Search Ben Acheson's Blog

Friday, 28 August 2015

5 Ways SEO Agencies Use Google Alerts

Google Alerts offer a powerful way to stay up to date with whatever interests you on the web - but they can also be used to uncover valuable SEO opportunities.
Here are the 5 main ways that SEO agencies use Google Alerts to support campaigns and build better client relationships.

1. Link opportunities

New brand mentions can potentially be turned into links.
If somebody mentions a brand or a product then they might be helping their readers by linking to a relevant page. Open a dialogue with the author or publisher and find out what it will take to turn the brand mention into a link.
Mentions of your client's brand name may also reveal newsworthy events or information that could be used for PR purposes to gain additional coverage or to fuel publicity campaigns, generating additional brand mentions to leverage for SEO.
Competitor brand mentions can be used to further expand the pool of potential link opportunities. If a site mentions a competitor then they might also mention your client - and those mentions might be turned into links too.

2. Talking points

By monitoring the web for the latest news about your clients and their competitors, you ensure a steady supply of opportunities to open conversations. Build your client relationships by opening meaningful conversations more regularly. Google Alerts provide a useful reminder service - continually prompting you to get in touch, as well as providing valuable and timely material for discussion.

3. Knowledge

If you know the latest industry news, possibly even before the client knows, then you create opportunities to enhance your knowledge. You can demonstrate your knowledge and interest to the client by opening a discussion about what is relevant to their business right now. Sometimes busy clients forget to tell their agency about something important or newsworthy - and Google Alerts can help you to stay in the loop.

4. Ideas

If competitors are doing something that generates brand mentions then they are probably doing something that could generate links too. Borrow their ideas for publicity stunts, events, sponsorships and other activities that generate brand mentions.

5. Search Operators

Google search operators can be used to create incredibly powerful and targeted alerts that will notify you in specific circumstances - for example, when a brand is mentioned within a particular context, or on a specific domain.
The "link:" operator can even be used to identify new competitor links, in real time.
Understanding how, why and where brand mentions are emerging can generate a wealth of actionable intelligence for SEO campaigns. More than just ripples of text on the surface of the web, brand mentions are often evidence of something interesting that is happening offline.
By their very nature, Google Alerts provide the latest information available on the web. As such they provide opportunities to be the first to know.
Knowledge is power and first-mover advantage can provide a genuine source of competitive advantage. Not just on the web but out in the real world.

Monday, 27 October 2014

4 Reasons Why Google and Facebook Are Dying

Given Google and Facebook's popularity it may be hard to believe that they will one day become obsolete and forgotten. But nothing lasts forever - and the digital world changes particularly fast.
It's clear to me that Facebook is already peaking and may already be in decline mostly due to simple loss of interest. Google now appears to be approaching to its peak too. After they peak, the demise of both businesses is inevitable - and there are compelling signs that we are already seeing the beginning of the end for both internet giants.
These are four of the main reasons why Google and Facebook are sure die out over the coming years:

1. Consumers abandoning Google and Facebook.

Instead of Googling for answers and products, we're increasingly sourcing them from trusted apps on our mobile devices so that Google is cut out of the picture.
People are already searching for images using Pinterest, rather than Google images and buying on Pinterest will soon be mainstream. That's just one example of major digital players from whom we will buy without using a search engine, let alone Facebook.
Buying on Facebook never really took off and that's surprising because it could have saved Facebook if they had pushed to get it right. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg sold of $2.3 billion worth of Facebook shares way back at the end of 2013 which is a strong indicator that the man who knows the most about Facebook may have had his own doubts about its financial future.
Huge numbers of people already begin their buying process on established marketplaces, notably Amazon and eBay. (We've already seen Google take action against eBay and I wouldn't rule out some hostility towards Amazon in the difficult years ahead).
Online shopping will continue to grow. But small, local specialist shops are making a comeback as people seek high service levels as well as bespoke and artisan products and services closer to home.

2. The next generation

Young people don't want to be on Facebook - it's not cool. It's where parents hang out and talk. The next generation of social networkers are opting for newer networks like Instagram.
Meanwhile, new social networks continue to emerge, as new generations of people familiar with social networking become a new wave of social network creators.
It seems certain that we will see an ever-increasing number of social networking platforms, increasing competition for established players like Facebook. In the world of social media all things quickly become boring and are soon forgotten.
As for Google in the social networking scene? Google Plus? Nobody cares. Nobody ever really cared and Google has repeatedly tried and failed to launch a successful social network. They're falling further and further behind in terms of product innovation as far as search and social are concerned.
We're sure to see more search engines in the future too. As yet, Google has not had any serious competition but they are failing to innovate. The basis of Google's search algorithm has barely changed since the search engine was launched. It's still all about links and that's not likely to change for another decade. By then, I predict that it will be too late for Google. A more interesting search solution will have emerged and taken over. 

3. Ads

Google have not only failed to innovate radically in their algorithm. They're also failing to innovate as a business, at least in their advertising business, where it really matters.
Nobody wants to see ads everywhere. Especially boring ads. We don't actually need them in search engine results and we certainly don't want to see them interrupting our social conversations. Google's whole purpose is to take other people's content and slap ads on it to make money from the work of others.
Unfortunately, both Google's and Facebook's business models are completely reliant on adverts - and not just adverts but extremely boring adverts because neither Google or Facebook has bothered innovating to produce more compelling advertising solutions. As a business model, plastering ads where people happen to be looking could not be much further from innovation.
In content marketing and even native advertising we're seeing marketing content that people don't mind consuming - because it's compelling, useful or entertaining. Many of the corporate success stories of the 21st century will be the businesses that follow the trend away from advertising and towards content.
(Speaking of native ads, I would not be surprised to see Google penalising those in the future, along with other forms of content that are far superior to what Google offers to brands in its advertising solutions. We've already seen Google talking about devaluing links for infographics - which everybody likes - even though Google always says that producing great content is the right thing to do. Google are hypocrites and the reasons for their hypocrisy are clear. It's not just greed, they're scared. They look ahead and they see the end of the road for their business. Instead of innovating their way out, they lash out. Not just at the competition but at their customers. Businesses. In the form of Google penalties. Nobody ever created long-term success by battling with their customers. Google has got it wrong.
Both Google and Facebook are both still intent upon spamming us with image terrible ads, even plain text ads. In the modern, content-driven era that is simply incredible and inexcusable. It's like a hangover from the web as it was in the 1990s.
Seriously, Google and Facebook, is that really the best you can do? We don't want your boring ads. Nobody does. You've both had the time and resources to come up with something better. You have the best talent but you just haven't bothered to innovate in fundamental ways - because you can make easy money taking people's content and blasting us with boring ads. It's not cool - and it's certainly not nearly as clever or innovative as you both like to appear.

4. Replacements

While Google and Facebook fail to innovate, we're seeing plenty of innovation from emerging rivals. Google's search engine advertising business is being eroded by a range of other research options and Facebook was never viable as a search engine. Now Facebook is being rapidly replaced as a social network too.
A whole raft of apps, including WhatsApp, Snapchat, Pinterest Instagram and others are becoming the social networks of choice for younger users. (It is interesting to note how much digital activity is now focussed around image sharing).
Not too long ago, Myspace was the dominant social network and Yahoo was the dominant search engine. One thing you can be sure of in this industry is change. It's the nature of technology to constantly evolve and online innovation has never been easier.
What will happen?
Google missed its profit estimates in 2014 due to slower than expected growth in advertising. I see that as the beginning of a downward trend in profit growth that will inevitably lead to a decline in profits. It's also interesting and important to note that Google's CPCs are falling. (CPCs are Google's cost per click - the amount of money they make each time somebody clicks on a Google ad. That's the main source of revenue for Google.
But Google will remain dominant until it is replaced by a more interesting solution or a range of alternatives. The Google-killers may already be in the design stage.
While I'm at it, it's also clear to me that Apple's days are numbered. They just sell phones and there are plenty of better smartphones available.
Twitter user numbers are also in decline, for similar reasons. But Twitter its sheer simplicity and usefulness may help insulate it from total disaster. Twitter has also been much less aggressive in its push away from organic business content and towards advertising. That could provide a big advantage. Because Twitter has not yet taken advertising to the extent where it alienates both users and brands. Ad overkill may prove to be the greatest of Facebooks mistakes.
In time, of course (and perhaps more swiftly than we think) all of today's major web giants, including Google and Facebook, will be marginalised and forgotten, as bigger, better and more trendy services chart their own journey to greatness. In time, and in their turn, those newcomers will also begin to fade.
But users won't be adversely affected. There will inevitably be other and better search engines and social networks. Over the course of this century we will see services that we cannot yet imagine.
I find that very exciting.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

6 Ways Google Robs SEO to Pay PPC

If marketing budgets were diverted from SEO to PPC campaigns then Google would make more money - so could that be a secret objective of theirs? Some disturbing signs hint that it may be - and that Google might be using shady tactics to harm SEO campaigns - and ultimately the whole SEO industry - in order to make more money from Adwords.

Google’s advertising business is showing signs of slowing as CPCs decline and market share is lost. Meanwhile, Facebook continues to forge ever-closer ties with Bing - and the combined power and reach of those two online giants poses a serious and growing threat to Google’s dominance of the search market.

That's the motive explained. Here's the means by which Google appears to be assaulting the SEO industry - and the opportunities it may be exploiting in order to do so.

1. Not Provided Keywords

The SEO industry has seen a dramatic rise in traffic from "Not Provided" keywords - a trend that shows no signs of slowing as Google encrypts ever more search queries. If you work in SEO then you'll find this chart all too familiar.

Google claims they encrypt keywords to protect user privacy - but that's just nonsense because they still provide full keyword data via Google Webmaster Tools! The only real difference is that you can't use that data to measure revenue from SEO. That's a very important difference to Google - because they don't make a penny from SEO, only from their paid ads.

Marketers aren't asking for user data - just clean search query data, the same data seen in Webmaster Tools, just linked to transactions and revenue. So what's the problem? Clearly there is no genuine problem - except that Google may not want people to measure the revenue generated by SEO - as opposed to Google Adwords campaigns.

To make matters worse, search share from tablets and smartphones is growing - and Google compells new users of its Android mobile operating system to log in or register. After which, of course, searches are encrypted and hidden from Google Analytics. The next version of Google's web browser, Chrome 25, will encrypt searches by default. Google may be using its growing strength in the mobile and tablet markets to encrypt even more searches.

2. Fewer organic search results

There have been signs that Google also intends to literally reduce the number of organic search results - so that the balance of visible results would shift in favour of Adwords results. This issue has been covered extensively - notably in this article on SEOmoz.

3. Withdrawing Google data from SEO tools

Google has been systematically investigating providers of SEO ranking software - and forcing them to either stop using Google Adwords data or stop tracking rankings. Some, like Raven Tools, were forced to abandon their rank-tracking facilities - and just offer Adwords data instead. So they have changed from SEO tools to Google Adwords tools. Marketers need both sets of information together in order to track SEO campaigns effectively, but Google doesn't seem to want us to track SEO campaigns effectively. only PPC campaigns. This seemingly sinister activity by Google could put some software companies out of business. Not nice.

4. Larger paid results

Adwords ad extensions and experiments are increasingly crowding out the organic results below them. From sitelinks to phone numbers, map links, images, product lists, star ratings and even lead generation forms, these extensions take up more and more space. For some competitive searches only two or three organic results can be seen below the enormous, screen-hogging Adwords ads.

5. Google Shopping has gone - to Adwords

Just to squeeze a little more activity through Adwords, after many years of offering Google Shopping listings for free the platform was shut down - at least for free/organic search results. Effectively Google Shopping has become an extension of Adwords. Anybody sensing desperation here, on the part of Google? It gets worse.

6. More eye-catching Ads

Google further emphasises its bias towards Adwords results by making paid results far more eye-catching than organic results - and not to improve the overall user experience. Just the Adwords user experience.

  • Google Shopping images are only shown in Adwords results
  • Star ratings are only shown in Adwords

Google is perfectly capable of displaying product images and star ratings in organic results - indeed, as we have seen, they used to provide free product image ads through Google Shopping, as a separate platform to Adwords. I used to love that about Google. But now those eye-catching, click-through-rate-boosting images are reserved for Google's paying customers. Star ratings have only ever been available in paid ads. That only helps Adwords advertisers - not customers and not Google's users (unless they want to click on a paid ad).

These changes may help Google protect its enormous revenues from paid search - and Google may appear to be in control here. But make no mistake: the brands are in control of the Adwords revenue and they can take it away.

More important, though, is the fact that we the people are in charge of the internet. We decide what succeeds and what fails by making our choice. In the long-term, in my view, these changes will alienate brands and customers alike, leaving Google isolated.

The original Google concept was to give people the best possible search results. That's what people want, not the highest bidder, not intrusive ads. There's the inevitable tension between commercial interests and people. But if history reveals one thing it is that, in the end, the people always win.

Search results dominated by expensive, eye-catching paid results from the biggest brands may crowd out small sellers and prevent new businesses from entering the market. That will only harm the market.

Google is doing things that are bad for most businesses who can't compete with brands. It is doing things that are bad for users, which can only lead to a decline in Google's popularity.

Google knows that competitors like Microsoft, Facebook and Apple are poised to exploit Google's weaknesses over the next few years. Google may look unbeatable right now - but if there's one thing that characterises technology, business and the web, it is constant change.

I smell change in the wind. Change for Google. Change for the search market. And change for the web.

Change for the better perhaps.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Top 30 SEO Link Authority Websites Worldwide

At the heart of SEO is the fact that search engines use the quantity, context and quality of links pointing to a web page when ranking it for a keyword. This helps them determine how important the site is and what it's about.

Since links are so important, it's interesting to analyse which websites have the most links. It's particularly interesting to compare link authority data with our perceptions about which sites are more popular, important on the web.

Below is a table ranking the global top 30 websites according to the number of inbound links they have - particularly those with the greatest number of separate domains linking to them.

Theoretically these should have the highest basic SEO authority in the world. On-page content, social media signals and many other factors also affect rankings. But as the world's leading authority sites it's reasonable to expect that the sites at the top of the list should be able to rank in Google for just about anything.

Did you know that Twitter - not Google - has the highest link authority site on the web?

Some of this data might surprise you...


Linking domains

Overall Links




Microblogging platform and the world's second most popular social network. Many sites link to their Twitter feed



Google's main homepage



Was the biggest search engine before Google's dominance. Now merging with Bing



China's top search engine - China has the world's largest population (more than 4 times more people than USA)



The most popular blogging platform



Google's blogging platform



Online retailer that began life selling books



The most popular video-sharing social network - owned by Google



Microsoft's search engine and rival to Google



Provides Flash for online video and reader software for PDF documents - both are popular and frequently linked to.



A leading consumer-to-consumer marketplace



Microsoft global homepage



China's leading web analytics provider



The leading professional networking website



Chinese search engine



The leading global news provider (US-based)



The world's most popular auction site (peer-to-peer)



The world's most popular peer-to-peer payment system. Websites using PayPal often link to the site



Leading Chinese web portal



Apple homepage



Homepage of one of the world's most popular social networking sites



User-edited (wiki) encyclopedia



Yahoo's Japan homepage



A leading blogging platform



China's biggest web portal



Google's Japan homepage



Microsoft Network homepage - used to be the default homepage for Windows computers



Google Germany



Leading provider of news, entertainment and information - ad free - to the UK and the world. Funded by UK TV owners



Movie database

Domains are listed in strict order of authority - with the highest authority sites at the top. Authority is based primarily on the number of linking domains. 10 links from 10 domains typically represent more SEO value than 10 links all from the same domain.

Perhaps most interesting of all is that based on this data Twitter is the most authoritative site on the web. Perhaps this is in part because many businesses and individuals link to their Twitter feed from their website.

Of course SEO is about much more than just links and domain authority - but link-based metrics are among the most important SEO factors and they do tend to correlate well with rankings. Based on the enormity of Twitter's link authority alone, pages on the domain might be expected to rank far better in Google than they actually do, for a wide range of terms. Do tweets simply not represent enough content to rank well? That seems likely and might explain why Wikipedia tends to rank far better than Twitter. (Could Google actually be suppressing Twitter URLs? I've seen other anecdotal evidence that this may indeed be the case and it may be worthy of further research).

Yahoo! comes third - way ahead of Bing and Facebook - which is also something of a surprise at first. But it's a much older domain. It's been a major part of the web for much longer and at for quite some time was the most popular site on the web.


Baidu coming fourth in the link popularity chart is a reminder that China is the next global superpower - soon to overtake the USA to become the world's richest and most economically active nation. If China is emerging as the most important country in the world then Baidu is also becoming the most important search engine in a global context. It's the fourth highest authority in the world according to this data, and I expect it to rise to the top of the list by 2015.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

How I became a editor and got a site listed

Becoming an editor of the Open Directory at

I was recently accepted as an editor of the ODP (Open Directory Project) at Given the significance of the directory, its historical connection with Google, and its prominence in SEO discussion, I want to share my experience to help others understand the project better. I don't speak for the ODP. This is very much a personal article about my own experiences.

First, I must warn that if you're looking for a way to trick the ODP into admitting you as an editor in order for you to disadvantage competitors, or to list spammy websites, then you're wasting your time. The editor of a given category does not have the final say over what is listed there, or the manner in which each site is listed. There are strict rules and the editing history of the directory is scrutinised by a huge network of editors whose powers increase up the hierarchy. They are a very active and very experienced body of people and they do not tolerate abuse. The directory is under constant, human review. That's what makes it so special.

If you take anything away from reading about my experience then it should be these points:

  • If you have expertise in a particular niche and are prepared to help the ODP establish a definitive, high quality category in that niche then there might just be a place for you as an editor.

  • If you have a good site in that niche then you may even be able to get it listed very quickly - by approving it yourself as an editor of the category.

  • If your only interest in is to get sites listed for you or your clients, or to try to disadvantage your competitors, then you will fail because other editors will undo your work. Don't waste your time.

Having been in digital marketing for many years, for me becoming a small part of dmoz was like being admitted into the mysterious inner sanctum of the internet. I had never tried applying before - I thought there was no point: surely they wouldn't accept me, because I'm a digital marketer with possible vested interests. (Even if they did accept me they surely wouldn't let me submit a site I had any affiliation with. Wouldn't that be some sort of conflict of interest?)

But over time my attitude towards dmoz was transformed and I think it was that transformation that helped me succeed in becoming an editor. Having spent a lot of time exploring certain categories in the Open Directory, it became clear to me that it was by no means definitive. was not perfect. Some of the sites in the categories I'm interested in no longer existed on the internet. At the same time, some of the latest, most relevant and useful sites weren't yet included.

Something was missing. The ODP needed help. They needed somebody who knew what made a good website in those categories. They needed somebody who cared about the quality of websites about those subjects. They needed me!

I applied to become a category editor, disclosing my affiliation to a website in that category. Within a few days I was accepted as an editor and the site I disclosed and submitted was there waiting for me to list it in the directory. I call that a good user experience provided by - but particularly so when compared to the experience of people with more selfish motives, whose subconscious line of thought probably goes something like this:

I want this site listed. I haven't bothered to try to make it useful for people - in fact it's just a mirror site stuffed with ads. But here's the site - along with a spammy, keyword-stuffed title and description. I haven't bothered to look at what makes a good listing either. Just list it.

"Become an Editor"? Why would I do that - except to get this site listed? I don't care what's in the directory - just list this site now. If it's not listed by tomorrow I'll probably try submitting it another few times.

This is hardly quid pro quo. There's no give and take in that approach and so it's less likely to benefit anybody.

Getting your site listed on

Most people have a topic they're passionate about and that they have some expertise in. Whatever yours is, you're no doubt eminently familiar with the best websites on your subject. In fact you probably operate or are affiliated with at least one of those sites in some way. As an enthusiast, like me you care about the information and resources that are available to other enthusiasts. You would not recommend a bad, spammy website about your passionate interests to another enthusiast. So hopefully you wouldn't want to try to use the ODP to unfairly favour a pointless site in search results - right?

Blogs and forums are awash with complaints about how long it takes to get a site listed on dmoz. But the reason it sometimes takes so long to get a site listed may be largely due to volume. There are a huge queue of worthwhile sites waiting to get listed. The queue of poor sites submitted by spammers is at least as large. Somebody has to go through all those sites. That's a big job and the ODP needs help from people who can recognise a good site in the context of its niche.

At the bottom of most categories there is a link that says, "Become an editor". That's because the ODP needs more editors. If you have an area of expertise and an interest in building a really good directory then that could mean you.

Which category should you edit?

The most important consideration is which category you have the most expertise in. But you won't get accepted as an editor of a huge, high level category right away. First you need to prove your expertise and good intent by editing some of the smallest categories in the directory. So rather than editing Regional : UK you should be looking to start with something like Regional: Europe: United Kingdom: England: Hertfordshire: Arts and Entertainment.

Dmoz editors are actively looking for good websites about their subject category. I've seen several websites get listed on dmoz without anybody even submitting them. The editor knew their category and found the site themselves.

So the first and most important thing you can do to get your site into - and keep it there - is to aim to build one of the best websites in your niche, with unique content and resources that are of value to people interested in the topic. (Follow that up by promoting it in all the usual ways).

If the "build quality content" approach sounds familiar perhaps that's because the pursuit of quality, relevant, original content is also the only sustainable approach to search engine optimisation and other digital marketing campaigns. The bottom line is that quality content makes it easier for you to get links - including a link from

How important is a listing on

Maybe not as important as you think and not as important as it used to be. Not every dmoz listing has value and some are more beneficial than others. But obtaining a listing is potentially very important. In many cases it is the most important link you can get. Your competirors may have a link there already, constituting a potential advantage to them. And if they haven't got a link there yet, you need to assume they will do. So it must be your goal to build a site worthy of a listing on, and to get it submitted or noticed by an editor and listed. (A listing may be particularly beneficial to young websites that have yet to attract other good inbound links.)

Here are two good reasons why a link on is likely to be a good link:
1. A listing on means a link from a page on that domain and has enormous authority in its own right. The index page has a page authority of 94 out of 100. That's like saying it has a Google PageRank of around 9 or 10. Domain authority is also 94/100. There are almost 50,000 domains linking to - with more than 1.5 million links.

2. As mentioned above, ODP listings include anchor text - potentially including relevant keywords (usually the real title of the site). The site description also helps search engines determine the keywords that are relevant to your site, although to a lesser extent.

The Open Directory Project draws a lot of negative comments. But before you evaluate what has done for you, ask yourself what you have done for Have you submitted only the best websites and taken care to find the most relevant category? If you're so unhappy with the directory then why don't you make a genuine attempt to make it a better place by applying to become an editor - working in the interests of the directory and users of the internet, rather than just your own interests?

If you can contribute positively to the ODP in the spirit of quality, pride and teamwork, then you might just get more back than just having your site listed. You could take pride in helping to build the world's largest and arguably most important online directory. And you get to help other people who care about your interests to find the best websites when they search using Google and other search engines. Because - rightly - the Open Directory can have a significant impact on search results.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

A Royal Twitter Marketing Failure

Amid the buzz surrounding the royal wedding on 29th April, marketers at one brand - Slim-Fast - saw a huge opportunity. They sponsored the #RoyalWedding hashtag on Twitter, hoping to ride on the wave of interest generated by an event watched by billions around the world.

Twitter was awash with hype. The expected web traffic rush threatened to crash Twitter - perhaps even the whole internet.

No doubt the royal wedding hashtag received many millions of views, from people all over the world. In addition to targeting royal wedding watchers, the hashtag trended worldwide on Twitter and was thus potentially visible to all of Twitter's vast user-base.

At face-value this may seem like marketing genius. It is certainly an ingenious example of marketing opportunism.

But exposure does not equal engagement, or increased brand awareness - let alone increased revenues.

A major objective of sponsoring #RoyalWedding must have been to increase the brand's followers substantially. It failed. By 3rd May, including the whole extended holiday weekend, Slimfast won only 336 new followers - out of all the millions of people who must have been exposed to the campaign. This is an extremely poor result and no doubt represents extremely poor return on investment compared to more effective use of Twitter or other digital channels.

Digital medium. Ancient marketing model

So this bad marketing. But in particular, it represents a good case study in bad digital marketing tactics. social media channels enable precision-targeting. They enable marketers to reach out to customers with totally relevant messages, designed to appeal precisely to them, at exactly the moment when they might be interested in hearing them. Effective digital campaigns target tightly-defined market segments, usually with very measurable ROI. (In the case of Slim-fast, the market would no doubt be people who want to lose weight with minimum effort.)

Mass-marketing: not precision-targeting

Twitter in particular enables marketers to connect with customers in exactly this way - with precision. And engagement. Because, even more powerfully, it is an open channel for customers to reach out to brands. On the customer's terms. Social media marketing should put people back at the heart of marketing.

Slim-fast's ploy ignores all the new human-to-human power at marketers' fingertips. Sponsoring a busy Twitter hashtag is the digital marketing equivalent of placing a billboard at a busy road junction. It's mass-marketing, not digital marketing. It's random, not targeted, and it's not welcomed by the vast majority of recipients.

No doubt, in reaching millions of Twitter users, this brand also chanced to reach many thousands of people who might potentially be interested in their product. But they missed whole point of digital marketing!

More BOOM for your buck

To use a military analogy, Slim-fast's mass-marketing broadcast approach to social media is the digital marketing equivalent of using a nuclear missile to sink just one ship.

Sure, you'll sink the ship. But you'll also waste a lot of energy flattening the rest of the fleet! Why not use all the power, all the potential of social media channels, to do what smart digital marketers are doing: engaging effectively with their target audience.

Just as a nuclear power station harnesses enormous power of the atom to supply millions of homes and businesses with energy, marketers can harness digital marketing to engage with millions of interested customers.

Don't just blast people with broadcast marketing over social media. You can still waste your budget doing that with traditional channels.

Social media is supposed to be friendly. Personal... social. It's not a marketing mouthpiece and traditional marketing activity is not usually welcomed in the social space.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Four Reasons to Build "Nofollow" Links

Are you passing up powerful link-building opportunities? Do you get that sinking feeling when you see rel="nofollow" in the HTML of pages you invested valuable time into identifying? Do you think "nofollow" links have no SEO value? If so, think again. Nofollow links absolutely do have value. And not just SEO value. Effective link building campaigns should integrate with other elements of your digital and traditional marketing strategy. Here are four good reasons why...

1. Users follow links too

You should always build links for people - not search engines. Search engines just try to determine what is best for people. So everything you do should be aimed at people too. Ranking algorithms change, but the fundamental principle of "what's best for the user" will always endure. Search engines will get better at determining what's best for users. So if your link-building campaign is only good for SEO then it is not effective now and it is likely to become less effective as search engines evolve. Any opportunity to share your link with an interested person is good news. If your link building strategy is properly formulated then your links will naturally end up in front of real people who are interested in the topic of your website's content.

2. Social linksThis is my favourite use for nofollow links, and it is potentially worth more than any SEO value that might be gained from a followed link. If you find a great place to build a link but it turns out to be "nofollow", why not link to a good piece of social media real estate, such as your Twitter feed, instead? Social media is shareable and has viral potential. Tap into the networks of all the real people who your link building campaign should be targeting. A social link can prove many times more effective at achieving your business objectives than a followed link. What's more, search engines are increasingly looking to social signals to replace links as the primary ranking signals. In the meantime, if your tweets or social content are shared by a large number of users, it is highly likely that there will be a significant impact on search. AsSEOmoz found, Social affects search.

Social link opportunities highlight the need for an integrated digital marketing strategy. No digital or traditional marketing discipline should work in isolation: each strategy can and should support and feed the others and this is particularly true online. Hopefully this gives you a sense of how everything about your strategy should be natural, organic, human and connected. That leads us neatly into the next reason:

3. Natural is best
Search engines look for a natural balance of links. If your links are all followed then that looks odd - and potentially suspicious. A healthy link portfolio should include nofollow links. (It could be argued that as good, followed links become harder to get, new websites should have a greater proportion of nofollow links).

4. Some "nofollow" links are followed
In some circumstances "nofollow" links can actually yield direct SEO link equity - passing authority and indicating keyword context, just like a followed link. Google tries to downplay this, but there are many cases of nofollow links yielding SEO value.

So there is no good reason to avoid nofollow links. They are a natural, beneficial part of your online environment and should play a considered role in your comprehensive, cross-discipline marketing strategy.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Ten Top Tips for Twitter Marketing

1. Engage: Follow relevant influencers, and foster the influencers of the future. Don't just follow or engage with people because they have a lot of followers. Follow those whose tweets are compelling to you - and to other like minded people. A high number of followers may indicate a source of tweets that are compelling to others. The higher the number of people they are following, the less this is true. If somebody follows 10,000 and is followed by 10,000 that doesn't really mean anything.) Engage honestly. If you like a tweet, retweet it. But also follow less influential people. Learn from them and help them to grow.

2. Quality, not quantity of followees and followers. Don't seek large numbers of poor quality, irrelevant followers. Only follow people you're proud to follow. Be patient: you can easily get thousands of poor quality, disinterested followers in a short space of time, but you will achieve nothing.

3. Don't tweet too much. Or too often. That might sound counter-intuitive - you do need to tweet frequent, compelling content in order to build a high quality following. But as is true in life generally, if you haven't got something worthwhile, then say nothing. Don't tweet more than three times within the space of 30 seconds, or you'll clog up your followers' feeds and that's annoying. If every other tweet in their feed is yours, because you tweet so often, that also alienates followers - and do you really have that many interesting things to say? These are among the most common reasons people stop following you. But this is another commandment that applies less to very popular people such as celebrities. If people really do hunger for every word then tweet as much as you like about anything.

4. Tweet with the aim of exciting, inspiring and entertaining like minded people. If most of your followers know you, or are a fan of yours, it's just possible they'll find even your most trivial updates worth reading. If not, then don't bore the majority of them with what you had for breakfast.

5. Don't follow just to get followed back. It's unreliable, unsustainable, and selfish. In Twitter, as in life, you generally get back as much as you put in, and reap what you sow. No more, no less.

6. If you wish to honour the author, "Retweet" using the Retweet button.

7. Use "RT @" to build your own Twitter greatness - stand upon the shoulders of giants. But sometimes its nice to honour the original author. Hence you should use number the Retweet button generously

8. Only retweet what you find compelling. Don't Retweet or "RT" trivia just to flatter the influencer who tweeted it - you'll only bore your own followers.

9. Check Top Tweets and retweet compelling content. The masses have spoken.

10. Be relevant. Focus on your subject - especially if your aim is to build your authority in one particular specialism. Don't use #tags for promotional purposes - use them only to share information with people interested in a topic. Don't dilute your Twitter stream with too much distraction and irrelevance: if you want to tweet on a wide range of unrelated subjects - such as social media and sport - set up two topical profiles. Most Sport fans don't care about social media marketing. Your Twitter feed should be part of your personal marketing campaign. It should be targeted.

7 Social Media Strategy Questions Answered

Answers to the top seven social media strategy questions

(Read my interview with Viewsline.)

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Digital Marketing in the Public Sector and Military

Digital marketing is firmly established as a powerful toolkit for communication and engagement - helping business organisations and charities to increase profits or raise funds faster, more efficiently and more effectively. But what of digital marketing benefits to front-line, publicly funded organisations - such as law enforcement, the emergency services, local government, or even the military?

The commercial benefits of digital marketing are well documented. Smart businesses and charities are already using search engine optimisation and search marketing to reach buyers and donors at the instant in which the buyer seeks what the organisation has to offer. The trend towards digital is delivering significantly increased return on investment in marketing, as costs are reduced while conversion rates are increased.

But some front-line public organisations have only recently begun to experiment with digital marketing tactics - although their efforts have been extremely successful.

Greater Manchester Police launched a Twitter micro-blog feed:
@gmpolice. Their tweets raise the profile of their work, whilst helping them to engage with the people they serve. Twitter also enables them to highlight the trivial incidents people report, potentially reducing time wasted in logging and responding to them. And faced with a major incident GM Police could potentially use Twitter to deliver vital information to people who need it.

@gmpolice has more than 18,000 followers - with a followers-to-following ratio of around 100:1.

The celebrity-publicised
#SerenaBeakhurst Twitter campaign to find the missing London teenager received an overwhelming response - and found her!

A police
Facebook campaign to find the killer of Joanna Yates received more than 63,000 views and generated many new leads, while on Twitter the topic #JoannaYeates received a similar number of tweets within the first day. CCTV footage on YouTube received over 70,000 views.

(Even the much maligned police force of China's usually insular regime is
embracing social media engagement!)
What next?

The UK stories, at least, tell of highly successful digital marketing campaigns by any standards. Such dramatic social media success begs the question: what next? Where do they go from here?

More specifically, should they be thinking in terms of broader digital marketing strategy? Could there be a role for other digital marketing tactics in the front-line public sector? Might digital channels and social media even have a place within the military? I really think so. (Social media could be used to counter disinformation deploy propaganda for example, or even to raise a groundswell of support for a revolution or coup d'├ętat to depose a genuinely dangerous regime with minimum bloodshed.)

At this point we are mainly seeing isolated tactical campaigns. The next logical iteration is for front-line public organisations to adopt a strategic approach to digital marketing - to develop integrated marketing and communication strategies with a digital backbone. Given the proven power and cost-effectiveness of digital media campaigns, this progression seems inevitable. And in difficult economic times, when budgets are under pressure, digital marketing in general - and social media in particular - has the potential to cut costs dramatically - enabling officials with an important message to reach out to huge numbers of people - for free.