Just before Xmas I was invited to speak at the Creative Entrepreneur event at Media City in Manchester to share insights into how online retail is changing. In-between speaking, it was great to listen to other online retail experts to hear their thoughts about where things are heading. So we can take a look through some of the discussions points in this blog post.
First up we heard from Dom Burch, the serial speaker and senior director or marketing innovation and new revenue at Walmart UK (Asda). He shared his insights into how some of ASDA’s recent campaigns have been hugely successful in many aspects online and offline.
Dom’s first tip was around innovation and the importance of innovating throughout your entire business, regardless of how big or small you are. Innovation is key to long term and sustained growth. Simply dipping a toe in the water isn’t going to cut it here, Dom advised that you need to be giving projects at least 6 months to succeed (or fail!) so that you can be confident that you have exhausted all possibilities for the idea and had the time to gather data and assess the results accurately.
With all innovative ideas, you are starting with a goal of some kind for the business. Starting with ambitions to “become a big business” is equivalent to starting with the idea of “making a video go viral”. It’s simply the wrong approach to take and will inevitably lead to disappointment as goals are not hit. Instead, start with goals that are relevant for your business, goals that are in-line with your customer demands and goals that you can actually influence.
In between these ideas, Dom shared a few interesting statistics about ASDA;
ASDA FM listeners have more people listening that Radio 1 and Radio 2 combined
There are over 18 million customers who visit ASDA stores weekly
ASDA’s website has over 300 million impressions every month
With ASDA spending over £100 million per annum on broadcasting adverts, Dom’s approach was to get the PR team using Twitter, which was quite a challenge. Spending as little as 2 hours per week on Twitter, the newbie-to-Twitter PR team were already having a conversation with the editor of Vogue within 2 weeks. Where else could you get this kind of conversation going in 2 weeks? It simply wouldn’t be possible.
Another tip came in the form of doing something yourself first so that you know how to do it. This is something that I firmly believe in personally and in business. If you don’t at least understand what is happening, how can you ever hope to really manage this process? This is not to say you need to be an expert in every aspect as this would be impossible. Instead, it is hugely important to get a good grasp on every aspect within business and digital so that you can fully understand why things are being implemented and the reach they will ultimately have.
The simple process above will help you to build fast, fail quickly and innovate throughout your business at speeds you have never done before. Ideas are worthless, implementation is key and the only way to see what does and doesn’t work is to loop through the process as fast as possible, while giving every idea the time and energy to succeed.
Have a think for a moment, what are the 10 ideas that you have been talking about in your business last year? I can guarantee that there will certainly have been more than 10 ideas, but what were the 10 most important ideas? How many of these have you actually implemented, 5, 3, 1, none? Start the year off as you mean to go on. Run through these 10 ideas and measure everything to see how they impact your business. Capture the data and make informed decisions about the success of each campaign or idea.
For established businesses like ASDA, they aim to spend between 1-5% of their marketing budget on what Dom called “Trial and Error” campaigns which may or may not work. For businesses within the SME market, I would suggest this should be much higher as you are often still in the stages of experimenting with campaigns to see what works for your business. We naturally review and manage a lot of campaigns in the day to day work we do, although even we cannot tell you with 100% accuracy what will or won’t work for your individual business. We can certainly take into account the years of expertise and make a highly educated decision, although every business and every customer is different.
ASDA know that 74% of their customers are on Facebook, 20% are on Twitter and 15% of their customers watch YouTube daily. This information allows ASDA to invest their digital marketing spend in the right areas and not simply spend money on ‘more followers’ with no engagements. Their YouTube strategy focuses on how-to style videos and researching products which are broken down into 3 main groups;
Hygiene content: Something that is core to what you do and for your core target market
Hub content: Regularly created content designed to push this in front of your audience
The next of ASDA’s campaigns that was shared was with the involvement of Tanya Burr. Who you ask? Ask your teenage daughter if you have one. If you don’t, like me, then I also had to Google her to find out a bit more about her! She is described as a “Beauty, Fashion, Baking, Lifestyle Blogger & YouTuber” in a nutshell. And more than that, she has 1.2 million followers on Twitter. This is the reason ASDA worked with her, to reach this huge audience. The reach that ASDA’s products gained on social media was astronomical, just take a look through the number of views for each video that they produced together and you will start to understand how collaborations like this can pay off. Where else could you gain that kind of reach? To put things into context, Game of Thrones receives around 1.3 million views every week, which is less than what ASDA managed to reach with this collaboration. Likewise, Tanya Burr has more followers on Twitter than Sheryl Cole, Madonna and BBC Radio 1. Just because you have likely never heard of people like Tanya, doesn’t mean that they aren’t hugely successful.
When looking at YouTube videos specifically, always keep an eye out on the engagement levels and not simply the number of views of a video. Any brands that have a lot of views yet very few likes/dislikes means that they have likely paid a lot of money to drive traffic to the YouTube video and no-one liked it so they just bounced straight back out again. High engagement levels allow you to listen directly to your customers in ways like never before. ASDA’s videos with Tanya weren’t simply ‘buy this product’ videos, that’s boring and a fast way to drive customers away. Instead, they focused on food, health and wellness, beauty and style.
ASDA took this whole campaign one step further by creating the Mums Eye View YouTube channel which linked together their partnerships with Tanya Burr, Zoella and the Lean Machines. Google them all to grasp the scale of what is being achieved with strategic partnerships. This is a very young audience that ASDA was targeting here and one that has clearly paid off. With reports of as little as 2p per view of a YouTube video, 70% retention rate, 4 minutes minimum viewing time with an average of 7 minutes in length per video. You could only achieve these results with effective digital marketing that focuses directly on your customers. Not once did ASDA think “let’s make this video go viral”. What this also shows is that people like long form content on the web. No more do videos have to be 2 minutes in length, don’t be afraid of pushing the boundaries to meet customer demands.
This brings us nicely onto newspapers and traditional newspaper advertising. Quite frankly, no-one reads newspapers anymore, and I don’t say that lightly. Ask yourself, when was the last time you bought a newspaper? Personally, I can’t remember the last time I bought one, other than on the occasional times when I’m featured in one to keep as a little memento. Keep everything into context, could you seriously generate a response of someone looking at your advert for 4 minutes in a newspaper? I don’t need to answer that for you, it is clear. For ASDA, they know that 4/5 people don’t shop in ASDA and that is OK. So why spend £150,000 on a single press release in a national newspaper when 4/5 people of the people still reading newspapers aren’t ever going to be interested in ASDA anyway?
The summary of Dom’s keynote speech was that brands and businesses need to take a step back and see what is happening in the world. It’s time to start creating more content that relates to your audience.
The next session was all about cyber security and the steps you can take to protect yourself. You need to look no further than the recent headlines about how many companies have been hacked into last year with millions of customer details stolen; eBay, Sony, Moonpig and endless more including 273 million customer details stolen from Yahoo and 250,000 customer details stolen from Twitter.
Some interesting statistics announced around cybercrime included that it costs the UK economy over £6.8 billion per year and the global economy £238 billion annually. With 81% of large businesses having experienced security breaches in 2014. The cost of a typical breach is now at £1.15 million, up from £600,000 in the previous year.
Some of the most common attacks are due to very basic hacking just after Update Tuesday. Windows PCs are updated every Tuesday with security patches that have been identified to keep your system and data safe and secure, yet so many people either ignore the messages on their computers or simply turn off the automatic updates. This is mad! As part of the weekly update from Microsoft, the hackers use this information as a shopping list of exploits on computers around the world they can attempt to get access to. If your system isn’t up to date, then you could be at risk.
Moving onto more sophisticated attacks such as DDoS attacks, which stands for Distributed Denial of Service attacks, these can bring down websites with ease. To the point at which you can actually purchase an attack on the black market to target a specific website for a specific amount of time. Unlawful and illegal hacking is turning into an underground commercial business. DDoS attacks are actually quite simple;
This method for DDoS are often using thousands, hundreds of thousands if not millions of computers from around the globe. For example, here you can see a short visualisation of a DDoS attack happening in real time on my personal blog a couple of years ago;
Have a read more about the full details if you are interested. The exact same thing happened to Mastercard, Visa and PayPal when they decided to stop sending funds through to the hacker group Anonymous. Whether you agree or disagree with this is another discussion all together and one that doesn’t have a simple answer. The important point here is that DDoS attacks are a real and present threat for businesses. While it is unlikely that you will encounter the wrath of some of the more prolific public hacking groups, the reality is that a lot of business websites for SMEs are hosted on cheap and nasty web servers that are poorly configured and have very little security built into them. Make sure your web server has the right protection in place to at least minimise the chances of DDoS attacks affecting you. The unfortunate reality is that if someone is determined enough to bring your website down, they will do. You can make it harder for this to happen though by having the right infrastructure in place for your website. Aren’t sure if your website and web server is protected? Then get in touch and we can review to check for vulnerabilities.
Moving away from hacking and looking at other types of data breaches now. Some of the most common data breaches often come in much simpler formats and often due to human error, aka. lack of awareness about threats. Threats including basic passwords on mobile and tablet devices to avoid automatic access to cloud based file storage systems for your company if a device is lot of stolen, to a deeper understanding of programming languages to avoid rookie mistakes.
Website vulnerabilities in particular happen for a number of reasons including unpatched software/content management systems/plugins, poor coding practices, poor server configuration, unencrypted data and more. Getting all of the above right is the absolute minimum businesses should be doing. Simply having a website built and not thinking about on-going updates is madness with how easy it is to exploit unloved websites. Every website should have regular and on-going maintenance to keep the website, content and data secure.
As of this year, there will be new EU Data Protection legislation that will be coming into force that businesses must adhere to. All of which is designed to move the current legislation into the digital age where customer data is collected at an alarming rate, often with very little visibility about what is being collected. This is likely to include full disclosure when data breaches happen so that customers are aware of what has happened. Far too often, businesses try and sweep large data breaches under the rug and hope that no-one will notice.
During the session, a live demonstration was given showing how easy it is for someone to steal your details – Even with my background, I was surprised at the level of things that can be done to steal personal details without you ever knowing what has happened. For example, simple things like clicking a link in an email can allow hackers to steal all of your saved login information in your browser. It really is that simple. Likewise, downloading a seemingly normal looking file from an untrusted source can result in a Key Logger being installed on your computer which will then be able to ‘read’ every single key you press, including your online bank account details and email passwords.
You may have heard about the infamous Stuxnet virus that swept the world almost by stealth last year. If you haven’t, you really need to read a few articles about this serious security threat; Wired, Business Insider, Wikipedia and what is even more worrying is that the source code for the virus is now publicly available on certain websites. As a quick overview if you haven’t come across Stuxnet before, the virus was designed specifically to find a physical controller located in power plants that controlled the heating/cooling of the nuclear material. As you can imagine, hacking into this and reporting an incorrect figure would lead to catastrophic results. This shows how sophisticated hacking has become. Some sources say that the virus was created by the US to target Iran’s nuclear facilities – how true this is, I don’t know. Other notable viruses including Duqu and Flame again highlight the level of sophistication that is happening right now.
Other common hacking attacks include the likes of SQL Injection attacks and Cross Site Scripting (XSS) attacks. Have a read up on these, again hugely important issues to be aware of and protect yourself against. Inexperienced and junior people working in digital are often oblivious to all of this type of information and most importantly how to protect against it. Always work with a company and people who are professional and have a very deep understanding of the industry they are working on. Remember the quote “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur”.
Now can you see why it is important to keep your systems, website and servers secure? Good, I’m glad the message has been received. If you don’t know what to do next, then get in touch and let’s have a chat.
Online Retail Panel
Next up was the panel that I was part of alongside three other digital agency owners in Manchester and London along with the Head of Online Retail for Iceland Foods, Andy Thompson. The session took a rather interesting turn to talk around a lot of digital topics about business growth through online retail, internal communication challenges and solutions along with some blindingly obvious opportunities for large brands to improve their sales online. The talks should be going online once they have been edited which you can look forward to watching, so for the meantime, here is a quick summary of the whole event and more information can also be found on the website;
Digital Marketing, SEO and the Internet of Things
The last few sessions of the day are combined within this section. We heard from many different speakers and panellists in the final sessions with lots of great tips for businesses. One key message that is extremely relevant for the SME market is that you simply can’t have social media accounts without creative content. You need to be creating your own content and sharing this socially along with utilising other great content around the web to fuel your social media channels.
The Tales of Things by Oxfam
Oxfam was involved in a very interesting project with the University of Salford titled The Tales of Things. Oxfam have invested £1.4 million over the past 3 years with the aim of revolutionising business systems and processes through the use of digital technologies. The Tales of Things project was a very interesting one and one which I believe we will start to see more of over the next few years.
The idea was around selling donated products that also have a QR code attached to them. Customers looking at the item would then scan the QR code to listen to a short story from the person who donated the item. Oxfam found that this actually increased sales by 57% in the Manchester shop. They then extended this into Selfridges in London where celebrities donated items with the same concept behind. Within 14 weeks, they had this technology applied in 10 Manchester shops. This is ultimately a historical archive for objects that are traded, thus turning an object into something more than an object as it has a story behind it.
Personally I hate QR codes with a passion due to the way that they are misused in 99% of circumstances by businesses. Although in this instance with Oxfam, this is a really great way to bring things to live and genuinely adds value to the product being purchased and the customer experience.
This project has been on-going for a few years now so have a good read about the finer details over at the BBC, Oxfam and Tales of Things.
Where would we be without a blog post talking about some cool technology that is on the horizon? Here is a really cool digital air hockey game that Tom Cheesewright and I played (which I think I won, Tom may disagree, not that I’m competitive in any way! );
And this was even more amazing, a 3D holographic projection (apologies for the poor quality, it was taken on my smartphone);
Summary of Event
Overall, the event was excellent with lots of great tips and advice to take away and implement. I’m sure there are a lot of questions about what you need to be focusing on in your business after the security discussions and digital marketing opportunities discussed above. Get in touch and we can talk things through with you to see how we can support the growth of your business.
On the 24th July, Google quietly released a new significant algorithm change which has since been unofficially titled the Google Pigeon Update. Within this blog post we are going to cover what this change is, how this impacts your business website and most importantly, what you need to do about it.
You may have heard about the Google Panda and Google Penguin algorithm changes on Google over the past few years. Well now we have Google Pigeon. Why such a strange name? Because someone at a popular search engine blog, www.searchengineland.com, decided it would be a good name.
So what exactly is the Google Pigeon update designed to do and who does it impact? In short, this algorithm change is only currently being used within the US for English language queries. So for UK based companies, then don’t panic, but do be prepared.
Algorithm changes always start off in the US for English language queries, which is shortly followed by all English language queries around the world and then finally followed by other languages as they are rolled out. What this means is that if your business is based in the UK and is only trading in the UK, then you have a bit of time to implement the changes and plan for this. Google hasn’t announced any specific dates when the algorithm change will be rolled out wider than the US so it is best to be prepared for this as it is rare that significant changes aren’t rolled out globally.
The Google Pigeon update is designed totie the local search algorithm deeper into the main web search algorithm which uses hundreds of ranking signals. This includes search capabilities such as spelling corrections, synonyms and the Knowledge Graph. The change means that the new algorithm improves a few other factors for local search including the distance and location ranking factors for local businesses. The whole aim of the new algorithm is to provide a better experience for people searching for local results.
How Google Pigeon impacts your business website
What all of this means in simple terms is that your local business will show within the carousel area straight at the top of the search results on Google which can be seen here;
The algorithm is designed to give a boost to real world places, expanding beyond the initial places of interest that were originally being listed within the carousel. Search for “Things to do in Manchester” on Google to see how this looks at present in the UK;
As this expands within the UK, we will start to see the carousel appearing more and more for searches such as;
Builders Merchants in Manchester
Timber Merchants in Manchester
Plumbers in Manchester
Builders in Manchester
Restaurants in Manchester
…and many more similar types of phrases.
The carousel area is being used for local listings instead of what is currently being used which is known as the ‘7-Pack’ which is a group of local listings that are often given prominence when people are searching for phrases with a local intent. For example, here you can see the current ‘7-Pack’ listings when searching for “Restaurants in Manchester”;
With the Google Pigeon algorithm update moving the local listings into the carousel, this also means that directory type websites are also getting a boost. With all of the local listings moving up into the carousel, this means that the other directory style websites are showing higher up the page. Higher visibility generally leads to higher traffic levels. Below shows a screenshot from the US whereby local businesses are listed within the top carousel and larger directory style websites are being listed within the main results (click for larger image);
It is going to be interesting to see exactly how this plays out over time, but it seems that everyone is a winner here – as long as the correct measures are put in place. Some large directories are already seeing a 5-10% increase in organic traffic from this change.
Large branded web directories such as Yelp and Yell are likely to benefit hugely as they have extremely strong brands which helps greatly with the Search Engine Optimisation work. Which means that smaller businesses have to make sure they have the right pieces in place to be able to earn a listing within the carousel at the top to beat the large directories.
What you need to do next
Ok, so to put the Google Pigeon algorithm update into perspective and to lay out a clear plan of action there are several things that need to be done. While this update hasn’t been rolled out into England just yet, it is better to be ahead of the game as it is extremely likely that this will be rolled out within the next few months.
Complete your listing on branded business directories
It is important to stress here that this is for branded directories, not cheap, nasty, horrible traditional ‘SEO directories’. Stay away from those, stay well away. Here we are talking about well-known brands. Think Yelp, Yell, Urbanspoon, TripAdvisor, OpenTable and more.
While there are well known generic directories, there will also be some industry specific directories that will be worth getting listed in. So do your research, or get in touch and we can help you with the process to make sure your business is being listed in the places where it needs to be.
What this will mean is that if a person doesn’t click on your listing within the carousel, then you will have a greater chance that your business will be seen in one of the top business directories. By covering off both angles, this will increase the chances of a potential customer finding your business online.
Make sure Google knows about your business through Google My Business
Make sure your business is listed on Google My Business. Whether you have a single shop / store / outlet / office, or hundreds throughout the UK. Make sure you are listing all of your physical locations on Google My Business. You may have heard about Google My Business recently but if not, Google My Business has replaced the old Google Local and Google Places tools to list your business on Google.
If you aren’t listed on Google My Business and need some support with this then get in touch and we can work closely with you to get your business listed in preparation for when the change is rolled out within the UK and further afield.
You may think we have gone mad, as links are still a key factor that Google uses to determine authority of websites and hence increased visibility in the search engines. So hear us out and you will see why we are taking the stance that we are no longer building any links for our current and future clients.
This post is designed to be an open & honest discussion with businesses who will have likely heard about ‘Link building’ and want to focus on this activity to increase traffic to their website through Search Engine Optimisation work. A lot has changed over the recent years and below we will run through how outreach & promotion needs to run in the modern age.
What we’ve been noticing
As you can imagine with working on a lot of Search Engine Optimisation campaigns, we naturally look at a lot of different websites and what websites are mentioning other websites online. This certainly does make you realise just how many weird and wonderful websites there are on the internet.
Approaches often taken for link building included identifying relevant websites, drop the webmaster an email to see if they would be interested in linking to ‘Website X’. This, as you can imagine, has an extremely low response rate as people simply hit the ‘Delete’ button as they receive hundreds of requests like this every month.
For any website owners who do respond, they are often clued up about the real reason why they are being contacted. For a link, for Search Engine Optimisation purposes. Different industries are savvier than others, with the travel industry being extremely savvy to this. The general response would be along the lines of “That’s nice, here is what we charge to place a link on our website” – which isn’t a good approach to take. This falls into the paid links category which is against Google’s guidelines and can lead to your website being penalised and removed from the search results.
It is clear that in a lot of industries the websites that are linking out to other websites are in the main, well…horrible. They aren’t going to be driving any referral traffic and they are purely there for Search Engine Optimisation reasons only. The more websites we review the more we have been seeing this trend over the last couple of years. It has reached the point now whereby the quality websites are few and far between and simply aren’t interested in just linking to a website because they have received an email from the website owner.
In summary, the more traditional competitor link analysis and link building approaches that we do, the more challenging it is becoming to achieve good results. Too many websites simply aren’t good enough quality nor are they on-brand. This is not a good way to be spending time as the results to come from this work take far too long to come through.
On the client/business side, it is clear that there is a huge gap in knowledge about outreach & promotion and how it relates to Search Engine Optimisation. Hence the reason for this blog post to help to bridge that knowledge gap and educate businesses as to what is needed to compete in a modern age. Hopefully this blog post can be a resource for businesses to look at to understand in more detail about why traditional ‘link building’ isn’t a future proof strategy and how content marketing, outreach & promotion is going to benefit the business.
Why are links important
Firstly, let’s take a look at why links are important, how search engines analyse links and what role this plays in modern Search Engine Optimisation work. As a business looking to increase visibility in the search engines you will more than likely have heard about how important links are when it comes to increasing visibility and driving more traffic to your website.
Let’s get one thing straight, links are important to both users and search engines. They can drive referral traffic to your website from popular websites which can also lead to a direct increase in revenue as customer purchase your product and services.
Search engines analyse links and want the link to be a genuine endorsement from ‘website A’ about ‘website Bs’ products and services. Whether this is talking about said business in the form of press coverage (non-advertorial), a review of the product or service or even official membership from somewhere.
Links impact the visibility of your website in the search engines. Various studies have been completed over the years that show how there is a correlation (not causation) between how visible a website is on Google and how many high quality backlinks the website has.
This brings us onto the issue we have with ‘link building’. Correlation does not equal causation. Businesses and website owners should not be chasing links for Search Engine Optimisation purposes. Stop doing this, immediately! Start building relationships with your customers, peers and industry websites so that you earn links.
The phrase ‘link building’ has spread throughout the Search Engine Optimisation industry and picked up by businesses across the world over recent years. This phrase is misleading businesses into thinking there is a magic box of tricks that allows someone (generally a digital agency or a junior level person within a company) to go out onto the internet and tell other website owners that they must link to ‘website A’ because it is amazing. Hence why you see so many companies offering to ‘build links’ for your business;
Surely the services at $27.99 are going to be a good investment aren’t they, right? If it seems too good to be true….then it probably is. Businesses paying for ‘link building’ activities that is not integrated with the rest of their businesses are leading to only one thing…a Google penalty for unnatural links. Businesses in highly competitive industries are notorious within digital circles for going down this route and several multi-national well-known brands have received penalties from Google for their activities. This should be a lesson to businesses.
Simply ‘building links’ isn’t a good approach to be taking. Websites are owned by real people running real businesses, and they too have the age old question running through their mind WIIFM – What’s in it for me. No-one, no matter how good they claim to be cannot simply go out and ‘build links’ for any business. Sure, it is possible to place links on low quality websites around the web that no-one is ever viewing, but this approach is going to get you penalised by Google, leading to reduced traffic from the search engines. As mentioned earlier, Google continues to crack down on these activities and if your business is relying on Google for a significant part of your revenue, then you have to ask yourself, is this a risk you are willing to take if you get caught out?
As a business and website owner, to generate more high quality links to your website, then you need to be doing something worthy of other websites talking about you. It really is as simple as that. Stop trying to manipulate things. We believe so strongly that going out and trying to ‘build links’ for clients is not the best approach to take, that we have taken the stance that we simply aren’t going to help with this. Instead, we are helping businesses to take digital seriously and build a strong brand online through the range of digital marketing services.
The evidence and industry changes
Let’s take a look at the evidence about how the industry has been moving over the last few years. Not from hearsay, gossip and proposed ‘experts’, but straight from the horse’s mouth.
Will backlinks lose their importance in ranking?
Answer: Yes, backlinks will become less important in the future. Google currently uses links to assess the basic reputation of websites
What could the webspam team have done better?
Answer: We probably waited too long to penalise websites who use paid links to manipulate search algorithms
Should I build links using article directories?
Answer: No. No, you should not be doing this
What should I be aware of if I’m considering guest blogging?
Answer: Don’t use guest blogging for SEO purposes.
Does Google take action on spammy guest blogging activities?
Answer: Google is willing to take action if they see spammy guest blogging activities for link acquisition
How does Google consider site-wide backlinks?
Answer: There are some genuine cases for this, although often these are spammy
Do you recommend article marketing as an SEO strategy?
Answer: Not a good approach to be taking
What are some effective techniques for building links?
Answer: You do want to build great content, and often great content is what earns links
Looking at Matt Cutts’ (Head of Web Spam at Google) personal blog titled, the decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO highlights this point even further. Looking around the web, there are always blog posts titled “10 ways to build links” etc. and quite frankly, these are often rather generic and not very useful. Don’t get me wrong here, there can be some interesting tips when looking at the points made, when adapting this to your businesses in the sense of earning links.
Why we have taken this stance
The reason we have put this blog post together and taken this stance is because we speak with a lot of businesses about Search Engine Optimisation work, and most businesses are still living in the past, 5 years ago, when this type of practice was acceptable. Digital moves fast and as a businesses, to stay ahead you also need to move fast. This includes keeping up with the large shifts in how to market your business online for sustainable growth.
Results can be achieved by genuinely making your products and services better along with connecting with your audience and customers. This post is designed to be a wake-up call for businesses to highlight what is needed in the modern era to compete online and to increase traffic from search engines.
How we move forward
To reiterate, we aren’t saying we aren’t going to be increasing mentions of client brands and websites online. This is not the case. This is still extremely important for brands to be focusing on, although it is the method of working towards this goal that is changing.
A change of mind set is needed;
From: Building links for Search Engine Optimisation purposes
To: Earning links and natural mentions because you are doing awesome things as a business that people want to talk about
Integrated Online Marketing
If your business isn’t integrating digital into every aspect of work, then you are missing an opportunity to build your brand further online. Find the expertise, knowledge and stories within your business and look to showcase this digitally. Whether this is through blog posts, digital resources or video content for your customers and audience.
Building a strong brand online will earn your business links which will help to increase the authority of your website and hence traffic levels. All our focus for clients is on building a strong brand online and linking digital marketing activities together to earn links. No longer can we look at a departmentalised or segmented approach to digital marketing with the aim of increasing popularity on the web.
An integrated approach is the way businesses need to be looking at their digital marketing activities to compete online in competitive markets. To give an indication of the type of content your business could be producing to earn links;
Product / service content: You would be surprised how many websites simply don’t have enough detail about this. Why are your products/services so amazing? Why are they better than competitors? What awards have you won for your work? What are the features and benefits for your customers? How can the product / service fulfil your customers’ needs?
Blog content: Talk to your customers about what is happening throughout the business. New member of staff joined? Then talk about what they are there to do. What events have you recently attended? What services have you just launched? How are you making a difference in your local community? How can your customers use your product / service in innovative ways? Don’t just think about the product / service, but think about how customers will use it.
Resources: What resources and information will help your customers? Are there any specific files, drawings, guides, calculators, etc. that your customers will find useful? Start to genuinely help customers online by providing resources to help them with what they need. Anyone can sell ‘product x’ – all of the above is what makes your business different to others and hence increase authority on the web.
The one thing to take away from this blog post is that we are helping businesses to develop their brand digitally. Quite simply, the industry has moved on very fast and this is what is needed for businesses to compete online today. Some may think this is a strong stance to take, yet we believe strongly that this is the right approach and will ultimately lead to better results.
What you may also be interested in heading about is some of the content focused work our staff have completed during their careers that has achieved phenomenal results, without ‘building’ one single link;
Building industry: Non-brand organic traffic growth of +97% within 6 months
Building industry: Brand new business, driving +14,000 visits to the website within 12 months
Travel industry: Non-brand organic traffic growth of +25% within 3 months
All of the above has been achieved through by expanding relevant and useful content on the website. Not through ‘building links’, but by making the website better for customers by providing additional information that is useful for them. We know this works and we would like to reiterate to businesses that content, along with relevant promotion, needs to be the key focus for building your brand online.
As Google turned 15 last month, you may have heard about a change with their algorithm that was announced a couple of weeks ago called Hummingbird. What you may not be too familiar with is what this actually is and what this means for your business. Hopefully after reading this blog post you will be up to speed with this change and how it impacts things. After all, this change was the first time since 2001 where the whole algorithm was rewritten so dramatically.
Hummingbird is the name that has been given to Google’s latest algorithm change which is all about being “precise and fast”. More importantly, Hummingbird is designed to understand the meaning behind the words people are searching for, especially with more complex queries. One example given included how they could understand where you live if you searched for “Pizza shops near my home”, if you have shared that location data with Google.
With Google looking at the meaning behind the words and whole phrases being searched for, this means that pages that contain information that specifically answers the users query are more likely to rank higher than pages that simply contain the words on the page. This is only a good thing and it once again highlights the need to focus on awesome content that answers user’s queries in the best way possible.
Google stated that a search for “Pizza Hut calories per slice” used to bring up a website that simply contained that information on. Now what they are aiming to achieve with the Hummingbird algorithm is to understand that the two words “Pizza Hut” actually relate to the brand, so that information would be used to find information on the Pizza Hut website about “calories per slice”. When I have just performed this search, the other websites still are outranking Pizza Hut which goes to show that the algorithm still has a long way to go to fully understand entities within a semantic search environment.
Another example of how Hummingbird is understanding entities better is when you search for “Blackpool Tower VS Eiffel Tower” and you are presented with a nice comparison of the two;
Previously this search query would likely have just presented a page that contains a bit of information about the two different topics which may or may not have had the answer a user was looking for.
Do you need to change anything?
With the new Hummingbird algorithm being out in the wild, the one question on everyone’s mind is whether they need to change anything they are doing. In summary, no. The best practice still remains true which is to build amazing, original, high quality, sharable and linkable content for your customers.
Hummingbird is all about how Google understands information that is already out there. So all of the important signals that we know Google is using are still as important with Hummingbird in place.
With Hummingbird being all about how Google understands content better, this once again should take the focus away from specific keywords and to a place that is all about users and providing them with the answers they need. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and understand what types of things they are seeking answers for. Identify those needs and problems and help provide solutions and answers to them.
Should you worry about a Hummingbird penalty?
No. Hummingbird is simply changing the way Google understands your content. Based on this understanding they are able to provide better search results to users searching on Google for complex queries. With previous animal named algorithm updates, Panda and Penguin, it is rightfully so that people would ask this question. With this change being launched over a month ago unofficially, if you have noticed a change then it isn’t likely to do with the algorithm but it is more likely due to one of the other 200 signals that Google uses within their ranking algorithm.
Looking through various Google Analytics account and rank tracking data, we haven’t seen any changes related to the Hummingbird algorithm change.
What is the real reason behind the change?
More and more people are searching on Google from mobile devices and this search behaviour isn’t just standard text based. With the advent of voice search on Google (both from your mobile device and from normal desktop search) this is driving more complex queries which needed a change in thinking for how Google answers those queries.
Previously Google was all about the words on a page without any real understanding behind them. They understood that if a page mentioned “Britney” that it was also likely to mention “Spears” but they didn’t understand that “Britney Spears” was a person. Back in May, Google announced Knowledge Graph which is all about understanding entities and real world things in greater detail. Hummingbird is the logical next step to this.
Looking at a conversational search example, the aim is to allow users to simply talk to their device in a conversational way and to get back useful information throughout this process without being explicit each time.
Being able to understand potentially lengthy conversations means that Google needs to really understand the meaning of the words behind the query to be able to serve the best possible information to the user. It is going to be interesting to see how this develops over time and how user’s behaviour starts to change with new technology such as this.
Google Voice Search
Since posting this blog post I have re-stumbled upon an old video from a few months ago where Matt Cutts (Head of Web Spam at Google) talks about the change in behaviour they are seeing with people searching on mobile phones. Specifically to a more conversational style search;
With Hummingbird being all about how Google understands content, the biggest tip that we can give at the minute is to start taking Schema.org markup seriously. If you don’t already know, Schema.org markup is simply a way to markup your content into some kind of structured way that search engines can understand more easily.
Google already supports several Schema.org tags and this list is only going to grow over time. Some Schema.org tags already give you direct benefit within the search results, such as review rich snippets standing out, although there are others that haven’t been announced yet. Implementing these now won’t gain you any extra benefit in the short term, although it will certainly put you in the right position for when Google does look at these additional tags.
As can be seen from a lot of the major changes recently (knowledge graph, conversational search, Hummingbird) it is clear that Google is always looking to understand the world we live in more.