiences to drive creativity in everything you create? Share with us in the comments section below.