Home            Blog

Monday, November 25, 2013

Social Media Doesn’t Drive Sales… But That’s Not the Point

Social Media Doesn’t Drive Sales… But That’s Not the Point

The point is that social media is a teeny tiny reflection of what happens in day-to-day life. In Jonah Berger's Contagious, he makes the salient point that only 7% of word of mouth happens online (other studies say 5%). I'm not sure if all of that even belongs to social media channels, either. I'd guess a bunch of it happens over email and private chat.
There are hundreds of ways that your customer will find you (or not find you) online and offline. However, when it comes to spreading a message, word of mouth has always been the most effective way of marketing messages spreading. But these messages become ineffective when they aren't authentic. The most salient point here is:
You cannot force word of mouth.
It doesn't matter the media or the amount you spend on it – some stuff just doesn't spread. And though marketing impressions make a brand awareness difference – whether it's a billboard or a paid tweet – it's never guaranteed to work.
So I'm continually bowled over when I hear people complain about how their social media marketing doesn't work. Usually a few questions helps me realize what's really going on:
What's really going on here is that companies think that paying for marketing is some sort of silver bullet. It's not. It never was and it never will be. Hell, some Super Bowl ads go unnoticed – and that audience is one of the biggest captive audiences in the universe!
You are probably asking yourself, "Okay then, why would anybody in their right mind pay for marketing?"
Good question. I sometimes wonder myself because not everyone is ready for it... and sometimes they are too late for it.
But why pay for marketing when the results aren't guaranteed? Because, like I said before, there are hundreds of ways your future customers will find you (or not find you) and it's better to be findable than not. And good marketing means that you will be more findable AND have more credibility (if the branding is done right) when people do find you. And all of that helps with what you want: sales.
There are all sorts of wonderful things built into social media marketing that you won't have built into traditional one-way channels. There are:
  1. analytics: you can't really tell who paid attention to that television ad, but you cantell who watched your YouTube ad all the way through, and who liked it, and who shared it, etc etc. The data available on how people interact with your content is AMAZING.
  2. feedback: it's right there in the comments. It's also there on Twitter. Oh, and you can find out what people are saying on Reddit and on their blogs and in forums and... well, that is invaluable. Read it. Report it back to your team. Improve your product with it. Respond to it with thanks. Hell, you pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get this feedback from focus groups each year and here it is for you for free. Completely raw.
  3. relationships: you aren't going to strike up a conversation through the TV or radio. But that two-way conversation is built into social media platforms. It's really awesome. You can find out so much about your customers and start to really build a bond.
What really baffles me is the demands that brands make of social media marketing when they pay a fraction of the price to use it. They'll hire interns and junior staff to run it, they'll lowball agencies and consultants ("I pay you what for a couple of FB posts?! I can get my kid to do that!"), they get impatient and want instant results without being willing to invest the thought needed or take risks, they'll tack on a social media strategy (which has no strategy) to a made-for-television and magazine ad campaign thinking that it's yet another direct marketing channel (which is a limited medium, too).
All of this and the brands ask for stellar results. They look past the amazing insights and feedback and potential for relationships that no other traditional marketing medium every had and they say, "Meh. Social media doesn't work for me."
And completely miss the point.
You want to know the ROI of social media?
Number one. It's the ability to listen. It's priceless. Not with some damned tool that measures sentiment or finds influencers, either. Really listen.
Number two. Serendipity. It's opening yourself up to constant and amazing opportunities to participate and by participating, you will find numerous opportunities to lead the conversation and make a great impression. Oreo's dunk in the dark tweet is a great example of this. They are doing a really great job of being a relevant brand again by seizing opportunities like that. Do they do it every single day? Nope. But when they do, they nail it.
Number three. Community instead of customers. The difference is incredible. If you have patience and build a community instead of just a customer database, you will have finally tapped into that magical word of mouth network you wanted to buy a few months ago. But this time, it's real and authentic and it spreads.
So PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF DOG stop thinking of social media as a direct marketing tool or some sort of silver bullet that will drive sales through the roof. Stop reading those case studies where Facebook... no, Pinterest... no, Polyvore... no, Snapchat... drove millions of dollars in sales from a viral campaign.
That's not the point.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Image Optimization: How to Rank on Image Search

Image Optimization: How to Rank on Image Search

SEO Evolution: Sell, Discover, Deliver & Report on Highly Converting Keywords by Krista LaRiviere, gShift Labs
Ranking on image search requires both the optimization of images and page elements to promote the ranking of those images in search, as well as optimization of images and image sizes so they load faster and improve page speed. Here's how to do it.

Image Optimization: Size Matters

Image OptimizationThe key to any coding or design endeavor is to get the most for the least. That is, to get everything you want visually with the least amount of code and the smallest size. Images are no different.
While admittedly I haven't seen a direct correlation (even spurious) between image size and the ranking of images on image search, it is a factor Google uses for page speed which is a factor Google uses for rankings.
To be clear, however, the question isn't about how small you can get your images; it's how small you can get them while maintaining the visual aesthetic. Essentially, Google doesn't want you to change your aesthetic; they want you to ensure that the aesthetic you want loads as quickly as possible.
I can't tell you here how to optimize your images, as this changes with each server and site, but here are some great resources for both testing and automating compression:
This is especially important for mobile where Google understands that data is slower and people are more impatient (a bad combination).
Now that you've used image optimization to help increase your page speed and improve your chances at ranking, it's time to look at image optimization from the context of ranking on image search.

Image Optimization: A Picture's Worth

A picture might be worth 1,000 words, but only if it gets seen and only if it will benefit your business to rank for image search.
Let's take for example a lawyer. If you're running a law site is it really going to be a benefit to rank on image search? Or is it more likely that ranking for images is simply going to create an environment where you have to spend your valuable time ensuring others aren't taking them without permission?
On the other side of the coin are sites that generate revenue from impressions (generally ad-based). In this case, any impression is a good impression (more or less) and you'll take traffic where you can get it. In this case it's likely worth the risk of your images being copied in exchange for the traffic.
Assuming you've decided it's beneficial for your site that you rank on image search, there are a number of areas you need to make sure to address. Let's go through some of the major areas.

Unique Images

If you're using stock images, it's unlikely you'll rank on image search. For obvious reasons Google doesn't want to rank multiple copies of the same image any more than they want to rank multiple copies of the same content. If you're using the same image that's been found on a hundred other sites before you, why should yours rank?
This aspect of image optimization can especially hurt online retailers who simply use the product photos sent to them by the manufacturer – the same photo they send everyone who sells their product and has been copied by everyone who reviews it. If you want to rank on image search, use unique photos.
That said, at this time (always important to add that note) Google's Matt Cutts has stated thatusing stock photos doesn't impact web rankings (though he did seem interested in looking at it as a quality signal thanks to the guy who sent him this question):

Image Names

You need to name your images something right? If you're naming the image for your Samsung Galaxy Nexus product page (in case you went back in time 2 years) why would you name the image wpd858932702.jpg when you could name it samsumg-galaxy-nexus.jpg? And if you need a thumbnail for your image then samsung-galaxy-nexus-tb.jpg would be a good option.
Essentially you want to help Google understand what the content of the image is in any way you can. Will Google know it's the Galaxy Nexus and not the S4 in the person's hand in your image? Probably not (yet) so naming the file appropriately can help steer them in the right direction.

Alt Attributes

We all know the alt attribute is important, but many tend to use them wrong. First and foremost they are used as an accessibility tag. It defines what will appear in place of the image should it not be accessible either by mistake or choice (for example, blind people using screen readers).
The recommended maximum length of alt text is 125 characters. I tend to use as few words as possible to define the image content. Usually 4 to 6 will suffice, but sometimes more are required.
Should you use keywords? I wouldn't recommend doing so specifically, but if you're describing the picture appropriately you'll be using the words that are most appropriate for that image and thus, what it should be ranking for on image search.

Title Tags

Using the title element on an image creates a visual caption when the image is hovered over. There is some debate as to the value of the title tag whereas we know that Google puts weight on the alt tag. That said, it's certainly not going to hurt, it can be used to add additional visual information for your visitors when they hover over an image (and simply because something may not hold weight today, doesn't mean it won't in the future).
Google has said that alt tags should be supplemented with other tags (such as the title tag) when it serves the visitor. So this makes it pass my SEO litmus test. If it may help and won't hurt, do it.

Page Copy

Like everything else they do, Google couldn't make it this easy to rank your images. On top of the image-specific elements they also use the page as a whole to determine the relevancy of your image.
For example, an image from a Pinterest board with no content is less likely to rank than the same image on a full-page review of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus because Google can put the image into the context of the page as a whole and know that it's far more likely to be an authoritative and accurate image than a lone image on a page.

Schema Markup

As the battle wages on for rankings and the standards of SEO rise (even if just that all webmasters know to do the basics like alt tags whereas that wasn't always typical) we need to take every opportunity to push the envelope and provide just a bit more to Google than the person next to you. This is where Schema comes in.
Schema markup is a lot of things, but at its core it's a set of markup that allows you to provide additional information about elements on a page (say, for example, images).
From the location, to the photographer, to the date taken, to additional description text, and much more, you can let the search engines know far more detail about what an image is and even what it's for that was possible prior to its introduction.
With so many possible uses, I can't possibly list them all here and the list would be outdated soon if I did. Fortunately the elements for images are laid out well http here on the Schema.org website. There is an example towards the bottom of that page as to how a simple Schema deployment would look. And if we think of a situation where two sites are virtually tied in how Google would rank their images, if one has Schema and the other does not, which will Google assume has the more relevant image?


Image optimization isn't a quick task. It requires time that could be spent on other things.
You need to carefully weigh the cost-benefit of image optimization and consider what impact it will have on their traffic and if that time could be better spent in other areas. This same statement applies to virtually all Internet marketing and, in fact, all business decisions. It's all about ROI, but if it fits your site traffic model, then good luck and enjoy the journey.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

What You Need to Build Your Digital Dream Team

What You Need to Build Your Digital Dream Team

I've been on a crusade talking about how all organizations, no matter the size, need someone to fill the role of the Chief Content Officer (or VP of Content):
The Chief Content Officer (CCO) oversees all marketing content initiatives, both internal and external, across multiple platforms and formats to drive sales, engagement, retention, leads and positive customer behavior.
The CCO oversees the overall content marketing strategy, and this role is needed. But it's only the start.
Ahava Leibtag's new book, The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web, details 18 additional roles an organization needs to excel on the web, specific to our content. Why are these roles so critical? We can have all the technology in the world (and we do), but without the people to plan, create, publish, distribute and govern our content, we don't have a chance at making a real impact on our customers.
Important note: your people will wear many of these hats...meaning that you don't need 18 people on your team, but you do need to make sure these roles are covered by some individual.
Each role can be sorted under one of three major areas: customer advocates (fights for what the customer needs), publishing and distribution advocates (fights for the content management system) and business advocates (fights for the business goals). To be successful, we need parts of our talent focusing on all three of these areas at the same time.

Front End Roles

These roles focus on what the audience sees - the graphical interface (visual design) and the navigation.
  • Content Strategists (How does the content look? Does the content facilitate interaction? Does it make sense to users?)
  • Visual Designers(How does the site look? Does the design facilitate interaction?)
  • Information Architects (How do the navigation and interactive elements look?)
  • Content Creators: writers, photographers, videographers, graphic designers (Is the content doing what we want it to be doing?)
  • Usability Professionals (Can people navigate throughout the site and find what they need?)
  • CMS (content management system) Authors (Is the content publishing properly?)
  • SEO (search engine optimization) Experts (Can the content be found on search engines?)
  • Audience Engagement Strategists (Is the content being found in social circles?)
  • Project Managers (Is the project on time and within budget?)
  • Business Analysts (Is the project solving our business challenges?)
  • Analytics Experts (Do the analytics show that our approach was correct and that the content is being engaged with properly?)

Back End Roles

These roles focus on the code and what makes the website run.
  • Content Strategists (How is the content meta-tagged? It it behaving properly in all the different templates and on all our digital properties?)
  • Information Architects (Does the structure support all the elements we need to include?)
  • Developers (Is the code working properly?)
  • CMS Authors (Are we publishing efficiently?)
  • SEO Experts (Is the content meta-tagged with the right keywords, descriptions and linking?)
  • Audience Engagement Strategists (Is it easy to share content?)
  • Project Managers (Is everything operating properly?)
What should you do with these roles? Use the above as a checklist. What's important is that you have someone in your organization filling each role.
Like it or not, you are a publisher today, and we need to make sure we have the talent in place so that our content solves our overall marketing objectives.
Are there additional roles that are needed in the organization that Ahava missed? Is there one role that's more important than the others?