As digital marketers the ball is always moving'innovation is the norm and only accelerating. The constant challenge for brands and marketers is to evaluate this evolving landscape and take advantage of new opportunities. Historically, being a search guy has meant constantly testing new placement, creative, device and campaign management technologies as both paid and organic search have become more personalized to the end user and competitive among brands. This is even more pronounced on a broader digital scale ' the past year alone has witnessed the explosive rise of Pinterest, Google finally entering the social world (for real this time) with Google+ and of course Facebook's acquisition of Instagram. Content Marketing is yet another tactic that has been buzz worthy in the past year. Like social media, a content strategy can mean a variety of things depending upon ultimately the program's objectives and level of sophistication. To help make sense of this, I thought I'd share the hierarchy of how we're thinking about content marketing for our clients. The good news is that if you have a website, you're probably doing it already to some degree. Digital Asset Optimization This is the baseline starting point. In all likelihood, you have a website and within that site you have produced and posted some content elements from videos to press releases to perhaps a blog. That's great, a big step and the most important. Yet, the greater benefit is in activating that content to expand your digital footprint throughout organic search, social media and other earned channels. Digital assets should be keyword optimized according to your SEO strategy, placed appropriately on site, enabled for sharing and distributed to relevant social channels. Brand Publisher While digital asset optimization is the initial starting point for developing and activating your content strategy, an advanced Content Marketing program is strategic, comprehensive and ongoing. Strategic in that message, channel and velocity of content is driven by empirical audience research. This data will identify clear audience drivers and needs and opportunities through which to engage them. Comprehensive as content is developed in a variety of forms thus reaching your audience through their preferred channel of engagement whether that be via webcast, article, video, infographic or other. Ongoing ' this ultimately refers to the concept of brands as publishers in that the content program should be consistent over time. This will not only foster a relationship with your customer, but frequent new content will expand your brand's overall footprint and organic search profile. Brands as Story Tellers Brands that have nailed down the fundamentals of content marketing then move on to more robust strategies of truly becoming story tellers. These brands have a well oiled publishing and distribution operation of research, development, activation and measurement. The next step is then pulling this unique brand positioning into all forms of communication from sales and support to social media engagement. It means truly owning your niche and telling your story through all facets of your business. Adding Value A colleague and mentor of mine once advised me to add value in every interaction whether that be personal or professional. That advice has been invaluable throughout my career and is at the core of what content marketing is all about. Regardless of where your brand is in the hierarchy of content strategies, the fundamental principle is simple - provide engaging, valuable information to your customers, clients and constituents. Add value and they will not only be customers, they'll be advocates.
Stephen Anderson, the General Manager of our San Francisco office, stops by the Insights Lab this week to provide an informative overview of content marketing and the benefits of implementing a content marketing strategy.
Social media scored big points yet again last week as Google announced the new +1 feature to its search listings. Essentially, this is their response to Facebook's 'Like'? as it integrates social signals into their search results. Searchers will be able to select a +1 button listed next to paid and organic search results (and in the future can be placed by webmasters next to content a la Facebook connect) for listings deserving of positive feedback. Why is this important? It indicates Google's continued transition toward weighting personalization and actual user feedback into their results beyond algorithm based indicators such as inbound links. It is also a direct counter move to Microsoft's Facebook integration into their Bing search results. Yet it moves one step further in enabling +1 on both paid and organic search listings. At this point distribution of +1 is extremely limited (less than 1% of searches) but will expand over the coming weeks. Initially, my thoughts surround a few topics. How should advertisers respond? The bottom line remains the same. It's rather simple actually - create value for the customer. Provide relevant, fresh content and a quality user experience and you will be liked, +1nd, retweeted, friended, shared and rewarded. Paid search: For advertisers we've relied on CTR as a measure of relevance, adding the +1 feature will help provide insight into consumer perceptions of messaging. Advertisers will be able to leverage this data in their search copywriting. As for other measures, according to Google, Quality Score will not be impacted. Campaigns should therefore be monitored for performance variations as the +1 buttons are distributed more widely. Organic Search: Google's evolution toward personalization is a good thing in my opinion and should be encouraged. Yet, whenever they make changes to their algorithm there are always those that are going to try to beat the system. We can expect a whole new suite of black hat SEO tactics to surface. While I certainly do not condone these antics, they should be acknowledged and monitored. Some general items to note: Google +1 is currently available only by the opt-in method by using the Google Experimental link: http://www.google.com/experimental/index.html A Google profile must be activated. Full +1 functionality will be available when a user is logged into a Google account; When logged out ' users will be able to see the total of +1 votes without the user names Search Results: Paid Search: All Adwords listings will get +1 buttons. Advertisers will not be able to shut them off; quality score will not be affected. Advertisers should monitor impact on CTR. Organic: +1 feature will influence search engine rankings based on activity within an individual's social network Reporting: Google Webmaster Tools will be able to provide stats behind both organic & non-paid listings For Webmasters: +1 buttons (similar to Facebook 'Like'? Buttons) next to content are expected to roll out within months and should be added to content Privacy: By enabling the +1 feature, Google will take note of the following: Gmail/Google chat contact lists, Google Contacts, and people you follow on Google Buzz/Google Reader
Yesterday Google announced the release of Google Instant an enhancement that serves results as you type. In classic Google fashion this is a subtle tweak that may have substantial implications for brands across both paid and organic search. Before getting two excited though the reality is it's all theory until the data can support it. So, as we enter into the new world of Google Instant here are a few initial thoughts for advertisers to consider: We should expect this will be good for overall search volume ' Being a public company with rigorous testing we can assume what's good for users is also good for Google shareholders. To quote Google VP Search Marissa Mayer in her interview with Ad Age ' '"Overall, this will be a much better experience for our users, so they will actually be searching more. Google Instant will grow the size and scope of search in general." Since relevant search referrals is a scarce resource for most brands, this increased volume should be good for advertisers as well. This does not change SEO principles - In fact, Google Instant only reinforces that search is a constantly evolving and dynamic environment. Sound SEO principles remain fundamental in managing to the rules rather than the exceptions. Behavior questions ' Will header terms or brands with more generic names benefit? Here's an example ' in starting to search for 'health insurance California'? I made it as far as 'heal'? when the insurer HealthNet is served as the 2nd result in my drop down box. Does this mean that this brand may see increased search volume (piggy backing off of high volume 'health insurance'? searches) vs. a brand such as Anthem Blue Cross that does not include 'health'? in its brand name? TBD How will this impact the long tail? Will searchers get lazy and choose header terms more frequently OR will long tail suggestions later in the query process actually improve long tail volume? TBD Most importantly, understand what this means for you - implications may be industry or brand specific, focus on the data to understand the meaning for your business. It is far too early to understand how the balance between paid and organic usage or keyword search behavior patterns will change. Brands should therefore work with their agencies to monitor and interpret any potential changes specific to their objectives.
Recently Twitter announced their first step toward a business model via the ad unit - Promoted Tweets. At 140 characters in length, Promoted Tweets look and act like standard (free) Tweets only they will be keyword targeted, highlighted when moused over and serve at the top of Twitter search result pages. So, in a sense Twitter has followed in the tradition of paid search by aligning their ad placements with their core content offering both in keyword relevance and appearance. There have been plenty of articles and blog posts covering the details of this launch so I will just share a few initial thoughts and spare the world from regurgitating the little we still know. This is bigger than Twitter, is it a new search opportunity? Twitter intends to roll out Promoted Tweets in a series of phases, initially only in their search results pages. They openly suggest however that the ultimate opportunity is in rolling this out across the Twitter ecosystem, an ecosystem which also happens to include Google and Bing's organic results. This suggests a tremendous opportunity for marketers to expand reach and market share within the meat of the search engine results page (SERP). An area of the page front and center traditionally reserved for organic listings. Of course, in order for this to happen the engines will have to play ball. But it's a revenue opportunity, can they afford to resist? What's up with 'resonance'?? Ok, I get it. It's all about user experience so only serve qualified relevant ads, but Twitter you need to make sure this works in your favor. What am I talking about? Here's my take:Promoted Tweets are priced on the paid search bid/relevance structure adapted to the Twitter environment . They will apply a CPM bid/'?resonance'? (think Google Quality score but based on re-tweets, CTR and other factors) model. The intention here is seemingly to ensure relevance among marketer's messaging in that only the most engaging ads will survive. Marketers will thus be incentivized to develop creative that adds value to their respective audiences. The theory behind this makes sense however it is the application that throws me off. One of the main reasons why paid search works (i.e. $$$) for Google and advertisers alike is that both are typically aligned. Marketers are incented to develop highly relevant and targeted ads (calculated by CTR) and are in turn rewarded by reduced CPC rates. Google is also rewarded as the higher revenue driving ads gain primary positioning and distribution. Twitter's choice of CPM model seemingly does not deliver this same alignment. Higher 'resonance'? i.e. re-tweet or reply rates'?¦may result in greater reach for the advertiser, but what's in it for Twitter? Yes, it does ensure better ad relevance but at first glance it doesn't make Twitter more money. It is still early and very little has been disclosed so perhaps it's premature to be critical...or I'm just missing something. That being said, if this is accurate we should expect further changes to come. Indeed, there are more questions than answers at this point. The one thing we know for sure is that between Facebook's recent announcement of Open Graph and the launch of Promoted Tweets, 2010 is off to an exciting start.
I'm addicted to Google Insights for Search. For those who are not familiar, Google Insights provides an index comparing popularity of a search term vs. overall Google searches. So, whenever I have a question on public opinion it's one of the first sources I turn to get a general sense of what is on peoples' minds. Who is leading in American Idol? According to Google Insights Adam and Kris were clearly locks for the finale. Now it's October and Idol is long over; leaves are turning, pumpkins are on front stoops and the annual question of what to be for Halloween is starting to surface. With the recent passing of Michael Jackson, there is no doubt there will be more than a few Michaels on the trick or treat tour. So, if you seek to honor the King of Pop but want to keep it original here's a quick tip from Google Insights. Smooth Criminal and Thriller costume searches are on the rise. There's a pretty good chance you will run into a few of those. If you want to be unique, bust out your glove for the Billie Jean or Bad look and you are far more likely to avoid your long lost twin. Who's Bad?
Assuming the FCC doesn't spoil the fun, it looks like the second time is a charm for a search agreement between Yahoo and Microsoft. At a high level, Yahoo will use Microsoft's Bing search platform to power searches across Yahoo properties and Yahoo will be responsible for selling and servicing search for premium advertisers. Specific highlights of the deal are: '?¢ 10 year partnership, expected to close in 2010; Microsoft's Bing to replace Yahoo! search (organic) '?¢ MSN to serve paid ads through adCenter; Yahoo ads will be powered by Microsoft AdCenter ' likely won't happen until about a year after the deal closes, full integration over 24 months '?¢ Premium service sales will be led by the Yahoo search account team. Self Service via AdCenter '?¢ There will be no upfront investment from MSN '?¢ For 5 years: - MSN giving Yahoo 88% of the search ad sales made - MSN takes 12% rev from Yahoo '?¢ Projected $275MM in savings for Yahoo '?¢ Yahoo expects to boost its annual operating profit by about $500 million by 2012, when the two companies expect to have everything in place Based on the terms of the deal it will finally allow each respective group to focus on their strong suits. Yahoo will be able to focus on the sales end of things, something that Microsoft has been challenged with on the search front. Conversely, Microsoft will be able to turn their technological savvy loose to an audience that is large enough to matter. Will this relationship threaten Google's dominance in search? Most definitely not! No direct search competitor will unseat Google in that department because, regardless of Bing's bells and whistles, it's difficult to improve the search experience enough for the everyday search user to make the switch. From an advertiser perspective, the merger creates an audience, that in both size and composition, will be difficult to ignore. While the deal won't go down until 2010 and the actual switch won't happen for some period after that, sharp advertisers will certainly be paying a lot more attention to their Bing campaigns in the coming months, to make sure they are dialed in on the nuances of that platform.