Monday, November 30, 2009

Putting SEO Back in the Spotlight

When I look at SEO and PPC as part of the search marketing mix, I know how important the role of SEO is. I've heard what the experts have said and read the studies that tell me things like how searchers trust organic results more, and that searchers click on organic results more than paid.

Yet despite knowing this, when I look back at my past search marketing plans, 80% of the plan details were focused on PPC, whilst only 20% was on SEO; almost as if it were an after-thought. Maybe it was because it seemed easier to just throw money at paid search. Afterall, it requires less effort, is easier to control (you can turn it on or off in an instant), metrics are often easier to track, and since big media investments are being made then detailed targets and metrics have to be clearly set out up front.

But what about SEO?

The skewed PPC focus had been bothering me for a while. So with web tracking more in order than prior years, I was able to delve into comparative metrics.

When comparing SEO to PPC, I found that in the past year, SEO delivered:
  • 10% more clicks than PPC
  • 4X more key conversions

It was the conversion comparison that struck me most, since these were *big* numbers (a key conversion in this case was where the visitor provided information about themselves and indicated an intention to purchase). Yet this shouldn't have been a big surprise. I guess seeing data specific to your business helps to bring the message closer to home.

So the moral of the story:
  • Don't put SEO in the corner. Organic search delivers, so it should always be at the forefront of search marketing and your plans.

  • Yes, SEO is free where clicks are concerned but it doesn't mean that you don't invest in it. In order to flourish, it needs to be given the necessary time, resource, and commitment it so clearly deserves.

  • And last but not least, get your web tracking in order. It will provide you with the most valuable insight relevant to your business.
For me, at least, it is time to put SEO back into the spotlight.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Social Media 101: Q & A Essentials

On Thursday I took part in a Social Media 101 panel, held by Business Wire where I met lots of interesting people; some new to social media and some more experienced. There were many good questions asked by the audience. Here's a small selection of some of these.

Should businesses use Facebook or Twitter?
There is a view that you should just jump straight in, use the tools, and see where it leads. Personally, I disagree with this approach. The question shouldn't be about whether to use Facebook, or Twitter, or both. Rather, the questions should be:
  • What is it you want to achieve?
  • Can social media help you to achieve this?
  • Are your customers using social media?
  • And if so, what social media channels they are using?
This can help form the beginnings of your social media strategy, from which tactics can be derived. Maybe you do find that Twitter is more suited to your business than Facebook (or vice versa). But maybe you find that blogs and community forums are better at achieving your objectives. At least by approaching it this way, you aren't deep diving into tools or losing sight of what it is you are trying to achieve.

Also check out:
The "5 Knows" of Social Media
There is no Twitter Strategy.

Do you have any tips to get started?
I always recommend to read the book Groundswell, if you haven't already. The POST method (People, Objectives, Strategy and Technologies) in this book will really help to structure your thoughts for your social media strategy.

Also if you don't fully understand the workings of some of the tools, a good way to gain a practical understanding is to simply experiment and try them out personally in order to get familiar with the workings and nuances of them.

How do you separate work from personal?
For myself, it is very easy to keep work and personal separate in the social space. For business, I share content related to the company I work for, that helps solve our customer's challenges, and for personal I focus on my interest in search and social media. There is a very clear line.

However, the line is more blurred for someone who may be a consultant in the social media field. Adding in non-business related information helps to make them and their personal brand more human. But there are ways to make businesses more human also, including a person picture, using conversational language, and having a person update tweets rather than just using it as an RSS feed.

Also check out:
10 Tips for Using Twitter for Business.

How do you get lots of followers on Twitter?
One view to get lots of followers is to follow lots of people in the hope that they follow you back. However, sometimes it's all too easy to get wrapped up in number counting. What is more important is to focus upon quality of followers over quantity. As an example, you may get a high number of responses from a demand generation Email, but if those responses don't convert into a lead or a sale, then the number of responses you get is almost arbitrary.

A better approach is to provide interesting content and make use of popular keywords within your tweets so that you show up in searches. This way you attract followers who are interested in your content, rather than the "I'll follow you and you follow me" approach.

What are common mistakes in Social Media?
Probably the biggest mistake is thinking that you can't make a mistake. I think Charlene Li put it best by saying that at the end of the day, mistakes are inevitable because social media is about relationships, and no relationship is perfect. The key is to learn from your mistakes and learn from them quickly so that you don't do it again.

Another common mistake to make is to believe that you are in control of social media. Just because you have a plan in place doesn't mean that you are in control. People will always be having conversations about you, your brand, your products, your competitors. The best you can do is to ensure that you are listening to these conversations so that if anything negative does get said, then you can address the problem quickly and in a positive way.

Thanks again to Business Wire and @laurentoday for inviting me to take part in the event.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The "5 Knows" of Social Media

I love social media. I can say with complete confidence that I am one of the biggest supporters of social media in my company. But at the same time I am also one of its biggest critics.

When I think about social media, my head explodes with all of the possibilities it brings - being able to listen to our customers, engage with them, help them to solve problems, share solutions. But at the same time I have to face the harsh realities of working in a highly accountable, under-funded and under-staffed marketing organization, during one of the crappiest economies that most people have seen in their lifetime.

This is why, before jumping on the social media bandwagon, it is important to consider and understand the "5 Knows" of Social Media:

1. Know Your Audience
Are your audience using social media within the industry in which you operate? And if so, which social media tools are they using (for business, not pleasure)? If you are a global organization, then how does this differ by region and country?

If you don't know the answers to these questions, then you need to consider how to get this information. Forrester have a useful Social Technographics Tool that can provide general information by gender, age group, and country. Is this enough to provide you with what you need? Or do you need to get more customer-specific data, for example from:
  • Website or Email surveys
  • Customer focus group research
  • Third party research (such as industry magazines)

2. Know What You Want to Achieve
What is it exactly that you want to get out of social media? Do you want to lurk and listen to customers' conversations to gain a better understanding of their challenges and views? Do you want to engage and interact with them on a regular basis? Do you want to embrace their ideas and use these to drive product development? Do you simply want to support existing customers? What about branding vs. demand considerations? Different tools have different levels of reach when it comes to branding, demand and traffic.

Knowing what you want to achieve from the outset will help you best determine which social media tools (of which there are so many) will best accomplish your objectives. It will also help to keep you on the straight and narrow, so that you do things for the right reasons, not just because it's cool and everyone else is doing it.

3. Know What You Can (And Cannot) Track
Showing a direct link between social media and ROI is extremely difficult. So it is important to understand that in most cases, the metrics associated with social media will be softer measures, centered around engagement and awareness. For example:

  • The number of subscribers to your blog
  • The number of retweets and clicks on tweeted links
  • The number of active forum members

4. Know How to Integrate Social Media Within Your Marketing Mix
Social media may be relatively new, but in the grand scheme of things it is just another tool in the marketer's tool box.

More and more companies are finding opportunities to successfully leverage social media with other marketing communications tools. For example, BestBuy's Twelpforce (who provide technical advice to people on Twitter) was supported by a TV advertising campaign, Paid search ads and spawned a ton of PR coverage.

5. Know How Much Time and Resources are Needed
Social media requires a lot of time and commitment, and so to do it properly requires adequate budget and resources. Blogs can be updated daily. Tweets can be updated hourly, or by the minute. Posts on forums need to be continuously monitored and addressed.

In a way, social media is like a child. Once you have it, you can't just return it when it starts to scream and poop. You're stuck with it. Content and relationships need to be maintained on an ongoing basis, unlike a direct mailer or E-comm which you might send out once a month and not have to think about or work on again until the next time.

Once you and your content is out in the social universe for all to see, there is no undo button. There may be a "discontinue account" button, but it's at the risk of disappointing the fans and followers you do have (as an extreme, just think of the upheaval caused when Miley Cyrus gave up Twitter!). In which case, do you risk a potential back-lash from the people who are possibly your biggest advocates?

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Twitter List Low Down

Twitter Lists has been available to some lucky users in Beta for a while, but last week saw its full roll out to the rest of the Twitter universe.

What is Twitter Lists?
Twitter Lists is a feature in Twitter that allows you to categorize the people you follow. Right now, you can create up to 20 lists, and each list can have up to 500 users. You can make the lists public (for everyone to access) or private. Here's an example of what it looks like:

Twitter Lists Screenshot: Create your own lists and be added to others' lists

Why is Twitter Lists Useful?

1. Better Organization
Twitter Lists allow for better organization of your followers, particularly if you follow a lot of people. It also makes it easier to filter tweets from different groups of people which is helpful if you follow a bunch of Twitter addicts who like to tweet every minute, of every day!

For example, if you just want to see what is going on amongst your friends in "real life", you can create a list that just includes the people you personally know. You could also organize a list of people who tweet about social media and a list of people focused on search marketing, and then easily see what information is being talked about for each of these different areas.

2. Provide Recommendations
If you have taken the time to create a list and add people to it, then that often implies a recommendation for those people, for the field you have categorized them into. Public-viewable lists also allow an easy way for users to find and follow people in lists that have been created.

There has been speculation that Twitter Lists could be the death of #FollowFriday. Personally, I think Follow Friday will continue to live on, since list creation is not something everyone will take the time to do. Rather, Twitter Lists and Follow Friday have the potential to complement each other. For example, rather than listing individual people in a Follow Friday, users can now just link to a Twitter List.

3. Identify Influencers
When a person has been added to many lists (and there is a similar categorization across those lists), you can start to gain an idea as to who the big players or influencers are in that field. This provides another way of judging big Twitter influencers, in addition to just looking at the number of followers a person has (particularly since there are ways to cheat the system where follower volume is concerned).

4. Positioning By Others
Twitter Lists provide interesting insight into how followers view you. This can be particularly eye-opening for companies on Twitter. How is your company's brand, positioning and values defined by your customers? And how does this differ to your corporate definition? As an example, @comcastcares is currently on 330 lists, ranging from various technology and service-related descriptions (such as tech and customersupport), to more emotional categorizations ranging from brandsirespect to punkassesandidiots.

Additional Twitter List Tools
  • Listorious provides a directory of public Twitter Lists
  • Listiti provides Twitter List Email Alerts

Monday, November 2, 2009

Search Goes Social

Last week was an eventful week for search and social marketing. First there was the announcement that Twitter had signed deals with both Bing and Google to give them access to its full feed of public tweets. How exactly the search engines intend to use this real-time information from Twitter remains a little fuzzy, though Bing does already utilize some of this in Bing Tweets.

On the same day Google announced a separate "Social Search" experiment in Google Labs. Google's Social Search displays links and updates based upon the searcher's own social network. The idea is to show personally relevant search results based upon your social connections. Why? Because people trust information more from people they know or are connected to.

The results (currently appearing at the bottom of the standard search results page) are based on various information sources, such as:
  • Gmail contacts
  • Google reader subscriptions
  • Social networking profiles on your Google profile
  • Friends on other services, including Flickr, FriendFeed, Digg, YouTube...
These search results also tell you how you are connected to that person; a nice touch.

There has been much talk about the growing convergence of search and social as well as predictions of their marriage in the future. But these are promising signs of the major engines taking serious steps forward where social media is concerned.

Learn More

To check out Google Social Search yourself, go to Google Labs and join the Social Search Experiment.

To understand How Google Social Search Works, watch the YouTube video by Matt Cutts.