How to Manage Your SEO Agency

Entrusting any part of your marketing to a third-party poses some serious challenges, and hiring a search engine marketing firm is no exception. While an SEO agency can offer you a level of skill and expertise that you don’t have in-house, any miscommunication or wrong move can end up costing you rankings, revenues and profits.

Most bad experiences with search marketing firms can be avoided by being a good SEO client. Here are 5 tips to managing your SEO relationships so that you not only protect your investment and rankings, but also maximize them.

1. Educate Your SEO Agency

The first step you should take when involving any third-party in any one of your marketing initiatives is making sure that they understand (1) your business model and (2) your business goals.

Your business model might seem like a “given” or a “no brainer” to you, but that’s because you live, eat, and breath it. SEO agencies live, eat, and breathe SEO. So make sure you take the time to educate them on your revenue model and whyyou’ve chosen the strategy that you did. This will help them help you tap into the most targeted sources of organic traffic.

Similarly, make sure that they understand your business goals.There’s a huge difference between “dominating your niche” and “cornering your market”, and these are nuances that your SEO agency needs to be aware of so that they can build and pursue an SEO strategy that makes sense for your business.

For example, McDonald’s and the diner on the corner both sell cheap, greasy hamburgers, but their respective business models and goals are very different. So the kind of marketing (online and off) that they pursue will be very different.

You may also want to take the time to understand the SEO strategy that your agency pursues. There is often a “method to their madness,” and understanding that method will help you better challenge and support them.

2. Define Your SEO KPIs

Once your SEO firm understands your business model, you’ll need to work with them to define SEO KPIs that makes sense for your business goals. There are a lot of ways to evaluate SEO campaigns (rankings, traffic, conversions, etc.), and you’ll want to make sure that both you and your agency agree in advance on what blend of KPIs to work toward.

First, this will help your SEO firm devise a strategy geared toward your expectations. But it will also put you in a position to evaluate the quality of their work and measure the return on your investment with them.

3. Appoint an SEO Gatekeeper

With firm KPIs in place, it’s time to appoint an SEO gatekeeper. This person will serve two key roles.

First, they will avoid bottlenecks. By having one person responsible for all SEO initiatives, it will be easier to establish the status of any project. Basically, you’ll have one person monitoring all progress and pushing projects through on a consistent basis.

Secondly, by serving as a main point of contact for your SEO agency, they will lend campaigns cohesion. Essentially, if all SEO inquiries are directed through a single gatekeeper, both you and your SEO firm can ensure that the proverbial left hand always knows what the right hand is doing. This way, you’ll be able to establish some SEO symbiosis between projects, and get the most out of them because they’ll be support each other.

4. Identify SEO Stakeholders

Once you have an SEO gatekeeper in place, one of their first tasks should be to identify all the relevant SEO stakeholders in your business. After all, they’re the ones responsible for making sure that all business strategy and decisions are clearly communicated to your agency. So they need to be aware of any internal events that might impact any projects that your SEO agency is working on.

Execs & Upper Management: It’s at this level of your business that you find key decision-makers. These are the people guiding overall business strategy are responsible for the outcome of any marketing initiative –including SEO. So co-opting these stakeholders will be essential for holding other stakeholders account for keeping SEO projects on track and keeping things moving forward.

Sales, Marketing, & PR:The sales and marketing team(s) need the leads generated by SEO, and organic search should be their number one online acquisition channel. Similarly, the initiatives undertaken by your PR team (such as press releases) should support SEO efforts by begin keyword sensitive and linking back to key pages.

Design/Usability: This part of your company will be integral to creating users experiences and information architectures that are optimized for search. Consequently, your SEO gatekeeper should be in close contact with them at all times.

IT/Dev: Depending on how technology driven your business is, this layer of your organization will be essentially in ensuring that every release of every site respects SEO best practices. So your SEO gatekeeper should be in close contact with IT/Dev and aware of how any new releases might affect SEO.

Editorial/Content: One of the many reasons “content is king” is because of its impact on SEO. Just like PR communications need to be SEO sensitive, so does your other content production. Your content strategy should be adapted, for instance, to search trends/volumes, and ensure that you’re producing keyword sensitive content at a consistent rate across all your properties.

Legal: This is one place where many SEO (and other) initiative can be lost in limbo, so your SEO gatekeeper must ensure that the legal department does not become an roadblock. Your legal department is important for developing a global policy on SEO (i.e., whether you pursue certain practices). For instance, if every piece of onsite or offsite content gets caught up in legal vetting, it’s going to kill your SEO momentum. So your gatekeeper needs to work out clear processes with them in advance.

5. Maintain SEO Momentum

Like many marketing initiatives, SEO is something that requires building and maintaining momentum. You can’t just put things on hold for a couple months and expect to pick up where you left off. Rankings change, and while your SEO is idle, your competitors will gain rankings and displace you in the SERPs.

This is where you SEO gatekeeper becomes an integral part of your marketing team. Not only are they monitoring KPIs and avoiding internal bottlenecks (from legal, IT, etc.), but they must also devise procedures to deal with unforeseen variables. For example, if a key decision maker or IT resource leaves your company, your SEO gatekeeper should have a policy/procedure in place to address the potential bottleneck.

Similarly, if you choose to change SEO agencies, it should be a measured transition where (1) the decision to change is made, (2) the new SEO firm is selected, and then (3) your SEO gatekeeper begins the transition from one agency to the next. At no point should your agency choose to terminate an SEO relationship without there being an alternative in place. Doing so can cost you months (or even years) in SEO progress.

Managing Your Rankings and Bottom Line

All relationships are a two way street, and it’s important that you take complete responsibility for the factors in a relationship that you can control. It’s tempting to think “for what I’m paying them, they better have a magic wand that they can wave and fix everything with,” but it’s irresponsible and reckless to put that thinking into practice.

You have certain business goals, and priorities always change. Many of those goals and change are directly relevant to your SEO firm (and any other agency you work with), so it’s important that they are kept in the loop. Doing so will help you get the most out your relationship and investment with them.

Getting Free Advertising on LinkedIn

Aiming Clear

Recently, I observed a LinkedIn ad placed by aimClearConsulting Services. All it said was:

 

Good calls to action give a concise value proposition, and use strong language with an attention-grabbing sense of urgency to earn a click. AimClear’s ad… doesn’t have a call to action.

Log into your LinkedIn account and look at the ads you are shown. Refresh a dozen times. How many don’t have a call to action? In all likelihood, none of them. So what’s going on here? Is this the worst ad ever?

Multipurpose

Quite the contrary. Let’s set aside clicks for a moment, and this of what this ad communicates. In 74 characters, aimClear:

– Establishes that they were present at SMX
– Indicates a deep familiarity with and connection to advanced Facebook marketing
– Offer a post-event, gratitude-oriented relationship with attendees
– Creates an intriguing ad that gets me talking about it here

And they can accomplish this without a single click. If this was a CPM display ad, then the cost would have been what it was. There’s actually no way to tell as a user, since pay-per-click and display ads are mixed. But what if it was a PPC ad?

On the Cheap

LinkedIn ads are relatively new, but they do already have a reputation for providing weak click-through rates and high cost per click rates. Instead of trying to fight through poor ad placement and scrounge for expensive clicks, what if – and this is speculative – aimClear aimed to brand, chose a PPC and, and have potentially the least click-worthy ad of all, meaning the least possible costs?

Yeah, they probably got some clicks, so their costs weren’t nil. But by framing it as a display ad with little click incentive, they could have saved a whack of money.

It Ain’t AdWords

The reason why this strategy doesn’t work in a platform like AdWords is because of an old grouchy friend we call quality score. If your pay-per-click does not perform, which in the case of pay-per-click ads means attracting clicks, then the advertising platform makes less money. That punishment translates into higher costs per click for poor performing advertisers to recoup the poor performance losses. Quality score incorporates numerous factors, but CTR is a big one.

But it isn’t clear that there is any direct equivalent to a quality score on LinkedIn DirectAds. No quality score means no punishment in costs. The publishment a person does get slapped with is lower impressions. But first of all, low impressions can be expected anyway in LinkedIn ads, so you might be able to get away with it for a while, and second of all, the advertising is still nearly free, apart from the $5 startup cost.

The Future

As the LinkedIn DirectAds system gets more advanced and explicit about their advancements, we may start to hear about a quality score equivalent. Or at least, some clear mechanism to address cases like this which essentially make them little money. Depending on how strict their performance measure, the results of this kind of scheme can be few enough impressions to be worth the time. Still, free advertising is free advertising, and if an ad can be like aimClear’s and communicate a lot without requiring a click, it may be a strategy worth considering, especially in a case like aimClear’s where a big campaign isn’t necessary anyway, given that it was a conference followup and necessarily temporary.

Time to test! We’ll share results when we have them.

edit: Made some tweaks! The first version worked within the knowledge that the overwhelming majority of LinkedIn ads are PPC, but didn’t acknowledge that display ads do exist on LinkedIn. The post is about turning PPC ads into display ads, but the fact that display ads do exist, however rarely used, should have been mentioned.

Q&A Sites and Their Impact on SEO

Q&A sites have exploded in popularity over the last few months and it seems everywhere you turn, people are tweeting their answers to questions posted on Quora, Ardvark, FormSpring and many others. What was the leading factor in making Q&A sites so popular despite the failure of Yahoo! Answers and niche forums with respect to trust. Q&A removes the anonymous posters by requiring people to sign in with Facebook, Twitter or get their accounts verified. Whatever the answer may be (maybe I should ask), SEOs have started to pay attention. This post will focus on the impacts Q&A sites will have on your website.

What is a Q&A Site?

On Q&A sites, users can ask questions about various topics to other users in a Q&A format. Some examples of successful Q&A sites include Quora, Formspring and Facebook Answers.

Do not get confused with article directories such as ezinearticles and wisegeek when looking for information from a Q&A site. Article directories are not nearly as interactive and social as Quora. These web sites are dropping in search results according to Google while the social Q&A sites are rising. The following list of websites shows which ones were affected by Google’s Farmer update.

Keywords have become questions.

According to this chart from SEOmoz.org, the percentage of people that use questions as keywords is increasing. This is an interesting point because if enough relevant and pertinent questions are asked on Q&A sites, and those question pages begin to rank above other websites, users might be swayed to click on the link. Where this can provide SEO value is if you, or your users, provide a link to your website for questions like “Where can I buy an iPhone online?” or “How much does an iPhone cost?”. It remains to be seen if the answer pages will rank above other websites and sway users to click the link.

Explosive growth of Q&A sites.

The reason why this is becoming an important element of SEO is because of the rapid growth in popularity of Q&A sites. For example, Quora has seen just under 15, 000% (145, 749 unique visitors) growth year-over-year while Formspring grew 67% to over half a million unique visitors. If this growth continues, and proper questions are continually being asked and answered, it would not surprise me to see Q&A sites begin pivoting into the search field to solve the ever going problem of spam in the search results. It is my assumption that Q&A sites will provide better rankings and will generate more links, better rankings and more traffic for the people who ask and answer questions.

Natural inbound links.

Having “social links” (Links that come from social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Quora, etc) pointing to your domain or subpages makes search engines perceive your website look more natural. For example, it is a little suspicious if a website only has links coming from blogs. Even though most major social media websites NoFollow external links, it still acts as a mention and helps strengthen your websites brand by having a Twitter account, Facebook Fan Page, asking and answering questions on Quora and so on.

As you can see from the image above, the CEO of ccLoop answered a question that was asked on Quora. His name, position and website are mentioned on the answer. This provides Google with another mention of his brand and will ultimately help in the ranking of his website. Another great result of answer questions on Q&A sites is the potential to get mentions, on blogs, if you are a prominent voice in a specific industry.

Rethinking SEO in Online Communities

We all know online communities have become a guiding and influential force in individual decision making, networking and basic day-to-day contact. As these communities grow larger everyday, with younger and older generations jumping on the Internet every second, web-based marketing companies must learn to understand why reaching out to a larger audience (young and old), who’s waiting all in one place, can help produce the long term, effective and successful SEO results their clients are looking for – visitor retention and Internet popularity.

SEO + Forums = Bots Denied

Right. We’ve all been told that SEO has no business being in forums because of Google’s nofollow attribute in those communities. That being said, guess who does have access? Humans, real people, users, facebook lovers, tweeters, website owners, CEO’s, Mom’s….and the point’s made. If you want to help increase the value of your client’s website, in the most organic fashion, then step inside a forum and start chatting. Real people are the ones who are going to make your client popular online – not bots. For example, think about spam bots on twitter, do you retweet their tweets? How about spam in your email, do you forward it to your 10 closest friends? And this is why ‘block user’ was created. No one likes to be blocked.

To help prevent getting a not-so-pleasant online SEO rep (for yourself and your client) you’ve got to do a little mind-set relocation of instant gratification, where your results are as measurable as using a broken broom to sweep up glass, which will only leave holes in the type of results your client is looking for – it’s brand building 101, and it’s going to take more than one month to do. That’s why you should think of forums as the word-of-mouth on the Internet and a great way to create backlinks. It’s real people, interested in a specific niche who use a specific community as there go-to for info. The best part is: thanks to our sharing addiction (brought to by the makers of social media), they will share, share, share and link, link, link any, and all websites they like. Everyone likes a ‘Thumbs Up’.

Forums are Savings Accounts

Think about it this way: forums are your savings account and your client’s website is money. If you put away a certain percentage of money, oh let’s say $100 (links), into your savings account (forum) each month for six months you’ll end up with $600. So, if you plant conversation seeds, and are regularly involved in 10 online communities, with a redirection to your client’s site, for four months, what do you think the estimated amount of external inbound links will be? If you’re willing to put in the effort the ROI could have your client smiling bigger than the Grinch at Christmas.

While that Grinch smile is pretty iconic, it didn’t come without some hard work and patience – two factors in making forum-link-love work for you. Like said, forums are nofollow, and that in itself is discouraging (even more so when you’re looking for instant, measurable results). But a forum isn’t the lottery, it’s that $100 in your savings, and you have be to genuine about wanting to share your client’s information for the good of the community. This isn’t a get pagerank quick scheme, you’ve got to build that internal reputation that will get the users sharing.

Here are two (maybe not so common) things to keep in mind when venturing into the land of forums…

SEO – Where Online Communities Fit In from Paul Biggs on Vimeo.

Keywords and the 80/20 rule

In Paul Brigg’s short video presentation, Where Online Communities Fit In, he points out that about 80% of searches come from 20% your keywords or core keywords. That other 80%? It comes from long tail searchers – real people using their brain to guess and generate search phrases, not keywords the marketing department research. These long tail searches are where you’ll get the top organic links. This is where seeding ideas, creating conversation and reaching out into forums can and will increase your client’s long-term success, and the chances of them renewing their contract. Clients like customers, customers are people, and people like people to actually care.

Saying this, forums can help you discover new trending keywords and/or help you re-purpose existing ones. Taking user generated phrases and content is a best practice for Internet Marketers, and the major trick for saying ahead. So, if you don’t have the resources or commitment for SEO in forums, you can at least use them to find out what words and phrases certain communities are using to describe what you need to be selling.

The Wheel’s Easy to Turn

Strategically it’s pretty simple. These communities already have the system and template setup for you to network with their users, and access copious amounts of high-value websites – It’s really a goldmine for SEO opportunities. And thanks again to the famous makers of social media, we understand how fast and simple it is to sign-up, log in and get going in any online community you want to connect with. You have full access to insider information that can help your client (and company) figure out how to best approach your audience’s mindset and optimize their website. It’s also a great reputation management tool for your client and your business.

In all virtual reality, you’re helping your client build organic relationships with these users, without being penalized, by creating, building and maintaining an original web dialogue. This in turn establishes your client’s online presence in the virtual world by developing greater and longer lasting, beneficial results for their site’s pagerank. And guess what, their pagerank will jump because… (insert drum roll)…those users want to share the content, on their own, not because you directly asked them to. But, in order to turn the wheel the right way and keep on moving, you’ve got to be patient, and offer the community something worth having/sharing.

Rebecca Black or Y U NO Meme?

Consumer behaviour online and offline still relies on the trust of what others are saying and thinking when a product or company is mentioned. And gaining this respect (which is trust) online doesn’t happen over night like a YouTube star on our lunch breaks. But, thanks to the Internet it’s not a flip-the-hour-glass time schedule, but more of a ticking digital clock.

In any case it’s always important to assess your client’s expectations of and for SEO, and their level of understanding (as well as yours) before you take off. Working with their knowledge can help you decide if it’s even worth the time to pursue forum land or not. Do they want to be Rebecca Black or Y U NO Meme? Just a thought.

Exact, Broad, and Phrase: Matching Keywords to Your Needs

Google offers four primary “match types” for keywords you can bid on in their AdWords platform, reflecting different degrees of specificity in your targeting. Understanding how they work in a basic way is handy, but even with that knowledge, it’s not always completely clear which you should choose for your campaigns. Scroll to the strategies if you’re already familiar with the basics, but read on if you’re not.

First, That Basic Introduction to Match Types

Exact match represents bid for the exact phrase you want to bid on, your ad only triggering if the Google user searched specifically exactly those words in exactly that order. These keywords are typically represented in square brackets. So, you might bid on [womens leather jackets], and your ad would only be shown if that exact entire term was searched.

Phrase match gives you some exact control over the core of the keywords you want to bid for, but allows you to account for variations on the phrase that users may search. You specify a set of keywords you want to keep in their exact order, but are willing to have your add triggered even if extra words are included in the search before or after your chosen set. These phrase match keywords you bid on are typically represented in quotation marks. So, if you bid on “leather jackets”, your ad could be triggered for searches for leather jackets, womens leather jackets, mens leather jackets, leather jackets for purple ponies, and so on.

The third match type is more broad than the first two, and as such is called, as you might expect… broad match! This is used when you want Google to show your ad as long as there is a connection to at least one of the terms in your phrase. Word order is irrelevant, and you are giving Google the freedom to make much looser connections. Broad match keywords don’t use additional formatting to identify (like the square brackets or quotation marks of the other match types). So, bidding on leather jackets can show ads for searches for mens leather jackets, jacket for pony, leather coat, leather on the weekends, and any other loose connection for plural/singular distinctions and related terms.

As of last year, there is a way you can get more control of your broad match terms, using modified broad match. This allows a lot of the reaching flexibility of broad match, while allowing you to specify keywords that must be in the search query. To bid on a broad phrase but insist on a particular keyword’s inclusion, simply add a + before the keyword. So, bidding on leather +jackets will return the results that bidding on leather jacketswould bring, but only for queries containing the word jackets.

Here is a table that Google provided on their AdWords blog to summarize what I’ve written above (click to see full size):

 

The broader the search term, the greater the chance of you bidding on terms that are irrelevant to you. You can specify that you don’t want your ads shown for and queries containing terms you indicate as negative keywords. You specify negative keywords in exact, phrase, and broad terms, to control how you want the exclusion to play out.

The table below, also provided on the AdWords blog, will serve better than any written explanation:

 

Now, Which to Pick?

Now that we’re all on the same page, here are strategic concerns and considerations to help you actually decide which of these to pick. These are general guidelines that may have cases where you would consider acting differently, but should help with some issues.

JUST STARTING OUT WITH ONLY BROAD MATCH?

Don’t make the mistake of only using broad match, just because you’re not prepared to put the time into telling Google exactly what you want. Broad match has lower conversion rates, and needs to be supplemented with some specificity. Also, while broad match can be useful for higher traffic with a wider reach, you must be willing to put the time in to run query reports to identify keywords that have absolutely no business being there, and add words to your negative keywords list. Broad without negatives means burning money.

ANY HELP FOR NEGATIVE KEYWORDS?

The search query report will definitely highlight problem areas, but if you’re looking to highlight problem terms before you start, use the Google keyword tool and search for broad terms. You will, in most cases, find negative keywords in the suggested list.

LOOKING FOR A GENERAL STRATEGY FOR WHICH MATCH TYPE TO USE?

Use them all! Each match type has strengths in different ways, which may not be entirely apparent when you start. Try them all out, and see what performs and what doesn’t. Cut what doesn’t. Just make sure you don’t sacrifice too much of your budget on broad terms that are less relevant than your exact match terms which are much more likely to convert. Don’t be afraid to bid a bit more on exact terms to give a greater chance your money is spent there.

Exact match represents the bigger stones you put in the jar first that make sure you convert. Phrase match are the pebbles you use to fill out a bit more with a reasonable mass of performance. Broad match is the sand you use to fill the rest of the budget jar. The idea is that you don’t want to put too much sand in before you have your stones taken care of.

Note, you don’t need broad, phrase, and exact versions of every term in your list, but do make sure the highest volume key terms at least start at all three match types.

ONLY HAVE A SMALL BUDGET?

Don’t use it on broad match. Use it on the exact terms that are more likely to convert. Even if you spend more per click, the results will, in most cases, make the extra spend per click worth it.

MORE INTERESTED IN VOLUME AND BRANDING THAN CONVERSIONS?

That’s what broad match is really for. Rather than potentially spend more on exact terms, let broad match do what it’s meant to do, and just keep on top of your negative keywords to make sure you’re still bidding within reason.

IS PHRASE MATCH THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS?

Sometimes yes, but often it’s the worst of both worlds. You might end up spending more because you are reaching a wide audience, but converting less because your terms end up not specific enough. By all means, try it out, but keep a close eye on it.

SHOULD I BID ON MY BRAND? IF SO, HOW?

Bid on your brand or any key product with an exact match keyword.

Any other strategic questions regarding match types? Put them in the comments, and I’ll help!

Facebook In Your Face: Why You Should Consider Not Sharing Your Brand

I’m both impressed and frightened when I see brick and mortar businesses asking their patrons to check them out on Facebook, but I do believe that whether it be QR codes or Google Goggles, we’re just scratching the surface of the mixing of online and offline worlds and the (most welcome) end of the designation “real life”. Facebook is a big part of this, and as the offline world creeps into Zuckerfication, the online world has been overrun. I remember a 1.0 web before the sharing button concept, but now the Facebook like/page/share seems like the only way to go. Is it? (no) And can it go too far? (yes)

The trendy swell was of people promoting their own first forays into the web with their first sites. The Internet was free and open, and this meant a new place for your and your business. Now the pressure is to get people to connect to a Facebook page, since that’s where so many people are, and where so many people share. Sure, you can try to get them to comment on your site, or you can get them to engage with you through Facebook and share their experience with their contacts. But a presence on an open web compared to a(n extemely closed) corporation’s platform is a totally different animal.

We have never dealt with this before, really. People would find businesses with the paper Yellow Pages, but no business would plaster “Check us out in the Yellow Pages!”, even if millions of people use the Yellow Pages, because they don’t use it socially, and because there’s no additional functionality. That said, Facebook pages themselves offer appallingly little for functionality, but the sharing is enough. If you do want the functionality, though, you have the option to tap into Facebook using Facebook Connect, where people can log in to your site and all it offers using their Facebook account. What a relinquishing! I can certainly understand and in many ways agree with an older fashioned business mentality that doesn’t want to share attention.

 

Facebook is an ever-growing juggernaut. The bottom line is that it can be a great tool as a content sharing and discussing platform. But how much is the brand message cut by having it paired with Facebook? That’s someone else’s logo, someone else’s site. And not just any, but a site that is under constant scrutiny for the misuse of personal data. You can play apologist and blame the person who shares their life willingly, but it’s like the con man who says “I didn’t take his money – he gave it to me.” A person is smart – people are stupid. That doesn’t mean you should exploit stupidity, or partner with someone who does.

Kay forgot one thing in the video above; people are lazy, too. If enough people around them do something, they’ll just go along with it and assume it must be safe. Facebook has, after all, banked on popularity to muscle through ethical toe-lining from its very beginnings.

Even if you are certain that a few sharing buttons here and there are a clear net positive, you think your brand is completely intact, and you have no concern for the multi-billion dollar unchecked information leech in the age of identity theft and wiretaps, you have to acknowledge that there are limits.

As an example of a site that no perception whatsoever of these limits, let’s take the Huffington Post. I followed a Digg link to an article there, and my experience there actually spawned this whole post. Forgive the image size, but have a look below, and see the highlighted yellow as parts relating to Facebook, red for Twitter thrown in for good measure. Click on this shrunken version below to expand.

 

Am I crazy, or is this not ridiculous? 20 Facebook logos on this page. It’s like someone wearing a Twilight hat, shirt, shoes, necklace, and bracelet. Like I said, some branding issues here, but also a tacky lack of class. I suspect someone’s mandate at the Huffington Post is to get them more presence on Facebook, no matter what. And I suspect someone else at the Huffington Post hates the garbage look they were stuck with.

People can still share on Facebook without these buttons, and they will, if the content’s strong enough. Is the thinking still that it’s worth it to shove Facebook down their throats to maximize the chances, regardless of the consequences? I believe that businesses choosing to forego the Facebook presence will suffer much the same consequences as a regular human being doing the same. They will get by just fine, with less, but more meaningful connections.

We are now comfortable essentially sharing our member base, relying on the whims of a multibilion dollar site to form the backbone of our members area. But what happens when the overwhelming masses can’t be bothered to maintain multiple accounts, and genuinely won’t join sites if they can’t do it with the speed and ease that Facebook offers? Even if many users would still join, if the bottom line result will be more members, business and website owners will often be seduced.

 

Let’s say you want to promote a video of yours. Sure, you can host it yourself, but for most people, the combination of free hosting bandwidth with the fact that there are so many people makes YouTube an obvious choice for the destination of your upload. Those with a commitment to either SEO or control of their advertising might still go it alone, but they are going against the grain, and it cannot be denied that there is loss in not taking advantage or the collected, social, sharing mass. But if your content is excellent, you might not need YouTube. Look at The Escapist’s massively and consistently popular Zero Punctuation, watched on the site, shared around the web. They had the guts to not rely on YouTube, to focus on their own site, have their banners and in-video advertising.

You don’t need reach around to Facebook if you are willing to invest in quality. Making Facebook a big part of your content plan means you will become both empowered and disempowered, in a manner not unlike selling your soul to the devil. Ride the perks, suffer the consequences. Go where the people are, and feed them your traffic. Sell them while you sell you. Perpetuate their dominance with your compliance. Give impressions to their banners. But maybe you could have made it without the deal with the devil?

Funnily enough, one of the few general areas of the web not affected by Zuckerization is the adult word. Facebook, like most mainstream large corporations, won’t touch porn with a ten foot pole (unlike Google, which links to porn more than any site in the history of the Internet). This means that despite adult’s consistently remarkable and innovative sharing techniques that have typically left the mainstream web in the dust, adult sites don’t and won’t ever have the fastest-growing and most well-known sharing method on the web. Why? Because Facebook doesn’t want to be associated with porn. Bit ironic, since everyone else wants to be associated with the most dubious personal data collecting and selling entity ever known.

Many businesses have benefitted greatly from Facebook use, and I’m not going to flat out claim it’s always a bad idea to create a Facebook page or even to implement Facebook Connect. I just think that the decision isn’t obvious, that there are pros and cons to weigh, questions worth asking. Should you be investing your time and money elsewhere, into your own site, good enough to be shared on Facebook anyway? How many references to Facebook on your website would be a good idea, if any? Is the message of your brand dampened or damaged by having to promoting it alongside Facebook’s? Does Facebook’s behaviour matter to you, as far as data-related ethics are concerned?

Tweets, Check-Ins & Memes Oh My! How Osama Bin Laden’s Death Unfolded in Social Media Land

September 11, 2001. My friend Kristen calls me in the morning in a panic. “Go turn on the news! Two planes just crashed in to the Twin Towers!” I was still in bed, trying to pry my eyes open. “What? You’re kidding me.” I didn’t believe her.Sure enough, when I turned on the television, every news station confirmed that Kristen couldn’t have been more serious.

May 2, 2011. Monday morning. I arrive at the office, turn on my computer, and my co-worker Jason sends me this via Messenger:

 

“What!? Osama is dead???”

I share these two personal anecdotes with you not to reveal how out of the loop I felt when not hearing about these breaking news stories sooner, but rather how I heard about them. In both cases it was through someone I knew.

But in 2001, news of the World Trade Center attacks was being disseminated mainly through television and newspapers. Ten years later, the Internetz, and I do specify Internetz as “the amalgamation of all net-based media” was unfolding the demise of America’s Public Enemy No. 1 way before the mainstream media even had any concrete details to report.

Not, only that. I didn’t find out Osama was dead through Twitter or Facebook, like so many of my fellow social medialites did. I found out through a freaking meme! (And a pretty fantastic one at that.)

Where were you when you heard about these events?

In this post, I will break down how the death of Osama bin Laden unfolded on social media sites. From a Tweeter in Abbottabad leaking news about the Bin Laden raid unknowingly, to people using Foursquare to Check-In to places in a post-Osamalyptic world, here’s a look at the progression of tweets, check-ins, memes and how the overall Internet frenzy took off at the onset of Osama’s death.

How People Found Out About Osama Bin Laden’s Death:

 

Twitter strikes again! With over 6k of votes, people used Twitter more than Facebook to share information on the Osama raid.

How Osama’s Demise Unfolded on Twitter

With over 12.4 million tweets per hour, the news of Osama bin Laden’s death set a new record for Twitter: “The highest sustained rate of Tweets ever”. The popular microblogging site announced that from 10:45pm – 2:20am ET, there was an average of 3,000 tweets per second. Here is a timeline of Osama-related tweets before President Obama announced his death.

May 1. 15:58 PM ET. Sohaib Athar a.k.a. @ReallyVirtual unknowingly live-tweets the raid targeting Osama bin Laden
Sohaib Athar, an IT consultant living in Abbottabad , inadvertently tweeted details of the US-led operation to bring down terrorist Osama bin Laden as it happened. He quickly became Pakistan’s first Twitter user to surpass 100,000 followers. [CNET]

 

9:47 PM ET. Dan Pfeiffer Communications director for the White House, tweets an announcement about President Obama’s national address scheduled at 10:30 pm.

10:24 PM ET. Dwayne Johnson “The Rock” tweets “Just got word that will shock the world”

Yup. Wrestler/Fast Five movie star “The Rock” knew before any major network that Osama bin Laden was toast. Thanks to his cousin who is a Navy SEAL.

10:25 PM ET. Keith Urbahn (not the country singer) first to tweet Osama is Dead

Keith Urbahn, the 27-year-old Chief of Staff for Donald Rumsfeld was the first to claim Osama was dead. He wrote later, “My source was a connected network TV news producer”. This was said in defense to the role and power of mainstream media, diffusing claims that Twitter is the end all of news. CBS news producer Jill Scott then confirmed the rumor shortly afterward in a tweet that said, “House Intelligence committee aide confirms that Osama Bin Laden is dead. U.S. has the body.”

11:35 p.m. ET. The White House confirms, virtually, that Osama is dead

The White House tweeted that the US conducted an operation that killed Osama Bin Laden. This was shortly after President Obama spoke the words during a live statement.

Media Obama/Osama Mix-ups

In the rush to be the first to report Osama’s death, mainstream media outlets like CNN, Fox and MSNBC were all guilty of confusing the name of the United States president with that of the country’s nemesis.

Thanks to video sharing sites like YouTube these major gaffes were caught and made widely accessible for the whole world to see.

CNN: “Inside Obama’s Compound”

Fox: “President Obama is in fact dead”

Oh Fox, you’ve really done it this time…

MSNBC: Norah O’Donnell tweets “Obama shot and killed”

 

For more lulz, please refer to this news bloopers mash-up of all the news outlets that accidentally reported the death of “Obama” again and again…

 

Facebook page goes viral: Osama Bin Laden is Dead

 

A Facebook Page titled “Osama Bin Laden is DEAD” got over 150,000 Likes within two hours after the Obama administration confirmed he was dead. The page has actually been up  since 2001, the year the page’s admin claims Osama really died.

Celebrating Osama’s Death with Foursquare Check-Ins

By the Monday following Osama’s death Foursquare users started checking in to a world free of the Al Qaeda founder. Foursquare users were checking in to venues like the “Osama bin gonathon”, “Osamapacolypse” and the “OSAMA BIN LADEN IS DEAD VICTORY PARTY”.

 

Google Earth Used to Pinpoint the Whereabouts of Casa Abbottabad

After news broke out of Osama’s death, people started trawling Google Earth to find the location of his Abbottabad mansion.

 

I Meme Mine, I Meme Mine, I Meme Mine

No big event is a wrap until some clever troll finds a way to make a meme out of it.  Meme-makers from all ends of the net were tweaking iconic images of President Barack Obama (the victor) and poking fun at bin Laden, the bad guy that dies.

Here are just a few of my favourites.

Osama Bin Voldermort

 

Detective Trump

 

I’m The Man

 

Hide & Seek Chanmpion

 

Found You!

 


Obama Warrior On His Charlie Unicorm

The Situation Room

This photo had 600k views in the first hour. (13,000 views per minute)

The Super Situation Room

 

The Situation Room Starring: Every Meme Ever

 

The lead-up to bin Laden’s capture and death has been one of the most defining chapters of our decade. And now, the Osama bin Laden era is over.

But something Michael Moore wrote about regarding the bin Laden finale for Huffington Post struck me. He says,”I remember my parents telling me how, on the day it was announced that Hitler was dead, there was no rejoicing in the streets, just private relief and satisfaction.” While Moore is commenting on the disregardful nature of the frat-parties that went on “celebrating [Osama’s] death at the site where the remains of his victims are still occasionally found”, it got me thinking about the wild and uncontrolled nature of the Internet.

Social media pushes our threshold for what we can tolerate seeing, reading, even laughing at. I bet you all those keggers probably rallied up on Facebook first to arrange the meeting spot. If “the medium is the message” then the Internet is certainly a medium by which messages are transmitted that can shape our perceptions of events.

I found out about Osama bin Laden’s death from an Internet meme. Does that explain this post?

Setting Up Your Blog for Social Media & Mobile Devices

With mobile and social media monopolizing more of how users interact, a successful blog needs to be optimized for more than just the various web browsers on their computers. This means some extra details that make for a more interesting experience on mobile devices, and fine tuning to make sure that your content gets published and promoted on social media successfully.

Mobile and Other Devices

Apple iPhone & iPads Homescreen icon (Blavatar)

On Apple’s iOS devices, iPhones, iPod Touch and iPads, you can bookmark a site and add it to the home screen of your device. Normally this takes a snapshot of your site, and makes an icon out of it. This isnt the prettiest way of having your website represented among the sea of beautifully glossy Apple App icons. Luckily you can add your sites icon instead of a snapshot by inserting a simple line of code to your sites header.

Create a png of your site’s icon as a square 64px x 64px image and save as “apple-touch-icon.png”. Place this image in your sites images directory and add the following line of code to your site’s header.

<link rel=”apple-touch-icon” href=”http://www.example.com/images/apple-touch-icon.png” />

This blavatar will also be the main icon for many RSS reader apps and will be used to represent your site.

Mobile Devices (iPhone/Android/Windows Phone 7)

For most cases, your site will be to heavy and javascript feature rich to give smartphone users a usable experience. With WordPress, its easy to adapt your blog or site to mobile devices with the WPTouch plugin from Brave New Code, that will translate your pages and posts to a cut down, fast downloading mobile friendly version. This is a very simple plugin and in most cases more than adequate for most blogs, but if you want more advanced features, check out the Pro paid version.

iPad and Tablets

If you really want to go an extra step and give your users an immersive experience on their tablets that takes advantage of touch interfaces and the accelerometer, you may want to try the Onwsipe plugin. Though still in its development early stages, and can conflict with other javascript heavy themes and plugins, if configured correctly, can give a very fun and interactive way of presenting your content to those on tablets. The plugin at the moment only works for iPad users, but Onswipe is looking in to updating the plugin for Android and other tablet platforms to come.

Brave New Code also offers iPad and broader tablet compatibility with their Pro version of WPTouch. WPTouchPro will give you an iPad friendly version of your site with rich social features and customized tempting features that allow you to customize your look and feel easily.

One thing to take in to account with any of these plugins, is other plugin conflicts. These plugins will not work if you are using multi-language translation plugins such as WPML, and Onswipe will need some testing for plugin and theme compatibility.

Facebook & the Open Graph

Facebook Like/Send

Facebook has become imperative for social syndication of your content, and it’s very important to have a way for the readers of your blog to share and like your content. The problem is that Facebook can publish your user’s activity with the wrong images and descriptions if your site is not set to tell it what it needs to know. First off, you need to know how your content is syndicated on Facebook to see if your good to go or not. Facebook provides an excellent tool, called URL Linter, that gives you feedback on your url and shows you the content it grabs.

By entering your url there, Facebook gives you information on what the title, description, and image that it will use for the profile post when a reader clicks the like button. If things dont look right, then you can update your WordPress header.php to add the following code to make sure that all the Facebook OpenGraph tags are available to help Facebook grab the right content to display on the Newsfeed and Profile.

Place the following code anywhere between the <head></head> tags.

<?php
$thumb= get_post_meta($post->ID,'_thumbnail_id',false);
$thumb= wp_get_attachment_image_src($thumb[0], false);
$thumb=$thumb[0];
$default_img= get_bloginfo('stylesheet_directory').'/images/default_icon.jpg';
?>
<?phpif(is_single() || is_page()) { ?>
<meta property="og:type"content="article"/>
<meta property="og:title"content="<?php single_post_title(''); ?>"/>
<meta property="og:description"content="<?php
echo apply_filters('the_excerpt_rss',get_the_excerpt() );
?>" />
<meta property="og:url"content="<?php the_permalink(); ?>"/>
<meta property="og:image"content="<?php if ( $thumb[0] == null ) { echo $default_img; } else { echo $thumb; } ?>”/>
<?php  }else{ ?>
<meta property="og:type"content="article"/>
<meta property="og:title"content="<?php bloginfo('name'); ?>"/>
<meta property="og:url"content="<?php bloginfo('url'); ?>"/>
<meta property="og:description"content="<?php bloginfo('description'); ?>"/>
<meta property="og:image"content="<?php  if ( $thumb[0] == null ) { echo $default_img; } else { echo $thumb; } ?>”/>
<?php  }  ?>

*** note: If using a third party theme that handles a posts default image through custom tags, you may have to modify the above script accordingly to get the correct thumbnail image.

Facebook Insights

Facebook now provides analytics and stats on your reader’s interactions with your content, providing you with some insight on the impressions a liked item gets, and a high level overview of your sites engagement.

Facebook Insights also lets you tie your website with its corresponding Facebook Fan Page. This makes it easier for Facebook to relate the website content shared on the Fan Page, and aggregate the interactions with the links that are shared, liked and commented on.

If you are the admin of your Fan Page and your website, all you need to do is go to the Facebook Insights Dashboard and add your domain. You will be asked to choose which profile, page or Facebook app you would like to associate the domain name with. If it’s your personal site, link it to both yourself and your page if you have one. If you represent a company, link it to the Fan Page, as this will give all Admins of the Fan Page access to the analytics.

Once the linking is done, Facebook will present you with a line of meta data code to add to your website header.

<meta property="fb:admins" content="user_id" />
<meta property="fb:page_id" content="your_page_id" />
<meta property="fb:app_id" content="your_app_id" />

To get your content across all mediums, devices and social networks take a little bit of work, but it all pays off in the end to make sure that the visibility of your site is top notch. Your readers will appreciate the fine and subtle details and will definitely increase the engagement of your site.

If you have any additional tips on how to better improve your site for social media and smartphone devices, We’d love to see your feedback in the comment section.

Unlike Facebook: How Google Dropped the Ball With the +1 Button

Google recently launched their +1 button, rightly considered by most to be a close mirror of Facebook’s ‘Like’ Button. This gives the atypical impression of Google following in another company’s footsteps, but we can see a social interaction with web pages as being an inevitable step forward, and as such, following suit with something ‘like’ish can be forgiven.

When Google innovates in a pre-existing area, as they did with Gmail and with their search engine itself, we expect a significant and clever improvement such that it feels almost like a new service. +1 is not identical to the Like, and while it leverages and integrates Google’s search side, it misses out on the grand opportunity to fix what I consider to be the biggest and most obvious failing of the Facebook Like: the fact that you cannot dislike.

First, here’s Google’s promo video:

“Have you ever come home to a note that made life just a little bit easier?”

Yeah. “I think the milk might have gone off.” “Don’t see Gigli.” “Cancel your date with Chuck – he’s a rapist.”

While it’s nice to be able to say “this is something you should check out,” it’s also quite obviously nice to say “this is a waste of time – avoid.”

Don’t get me wrong. I believe there would be more use in a like than a dislike. In a web of trillions of pages, there is clearly a sense in which telling what to avoid is silly, since in a human lifetime you will naturally avoid the overwhelming majority of the web. But for likely searched keywords and their limited ranking spots, I would just as much like to give a vote of hate and potentially save a friend some misery.

Google has not been without its complaints for poor and worsening search results. And they respond by allowing users only to socially vote for sites and their pages? Really?

Hiding From the Solution

Less than a month ago, Google supposedly launched a feature allowing users to hide sites from their search results. After visiting a page found through search results, you can hit ‘back’ and an option to block the site from future results pages will appear.

First of all, I can’t seem to get this option to appear anymore. Can anyone else? I am hoping there’s no connection here…

Second of all, how could this not be exactly the kind of thing that would integrate well socially? If I am sure I never want to see a particular site again, in the spirit of the +1 button, would I not, in most cases, want to at least suggest to my friends that the site I’m blocking is not worth visiting?

If you don’t want to incorporate this feature into the ranking algorithm, fine, but if you’re going to get social, you already have a precedent here for what is essentially a dislike – just no means to share it with anyone.

Work Around

There are actually numerous Facebook groups clamoring for a Dislike button, resorting to unofficial and potentially risky Firefox Add-Ons. Across all the breaches of Facebook etiquette, from nauseating self-quotes (”‘When the world is shadow, friendship is light’ – me”) to updates no one could begin to care about (”Eating breakfast. Should be a good day.”) to self-indulgent attention seeking (”SOOoOoOooo mad 2day!!!1″), the ability for the Dislike is just about self-evident.

When someone’s cool on Facebook, the Like offers an easy way for responders to offer their approval without fumbling through a poorly-written comment. When someone’s an asshole on Facebook, you have to wait until someone else articulates that the original poster is an asshole, and then Like their response. Or, if you’re not a coward, you can call them out yourself. But why the two-step?

Interestingly, YouTube, another Google property, allows dislikes/thumbs down. And y’know what? It’s part of the fun. People talk about the like/dislike breakdown in comments, which in YouTube’s case can be a welcome diversion from the usual slog.

Communities become truly social when they can reflect and comment on their own behaviour, and without dislikes, you can’t really get a sense of the behaviour. Disapproval is as fundamental to social interaction as approval. Are not stories of bad customer service more shared than of good service?

It’s Already Here!

Social news and content aggregators like Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon have historically offered both up and down voting for a reason. Without an ability to filter crap, crap is what you get.

When Digg re-launched in their infamously horrific V4, they removed their downvote tool: the Bury button, the natural antithesis to a “digging”. The community flipped out in response, sure that doom was now impending, ironically unable to formally express their discontent, limited to in-comment rants.

With Digg now in version 4.whogivesacrapanymore, their once flourishing and active community has dwindled to sparse comments often at YouTube levels of inanity. And the Bury button has returned. Way too little, way too late.

Fortunately, in a way, Google never had a Bury equivalent to moronically remove. Instead, they are starting crippled, matching their equally cripply Zuckerbergian rival. Surely, the Digg lesson applies in search results. It’s only not obvious yet because Google users never really were a community, or rather, never acted as one. Google’s attempts at getting into social are smelling pretty strongly of Microsoft Failure Pie, trying to fit in with what’s current but awkwardly missing the point. On the bright side, they can’t do worse than they did with Google Wave or with Google Buzz, not to be confused with the equally irrelevant Yahoo! Buzz (which, incidentally, is a failed social news site where you can’t vote down…).

So is this some attempt at behaviour shaping through a lame “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything” gloss? I don’t like the vibe of this forced-to-be-happy-or-be-quiet space. We’re building an online nation of smiling yes people navigating search results crying out desperately for angry nos. As much as I want to entertain my friends and send them to good places, I want to protect them, too. All in all, I give this new Google service a score of -1.

Which is exactly what they need.

The Real Twitter Guidelines

I recently moved out of the big city of Montreal to a quaint suburb about a half-hour away from the hustle and bustle of the city. I now spend my morning commuting to work which basically involves a slow crawl scored by the chirpy sounds of talk radio. Lately I’ve been following the 2011 election here in Canada and I’m fascinated by how it’s being covered.

This election has been dubbed the “Social media election” one where social networks are considered one of the biggest fronts. Every morning I listen to a new social media expert comment on the proceedings and can’t help but guffaw at what some of these ‘experts’ say about Twitter.

They’re breaking the rules!!1one

“X candidate is ignoring the ‘4 to 1’ ratio rule” (4 replies for every Tweet)
“X candidate posts at uneven intervals”
“X candidate doesn’t follow anyone back”

These are only a few examples but all were said with the implication that candidates in question were taking huge missteps and were violating the sacred code of Twitter.

These ‘experts’ are not confined to political talk radio. Oh no, they’re scattered all over the web, conference halls and meet-ups and it’s something that’s always been a pet peeve of mine.

 

The Reality

There’s more than one way to skin a cat. While the above ‘rules’ might work for some, they aren’t essential to maintaining a healthy Twitter account. Every brand and industry is different. While there are guidelines for structure that can be quite helpful in making your content more visible, there aren’t any rules that dictate what your content should be so just let your social creativity flow.

Celebrities Tweet differently from major brands and major brands tweet differently from bloggers and bloggers tweet differently from each other. It’s not about the perfect Tweet ratio or most consistent schedule it’s about being relevant and present.

The Real Rules

Although I may have just made it sound like Twitter is some sort of free-for-all I’ll now attempt to rein you in before things get too crazy. There are still some important guidelines that I strongly encourage everyone to follow:

Finish What You Start

If you start a conversation make sure there is a resolution. Don’t leave people hanging. You’d never leave a customer in mid-conversation face-to-face and it’s just as rude to do on Twitter.

Give Credit

If you take the content of a Tweet from another Twitter user then give proper credit. Be it with a RT or a (via). Don’t take other people’s work and pretend it’s your own.

Bring Something to the Table

Give people a reason to follow you. If you’re an industry leader or have a lot of industry information at your disposal then put it to use on Twitter. This will get people wanting to know more about your brand.

 

Keep in mind that the average Twitter user represents the silent majority. They’ll use Twitter more as a glorified RSS feed than a social networking platform. Earlier this year, Yahoo! Research released a study that found .05% of Twitter users were producing over 50% of all Tweets. This says a lot about how much Twitter has changed over the years but comes as no real surprise to marketers. The average Twitter user has become more passive and uses Twitter more as a source of information rather than a tool for social interaction. Bottom line is: Twitter is becoming less social.

To get Twitter users engaged and talking about your brand you need to coax them. This can be done through compelling content, a good personality or through interactive initiatives like contests and give-aways.

Think of the average Twitter user as the shy lonely guy leaning against the wall at the school ball. Be the girl that goes up and asks for the first dance.