I Wish I Weren’t Writing This Article- a SimCity Review from a Marketing Viewpoint

I didn’t sit down at my PC today planning to write this article, I actually had some pure leisure time in mind. However, I haven’t been able to do what I planned to do quite a bit this week as much as I’d hoped- play the latest version of SimCity, released Tuesday, March 5th. I’ve been able to play the game some, but as I’m going to get into, there’ve been some technical hiccups to say the least. In between bouts of trying to play and weeping softly at all the wasted time I’ve had a chance to monitor a lot of different channels of sentiment and also watch EA’s response with an involved but sort of dispassionate perspective. See, I buy games like these expecting to get screwed. It’s a lot like going to the casino- if you plan to lose you’ll probably have a pretty good time.

Roulette is FUN, who cares?

Before I get into what I’ve seen other people saying, and then into what EA’s response has been (pretty good, actually, considering) I want to explain what my personal experience has been. In a nutshell, the SimCity servers are lying whores:

 

lies

 

…but I still love them so, so much.

I preordered after applying to and playing in the second of two one-hour betas; I literally went to the page and ordered the deluxe digital download directly after playing it. D. Then, I played in the 4-hour “stress test” beta and realized the potential the whole game had- and that’s when I started getting really excited. I got the game early, Monday night because I live on the West Coast. I started stabbing the button at 9 PM and started downloading the unlocked game at 10:01. It took about 40 minutes to download and unpack, and I managed to get a good 2 hours in with the game before forcing myself to go to bed as I had work in the morning. It was only enough time to set up a region, claim a city, and noodle a little.

I went to work on Tuesday, then watched RAW from Monday night, then sat down at about 9 PM to play SimCity. A ha ha ha. I sat there for the next three hours Alt-tabbing between servers that were melting and several forums that were exploding. I didn’t get to play. I did manage to play Wednesday for about 3 hours, and Thursday for the same. I was completely locked out last night and as I write this on Saturday afternoon, I am also currently locked out.

Here’s what I know about SimCity in easy to digest bullet points:

1. This is not the SimCity you are used to. It’s much more dynamic, there are things to do beyond just “grow your city and make Simoleans until everything is   arcologies”, as fun as that was:

The disasters can’t be turned off (unless you want to disqualify yourself from leaderboards)- but there is a sandbox mode that I haven’t tried as it just seems very unsatisfying to consider.

 2. YES THE GOD DAMN CITIES ARE GOD DAMN SMALLER,WE KNOW, STOP POSTING IT. It’s a very deliberate decision EA made so that your dad’s laptop can also run SimCity, and not just your mechagodzilla of a gaming rig.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter. Cities are all part of a larger region now- and if you want to, you can set up a 16-city region and run ‘em all yourself, go nuts. I think          however, that would be missing the point because…

3. SimCity ’13 or whatever we end up calling it is essentially a multiplayer game at heart. Amidst the cries of “I can’t wait until they hack in offline single player” (impossible, the games are saved server-side) or “I’ll play it when someone cracks the DRM” (not going to happen, Diablo III for example is  almost a year old and hasn’t been cracked and won’t be cracked until the server code is leaked, same as SimCity) what’s being lost is that people are pissed that it’s not the                 same game. Wanting the game to be single player only, wanting to be able to save games, wreck your city, and go back again and start from before the disaster are things this game simply is not about.   It’s a reboot, and it’s going to leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths. The good news is, there are  still plenty of alternatives, including the last SimCity game which no one played until modders got their hands on it and made it not suck so bad. I, for one, can’t wait to unleash hordes of pollution and villainy on my neighbors in the region, then bulldoze, start again,  launch a rocket,build an arcology- and so on, and so forth.

4. They almost assuredly have teams that started working on DLC and/or expansion packs- I really hope it’s the latter- in parallel to the team working on the main game release. It’s going to be expensive to buy everything that comes with this game, as proven by the first DLC, which already represents an extra $30 to spend to “have everything”, if you didn’t get it for the discounted $20 by spending $80 on the deluxe version. This is not the whole game.

          5. This is a beautiful game. There’s no way around that one, I love to watch this game. These pictures don’t even do it justice, it is so pretty in motion.

 

 

6. The long term “endgame” of SimCity is the leaderboards.  The “Simulation” aspect of things isn’t something I am interested in particularly, min-maxing traffic through gaming the system by building huge cities with only one road, for example, doesn’t interest me. I’m more interested in building up huge regions with other friends and working together to take on the leaderboards.

7. This is a very fun game that’s not ready for prime time yet. Hold off a week on buying it. I’m really enjoying it;  I’m just tired of having to wait and roll the dice for 45 minutes to see if I get to play it or not. This is in spite of them supposedly doubling server capacity already- I haven’t noticed an appreciable difference in my ability to connect and now that it’s the weekend things are getting even worse.

So what are people so Angry about?

1. Always on DRM- you have to connect to EA’s servers to play the game. You can’t boot it up on a laptop on a Navy submarine, and you can’t use it to relax on a plane without paying for wifi. Does this suck? I’m not really bothered by it, I have a fast and consistent connection to play on, but that’s ignoring a lot of other people that don’t have one. It seems greedy and stupid but a retailer wouldn’t let thieves walk out the door without paying for merchandise, EA is not going to willingly let people pirate their games if they can help it by any means. I know it’s a  controversial opinion but DRM is something gamers brought upon themselves.

2. The servers are melting- the game is pretty much unplayable for a large portion of the people  that bought it. This is clearly the biggest issue, people paid anywhere from $45 to $80 for the game and can’t play it. The most common conclusion being drawn is that if the game simply had a one player offline mode- which is what a lot of people identify SimCity with, none of this nonsense would have happened. I’ve been around for some pretty big launches and it is getting irritating that companies are all “We didn’t know so many people wanted our product” when they know damn well how many people are going to play based on preorders. It’s hard not to think they aren’t just being greedy or stupid by not scaling up at first to meet demand.

Whaddya mean, people want to buy this thing we marketed and hyped the shit out of?

3. EA has flatly stated, “no refunds for Origin downloads”. This really pisses people off too because no one, anywhere, anytime said WE NEED ANOTHER DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION SERVICE  and the service has frankly sucked like a Hoover since it was launched. It’s seen as another money grab by EA, an inefficient, buggy system when they easily could have adopted Steam, a system that has had time to mature and already does work.

4. There’s no single player, offline mode- this is less a reasonable consumer complaint, and more a “waah, my game changed” complaint. I’m not saying it’s not legit. I’m saying I have no sympathy for you if you bought a game unresearched and didn’t know what it was going to be in advance. There are 105 million results in Google’s index for “simcity review”- there’s something in there about the game, probably, somewere. Just a hunch.

The SimCity launch has been the perfect poop blizzard of poorly estimating consumer demand, a beloved franchise that changed a lot, and a seemingly soulless corporation greedily and clumsily implementing DRM ostensibly to help gamers, but ultimately perceived as “to fatten those margins”.

The other side of this coin is that as a marketer, it’s interesting for me to study a trainwreck like this from a PR/marketing/crisis management perspective. EA has done a lot of things right but I don’t know if A) there’s going to be any lasting damage or B) what the scale of said damage might be. At the time of this writing EA’s stock has not moved since the game’s release on Tuesday. I think what we’re seeing is digital Funzo trampling

If you get this reference you are as big a dork as I am.

I don’t think it bothers EA at all that there is so much demand for their game that it’s breaking their infrastructure- to your average stockholder, who doesn’t play games or give a crap about a server queue, that looks like you have a product that the consumer really really really wants to buy. And they’re right to think so, in spite of this fiasco the game remains the top selling PC game on Amazon. However, they have to respond. Here’s a brief summary of their response so far.

The company and its reps have been active on Twitter, as has Ocean Quigley, the Creative and Art Director for the title. Senior Producer Kip Katsarelis also posted on the official blog:

” You, the fans, are important to us. It’s why we got into games and it’s because of you that we  here at Maxis were able to complete our dream of making another SimCity. This has been an exciting week for us, but as you know there have been some bumps along the way. We want to shed light on one of the most significant issues that we are facing right now, as well as the steps we’re taking to resolve them so that we can provide you with an enjoyable experience.

 Server capacity is our biggest obstacle. We launched in North America on Tuesday and our servers filled up within a matter of hours. What we saw was that players were having such a good time they didn’t want to leave the game, which kept our servers packed and made it difficult for new players to join. We added more servers to accommodate the launch in Australia and Japan, and then more yesterday to accommodate the launch in Europe. As of right now, we are adding even more servers which will be going live over the next three days. And, our plan is to continue to bring more servers online until we have enough to meet the demand, increase player capacity and let more people through the gates and into the game.

Earlier today, we released a patch that temporarily cut off some features including leaderboards, achievements and Cheetah Speed to reduce data stress on the servers and effectively free up space so that we can let more people into the game. These are great features that we’re proud of and we’ll turn them back on soon, but our number one priority is to bring stability to our servers. This update also resolved some of the bugs and issues that have been frustrating players. You can read all about it at http://forum.ea.com/eaforum/posts/list/9341807.page

We will be posting regularly to keep you up to speed on developments, so please check back for updates. We are committed to doing everything we can to deliver a stable and enjoyable experience and we thank you for your continued patience and support.”

EA has also added 8 additional servers and patched the game- but they aslo removed the fastest gameplay speed, cheetah, which messes with the way a lot of people play, and they removed features such as sorting on the Join Game screen as well.

In addition to getting on a sort of filtered Reddit-style AMA on Twitter today, Maxis SVP Lucy Bradshaw has also posted the following on the SimCity blog:

“Here’s a quick update on the problems we were experiencing with SimCity – and a little something extra for people who bought the game. The server issues which began at launch have improved significantly as we added more capacity. But some people are still experiencing response and stability problems that we’re working fast to address.

So what went wrong? The short answer is: a lot more people logged on than we expected. More people played and played in ways we never saw in the beta. OK, we agree, that was dumb, but we are committed to fixing it. In the last 48 hours we increased server capacity by 120 percent. It’s working – the number of people who have gotten in and built cities has improved dramatically. The number of disrupted experiences has dropped by roughly 80 percent. So we’re close to fixed, but not quite there. I’m hoping to post another update this weekend to let everyone know that the launch issues are behind us.

Something Special for Your Trouble

The good news is that SimCity is a solid hit in all major markets. The consensus among critics and players is that this is fundamentally a great game. But this SimCity is made to be played online, and if you can’t get a stable connection, you’re NOT having a good experience. So we’re not going to rest until we’ve fixed the remaining server issues.  And to get us back in your good graces, we’re going to offer you a free PC download game from the EA portfolio. On March 18, SimCity players who have activated their game will receive an email telling them how to redeem their free game.

I know that’s a little contrived – kind of like buying a present for a friend after you did something crummy. But we feel bad about what happened. We’re hoping you won’t stay mad and that we’ll be friends again when SimCity is running at 100 percent. SimCity is a GREAT game and the people who made it are incredibly proud. Hang in there – we’ll be providing more updates throughout the weekend.”

So in summary, they have apologized, made changes to the product that will instantly help with sentiment towards the game and brand, are being responsive on social media, letting customers vent on their Facebook page, and ultimately will be offering a free product in the future.

EA is doing many things right, but they should have avoided this disaster in the first place. Companies have to start anticipating this demand, and leasing servers for overflow, or they will have complex PR issues such as these to deal with when similar titles are launched. EA was already voted the worst company in America, and SimCity is a game that everyone, not just gamers, knows and loves. This was a bad miscalculation but ultimately, I don’t think it will hurt EA at all. Until people stop buying these games en masse- and the marketing is just so good that it’s not going to happen- we’re all at their mercy.

I’m gonna go try to play again…*crosses fingers*…damn.

I hate you EA

Now what am I supposed to do- go outside?

Tout and the WWE Universe- a Match Made in Heaven

The WWE began promoting Tout like crazy last night on the broadcast of Monday Night Raw (make sure to watch RAW # 1000 next week, at the very least we’re getting a title match between John Cena and CM Punk) with various interstitial commercials and numerous references from the commentators encouraging the WWE Universe to use the new service, which is, in a nutshell, “Twitter for video”. Tout, which was born at the Stanford Research Institute, is a new social media channel using both web based and mobile applications to allow users to make real-time status updates designed for instant sharing through other social media platforms. Users record short 15 second videos using their PC, tablet or smartphone, and then “Tout” them to other users a la Twitter. Right now, Tout has about 25 million users, and the CEO claims that 6 million of those joined after the WWE began promoting the service. The WWE is all in on this one, with a dedicated page showing users all about the new service.

Tout recently closed a round of funding for over $13 million, and the WWE contributed a big piece of that pie, which explains their heavy promotion of the site/service. Zack Ryder (the WWE Superstar best known for “getting over” using Twitter and social media (check out 1:15, since I can’t seem to get the embedding to work, grrr):

…is featured heavily on Tout’s home page:

…and when I signed up (I’ll likely never use it, but what the hell, better to have and not need than need and not have) all of my recommended followers were WWE personalities, likely because of the search history on this machine while writing this article:

The WWE is purportedly going to let the WWE Universe determine some of the creative direction of the show and help steer programming- by Touting to the WWE, of course! Touts will be added to both live and pre-recorded broadcasts.

Personally, I think this is a smart move by the WWE. Consumption of online video is only growing; a study in 2011 showed that people watching Netflix were accounting for as much as 30% of all Internet traffic during primetime:

 

 

Not only is Netflix 30% of primetime traffic, but look at what else is up there, with YouTube at 11% and Flash video at 5%. That means that nearly 50% of all traffic during prime time for March 2011 was essentially “people watching videos”.

More and more phones are being released with front-facing cameras, more and more tablet devices include similar cameras, and the price of webcams has dropped to the point where an HD webcam can be had for as little as $35. The speed at which video can be uploaded and downloaded on mobile devices is increasing all the time as faster, cheaper better phones come out and the major carriers upgrade their networks. The Kindle Fire 2 and Google Nexus 7, the summer’s splashiest entrants into the small-form tablet fray, both have front-facing cameras- the only practical application of which is really video chat, as taking pictures with a front facing camera is sort of a ridiculous proposition.

People love to consume video because it’s easier than reading, and you can be a lot more creative with video than you can with text. We are moving towards a web primarily composed of video, and getting in on the ground floor allows the WWE to remain in its position of relative dominance of social media, when compared to other entertainment brands. The WWE is especially good at using social media to maintain intimacy with the fans even when they aren’t watching the show or interacting with the various digital properties, and since pro wrestling is such a visual medium, Tout seems like a perfect fit for their strategy of continuing storylines and fan outreach and promotion through social media. A service like Tout is also right in the WWE’s wheelhouse demographically. Let’s look at some data about video sharing:

 The age of users engaged in social networking:

 

and finally, the WWE’s audience demographic, straight from the WWE Ad Sales page (the data is from 2009, so take it with a grain of salt):

Demographics

61% are male

15% are ages 12-17

67% are ages 18-49

41% are males 18-34

33% are non-white

29% have a HHI of 75K or higher

15% have a HHI of 100K or higher

Internet Activity

63% played games online

52% listened to music

51% watched streaming video

Mobile

87% of our visitors own a cell phone

32% downloaded something to their cell phone within the past 30 days

15% downloaded a ringtone to their cell phone within the past 30 days

 

The service, the brand and the demographic all intersect nicely, making this practically a no-brainer. I’d be willing to bet that they see a better return on their Tout investment than they do for the WWE films division in 2013- especially if the site takes off.

As an avid WWE fan, the constant references to social media during broadcasts have become tiresome- maybe because I work in marketing also- and adding Tout is only going to irritate media-savvy viewers even more; though it’s not likely many will even realize the WWE’s financial interest in Tout. For the company and stockholders though, this is a very smart move.

Tout and the WWE Universe are a perfect fit!

 

 

SEO 2.0- What’s a Traditional SEO To Do?

Have you ever heard the expression “if you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got? Usually, I find that to be very much true. However, when we look at the process of SEO after the earth shattering Penguin and Panda algorithm updates from Google, it’s pretty clear that SEOs are going to have to change to adapt.

SEO to this point has been a pretty straightforward process of onsite optimization, content syndication, and back link acquisition. Many agencies and SEO professionals even have a routine down for doing this kind of formulaic SEO, however, it’s simply not going to work any more- at least for Google. In fact, it’s almost as if Google looked at those tactics and specifically decided to smack them down as part of these latest “P” updates (is Pirahna next? OH NO!). Many of the SEOs that I know are really struggling, as the way they’ve done SEO has always worked, basically, if you were doing SEO and your competitors weren’t, you’d have the upper hand on the SERP. Not so any more; so, what do you offer clients in place of those “old school” services? It’s time to change the model, and I have some suggestions here that I think can replace “traditional” SEO services.

Before I get into the list, I definitely want to point out that I do think there is still a place for on site optimization; that will never change, but it’s really a commodity now, nearly everyone does the same type of onsite optimization of meta tags, navigation, internal linking, and the like. The only real opportunity for creativity there is the keyword research, after that part is done the rest of an SEO campaign generally plays out the same way in most cases. Content production and distribution also have a place but the way we do that has changed, as well- Ezine Articles doesn’t work any more, folks! Linkbuilding, which I, in white hat SEO snob mode, have never really considered to be SEO, is (thankfully) going the way of the dodo- at least the old way of getting hundreds of crappy directory and comment links every month is.

The biggest piece of advice I have for SEOs in the Post-Penguanda era is STOP TRYING TO BEAT THE ALGORITHM. Let me repeat that- STOP TRYING TO GAME GOOGLE’S ALGORITHM. You are a marketer now, you always have been, but you are going to need some new techniques to fill the gaps of all the old crap you used to sell that worked only because Google hadn’t caught up to it. Here are some services you can offer to keep the value of your services in your clients’ minds.

Back link audits and removal of poor quality inbound links- I really feel that all SEO campaigns should be taking a month off right now, to audit all the inbound links to the site and spend some time getting any shady ones removed. You need to start fresh with a clean link profile. This can be a long and arduous process, and it might not show much fruit as it can be very difficult to get bad links removed (when you can find them) but especially if your client has received a notice from Google in the form of a Webmaster Tools message or even a letter, you must scrub that profile. This could take months but it is totally worth it moving forward. In fact, I would take the drastic step of halting all SEO work to solely commit to the backlink audit, until it’s clean.

Social marketing integration- Social signals are being used in the major search engines’ algorithms and most clients are clueless about how to use Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and YouTube to send the proper signals. Using an application like Buffer, a client’s social media campaign can be largely automated, and it is about an hour’s work to write 20 Tweets, 2 G+ posts and 2 Facebook posts to then trickle out over the course of the week. You can’t make them participate but you can give them a voice, if nothing else. Showing clients how to connect with a social media audience using appropriately hash tagged and linked content is a very valuable service, and it’s not separate from SEO. In fact, I’d like to get that out there right now- social media and SEO can’t be placed in separate buckets any more. They are one and the same.

Blogger Outreach- this is the new linkbuilding. Spending time building an inventory of bloggers that are willing to write (and disclose) sponsored posts, with inline links back to your site, is the new linkbuilding. Stop thinking of how to get 100 links in a day and instead focus on getting 2 really good ones, if you insist on retaining the “linkbuilding” title for your job. Some of the old techniques still work here, as well, such as contacting webmasters with dead links on their pages and asking them to replace those links with links to your site, but in the future “linkbuilding” is really going to be about relationship building.

Conversion rate optimization- what good is it bringing a horse to water if you can’t make them drink? By using advanced techniques such as geotargeting or behavioral segmentation, you can make the traffic that does come to the site more valuable. A/B testing and multivariate testing are also very valuable, and can provide insights into the client’s customer base that they’d never be able to get anywhere else but online.

Business analysis- a good SEO makes themselves a partner with their client. It’s not about squeezing another month of fees out of them with a song and dance about the latest update and how valuable your knowledge is, it’s about partnering with them to learn their industry, learn their customers, and learn their demographic. Again, this requires a lot of work, and you might have to get outside your comfort zone. I’m always surprised at how many SEOs claim to be able to help their clients make more money and do better business, yet lack any basic business training themselves.  This sort of business analysis also requires regular phone calls with the client, but don’t go too crazy- anything more often than a biweekly call is probably pushing it and is going to strain the relationship. Nothing drives me crazier as a marketer than having meetings just to have them, it wastes everyone’s time as both sides scramble to have something to talk about. Every two weeks is plenty; and regular meetings should be counted as a very valuable deliverable.

Multi-channel attribution- Google has made this even easier for us to do with their new multi-touch reporting, which is able to give insight on what the purchase/conversion funnel looks like. From “the percentage of visitors who touched the site first via PPC, but then purchased via organic search” to “how to drive traffic to the site using social media”, SEOs can provide business owners great insight about how their clients behave online. For example, if you have a product that skews young, there’s a good chance that people are first discovering your brand on Social Media- how can you capitalize on that? How can you optimize for the right channel and purchase path? How can you keep that sales funnel full? Multi channel attribution and the resultant optimization can answer all of these questions and many more. This is a newer area of SEO/marketing- unless you have an analytics solution that does these things already- and it’s a great first step towards selling an integrated campaign, as well.

Content Creation and Marketing- Wait a minute, didn’t I say that wasn’t going to work any more? Well yeah, but not the way you’ve traditionally done it, which is likely to pay someone in Asia or India $2 an hour to put out some terrible content that barely makes sense with a few exact match anchor text links back to your site, then put the content somewhere like eZine Articles or Article Alley. Content marketing now is about the same thing I’ve always personally advocated- give people some value! Give them a reason to come to your site, give them a reason to click that inline link. Infographic link bait, guest posts, and at the heart of it- good, original, valuable useful content- are the future of content marketing. Google needs good quality content to wrap its ads around, and the best way to get to the top of the SERP isn’t a secret to be figure out- it’s to be the most valuable resource. Part of our job as SEOs is to inform clients when they simply don’t deserve to rank higher for a given term, and then propose solutions such as going after longer tail keywords to make up the shortfall. Content marketing also includes SEO optimizing Press Releases when the client actually has something interesting or valuable to say. Optimzation or re-optimization of existing content can also be quite a valuable service, especially if the client has “old” content that hasn’t been updated in a while.

Adaptive/Responsive design recommendations- It’s important that client sites are flexible, as web content is being consumed on a dizzying and ever-increasing array of devices from phones to tablets to desktops. Architectural recommendations about how to build a site to scale properly so that all visitors see  all the clients’ content, in the best possible presentation, is part of both SEO and the previously mentioned conversion rate optimization. Schema.org markup is also very important, as Google builds its semantic web sites that feed the beast are going to get better SERP placements. This is also important as different devices proliferate- who knows what a browser will look like 5 years from now? Semantic markup is what the web was meant to be, if we’re only getting around to it 40 years later, so be it. Be on the cutting edge! Use the schema.org markup data to ensure maximum visibility.

Mobile website recommendations-  It doesn’t make sense for every brand to have its own mobile site, but it does make sense to build the site in a way that maximizes visibility across a lot of different devices. There’s a whole separate mobile algorithm that takes things like scalability and site speed into account; so it’s important to optimize for that algorithm. Some clients would be better served by building an App for their customers- it’s an SEO’s job to make that consideration/recommendation as well.

Site speed optimization- Regardless of what you sell or to whom you sell it, the Internet is getting faster, connected devices are getting faster, and mobile website access is becoming more common. Site speed is an important part of the algorithm and an especially important part of the mobile algorithm. Any recommendations to make sites load and parse faster are very valuable, and while most SEOs aren’t programmers, there are lots of resources out there that can tell you in plain English what’s causing a site to be slow.

Have you noticed a theme to these recommendations? They all require actual work :) SEO has always appealed to people because hey, it’s on a computer, that means you can automate and replicate and duplicate and not really have to do ACTUAL work, right? Wrong. SEO has never been about that, and now,  those SEO chickens are coming home to roost. Get on it! Improve yourself, improve your knowledge, improve your techniques, and improve the service you give your clients to be an SEO 2.0 superstar.

Pinterest- a Guide for Johnny Come Lately

What Pinterest Is

Pinterest is essentially an online, visual scrapbook. Users Pin images and videos from all over the Web to Boards, which are organized collections of categorized Pins. Users can browse categories, follow other Users or their Boards, and socially share Pins and Boards via Facebook, Twitter and RSS.

Use Case: A bride-to-be is making all of the decisions that need to be made leading up to the wedding. So that she can collect everything in one place, she sets up a Board called “Wedding Dresses”. As she surfs the Web, she can Pin images or videos of wedding dresses that she likes to her Board, giving her an easy place to go back and reference later, and also a centralized place for sharing. If she wants the bridesmaids’ opinion on their dresses, she can pin several to a Board and then direct her bridesmaids to check out the board and leave comments. She can also Follow other Pinterest users or Boards that have a similar focus, for suggestions.
Ultimately, Pinterest is a site about curation and discovery, both important activities as we move into the next iteration of the Internet- the social Internet.

 

Why it matters

Pinterest is appealing for 3 primary reasons- there’s no urgency or information overload, it’s less personal and more fun than other services, and it’s extremely easy to use.
Pinterest Users skew heavily female, and most are in the 18-44 demographic, with household incomes between $25,000 and $75,000, generally. About 60% of Pinterest Users have “some college” under their belt. If you have a visually appealing brand, especially one that appeals to Females, you must optimize your site for Pins, or you will be missing out on what is a rapidly expanding source of referral traffic. Nearly 1.5 million unique Visitors a day hit the site and spend almost 14 minutes there. Recent studies have shown that Pinterest is a better source of referral traffic than Google+, LinkedIn, Reddit or YouTube. This is in spite of registration for the site being by invitation only. The number of unique Visitors to the site increased by 329%- to 7.21 million- between September and December of 2011.

 

Get Started Now!

Start using Pinterest now, while the User base is still rapidly growing and buzz around the service is at a fever pitch. The same rules for other social media services apply to Pinterest- say something meaningful, interesting and honest with your Followers, and try to represent your brand’s personality.

 

Specific Use Cases for Pinterest Integration into your Marketing Strategy

Brand Engagement- show the customer who you are, rather than telling them. Use images and video to convey your brands’ personality and drive engagement.
SEO-  looking at referral data can be a great way to identify brand influencers.
Market Research- Pinterest provides an opportunity for companies to engage their customers with Boards about fashion trends, for example, allowing Users to post to their Boards as well- merchandisers can than look at what is posted there to make decisions about buying, sales and special offers.
Trend Watching- Pinterest makes it easy for companies to search and understand what type of content Pinterest Users post- not just about their brand, but about competitors, seasonality, current events as well- trend watching on Pinterest makes all marketing decisions easier.

 

How to use Pinterest

A “Pin” is an image or video that links to the original content that is assigned to one of the User’s Boards. The User is able to write a short description of the item, and the pin can be from another User’s profile on Pinterest, from any website, or uploaded directly by the user.
A Board is simply a collection of pins that the User has grouped under one category- think “recipes”, “favorite books”, “shoes I’d like to buy”, “bathroom remodel ideas”, etc.
Users have the ability to Like, Repin, or Comment on Pins.
“Liking” the Pin adds it to your “Like” section, rather than to a Board.
Repinning a Pin lets you add someone else’s pin to one of your Boards- the original source link is kept intact and this action is marked as a Repin for the original Pinner.
Users can comment on their own or other’s pins.
Mentions allow you to shout out to specific Pinners- if you put @Mom on a Pin, Mom will get a notification that you Pinned something she may want to look at
Much like many established social networks, you can follow other Users, or even individual
“Pin this” button- allows Users to pin a product photo or video to a board for future reference.
The Pinterest Bookmarklet allows users to Pin to Boards directly from their browser.
Things to Remember
Pinterest lets Users follow topics and concepts in addition to as individuals. Compared to Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin, there’s no pressure to stay on top of a constant barrage of comments and status updates if the User doesn’t want to.
Pinterest lets Users participate without having to create, removing a barrier to interaction
Pinterest allows Users to explore their options earlier in the purchase cycle.
Pinterest’s non-linear view of the web makes it feel “easier” than other sharing platforms.
Pinterest is a visually appealing, simple alternative to storing browser bookmarks.

 

How your Brand can Leverage Pinterest

1. Promote a lifestyle that your brand or products contributes to. Give people ideas and provide inspiration to promote sharing!
2. Use Pinterest to run a contest where people pin your images or take pictures of themselves using your products.
3. Share content from others that you wouldn’t want on your site, then direct your site’s Users to your Pinterest page to share.
4. Think of Pins as a “Visual Tweet”- instead of Tweeting an image out, Pin it, and then Tweet the Pin.
5. If you add a $ or £ sign to your description when you pin something, Pinterest will auto- generate a price tag on the pin.
6. Make sure content is pinnable! When you use the bookmarklet Pinterest will try to ascertain which is the largest image on the page- if you have a bunch of products on the same page it will be harder for the program to figure out which image you meant to pin. All products and product variations should have their own pages.
7. Add the “Pin It” button to your other Social Media sharing icons.
8. Add a “follow me on Pinterest” button to your site with your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and G+ buttons.
9. DO NOT JUST PIN YOUR OWN CONTENT. Provide value to customers by allowing them to discover new things.

 

Author Rank and Reputation Management- 2 Birds, 1 Stone

If you missed this post from Google search guy Matt Cutts last July; please take a moment to peruse before you continue reading.

Now that Google+ is open to everybody and every brand, it should be pretty clear that social is going to be a big part of how search engines are going to evolve, unless people wholesale reject it and move towards some entirely different model of getting information out of the Internet- but I doubt that’s going to happen. I’ve heard a lot of criticism leveled at Google+; it’s a joke, it’s a ghost town, it’s D.O.A.; no one uses it, blah blah blah. All the people out there that are deriding Google+ as some sort of failed Facebook competitor are missing the boat by a long shot- Google doesn’t care if you use it like you use Facebook because that’s not the point. It’s a social “overlay” for the algorithm; like Steam and Origin are to video games. I don’t want to spend too much time on this topic but I do want to make a point so bear with me for a second and look at this screenshot from a client’s Google+ page:

 

 

I did a little white hat e-stalking and checked out 5 of the people following that brand at random; they all had at least one other social media account connected to their Google account, and some people had as many as 8 accounts connected. I have 17 connected because I am a huge nerd but the point is this- all of those other connected networks mean that as those Users +1 content- and they likely are, if they’ve connected an account to their G+ profile- they are influencing all of their friends/followers on all of those other networks. It literally does not matter if that person ever comes back to Google+ even one time because the connection is already made. The implications for reputation management in organic search through optimization of Google+ profiles should be fairly obvious.

Okay, now that I have scratched that particular itch, on to the meat of the post- Author Rank. Before too long, Google is going to have built a pretty good index of your digital persona based on what you post/share/write/like and where, and who you are connected to. As you post content, Google is going to attempt to assign a value to links within that content based on your Author Rank. I know people have some weird built-in hatred of Klout because THEY DIDN’T OPT IN (whatever, stop crying and definitely don’t waste time “working on your Klout score”) but it’s a pretty good approximation of how I think Google is eventually going to try to assign more value to a link than just “what’s the PageRank of the page this link is posted on and what’s the anchor text they linked it with”.

This will likely be calculated in a similar fashion to the Klout score; what networks do you use, how frequently do you put up content, how often is that content liked/+1’ed/retweeted/shared/commented on/viewed/what the hell ever, who are the people interacting with your content, how authoritative are THEY and about what topics, etc., etc., etc.- there will probably end up being as many factors in the Author Rank algorithm as there are in the main search algorithm when all is said and done. So, there is a real opportunity here to kill both the reputation management and Author Rank birds with one stone. Be forewarned, though, it’s going to take some work. Here’s  my easy bullet-point-program- if you are able to do even some of this stuff, you will build your Author Rank and credibility with the search engines while also dominating the results for “branded searches” on your name.

1. Decide what to call yourself. Are you a Francis, or a Fran, a James or a Jim, a Denise or a Denyse? It matters. What’s your last name? Ladies in particular, I know you love those Facebook profiles with your unmarried AND married names but it confuses the poor algorithm. Pick a name and go with it. For SEO, I mean. :)

2. Buy your domain if you can; I was fairly lucky and was able to get franirwin.com as a domain. I know, I know, exact match domain has been devalued but I don’t think that means it has NO value. Besides, there’s a pride/vanity issue too- this is REPUTATION management, after all.

3. Get a WordPress blog up on that domain and start writing. This is that whole “work” part I was talking about. Aim for once a week in the beginning, you want to give the search engine spiders a reason to come back and sniff out fresh content. Get some text to speech software, spend 15 minutes on your commute or walk or break or smoke or whatever and just dictate some thoughts you are having. Put it out of your head, sit down later and edit it. This is easy, cheap in terms of time and resources, and will allow you to refine your thought process over time.

4. Set up a public Facebook page using your real name or your professional name. Fill it out to completion. Every. Single. Field.

5. Set up a Twitter account using a handle as close to your real name as possible. Set up a custom avatar and background, and link to your blog or Google+ page in your bio.

6. Set up a LinkedIn account using your real name or your professional name. Fill it out to completion. Every. Single. Field.

6. Set up a Google Plus profile using your real name. Connect as many possible accounts as you can to it and fill out as much of your profile as you possibly can. Fill it out to completion. Every. Single. Field. Write it like you’re being announced to a crowded room, and make it public so people can find you. You can always set up a separate, unconnected profile account with a different handle and content on any social media platform for whatever else; this is purely for rep management.

7. Post to Twitter at least 1 time per day, during the week, not necessarily on weekends. Post about things you find on RSS feeds or something interesting or whatever. Spend a half hour a day filling up your Buffer and then it do the work.

8. Post to Google+ twice a week, not just someone else’s link but add some commentary or stimulate some discussion.

9. Same thing on Facebook.

 

Remember when I said it was going to be some work? It is. Don’t post just to post; for example, if anyone actually reads this blAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

anyway if you do read the blog regularly you probably noticed that I went from a very aggressive twice a week schedule to now about once every two weeks. It’s a lot of work coming up with something interesting and worth reading that isn’t just rehashed or warmed-over garbage or second thoughts about someone else’s original thoughts. Don’t dive into this strategy if you aren’t prepared to work for it but if you do you will enjoy the (for now invisible) benefits of Author Rank, and a sweet, sweet SERP.

 

How I got a 51 Klout Score Without Really Trying

I have a 51 Klout Score and I’m not really trying. Klout says that most scores are in the 20’s, that if you’re at 30 you are probably decent at social media, and that a score at 50 puts you in the 90th percentile of all scores.

I only have 197 Twitter followers, 80 Facebook friends, and only 119 people have me in their Google+ Circles. There are many days on weekends where I don’t check in anywhere on Foursquare, I don’t have an Instagram account or regularly record wacky YouTube videos. I blog about once a week (I started out at 2x a week, burned through my ideas and have lately been slacking, only putting out a new post once every two weeks for the last little while here). So how is it that my Klout score is as high or higher than quite a few people who spend time every day “working on their Klout score”? I’ll tell you how I’ve had success with Klout:

  1. Cultivate REAL relationships in social media channels. For example though my Facebook account is linked to my Klout account, my Facebook is 100% private. You can’t even see that I exist in their ecosphere unless you’re already a friend of a friend, and I regularly go through my friends list and cull it of people I don’t interact with in real life on a regular basis. I know that Facebook started as sort of an exclusive thing and people collect friends- in fact, a good friend of mine and I just had a conversation about how he’s afraid to unfriend anyone on Facebook- but FB is my one private social network where I can share whatever I want and not censor myself. That being said, I do watch what I say and follow some old, sage advice about the Internet: If you wouldn’t say something out loud in a crowded room, don’t say it online. Or, as Leo Laporte so succinctly put it on his radio show last weekend, when you are online, you’re in public, so you’d better get used to it.
  2. Don’t share just to share; make it something noteworthy. I have to say this is a pet peeve of mine- people that vomit out a stream of Tweets all day to…what purpose, exactly? Do I really need to see your inspirational quotes every 15 minutes? Do you really think I believe that you are sitting there at your PC, waiting to inspire your Twitter followers with inspirational things that someone else said? If I Follow you on Twitter and your first post is an inspirational quote you scraped off some website, you’re getting unfollowed fast. Speaking of which, here’s my list of reasons why I will unfollow you on Twitter:
    1. If you auto- DM me after I sign up
    2. If you follow many more people than follow you
    3. If your Twitter bio reads like an MLM marketing pitch
    4. If you are completely irrelevant to my online persona
    5. If your account is dead (no tweets recently)
    6. If you curse or are offensive
    7. If your Tweets are never personalized and just a stream of links

There are more reasons, but I probably only follow back 5% of the people who follow me; if it’s not relevant to my online persona, who is a guy that is into social media, SEO and marketing, I’m not going to follow you back. This means I get unfollowed a lot, but I don’t think that Klout thinks that Tweep ‘xXX_SexxxyGurrrrl_XXx’ is relevant to me anyway so I don’t sweat it much.

  1. Don’t sweat missing a day or even a week, it doesn’t seem to matter. It’s literally as simple as that. Klout doesn’t work based on how much you Tweet/Like/Circle/Share, it works based on the quality of interactions. If I have 5,000 Twitter followers and only 20 of them Tweeted last week then those are not relevant followers and won’t contribute to an increase in score.
  2. Don’t “work on” your Klout score. Your Klout score is not an end to any means. If you are wasting time trying to game Klout’s algorithm you are wasting time that could go to any one of at least 100 more productive activities. Be natural, be spontaneous, pepper in some personal stuff with your “business persona” and the relevance- and score- will come naturally.
  3. Do interact with Klout a few times a week. Using the site to suggest topics for friends, grant Klout to influencers and of course, Perks- will encourage others to do the same for you. Klout has also recently implemented User surveys where you can directly affect how their algorithm calculates authority- instead of complaining when your Klout score temporarily dips, help ‘em out!

Last of all, don’t take Klout too seriously. Anyone that makes a hiring or firing or business decision based on a Klout score probably isn’t someone you’d enjoy working for, anyway. At the end of the day, it’s one of the first of what will likely be many imperfect systems for gauging and commoditizing digital influence, but it’s what we’ve got and if you actually run a Perk as a publisher, the upside can be substantial.

What if Google Changed the SERP and No One Cared?


(thanks chad burgess for the image)

This is upon review, a somewhat scatterbrained “brain dump” type of post without any particular point; please, if this is your first visit, read something else too before you leave. I’m usually more coherent/less ranty :)

I think those of us in the search marketing field tend to live in a sort of echo chamber- personally, I follow many, many blogs in the SEO and social media spaces and I can see where that echo chamber comes from- many of the articles that purport to be original content are either critiques, summaries or rehashes of something the author read somewhere else, or something someone else read and wrote about that they are now reacting to their reaction; which doesn’t add a ton of value to the discourse. That’s never been more evident than over the past couple of days with Google announcing first Google Search Plus Your World, and now today the announcement of their new, all-Google-service-encompassing Terms of Service. Biting the hand that feeds them seems to be a very common activity among those doing SEO- whole blogs, personalities and memes have sprung up that have used “ripping on Google” to build their reputations, and indeed a whole cottage industry complaining every time the big G does something that could be considered against their best interest. Usually these criticisms are couched in nebulous language about Google not “serving the User”- but at the end of the day, it’s Google who gets to decide how to serve the User, because it’s their free to use, free to take or leave service. If they somehow close some loophole you’ve been exploiting because that’s the game you’re choosing to play, you’re being frankly ridiculous to cry about it. I still really hate the image of SEO as something shady or underhanded or unethical- I was on a forum today where “SEO” was used as a noun to describe a bad SERP. It doesn’t have to be that way but the behavior associated with that image has to stop to affect any sort of change.

A lot has been made of Google’s original mission statement which was “don’t be evil”. In fact, a bookmarklet for Google Chrome called “Don’t Be Evil” which serves results that don’t implicitly favor Google’s properties was recently released in what, I feel, is the ultimate expression of sour grapes. Why the heck wouldn’t Google want to favor its own properties? How is it that people can just complain about Google being unfair because they got in and fine tuned and monetized the search space first and now they can’t compete? Microsoft is sort of gamely hanging on until someone invents an alternative to Office, Apple might as well be Jesus’ second coming (moral imperatives aside, I probably shouldn’t post that link because I have no idea if my Android phone isn’t made in the same damn factory) at least to shareholders- the point is, things change and Google won’t remain the king of the mountain forever. This reminds me of a situation with one of my favorite video game developers, Valve- they gave an interview a long time back where they explained that they thought that “taking control away from the player is a bad design decision”- I’m paraphrasing; but they were talking about how to effectively show the action that moves the story along  to the player in a 1st person shooter, without having to take control away from the player, to ensure that the player actually sees that big expensive set piece. Then, years later, in Team Fortress 2, some design decisions were made to give the User a weapon that could freeze another player in place. People absolutely howled, posting that 5-year-old statement over and over as evidence of why Valve was breaking their own design spec. However, the original statement was never supposed to apply to this kind of design. I think people get similarly hung up on “don’t be evil”- but that doesn’t mean “give the competition an advantage because they wouldn’t agree to share data because you have a dominant product”.

Here’s the thing about Google Search Plus Your World- most people don’t even know it exists, and if they do, most of them won’t care. Don’t think that the echo chamber in the online marketing space means that the average User shares that sentiment. There’s a lot of real strong sentiment out there about Google’s recent changes, and how they are a monopoly (they aren’t, just because they got their first and did it better doesn’t mean that Search is now a scarce resource) and how they’re evil, and how they are cannibalizing Twitter and Facebook’s traffic. Let’s not forget that those other services are the ones that don’t want to give Google access to their data! So why does Google have to go out of their way to be inclusive of their competition in search results? As I read it, Twitter and Facebook didn’t want to make deals with Google- so why does everyone insist that Google isn’t playing fair?

Let’s take the example that’s been floating around of searching for a celebrity’s Twitter account. In a lot of cases, looking for ‘Britney Spears Twitter’ brings up Spears’ Google+ page, instead of her Twitter account. My guess is that Google will argue the searchers’ intent was to find social media information about Britney Spears and as such a fully filled out Google+ profile page- including a link to the Twitter account- best serves the User’s intent. Think that’s a fudge or a waffle or there’s something vaguely wrong with it? So what? Google’s not allowed to leverage its competitive advantage? I don’t understand that mindset, that someone did something first or better and now they have to level the playing field for everyone else.

At the end of the day, Google has deep pockets and G+ isn’t going anywhere. The only way to make a difference is to use a different search engine, and Google is still the best at what they do- they just get picked on a lot because they’re top dog- remind you of any current political transpirings?

Also, as I’m fond of reminding anyone who asks- YOU CAN TURN IT OFF!

Getting Your Business On Google+

There’s been a lot of hubbub around Google+ since they opened the service to Businesses and Brands on November 7th. There have also been a lot of people claiming to have the secret sauce to making an amazing Google+ business page- after a week? However, the information I am about to present here- a companion piece to my “Google Plus for Publishers” post- is straight from the horse’s (Android’s?) mouth.

First, a brief update on the status of the service. Google+ so far has 40 million Users, about 100 days after launch. The “+” button is being shown over 5 billion times a day to Users on over 1 million sites. There’s still quite a ways to go to catch up to Facebook, but clearly the reports of Google+ being D.O.A. are just opportunistic rants from people with something to gain. The way that + ties in with search is absolutely crucial to successful marketing on the Internet moving forward. Google has made the statement that social is a “core human behavior and not a destination”- that’s a pretty clear signal as to the importance of social.

Google states that Google+ allows you to get closer to customers by having conversations with the right people, inspiring existing customers to recommend new customers, and improving ad performance (through the addition of +1 annotations on the SERP) across all initiatives, not just social initiatives. The annotations are the biggest reason I see right now to adopt +1 on all pages on your site as well as Google+, as the personalized annotations have already shown to increase click through rates on both organic and paid listings.

Top global brands that have already jumped on the G+ bandwagon include:

Toyota                  ABC News           Kia                          Dell

Orange                 Piaget                   Macy’s                  Pepsi

Burberry              DC Comics           T Mobile              L’Oreal

NBC News           Amazon               The New York Times

… and the lists goes on. Clearly, big brands, which already enjoy some special treatment on Google, are eager to jump on this one.

Basics- Creating your Page

Create your Page

  1. Log into your Gmail account (your personal GMAIL account!) You must opt in to/join Google+ personally before you can create a page for your business.
  2. Go to the Stream page and click on “Create a Google+ page” on the lower right hand side
  3. Start by picking a category:
    • Local business or place- this is the most specific differentiator of the 5, with options to display a local phone number right on the front of the profile.
    • Product or Brand
    • Company institution or organization
    • Arts entertainment or sports
    • Other
  4.  Fill out and then share the page (if it’s ready for consumption)- then you get the “Congratulations” page.
  5. Start to think creatively first, about how to spice up your page- then use the “Edit Profile” button to get cracking! (check out what Red Bull did with their G+ page for inspiration!)
  6. Add photos, write an introduction and add your organization’s contact info and website info. This is basic identity information your customers will see when they visit the page.
  7. CONNECT YOUR WEBSITE using the “widget configurator”- Google will help you make a badge that will connect your G+ account to your website. The configurator generates code that you copy/paste into your site so that Users see the badge. This is also very important to Google identifying your page as the “official” page! Another added benefit is that Users will be able to add you to their circles using the badge- without needing to click through to the G+ page to do so.
  8. Toggle between you and your businesses’ identity using the pick list that appears under your avatar at the top left hand side of the page to post as either yourself, or the owner of the page. Be careful who you are posting “as”!

Sharing: Build Connections

You can’t add people who haven’t opted in to follow your brand (by adding you to one or more of their Circles) until they add you first. This is a key differentiator between G+ pages for individuals and G+ pages for brands. Once they have added you, ask them what circle they should be in! From there, you can segment them by demographic into circles that you can then produce custom content for. Want a promotion to go out, but only to women? That’s your “Female customers” circle! Want to have a hangout just with guys who ride mountain bikes? Make a circle for that demographic! G+ makes it really easy to get targeted content in front of a highly differentiated audience.

Hangouts:

If you haven’t used a Hangout yet, it’s pretty neat. Basically, it’s a video chat room for up to ten people who have webcams and mics, whereby whoever is talking gets focus in the main window. This allows you to have Hangouts to build a more personal relationship with your customers. You can even limit a particular hangout to a particular circle, to keep the marketing message segmented and targeted to the highest degree.

Promotion: Grow your Audience

  1. “Spread the word”- on the right hand side of the screen that lets you create a message to say hello to the world! Don’t worry about launching with too little content, the content will come.
  2. Add the badge and button to your site so that people are directly connected to G+ through your site and vice versa.
  3. Direct Connect- Use Direct Connect to verify ownership of the official page and improve discoverability by making yours the “official” profile when Users use the + operator. This will allow Users using Search to bypass the search results entirely and be landed right on your site.
  4. ADD THE PLUS ONE BUTTON TO YOUR SITE! +1 annotations are public and drastically increase CTRs. Please see my other post on how to leverage Google +1 on your site for more information.

Google is aiming to make Google Plus the central identity for your brand, with all the social signals (Plus ones) from connected properties ensuring that all the social collateral you’ve built is served to the User when it’s most valuable- on the SERP. For that reason, it’s important to cross-promote and get the word out to fellow employees and friends about the existence of the page.

Tracking: Using the Data

Google Analytics will add segmentation data in the future that will allow you to see data on content that has +1 annotations from associated Users, content that has the generic +1 annotation, and content that has no annotation. Coming soon! Google Ripples will also allow you to see how your content spreads, who the key influencers are, and who they influence. It’s a whole new layer of social data to incorporate and we’ll all have to learn how to best do so.

Common G+ Questions

Can there be multiple administrators on a Google+ page? Multi-admin capability is coming by the end of the year, “transfer ownership” functionality will come with it.

If I choose the wrong category which happens? It’s no big deal…except for “Local”. Only choose that if the focus of your business is a specific service area.

What if you have a franchise with many locations? Start small, fewer pages are better for now- it’s no big deal to set up different pages for different SBUs…eventually Google wants you to have one global identity and use Circles to reach customers in different locales. Err on the side of global creation, but Google might not ever be able to stitch thousands of them into one unique identity.

What’s the relationship between Plus and Places pages? Places and Plus pages are completely different products for now, but should be cross linked.

Can we put messages out to people who haven’t Circled us? You can’t push a message to someone who hasn’t circled you yet but once they have that’s essentially an opt-in to their message so that’s why they do it.

Can hangouts ever go bigger, like crowdcasting? They are limited to just 10 people for now but eventually an “on air” tool might become available.

How do I get my page verified?

  1. Add a badge to your site
  2. Have the rel=publisher code on the pages.

The “verify” checkmark is only in place for spam/abuse reasons. Google is reaching out to brands that are being impersonated or abused (not just one-off satire pages, but widespread abuse) to get them verified. Google decides who gets verified.

Circle limits are 5,000 today but someday it will be bigger.

Pages go live immediately but are not very discoverable at the outset as they don’t have much content.

Can you screen share with hangouts? Only with 3rd party technology, it’s not native to G+ right now

Can you have more than one G+ page with your account? Yes, the current limit is about 20 right now, but it will grow with the advent of multi user support.

+1’s do not affect quality score at the time being but +1’s on domains will affect +1’s on ads in terms of CTR and performance.

Can I restrict a hangout to a certain circle?  Yes, you can have a hangout with just that circle; it’s an option when you Start the hangout.

Google+ Pro Tips

  • LINK YOUR G+ Page to your AdWords Campaign and site!
  • Rich posts work best- include media in the form of images or video.
  • Sign your posts! Put a face on your brand.
  • Ask your community what Circle they want to be in.
  • Make sure to disable comments and re-sharing before you post sensitive topics.
  • Cross promote on other channels; email, social and offline.
  • Share your page! Encourage co-workers to do the same.
  • Use Google+ search to find out what people are saying about your brand.
  • Encourage customers to use branded and non branded hashtags.
  • Make sure you track how +1’s are affecting your AdWords performance.
  • Be flexible and adapt!

Yes, You Will Need a Google Plus Page For Your Business. No, You Don’t Need To Panic.

The cottage industry that has already sprung up in my RSS feeds about people who claim to have the awesomesauce secret for Google Plus profiles for business, or who claim to be Google Plus for business gurus, or are offering a free e-book on how to optimize your company’s Google Plus page is absolutely blowing my mind. THE SERVICE HAS ONLY BEEN LIVE FOR 48 HOURS AT THIS POINT, HOW THE HELL CAN ANYONE BE A “GURU” IN IT? I’ve also seen a number of headlines explaining why Google Plus is going to murder Facebook, and just as many about how Google Plus is D.O.A.

Google Plus is going to be an essential part of any business’ strategy moving forward. I realize that a lot of you are rolling your eyes at this point thinking about another social media service that you’ll have to research, plan and execute a strategy for. Isn’t this just another Facebook? Everyone just uses Facebook, no one uses Google Plus, right? That might be true- for now- but the Google product everyone uses that you SHOULD be concerned about is Google search. Plus is going to tie in intimately with search and as such, if you are ignoring it now, you’re going to be leaving money on the table somewhere down the line.

As I’ve written on this blog before, Bing has already basically stated that Facebook Likes are more important ranking/authority signals to their algorithm than links are. With Google first opening Plus up to everyone last month, and now to Businesses and Brands this month, I can’t help but think they are going in a similar direction- showing the pictures of those that have +1’ed certain pages in the search results leads to a measurable improvement in both click-through rate on the listing and conversion rate of the site they are clicking through to. This is another attempt by the big G to marry search and social and I think this one will succeed where Facebook search has- so far- failed miserably.

Links were originally factored so heavily into Google’s algorithm because they were supposed to be human-agnostic- that is, a wholly democratic and “uninfluenceable by people” algorithm factor. Until Google, pages were essentially assigned authority purely through evaluation of on site factors- but that’s easy to game. So Google, with their ultimate goal being to serve the User, settled on links as a “vote of confidence” in another site. Their logic is that if I link to you, I must think you’re an authority on the topic, and if more people link to you than your competition, that’s a pretty strong signal to the site that you are more authoritative. The problem with this system is that it’s relatively easy to game links.

Enter the link builder. This insidious SEO worker’s only job is to try to game Google’s algorithm by securing links back to a website at any cost. It doesn’t matter if you do bulk directory submissions or straight up buy sidebar links from a company like TLA or TLB- the goal of the link builder is to get back links, and serving the User valuable content to do so isn’t a link builder’s focus. So what has this led to? It’s led to India-hosted directory sites and networks of sites where you can get 10,000 back links overnight for very little money. They don’t usually adevertise the crappiness of these links, which frequently sit several clicks deep off of a marginally popular home page. See how easy it is to game links? Ask some of those “pro link builders” how many sites they’ve worked on that have been kicked out of the index. My squeaky-clean white hat SEO has worked for over 100 campaigns and I’ve never had anyone booted out of the index…food for thought.

Now, enter social media. Yes, it can be gamed as well. I can go to Mechanical Turk right now and buy 1,000 +1’s for my clients’ pages for very little money, the problem is, there’s no value to that because it’s a lot harder to game a social media site than it is to set up a link directory and start charging. Google forces people to use real names on the + profile pages and not pseudonyms because they want a +1 to mean something- a +1 means I, personally, like the resource, not that someone contacted me for $50 a month to host a sidebar link back to their site.

For now, it’s enough to claim your Google plus page, and watch this space for more recommendations on what to do with it. When you do create your profile, bear in mind that Business pages on Google Plus can only have one administrator for now, so don’t leave it up to the social media intern to create your businesses’ page. That task should fall to the Social Media Manager, failing that, whoever runs the company Facebook or Twitter page.

Social is the future of SEO; people. I would not be surprised at all if within a year, +1’s are as important or more important to Google’s algo than links are, and in 5 years social signals may have supplanted link signals entirely.

What do you think?

 

What the Hell is the WWE’s Digital Marketing Strategy- and do they even need one?

I took the first break from posting that I’ve taken since starting the blog this past weekend, I have a lot of stuff to juggle and between stress at my day job, trying to get 2 independent ventures of my own off the ground, and battling endlessly with my 4-year-old about taking an afternoon nap, something had to give. It felt good to take a break- I figured, I can crap out a 500 word no-value post or take a breather and come back with something good- and I actually came up with a number of ideas for digital marketing posts, including this one about the WWE’s use of social media. Lucky for you, eh?

I’ve always wondered why the WWE’s site was so badly optimized for engines (this may have changed, I haven’t visited there in a while) and came to the conclusion years ago that a company with 20 hours plus of TV a week to promote their web properties doesn’t really need to care about site architecture or being search engine friendly. They also have weird, Flash-heavy microsites for pay per views that I know don’t rank well for non-branded keyword terms (does that even matter when every guy on the roster has 3 nicknames and 4 moves with names and tag team names and just all sorts of unique content?).

What got me thinking about the WWE’s digital marketing/social media strategy this time specifically is that in their programming for a number of weeks or months now, they have been making it a special point to mention when WWE-related topics are trending on Twitter, or referencing past weeks when topics trended on Twitter. They also have been promoting use of the #RAW and #WWE hashtags, as well as pay per views, by giving away free PPVs to randomly selected Tweeps who Tweet and use those tags. WWE programming also includes a lot of bumpers as we enter and exit the show from commercial, pointing out that they have more FaceBook fans than Nascar or more website visits in a month than the NFL or MLB. I suspect that these bumpers are there largely for ad managers who see them while their kids have RAW on and say “we need to be advertising there!” Unfortunately, the lowest common denominator, lowbrow nature of the product scares away a lot of big advertisers, so WWE broadcasts are full of ads for B-rate movies, Slim Jims and Castrol motor oil.

They seem to do a good job differentiating the language they use to describe their product- as much as it irritates long time wrestling fans, calling their talent “Superstars” sets them apart from every other pro wrestling promotion that calls their talent “wrestlers”. That’s a semantic clue that there’s something different about the WWE. They also do this same thing with the actual name of the product they sell- everyone else calls it “wrestling” while Vince and Co. prefer the term “sports entertainment”. Much gnashing of teeth happens on the message boards I follow over why the WWE insists on this different nomenclature for their product but I really do get it and think it’s a smart move. The only problem is, does it translate to search and driving traffic? Is the most recent generation of WWE fans searching Google for “sports entertainment?” My instinct says they aren’t, in spite of everyone at the WWE’s slavish devotion to these terms. (I wonder, does it piss them off that they still get over 90k visits a month and almost 3% of their traffic from people searching for “wrestling?”) It’s just too unnatural, and hearing the guys call each other “sports entertainers” isn’t helping.

Here’s some of the statistics as they relate to the WWE’s web presence (from http://adsales.wwe.com/research/- these are 2009 numbers but probably still accurate and if anything, the numbers are probably higher now):

  • U.S. Unique Visitors
    • Average Month Unique Visitors = 6.3 mil.
    • Average Daily Unique Visitors =  399 K.
  • U.S. Page Views
    • Average Month Page Views = 199.7 mil.
    • Average Daily Page Views =     6.7 mil.
  • U.S. Video Streams
    • Average Month Video Streams = 8.9 mil.
    • Average Daily Video Streams =   297 K.

That’s a lot of traffic. But what are they doing with it besides driving people to the merchandise shop, which is really the only “conversion point” on the site (outside of following one of dozens of Twitter streams or Liking one of dozens of Facebook pages)? Twitter is a pain in the ass! Facebook is a pain in the ass! ENGAGING YOUR AUDIENCE ON SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT EASY! Why the hell do they bother, when there’s nothing as compelling as Television for pushing Users to sites?

The WWE is not a sport. It’s not even close. I’ve heard it described as many things, from “a soap opera for men” (my wife) to “sports entertainment”- that one is straight from chairman Vince McMahon. They ostensibly use the malleable-when-convenient “rules” of their “sport” to tell various stories. So, by using Web properties, the WWE is able to effectively engage Users in between weekly TV shows or monthly pay-per-views. TV drives traffic to the site, web properties drive traffic to TV, and hopefully, somewhere in there the story told is compelling enough to get you to buy the PPV, as that’s the primary product the WWE sells. (As a side note, stop complaining that the TV they give away sucks. It does- but it’s just an ad for the monthly pay-per-views, which ARE the product. TV is always going to be second banana to PPV and the RAW era ain’t coming back. DVR RAW and Smackdown!, skip the commercials and crap you don’t like. It’s much more enjoyable than watching the product live, with its interminable sponsorship messages and commercial breaks.) All of this engagement outside of television and the actual matches helps keep kayfabe- the idea that wrestling is real and these guys are true tough guys- alive.

One of the most visible guys in the WWE today is self-proclaimed Internet Champion, Zack Ryder. Ryder came into the WWE as one of two Edge Heads of the Majors Brothers (thanks Sugar Blaster) in a disposable storyline and didn’t really HAVE a gimmick after the Edge Heads Majors Brothers went away. So Ryder took to the Internet, Tweeting like crazy, making videos almost daily for YouTube (he even brings his smartphone to the ring to take video of fans for inclusion on the show) and just generally getting himself out there. The WWE has a long standing tradition of having talent “get themselves over”- meaning, the WWE can give them a little push but it’s up to the individual hand to make a connection with the crowd. Ryder put social media to incredibly good use for that effect, and that’s what I argue the WWE is doing with their social media presence. They aren’t looking to drive business, with social media channels, they are using it to create intimacy. Social media has even figured into recent storylines.

Judging by the # of Twitter followers on some accounts- (over a million Tweeps follow John Cena alone) and the number of Likes on the WWE’s Facebook page- nearly 7 million- the WWE is leveraging social media both in a unique way and to great effect. In a world of increasingly fractured entertainment markets that connection is more important than ever.

I would like to point out that I’m not the first one to write about the WWE, digital marketing and social media. In researching this article I came across a great piece from Erica Swallow at mashable.com, who was invited to Stanford to talk with the WWE’s marketing team about their use of Social Media. For a real straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth take on things, please check out her awesome article from earlier this year.