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A Scientific Guide to Hashtags: How Many, Which Ones, and Where to Use Them

This post originally published on April 8, 2014. We’ve updated it here with new info, screenshots, and audio.

Have you ever found yourself explaining hashtags to someone whose only connection with the word is as a telephone button?

Internet language has evolved considerably over the past few years as social media has taken off. Hashtags are a huge part of this evolution. What once was a telephone button is now a social media phenomenon.  No wonder people are curious.

When they ask, I tell them that hashtags are a pound sign immediately followed by a keyword. They’re used for categorization on social media. Yes, they can be annoying if overused. And yes, I’ve seen the hashtag video of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake.

Hashtags also have the potential to be truly valuable. The stats and info below make a pretty clear case that we should be understanding, using, and appreciating hashtags.

Research says you should be using hashtags

If you’re looking for a completely cut-and-dry ruling on the topic of hashtags, then here it is: You should be using hashtags.

The proliferation of hashtags is truly incredible. What began on Twitter has now spread to Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Google search, and almost everywhere in between. (LinkedIn experimented with hashtags for awhile before giving up.)

The widespread acceptance of hashtags should give you plenty of reason to consider using them. I also really enjoy the case laid out by Steve Cooper, writing for Forbes.com:

As ridiculous as hashtags might seem to marketing veterans who remember a time before Twitter and Facebook, the younger generation and potential customers/clients don’t. To them, using hashtags is as natural and common as typing their query into the search box.

Not only could people be typing in your hashtag on a Google search, but they could very well be doing it in Twitter, too. In this sense, a hashtag will make your content viewable by anyone with an interest in your hashtag, regardless of whether they’re part of your clan or not.

A hashtag immediately expands the reach of your tweet beyond just those who follow you, to reach anyone interested in that hashtag phrase or keyword.

But how do you find the right hashtags for your content and make sure you’ve got them in the right number, on the right social network? Let’s break it down.

Hashtags on Twitter

Tweets with hashtags get two times more engagement than tweets without.

This data, courtesy of Buddy Media, is one of the most-cited examples of the effectiveness of hashtags, and for good reason: doubling your online engagement is a big deal! Imagine going from four retweets to eight or 10 retweets to 20. And all it takes is a simple # or two?

Apparently so. Although, you’ll want to keep it to no more than two.

Buddy Media’s research also showed that the volume of hashtags bears monitoring: one or two hashtags appear to be the max. When you use more than two hashtags, your engagement actually drops by an average of 17 percent.

Twitter’s own research into hashtags confirms that there is significant advantage to using them. Individuals can see a 100 percent increase in engagement by using hashtags (the same bump as seen in the Buddy Media study). Brands can see a 50 percent increase.

Engagement, as measured in these studies, can include clicks, retweets, favorites, and replies, yet if it’s only retweets your after, hashtags still would be a smart bet.

Tweets with one or more hashtag are 55 percent more likely to be retweeted.

Dan Zarella discovered this effect in a study on retweeting behavior that included more than 1.2 million tweets. The large scope of the study made for a 99.9 percent confidence interval with the results.

The one caveat to hashtags on Twitter might come for those brands looking to gain clicks on Twitter ads. In the case of advertisements, Twitter found that tweets without a # or @-mention generate 23 percent more clicks.

The reason? Hashtags and @-mentions give people more places to click inside a tweet instead of focusing solely on a call-to-action.

Hashtags on Instagram

Instagram is another hotspot for hashtags, and the good news for those who love to extensively tag photos is that there doesn’t seem to be a saturation point.

Interactions are highest on Instagram posts with 11+ hashtags.

A rule of thumb could be: Don’t sweat your amount of Instagram hashtags.

The best part about this recommendation is that the data comes from a set of users with 1,000 or fewer followers—a group that likely includes small businesses and those just diving in to Instagram. In other words, hashtags could be your best bet for growing a fast following on Instagram.

Hashtags on Facebook

So yes, Twitter and Instagram are clear winners for hashtags. But what about Facebook? Here’s where the recommendation gets a little trickier.

Facebook posts without a hashtag fare better than those with a hashtag.

Hashtags have only been around on Facebook since June 2013, and three months later, research from EdgeRank Checker found that using hashtags on Facebook has zero positive effect on reach. Posts without hashtags outperform those with hashtags.

A lot could have changed since September, when this data was first released. Should you abandon hashtags on Facebook solely due to this research? It’s probably best to test. There’s still a lot of analysis left to be done. For instance, Social Bakers studied posts in February of this year and found that using hashtags might not be the main worry, but rather using too many hashtags (just like the advice on Twitter).

Hashtags on Google+

On Google+, your posts are given hashtags automatically based on their content, but you can also edit them or add your own. Also unique about Google+: You can add hashtags in your comments as well as your post – double the opportunities to be found.

And since Google+ is Google’s social network, hashtags are now built right into Google searches. If you type in a hashtag search, you’ll get the normal search results plus a sidebar of relevant Google+ posts. Hashtags have truly arrived!

Google+’s “related hashtags” also offer smart marketers a brainstorming opportunity to discover new content ideas and gauge interest level in specific topics.

Tools to find and manage your hashtags

Using the right tools, you can use hashtags as an organization system for your social media campaigns. With everything collected under one hashtag banner, you can see at-a-glance the reach of your campaign and the discussions happening around the topic.

1. Hashtagify.me

One of the most complete hashtag tools you will find, Hashtagify.me has reams of data you can use to analyze hashtags. The most helpful could very well be the first data you’re shown: related hashtags and their popularity. When you type in a hashtag, the service will show you other hashtags to consider and will display visually how popular each hashtag is and how closely it correlates to the original.

2. RiteTag

RiteTag helps ensure that the tags you use are well-chosen by showing you how good, great, or overused a particular hashtag is. The visual organization of hashtags into colored bars works great for quick analysis at-a-glance.

3. Tagboard

With Tagboard, you can see how your hashtag is used across multiple networks. The results pages on Tagboard show hashtagged posts from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Vine, and App.net

4. Twitalyzer

Though not an explicitly hashtag tool, Twitalyzer does show hashtags as part of its audit of Twitter accounts. Input the username of someone you want to investigate, and Twitalyzer can tell you what hashtags he or she uses most often. This can be really helpful in finding out how your niche’s influencers tweet.

5. Trendsmap

Local businesses might find value in Trendsmap, which shows you relevant hashtags that are being used in your geographic area. (#wrestlemania is a popular one where I am in Idaho.)

4 steps to find the right hashtag to use

Using the tools above, you can hone in on a few ideal hashtags to start with, and like most things online, test and iterate from there.

1. Learn from the best: What hashtags are influencers using?

Twitalyzer can give you a good foundation of where to begin for your hashtag search by showing you how influencers are using hashtags. Grab a handful of usernames of people and brands in your industry whom you admire, and input the accounts into Twitalyzer. At the bottom of the results page, you’ll see a section for their most commonly-used hashtags. Add the relevant ones to your list of potential hashtags.

Let’s say I wanted to find some hashtags to use in promoting social media marketing content. I might start with a list of names like Jeff Bullas, Jay Baer, Mari Smith, and Ann Handley. Here is what the hashtag results on Twitalyzer look like for Jeff Bullas:

 

Info like this would lead me to start a short list of hashtags like:

#socialmedia #SMM #twitter #contentmarketing #social #content #marketing

2. Cover all your bases: Are there related hashtags you should be considering?

Armed with an idea list of hashtags, you can then hop into Hashtagify.me to see which related hashtags might also be worth pursuing. While you’re doing this exercise, take note of the circle size on your results: The larger the circle, the more popular the hashtag.

Again, following our social media marketing example, here is what the results page would look like for a search of #socialmedia:

Not every hashtag listed here will be relevant to you, but it does help to see some that you might not have previously considered. In the case of our example, I might add #business, #infographic, and hashtags of specific network names like #twitter and #facebook.

3. Identify the all-stars: Which hashtags are the best to use?

Popularity and volume can be good indicators of the value of your hashtag, but you may wish to go one step further. Hashtagify.me has advanced, premium tools that let you go deeper into statistics on individual hashtags. In a pinch, you can also get some solid data from RiteTag and their visual expression of how much each tag can boost your post’s reach. 

Among posts that contain the word “marketing,” RiteTag shows these tags as the most likely to be great, good, or overused. (There’s that #wrestlemania tag again!)

4. Double check: Could your chosen hashtags mean something else entirely?

One last check before you finalize your list of hashtags should be whether or not the hashtag you’ve chosen is being used elsewhere in an entirely different context.

The worst thing that can happen when using a hashtag is to realize after it’s tweeted that the same hashtag is used for an entirely different topic.

Jawbone tried a #knowyourself campaign on Instagram, only to find that the hashtag was already being used generically by thousands of users in all sorts of different contexts. This didn’t necessarily ruin Jawbone’s campaign, but it may have made life a little more difficult for the marketing team. 

Takeaways

Hopefully you’ve learned the value of hashtags here and a few neat ideas on how to find some to use in your social sharing. If you’re looking for a simple rule of thumb for hashtagging posts, I think there’s a lot of truth here in this advice from The Next Web:

Rule of thumb: 1 – 3 tags is best over all platforms.

Twitter: to categorize Pinterest: to brand, and be specific (tags are only clickable in pin descriptions) Instagram: to build community, and be unique/detailed Google+: to categorize; autogenerates tags based on what it thinks your post is most relevant to Tumblr: to categorize interests, can be specific and general (has a “track your tags” feature) Facebook: sort of a hashtag fail – if your audience is very business-minded, follow Twitter rules; if it is community-oriented, follow Pinterest/Instagram rules

What hashtags do you routinely use on social media? I’d love to hear how you’ve put hashtags to work in your social media strategy.

P.S. If you liked this post, you might enjoy our Buffer Blog newsletter. Receive each new post delivered right to your inbox, plus our can’t-miss weekly email of the Internet’s best reads. Sign up here.

Image credit:mikecogh, Unsplash, IconFinder, Pablo, Quick Sprout

The post A Scientific Guide to Hashtags: How Many, Which Ones, and Where to Use Them appeared first on Social.

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The Absolute Beginner's Guide to Google Analytics

Posted by kristihines

If you don't know what Google Analytics is, haven't installed it on your website, or have installed it but never look at your data, then this post is for you. While it's hard for many to believe, there are still websites that are not using Google Analytics (or any analytics, for that matter) to measure their traffic. In this post, we're going to look at Google Analytics from the absolute beginner's point of view. Why you need it, how to get it, how to use it, and workarounds to common problems.

Why every website owner needs Google Analytics

Do you have a blog? Do you have a static website? If the answer is yes, whether they are for personal or business use, then you need Google Analytics. Here are just a few of the many questions about your website that you can answer using Google Analytics.

How many people visit my website? Where do my visitors live? Do I need a mobile-friendly website? What websites send traffic to my website? What marketing tactics drive the most traffic to my website? Which pages on my website are the most popular? How many visitors have I converted into leads or customers? Where did my converting visitors come from and go on my website? How can I improve my website's speed? What blog content do my visitors like the most?

There are many, many additional questions that Google Analytics can answer, but these are the ones that are most important for most website owners. Now let's look at how you can get Google Analytics on your website.

How to install Google Analytics

First, you need a Google Analytics account. If you have a primary Google account that you use for other services like Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar, Google+, or YouTube, then you should set up your Google Analytics using that Google account. Or you will need to create a new one.

This should be a Google account you plan to keep forever and that only you have access to. You can always grant access to your Google Analytics to other people down the road, but you don't want someone else to have full control over it.

Big tip: don't let your anyone (your web designer, web developer, web host, SEO person, etc.) create your website's Google Analytics account under their own Google account so they can "manage" it for you. If you and this person part ways, they will take your Google Analytics data with them, and you will have to start all over.

Set up your account and property

Once you have a Google account, you can go to Google Analytics and click the Sign into Google Analytics button. You will then be greeted with the three steps you must take to set up Google Analytics.

After you click the Sign Up button, you will fill out information for your website.

Google Analytics offers hierarchies to organize your account. You can have up to 100 Google Analytics accounts under one Google account. You can have up to 50 website properties under one Google Analytics account. You can have up to 25 views under one website property.

Here are a few scenarios.

SCENARIO 1: If you have one website, you only need one Google Analytics account with one website property. SCENARIO 2: If you have two websites, such as one for your business and one for your personal use, you might want to create two accounts, naming one "123Business" and one "Personal". Then you will set up your business website under the 123Business account and your personal website under your Personal account. SCENARIO 3: If you have several businesses, but less than 50, and each of them has one website, you might want to put them all under a Business account. Then have a Personal account for your personal websites. SCENARIO 4: If you have several businesses and each of them has dozens of websites, for a total of more than 50 websites, you might want to put each business under its own account, such as 123Business account, 124Business account, and so on.

There are no right or wrong ways to set up your Google Analytics account—it's just a matter of how you want to organize your sites. You can always rename your accounts or properties down the road. Note that you can't move a property (website) from one Google Analytics account to another—you would have to set up a new property under the new account and lose the historical data you collected from the original property.

For the absolute beginner's guide, we're going to assume you have one website and only need one view (the default, all data view. The setup would look something like this.

Beneath this, you will have the option to configure where your Google Analytics data can be shared.

Install your tracking code

Once you are finished, you will click the Get Tracking ID button. You will get a popup of the Google Analytics terms and conditions, which you have to agree to. Then you will get your Google Analytics code.

This must be installed on every page on your website. The installation will depend on what type of website you have. For example, I have a WordPress website on my own domain using the Genesis Framework. This framework has a specific area to add header and footer scripts to my website.

Alternatively, if you have a WordPress on your own domain, you can use the Google Analytics by Yoast plugin to install your code easily no matter what theme or framework you are using.

If you have a website built with HTML files, you will add the tracking code before the </head> tag on each of your pages. You can do this by using a text editor program (such as TextEdit for Mac or Notepad for Windows) and then uploading the file to your web host using an FTP program (such as FileZilla).

If you have a Shopify e-commerce store, you will go to your Online Store settings and paste in your tracking code where specified.

If you have a blog on Tumblr, you will go to your blog, click the Edit Theme button at the top right of your blog, and then enter just the Google Analytics ID in your settings.

As you can see, the installation of Google Analytics varies based on the platform you use (content management system, website builder, e-commerce software, etc.), the theme you use, and the plugins you use. You should be able to find easy instructions to install Google Analytics on any website by doing a web search for your platform + how to install Google Analytics.

Set up goals

After you install your tracking code on your website, you will want to configure a small (but very useful) setting in your website's profile on Google Analytics. This is your Goals setting. You can find it by clicking on the Admin link at the top of your Google Analytics and then clicking on Goals under your website's View column.

Goals will tell Google Analytics when something important has happened on your website. For example, if you have a website where you generate leads through a contact form, you will want to find (or create) a thank you page that visitors end upon once they have submitted their contact information. Or, if you have a website where you sell products, you will want to find (or create) a final thank you or confirmation page for visitors to land upon once they have completed a purchase.

That URL will likely look something like this.

http://123business.com/thank-you http://123business.com/thank-you/ http://123business.com/thank-you.html

In Google Analytics, you will click on the New Goal button.

You will choose the Custom option (unless one of the other options are more applicable to your website) and click the Next Step button.

You will name your goal something you will remember, select Destination, and then click the Next Step button.

You will enter your thank you or confirmation page's URL after the .com of your website in the Destination field and change the drop-down to "Begins with".

You will then toggle the value and enter a specific dollar value for that conversion (if applicable) and click Create Goal to complete the setup.

If you have other similar goals / conversions you would like to track on your website, you can follow these steps again. You can create up to 20 goals on your website. Be sure that the ones you create are highly important to your business. These goals (for most businesses) include lead form submissions, email list sign ups, and purchase completions. Depending on your website and its purpose, your goals may vary.

Note that this is the simplest of all conversion tracking in Google Analytics. You can review the documentation in Google Analytics support to learn more about setting up goal tracking.

Set up site search

Another thing you can set up really quickly that will give you valuable data down the road is Site Search. This is for any website with a search box on it, like the search box at the top of the Moz Blog.

First, run a search on your website. Then keep the tab open. You will need the URL momentarily.

Go to your Google Analytics Admin menu again, and in the View column, click on View Settings.

Scroll down until you see Site Settings and toggle it to On.

Look back at your URL for your search results. Enter the query parameter (usually s or q) and click Save. On Moz, for example, the query parameter is q.

This will allow Google Analytics to track any searches made on your website so you can learn more about what your visitors are looking for on specific pages.

Add additional accounts and properties

If you want to add a new Google Analytics account, you can do so by going to your Admin menu, clicking on the drop-down under the Account column, and clicking the Create New Account link.

Likewise, if you want to add a new website under your Google Analytics account, you can do so by going to your Admin menu, clicking on the drop-down under the Property column, and clicking the Create New Property link.

Then you will continue through all of the above-mentioned steps.

Once you've installed Google Analytics on your website(s), set up your goals, and set up site search(es), you should wait about 24 hours for it to start getting data. Then you will be able to start viewing your data.

How to view Google Analytics data

Once you start getting in Google Analytics data, you can start learning about your website traffic. Each time you log in to Google Analytics, you will be taken to your Audience Overview report. Alternatively, if you have more than one website, you will be taken to your list of websites to choose from, and then taken to the Audience Overview report for that website. This is the first of over 50 reports that are available to you in Google Analytics. You can also access these reports by clicking on the Reporting link at the top.

Standard report features

Most of the standard reports within Google Analytics will look similar to this. At the top right, you can click on the drop-down arrow next to your website to switch to different websites within all of your Google Analytics accounts. Or you can click the Home link at the top.

In the report at the top right, you can click on the dates to change the date range of the data you are viewing. You can also check the Compare box to compare your data from one date range (such as this month) to a previous date range (such as last month) to view your data.

You can hover over a variety of areas on your Google Analytics reports to get more information. For example, in the Audience Overview, hovering over the line on the graph will give you the number of sessions for a particular day. Hovering over the metrics beneath the graph will tell you what each one means.

Beneath the main metrics, you will see reports that you can switch through to see the top ten languages, countries, cities, browsers, operating systems, services providers, and screen resolutions of your visitors.

You can click the full report link on each to see the full reports. Or you can click on any of the top ten links to see more details. For example, clicking on the United States in Countries will take you to the full Location report, focused in on visitors from states within the US.

In this view, you can hover over each state to see the number of visitors from that state. You can scroll down to the table and hover over each column name to learn more about each metric.

You can also click on the name of each state to see visitors from cities within the state. Effectively, any time you see a clickable link or a ? next to something, you can click on it or hover over it to learn more. The deeper you dive into your analytics, the more interesting information you will find.

Types of Google Analytics reports

Speaking of reports, here is quick summary of what you will find in each of the standard Google Analytics reporting sections, accessible in the left sidebar.

Everything in (parenthesis) is a specific report or set of reports within the following sections that you can refer to.

Audience reports

These reports tell you everything you want to know about your visitors. In them, you will find detailed reports for your visitors' age and gender (Demographics), what their general interests are (Interests), where they come from (Geo > Location) and what language they speak (Geo > Language), how often they visit your website (Behavior), and the technology they use to view your website (Technology and Mobile).

Acquisition reports

These reports will tell you everything you want to know about what drove visitors to your website (All Traffic). You will see your traffic broken down by main categories (All Traffic > Channels) and specific sources (All Traffic > Source/Medium).

You can learn everything about traffic from social networks (Social). You can also connect Google Analytics to AdWords to learn more about PPC campaigns and to Google Webmaster Tools / Search Console to learn more about search traffic (Search Engine Optimization)

Behavior reports

These reports will tell you everything you want to know about your content. Particularly, the top pages on your website (Site Content > All Pages), the top entry pages on your website (Site Content > Landing Pages), and the top exit pages on your website (Site Content > Exit Pages).

If you set up Site Search, you will be able to see what terms are searched for (Site Search > Search Terms) and the pages they are searched upon (Site Search > Pages).

You can also learn how fast your website loads (Site Speed) as well as find specific suggestions from Google on how to make your website faster (Site Speed > Speed Suggestions).

Conversions

If you set up Goals within your Google Analytics, you can see how many conversions your website has received (Goals > Overview) and what URLs they happened upon (Goals > Goal URLs). You can also see the path that visitors took to complete the conversion (Goals > Reverse Goal Path).

Speaking of goals and conversions, most of the tables within Google Analytics standard reports will tie specific data to your conversions. For example, you can see the number of conversions made by visitors from California in the Audience > Geo > Location report. You can see the number of conversions made by visitors from Facebook in the Acquisitions > All Traffic > Source/Medium report. You can see the number of conversions made by visitors who landed on specific pages in the Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages report.

If you have multiple goals, you can use the dropdown at the top of that section of data to switch to the goal you want to view or all of your goals if you prefer.

Shortcuts and emails

While you won't need every report within Google Analytics, you should explore them all to see what they have to offer. When you find some that you want to visit again and again, use the Shortcut link at the top of the report to add them to the Shortcuts in your left sidebar for faster access.

Or, use the email button to have them emailed to you (or others on your team) on a regular basis.

If you choose to send emails to someone outside of your organization, be sure to regularly check your emails by going to your Admin menu and clicking on the Scheduled Emails box under the View column to ensure only people working with your company are getting your data.

Answers to common questions about Google Analytics

Got a few questions? Here are some of the common ones that come up with Google Analytics.

How do I share my Google Analytics data with someone?

You don't have to give your Google account information over to someone who needs access to your Google Analytics data. You just need to go to your Admin menu and under the Account, Property (website) or View you want someone to see, click the User Management menu.

From there, you can add the email address of anyone you would like to view your Google Analytics data and choose the permissions you would like them to have.

I don't like viewing the reports in Google Analytics. Can someone just summarize the data for me?

Yes! Quill Engage is a service that will take your Google Analytics data and summarize it in an easy-to-read report for you. Best of all, it's free for up to ten profiles (websites).

I have a dozen websites, and I don't want to check each of their Google Analytics on a daily basis. What do I do?

You have two options in this scenario. You start by going to the Home screen of Google Analytics. There, you will find a listing of all your websites and an overview of the top metrics—sessions, average session duration, bounce rate, and conversion rate.

You can also try business dashboard solutions like Cyfe. For $19 a month, you can create unlimited dashboards with unlimited widgets, including a large selection of data from Google Analytics, alongside data from your social media networks, keyword rankings, Moz stats, and more.

This solution significantly cuts down on the time spent looking at analytics across the board for your entire business.

Google Analytics says that 90%+ of my organic keywords are (not provided). Where can I find that information?

(not provided) is Google's way of protecting search engine user's privacy by hiding the keywords they use to discover your website in search results. Tools like Google Webmaster Tools (now Search Console, free), Authority Lab's Now Provided Reports (paid), and Hittail (paid) can all help you uncover some of those keywords.

They won't be linked to your conversions or other Google Analytics data, but at least you will have some clue what keywords searchers are using to find your website.

How do I use Custom Reports, Dashboards, and Segments?

If you're ready to move to the next level in Google Analytics, Custom Reports, Dashboards, and Segments are the way to go.

Custom Reports (under the Customization menu at the top) allow you to create reports that look similar to the standard Google Analytics reports with the metrics you want to view.

Dashboards allow you to view your Google Analytics data in a dashboard format. You can access them at the top of the left sidebar.

Segments allow you to view all of your Google Analytics data based on a specific dimension, such as all of your Google Analytics data based on visitors from the United States. You can also use them to compare up to four segments of data, such as United States versus United Kingdom traffic, search versus social traffic, mobile versus desktop traffic, and more. You can access Segments in each of your reports.

The nice part about these is that you don't have to create them from scratch. You can start by using pre-defined Custom Reports, Dashboards, and Segments from the Google Solutions Gallery.

There, you will find lots of Custom Reports, Dashboards, Segments, and other solutions that you can import into your Google Analytics and edit to fit your needs. Edit Custom Reports with the Edit button at the top.

Edit Dashboards using the Add Widget or Customize Dashboard buttons at the top.

Edit Segments by clicking the Action button inside the Segments selector box and choosing Edit.

Or, when you have applied Segments to your reports, use the drop-down arrow at the top right to find the Edit option.

As you get used to editing Custom Reports, Dashboards, and Segments, you will get more familiar with the way each works so you can create new ones on your own.

In conclusion

I hope you've enjoyed this beginner's introduction to Google Analytics for beginners. If you're a beginner and have a burning questions, please ask in the comments. I'll be happy to help!


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How to Choose the Right Stock Photo for Your Next Project

You’ve likely got a great way to search the web for the best free stock photos.

And once you know where to look, how do you decide which photos to choose?

Should you go with abstract or specific?

What is the best color profile?

What is the best orientation?

There are so many great sources for free photos. I find myself asking these questions most every time I pick a photo—how to identify the right stock photo for a project. There’s a good bit of research and advice out there on how to make the best choice when it comes to stock photos. Take a look at what I’ve found here.

1. Know where your image is going How will you use the photo? Where will the photo appear?

There’re a million different places an image could appear, based on the million or more types of projects that involve stock photography.

Let’s consider online content for a moment.

When we look at the different places that a stock photo may appear, there’s often a handful that come to mind most often:

A full-width image in the header

Examples of this include stories on Medium and popular blogs like Crew or Zapier.

A background image as part of a graphic, behind text or icons

Examples of this include the images we create for Buffer blog posts and some great designs on blogs like Copyblogger and Agora Pulse.

Right-aligned images inside blog posts

Examples include The Social Times blog. (The image could also be left-aligned, too, though the far more common usage is right-aligned.)

Full-width images inside blog posts

Examples include the Unbounce blog and the Quick Sprout blog.

Social media featured images

Examples include Facebook and Google+ when you share a link and Twitter when you’ve enabled Twitter cards.

Slidedeck backgrounds

Lots of great examples on SlideShare.

In each of the examples above, it’s possible that a different stock photo would be considered an ideal fit, based on what looks good with text on top of it, what looks good splashed on Facebook, or what looks good at the start of a blog post.

In my experience, I’ve seen stock photos commonly used in one of two ways. Either

On their own as standalone images With text or graphics placed on top, as designed images

Both are great routes forward, especially considering the unique places these images are used online. Once you figure out where your image is going and how it will be used, you’re certain to have a greater sense of what’s right stock photo for your project.

2. Understand the contrast of your image Identify areas of low contrast if you plan on adding text or graphics to the image

Let’s say you want to add an overlay onto your image—a catchy quote with Pablo or an announcement blurb and graphic over a cool background.

The ideal stock photo for these projects would be one with areas of low contrast so that your text and graphics have an even, consistent backdrop.

The SlideShare blog has a good example of how contrast affects the design of image. SlideShare refers to those images with areas of low contrast as text-friendly images.

Good example:

Bad example:

Put another way, these ideal stock photos with areas of low contrast make it possible that your text and graphics will have high contrast with the photo.

For instance, an image with many shades of blue could be said to have low contrast. If you were to add white text on top, the white text would have high contrast with the blue image.

If you always add white text to your images, look for images with darker colors.

If you’ve grabbed a black icon from a site like The Noun Project, you’ll want to place it on an image with lighter tones.

One way to look at contrast in this sense is to picture the color wheel. Selecting colors that are opposite one another on the wheel creates a contrasting effect. You can choose an ideal stock image that focuses on one color and text and graphics that focus on an opposite one.

Legibility and clarity are key here. Typically when you create an image with text, graphics, or other elements overlaid onto a photo, the most important visual aspect of your image will be your enhancements, not the stock photo itself.

You don’t need to think much about the content of the picture—especially if you’ll be adding strong effects like blur or darken/lighten.

You’ll just want something that has the right contrast to make your added elements pop.

Another trick I like to try, when possible, is to add an image to my photo editor (Canva, typically) and change the image to black-and-white. Usually quite quickly I can tell if the image has high or low contrast within its colors.

(You’ll also grow to notice the right contrast rather intuitively over time.)

Where this becomes important is when you begin to place elements on top of the image. Text, for instance, has the chance to be difficult to read if you’re placing it over contrasting colors—white text could disappear over the white parts of the image yet still look just fine over the darker colors, for instance.

3. Choose colors that elicit a visceral response Attention-grabbing colors & images will stand out on social

Visceral reactions are some of the strongest connections we can make to visual content.

Biologically, when we feel a visceral reaction, we tap into the part of the brain responsible for survival instincts and fight-or-flight responses. The response is subconscious. It originates from the central nervous system whenever we’re stimulated by vital factors like food, shelter, danger, or reproduction. We might not be able to explain why we love a beautiful design because our conscious thought hasn’t yet caught up with our subconscious.

And one of the ways to drive these visceral reactions is with color choice.

A study from Georgia Tech looked at 1 million Pinterest images for the color trends between the highest and lowest shared images. They found:

   Red, Purple and Pink promote sharing    Green, Black, Blue and Yellow all stop people from sharing

The thinking was that the three highly-shared colors—red, purple and pink—are tied to visceral emotions. And the overall takeaway is that color makes for a huge portion of an image’s success.

To find an ideal stock photo that’s rich with attention-grabbing color, you can again turn to contrast—in particular, the seven color contrasts identified by Johannes Itten.

Pure (hue) contrast Light-dark contrast Cold-warm contrast Complementary contrast Simultaneous contrast Contrast of quality (color saturation) Contrast of quantity

(For more detail on each of these seven, I’d highly recommend this blog post from Love of Graphics.)

Two of Itten’s seven color contrasts that stand out to me when choosing stock photos are contrast of saturation and contrast of hue. The Color at Play blog created some great examples of these contrasts in action.

Contrast in saturation

Example:

Contrast in hue

Example:

4. Find an image that supports your message Attention-grabbing images are great, so long as they don’t distract

In most cases, stock photos are generic and abstract enough that they can grab attention without diverting too much focus.

There are, however, exceptions.

Simply, when choosing a stock photo, find one that does not distract from the main message of your article, update, or headline.

Typically, distracting images would be those that have one or more of these qualities:

Controversial Loud, garish Too specific Recognizable Meme

Here’s an example of one that I used in a story. The image was probably a bit too specific—a football game, fans dressed in white, lettering in the end zone—and on looking back at it now, my mind immediately begins trying to figure out just who those teams are (instead of focusing on the cool article).

5. Take care to pick a person What to consider when picking a photo with a person

There’s been some neat research about this question. What effect is there, if any, should you choose a photo with a person?

Turns out, there are a lot of different ways to include a person in your picture.

Looking away from camera vs. looking at camera Back of head vs. face Shadow/silhouette Pics of arms, legs, or bodies

A brief overview of some case studies on the topic reveals these findings:

Human photos have a positive impact on trustworthiness of a website. A smiling face can help increase conversions.

In general, though, if you are to use a person in your photos, it’s best to use an actual person (an employee or customer) rather than a generic person from a stock photo Psychologically, we tend to follow the eyes of people in stock photos. This can create a directional cue toward buttons, CTAs, or text. The effect of using photos with real people is minimized with the focus of other elements on the picture or page.

6. Be mindful of the size and shape Which orientation do you want? Tall vs. wide vs. square

One factor that might sway your decision one way or another is the size and shape of an image. In general, these are the ideal image sizes for each social network:

Facebook – 1,200 x 628 Twitter – 1,024 x 512 LinkedIn – 800 x 800 Google+ – 800 x 1,200 Pinterest – 735 x 1,102 Instagram – 640 x 640

The commonly-held best practice is to aim for something like this:

Facebook & Instagram — square images Pinterest & Google+ — tall images Twitter — wide images

What happens if you fall in love with an image that isn’t the right size? 

There’s a fun tip we use here at Buffer for how to crop easily.

When you double-click to open an image on your Mac computer, you enter Preview, which contains several useful tools.

To crop, place your mouse over the picture and click and drag to select the area you want to keep. Then go to Tools > Crop (or press Command+K).

You can also resize large images from Preview by going to Tools > Adjust Size.

In this way, you can fall in love with just about any image and crop down to the size and shape you need.

7. How to perform a search The best way to search for abstract photos

Many of our favorite free image sources have robust search features to help you dig through the photo archives.

Sometimes there can be a bit of an art to finding what you’re after.

If you’re writing an article about brand management, for example, it could be difficult to know which terms to use in your search; if you were to search for “brand” or “management,” the image results might be a bit lean and off-topic.

What we like to do in searches for the Buffer blog is to enter terms that have to do with the image we have in mind, rather than the title of the page itself.

For social media posts, we often look to find pictures of computers, laptops, mobile devices, or keyboards. For analytics posts, we look for transportation, things with forward motion. For research posts, we might search for books or pen and paper.

We also find that crowd shots or interactive photos with two or more people together make for good social media images.

What this might look like in practice:

Search according to the verbs in your headlines or page titles, rather than the nouns Go to the thesaurus to find variations of your search terms (a simple thesaurus: Google search for “[keyword] synonym”) Search for nouns related to your verbs, e.g. “launch” could mean rockets or race cars Over to you

What are your favorite tips for finding a great stock photo?

I’d love the chance to learn from you! Leave any thoughts here in the comments, and I’ll respond right away.

Image sources: Pablo, IconFinder, SlideShare, John Barsby Photography, Color at Play, UnSplash, 37 Signals, Eyequant

The post How to Choose the Right Stock Photo for Your Next Project appeared first on Social.

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New Features in OSE's Spam Score & the Mozscape API

Posted by randfish

This week, we launched a feature inside Open Site Explorer that I'm very excited about - the Spam Score Histogram, found by clicking on the "spam analysis" tab:

The histogram is particularly useful for visualizing the distribution of potentially spammy links that show up in a site's link profile. Above, for example, we're looking at Moz.com, with a strong distribution of sites that have 0-5 spam flags. According to our research, that means the vast majority of those sites are unlikely to be penalized or banned by Google.

For more detail on Moz's Spam Score, check out the original blog post and my Whiteboard Friday.

The new histogram view lets us do nice comparisons like these:

Houzz.com has a very large list of sketchy-looking sites linking to them (many seem to be very thin content sites from China, curiously).

Competitor (well, sort-of-competitor), Porch.com, has a much smaller link profile with a very different distribution. Their link profile looks even healthier than Moz's to me!

But, the new spam score histogram isn't the only new feature. We've also got a new power available to API users - the ability to query data from the previous index. If you want to know what a previous Domain Authority score looked like, or how many links we reported to a page in our last index, you can now do so using the Moz API. If you want to get started, check out the documentation here, or get in touch directly with Chris Airola (email chris.airola at moz.com), who manages paid API accounts and loves to help.

Many thanks to the Research Tools and Big Data teams at Moz, who've worked to make this possible. I'm happy to answer questions and will try to be in the comments here frequently. I wish you good spam exploring my friends!


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Why We Can't Do Keyword Research Like It's 2010 - Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Keyword Research is a very different field than it was just five years ago, and if we don't keep up with the times we might end up doing more harm than good. From the research itself to the selection and targeting process, in today's Whiteboard Friday Rand explains what has changed and what we all need to do to conduct effective keyword research today.

For reference, here's a still of this week's whiteboard. Click on it to open a high resolution image in a new tab!

What do we need to change to keep up with the changing world of keyword research?

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we're going to chat a little bit about keyword research, why it's changed from the last five, six years and what we need to do differently now that things have changed. So I want to talk about changing up not just the research but also the selection and targeting process.

There are three big areas that I'll cover here. There's lots more in-depth stuff, but I think we should start with these three.

1) The Adwords keyword tool hides data!

This is where almost all of us in the SEO world start and oftentimes end with our keyword research. We go to AdWords Keyword Tool, what used to be the external keyword tool and now is inside AdWords Ad Planner. We go inside that tool, and we look at the volume that's reported and we sort of record that as, well, it's not good, but it's the best we're going to do.

However, I think there are a few things to consider here. First off, that tool is hiding data. What I mean by that is not that they're not telling the truth, but they're not telling the whole truth. They're not telling nothing but the truth, because those rounded off numbers that you always see, you know that those are inaccurate. Anytime you've bought keywords, you've seen that the impression count never matches the count that you see in the AdWords tool. It's not usually massively off, but it's often off by a good degree, and the only thing it's great for is telling relative volume from one from another.

But because AdWords hides data essentially by saying like, "Hey, you're going to type in . . ." Let's say I'm going to type in "college tuition," and Google knows that a lot of people search for how to reduce college tuition, but that doesn't come up in the suggestions because it's not a commercial term, or they don't think that an advertiser who bids on that is going to do particularly well and so they don't show it in there. I'm giving an example. They might indeed show that one.

But because that data is hidden, we need to go deeper. We need to go beyond and look at things like Google Suggest and related searches, which are down at the bottom. We need to start conducting customer interviews and staff interviews, which hopefully has always been part of your brainstorming process but really needs to be now. Then you can apply that to AdWords. You can apply that to suggest and related.

The beautiful thing is once you get these tools from places like visiting forums or communities, discussion boards and seeing what terms and phrases people are using, you can collect all this stuff up, plug it back into AdWords, and now they will tell you how much volume they've got. So you take that how to lower college tuition term, you plug it into AdWords, they will show you a number, a non-zero number. They were just hiding it in the suggestions because they thought, "Hey, you probably don't want to bid on that. That won't bring you a good ROI." So you've got to be careful with that, especially when it comes to SEO kinds of keyword research.

2) Building separate pages for each term or phrase doesn't make sense

It used to be the case that we built separate pages for every single term and phrase that was in there, because we wanted to have the maximum keyword targeting that we could. So it didn't matter to us that college scholarship and university scholarships were essentially people looking for exactly the same thing, just using different terminology. We would make one page for one and one page for the other. That's not the case anymore.

Today, we need to group by the same searcher intent. If two searchers are searching for two different terms or phrases but both of them have exactly the same intent, they want the same information, they're looking for the same answers, their query is going to be resolved by the same content, we want one page to serve those, and that's changed up a little bit of how we've done keyword research and how we do selection and targeting as well.

3) Build your keyword consideration and prioritization spreadsheet with the right metrics

Everybody's got an Excel version of this, because I think there's just no awesome tool out there that everyone loves yet that kind of solves this problem for us, and Excel is very, very flexible. So we go into Excel, we put in our keyword, the volume, and then a lot of times we almost stop there. We did keyword volume and then like value to the business and then we prioritize.

What are all these new columns you're showing me, Rand? Well, here I think is how sophisticated, modern SEOs that I'm seeing in the more advanced agencies, the more advanced in-house practitioners, this is what I'm seeing them add to the keyword process.

Difficulty

A lot of folks have done this, but difficulty helps us say, "Hey, this has a lot of volume, but it's going to be tremendously hard to rank."

The difficulty score that Moz uses and attempts to calculate is a weighted average of the top 10 domain authorities. It also uses page authority, so it's kind of a weighted stack out of the two. If you're seeing very, very challenging pages, very challenging domains to get in there, it's going to be super hard to rank against them. The difficulty is high. For all of these ones it's going to be high because college and university terms are just incredibly lucrative.

That difficulty can help bias you against chasing after terms and phrases for which you are very unlikely to rank for at least early on. If you feel like, "Hey, I already have a powerful domain. I can rank for everything I want. I am the thousand pound gorilla in my space," great. Go after the difficulty of your choice, but this helps prioritize.

Opportunity

This is actually very rarely used, but I think sophisticated marketers are using it extremely intelligently. Essentially what they're saying is, "Hey, if you look at a set of search results, sometimes there are two or three ads at the top instead of just the ones on the sidebar, and that's biasing some of the click-through rate curve." Sometimes there's an instant answer or a Knowledge Graph or a news box or images or video, or all these kinds of things that search results can be marked up with, that are not just the classic 10 web results. Unfortunately, if you're building a spreadsheet like this and treating every single search result like it's just 10 blue links, well you're going to lose out. You're missing the potential opportunity and the opportunity cost that comes with ads at the top or all of these kinds of features that will bias the click-through rate curve.

So what I've seen some really smart marketers do is essentially build some kind of a framework to say, "Hey, you know what? When we see that there's a top ad and an instant answer, we're saying the opportunity if I was ranking number 1 is not 10 out of 10. I don't expect to get whatever the average traffic for the number 1 position is. I expect to get something considerably less than that. Maybe something around 60% of that, because of this instant answer and these top ads." So I'm going to mark this opportunity as a 6 out of 10.

There are 2 top ads here, so I'm giving this a 7 out of 10. This has two top ads and then it has a news block below the first position. So again, I'm going to reduce that click-through rate. I think that's going down to a 6 out of 10.

You can get more and less scientific and specific with this. Click-through rate curves are imperfect by nature because we truly can't measure exactly how those things change. However, I think smart marketers can make some good assumptions from general click-through rate data, which there are several resources out there on that to build a model like this and then include it in their keyword research.

This does mean that you have to run a query for every keyword you're thinking about, but you should be doing that anyway. You want to get a good look at who's ranking in those search results and what kind of content they're building . If you're running a keyword difficulty tool, you are already getting something like that.

Business value

This is a classic one. Business value is essentially saying, "What's it worth to us if visitors come through with this search term?" You can get that from bidding through AdWords. That's the most sort of scientific, mathematically sound way to get it. Then, of course, you can also get it through your own intuition. It's better to start with your intuition than nothing if you don't already have AdWords data or you haven't started bidding, and then you can refine your sort of estimate over time as you see search visitors visit the pages that are ranking, as you potentially buy those ads, and those kinds of things.

You can get more sophisticated around this. I think a 10 point scale is just fine. You could also use a one, two, or three there, that's also fine.

Requirements or Options

Then I don't exactly know what to call this column. I can't remember the person who've showed me theirs that had it in there. I think they called it Optional Data or Additional SERPs Data, but I'm going to call it Requirements or Options. Requirements because this is essentially saying, "Hey, if I want to rank in these search results, am I seeing that the top two or three are all video? Oh, they're all video. They're all coming from YouTube. If I want to be in there, I've got to be video."

Or something like, "Hey, I'm seeing that most of the top results have been produced or updated in the last six months. Google appears to be biasing to very fresh information here." So, for example, if I were searching for "university scholarships Cambridge 2015," well, guess what? Google probably wants to bias to show results that have been either from the official page on Cambridge's website or articles from this year about getting into that university and the scholarships that are available or offered. I saw those in two of these search results, both the college and university scholarships had a significant number of the SERPs where a fresh bump appeared to be required. You can see that a lot because the date will be shown ahead of the description, and the date will be very fresh, sometime in the last six months or a year.

Prioritization

Then finally I can build my prioritization. So based on all the data I had here, I essentially said, "Hey, you know what? These are not 1 and 2. This is actually 1A and 1B, because these are the same concepts. I'm going to build a single page to target both of those keyword phrases." I think that makes good sense. Someone who is looking for college scholarships, university scholarships, same intent.

I am giving it a slight prioritization, 1A versus 1B, and the reason I do this is because I always have one keyword phrase that I'm leaning on a little more heavily. Because Google isn't perfect around this, the search results will be a little different. I want to bias to one versus the other. In this case, my title tag, since I more targeting university over college, I might say something like college and university scholarships so that university and scholarships are nicely together, near the front of the title, that kind of thing. Then 1B, 2, 3.

This is kind of the way that modern SEOs are building a more sophisticated process with better data, more inclusive data that helps them select the right kinds of keywords and prioritize to the right ones. I'm sure you guys have built some awesome stuff. The Moz community is filled with very advanced marketers, probably plenty of you who've done even more than this.

I look forward to hearing from you in the comments. I would love to chat more about this topic, and we'll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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Your Daily SEO Fix: Week 3

Posted by Trevor-Klein

Welcome to the third installment of our short (< 2-minute) video tutorials that help you all get the most out of Moz's tools. Each tutorial is designed to solve a use case that we regularly hear about from Moz community members—a need or problem for which you all could use a solution.

If you missed the previous roundups, you can find 'em here:

Week 1: Reclaim links using Open Site Explorer, build links using Fresh Web Explorer, and find the best time to tweet using Followerwonk. Week 2: Analyze SERPs using new MozBar features, boost your rankings through on-page optimization, check your anchor text using Open Site Explorer, do keyword research with OSE and the keyword difficulty tool, and discover keyword opportunities in Moz Analytics.

Today, we've got a brand-new roundup of the most recent videos:

How to Compare Link Metrics in Open Site Explorer How to Find Tweet Topics with Followerwonk How to Create Custom Reports in Moz Analytics How to Use Spam Score to Identify High-Risk Links How to Get Link Building Opportunities Delivered to Your Inbox

Hope you enjoy them!

Fix 1: How to Compare Link Metrics in Open Site Explorer

Not all links are created equal. In this Daily SEO Fix, Chiaryn shows you how to use Open Site Explorer to analyze and compare link metrics for up to five URLs to see which are strongest.

.video-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; padding-top: 30px; height: 0; overflow: hidden;}.video-container iframe,.video-container object,.video-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%;}

Fix 2: How to Find Tweet Topics with Followerwonk

Understanding what works best for your competitors on Twitter is a great place to start when forming your own Twitter strategy. In this fix, Ellie explains how to identify strong-performing tweets from your competitors and how to use those tweets to shape your own voice and plan.

Fix 3: How to Create Custom Reports in Moz Analytics

In this Daily SEO Fix, Kevin shows you how to create a custom report in Moz Analytics and schedule it to be delivered to your inbox on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

Fix 4: How to Use Spam Score to Identify High-Risk Links

Almost every site has a few bad links pointing to it, but lots of highly risky links can have a negative impact on your search engine rankings. In this fix, Tori shows you how to use Moz’s Spam Score metric to identify spammy links.

Fix 5: How to Get Link Building Opportunities Delivered to Your Inbox

Building high-quality links is one of the most important aspects of SEO. In this Daily SEO Fix, Erin shows you how to use Moz Analytics to set up a weekly custom report that will notify you of pages on the web that mention your site but do not include a link, so you can use this info to build more links.

Looking for more?

We've got more videos in the previous two weeks' round-ups!

Your Daily SEO Fix: Week 1

Your Daily SEO Fix: Week 2

Don't have a Pro subscription? No problem. Everything we cover in these Daily SEO Fix videos is available with a free 30-day trial.

Sounds good. Sign me up!

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Is Brand a Google Ranking Factor? - Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

A frequently asked question in the SEO world is whether or not branding plays a part in Google's ranking algorithm. There's a short answer with a big asterisk, and in today's Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains what you need to know.

For reference, here's a still of this week's whiteboard. Click on it to open a high resolution image in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I'm going to try and answer a question that plagues a lot of marketers, a lot of SEOs and that we ask very frequently. That is: Is brand or branding a ranking factor in Google search engine?

Look, I think, to be fair, to be honest, that the technical answer to this question is no. However, I think when people say brand is powerful for SEO, that is a true statement. We're going to try and reconcile these two things. How can brand not be a ranking factor and yet be a powerful influencer of higher rankings in SEO? What's going to go on there?

What is a ranking factor, anyway?

Well, I'll tell you. So when folks say ranking factor, they're referring to something very technical, very specific, and that is an algorithmic input that Google measures directly and uses to determine rank position in their algorithm.

Okay, guess what? Brand almost certainly is not this.

Google doesn't try and go out and say, "How well known is Coca-Cola versus Pepsi versus 7 Up versus Sprite versus Jones Cola? Hey, let's rank Coca-Cola a little higher because they seem to have greater brand awareness, brand affinity than Pepsi." That is not something that Google will try and do. That's not something that's in their algorithm.

However, a big however, many things that are in Google's ranking algorithm correlate very well with brands.

Those things are probably used by Google in both direct and indirect ways.

So when you see sites that have done a great job of branding and also have good SEO best practices on them, you'll notice kind of a correlation, like boy, it sure does seem like the brands have been performing better and better in Google's rankings over the last four, five, or six years. I think this is due to two trends. One of those trends is that Google's algorithmic inputs have started favoring things that brands are better at and that what I'd call generic sites or non-branded sites, or businesses that have not invested in brand affinity have not done well.

Those things are things like links, where Google is rewarding better links rather than just more links. They're things around user and usage data, which Google previously didn't use a whole lot of signals around that. Same story with user experience. Same story with things like pogo sticking, which is probably one of the ways that they're measuring some of that stuff.

If we were to scatter plot it, we'd probably see something like this, where the better your brand performs as a brand, the higher and better it tends to perform in the rankings of Google search engine.

How does brand correlate to ranking signals?

Now, how is it that these brand signals that I'm talking about correlate more directly to ranking signals? Like why does this impact and influence? I think if we understand that, we can understand why we need to invest in brand and branding and where to invest in it as it relates to the web marketing kinds of things that we do for SEO.

One very clearly and very frankly is links. So when we talk about the links that Google wants to measure, wants to count today, those are organic, editorially earned links. They're not manipulative. They weren't bought. They tend not to be cajoled, they're earned.

Because of that, one of the best ways that folks have been earning links is to get people to come to their website and then have some fraction, some percentage of those folks naturally link to them without having to do any extra effort. It's basically like, “Hey, you made this great piece of content or this great product or great service or great data. Therefore, I'm going to reference it." Granted, that's a small percentage of people. There's still only maybe two or three out of a hundred folks who might visit your website on the Internet who actually have the power or ability to link to you because they control content on the web as opposed to just social sharing.

But when that happens, in a lot of cases folks go and they say, "Hmm, yeah, this content's good, but I've never heard of this brand before. I'm not sure if I should recommend it. It looks good, but I don't know them." Versus, "Oh, I love these folks. This is like one of my favorite companies or brands or products or experiences, and this content is great. I am totally going to link to it." Because that happens, even if that difference is small, even if the percent goes from 1% to 2%, well now, guess what? For every hundred visits, you're earning twice the links of your non-branded competitor.

Social signals

These are pretty much exactly the same thing. Folks who visit content, who have experiences with a company, with a product, or with a service, if they're familiar and comfortable with the brand, if they want to evangelize that brand, then guess what? You're going to get more social sharing per visit, per exposure than you would ordinarily, and that's going to lead to a cycle of more social sharing which leads to visits which probably leads to links.

User and usage data

It's also true that brand is going to impact user and usage data. So one of the most interesting patents, which we'll probably be talking about in a future Whiteboard Friday, was brought up recently by Bill Slowsky and looked at user and usage data. It was just granted to Google in the last month. It talked about how Google would look at the patterns of where web visitors would go and what their search experiences would be like. It would potentially say, "Hey, Google would like to reward sites that are getting organic traffic, not just from search, but traffic of all kinds on a particular topic."

So if it turns out that lots of people who are researching a vacation to Costa Rica end up going to Oyster.com, well, Google might say, "Hey, you know what? We've seen this pattern over and over again. Let's boost Oyster.com's rankings because it seems like people who look for this kind of content end up on this site. Not necessarily directly through us, through Google. They might end up on it through social media, through organic web links, through direct visits, through e-mail marketing, whatever it is."

When you're unbranded, one of the few ways that you can get traffic is through unbranded search. Search is one of those few channels that does drive traffic, or historically anyway did drive traffic to a lot of non-branded, less branded sites. Brands tend to earn traffic from a wide variety of sources. If you can start earning traffic from lots of sources and have the retention and the experience to drive people back again and again, well, probably you're going to benefit from some of these potential algorithmic shifts and future looking directions that Google's got.

Click-through rates

Same story a little bit when it comes to click-through rate. Now, we know from experience and testing that click-through rate is or appears to have a very direct impact on rankings. If lots of people are performing a search and they click on your website in position number four or five, and they're not clicking on position one, two, or three, you can bet that you're going to be moving up those rankings very, very quickly.

Granted there is some manipulative services out there that try and automate this. Some of them work for a little while. Most of them get shut down pretty quick. I wouldn't recommend investing in those. But I do recommend investing in brand, because when you have a recognizable brand, searchers are going to come here and they're going to go, "Oh, that one, maybe I haven't heard of it. That one, I've heard of it. That one, I haven't heard of it."

Guess what they're clicking on? The one they're already familiar with. The one they have a positive association with already. This is the power of brand advertising, and I think it's one of the big reasons why you've seen case studies from folks like Seer Interactive, talking about how a radio ad campaign or a billboard ad campaign seemed to have a positive lift in their SEO work as well. This phenomenon is going to mean that you're benefiting from every searcher who looks for something, even if you rank further down, if you're the better known brand.

So is brand a ranking factor? No, it's not. Is brand something that positively impacts SEO? Almost certainly in every niche, yes, it is.

All right. Looking forward to some great comments. I'll try and jump in there and answer any questions that I can. If you have experiences you want to share, we'd love to hear from you. Hopefully, we'll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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How to Learn Social Media Marketing in 2 Minutes a Day: A Free Social Media 101 Email Course

We’re quite keen to always be learning new things at Buffer—new social media strategies, new languages, new skills and experiments. And we love learning together—with each other and with you.

One area that we’ve been fortunate to gain some knowledge and experience is with social media sharing, which can be a big one for those who are eager to get involved but not quite sure where to start.

We’d love to help people get started with social media.

We’d love to help with social media marketing, from square one.

Our newest idea: A seven-day email course that you can subscribe to for a lesson each day—each one just two or three minutes to read—on the very basics of social media marketing.

We’d love for you to join, try, and learn with us!

Learn Social Media in 2 Minutes Per Day

It’s been so fun sharing social media content with you all here at the Buffer blog and learning what might be most valuable for you.

We’ve put together our best tips for getting started with social media.

7 emails, 7 days, 7 short lessons about all the basics of social media marketing.

Each email is a two- or three-minute read at most (with some easy options to dive deeper into full blog posts and resources).

You can sign up for the Social Media 101 course for free and send the link along to friends, coworkers, or clients.

The email course is free for everyone. If you’re a current Buffer user (thanks!), you can go there to sign up now. If you’re not yet a Buffer user, we’d love to have you join us, too.

Subscribe for free.

Seven days of social media: What you’ll receive

We’d love to give you a peek at what this course covers. Here’s an overview of the seven emails sent in seven days.

How to choose a social network How to customize your social media profile Establishing a voice and tone for your social media posts The ideal time and frequency to post on social media Social media analytics How to schedule, engage, and listen on social media A free social media marketing kit A sample email: What to expect

We count it as quite the privilege to be invited to your inbox, and we’d love to give you as much info as necessary to help you choose whether this email course is right for you. Sometimes, it’s quite nice to get a sample of what you might be subscribing for.

Here’s a look at the email for Day Six of the Social Media 101 course.

Full transcript: 

Reading time: 2 minutes

So many social media channels. So little time.

This is one of the chief improvements we aim to tackle with the way we experiment with workflows and strategies.

We’d love to get the most out of the time we spend on social media. Our best tip for doing so is to schedule your posts and to work in batches. 

There are so many different social media platforms. You can and should post the same content on each platform, but it takes a long time! Plus, the content needs to be customized for each platform.

You could go to each site, one-by-one and post each update, pulling away from what you may be currently doing in order to post at the best time — a double whammy on your time and productivity!

Scheduling is the secret weapon for consistent, excellent sharing, day after day.

Tools like Buffer allow you to create all the content and updates that you want to, all at once, and then place everything into a queue to be sent out according to whatever schedule you choose.

One thing that goes hand-in-hand with scheduling is engagement – jumping into the social media channel directly to interact and share with the audience.

Engagement is a great balance for automation.

When people talk to you, talk back. Set aside time during your day to followup with conversations that are happening on social media. These are conversations with potential customers, references, friends, and colleagues. They’re too important to ignore.

One way to stay up on all the conversations that are happening around you and your company is to create a system for listening. Tools likeMention will send you an alert every time you’re mentioned online, and you can rely on custom searches and email alerts for mentions on specific networks, too.

Further reading: What’s the best way to spend 30 minutes of your time on social media?

These are the next-level tips that the social media pros use! If you’ve made it this far, you’re rocking your social media strategy.

Today’s action item: Sign up for a social media management tool. Create mention alerts via email or Mention.

Tomorrow’s email: A free social media marketing kit!

Grateful to be sharing with you!

We’re excited to try out this new experiment with email courses and to provide as much value as possible to you and your team.

Is there anything we can do to make this course a  more worthwhile experience for you? 

Add any thoughts to the comments here, or feel free to email me directly also. I’d love to hear your ideas. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to be sharing with you!

Image sources: Pablo, IconFinder, UnSplash

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You Finally Achieved Content Virality! Now What?

Posted by Isla_McKetta

If you've ever achieved the holy grail of content marketing success—true virality—you know the rush of endorphins as you watch the share count climb. You've smiled the enormous grin when one of your friends shares that piece on Facebook without any idea that you helped create it. Maybe you've even felt the skin-chilling prickle when Buzzfeed picks up your content.

Then you've undoubtedly experienced the heart-stopping numbness when the traffic finally stalls. Where did all the people go? Was it real? Can you do it again?

What happens next depends on which camp you fall into. Most people either

Squander that success in a haze of denial, or Rush back to their desks to copy the thing that just went viral so they can replicate the success (only to find that the Internet is already over it).

But there is a third, better way—you can learn everything possible from this moment of greatness and turn it around to create something even more shareable next time. This third path is not easy, but it is the surest way to get you back on the road to virality. Here's how.

Celebrate your success

Duh. You were going to do this anyway, but take a moment (or a day) to fully enjoy all the tweets, traffic, and accolades. This will give you energy for the next step and you'll be all the more focused for the long road ahead.

Analyze what went right

Sometimes content marketing feels like throwing Velcro darts at the wall—you just don't know what's going to stick. But when something finally does stick, there are a lot of lessons to be learned about your audience and what might work in the future.

For example, take this post from Organic Gardening, "7 Secrets for a High-Yield Vegetable Garden." According to BuzzSumo, it has six times as many shares as the next most successful article from the same site.

In fact, when looking at content that contained the word "garden," the post had more than twice as many shares as the top post from Country Living, a magazine with about five times the circulation.

I think we can safely call this piece a runaway success. Now let's look at what made this article so much more viral than its top three friends.

Title

It's not too much of a stretch to say that "7 Secrets for a High-Yield Vegetable Garden" is a lot sexier title than "Gardener's April To-Do List," "Going with the Flow," and "Cauliflower with Peas."

Not only does the highly successful article contain one of those emotion words that get us all excited to click, the title actually fully describes what the article is about—passing what Ian Lurie calls the "blank sheet of paper" test. You'll note that the titles listed in BuzzSumo are actually more descriptive than those on the page—next time they might want to use the more descriptive titles on the page.

Format

The format of these four articles is pretty basic: text with at least one related image. In fact, the to-do list article could have gone a bit farther if someone had turned it into a downloadable checklist (or at least a checklist).

Sometimes, like when you've invested heavily in a flashy parallax scrolling piece, it's easy to surmise that form contributed heavily to the success of the content. But in this case, it's unlikely that the form of this article gave it a viral advantage.

Length

These four articles vary widely in length, but they conform to what you might expect from the types of articles that they are. "Go with the Flow" is more of an essay and should be longer, whereas to-do lists and recipes get less useful the longer they are.

7 Secrets April To-Do Going w/Flow Cauliflower 1100+ words 800+ words 1700+ words 200+ words

I'd argue that "7 Secrets" is an exception here, in that it's more in-depth than it needs to be—in a good way. This could be one contributor to its success.

Topic

Not only is the "7 Secrets" title much more clickable, the viral article also hits on high-yield gardening—a high-interest topic. Having not seen the personas for this site, I'm not sure if Organic Gardening has identified gardeners with limited space or gardeners who are trying to sustain themselves entirely from their yards as targets, but this article would be interesting to both groups (which means more excited readers to share the content).

The to-do list article is practical and "Going with the Flow" (about water conservation) is newsworthy (although it would do a lot better if it mentioned the California drought in the intro). If you love cauliflower, perhaps you can tell me why that recipe is popular. But it's easy to see why none of these other three articles broke through the viral barrier.

Timeliness

From what I can tell, the original article is actually a couple of years old. It's just been hanging out waiting for the right moment. So goes content marketing. But the week that it went nuts on BuzzSumo was in late March—the very week I was mapping my own garden.

That said, it isn't the most timely of these four articles. The April to-do list is very timely (and this kind of evergreen content has the chance to get picked up again year after year) and, as mentioned, the article about water (despite being written in 2011) is on-trend with current events in California.

Again, you'll have to tell me if cauliflower is timeless, because I'm still not understanding the success of that recipe.

One caveat: There's some weirdness around the dating on this site (especially since the site re-branded in the middle of me writing this draft). If you dig into the publication date, it's April 1, 2015, a few days after March 29, 2015 (the date BuzzSumo called its publication date). And when I first started writing this article I think I found that the page was created about two years ago (though I can no longer verify that information).

Your lesson here is that if you do a site rebrand in the middle of assessing your content, your data will likely contain weirdness too.

Overall quality

This is where your spidey sense comes in, because overall quality is in many ways a combination of all the factors we just looked at along with the strength of the writing. But there's also that je ne sais quoi factor where you have to trust your gut (don't worry, spotting great content is easier than you think).

"7 Secrets" really is a better article for the Internet than the other three. It's easy to share, seems high-impact, and is a fast read. "Going with the Flow" is also a good article, especially with the storytelling angle, but the anecdotal lead-in followed by the intercontinental comparison of water management styles smacks of classic print journalism (requiring thoughtful rumination), which means it might be more appropriate or successful offline.

Influencer name dropping

Ego bait is a tried and true content marketing tactic. It's not used in this article, but that doesn't mean it isn't a good tool to keep on hand. If I wanted this article to go even more viral, I would have put names to the two experts they cite (and then reached out to tell those experts that I was quoting them).

The social angle

Looking at "7 Secrets" against the April to-do list, we can immediately spot a few reasons it was roughly three times more popular on the social network. It has an active and enticing image, the accompanying text is both inspirational and asks for engagement, and the article description is, well, descriptive.

Now, I don't have access to the internal Facebook analytics of this site, but if I did, I'd be looking hard at trends in what times of day and days of week they find the most engagement as well as whether there was any paid promotion to see what else can be learned.High-profile sharers

As you can see, except for the magazine itself, very few people who shared this article on Twitter even have more than 1,000 followers. That might not be bad for you and me, but it's not going to cause a viral stampede.

If you find that more recognizable folks (or even those with a lot more followers) were part of your success, it might be time to build some relationships there. You can do that either by involving them in your content creation process in the future or by reaching out when you have something new to promote.

You don't have to wait until something goes viral to analyze what content is succeeding and why. Get some practice now (and help yourself on the road to virality):

Download this checklist as a template

Now that you understand what contributes to content virality, you're ready to try to capture that magic all over again.

Resist the urge to imitate

This sounds counter-intuitive, but the last thing you want to do after achieving content success is to run out and do exactly what you did last time. Why? Because the Internet craves novelty, and just like it's completely adorable when your friend's toddler sticks his tongue out at you for the first time, the second, third, and thirty-seventh times are increasingly less adorable (and notable).

Instead, use all that analysis you just did of what made the piece successful to remix those elements and try something new. In the case of the garden efficiency article we've been looking at, I'd follow up with a profile of three influential organic gardeners who have different ways of achieving efficiency in their gardens.

Enough about gardening already, what about some other topics like windows, water, and dessert.

If "DIY Craft Projects using Old Vintage Windows Doors" earned you 428k shares, avoid writing "DIY Craft Projects Using Old Vintage Bannisters" and instead think more broadly with something like "10 Best Stores in the US to Find Vintage Windows for Your Project" or "Last Minute Summer Patio Projects for Upscale Freecyclers." The first plays with influencer marketing and the second explores a niche readership that has the potential to be very passionate about sharing your content. If you've recently had success with "Gray Whale Dies Bringing Us a Message - With Stomach Full of Plastic Trash" (226k+ shares), skip starting a series on dead animals that are portending the end of the earth. Instead try something like an infographic that shows how much the average American contributes to the gyre of plastic in the ocean that includes tips on how we can reduce our impact. That type of content would capitalize a little on the scare tactics of the first post plus the spirit that we're all responsible for the fate of the planet. It would also be a chance to test if posts that end with positive impacts are as shareable. Or if everyone loved your recipe for a ginormous Reese's Cup (21k+ shares), don't be tempted to write about chocolate peanut butter pie. Rather, consider creating a series on revamped recipes for childhood favorites like an upscale Nanaimo Bar or incorporating Jello into a trifle. The exception

There are times when a piece of content you've created goes viral even though you feel like you only took the idea halfway. Playbuzz got some really good traction (1.6 million shares) with this post:

About a month later they followed up with this one which garnered 3.3 million shares:

They could have taken the idea even farther with "What Sci-Fi Novel…" and "What Horror Novel…" but those get weird fast and it's safe to say they found their peak audience the second time around by getting more general. So they stopped while they were ahead.

Build relationships

Viral success means that a whole lot of people just shared your content. It also means that you have a huge opportunity to connect with people who might remember who you are for the next five seconds.

Help them remember you for the foreseeable future by reaching out now and thanking them for sharing your stuff or engaging them in conversation. Ask what they'd like to see next time or respond to their questions. Be playful and friendly (if it suits your corporate voice) and get the writer to help you with the follow-up.

Use your success as brand leverage

There's no better time for PR outreach than immediately following a big viral content win. Who doesn't want to drop a line in an outreach email like "Our latest infographic has earned 452,000 shares on Pinterest (so far)." That number might feel like a fluke, but if you can get someone from a major media outlet interested in your next piece, your future looks bright.

Keep trying

Capturing the zeitgeist well enough to give a post viral success is not an easy thing. But have confidence that if you've done it before, you have what it takes to do it again. Keep making awesome stuff. And when you're tempted to get bummed because something doesn't quite find its audience, instead milk that learning experience for all it's worth.


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Give it up for Our MozCon 2015 Community Speakers

Posted by EricaMcGillivray

Super thrilled that we're able to announce this year's community speakers for MozCon, July 13-15th in Seattle!

Wow. Each year I feel that I say the pool keeps getting more and more talented, but it's the truth! We had more quality pitches this year than in the past, and quantity-wise, there were 241, around 100 more entries than years previously. Let me tell you, many of the review committee members filled our email thread with amazement at this.

And even though we had an unprecedented six slots, the choices seemed even tougher!

241 pitches
Let that number sink in for a little while.

Because we get numerous questions about what makes a great pitch, I wanted to share both information about the speakers and their great pitches—with some details removed for spoilers. (We're still working with each speaker to polish and finalize their topic.) I've also included my or Matt Roney's own notes on each one from when we read them without knowing who the authors were.

Please congratulate our MozCon 2015 community speakers!Adrian Vender

Adrian is the Director of Analytics at IMI and a general enthusiast of coding and digital marketing. He's also a life-long drummer and lover of music. Follow him at @adrianvender.

Adrian's pitch:

Content Tracking with Google Tag Manager

While marketers have matured in the use of web analytics tools, our ability to measure how users interact with our sites' content needs improvement. Users are interacting with dynamic content that just aren't captured in a pageview. While there are JavaScript tricks to help track these details, working with IT to place new code is usually the major hurdle that stops us.

Finally, Google Tag Manager is that bridge to advanced content analysis. GTM may appear technical, but it can easily be used by any digital marketer to track almost any action on a site. My goal is to make ALL attendees users of GTM.

My talk will cover the following GTM concepts:

[Adrian lists 8 highly-actionable tactics he'll cover.]

I'll share a client example of tracking content interaction in GA. I'll also share a link to a GTM container file that can help people pre-load the above tag templates into their own GTM.

Matt's notes: Could be good. I know a lot of people have questions about Tag Manager, and the ubiquity of GA should help it be pretty well-received.

Chris Dayley

Chris is a digital marketing expert and owner of Dayley Conversion. His company provides full-service A/B testing for businesses, including design, development, and test execution. Follow him at @chrisdayley.

Chris' pitch:

I would like to present a super actionable 15 minute presentation focused on the first two major steps businesses should take to start A/B testing:

1. Radical Redesign Testing

2. Iterative Testing (Test EVERYTHING)

I am one of the few CROs out there that recommends businesses to start with a radical redesign test. My reasoning for doing so is that most businesses have done absolutely no testing on their current website, so the current landing page/website really isn't a "best practice" design yet.

I will show several case studies where clients saw more than a 50% lift in conversion rates just from this first step of radical redesign testing, and will offer several tips for how to create a radical redesign test. Some of the tips include:

[Chris lists three direct and interesting tips he'll share.]

Next I suggest moving into the iterative phase.

I will show several case studies of how to move through iterative testing so you eventually test every element on your page.

Erica's notes: Direct, interesting, and with promise of multiple case studies.

Duane Brown

Duane is a digital marketer with 10 years' experience having lived and worked in five cities across three continents. He's currently at Unbounce. When not working, you can find Duane traveling to some far-flung location around the world to eat food and soak up the culture. Follow him at @DuaneBrown.

Duane's pitch:

What Is Delightful Remarketing & How You Can Do It Too

A lot of people find remarketing creepy and weird. They don't get why they are seeing those ads around the internet.... let alone how to make them stop showing.

This talk will focus on the different between remarketing & creating delightful remarketing that can help grow the revenue & profit at a company and not piss customers off. 50% of US marketers don't use remarketing according to eMarketer (2013).

- [Duane's direct how-to for e-commerce customers.] Over 60% of customers abandon a shopping cart each year: http://baymard.com/lists/cart-abandonment-rate (3 minute)

- Cover a SaaS company using retargeting to [Duane's actionable item]. This remarketing helps show your products sticky features while showing off your benefits (3 minute)

- The Dos: [Duane's actionable tip], a variety of creative & a dedicated landing page creates delightful remarketing that grows revenue (3 minute)

- Wrap up and review main points. (2 minutes)

Matt's notes: Well-detailed, an area in which there's a lot of room for improvement.

Gianluca Fiorelli

Moz Associate, official blogger for StateofDigital.com and known international SEO and inbound strategist, Gianluca works in the digital marketing industry, but he still believes that he just know that he knows nothing. Follow him at @gfiorelli1.

Gianluca's pitch:

Unusual Sources for Keyword and Topical Research

A big percentage of SEOs equal Keyword and Topical Research to using Keyword Planner and Google Suggest.

However, using only them, we cannot achieve a real deep knowledge of the interests, psychology and language of our target.

In this talk, I will present unusual sources and unnoticed features of very well-known tools, and offer a final example based on a true story.

Arguments touched in the speech (not necessarily in this order):

[Gianluca lists seven how-tos and one unique case study.]

Erica's notes: Theme of Google not giving good keyword info. Lots of unique actionable points and resources. Will work in 15 minute time limit.

Ruth Burr Reedy

Ruth is the head of on-site SEO for BigWing Interactive, a full-service digital marketing agency in Oklahoma City, OK. At BigWing, she manages a team doing on-site, technical, and local SEO. Ruth has been working in SEO since 2006. Follow her at @ruthburr.

Ruth's pitch:

Get Hired to Do SEO

This talk will go way beyond "just build your own website" and talk about specific ways SEOs can build evidence of their skills across the web, including:

[Ruth lists 7 how-tos with actionable examples.]

All in a funny, actionable, beautiful, easy-to-understand get-hired masterpiece.

Erica's notes: Great takeaways. Wanted to do a session about building your resume as a marketer for a while.

Stephanie Wallace

Stephanie is director of SEO at Nebo, a digital agency in Atlanta. She helps clients navigate the ever-changing world of SEO by understanding their audience and helping them create a digital experience that both the user and Google appreciates. Follow her at @SWallaceSEO.

Stephanie's pitch:

Everyone knows PPC and SEO complement one another - increased visibility in search results help increase perceived authority and drive more clickthroughs to your site overall. But are you actively leveraging the wealth of PPC data available to build on your existing SEO strategy? The key to effectively using this information lies in understanding how to test SEO tactics and how to apply the results to your on-page strategies. This session will delve into actionable strategies for using PPC campaign insights to influence on-page SEO and content strategies. Key takeaways include:

[Stephanie lists four how-tos.]

Erica's notes: Nice and actionable. Like this a lot.

As mentioned, we had 241 entries, and many of them were stage quality. Notable runners up included AJ Wilcox, Ed Reese, and Daylan Pearce, and a big pat on the back to all those who tossed their hat in.

Also, a huge thank you to my fellow selection committee members for 2015: Charlene Inoncillo, Cyrus Shepard, Danie Launders, Jen Lopez, Matt Roney, Rand Fishkin, Renea Nielsen, and Trevor Klein.

Buy your ticket now


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The Twitch Phenomenon: Why Live Streaming Is Worth Your Time

Posted by troy.evans

It's safe to say that streaming video content online is quickly becoming the most accessible way to consume entertainment. The way we enjoy our favorite movies and television shows has been increasingly shifting towards uninterrupted (and possibly unhealthy) periods of ‘binge watching'. Easy and affordable alternatives like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Go offer the option to forego traditional cable services altogether.

Portlandia, "One Moore Episode"

As the online video streaming movement grows, the concept of live streaming is also gaining popularity, and both these trends make a convincing case for considering a video-based content strategy to reach your target market. By far the best example of this is Amazon's newest acquisition, Twitch.tv.

What is Twitch.tv?

Unless you happen to be an online gamer or addicted to TechCrunch, you may not have had much experience with the site. It is a platform for gamers to broadcast their gameplay live online while others watch and actively participate with chat.

If you haven't heard about the site's boast-worthy statistics you may be wondering why you should even care. You're not wrong to be skeptical; gamers watching other gamers play games online most likely has nothing to do with your business or marketing.

However, the conclusions that can be drawn from Twitch.tv's annual reports about the future of online and video marketing are worth some level of consideration and provide some evidence that live video streaming could be the next big channel for engaging with your audience.

Why should you care?

Here is a quick breakdown of Twitch.tv's engagement from their 2014 report.

Pretty amazing stats when you consider that they launched in 2011. Even when you take into account that the main demographic of users are web-savvy online gamers, those numbers are impressive.

This statistic from their 2013 report, though, is what I find most interesting. Incredibly rapid engagement growth from 2012 on top of an unbelievable average user time on site (106 minutes watched each day). From a marketing perspective, this is what I consider to be a big opportunity.

The following chart shows the average time on site for other top social media sites. To come anywhere near the numbers from Twitch, it would require a significant number of repeat visits (20+ average) at these rates:

Since these two reports are not directly comparable, I thought it was valuable to translate some data gathered using Google's DoubleClick Ad Planner from back in 2011 to show some sort of comparison. (Granted, these have been converted from unique visitors' monthly time spent on Facebook (15.55 hours) and YouTube (5.83 hours). (source)

Now, you might be thinking that these statistics are not all that surprising for a site focused on live experiences. After all, we've known for some time now that a live broadcast will often produce a significant increase in viewership. By virtue of its unpredictability alone a larger audience is something to be expected. And let's be honest, it's one of the main reasons why TV news is so interesting.

How can I win with live streaming?

Entertainment is by far the most common live stream focus. Gaming, sports, music, tv shows, news, and events are found often, but there are also channels for technology, education, and even religion. There are also plenty of live animal streams. Mostly puppies and kittens, but also wildlife streams that might make good communities for environmentally focused marketing goals.

Coming up with creative ways to implement live-stream content into your marketing strategy might be difficult, but it is certainly not impossible, and you might just be surprised with the results. Keep in mind that the scope of your broadcast can start out small (just like any other content strategy), and the content of your feed could be just about anything that can be translated into a video format. Even this post could be converted into a live stream as a simple discussion. For the most part, all you need is a webcam and a good microphone. To get started, take a look at these options for producing live stream content for your business.

Youtube.com

YouTube is probably the easiest and most well-known platform to use for integrating live stream content. It offers solutions to quickly set up a live stream through your channel as long as it is verified and in good standing. There is a live chat feature that can be disabled if you so choose, although most live streams really do go well with an engaging live chat. YouTube is the perfect place to start up a live stream project at little to no cost. You most likely already have a channel and an audience to which you can start broadcasting.

Livestream.com

Another option worth considering is Livestream.com, which is great for broadcasting any kind of live event. For the most part, I have seen high quality productions on this site. Consider this one if you already have a video-based content strategy and a sizable following that is eager to consume your broadcasts.

Ustream.tv

This site is a bit different in that it offers solutions for a variety of high-quality live streaming options, even production services and a video advertising platform focused on lead generation. There is a variety of content with categories like sports, gaming, news, music, and general entertainment. Ustream has a wider range of content than livestream; you will find streams for technology, education, religion and even wildlife here, among others. Ustream also offers a basic ad-supported broadcasting option which would be perfect for an organization that is just starting to develop live stream content.

Notice how Ustream has no qualms with adverts!

Streaming through Twitter

If you are already using Twitter for your online marketing strategy, you should consider using something like Periscope or Meerkat to develop live-streaming engagement with your followers. These services are also a great way to kickstart the use of Twitter in your marketing arsenal and start to build a following if you haven't done so already.

You can give exclusive previews of products, how-to tutorials, a quick tour of your facilities, or show off your services. And, of course, you will have the potential to respond in real time to feedback from viewers. At the moment, both Periscope and Meerkat can only be used on iPhones, but Meerkat is developing an Android version.

Focused streaming sites

Let's not forget about the more focused platforms. Online communities that are ready and willing to engage with live streams do already exist outside the realm of gaming. They are worth exploring if you are working to promote something relevant to your customers interests.

Picarto.tv is for artists and graphic designers to show others how they do those amazing Photoshop things they do.

Chew.tv is a platform for DJs to play live sets to other DJs and music lovers.

Livecoding.tv is fairly new but given the nature of programmers there are almost always a few live streams on. This is a great place for newcomers and seasoned programmers to learn about coding by watching the experts in action.

Talktochef.com is a really cool site that lets people engage directly with experienced chefs. If you have anything to do with the food industry, there is likely value to be gained from using this site.

Cookstream.tv is also just getting started, but seems like a promising venue for those within the food industry.

Not ready to start live streaming? You can still gain insights by participating!

Even if you're not ready to live stream your own content, you can find value by doing a little live stream research or even getting involved in a relevant broadcast. Here are some things to think about during your search:

Get insights into popular topics just by scanning for high viewer count streams. If you market for or create content about anything related to animals, you might consider producing some blog posts about eagles; for some reason people seem to like watching them, as I found a number of eagle nest live feeds, some with over a thousands viewers at a time.
Take advantage of relevant live streams that receive significant viewers and get ideas for creating similar content in any form. Topics that resonate with viewers on live streams will most likely be easily translated into pre-recorded video or written content. If I were marketing for anything related to billiards, for example, I would check out the Accu-Stats On Location channel at Ustream that have over a thousand followers and had achieved over 250,000 views. Just from watching a few minutes I noticed that while they stream a live pool and billiards tournament they are also constantly raffling off prizes. A great idea for some social media content might be to create raffle targeting people who are interested in pool and billiards.
Listen to what viewers are saying on relevant streams. Broadcasters provide great insight as to what sort of content you could be creating but the viewers do as well. Part of the beauty of live streaming is that the viewers are constantly engaging via live chat while they watch. This provides a great way to get direct insight about your target audience. Chatting with viewers can provide a direct line to potential customers. Just make sure to follow the channel rules and avoid blatant promotional spam. Live streams also offer opportunities for outreach to their broadcasters. Just as popular industry bloggers make great influencers, so do broadcasters. You could try to get in touch with a broadcaster to discuss some form of collaboration; this would likely work in the same manner as a collaboration with an industry blogger. Start researching & streaming

I like to think of online marketers as masters of the interwebs, and as such I feel it's important to be at least aware of (if not knowledgeable about) every realm. It may not be as popular outside of the gaming space, but I anticipate the near future will bring live streaming growth in other focused markets. As this content becomes more prevalent, the applications toward online marketing will become more and more obvious. By learning how to navigate and identify relevant live stream communities you will be ready to get involved and apply them to your marketing efforts, whether that means starting up a broadcast of your own or collaborating with existing broadcasters.

Lastly, and there may not be much in this on a marketing level but I thought it was well worth sharing: Definitely one of my favorite streams so far, if this doesn't convince you that live streaming (and Animal Planet) is awesome, nothing will...


Live video by Animal Planet L!ve


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​The 3 Most Common SEO Problems on Listings Sites

Posted by Dom-Woodman

Listings sites have a very specific set of search problems that you don't run into everywhere else. In the day I'm one of Distilled's analysts, but by night I run a job listings site, teflSearch. So, for my first Moz Blog post I thought I'd cover the three search problems with listings sites that I spent far too long agonising about.

Quick clarification time: What is a listings site (i.e. will this post be useful for you)?

The classic listings site is Craigslist, but plenty of other sites act like listing sites:

Job sites like Monster E-commerce sites like Amazon Matching sites like Spareroom 1. Generating quality landing pages

The landing pages on listings sites are incredibly important. These pages are usually the primary drivers of converting traffic, and they're usually generated automatically (or are occasionally custom category pages) .

For example, if I search "Jobs in Manchester", you can see nearly every result is an automatically generated landing page or category page.

There are three common ways to generate these pages (occasionally a combination of more than one is used):

Faceted pages: These are generated by facets—groups of preset filters that let you filter the current search results. They usually sit on the left-hand side of the page. Category pages: These pages are listings which have already had a filter applied and can't be changed. They're usually custom pages. Free-text search pages: These pages are generated by a free-text search box.

Those definitions are still bit general; let's clear them up with some examples:

Amazon uses a combination of categories and facets. If you click on browse by department you can see all the category pages. Then on each category page you can see a faceted search. Amazon is so large that it needs both.

Indeed generates its landing pages through free text search, for example if we search for "IT jobs in manchester" it will generate: IT jobs in manchester.

teflSearch generates landing pages using just facets. The jobs in China landing page is simply a facet of the main search page.

Each method has its own search problems when used for generating landing pages, so lets tackle them one by one.

Aside

Facets and free text search will typically generate pages with parameters e.g. a search for "dogs" would produce:

www.mysite.com?search=dogs

But to make the URL user friendly sites will often alter the URLs to display them as folders

www.mysite.com/results/dogs/

These are still just ordinary free text search and facets, the URLs are just user friendly. (They're a lot easier to work with in robots.txt too!)

Free search (& category) problems

If you've decided the base of your search will be a free text search, then we'll have two major goals:

Goal 1: Helping search engines find your landing pages Goal 2: Giving them link equity. Solution

Search engines won't use search boxes and so the solution to both problems is to provide links to the valuable landing pages so search engines can find them.

There are plenty of ways to do this, but two of the most common are:

Category links alongside a search

Photobucket uses a free text search to generate pages, but if we look at example search for photos of dogs, we can see the categories which define the landing pages along the right-hand side. (This is also an example of URL friendly searches!)

Putting the main landing pages in a top-level menu

Indeed also uses free text to generate landing pages, and they have a browse jobs section which contains the URL structure to allow search engines to find all the valuable landing pages.

Breadcrumbs are also often used in addition to the two above and in both the examples above, you'll find breadcrumbs that reinforce that hierarchy.

Category (& facet) problems

Categories, because they tend to be custom pages, don't actually have many search disadvantages. Instead it's the other attributes that make them more or less desirable. You can create them for the purposes you want and so you typically won't have too many problems.

However, if you also use a faceted search in each category (like Amazon) to generate additional landing pages, then you'll run into all the problems described in the next section.

At first facets seem great, an easy way to generate multiple strong relevant landing pages without doing much at all. The problems appear because people don't put limits on facets.

Lets take the job page on teflSearch. We can see it has 18 facets each with many options. Some of these options will generate useful landing pages:

The China facet in countries will generate "Jobs in China" that's a useful landing page.

On the other hand, the "Conditional Bonus" facet will generate "Jobs with a conditional bonus," and that's not so great.

We can also see that the options within a single facet aren't always useful. As of writing, I have a single job available in Serbia. That's not a useful search result, and the poor user engagement combined with the tiny amount of content will be a strong signal to Google that it's thin content. Depending on the scale of your site it's very easy to generate a mass of poor-quality landing pages.

Facets generate other problems too. The primary one being they can create a huge amount of duplicate content and pages for search engines to get lost in. This is caused by two things: The first is the sheer number of possibilities they generate, and the second is because selecting facets in different orders creates identical pages with different URLs.

We end up with four goals for our facet-generated landing pages:

Goal 1: Make sure our searchable landing pages are actually worth landing on, and that we're not handing a mass of low-value pages to the search engines. Goal 2: Make sure we don't generate multiple copies of our automatically generated landing pages. Goal 3: Make sure search engines don't get caught in the metaphorical plastic six-pack rings of our facets. Goal 4: Make sure our landing pages have strong internal linking.

The first goal needs to be set internally; you're always going to be the best judge of the number of results that need to present on a page in order for it to be useful to a user. I'd argue you can rarely ever go below three, but it depends both on your business and on how much content fluctuates on your site, as the useful landing pages might also change over time.

We can solve the next three problems as group. There are several possible solutions depending on what skills and resources you have access to; here are two possible solutions:

Category/facet solution 1: Blocking the majority of facets and providing external links Easiest method Good if your valuable category pages rarely change and you don't have too many of them. Can be problematic if your valuable facet pages change a lot

Nofollow all your facet links, and noindex and block category pages which aren't valuable or are deeper than x facet/folder levels into your search using robots.txt.

You set x by looking at where your useful facet pages exist that have search volume. So, for example, if you have three facets for televisions: manufacturer, size, and resolution, and even combinations of all three have multiple results and search volume, then you could set you index everything up to three levels.

On the other hand, if people are searching for three levels (e.g. "Samsung 42" Full HD TV") but you only have one or two results for three-level facets, then you'd be better off indexing two levels and letting the product pages themselves pick up long-tail traffic for the third level.

If you have valuable facet pages that exist deeper than 1 facet or folder into your search, then this creates some duplicate content problems dealt with in the aside "Indexing more than 1 level of facets" below.)



The immediate problem with this set-up, however, is that in one stroke we've removed most of the internal links to our category pages, and by no-following all the facet links, search engines won't be able to find your valuable category pages.

In order re-create the linking, you can add a top level drop down menu to your site containing the most valuable category pages, add category links elsewhere on the page, or create a separate part of the site with links to the valuable category pages.

The top level drop down menu you can see on teflSearch (it's the search jobs menu), the other two examples are demonstrated in Photobucket and Indeed respectively in the previous section.

The big advantage for this method is how quick it is to implement, it doesn't require any fiddly internal logic and adding an extra menu option is usually minimal effort.

Category/facet solution 2: Creating internal logic to work with the facets Requires new internal logic Works for large numbers of category pages with value that can change rapidly

There are four parts to the second solution:

Select valuable facet categories and allow those links to be followed. No-follow the rest. No-index all pages that return a number of items below the threshold for a useful landing page No-follow all facets on pages with a search depth greater than 1. Block all facet pages deeper than x level in robots.txt

As with the last solution, x is set by looking at where your useful facet pages exist that have search volume (full explanation in the first solution), and if you're indexing more than one level you'll need to check out the aside below to see how to deal with the duplicate content it generates.

This will generate landing pages for the facets you've decided are valuable and noindex the landing pages which are low-quality. It will only create pages for a single level of facets, which prevents duplicate content.

Aside: Indexing more than one level of facets

If you want a second level of facets to be indexable, e.g. Televisions - Facet 1 (46"), Facet 2 (Samsung), then the easiest option is to remove the fourth rule from above and either add links to them using one of the methods in Solution 1, or add the pages to your sitemap.

The alternative is to set robots.txt to allow category pages up to 2 levels to be indexed and all facets to be followed up to two levels.

This will, however, create duplicate content, because now search engines will be able to create:

Televisions - 46" - Samsung Televisions - Samsung - 46"

You'll have to either rel canonical your duplicate pages with another rule or set-up your facets so they create a single unique URL.

You'll also need to be aware that unless you set-up more complicated logic, all of your followable facets will multiply. Depending on your setup you might need to block more paths in robots.txt or set-up more logic.

Letting search engines index more than one level of facets adds a lot of possible problems; make sure you're keeping track of them.

2. User-generated content cannibalization

This is a common problem for listings sites (assuming they allow user generated content). If you're reading this as an e-commerce site who only lists their own products, you can skip this one.

As we covered in the first area, category pages on listings sites are usually the landing pages aiming for the valuable search terms, but as your users start generating pages they can often create titles and content that cannibalise your landing pages.

Suppose you're a job site with a category page for PHP Jobs in Greater Manchester. If a recruiter then creates a job advert for PHP Jobs in Greater Manchester for the 4 positions they currently have, you've got a duplicate content problem.

This is less of a problem when your site is large and your categories mature, it will be obvious to any search engine which are your high value category pages, but at the start where you're lacking authority and individual listings might contain more relevant content than your own search pages this can be a problem.

Solution 1: Create structured titles

Set the <title> differently than the on-page title. Depending on variables you have available to you can set the title tag programmatically without changing the page title using other information given by the user.

For example, on our imaginary job site, suppose the recruiter also provided the following information in other fields:

The no. of positions: 4The primary area: PHP DeveloperThe name of the recruiting company: ABC RecruitmentLocation: Manchester

We could set the <title> pattern to be: *No of positions* *The primary area* with *recruiter name* in *Location* which would give us:

4 PHP Developers with ABC Recruitment in Manchester

Setting a <title> tag allows you to target long-tail traffic by constructing detailed descriptive titles. In our above example, imagine the recruiter had specified "Castlefield, Manchester" as the location.

All of a sudden, you've got a perfect opportunity to pick up long-tail traffic for people searching in Castlefield in Manchester.

On the downside, you lose the ability to pick up long-tail traffic where your users have chosen keywords you wouldn't have used.

For example, suppose Manchester has a jobs program called "Green Highway." A job advert title containing "Green Highway" might pick up valuable long-tail traffic. Being able to discover this, however, and find a way to fit it into a dynamic title is very hard.

Solution 2: Use regex to noindex the offending pages

Perform a regex (or string contains) search on your listings titles and no-index the ones which cannabalise your main category pages.

If it's not possible to construct titles with variables or your users provide a lot of additional long-tail traffic with their own titles, then is a great option. On the downside, you miss out on possible structured long-tail traffic that you might've been able to aim for.

Solution 3: De-index all your listings

It may seem rash, but if you're a large site with a huge number of very similar or low-content listings, you might want to consider this, but there is no common standard. Some sites like Indeed choose to no-index all their job adverts, whereas some other sites like Craigslist index all their individual listings because they'll drive long tail traffic.

Don't de-index them all lightly!

3. Constantly expiring content

Our third and final problem is that user-generated content doesn't last forever. Particularly on listings sites, it's constantly expiring and changing.

For most use cases I'd recommend 301'ing expired content to a relevant category page, with a message triggered by the redirect notifying the user of why they've been redirected. It typically comes out as the best combination of search and UX.

For more information or advice on how to deal with the edge cases, there's a previous Moz blog post on how to deal with expired content which I think does an excellent job of covering this area.

Summary

In summary, if you're working with listings sites, all three of the following need to be kept in mind:

How are the landing pages generated? If they're generated using free text or facets have the potential problems been solved? Is user generated content cannibalising the main landing pages? How has constantly expiring content been dealt with?

Good luck listing, and if you've had any other tricky problems or solutions you've come across working on listings sites lets chat about them in the comments below!


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Moz's 2014 Annual Report

Posted by SarahBird

Moz has a tradition of sharing its financials (check out 2012 and 2013 for funzies). It's an important part of TAGFEE.

Why do we do it? Moz gets it's strength from the community of marketers and entrepreneurs that support it. We celebrated 10 years of our community last October. In some ways, the purpose of this report is to give you an inside look into our company. It's one of many lenses that tell the story of Moz.

Yep. I know. It's April. I'm not proud. Better late than never, right?

I had a very long and extensive version of this post planned, something closer to last year's extravaganza. I finally had to admit to myself that I was letting the perfect become the enemy of the good (or at least the done). There was no way I could capture an entire year's worth of ups and downs—along with supporting data—in a single blog post.

Without further ado, here's the meat-and-potatoes 2014 Year In Review (and here's an infographic with more statistics for your viewing pleasure!):

Moz ended 2014 with $31.3 million in revenue. About $30 million was recurring revenue (mostly from subscriptions to Moz Pro and the API).

Here's a breakdown of all our major revenue sources:

Compared to previous years, 2014 was a much slower growth year. We knew very early that it was going to be a tough year because we started Q1 with negative growth. We worked very hard and successfully shifted the momentum back to increasingly positive quarterly growth rates. I'm proud of what we've accomplished so far. We still have a long ways to go to meet our potential, but we're on the path.

In subscription businesses, If you start the year with negative or even slow growth it is very hard to have meaningful annual growth. All things being equal, you're better off having a bad quarter in Q4 than Q1. If you get a new customer in Q1, you usually earn revenue from that customer all year. If you get a new customer in Q4, it will barely make a dent in that year, although it should set you up nicely for the following year.

We exited 2014 on a good flight path, which bodes well for 2015. We slammed right into some nasty billing system challenges in Q1 2015, but still managed to grow revenue 6.5%. Mad props to the team for shifting momentum last year and for digging into the billing system challenges we're experiencing now.

We were very successful in becoming more efficient and managing costs in 2014. Our Cost of Revenue (COR), the cost of producing what we sell, fell by 30% to $8.2 million. These savings drove our gross profit margin up from 63% in 2013 to 74%.

Our operating profit increased by 30%. Here's a breakdown of our major expenses (both operating expenses and COR):

Total operating expenses (which don't include COR) clocked in at about $29.9 million this year.

The efficiency gains positively impacted EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization) by pushing it up 50% year over year. In 2013, EBITDA was -$4.5 million. We improved it to -$2.1 million in 2014. We're a VC-backed startup, so this was a planned loss.

One of the most dramatic indicators of our improved efficiency in 2014 is the substantial decline in our consumption of cash.

In 2014, we spent $1.5 million in cash. This was a planned burn, and is actually very impressive for a startup. In fact, we are intentionally increasing our burn, so we don't expect EBITDA and cash burn to look as good in 2015! Hopefully, though, you will see that revenue growth rate increase.

Let's check in on some other Moz KPIs:

At the end of 2014, we reported a little over 27,000 Pro users. When billing system issues hit in Q1 2015, we discovered some weird under- and over-reporting, so the number of subscribers was adjusted down by about ~450 after we scrubbed a bunch of inactive accounts out of the database. We expect accounts to stabilize and be more reliable now that we've fixed those issues.

We launched Moz Local about a year ago. I'm amazed and thrilled that we were able to end the year managing 27,000 locations for a range of customers. We just recently took our baby steps into the UK, and we've got a bunch of great additional features planned. What an incredible launch year!

We published over 300 posts combined on the Moz Blog and YouMoz. Nearly 20,000 people left comments. Well done, team!

We continue to see good growth across many of our off-site communities, too:

Our content and social efforts are paying off with a 26% year-over-year increase in organic traffic.

The team grew to 149 people last year. We're at ~37% women, which is nowhere near where I want it to be. We have a long way to go before the team reflects the diversity of the communities around us.

Our paid, paid vacation perk is very popular with Mozzers, and why wouldn't it be? Everyone gets $3,000/year to use toward their vacations. In 2014, we spent over $420,000 to help our Mozzers take a break and get connected with matters most.

Last, but certainly not least, Mozzers continue to be generous (the 'G' in TAGFEE) and donate to the charities of their choice. In 2014, Mozzers donated $48k, and Moz added another $72k to increase the impact of their gifts. Combining those two figures, we donated $120k to causes our team members are passionate about. That's an average of $805 per employee!

Mozzers are optimists with initiative. I think that's why they are so generous with their time and money to folks in need. They believe the world can be a better place if we act to change it.

That's a wrap on 2014! A year with many ups and downs. Fortunately, Mozzers don't quit when things get hard. They embrace TAGFEE and lean into the challenge.

Revenue is growing again. We're still operating very efficiently, and TAGFEE is strong. We're heads-down executing on some big projects that customers have been clamoring for. Thank you for sticking with us, and for inspiring us to make marketing better every day.


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How Google May Use Searcher, Usage, & Clickstream Behavior to Impact Rankings - Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

A recent patent from Google suggests a new kind of influence in the rankings that has immense implications for marketers. In today's Whiteboard Friday, Rand discusses what it says, what that means, and adds a twist of his own to get us thinking about where Google might be heading.

For reference, here's a still of this week's whiteboard. Click on it to open a high resolution image in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week let's chat about some things that Google is learning about web searchers and web surfers that may be impacting the rankings.

I was pretty psyched to see a patent a few weeks ago that had been granted actually to Google, so filed a while before that. That patent came from Navneet Panda who, as many in the SEO space may remember, is also the engineer for whom Panda, the Panda Update from Google, is named after. Bill Slawski did a great analysis of the patent on his website, and you can check that out, along with some of the other patent diagrams themselves. Patents can be a little confusing and weird, especially the language, but this one had some surprising clarity to it and some potentially obvious applications for web marketers too.

Deciphering searcher intent

So, in this case, Googlebot here -- I've anthropomorphized him, my Googlebot there, nicely -- is thinking about the queries that are being performed in Google search engine and basically saying, "Huh, if I see lots of people searching for things like 'find email address,' 'email address tool,' 'email finder,' and then I also see a lot of search queries similar to those but with an additional branded element, like 'VoilaNorbert email tool' or 'Norbert email finder' or 'how to find email Norbert,' or even things like 'email site:voilanorbert.com,'" Googlebot might actually say, "Hmm, lots of searchers who look for these kinds of queries seem to be also looking for this particular brand."

You can imagine this in tons and tons of ways. Lots of people searching for restaurants also search for Yelp. Lots of people searching for hotels also add in queries like "Trip Advisor." Lots of people searching for homes to buy also add in Zillow. These brands that essentially get known and combined and perform very well in these non-branded searches, one of the ways that Google might be thinking about that is because they see a lot of branded search that includes the unbranded words around that site.

Google's site quality patent

In Panda's site quality patent -- and Navneet Panda wasn't the only author on this patent, but one of the ones we recognize -- what's described is essentially that this algorithm, well not algorithm, very simplistic equation. I'm sure much more than simplistic than what Google's actually using if they are actually using this. Remember, when it comes to patents, they usually way oversimplify that type of stuff because they don't want to get exactly what they're doing out there in the public. But they have this equation that looks like this: Number of unique searchers for the brand or keyword X -- so essentially, this is kind of a searches, searchers. They're trying to identify only unique quantities of people doing it, looking at things like IP address and device and location and all of that to try and identify just the unique people who are performing this -- divided by the number of unique searches for the non-branded version.

So branded divided by non-branded equals some sort of site quality score for keyword X. If a lot more people are performing a search for "Trip Advisor + California vacations" than are performing searches for just "California vacations," then the site quality score for Trip Advisor when it comes to the keyword "California vacations" might be quite high.

You can imagine that if we take another brand -- let's say a brand that folks are less familiar with, WhereToGoInTheWorld.com -- and there's very, very few searches for that brand plus "California vacations," and there's lots of searches for the unbranded version, the site quality score for WhereToGoInTheWorld.com is going to be much lower. I don't even think that's a real website, but regardless.

Rand's theory

Now, I want to add one more wrinkle on to this. I think one of the things that struck me as being almost obvious but not literally mentioned in this specific patent was my theory that this also applies to clickstream data. You can see this happening obviously already in personalization, personalized search, but I think it might be happening in non-personalized search as well, and that is essentially through Android and through Chrome, which I've drawn these lovely logos just for you. Google knows basically where everyone goes on the web and what everyone does on the web. They see this performance.

So they can look and see the clickstream for a lot of people's process is a searcher goes and searches for "find email address tool," and then they find this resource from Distilled and Distilled mentions Rob Ousbey's account -- I think it was from Rob Ousbey that that original resource came out -- and they follow him and then they follow me and they see that I tweeted about VoilaNorbert. Voila, they make it to VoilaNorbert.com's website, where their search ends. They're no longer looking for this information. They've now found a source that sort of answers their desire, their intent. Google might go, "Huh, you know, why not just rank this? Why rank this one when we could just put this there? Because this seems to be the thing that is answering the searcher's problem. It's taking care of their issue."

So what does this mean for us?

This is tough for marketers. I think both of these, the query formatting and the potential clickstream uses, suggest a world in which building up your brand association and building up the stream of traffic to your website that's solving a problem not just for searchers, but for potential searchers and people with that issue, whether they search or not, is part of SEO. I think that's going to mean that things like branding and things like attracting traffic from other sources, from social, from email, from content, from direct, from offline, and word-of-mouth, that all of those things are going to become part of the SEO equation. If we don't do those things well, in the long term, we might do great SEO, kind of classic, old-school keywords and links and crawl and rankings SEO and miss out on this important piece that's on the rise.

I'm looking forward to some great comments and your theories as well. We'll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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The Biggest Social Media Science Study: What 4.8 Million Tweets Say About the Best Time to Tweet

Imagine removing all guesswork when you schedule your tweets, knowing the times that work for maximum clicks and maximum engagement.

As someone who shares frequently to social media, this info would be fantastic to have! We’re always eager to dig up new research into social media best practices—things like length and frequency and timing.

The timing element, in particular, feels like one where we’d love to dig deeper. And we just so happen to have a host of data on this from the 2 million users who have signed up for Buffer!

With a big hand from our data team, we analyzed over 4.8 million tweets across 10,000 profiles, pulling the stats on how clicks and engagement and timing occur throughout the day and in different time zones. We’d love to share with you what we found!

The best time to tweet: Our 4.8 million-tweet research study Our key learnings

Wow, we learned so much looking at the awesome stats from those who use Buffer! Here were some of the takeaways we came up with. I’d love to hear what catches your eye, too!

Early mornings are the best time to tweet in order to get clicks. Evenings and late at night are the best time, on average, for total engagement with your tweets In some cases, the most popular times to post are opposite of the best times to post. Popular times and best times to tweet differ across time zones. The most popular time to tweet: Noon to 1:00 p.m.

We’ve taken the data from all tweets sent through Buffer to find the most popular times for posting to Twitter. Looking at all tweets sent across all major time zones, here is an overview of the most popular times to tweet.

Noon to 1:00 p.m. local time, on average for each time zone, is the most popular time to tweet The highest volume of tweets occurs between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., peaking between noon and 1:00 p.m. The fewest tweets are sent between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m.

Here’s the chart for the most popular times worldwide, taken from an average of 10 major time zones (the times represent local time).

Here is the graph for the most popular times to tweet in each of the four major U.S. time zones. 

(We normalized the data to account for daylight’s savings in the U.S. as well.)

Here are the charts for the major time zones in Europe and Africa.

(Note: The London (GMT) time zone used to be the default time zone for new Buffer users, so our data for GMT is not as clean as we would like it to be. We’ve omitted any takeaways for GMT from the research results here.)

Here are the charts for the major time zones in Asia and Australia.

It’s interesting to see how the most popular time to tweet varies across the time zones. We’ve shared Buffer’s 10 most popular time zones in the charts above. Here’s a list of each most popular hour for the 10 major time zones.

Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc. (Pacific Time): 9:00 a.m. Denver (Mountain Time): noon Chicago (Central Time): noon New York, Boston, Atlanta, Miami, etc. (Eastern Time): noon Madrid, Rome, Paris, etc. (Central European): 4:00 p.m. Cape Town, Cairo, Helsinki, etc. (Eastern European): 8:00 p.m. Sydney (Australian Eastern): 10:00 p.m. Hong Kong (Hong Kong Time): 8:00 a.m. Tokyo (Japan Time): 2:00 a.m. Shanghai, Taipei, etc. (China Time): noon

For any clarification on this or the other research throughout this article, feel free to leave a comment and we’ll get right back to you.

Takeaways & thoughts:

The most popular time to post could be due to a number of factors: This is when most people have access to Twitter (perhaps at a work computer), this is when online audiences are most likely to be connected (see Burrito Principle), etc. Should you post during the most popular times? That’s one possibility. Also, you may find success posting at non-peak times, when the volume of tweets is lower. If you have a large international audience on Twitter, you may wish to locate the particular part of the world where they’re from, and adjust your schedule accordingly. You can find the times when your audience may be online with tools like Followerwonk and Crowdfire. The best times to tweet to get more clicks

We were excited to dig into the specific metrics for each of these tweets, too, in hopes of coming up with some recommendations and best practices to test out for your Twitter strategy.

First up, the best time to tweet for clicks.

Looking at the data, we found the following trends for maximizing your chance to get more clicks:

Tweets sent between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. earn the most clicks on average The highest number of clicks per tweet occurs between 2:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m., peaking between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. The fewest clicks per tweet happen in the morning (when tweet volume is particularly high), between 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m..

The data in the below chart is the worldwide average, calculated for the local time in each time zone. So the peak at the 2:00 a.m. hour would hold true as the overall top time no matter which time zone you’re in—2:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, New York, Cape Town, Hong Kong, etc.

For the specifics on each of the best time to tweet for clicks in each of the major time zones in Buffer, here’s a breakdown.

Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc. (Pacific Time): 2:00 a.m. Denver (Mountain Time): 7:00 p.m. Chicago (Central Time): 2:00 a.m. New York, Boston, Atlanta, Miami, etc. (Eastern Time): 11:00 p.m. Madrid, Rome, Paris, Berlin, etc. (Central European): 2:00 a.m. Cape Town, Cairo, Istanbul, etc. (Eastern European): 8:00 p.m. Sydney (Australian Eastern): 2:00 a.m. Hong Kong (Hong Kong Time): 5:00 a.m. Shanghai, Taipei, etc. (China Time): noon Tokyo (Japan Time): 8:00 a.m.

Takeaways & thoughts:

Clicks was far and away the largest engagement metric that we tracked in this study (compared to retweets, replies, and favorites). Some of the recommended best times for individual time zones show that non-peak hours are the top time to tweet for clicks. This data may reflect some particularly high-achieving posts—some outliers—that bring up the average when the volume of tweets is lowest. Still, it’d be a great one to test for your profile to see what results you get. One neat thing to keep in mind is that a non-peak hour in, say, Los Angeles may correspond to a peak hour in London or Paris. The worldwide audience is definitely one to consider when finding the best time to tweet. The best times for overall engagement with your tweet

We define engagement as clicks plus retweets, favorites, and replies. When looking at all these interactions together, we found the following trends for maximizing your chance to get the most engagement on your tweets:

Tweets sent between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. earn the most total engagement on average The highest amount of engagement per tweet occurs between 11:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m., peaking between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. The smallest amount of engagement happens during traditional work hours, between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.

Takeaways & thoughts:

The best times to tweet for engagement are quite the inverse of the most popular times to tweet. (The late-night infomercial effect—tweet when fewer people are tweeting—seems to be the case here.) The best times for retweets and favorites on your tweets

Adding together two of the most common engagement metrics, we found some interesting trends for maximizing the retweets and favorites on your tweets, especially for those with a U.S. audience.

Looking at 1.1 million tweets from U.S. Buffer users from January through March 2015, here were some of the notable takeaways we found:

Tweets sent at the 9:00 p.m. hour in the U.S. earn the most retweets and favorites on average The highest number of retweets and favorites occurs between 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m., peaking between 9:00 and 10:00 p.m. The lowest retweet-favorite engagement happens at 3:00 a.m.

(Interesting to note, the takeaways from this data compared to the worldwide engagement data differ slightly for a couple reasons: 1) clicks represent a huge portion of overall engagement, and 2) the worldwide vs. US datasets vary.)

We’d love to make it easy for you to share these results with your audience, your friends, your clients—anyone you think might benefit from them.

>> Download every chart from this post (.zip) <<

The methodology for our research

We studied all tweets ever sent through Buffer—4.8 million tweets since October 2010!

Based on this sample set, we looked at the number of clicks per tweet, favorites per tweet, retweets per tweet, and replies per tweet, in accordance with the time of day that the tweet was posted to Twitter.

Further, we segmented the results according to time zones, based on the assumption that the learnings might be more actionable if they could be specific to exactly where you live and work.

We had an interesting opportunity to consider whether median or average would be the better metric to use for our insights. It turns out that so many tweets in the dataset receive minimal engagement that the median was often zero. For this reason, we chose to display the average.

Over to you: What are your takeaways?

We’re so grateful for the chance to dig into the stats from the many tweets that people choose to share with Buffer. The data is super insightful, both for sharing with others and for impacting our own social media marketing plans!

What did you notice from the stats here?

Did any of the results surprise you or get you thinking about your plans in a different way?

I’d love to hear your take on this! Feel free to share any thoughts at all in the comments!

Image sources: IconFinder, Blurgrounds, Death to the Stock Photo, UnSplash

The post The Biggest Social Media Science Study: What 4.8 Million Tweets Say About the Best Time to Tweet appeared first on Social.

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The Psychology of Selfies: Why We Love Taking and Viewing Photos of Faces

How many photos of you are on your phone right now?

These days, humans take almost 1 trillion photos a year. (To put that into context, that’s more photos every few minutes than in the entire 19th century.)

And lots of these photos are selfies—self-portraits, usually taken with a smartphone. As of this writing, nearly 300 million Instagram photos had been tagged with the selfie label.

We love getting into the “whys” of social media psychology, so in this post I set out to discover why we love taking photos of ourselves—and why we love viewing selfies.

What does “selfie culture” say about the world we’re living in now, and how can viewing photos of others help us make better decisions and even understand one another better? Read on for the full psychology of selfies.

A brief history of selfies: Why we take them

As early as the 15th century, according to Dr. Terri Apter, psychology lecturer at Cambridge University:

 “People who had access to self representations were keen to make use of them. In this way people could control the image projected, and of course the fact that the image was on display marked the importance and status of the person represented.”

So self-portraits are about self-image—how we define ourselves.

They’re also a way to figure out who we are. The “looking-glass self” is a psychological concept that says that how we see ourselves doesn’t come from who we really are, but rather from how we think others see us.

And now that we can A) take a selfie in mere moments, and B) share them with thousands of people online at any time, the impact that others have on our self-value has increased.

The site Everyday Sociology argues that this change has led us to invest more into selfies as part of the work of projecting our identities onto others:

“The more pictures you post of yourself promoting a certain identity—buff, sexy, adventurous, studious, funny, daring, etc.—the more likely it is that others will endorse this identity of you.”

The science of face photos: Why we love looking at others We notice faces first

Human faces have always been particularly effective attention-grabbing mechanisms. Researcher Dr. Owen Churches, from the school of psychology at Flinders University in Adelaide, has studied the neuroscience of face perception for years:

“Most of us pay more attention to faces than we do to anything else,” says Churches. “We know experimentally that people respond differently to faces than they do to other object categories.”

And social media is no exception: Face-tracking studies show that the profile picture or avatar is the first place the eye is drawn to on Facebook and other social media profiles.

On Instagram, pictures with human faces are 38 percent more likely to receive likes and 32 percent more likely to attract comments than photos with no faces.

Faces can guide our gaze

Faces not only compel us, they can drive us to action. Online, we follow the eyes of the people we see on screen.

Looking directly into the camera can help make a direct connection with someone. Looking to the left or right will help guide the reader’s eyes in that direction.

KISSmetrics has done a great job of explaining a bit about this reasearch:

“Human beings have a natural tendency to follow the gaze of others, and we have been coached since birth to follow arrows directing us to where we should be looking/going.”

Viewing faces creates empathy

A final tidbit about why we respond so well to photos of faces: They can help create empathy in us. A study of radiologists added photos of patients into the doctors records like so:

The results showed that seeing photos of patients increased empathy among doctors, and even improved the way they treated patients.

The highs and lows of selfies on social media The high: They can improve self-esteem

It’s become somewhat common to think of those who post selfies as narcissistic or vain, but one great effect of selfies is that they can bolster self-esteem, particularly in women.

In a TODAY/AOL body image survey, 41% of adult women said selfies and other flattering online photos make them “feel more confident (although 46% said that “overall, social media makes me feel more self-conscious about my appearance.”)

For teenage girls, the results were even more empowering: 65% said seeing their selfies on social media boosts their confidence, and 40% of all teens said social media helps “me present my best face to the world.”

The low: They can harm relationships

Over-selfie-ing, however, can be a problem:Research has showed that sharing too many self photographs on social media could possibly damage weaker relationships.

A UK study asked 508 Facebook users to rank how close they felt to friends who also use Facebook. They then compared the answers for each person to how many selfies that person posted.

They found that the more someone posted selfies, the lower they ranked on the intimacy scales of the participants.

Said study author Dr. David Houghton:

“Our research found that those who frequently post photographs on Facebook risk damaging real-life relationships. This is because people, other than very close friends and relatives, don’t seem to relate well to those who constantly share photos of themselves.”

The verdict? It’s all about healthy context

So are selfies great for us or bad for us? It all depends on how—and how often—we turn to them. A great middle ground can be found in Dr. Josie Howard, M.D.’s comments to the website Refinery29:

“It depends on how you use it. If you’re using it as a tool to document feeling good about yourself and you’re just taking mementos of living a great life, that’s fine.”

How to take a better selfie

All in on selfies and want to make sure you’re putting your best face forward? NowSourcing has a nice infographic with some tips; here’s a snippet:

Selfies in marketing: 5 awesome examples

We know social media works great with visuals. We know we love taking photos of ourselves and we love viewing photos of others. So it’s a given that face photos and selfies can have a place in great marketing campaigns.

Brands are harnessing the power of selfies in lots of different ways—from soliciting user-generated content to creating interactive apps and everything in between.

Here’s a look at five great examples. Do they give you any ideas for your own marketing?

1. The 1888 Hotel: A selfie-encouraging space

In Sydney’s 1888 Hotel, selfies aren’t just welcome—they’re very encouraged. The hotel’s website is covered in Instagram photos, and the hotel itself offers a photo-opp-filled tour around the hotel and nearby harbor.

A designated “selfie frame” in the lobby beckons guests to take photos, which they can then see appear on screens near the reception area.

Try it: If you’ve got a physical space and/or a product people might like to be photographed with, tap into our innate selfie urge by setting up a photo booth or designated selfie area, or simply add a prominent sign welcoming users to snap photos. Make sure you provide consistent tagging information so you can gather them later on your site or social media presence.

2. Warby Parker: Get opinions from friends

Warby Parker’s glasses home try-on program is pretty legendary now, and with good reason. Giving customers 5 pairs of glasses to try on and decide between is a genius, organic way to spread word of your brand by simply encouraging people to do what we do naturally—ask our friends for their opinions.

Warby also welcomes users to post selfies on the brand’s own Facebook page for an expert opinion.

Try it: Any product one might ask for advice on (clothes, makeup, and more) could be a great choice to encourage selfies. Think: Before-and-afters, dressing room decisions and more. Bonus: Added social proof with every mention! Another idea for non-physical storefronts is to mail out selfie-encouraging treats, like Google is doing right now in my home state with Google Fiber shirts.

3. Dove: Empowering though user-generated content

Dove is well known for its marketing efforts that focus on empowering messages. The brand even made a short film about selfies. A look at Dove’s Twitter account recently turned up the #loveyourcurls user-generated content prompt on Twitter:

And many women are responding by sharing lovely selfies of their curls:

Try it: Messages that empower the user and make people feel good about themselves can be a natural fit for selfie promotion. You might try following Dove’s lead of providing explicit instructions and specific examples to help users get the message quickly. Also great for a social media photo contest.

4. #museumselfieday: Rallying around a cause

For two years now, museumgoers have shared fun, beautiful and education selfies on #museumSelfieday, a global Twitter celebration that showcases the world’s cultural treasures.

Try it: Non-profits and causes can find lots to love in the idea of rallying around a common theme or hashtag. Similar examples: Uniqlo’s Selfless Selfie campaign, the #nomakeupselfie trend.

5.Ray-Ban: Created a selfie app

Ray-Ban takes selfie marketing to new heights with its own iPhone app, Reflections.

The app allows users to enable both their front and back iPhone cameras at the same time to create an artsy, double-exposed image—glasses optional:

Try it: Creating apps as marketing takes a specific set of skills, making Ray-Ban’s example one of the most challenging to pull off here. Large brands and budgets could give it a try, though, focusing on a high-level vision of your brand’s purpose.

Plenty more uses exist for selfies, from fashion to medicine. Here’s a quick look at a few interesting ones:

What’s your take on selfies?

I’d love to know your thoughts on selfies: Is your phone filled with them, or do you eschew them altogether? Have you used selfies to share the news about a product or service, or participated in a campaign that solicited your image?

As always, I welcome all your thoughts and ideas (and selfies!) in the comments.

The post The Psychology of Selfies: Why We Love Taking and Viewing Photos of Faces appeared first on Social.

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Why You Should Share to Social Media in the Afternoon + More of the Latest Social Media Research

I love to see new stats and research about how to best share to social media.

If it’s research-backed or numbers-driven, sign me up. These actionable tips are what drive a lot of our experiments at Buffer as we’re keen to see if the best advice from these studies meshes with our experience, too.

And there’s a lot of new info to go off of.

I’ve collected 10 of the latest surprising, revealing studies on social media here in this post, with takeaways and insight into social media timing, Instagram sharing, Facebook users, and more. If you’ve seen a recent study worth mentioning, I’d love to hear from you!

1. The peak performance of social sharing Late afternoon to nighttime is the best time to reach people on social

Social traffic substantially underperforms overall traffic from about 5 a.m. to noon, and social substantially overperforms overall traffic from about 3 p.m. until 1 a.m.

Chartbeat reported on the data of the sites it tracks, looking at how social media sharing corresponds to site traffic. The general trend seemed to follow: Traffic and social sharing both increase throughout the early morning, peak midday, then lessen into the evening.

The unique finding here was in the subtle difference in exactly where each metric peaks.

Social traffic outperforms website traffic from 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time to 1:00 a.m.

2. What the average Facebook user looks like The very male, college-educated, heavily IT, somewhat liberal demographic

Only two publishers–BuzzFeed and Yahoo!–have more women than men in their audiences at 51% and 56% respectively.

Only two publishers–Forbes and Wired–exceed a 10% likelihood in their audiences working at management level.

Fractl and BuzzStream collaborated on a study of 20 publishers’s Facebook audiences, looking at the Audience Insights for publishers like The Guardian, Wired, BuzzFeed, Yahoo, Huffington Post, and more.

In the case of these audiences, the results skewed heavily in a few directions:

18 of the 20 publishers had an audience that was more male than female. The majority of active users on these pages has graduated from college. All but one publisher had an audience makeup of more IT workers than the U.S. Facebook average.

Comparisons might be a little tricky to draw between these pages and yours, though the research does point to the value of understanding your audience. My best guess at the demographics of some of these publishers would be that the audience was more female (I was wrong) and perhaps not as IT focused.

3. Instagram vs. Facebook Instagram a more engaged platform than Facebook, Twitter

Instagram leads social platforms for engagement with 2.81% of audiences engaging with a post.

Locowise studied 2,500 Instagram profiles from April 2015 to measure a wide assortment of different engagement metrics and content strategies. One of the big takeaways was how engagement on Instagram far outperforms Facebook and Twitter.

Average engagement per post on Instagram was 2.81%.

On Facebook, engagement was 0.25%.

On Twitter, engagement was 0.21%.

(For Instagram engagement—as you can see from the graph above—the best results still come from photos versus video.)

Other interesting takeaways from the Locowise study include:

Likes account for 96% of all engagements (comments account for the other 3%) Brands post 2.3 times per day to Instagram The largest profiles post 7.24 times per day, the smallest profiles post 1.68 times Average follower growth month-over-month is 1.95%, meaning that if you had 1,000 followers in March, you could expect to gain 19 new followers in April. 4. Interactions and Instagram More interactions happen on Instagram—5 likes or comments for every 100 followers

The average interaction % on Instagram is up to 10 times higher than on Facebook.

Quintly analyzed over 5,000 Instagram accounts (and broke those accounts into buckets of followers, too) to see the current trends in engagement, content type, and strategy. One of the main takeaways from the study: Interactions are amazingly high on Instagram.

Quintly measured Interaction Rate, which is interactions per post divided by number of followers. They found that Instagram’s Interaction Rate was 4.80 interactions per 100 followers. Facebook’s rate is 0.72.

Further, Quintly also shared the average interactions per post for Instagram photos or videos, along with a breakdown of what you might expect at varying follower levels.

5. Where is social media marketing headed? Survey says Twitter, YouTube, & LinkedIn

Social Media Examiner surveyed over 3,700 marketers on their social media strategies, goals, and plans, ending up with some truly fascinating results on where social media marketing may be headed.

A significant 66% of marketers plan on increasing their use of Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

Additional cool findings from the Social Media Examiner survey include:

Marketers are most keen to learn about Facebook Nearly 3 out of every 4 marketers plans to increase video usage Facebook and LinkedIn are the two most important networks for marketers Most marketers aren’t sure their Facebook marketing is effective 6. On reposting content How to get more engagement with a second tweet

We’ve written much before about the case for reposing content, sharing an article more than once on social media. A research team from Cornell investigated this strategy, looking at the effect of wording on sending multiple messages through Twitter.

The researchers developed an algorithm that could successfully predict which variation of the same tweet would receive more retweets. (You can try out the free tool that is based on the algorithm.)

Here are the factors that researchers identified as being helpful for reposted content. (The most significant factors are highlighted in bold.)

Ask people to share – Use words like “RT, Retweet, spread, please” Informativeness helps – Focus on length, nouns, and verbs (and not so much @-mentions or hashtags) Make your language align with both community norms and with your prior messages Mimic news headlines Use positive and/or negative words (both seemed to work equally well) Use third-person singular – He, she, it, and one Generality helps – Use indefinite articles like a, an 7. Twitter images for smaller accounts The 9x increase in retweets just by adding an image

In a huge Twitter analysis by Stone Temple Consulting—over 2 million tweets analyzed for eight different factors, including unique things like domain authority and Followerwonk social authority—the authors discovered a few insightful trends, perhaps none more actionable than the power of tweets with images.

According to Stone Temple’s study, adding an image to your tweet doubles the likelihood that your tweet will receive a retweet or favorite.

And for those with low-level social authority—low follower counts, just getting started on Twitter, or otherwise—adding an image to your tweet generates 5 to 9 times as many retweets and 4 to 12 times as many favorites in total.

From Eric Enge of Stone Temple:

At lower authority levels including an image will get you 5 to 9 times as many Retweets and 4 to 12 times as many favorites than you will if your tweets don’t include an image. Hopefully, you were sitting down when you read that. Note that high authority levels also benefit as well, though for the 90-99 range the gain is relatively modest. For those high authority accounts, people are already hanging on their every word.

8. The top social networks The surprising result at #1, plus the unique spot for Twitter

The Global Web Index’s most recent quarterly report (a survey of more than 40,000 Internet users) looked at social media usage and came out with a couple keen insights.

More Internet users visit YouTube than Facebook. YouTube and Twitter have significantly more visitors than active users. 

So in case you had yet to consider YouTube as a possible channel to meet your audience, there seems to be solid evidence here that your audience is quite familiar and comfortable with hanging out at YouTube. (We’ve got some tips on how to make videos for your brand also, if that’d be interesting for you!)

And as for the drop in active users for YouTube and Twitter, I like to think of this in terms of consumption versus sharing. Someone may be on Twitter to hear the latest news, click some links, see what’s happening—they may still be engaged with your Twitter stream without contributing anything of their own to Twitter.

We covered a series of social media personality types awhile back, and these folks seem to fit well into the lurker category—still a valuable addition to your network, just with their own personal tastes when it comes to being involved.

9. How people spend their time on social Twitter is for news, Facebook is for friends

Another interesting takeaway from the Global Web Index report is in the survey responses about how people spend their time on social media sites. For Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, the report found the following:

The most popular activity on Twitter is reading a news story The most popular activity on Facebook is clicking the “Like” button

Here’s how the rest of the activity breaks down. Note how many of the top Twitter activities deal with reading the news or catching up on what’s been happening whereas many of Facebook’s top activities involve connecting with friends.

10. Make waves by responding quickly 5 in 6 messages that need responses are not answered by brands

Sprout Social regularly shares insights from its data, making particular note about the way that brands and businesses listen and respond on social media. Their 2013 benchmark study showed great room for brands to improve, and Sprout’s followup study in 2014 had many of the same takeaways.

There is great opportunity for you to stand out on social media by simply replying to everyone. 

The data from Sprout Social showed that businesses are learning how to reply quicker to responses (we’ve mentioned before that response expectations on Twitter typically hover under 60 minutes). However, they’re replying to a smaller percentage of the volume of messages they receive.

Response rate: 17% (was 21% one year ago) Response time: 5% improvement from previous year Over to you

Which of these stats stand out to you? 

Is there anything here that seemed particularly surprising or true from your experience? 

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! Feel free to leave any input you might have, it’d be great to hear from you.

Image sources: Pablo, IconFinder, UnSplash

The post Why You Should Share to Social Media in the Afternoon + More of the Latest Social Media Research appeared first on Social.

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Your Daily SEO Fix: Week 4

Posted by Trevor-Klein

This week, we've got the fourth (and second-to-last) installment of our short (< 2-minute) video tutorials that help you all get the most out of Moz's tools. They're each designed to solve a use case that we regularly hear about from Moz community members.

Here's a quick recap of the previous round-ups in case you missed them:

Week 1: Reclaim links using Open Site Explorer, build links using Fresh Web Explorer, and find the best time to tweet using Followerwonk. Week 2: Analyze SERPs using new MozBar features, boost your rankings through on-page optimization, check your anchor text using Open Site Explorer, do keyword research with OSE and the keyword difficulty tool, and discover keyword opportunities in Moz Analytics. Week 3: Compare link metrics in Open Site Explorer, find tweet topics with Followerwonk, create custom reports in Moz Analytics, use Spam Score to identify high-risk links, and get link building opportunities delivered to your inbox.

In this installment, we've got five brand new tutorials:

How to Use Fresh Web Explorer to Build Links How to Analyze Rank Progress for a Given Keyword How to Use the MozBar to Analyze Your Competitors' Site Markup How to Use the Top Pages Report to Find Content Ideas How to Find On-Site Errors with Crawl Test

Hope you enjoy them!

Fix 1: How to Use Fresh Web Explorer to Build Links

If you have unique data or a particularly excellent resource on your site, that content can be a great link magnet. In this Daily SEO Fix, Felicia shows you how to set up alerts in Fresh Web Explorer to track mentions of relevant keyword phrases, find link opportunities, and build links to your content.

.video-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; padding-top: 30px; height: 0; overflow: hidden;}.video-container iframe,.video-container object,.video-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%;}

Fix 2: How to Analyze Rank Progress for a Given Keyword

Moz's Rank Tracker tool retrieves search engine rankings for pages and keywords, storing them for easy comparison later. In this fix, James shows you how to use this helpful tool to track keywords, save time, and improve your rankings.

Fix 3: How to Use the MozBar to Analyze Your Competitors' Site Markup

Schema markup helps search engines better identify what your (and your competitors') website pages are all about and as a result can lead to a boost to rankings. In this Daily SEO Fix, Jordan shows you how to use the MozBar to analyze the schema markup of the competition and optimize your own site and pages for rich snippets.

Fix 4: How to Use the Top Pages Report to Find Content Ideas

With Moz's Top Pages report in Open Site Explorer, you can see the pages on your site (and the competitions' sites!) that are top performers. In this fix, Nick shows you how to use the report to analyze your competitors' content marketing efforts and to inform your own.

Fix 5: How to Find On-Site Errors with Crawl Test

Identifying and understanding any potential errors on your site is crucial to the life of any SEO. In this Daily SEO Fix Sean shows you how to use the Crawl Test tool in Moz Analytics to pull reports and identify any errors on your site.

Looking for more?

We've got more videos in the previous three weeks' round-ups!

Your Daily SEO Fix: Week 1

Your Daily SEO Fix: Week 2

Your Daily SEO Fix: Week 3

Don't have a Pro subscription? No problem. Everything we cover in these Daily SEO Fix videos is available with a free 30-day trial.

Sounds good. Sign me up!

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don't have time to hunt down but want to read!

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60+ Fantastic Email Newsletters to Read and Share

It seems like there’s more great stuff to read today than ever before.

And still, finding the good stuff that’s just right for you or your brand can take a lot of time, according to this survey by Vertical Response:

When you’re sifting through the whole internet, it can help to have a guide. What if could open your inbox every day to find new, relevant, curated articles that you’d be thrilled to share to social media?

We’ve written before about the rise of high-quality niche newsletters, a format that’s flourished over the past few years.

As our choices get more plentiful, diverse experts and fans across a wide spectrum of topics are sharing the best content they discover. This includes our friends at Read This Thing, who curate one fantastic piece of journalism a day.

The Read This Thing team shared with us their giant list of 60+ must-know newsletters in areas including news, tech, arts & entertainment, self-improvement and general interestingness (my personal favorite category).

Read on to discover your next great content curation source!

General news newsletters 1. The Skimm

“theSkimm is the daily e-mail newsletter that gives you everything you need to start your day. We do the reading for you — across subject lines and party lines — and break it down with fresh editorial content.”

2. Politico Playbook

“Veteran journalist Mike Allen combs the Internet, TV and newspapers to cook up a hearty dish of whats happening in politics.”

3. The Daily Beast

All the news you could want.

4. ReadThisThing

One fantastic piece of journalism each weekday. (They’re the ones who made this list)

5. The Daily Water Cooler

“A free, quick, and splendid email newsletter chock-full of news + humor delivered every weekday morning to make sure you’re never left behind in a conversation.”

6. NY Times: What We’re Reading

Get recommendations from New York Times reporters and editors, highlighting great stories from around the web. Twice per week.

7. NextDraft

A quick, entertaining look at the day’s best stories, from the top of the news, to the very bottom.

8. Muck Rack Daily

“A digest of journalism on Twitter, written by journalists, delivered to your inbox daily”

Tech newsletters 9. Mattermark

“A hand-curated newsletter compiled daily to bring you first-person accounts of entrepreneurship, investment and other insightful reflections from the startup ecosystem.”

10. SaaS Weekly

“A weekly email of useful links for people interested in SaaS businesses.”

11. HackerNewsletter

12. Netted

A daily newsletter from the Webbies team introducing you to the best sites, apps and connected products.

13. Real Future

“Every weekday, Fusion’s Alexis Madrigal delivers five tidbits from the past and future. Wearable computers, drones, biohacking, geoengineering, rockets, digital mapping, coercive feedback loops, autonomous everything, representing the Internet in art, synthetic biology, machine logic, weapons, artificial life, the future of work, corporate surveillance, and more.”

14. StartupDigest

“The personalized insider newsletter for all things startup around the world.”

15. Product Hunt

“Get a summary of the best new products, every day.”

16. Ask Leo

“Each week I publish The Ask Leo! Newsletter where you can find more answers tips and tricks to make your technology “just work”!”

17. Charged

“The top tech news, insights, long reads and the best of the internet, delivered to your inbox every weekend.”

Marketing newsletters 18. Buffer

“Actionable social media advice. Delivered daily.”

19. Community.is

“A weekly newsletter by Loyal designed to define, educate & inspire anyone who puts people at the center of their work.”

20. Campaign Monitor

An awesome monthly newsletter with tips and tricks for email.

21. Seth Godin

Interesting thoughts from a famous entrepreneur.

Design newsletters 22. Sidebar

“Sidebar is a list of the 5 best design links of the day. But unlike a regular linkblog, it’s collaborative and manually curated by a couple great editors.”

23. UX Design Weekly

“A hand picked list of the best user experience design links every week. Curated by Kenny Chen and published every Friday.”

24. Smashing Magazine

“We love useful stuff, and we love quality writing, that’s why we send out an editorial email newsletter twice a month with useful tips, tricks and resources for designers and developers — thoroughly collected, written and edited by us exclusively for our readers.”

25. The Pastry Box Project

“Sugar For The Mind:” One thought every day, from people shaping the web.

Photography newsletters 26. Unsplash

Get 10 free, hi-res photos delivered to your inbox every 10 days.

27. Death to the Stock Photo

A fresh pack of creative photos in your inbox each month, with awesome stories to match.

28. Exposure Weekly Selects

Incredible photo essays delivered weekly.

 Sports newsletters 29. The Slurve

“We send the best baseball writing, all the essential news for each team, and a few original insights directly to your inbox each day during the season and frequently in the offseason.”

30. Casual Spectator

“Casual Spectator is a super-simple newsletter about sports. We make following sports easy and help you have better conversations with co-workers, family and friends.”

Food, beverage and events newsletters 31. Good Beer Hunting

A newsletter featuring all the best beer.

32. The Fetch

“We curate the best events, news, cool jobs and must-reads in one place.”
Mostly focused on these cities: New York — San Francisco — Los Angeles — London — Berlin — Melbourne — Sydney — Brisbane — Auckland

33. NoshOn.It

The best recipes and cooking tips delivered to your inbox.

34. Garagiste

Garagiste is a wine store that only sells wine via email newsletter. It’s weird and awesome.

35. Tasting Table

The latest trends in the categories of dining, wine, cocktails, cooking and food travel.

General interesting-ness newsletters 36. Brain Pickings  

“The week’s most unmissable articles across creativity, psychology, art, science, design, philosophy, and other facets of our search for meaning.”

37. Lefsetz Letter

Lefsetz addresses the issues that are at the core of the music business: downloading, copy protection, pricing and the music itself.

38. Improbable Research

“Research that makes people laugh and then think.”

39. Ann Friedman Weekly

“My weekly newsletter is full of great things to read (some but not all of which were written by me) and GIFs and the occasional product endorsement. It arrives in your inbox on Fridays, just when you’ve run out of internet for the week.”

40. Wait But Why

It’s pretty hard to describe Wait But Why, but it’s awesome. Here’s how Fast Company describes it: “sometimes humorous, almost always profound, long-form explainer site”

41. This Is True

“This is True is a weekly e-mail newsletter which reports on bizarre-but-true news items from legitimate news outlets from around the world.”

42. Austin Kleon newsletter

“Every week I send out new art, writing, and interesting links. It’s free. No spam. Unsubscribe whenever you want.”

43. Today in Tabs

“Your daily digest of the worst (and occasionally best) in tabs.” This newsletter has been called as been called “the high school cafeteria of New York media”

44. The Li.st

Rachel Sklar and Glynnis MacNicol send this email a few times each week, spreading the word about awesome things being done and made by women.

45. Now I Know

Dan Lewis’s daily email with one really interesting fact per day.

46. MediaREDEF

Jason Hirschhorn’s MediaREDEF is a curated interest mix of media+tech+pop content via free daily newsletter.

47. Hardly Working

“It’s in my head. I’m sharing it with you. Read, Eat, Covet, Meet. Just one of each; randomness guaranteed.”

48. Very Short List

“VSL is a delightful e-mail that shares cultural gems from a different curator every day.”

49. Milkshake

“A free email dedicated to finding the good in everything — companies, causes, people, places and products giving back and making a difference.”

50. Brain Food

More from the popular blog Farnam Street:“Each Sunday I send out my weekly digest about new posts, books I’m reading, and interesting things I find across the web on subjects like art, history, science, philosophy, psychology, and human misjudgment. It’s basically brain food.”

51. The Ed’s Up

A weekly newsletter of writing and links from science writer Ed Yong, whose blog Not Exactly Rocket Science is hosted by National Geographic.

52. Links I would gchat you if we were friends

A daily newsletter by The Washington Post‘s Caitlin Dewey that rounds up the day’s Internet chatter (often about social media, digital and internet culture, and other fun stuff)

53. Sunday New York Times Digest A weekly roundup of the most interesting links and quotes from the Sunday New York Times. Self-improvement newsletters 54. Greatist

Top health tips, workout ideas, delicious recipes, and more.

55. SealFit

Get super intense life tips from a super intense Navy Seal.

56. Further

“Further is a once-a-week email newsletter that helps you maximize your purpose, performance, and potential. You’ll get the best hand-picked tips, trends, stories, and science that enhance your health, wealth, and wisdom — without the noise and fluff.”

57. Remotive

“A weekly newsletter on Remote Tips & Jobs sent to 7,000+ Remote Workers”

58. Heretic

“A daily newsletter about entrepreneurship, the art of the start and doing the work by Pascal Finette. It’s raw, unfiltered and opinionated.”

59. Think Clearly

A handwritten newsletter! “Think Clearly is a practice for hatching your visions and making them come true. It all begins with a blank page. And coffee.”

60. The Art of Non-Conformity

Chris Guillebeau has visited every country in the world. Now he shares unconventional strategies and stories on life, work, and travel.

61. Life Edited

“Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.”

Share your favorite newsletter!

Thanks to Read This Thing for putting Buffer on their list, and for allowing us to syndicate this handy list!

 What newsletters are missing from this resource? We’d love to hear your favorite and find even more great stuff to read and share!

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Deconstructing the App Store Rankings Formula with a Little Mad Science

Posted by AlexApptentive

This post was originally in YouMoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author's views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of Moz, Inc.

After seeing Rand's "Mad Science Experiments in SEO" presented at last year's MozCon, I was inspired to put on the lab coat and goggles and do a few experiments of my own—not in SEO, but in SEO's up-and-coming younger sister, ASO (app store optimization).

Working with Apptentive to guide enterprise apps and small startup apps alike to increase their discoverability in the app stores, I've learned a thing or two about app store optimization and what goes into an app's ranking. It's been my personal goal for some time now to pull back the curtains on Google and Apple. Yet, the deeper into the rabbit hole I go, the more untested assumptions I leave in my way.

Hence, I thought it was due time to put some longstanding hypotheses through the gauntlet.

As SEOs, we know how much of an impact a single ranking can mean on a SERP. One tiny rank up or down can make all the difference when it comes to your website's traffic—and revenue.

In the world of apps, ranking is just as important when it comes to standing out in a sea of more than 1.3 million apps. Apptentive's recent mobile consumer survey shed a little more light this claim, revealing that nearly half of all mobile app users identified browsing the app store charts and search results (the placement on either of which depends on rankings) as a preferred method for finding new apps in the app stores. Simply put, better rankings mean more downloads and easier discovery.

Like Google and Bing, the two leading app stores (the Apple App Store and Google Play) have a complex and highly guarded algorithms for determining rankings for both keyword-based app store searches and composite top charts.

Unlike SEO, however, very little research and theory has been conducted around what goes into these rankings.

Until now, that is.

Over the course of five studies analyzing various publicly available data points for a cross-section of the top 500 iOS (U.S. Apple App Store) and the top 500 Android (U.S. Google Play) apps, I'll attempt to set the record straight with a little myth-busting around ASO. In the process, I hope to assess and quantify any perceived correlations between app store ranks, ranking volatility, and a few of the factors commonly thought of as influential to an app's ranking.

But first, a little context

Image credit: Josh Tuininga, Apptentive

Both the Apple App Store and Google Play have roughly 1.3 million apps each, and both stores feature a similar breakdown by app category. Apps ranking in the two stores should, theoretically, be on a fairly level playing field in terms of search volume and competition.

Of these apps, nearly two-thirds have not received a single rating and 99% are considered unprofitable. These studies, therefore, single out the rare exceptions to the rule—the top 500 ranked apps in each store.

While neither Apple nor Google have revealed specifics about how they calculate search rankings, it is generally accepted that both app store algorithms factor in:

Average app store rating Rating/review volume Download and install counts Uninstalls (what retention and churn look like for the app) App usage statistics (how engaged an app's users are and how frequently they launch the app) Growth trends weighted toward recency (how daily download counts changed over time and how today's ratings compare to last week's) Keyword density of the app's landing page (Ian did a great job covering this factor in a previous Moz post)

I've simplified this formula to a function highlighting the four elements with sufficient data (or at least proxy data) for our analysis:

Ranking = fn(Rating, Rating Count, Installs, Trends)

Of course, right now, this generalized function doesn't say much. Over the next five studies, however, we'll revisit this function before ultimately attempting to compare the weights of each of these four variables on app store rankings.

(For the purpose of brevity, I'll stop here with the assumptions, but I've gone into far greater depth into how I've reached these conclusions in a 55-page report on app store rankings.)

Now, for the Mad Science.

Study #1: App-les to app-les app store ranking volatility

The first, and most straight forward of the five studies involves tracking daily movement in app store rankings across iOS and Android versions of the same apps to determine any trends of differences between ranking volatility in the two stores.

I went with a small sample of five apps for this study, the only criteria for which were that:

They were all apps I actively use (a criterion for coming up with the five apps but not one that influences rank in the U.S. app stores) They were ranked in the top 500 (but not the top 25, as I assumed app store rankings would be stickier at the top—an assumption I'll test in study #2) They had an almost identical version of the app in both Google Play and the App Store, meaning they should (theoretically) rank similarly They covered a spectrum of app categories

The apps I ultimately chose were Lyft, Venmo, Duolingo, Chase Mobile, and LinkedIn. These five apps represent the travel, finance, education banking, and social networking categories.

Hypothesis

Going into this analysis, I predicted slightly more volatility in Apple App Store rankings, based on two statistics:

Android apps receive significantly more ratings than iOS apps, and thus I assumed the weight of each marginal rating impacted rankings less in Google Play than in the App Store Google Play does not record an average rating exclusive to the current version of an app, meaning ratings are not reset after each update; and thus, I assumed the less volatile Android ratings equated to less volatile Google Play rankings

Both of these assumptions will be tested in later analysis.

Results

Among these five apps, Google Play rankings were, indeed, significantly less volatile than App Store rankings. Among the 35 data points recorded, rankings within Google Play moved by as much as 23 positions/ranks per day while App Store rankings moved up to 89 positions/ranks. The standard deviation of ranking volatility in the App Store was, furthermore, 4.45 times greater than that of Google Play.

Of course, the same apps varied fairly dramatically in their rankings in the two app stores, so I then standardized the ranking volatility in terms of percent change to control for the effect of numeric rank on volatility. When cast in this light, App Store rankings changed by as much as 72% within a 24-hour period while Google Play rankings changed by no more than 9%.

Also of note, daily rankings tended to move in the same direction across the two app stores approximately two-thirds of the time, suggesting that the two stores, and their customers, may have more in common than we think.

Study #2: App store ranking volatility across the top charts

Testing the assumption implicit in standardizing the data in study No. 1, this one was designed to see if app store ranking volatility is correlated with an app's current rank. The sample for this study consisted of the top 500 ranked apps in both Google Play and the App Store, with special attention given to those on both ends of the spectrum (ranks 1–100 and 401–500).

Hypothesis

I anticipated rankings to be more volatile the higher an app is ranked—meaning an app ranked No. 450 should be able to move more ranks in any given day than an app ranked No. 50. This hypothesis is based on the assumption that higher ranked apps have more installs, active users, and ratings, and that it would take a large margin to produce a noticeable shift in any of these factors.

Results

One look at the chart above shows that apps in both stores have increasingly more volatile rankings (based on how many ranks they moved in the last 24 hours) the lower on the list they're ranked.

This is particularly true when comparing either end of the spectrum—with a seemingly straight volatility line among Google Play's Top 100 apps and very few blips within the App Store's Top 100. Compare this section to the lower end, ranks 401–)500, where both stores experience much more turbulence in their rankings. Across the gamut, I found a 24% correlation between rank and ranking volatility in the Play Store and 28% correlation in the App Store.

To put this into perspective, the average app in Google Play's 401–)500 ranks moved 12.1 ranks in the last 24 hours while the average app in the Top 100 moved a mere 1.4 ranks. For the App Store, these numbers were 64.28 and 11.26, making slightly lower-ranked apps more than five times as volatile as the highest ranked apps. (I say slightly as these "lower-ranked" apps are still ranked higher than 99.96% of all apps.)

The relationship between rank and volatility is pretty consistent across the App Store charts, while rank has a much greater impact on volatility at the lower end of Google Play charts (ranks 1-100 have a 35% correlation) than it does at the upper end (ranks 401-500 have a 1% correlation).

Study #3: App store rankings across the stars

The next study looks at the relationship between rank and star ratings to determine any trends that set the top chart apps apart from the rest and explore any ties to app store ranking volatility.

Hypothesis

Ranking = fn(Rating, Rating Count, Installs, Trends)

As discussed in the introduction, this study relates directly to one of the factors commonly accepted as influential to app store rankings: average rating.

Getting started, I hypothesized that higher ranks generally correspond to higher ratings, cementing the role of star ratings in the ranking algorithm.

As far as volatility goes, I did not anticipate average rating to play a role in app store ranking volatility, as I saw no reason for higher rated apps to be less volatile than lower rated apps, or vice versa. Instead, I believed volatility to be tied to rating volume (as we'll explore in our last study).

Results

The chart above plots the top 100 ranked apps in either store with their average rating (both historic and current, for App Store apps). If it looks a little chaotic, it's just one indicator of the complexity of ranking algorithm in Google Play and the App Store.

If our hypothesis was correct, we'd see a downward trend in ratings. We'd expect to see the No. 1 ranked app with a significantly higher rating than the No. 100 ranked app. Yet, in neither store is this the case. Instead, we get a seemingly random plot with no obvious trends that jump off the chart.

A closer examination, in tandem with what we already know about the app stores, reveals two other interesting points:

The average star rating of the top 100 apps is significantly higher than that of the average app. Across the top charts, the average rating of a top 100 Android app was 4.319 and the average top iOS app was 3.935. These ratings are 0.32 and 0.27 points, respectively, above the average rating of all rated apps in either store. The averages across apps in the 401–)500 ranks approximately split the difference between the ratings of the top ranked apps and the ratings of the average app. The rating distribution of top apps in Google Play was considerably more compact than the distribution of top iOS apps. The standard deviation of ratings in the Apple App Store top chart was over 2.5 times greater than that of the Google Play top chart, likely meaning that ratings are more heavily weighted in Google Play's algorithm.

Looking next at the relationship between ratings and app store ranking volatility reveals a -15% correlation that is consistent across both app stores; meaning the higher an app is rated, the less its rank it likely to move in a 24-hour period. The exception to this rule is the Apple App Store's calculation of an app's current rating, for which I did not find a statistically significant correlation.

Study #4: App store rankings across versions

This next study looks at the relationship between the age of an app's current version, its rank and its ranking volatility.

Hypothesis

Ranking = fn(Rating, Rating Count, Installs, Trends)

In alteration of the above function, I'm using the age of a current app's version as a proxy (albeit not a very good one) for trends in app store ratings and app quality over time.

Making the assumptions that (a) apps that are updated more frequently are of higher quality and (b) each new update inspires a new wave of installs and ratings, I'm hypothesizing that the older the age of an app's current version, the lower it will be ranked and the less volatile its rank will be.

Results

The first and possibly most important finding is that apps across the top charts in both Google Play and the App Store are updated remarkably often as compared to the average app.

At the time of conducting the study, the current version of the average iOS app on the top chart was only 28 days old; the current version of the average Android app was 38 days old.

As hypothesized, the age of the current version is negatively correlated with the app's rank, with a 13% correlation in Google Play and a 10% correlation in the App Store.

The next part of the study maps the age of the current app version to its app store ranking volatility, finding that recently updated Android apps have less volatile rankings (correlation: 8.7%) while recently updated iOS apps have more volatile rankings (correlation: -3%).

Study #5: App store rankings across monthly active users

In the final study, I wanted to examine the role of an app's popularity on its ranking. In an ideal world, popularity would be measured by an app's monthly active users (MAUs), but since few mobile app developers have released this information, I've settled for two publicly available proxies: Rating Count and Installs.

Hypothesis

Ranking = fn(Rating, Rating Count, Installs, Trends)

For the same reasons indicated in the second study, I anticipated that more popular apps (e.g., apps with more ratings and more installs) would be higher ranked and less volatile in rank. This, again, takes into consideration that it takes more of a shift to produce a noticeable impact in average rating or any of the other commonly accepted influencers of an app's ranking.

Results

The first finding leaps straight off of the chart above: Android apps have been rated more times than iOS apps, 15.8x more, in fact.

The average app in Google Play's Top 100 had a whopping 3.1 million ratings while the average app in the Apple App Store's Top 100 had 196,000 ratings. In contrast, apps in the 401–)500 ranks (still tremendously successful apps in the 99.96 percentile of all apps) tended to have between one-tenth (Android) and one-fifth (iOS) of the ratings count as that of those apps in the top 100 ranks.

Considering that almost two-thirds of apps don't have a single rating, reaching rating counts this high is a huge feat, and a very strong indicator of the influence of rating count in the app store ranking algorithms.

To even out the playing field a bit and help us visualize any correlation between ratings and rankings (and to give more credit to the still-staggering 196k ratings for the average top ranked iOS app), I've applied a logarithmic scale to the chart above:

From this chart, we can see a correlation between ratings and rankings, such that apps with more ratings tend to rank higher. This equates to a 29% correlation in the App Store and a 40% correlation in Google Play.

Next up, I looked at how ratings count influenced app store ranking volatility, finding that apps with more ratings had less volatile rankings in the Apple App Store (correlation: 17%). No conclusive evidence was found within the Top 100 Google Play apps.

And last but not least, I looked at install counts as an additional proxy for MAUs. (Sadly, this is a statistic only listed in Google Play. so any resulting conclusions are applicable only to Android apps.)

Among the top 100 Android apps, this last study found that installs were heavily correlated with ranks (correlation: -35.5%), meaning that apps with more installs are likely to rank higher in Google Play. Android apps with more installs also tended to have less volatile app store rankings, with a correlation of -16.5%.

Unfortunately, these numbers are slightly skewed as Google Play only provides install counts in broad ranges (e.g., 500k–)1M). For each app, I took the low end of the range, meaning we can likely expect the correlation to be a little stronger since the low end was further away from the midpoint for apps with more installs.

Summary

To make a long post ever so slightly shorter, here are the nuts and bolts unearthed in these five mad science studies in app store optimization:

Across the top charts, Apple App Store rankings are 4.45x more volatile than those of Google Play Rankings become increasingly volatile the lower an app is ranked. This is particularly true across the Apple App Store's top charts. In both stores, higher ranked apps tend to have an app store ratings count that far exceeds that of the average app. Ratings appear to matter more to the Google Play algorithm, especially as the Apple App Store top charts experience a much wider ratings distribution than that of Google Play's top charts. The higher an app is rated, the less volatile its rankings are. The 100 highest ranked apps in either store are updated much more frequently than the average app, and apps with older current versions are correlated with lower ratings. An app's update frequency is negatively correlated with Google Play's ranking volatility but positively correlated with ranking volatility in the App Store. This likely due to how Apple weighs an app's most recent ratings and reviews. The highest ranked Google Play apps receive, on average, 15.8x more ratings than the highest ranked App Store apps. In both stores, apps that fall under the 401–500 ranks receive, on average, 10–20% of the rating volume seen by apps in the top 100. Rating volume and, by extension, installs or MAUs, is perhaps the best indicator of ranks, with a 29–40% correlation between the two.

Revisiting our first (albeit oversimplified) guess at the app stores' ranking algorithm gives us this loosely defined function:

Ranking = fn(Rating, Rating Count, Installs, Trends)

I'd now re-write the function into a formula by weighing each of these four factors, where a, b, c, & d are unknown multipliers, or weights:

Ranking = (Rating * a) + (Rating Count * b) + (Installs * c) + (Trends * d)

These five studies on ASO shed a little more light on these multipliers, showing Rating Count to have the strongest correlation with rank, followed closely by Installs, in either app store.

It's with the other two factors—rating and trends—that the two stores show the greatest discrepancy. I'd hazard a guess to say that the App Store prioritizes growth trends over ratings, given the importance it places on an app's current version and the wide distribution of ratings across the top charts. Google Play, on the other hand, seems to favor ratings, with an unwritten rule that apps just about have to have at least four stars to make the top 100 ranks.

Thus, we conclude our mad science with this final glimpse into what it takes to make the top charts in either store:

Weight of factors in the Apple App Store ranking algorithm

Rating Count > Installs > Trends > Rating

Weight of factors in the Google Play ranking algorithm

Rating Count > Installs > Rating > Trends

Again, we're oversimplifying for the sake of keeping this post to a mere 3,000 words, but additional factors including keyword density and in-app engagement statistics continue to be strong indicators of ranks. They simply lie outside the scope of these studies.

I hope you found this deep-dive both helpful and interesting. Moving forward, I also hope to see ASOs conducting the same experiments that have brought SEO to the center stage, and encourage you to enhance or refute these findings with your own ASO mad science experiments.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below, and let's deconstruct the ranking formula together, one experiment at a time.


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The Power of Research: How We Grew The Canva Blog’s Traffic By 226.47%

What do you do when you start a blog?

Most people jump right in. They choose a theme, browse around for awesome plugins, set up Mailchimp and do all this other… stuff, before they sit down and think it through.

I’ve learned that when you do this, it’s easy to end up with a really pretty blog….with very few readers.

When I joined Canva a couple months ago,instead of writing a word or improving the blog’s design, I spent the first month simply building a strategy.

Today ...

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Should I Rebrand and Redirect My Site? Should I Consolidate Multiple Sites/Brands? - Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Making changes to your brand is a huge step, and while it's sometimes the best path forward, it isn't one to be taken lightly. In today's Whiteboard Friday, Rand offers some guidance to marketers who are wondering whether a rebrand/redirect is right for them, and also those who are considering consolidating multiple sites under a single brand.

For reference, here's a still of this week's whiteboard. Click on it to open a high resolution image in a new tab!

To rebrand, or not to rebrand, that is the question

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Today we're going to chat a little bit about whether you should rebrand and consider redirecting your existing website or websites and whether you should potentially consolidate multiple websites and brands that you may be running.

So we've talked before about redirection moves best practices. We've also talked about the splitting of link equity and domain authority and those kinds of things. But one of the questions that people have is, "Gosh, you know I have a website today and given the moves that Google has been making, that the social media world has been making, that content marketing has been making, I'm wondering whether I should potentially rebrand my site." Lots of people bought domains back in the day that were exact match domains or partial match domains or that they thought reflected a move of the web toward or away from less brand-centric stuff and toward more keyword matching, topic matching, intent matching kinds of things.

Maybe you're reconsidering those moves and you want to know, "Hey, should I be thinking about making a change now?" That's what I'm here to answer. So this question to rebrand or not to re, it is tough because you know that when you do that rebrand, you will almost certainly take a traffic hit, and SEO is one of the biggest places where people typically take that traffic hit.

Moz previously was at SEOmoz.org and moved to moz.com. We saw a dip in our traffic over about 3 to 4 months before it fully recovered, and I would say that dip was between 15% and 25% of our search traffic, depending on week to week. I'll link to a list of metrics that I put on my personal blog, Moz.com/rand, so that you can check those out if you'd like to see them. But it was a short recovery time for us.

One of the questions that people always have is, "Well wait, did you lose rankings for SEO since SEO used to be in your domain name?" The answer is no. In fact, six months after the move, we were ranking higher for SEO related terms and phrases.

Scenario A: Rebranding or redirecting scifitoysandgames.com

So let's imagine that today you are running SciFiToysAndGames.com, which is right on the borderline. In my opinion, that's right on the borderline of barely tolerable. Like it could be brandable, but it's not great. I don't love the "sci-fi" in here, partially because of how the Syfy channel, the entity that broadcasts stuff on television has chosen to delineate their spelling, sci-fi can be misinterpreted as to how it's spelled. I don't love having to have "and" in a domain name. This is long. All sorts of stuff.

Let's say you also own StarToys.com, but you haven't used it. Previously StarToys.com has been redirecting to SciFiToysAndGames.com, and you're thinking, "Well, man, is it the right time to make this move? Should I make this change now? Should I wait for the future?"

How memorable or amplifiable is your current brand?

Well, these are the questions that I would urge you to consider. How memorable and amplifiable is your current brand? That's something that if you are recognizing like, "Hey I think our brand name, in fact, is holding us back in search results and social media amplification, press, in blog mentions, in journalist links and these kinds of things," well, that's something serious to think about. Word of mouth too.

Will you maintain your current brand name long term?

So if you know that sometime in the next two, three, four, or five years you do want to move to StarToys, I would actually strongly urge you to do that right now, because the longer you wait, the longer it will take to build up the signals around the new domain and the more pain you'll potentially incur by having to keep branding this and working on this old brand name. So I would strongly urge you, if you know you're going to make the move eventually, make it today. Take the pain now, rather than more pain later.

Can or have you tested brand preference with your target audience?

I would urge you to find two different groups, one who are loyal customers today, people who know SciFiToysAndGames.com and have used it, and two, people who are potential customers, but aren't yet familiar with it.

You don't need to do big sample-sizes. If you can get 5, 10, or 15 people either in a room or talk to them in person, you can try some web surveys, you can try using some social media ads like things on Facebook. I've seen some companies do some testing around this. Even buying potential PPC ads and seeing how click-through rates perform and sentiment and those kinds of things, that is a great way to help validate your ideas, especially if you're forced to bring data to a table by executives or other stakeholders.

How much traffic would you need in one year to justify a URL move?

The last thing I think about is imagine, and I want you to either imagine or even model this out, mathematically model it out. If your traffic growth rate -- so let's say you're growing at 10% year-over-year right now -- if that improved 1%, 5%, or 10% annually with a new brand name, would you make the move? So knowing that you might take a short-term hit, but then that your growth rate would be incrementally higher in years to come, how big would that growth rate need to be?

I would say that, in general, if I were thinking about these two domains, granted this is a hard case because you don't know exactly how much more brandable or word-of-mouth-able or amplifiable your new one might be compared to your existing one. Well, gosh, my general thing here is if you think that's going to be a substantive percentage, say 5% plus, almost always it's worth it, because compound growth rate over a number of years will mean that you're winning big time. Remember that that growth rate is different that raw growth. If you can incrementally increase your growth rate, you get tremendously more traffic when you look back two, three, four, or five years later.

Where does your current and future URL live on the domain/brand name spectrum?

I also made this domain name, brand name spectrum, because I wanted to try and visualize crappiness of domain name, brand name to really good domain name, brand name. I wanted to give some examples and then extract out some elements so that maybe you can start to build on these things thematically as you're considering your own domains.

So from awful, we go to tolerable, good, and great. So Science-Fi-Toys.net is obviously terrible. I've taken a contraction of the name and the actual one. It's got a .net. It's using hyphens. It's infinitely unmemorable up to what I think is tolerable -- SciFiToysAndGames.com. It's long. There are some questions about how type-in-able it is, how easy it is to type in. SciFiToys.com, which that's pretty good. SciFiToys, relatively short, concise. It still has the "sci-fi" in there, but it's a .com. We're getting better. All the way up to, I really love the name, StarToys. I think it's very brandable, very memorable. It's concise. It's easy to remember and type in. It has positive associations probably with most science fiction toy buyers who are familiar with at least "Star Wars" or "Star Trek." It's cool. It has some astronomy connotations too. Just a lot of good stuff going on with that domain name.

Then, another one, Region-Data-API.com. That sucks. NeighborhoodInfo.com. Okay, at least I know what it is. Neighborhood is a really hard name to type because it is very hard for many people to spell and remember. It's long. I don't totally love it. I don't love the "info" connotation, which is generic-y.

DistrictData.com has a nice, alliterative ring to it. But maybe we could do even better and actually there is a company, WalkScore.com, which I think is wonderfully brandable and memorable and really describes what it is without being too in your face about the generic brand of we have regional data about places.

What if you're doing mobile apps? BestAndroidApps.com. You might say, "Why is that in awful?" The answer is two things. One, it's the length of the domain name and then the fact that you're actually using someone else's trademark in your name, which can be really risky. Especially if you start blowing up, getting big, Google might go and say, "Oh, do you have Android in your domain name? We'll take that please. Thank you very much."

BestApps.io, in the tech world, it's very popular to use domains like .io or .ly. Unfortunately, I think once you venture outside of the high tech world, it's really tough to get people to remember that that is a domain name. If you put up a billboard that says "BestApps.com," a majority of people will go, "Oh, that's a website." But if you use .io, .ly, or one of the new domain names, .ninja, a lot of people won't even know to connect that up with, "Oh, they mean an Internet website that I can type into my browser or look for."

So we have to remember that we sometimes live in a bubble. Outside of that bubble are a lot of people who, if it's not .com, questionable as to whether they're even going to know what it is. Remember outside of the U.S., country code domain names work equally well -- .co.uk, .ca, .co.za, wherever you are.

InstallThis.com. Now we're getting better. Memorable, clear. Then all the way up to, I really like the name AppCritic.com. I have positive associations with like, "Oh year, restaurant critics, food critics, and movie critics, and this is an app critic. Great, that's very cool."

What are the things that are in here? Well, stuff at this end of the spectrum tends to be generic, forgettable, hard to type in. It's long, brand-infringing, danger, danger, and sketchy sounding. It's hard to quantify what sketchy sounding is, but you know it when you see it. When you're reviewing domain names, you're looking for links, you're looking at things in the SERPs, you're like, "Hmm, I don't know about this one." Having that sixth sense is something that we all develop over time, so sketchy sounding not quite as scientific as I might want for a description, but powerful.

On this end of the spectrum though, domain names and brand names tend to be unique, memorable, short. They use .com. Unfortunately, still the gold standard. Easy to type in, pronounceable. That's a powerful thing too, especially because of word of mouth. We suffered with that for a long time with SEOmoz because many people saw it and thought, "Oh, ShowMoz, COMoz, SeeMoz." It sucked. Have positive associations, like StarToys or WalkScore or AppCritic. They have these positive, pre-built-in associations psychologically that suggest something brandable.

Scenario B: Consolidating two sites

Scenario B, and then we'll get to the end, but scenario B is the question like, "Should I consolidate?" Let's say I'm running both of these today. Or more realistic and many times I see people like this, you're running AppCritic.com and StarToys.com, and you think, "Boy, these are pretty separate." But then you keep finding overlap between them. Your content tends to overlap, the audience tends to overlap. I find this with many, many folks who run multiple domains.

How much audience and content overlap is there?

So we've got to consider a few things. First off, that audience and content overlap. If you've got StarToys and AppCritic and the overlap is very thin, just that little, tiny piece in the middle there. The content doesn't overlap much, the audience doesn't overlap much. It probably doesn't make that much sense.

But what if you're finding like, "Gosh, man, we're writing more and more about apps and tech and mobile and web stuff on StarToys, and we're writing more and more about other kinds of geeky, fun things on AppCritic. Slowly it feels like these audiences are merging." Well, now you might want to consider that consolidation.

Is there potential for separate sales or exits?

Second point of consideration, the potential for separate exits or sales. So if you know that you're going to sell AppCritic.com to someone in the future and you want to make sure that's separate from StarToys, you should keep them separate. If you think to yourself, "Gosh, I'd never sell one without the other. They're really part of the same company, brand, effort," well, I'd really consider that consolidation.

Will you dilute marketing or branding efforts?

Last point of positive consideration is dilution of marketing and branding efforts. Remember that you're going to be working on marketing. You're going to be working on branding. You're going to be working on growing traffic to these. When you split your efforts, unless you have two relatively large, separate teams, this is very, very hard to do at the same rate that it could be done if you combined those efforts. So another big point of consideration. That compound growth rate that we talked about, that's another big consideration with this.

Is the topical focus out of context?

What I don't recommend you consider and what has been unfortunately considered, by a lot of folks in the SEO-centric world in the past, is topical focus of the content. I actually am crossing this out. Not a big consideration. You might say to yourself, "But Rand, we talked about previously on Whiteboard Friday how I can have topical authority around toys and games that are related to science fiction stuff, and I can have topical authority related to mobile apps."

My answer is if the content overlap is strong and the audience overlap is strong, you can do both on one domain. You can see many, many examples of this across the web, Moz being a great example where we talk about startups and technology and sometimes venture capital and team building and broad marketing and paid search marketing and organic search marketing and just a ton of topics, but all serving the same audience and content. Because that overlap is strong, we can be an authority in all of these realms. Same goes for any time you're considering these things.

All right everyone, hope you've enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. I look forward to some great comments, and we'll see you again next week. take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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How Much Has Link Building Changed in Recent Years?

Posted by Paddy_Moogan

I get asked this question a lot. It's mainly asked by people who are considering buying my link building book and want to know whether it's still up to date. This is understandable given that the first edition was published in February 2013 and our industry has a deserved reputation for always changing.

I find myself giving the same answer, even though I've been asked it probably dozens of times in the last two years—"not that much". I don't think this is solely due to the book itself standing the test of time, although I'll happily take a bit of credit for that :) I think it's more a sign of our industry as a whole not changing as much as we'd like to think.

I started to question myself and if I was right and honestly, it's one of the reasons it has taken me over two years to release the second edition of the book.

So I posed this question to a group of friends not so long ago, some via email and some via a Facebook group. I was expecting to be called out by many of them because my position was that in reality, it hasn't actually changed that much. The thing is, many of them agreed and the conversations ended with a pretty long thread with lots of insights. In this post, I'd like to share some of them, share what my position is and talk about what actually has changed.

My personal view

Link building hasn't changed as much we think it has.

The core principles of link building haven't changed. The signals around link building have changed, but mainly around new machine learning developments that have indirectly affected what we do. One thing that has definitely changed is the mindset of SEOs (and now clients) towards link building.

I think the last big change to link building came in April 2012 when Penguin rolled out. This genuinely did change our industry and put to bed a few techniques that should never have worked so well in the first place.

Since then, we've seen some things change, but the core principles haven't changed if you want to build a business that will be around for years to come and not run the risk of being hit by a link related Google update. For me, these principles are quite simple:

You need to deserve links - either an asset you create or your product You need to put this asset in front of a relevant audience who have the ability to share it You need consistency - one new asset every year is unlikely to cut it Anything that scales is at risk

For me, the move towards user data driving search results + machine learning has been the biggest change we've seen in recent years and it's still going.

Let's dive a bit deeper into all of this and I'll talk about how this relates to link building.

The typical mindset for building links has changed

I think that most SEOs are coming round to the idea that you can't get away with building low quality links any more, not if you want to build a sustainable, long-term business. Spammy link building still works in the short-term and I think it always will, but it's much harder than it used to be to sustain websites that are built on spam. The approach is more "churn and burn" and spammers are happy to churn through lots of domains and just make a small profit on each one before moving onto another.

For everyone else, it's all about the long-term and not putting client websites at risk.

This has led to many SEOs embracing different forms of link building and generally starting to use content as an asset when it comes to attracting links. A big part of me feels that it was actually Penguin in 2012 that drove the rise of content marketing amongst SEOs, but that's a post for another day…! For today though, this goes some way towards explain the trend we see below.

Slowly but surely, I'm seeing clients come to my company already knowing that low quality link building isn't what they want. It's taken a few years after Penguin for it to filter down to client / business owner level, but it's definitely happening. This is a good thing but unfortunately, the main reason for this is that most of them have been burnt in the past by SEO companies who have built low quality links without giving thought to building good quality ones too.

I have no doubt that it's this change in mindset which has led to trends like this:

The thing is, I don't think this was by choice.

Let's be honest. A lot of us used the kind of link building tactics that Google no longer like because they worked. I don't think many SEOs were under the illusion that it was genuinely high quality stuff, but it worked and it was far less risky to do than it is today. Unless you were super-spammy, the low-quality links just worked.

Fast forward to a post-Penguin world, things are far more risky. For me, it's because of this that we see the trends like the above. As an industry, we had the easiest link building methods taken away from us and we're left with fewer options. One of the main options is content marketing which, if you do it right, can lead to good quality links and importantly, the types of links you won't be removing in the future. Get it wrong and you'll lose budget and lose the trust if your boss or client in the power of content when it comes to link building.

There are still plenty of other methods to build links and sometimes we can forget this. Just look at this epic list from Jon Cooper. Even with this many tactics still available to us, it's hard work. Way harder than it used to be.

My summary here is that as an industry, our mindset has shifted but it certainly wasn't a voluntary shift. If the tactics that Penguin targeted still worked today, we'd still be using them.

A few other opinions...

"I definitely think too many people want the next easy win. As someone surfing the edge of what Google is bringing our way, here's my general take—SEO, in broad strokes, is changing a lot, *but* any given change is more and more niche and impacts fewer people. What we're seeing isn't radical, sweeping changes that impact everyone, but a sort of modularization of SEO, where we each have to be aware of what impacts our given industries, verticals, etc."

- Dr. Pete

"I don't feel that techniques for acquiring links have changed that much. You can either earn them through content and outreach or you can just buy them. What has changed is the awareness of "link building" outside of the SEO community. This makes link building / content marketing much harder when pitching to journalists and even more difficult when pitching to bloggers.

"Link building has to be more integrated with other channels and struggles to work in its own environment unless supported by brand, PR and social. Having other channels supporting your link development efforts also creates greater search signals and more opportunity to reach a bigger audience which will drive a greater ROI."

- Carl Hendy

"SEO has grown up in terms of more mature staff and SEOs becoming more ingrained into businesses so there is a smarter (less pressure) approach. At the same time, SEO has become more integrated into marketing and has made marketing teams and decision makers more intelligent in strategies and not pushing for the quick win. I'm also seeing that companies who used to rely on SEO and building links have gone through IPOs and the need to build 1000s of links per quarter has rightly reduced."

- Danny Denhard

Signals that surround link building have changed

There is no question about this one in my mind. I actually wrote about this last year in my previous blog post where I talked about signals such as anchor text and deep links changing over time.

Many of the people I asked felt the same, here are some quotes from them, split out by the types of signal.

Domain level link metrics

"I think domain level links have become increasingly important compared with page level factors, i.e. you can get a whole site ranking well off the back of one insanely strong page, even with sub-optimal PageRank flow from that page to the rest of the site."

- Phil Nottingham

I'd agree with Phil here and this is what I was getting at in my previous post on how I feel "deep links" will matter less over time. It's not just about domain level links here, it's just as much about the additional signals available for Google to use (more on that later).

Anchor text

I've never liked anchor text as a link signal. I mean, who actually uses exact match commercial keywords as anchor text on the web?

SEOs. :)

Sure there will be natural links like this, but honestly, I struggle with the idea that it took Google so long to start turning down the dial on commercial anchor text as a ranking signal. They are starting to turn it down though, slowly but surely. Don't get me wrong, it still matters and it still works. But like pure link spam, the barrier is a lot more lower now in terms what of constitutes too much.

Rand feels that they matter more than we'd expect and I'd mostly agree with this statement:

"Exact match anchor text links still have more power than you'd expect—I think Google still hasn't perfectly sorted what is "brand" or "branded query" from generics (i.e. they want to start ranking a new startup like meldhome.com for "Meld" if the site/brand gets popular, but they can't quite tell the difference between that and https://moz.com/learn/seo/redirection getting a few manipulative links that say "redirect")"

- Rand Fishkin

What I do struggle with though, is that Google still haven't figured this out and that short-term, commercial anchor text spam is still so effective. Even for a short burst of time.

"I don't think link building as a concept has changed loads—but I think links as a signal have, mainly because of filters and penalties but I don't see anywhere near the same level of impact from coverage anymore, even against 18 months ago."

- Paul Rogers

New signals have been introduced

It isn't just about established signals changing though, there are new signals too and I personally feel that this is where we've seen the most change in Google algorithms in recent years—going all the way back to Panda in 2011.

With Panda, we saw a new level of machine learning where it almost felt like Google had found a way of incorporating human reaction / feelings into their algorithms. They could then run this against a website and answer questions like the ones included in this post. Things such as:

"Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?" "Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?" "Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?"

It is a touch scary that Google was able to run machine learning against answers to questions like this and write an algorithm to predict the answers for any given page on the web. They have though and this was four years ago now.

Since then, they've made various moves to utilize machine learning and AI to build out new products and improve their search results. For me, this was one of the biggest and went pretty unnoticed by our industry. Well, until Hummingbird came along I feel pretty sure that we have Ray Kurzweil to thank for at least some of that.

"There seems to be more weight on theme/topic related to sites, though it's hard to tell if this is mostly link based or more user/usage data based. Google is doing a good job of ranking sites and pages that don't earn the most links but do provide the most relevant/best answer. I have a feeling they use some combination of signals to say "people who perform searches like this seem to eventually wind up on this website—let's rank it." One of my favorite examples is the Audubon Society ranking for all sorts of birding-related searches with very poor keyword targeting, not great links, etc. I think user behavior patterns are stronger in the algo than they've ever been."

- Rand Fishkin

Leading on from what Rand has said, it's becoming more and more common to see search results that just don't make sense if you look at the link metrics—but are a good result.

For me, the move towards user data driving search results + machine learning advanced has been the biggest change we've seen in recent years and it's still going.

Edit: since drafting this post, Tom Anthony released this excellent blog post on his views on the future of search and the shift to data-driven results. I'd recommend reading that as it approaches this whole area from a different perspective and I feel that an off-shoot of what Tom is talking about is the impact on link building.

You may be asking at this point, what does machine learning have to do with link building?

Everything. Because as strong as links are as a ranking signal, Google want more signals and user signals are far, far harder to manipulate than established link signals. Yes it can be done—I've seen it happen. There have even been a few public tests done. But it's very hard to scale and I'd venture a guess that only the top 1% of spammers are capable of doing it, let alone maintaining it for a long period of time. When I think about the process for manipulation here, I actually think we go a step beyond spammers towards hackers and more cut and dry illegal activity.

For link building, this means that traditional methods of manipulating signals are going to become less and less effective as these user signals become stronger. For us as link builders, it means we can't keep searching for that silver bullet or the next method of scaling link building just for an easy win. The fact is that scalable link building is always going to be at risk from penalization from Google—I don't really want to live a life where I'm always worried about my clients being hit by the next update. Even if Google doesn't catch up with a certain method, machine learning and user data mean that these methods may naturally become less effective and cost efficient over time.

There are of course other things such as social signals that have come into play. I certainly don't feel like these are a strong ranking factor yet, but with deals like this one between Google and Twitter being signed, I wouldn't be surprised if that ever-growing dataset is used at some point in organic results. The one advantage that Twitter has over Google is it's breaking news freshness. Twitter is still way quicker at breaking news than Google is—140 characters in a tweet is far quicker than Google News! Google know this which is why I feel they've pulled this partnership back into existence after a couple of years apart.

There is another important point to remember here and it's nicely summarised by Dr. Pete:

"At the same time, as new signals are introduced, these are layers not replacements. People hear social signals or user signals or authorship and want it to be the link-killer, because they already fucked up link-building, but these are just layers on top of on-page and links and all of the other layers. As each layer is added, it can verify the layers that came before it and what you need isn't the magic signal but a combination of signals that generally matches what Google expects to see from real, strong entities. So, links still matter, but they matter in concert with other things, which basically means it's getting more complicated and, frankly, a bit harder. Of course, on one wants to hear that."

- Dr. Pete

The core principles have not changed

This is the crux of everything for me. With all the changes listed above, the key is that the core principles around link building haven't changed. I could even argue that Penguin didn't change the core principles because the techniques that Penguin targeted should never have worked in the first place. I won't argue this too much though because even Google advised website owners to build directory links at one time.

You need an asset

You need to give someone a reason to link to you. Many won't do it out of the goodness of their heart! One of the most effective ways to do this is to develop a content asset and use this as your reason to make people care. Once you've made someone care, they're more likely to share the content or link to it from somewhere.

You need to promote that asset to the right audience

I really dislike the stance that some marketers take when it comes to content promotion—build great content and links will come.

No. Sorry but for the vast majority of us, that's simply not true. The exceptions are people that sky dive from space or have huge existing audiences to leverage.

You simply have to spend time promoting your content or your asset for it to get shares and links. It is hard work and sometimes you can spend a long time on it and get little return, but it's important to keep working at until you're at a point where you have two things:

A big enough audience where you can almost guarantee at least some traffic to your new content along with some shares Enough strong relationships with relevant websites who you can speak to when new content is published and stand a good chance of them linking to it

Getting to this point is hard—but that's kind of the point. There are various hacks you can use along the way but it will take time to get right.

You need consistency

Leading on from the previous point. It takes time and hard work to get links to your content—the types of links that stand the test of time and you're not going to be removing in 12 months time anyway! This means that you need to keep pushing content out and getting better each and every time. This isn't to say you should just churn content out for the sake of it, far from it. I am saying that with each piece of content you create, you will learn to do at least one thing better the next time. Try to give yourself the leverage to do this.

Anything scalable is at risk

Scalable link building is exactly what Google has been trying to crack down on for the last few years. Penguin was the biggest move and hit some of the most scalable tactics we had at our disposal. When you scale something, you often lose some level of quality, which is exactly what Google doesn't want when it comes to links. If you're still relying on tactics that could fall into the scalable category, I think you need to be very careful and just look at the trend in the types of links Google has been penalizing to understand why.

The part Google plays in this

To finish up, I want to briefly talk about the part that Google plays in all of this and shaping the future they want for the web.

I've always tried to steer clear of arguments involving the idea that Google is actively pushing FUD into the community. I've preferred to concentrate more on things I can actually influence and change with my clients rather than what Google is telling us all to do.

However, for the purposes of this post, I want to talk about it.

"General paranoia has increased. My bet is there are some companies out there carrying out zero specific linkbuilding activity through worry."

- Dan Barker

Dan's point is a very fair one and just a day or two after reading this in an email, I came across a page related to a client's target audience that said:

"We are not publishing guest posts on SITE NAME any more. All previous guest posts are now deleted. For more information, see www.mattcutts.com/blog/guest-blogging/".

I've reworded this as to not reveal the name of the site, but you get the point.

This is silly. Honestly, so silly. They are a good site, publish good content, and had good editorial standards. Yet they have ignored all of their own policies, hard work, and objectives to follow a blog post from Matt. I'm 100% confident that it wasn't sites like this one that Matt was talking about in this blog post.

This is, of course, from the publishers' angle rather than the link builders' angle, but it does go to show the effect that statements from Google can have. Google know this so it does make sense for them to push out messages that make their jobs easier and suit their own objectives—why wouldn't they? In a similar way, what did they do when they were struggling to classify at scale which links are bad vs. good and they didn't have a big enough web spam team? They got us to do it for them :)

I'm mostly joking here, but you see the point.

The most recent infamous mobilegeddon update, discussed here by Dr. Pete is another example of Google pushing out messages that ultimately scared a lot of people into action. Although to be fair, I think that despite the apparent small impact so far, the broad message from Google is a very serious one.

Because of this, I think we need to remember that Google does have their own agenda and many shareholders to keep happy. I'm not in the camp of believing everything that Google puts out is FUD, but I'm much more sensitive and questioning of the messages now than I've ever been.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your feedback and thoughts in the comments.


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We Tried All the Best Pinterest Marketing Tips. Here’s What Worked.

Is your brand—personal or professional—on Pinterest?

Seventy million people are, with a large number of those being bloggers, companies, brands, and businesses. The opportunities to expand your reach and meet your audience are many on Pinterest, and they come in many unique ways. Though falling under the umbrella of social media marketing, Pinterest has its own special notes and best practices that help make it an extremely fun, exciting place to test, iterate, and add value to those on the network.

We’re quite new into ...

The post We Tried All the Best Pinterest Marketing Tips. Here’s What Worked. appeared first on Social.

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2 Days After Mobilegeddon: How Far Did the Sky Fall?

Posted by Dr-Pete

Even clinging to the once towering bridge, the only thing Kayce could see was desert. Yesterday, San Francisco hummed with life, but now there was nothing but the hot hiss of the wind. Google’s Mobilegeddon blew out from Mountain View like Death’s last exhale, and for the first time since she regained consciousness, Kayce wondered if she was the last SEO left alive.

We have a penchant for melodrama, and the blogosphere loves a conspiracy, but after weeks of speculation bordering on hysteria, it’s time to see what the data has to say about Google’s Mobile Update. We’re going to do something a little different – this post will be updated periodically as new data comes in. Stay tuned to this post/URL.

If you watch MozCast, you may be unimpressed with this particular apocalypse:

Temperatures hit 66.1°F on the first official day of Google's Mobile Update (the system is tuned to an average of 70°F), and then dropped to 62.1° on day 2. Of course, the problem is that this system only measures desktop temperatures, and as we know, Google's Mobile Update should only impact mobile SERPs. So, we decided to build a MozCast Mobile, that would separately track mobile SERPs (Android, specifically) across the same 10K keyword set. Here's what we saw for the past 8 days on MozCast Mobile:

Across the board, mobile temperatures run a little hotter (which could just be quirks in how we measure). On April 21st, mobile temps were slightly higher, but nothing to write home about. On April 22nd, though, temperatures between desktop and mobile diverged, with a difference of almost 18°. Day 2 is looking a lot more like an algorithm change.

There's another metric we can look at, though. Since building MozCast Mobile, we've also been tracking how many page-1 URLs show the "Mobile-friendly" tag. Presumably, if mobile-friendly results are rewarded, we'll expect that number to jump. Here are the last 8 days of that stat:

Even before April 21st, a surprisingly high number of the URLs we track carried the "Mobile-friendly" tag. We don't have a lot of historical data, but the low point was around 66.3%. The number has steadily creeped up over the past 2 weeks, but it's unclear whether this is an algorithmic change, data being updated by Google, or sites being updated last-minute to be more mobile friendly.

On April 22nd (day 2), the number of sites with "Mobile-friendly" tagging creeped up again, to 72.3%. Again, we can't really determine the cause for this increase, but, one way or another, Google seems to be getting what they wanted.

Tracking a long roll-out

Although Google has repeatedly cited April 21st, they've also said that this update could take days or weeks. If an update is spread out over weeks, can we accurately measure the flux? The short answer is: not very well. We can measure flux over any time-span, but search results naturally change over time – we have no real guidance to tell us what's normal over longer periods.

The "Mobile-friendly" tag tracking is one solution – this should gradually increase – but there's another metric we can look at. If mobile results continue to diverge from desktop results, than the same-day flux between the two sets of results should increase. In other words, mobile results should get increasingly different from desktop results with each day of the roll-out. Here's what that cross-flux looks like:

I'm using raw flux data here, since the temperature conversion isn't calibrated to this data. This comparison is tricky, because many sites use different URLs for mobile vs. desktop. I've stripped out the obvious cases ("m." and "mobile." sub-domains), but that still leaves a lot of variants.

Although April 21st was quiet, we are seeing a decent bump around April 22nd. If this pattern of divergence continues and grows over time, we'll know something is happening. The bump on April 15th is probably an error – Google made a change to In-depth Articles on mobile that created some bad data.

Tracking potential losers

No sites are reporting major hits yet, but by looking at the "Mobile-friendly" tag for the top domains in MozCast Mobile, we can start to piece together who might get hit by the update. Here are the top 20 domains (in our 10K data set) as of April 21st, along with the percent of their ranking URLs that are tagged as mobile-friendly:

en.m.wikipedia.org — 96.3% www.amazon.com — 62.3% m.facebook.com — 100.0% m.yelp.com — 99.9% m.youtube.com — 27.8% twitter.com — 99.8% www.tripadvisor.com — 92.5% www.m.webmd.com — 100.0% mobile.walmart.com — 99.5% www.pinterest.com — 97.5% www.foodnetwork.com — 69.9% www.ebay.com — 97.7% www.mayoclinic.org — 100.0% m.allrecipes.com — 97.1% m.medlineplus.gov — 100.0% www.bestbuy.com — 90.2% www.overstock.com — 98.6% m.target.com — 41.4% www.zillow.com — 99.6% www.irs.gov — 0.0%

I've bolded any site under 75% – the IRS is our big Top 20 trouble spot, although don't expect IRS.gov to stop ranking at tax-time soon. Interestingly, YouTube's mobile site only shows as mobile-friendly about a quarter of the time in our data set – this will be a key case to watch. Note that Google could consider a site mobile-friendly without showing the "Mobile-friendly" tag, but it's the simplest/best proxy we have right now.

Changes beyond rankings

It's important to note that, in many ways, mobile SERPs are already different from desktop SERPs. The most striking difference is design, but that's not the only change. For examples, Google recently announced that they would be dropping domains in mobile display URLs. Here's a sample mobile result from my recent post:

Notice the display URL, which starts with the brand name ("Moz") instead of our domain name. That's followed by a breadcrumb-style URL that uses part of the page name. Expect this to spread, and possibly even hit desktop results in the future.

While Google has said that vertical results wouldn't change with the April 21st update, that statement is a bit misleading when it comes to local results. Google already uses different styles of local pack results for mobile, and those pack results appear in different proportions. For example, here's a local "snack pack" on mobile (Android):

Snack packs appear in only 1.5% of the local rankings we track for MozCast Desktop, but they're nearly 4X as prevalent (6.0%) on MozCast Mobile (for the same keywords and locations). As these new packs become more prevalent, they take away other styles of packs, and create new user behavior. So, to say local is the same just because the core algorithm may be the same is misleading at best.

Finally, mobile adds entirely new entities, like app packs on Android (from a search for "jobs"):

These app packs appear on a full 8.4% of the mobile SERPs we're tracking, including many high-volume keywords. As I noted in my recent post, these app packs also consume page-1 organic slots.

A bit of good news

If you're worried that you may be too late to the mobile game, it appears there is some good news. Google will most likely reprocess new mobile-friendly pages quickly. Just this past few days, Moz redesigned our blog to be mobile friendly. In less than 24 hours, some of our main blog pages were already showing the "Mobile-friendly" tag:

However big this update ultimately ends up being, Google's push toward mobile-first design and their clear public stance on this issue strongly signal that mobile-friendly sites are going to have an advantage over time.

One other bit of good news: we are actively exploring mobile rank-tracking for Moz Analytics. More details are in this Q&A from MA's Product Manager, Jon White.

Stay tuned to this post (same URL) for the next week or two - I'll be updating charts and data as the Mobile Update continues to roll out. If the update really does take days or weeks, we'll do our best to measure the long-term impact and keep you informed.


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