I just got off the panel on The Future of Search at Search Engine Strategies San Jose. There was a bit of discussion about social media and whether SEO will still be relevant if users are spending their online time inside of social networks like Facebook and YouTube. The consensus from the panel was that SEO will still be alive and well, and that social networks offer just another venue within which searchers can conduct their queries. That makes the large social networks like Facebook into search engines. YouTube is now the #2 search engine, after all (there are more search queries on YouTube than Yahoo). Yesterday’s Mashable article, The New Search War: Google vs Facebook highlights the threat to Google that Facebook poses. It’s an interesting read. The point in all this: optimizing for better visibility in search engines, whether Google or Facebook, isn’t going away.
Not only does social media provide another venue for searching, it serves as an invaluable tool to the SEO practitioner, specifically for link baiting. It’s link building on steroids. The value lies specifically in the social news and social bookmarking sites (Digg, StumbleUpon, del.icio.us, etc.). If you make it to the front page of Digg, the visibility you get in front of the “linkerati” (e.g. bloggers and journalists) is invaluable. I describe a process for seeding link bait into social media in my Search Engine Land article The Social Media Underground. A word of caution: be respectful of the social community. Don’t submit junk, don’t spam your friends with vote requests, and don’t bait-and-switch.
A few months back at the eMetrics Summit, I was interviewed by Web Marketing Today about this whole process, and some other things. Here is the video:
As a blogger I can’t tell you how many spammy link requests from “link builders” that I get on an ongoing basis. It’s just way too many. You certainly don’t want to hire the kind of link building firm that sends out such spam link requests using cheap third-world labor. It’s these same sorts of firms responsible for a big percentage of the useless keyword-rich link-containing comments posted all over the blogosphere.
On one end of the link builder spectrum you have the solo operator guru, somebody of the caliber of Eric Ward, to the other end of the spectrum — those link building sweatshops out of India that will spam the hell out of the blogosphere and of webmasters’ email inboxes on your behalf. You’ll want to hire a consultant or firm more towards the former rather than the latter (obviously). At least if you wish to be working with a top-notch link building outsource partner, one that’s really going to “do the business” for you, and not spam in the process.
A good SEO firm should also be a good link building firm but this is not always the case. In fact, it is not often the case. On-page SEO and technical tweaks like rewrites and redirects are a very different animal from the outside-the-box thinking and unbridled creativity required for link building, and link baiting in particular.
A great example of such creativity is the business cards for life contest that we at Netconcepts dreamed up for our client Overnight Prints that involved the Internet celebrity and Technorati Top 100 blogger Jeremy Schoemaker. The contest was to design Jeremy’s business card, with Jeremy serving as the ultimate judge. (Here’s the winning entry, btw. It’s one sweet business card.)
Another great example (not sure which consultancy is behind this one) is A&E’s “Hammer Pants” flash mob stunt:
What are some things to look for when hiring a link building consultant or agency? Here are a few:
- examples of creative, out-of-the-box thinking (as already explained above)
- demonstrable success with link bait being well-received by social news and social bookmarking communities
- the tools necessary to do the job well (e.g. LinkScape, Raven, BuzzStream, SQUID, Enquisite, Internet Marketing Ninjas, SEO Book tools like the Hub Finder, etc.)
- happy customer references
- a good reputation in the industry (as judged by mentions on SEO blogs, forums etc.)
- ideally, evidence of thought leadership (e.g. conference speaking, magazine articles, quotes in mainstream media, a great blog…)
Plus I asked the link mensch himself, Eric Ward, to chime in with some more pointers, which he did. According to Eric, you should ensure that you…
- are given a rationale as to why they want to pursue any given target
- have final approval on every target site they contact
- have final approval before you agree to link back or pay for a link
- are provided a stated deliverable and you have agreed to it
- get an expert to review the contract, like me or Stephan. (Paying a few hundred bucks for a deliverable review might be the wisest money you can spend.)
- are given at least monthly reports of progress
In my most recent Search Engine Land article I wrote about tracking ROI and cost-justifying link building initiatives. It may be helpful to incorporate such metrics into an engagement.
Remember that this is much more like hiring a PR firm than an ad agency. PR firms (and link builders) can influence — but not control — outcomes. Ad agencies can control the number of brand impressions just by simply spending more dollars.
Hello from the Web 2.0 Expo in NYC. Yesterday I presented “Best Kept Secrets to SEO Success”, where I shared some of lesser known tricks, tools, and techniques.
One of the sessions I attended after mine was finished was “Monitoring Social Media for Fresh, Contemporary and Reliable Sources” presented by Andrew Baron, founder of the popular Rocketboom videoblog/podcast. Andrew shared some of the ways he keeps his ear to the ground on social media to pick up on breaking news before it hits the mainstream media. He uses Search.Twitter.com (formerly Summize) to search for what’s going on at this instant. For example, he was able to find that the line at the Apple Store was around the block, saving himself a trip to the Apple Store (he went later after the line died down). A lot of news breaks on Twitter, so tracking Twitter not just through searching but also by following people and watching their tweets is critical. Andrew pointed out the list of the 100 most followed Twitter users on Twitterholic as notable folks to track. (I also recently discovered Twubble which helps you find new Twitter friends based on your current network of Twitter friends – pretty cool.) Andrew really likes Friendfeed; he referred to it as “Twitter with a real conversation.” The most popular links shared via Friendfeed are on Friendfeed Links. Some of the “most popular” links and “fast movers” across numerous social media are easily tracked in one place using popurls. Wikipedians are frequently first on the scene to provide late-breaking news – scurrying to update the relevant Wikipedia articles as things unfold; these can be tracked with Wikirage. Narrow the results down to within the hour for the really fresh stuff. When there are a lot of recent updates to an article it can indicate something interesting is happening. Andrew provided cautionary tales of the Montauk monster hoax and the Amazon rainforest tribe that was untouched by the outside world that was real, then a hoax, then finally real again to make the point that you have to analyze very critically the validity of any story found on social media. Andrew quoted Paul Virilio, a French philosopher, to make the point that whoever acts on new information first has an advantage. This holds true in many situations – on the battlefield, on Wall Street, and in the Web 2.0 world of startups. So if you have something new, take action before it becomes old.
I shot the following video of teen entrepreneurs Chloe Spencer of the Ultimate Neopets Cheats Site (my daughter!), Juliette Brindak of Miss O & Friends, Jared Kim of WeGame and Angela McBride, a.k.a. Asuka Martin in Teen Second Life presenting on the “Totally Wired Superstars” panel (moderated by Ypulse founder Anastasia Goodstein) at the Ypulse Mashup youth marketing conference in San Francisco this past August. Fascinating how these kids can build their businesses and balance that with school, extracurricular activities, friends, college entrance applications, etc.!
Or download the video to play it on your iPod.
It’s hard enough presenting in front of an audience of a dozens or hundreds of your peers, let alone to be paying attention to what’s happening on Twitter at the same time. But that’s exactly what a good presenter or good moderator needs to do these days. Particularly if you’re presenting to a tech-savvy audience.
Checking for real-time online feedback on your session is called “monitoring the backchannel.” One of the most famous recent incidents where a speaker should have monitored the back channel but didn’t was Sarah Lacy’s interview of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg at the South by Southwest conference this year. That session went very pear-shaped for Sarah as she pursued lines of questioning that frustrated and aggravated the audience. Sarah was blissfully ignorant as the audience began to turn on her.
That thankfully hasn’t happened to me (yet). But I did get a reminder that the audience is twittering about you while you’re on stage. Last week when I presented at the SEOmoz Expert Training intensive, I preceded Danny Sullivan. He was sitting in the audience during my session. I was doing a solo presentation, so I didn’t have time to check the back channel. After I was finished, I saw that I suddenly had dozens of new Twitter followers. That was a surprise. “What the heck happened?” I thought to myself. I found the answer soon enough. It was all instigated by Danny’s tweets about me:
watching @sspencer explain new loophole for shooting to the top of google rankings in one day. amazing stuff, wow. 01:34 PM August 20, 2008 from twhirl
@mattcutts just joshing. @sspencer is being very good, doing amazing job talking about vertical search and seo opps and tactics 01:34 PM August 20, 2008 from twhirl in reply to mattcutts
@presellpageman @sspencer is presenting at the seomoz.org training seminar. i was ses yesterday; seomoz today; gnomedex on friday. busy week 01:39 PM August 20, 2008 from twhirl in reply to PresellPageMan
If only I were better at multitasking while presenting, I’d have picked up on this and worked some funny quips about it into my presentation.
I remember from Dan Lyons’ (Fake Steve Jobs’) keynote at Web 2.0 Expo he was poking fun at Robert Scoble’s suggestion that speakers take a “Twitter break” every 10 minutes or so to keep on top of the backchannel. It’s actually not a bad suggestion, although it may not be for everybody (such as Dan Lyons, for instance!).
I had the pleasure of interviewing via email Tony Hsieh, the CEO of online shoe retailer Zappos.com, for an article I wrote for the August issue of Multichannel Merchant. Zappos is a real innovator among online retailers in a lot of areas, not the least of which is social media. They have taken Twitter by storm, with 440 twittering employees – including their CEO (Tony) and their COO (Alfred). They even launched a microsite dedicated to their Twitter presence.
I thought it would be interesting to share the interview with you here. The final article is now online, so be sure to check that out too.
Stephan: Can you share a bit of background about you and Zappos, and how the company culture plays into your inclination to jump headfirst into new online marketing channels? What were your objectives in entering the Twitterverse? twitter.zappos.com from a social media standpoint is pretty impressive and in the corporate world a rather unheard of large-scale embracing of Twitter. What is the big picture idea behind this / how did this come about?
Our #1 priority as a company is our company culture. We believe that if we get the culture right, most of the other stuff, including great customer service, will fall into place on its own. Long term, we want the Zappos brand to be about the very best customer service and the very best customer experience.
For Twitter, we don’t really view it as a marketing channel so much as a way to connect on a more personal level, whether it’s with our employees or our existing customers.
Initially, we started getting the entire company more involved with Twitter because we saw it as a great way to help build our company culture. But then we discovered it was also a great way to connect with
customers as well.
Stephan: Are you viewing this as an experiment to be evaluated over some trial period or are you committed to engaging with customers via Twitter over the long term?
Tony: We are committed to connecting with our customers on a personal level. The telephone is actually a really great way to do this, which is why we have our 1-800 number at the top of every page of our web site. We found that Twitter is another great way to do this, and if something else comes along in the future, then we would definitely explore that as well.
Stephan: How are Zappos employees using Twitter? Is there any competitive aspect amongst employees about follower acquisition? Is there an overarching theme to their tweets or are they just twittering about their cats? Do they twitter about Zappos products and blog posts? What’s the level of supervision of them in their twittering? e.g. any employee guidelines for twittering? and are they trained? How do they know not to pose as a random consumer and post pro-Zappos tweets while hiding their corporate employee status? What would an employee have to tweet to get fired? What’s the procedure for employees handling tweets directed directly at them from customers?
Tony: We do offer Twitter classes, but those are optional and are more for employees to learn how to sign up for Twitter and use various features and third party applications. We really don’t give any specific guidelines except to tell them to use their best judgement.
It’s up to employees what they want to Twitter about. As I mentioned earlier, the primary focus was to get employees to connect with each other, so the vast majority of the posts are about their personal lives.
In terms of what an employee would have to tweet in order to get fired, it would be if they did something that was not consistent with our core values, which are here.
But this is not twitter-specific: If an employee does anything that’s not consistent with our core values, whether through twitter, telephone, or in person, then we need to consider whether that employee is Zappos material for the long term.
We currently don’t have any standard procedures for responding to tweets from customers.
Stephan: What (if any) kind of ROI are you seeing by having your employees spend time being active on Twitter? What are your success metrics?
Tony: We’re not really looking at short-term ROI in terms of sales. We’re looking to form life-long relationships with our customers, and we think Twitter helps us do this.
However, we’ve also found that Twitter has been great for recruiting because people can get a glimpse into what our culture is like just by observing how we interact with each other on Twitter.
Stephan: What’s the response from customers been? What was the response to your tweet asking for feedback to the idea of a zappos.org site that donates a percentage of the revenue to charity? Have you heard if any of your mentions of companies/products/restaurants resulted in an increase in sales for what you’ve endorsed?
Tony: The customers that are following @zappos on Twitter seem to really enjoy it because it allows them to interact with us on a much more personal level. I’ve heard anecdotally of people buying from us because of our Twitter presence, but as I mentioned earlier, we’re not really looking at the short term ROI.
Stephan: Has Zappos embraced or have plans to embrace any other social networks on such a large scale? Digg? Propeller? Etc?
Tony: Not at this time.
Stephan: Could you describe some of the contests you’ve been conducting over Twitter and how successful you feel they’ve been? Any big plans for upcoming Twitter contests?
Tony: We don’t have a formal contest plan or program.
Stephan: Have you considered Twitter as a customer service tool to crowd-source customer questions and set up an employee guru status where employees get points for answering customers’ questions effectively?
Tony: Not at this time.
Stephan: You seem very open in sharing what you’re doing and where you’re going at any given moment. Do you feel too exposed sometimes by being so open? Do you fear making some statements on Twitter that might come back to haunt you in some way?
Tony: Almost any statement that’s taken out of context can be interpreted negatively. But part of the beauty of Twitter is that you can see what we have all been doing over time and make your own judgement on what you think of Zappos based on the sum total of everything, not a single tweet.
Stephan: Do you randomly twitter stuff, or do you try to schedule entries consistently?
Tony: I think it’s important to be authentic, so I don’t have a schedule. I’ll tweet if I feel like it, and I won’t if I don’t.
Stephan: What would be your advice to other CEOs out there who would like to try twittering?
Tony: Just be real and use it as a way to connect more deeply with people. Don’t think of it as a marketing tool you have to leverage. And you actually have to be passionate about twittering or it’s not going to work. So if you’re not passionate about it, then don’t do it.
I realized while writing my last post about press releases optimized for social media and SEO that “social media” may not mean anything to some readers and to others (particularly the early adopter types) it may mean the world. Some folks even react to the term with religious fervor.
But you know what, “social media” isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread. Nor is Web 2.0. Nor is Twitter.
I know it’s what everyone in the blogosphere keeps buzzing about, and when you hear it enough it makes you want to get in on the action. But guess what? Most people in your target market I bet don’t have a clue what such buzz words mean, nor how to use them even if they did. The fact of the matter is, not every new thing will be right for your business.
So what I’m saying is: Don’t just get involved in something because everyone else is. If everyone else was jumping off a bridge, does that mean you should too? (with the exception of bungee jumping, of course! ) If you are going to get involved with a new technology, don’t just jump head first without taking the time to understand what you are about to get into.
For example… a lot, and I mean A LOT, of social media sites will start ranking for your name if you use them heavily and garner several links pointing to your profile pages. Because of this, it they can be used as great reputation management tools and push down some bad press. But at the same time you can inadvertently misuse them and end up putting a face of your business forward that you don’t want the public to see.
You’ve been warned.
In the video, Steve talks about how his Mentos + Diet Coke experiment turned into a YouTube sensation and how he was able to leverage it for his own marketing purposes. Steve is a client of ours and he even mentions Netconcepts (thank you Steve!!) as his experts behind the scenes helping him, which was really cool to hear.
Also in the video Steve shows off his cool flaming wallet, and how he is privileged to receive “special treatment” at airport security because of it. Um, yeah, that’s not the kind of attention that you want, Steve
What you don’t see in the video is that Steve also has a flaming business card holder. It’s hilarious when he whips out one of his business cards and he has to put the fire out on the flaming card before he hands it to you. I’d LOVE to have one of those card holders and then troll the trade show floor and then hand over a flaming card to overaggressive, hard-selling vendors – but WITHOUT putting the fire out! hehe :>
I’d like to add some additional context to my last post on Social Media Power User “Hacks”. In that post I provided some power user tips for social media marketing and optimization. These power user tips are meant to augment or supplement the necessary prerequisites of creating great content, being a valuable member of the social site/community, and being authentic your interactions (rather than deceitful or dishonest). Guerrilla tactics aren’t a replacement for adding real value.
There are some ethical must-haves (underpinnings) of social media interaction such as engaging in meaningful conversation, instilling trust, being authentic, etc. Entering the social space without an internal moral compass is a recipe for disaster. Although such ethical must-haves wasn’t part of my preso (you’re rarely allocated more than 10 minutes to speak on an SES or SMX panel), don’t think it’s not important. It’s THE most important thing.
Put another way, social media marketing isn’t just a bunch of tricks and shortcuts, it’s mostly about being adding value in an honest way, with the tricks and shortcuts added on to give you that little edge over your competition.
And when applying those aforementioned guerrilla tactics to gain the edge, you must exercise restraint and use good judgment. Don’t just go hog wild and use every “trick in the book” and do it to excess.
Now consider this example of moderation versus excess… Sending a good friend a site with the StumbleUpon toolbar is totally acceptable. But compare that with sending an army of “friends” that you don’t know a truckload of URLs to sift through. The latter is spammy, unethical, and reckless; you’d be foolish to engage in such behavior. You’d torch your account, burn relationships and ruin your reputation.
In line with that thought, you certainly don’t need to employ the whole kit and caboodle of guerrilla tactics. For example, that tip for friending bands in MySpace may be totally unnecessary. Hopefully you can get to a critical mass of friends on MySpace without adding low-value friends (low value as in not likely to have meaningful interactions with you and not in your target market) such as all the bands and musicians that you like. But if you are at only a handful of friends and can’t seem to get over the hump, it’s nice to know that there’s something you can do besides just sit and wait for people to friend you; you can proactively friend bands that you like. Granted an artist like Weird Al Yankovic isn’t going to be terribly interactive with you, so at some point in the future you’re likely to remove that friend from your ranks. Incidentally, that particular tip of friending bands came from a jewelry retailer I interviewed for the Marketing on MySpace article I wrote for MarketingProfs last year. Here’s the quote:
…when starting off, you need to get Friends. It’s kind of a bragging right on MySpace. If you have too few friends, it’ll be tough to get the good ones—the ones who will end up buying from you. So, before you go after those, get a few hundred “bad” friends—bands are the easiest. They’ll give you a respectable number on your Friends list, and will leave comments on your page—giving a little realism boost to your profile—making the addition of friends of the “good” type that much easier.
Finally, your focus in your social media marketing shouldn’t be solely on gaining links. The links are mainly a byproduct of being a good social citizen. Of course they’re still an essential byproduct nonetheless if you are an SEO. But it shouldn’t be your main driver for participating in social media. Taking such a self-centered and short-sighted view will backfire. People will see through it. Operate by the principle of “pay it forward”. Karma, in other words.
Live long and prosper.
Here in Toronto, I just finished my presentation on the Social Media Success panel. I shared some “hacks” for some social sites and services — and when I say “hacks” — I mean in the good sense of the word, not the evil sense. In other words, the way that the book publisher O’Reilly uses the word in their series of books such as Google Hacks. O’Reilly define “hacks” as “tools, tips, and tricks that help users solve problems.” Such hacks tend to be aimed at intermediate-level power users. Here’s what I covered:
- Build up your street cred (long & virtuous contribution history, user profile page with Barnstar awards) before doing anything that could be construed as self-serving. It’s not good enough to be altruistic on Wikipedia unless you demonstrate it. i.e. It has to be visible as a track record (i.e. do squash spam and fix typos and add valuable content, but don’t do it anonymously).
- A link on a high-profile article is worth gold, as it builds your credibility and visibility with journalists and bloggers. Negotiate with an article’s “owner” (the main editor who most polices the article) before making such an edit to get their blessing first.
- Monitor your articles-of-interest with a tool that emails you (e.g. trackengine, changenotes, urlywarning, changedetect). Don’t just rely on Wikipedia’s “Watch” function.
- The flow of PageRank can be directed internally within Wikipedia with Disambiguation pages, Redirects, Categories.
- Make friends. They will be invaluable in times of trouble, such as if an article you care about gets an “Article for Deletion” nomination.
- Don’t edit anonymously from work. This could come back to haunt you. Have you heard of WikiScanner??
There are plenty of other wikis out there that are a lot more edit-friendly than Wikipedia where you could contribute valuable content, get links, and build relationships. Examples include ShopWiki, The NewPR Wiki, WordPress Codex, conference wikis such as the Web20Expo. Some even pass link juice, which is a nice bonus.
- Strip away all commercial links during the initial Digg swarm. Digg alpha geeks are repelled / repulsed by overly commercial sites.
- Friend popular Diggers. Better yet, if you can convince a popular Digger to submit your story, you’ll significantly increase your chances of the story hitting the Digg home page. Consult the Top 100 list of Diggers for the most popular “power users”.
- Time your presence on the Digg front page for daylight hours
- Craft a killer title using this formula from Muhammad Saleem: number + adjective + key phrase. E.g. “13 Most Chilling Haunted Hotels” or “16 Incredibly Unconventional Hotel Rooms”
You can “force” your friends to view your request to stumble a particular URL using the “Send to” function in the StumbleUpon toolbar. They have to view your URL before they can continue with their random channel surfing. Don’t abuse it, or your tick your friends off.
- With most popular YouTube promotions, YouTube gets the links and the original site usually does not. Stack the odds more in your favor by creating a microsite and making the microsite URL your username. e.g. “willitblend.com” is BlendTec’s username.
- Use as many tags as possible while still being accurate.
- Run a contest and recruit popular YouTube users to enter. Their video submission will get pushed out to all their subscribers. e.g. Intuit’s brilliant Tax Rap contest.
- Be creative but unpolished. A great example of this is SolarDave’s SES San Jose spoof with cut-out figures as the actors.
- Some other examples of successful YouTube videos include Eepybird’s Bellagio Fountain of Diet Coke + Mentos, BlendTec’s “Will It Blend?” series, the Heroes spoof commercial (“Zeroes”) – an NBC creation, and John Cleese Backup Trauma webisode
- You need a good number of friends. No friends and you look like a loser, just like in the real world. You can establish critical mass quickly simply by friending bands. They’ll take anybody! Also models (male and female), fiction authors, actors, go-go dancers, and DJs work too. Find them using the “Search Profiles for People with Similar Career Interests” as part of MySpace’s Search function. You can remove them later on when you no longer need them.
- Long page load time will drive your profile visitors away. Disable HTML in your comments so users can’t fill your page with slow-loading pictures of LOLcats etc.
- Add links to your website, blog, and one other URL and select “Other” so you can specify the anchor text. Don’t use the pre-selected categories “My website” etc.
- Add a LION (LinkedIn Open Networker) or two to your network. i.e. a “promiscuous sneezer” (in Seth Godin-speak). You can find LIONs on the TopLinked.com list. e.g. Flip Filipowski
- Add your email address to your “professional headline” so folks 4+ degrees away don’t have to waste an InMail to contact you.
- Questions posted to LinkedIn Answers can also serve your own purposes e.g. “We’re looking to hire an SEO analyst and are willing to pay whatever it takes to get a top-notch person. What job boards do you recommend?”
- Always use tags – as many as possible while still being accurate. Put multiple word tags in surrounded by quotation marks
- Make descriptive titles for your photos
- Create thematic Sets for your photos
- Links on profile, set and collection pages are not nofollowed
- If the photo is location specific, go into Flickr’s tools and geotag the picture.
- Go into the Flickr set tools, and locate the location on the Yahoo! Map, then drag the picture onto the map to pinpoint its location.
- Creative Commons license your photo and put how you want the user to credit you in your photo’s description.
Get involved with local Meetups and get your meetup.com member profile page linked from the meetup’s page, which will pass juice to your profile then on to your site.
Actually there are many social sites with profile pages that pass link juice. Here is a nice list of some of them.
- First, get involved via comments and build rapport. Careful about making the commenter name keyword-rich. That can look spammy and get your comment deleted by the blogger.
- It’s helpful from a PageRank perspective to comment on blogs that “dofollow” comment links. e.g. Mark Cuban’s Blogmaverick.com, Rimm-Kaufman Group’s blog.
- Submit to blog carnivals. Host one (requires that you have a blog). Start a new one.
- Be a contributor to a group blog (e.g. BusinessBlogConsulting.com, Shop.org Blog)
- Be a guest blogger on someone else’s blog (e.g. TechGazing.com, Problogger.net)
- A Tip Jar indicates the blogger is desperate for cash and is open to having sponsors help support them.
- Create a microsite dedicated to Twitter e.g. twitter.zappos.com
- Avoid getting your message junked by a recipient’s email spam filter or adding to an already overflowing inbox by using Twitter’s direct messages.
- Influence the top influencers in your Twitter network by influencing those in common with you. Identify the common “friends” with tweetwheel.com. You can send your request for them (e.g. to check out your latest post) as a direct message.
And finally, here is my PowerPoint from the session. Enjoy!