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WordStream Named a Top 20 Place to Work in Boston!

With fun golf outings, a winning softball team, an Xbox in the office, and an endless supply of cold brew, WordStream has once again been named a best place to work in Boston!

Best Place to Work in Boston

Our WordStream Team at the awards ceremony!

While WordStream has its formal perks—great benefits, an unlimited vacation policy, great social outings, and opportunities to volunteer—employees have so many more reasons to love coming to work every day.

We all know the story about how Larry Kim created WordStream in a Panera. We also know how our veterans survived through multiple desk and office moves, putting in long hours for our customers, and sticking with the tradition of recognizing each other for “being great” monthly. Just this year, we hit the huge milestone of 200 employees and moved to an amazing new office in the Prudential Center. We’ve come a long way!

And we couldn’t be prouder.

Last night, we brought home the Boston Business Journal’s Best Places to Work of 2017 award, coming in at number 20 in the medium-sized business category. We accepted the award with a quick video showing off our WordStream culture.

The Boston Business Journal announced 80 honorees on April 19, which were divided into five different categories based on the size of the business. The companies were selected based on survey responses from employees, which were scored by Quantum Workplace. According to the Boston Business Journal Market President and Publisher, more than 300 companies submitted surveys, and Best Places to Work is considered one of the most competitive programs.

Best Place to Work in Boston

The WordStream softball team [not pictured: free drinks, great music, and celebratory home-run dances]

We’re always looking for awesome, motivated workers to join our team! Check out our jobs page for open positions.

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Creating Influencer-Targeted Content to Earn Links + Coverage – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Most SEO campaigns need three kinds of links to be successful; targeting your content to influencers can get you 2/3 of the way there. In this Whiteboard Friday, Rand covers the tactics that will help your content get seen and shared by those with a wide and relevant audience.

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How to create influencer-targeted content - Whiteboard Friday

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about how to create content that is specifically influencer-targeted in order to earn the links and attention and amplification that you often need.

Most SEO campaigns need 3 types of links:

So it’s the case that most SEO campaigns, as they’re trying to earn the rankings that they’re seeking, are trying to do a few things. You’re trying to grow your overall Domain Authority. You’re trying to get some specific keyword terms and phrases ranking on your site for those terms and phrases.

So you need kind of three kinds of links. This is most campaigns.

1. Links from broad, high-Domain Authority sites that are pointing — you kind of don’t care — anywhere on your site, the home page, internal pages, to your blog, to your news section. It’s totally fine. So a common one that we use here would be like the New York Times. I want the New York Times to link to me so that I have the authority and influence of a link from that domain and, hopefully, lots of domains like them, very high-Domain Authority domains.

2. Links to specific high-value keyword-targeted pages, hopefully, hopefully with specific anchor text, and that’s going to help me boost those individual URLs’ rankings. So I want this page over here to link to me and say “hairdryers,” to my page that is keyword targeted for the word “hairdryers.” Fingers crossed.

3. Links to my domain from other sites, in my sector or niche, that provide some of that topical authority and influence to help tell Google and the other search engines that this is what my site is about, that I belong in this sphere of influence, that I’m semantically and topically related to words and phrases like this. So I want appliancegal.com to link to my site if I’m trying to rank in the world of hairdryers and other kinds of appliances.

So of these, for one and three, we won’t talk about two today, but for one and three, much of the time the people that you’re trying to target are what we call in the industry influencers, and these influencers are going to be lots of people. I’ve illustrated them all here — mostly looking sideways at each other, not exactly sure why that is — but bloggers, and journalists, and authors, and conference organizers, and content marketers, and event speakers, and researchers, and editors, and podcasters, and influencers of a wide, wide variety. We could fill up the whole board with the types of people who are in the influencer world or have that title specifically, but they tend to share a few things in common. They are trying to produce content of one kind or another. They’re not dissimilar from us. They’re trying to produce things on the web, and when they do, they need certain elements to help fill in the gap. When they’re looking for those gap-filling elements, that is your opportunity to earn these kinds of links.

Content tactics

So a few tactics for that. First off, one of the most powerful ones, and we’ve talked about this a little bit here on Whiteboard Friday, but probably not in depth, is…

A. Statistics and data. The reason that this is such a powerful tool is because when you create data, especially if it’s either uniquely gathered by you, unique because you have it, because you can collect it and no one else can, or unique because you’ve put it together from many disparate sources, you’re the editorial curator of that data and statistics, everyone like this needs those types of statistics and data to support or challenge their arguments or their assertions or their coverage of the industry, whatever it is.

  • Why this works: This works well because this fills that gap. This gives them the relevant stats that they’re looking for. Because numbers are easy to use and easy to cite, and you can say, “Feel free to link to this. You’re welcome to copy this graph. You’re welcome to embed this chart.” All those kinds of things. That can make it even easier, but much of the time, just by having these statistics, you can do it.
  • The key is that you have to be visible at the time that these people are looking for them, and that means usually ranking for very hard to discover, through at least normal keyword research, long-tail types of terms that use words like “stats,” “data,” “charts,” “graphs,” and kind of these question formats like when, how much, how many, number of, etc.

It’s tough because you will not see many of those in your keyword research, because there’s a relatively few number of these people searching in any given month for this type of gap-filling data, so you have to intuit often what you should title those things. Put yourself in these people’s shoes and start Googling around for “What would I need if I had to write some industry coverage around this?” Then you’ll come up with these types of things, and you can try modifying your keyword research queries or doing some Google Suggest stuff with these words and phrases.

B. Visual content. Visual content is exceptionally valuable in this case because, again, it fills a gap that many of these folks have. When you are a content marketer, or when you’re a speaker at an event, or when you’re an author or a blogger, you need visual content that will help catch the eye, that will break up the writing that you’ve done, and it’s often much easier to get someone else’s visual content and simply cite your source and link to it than it is to create visual content of your own. These people often don’t have the resources to create their own visual content.

  • Why this works: So, for everyone who’s doing posts, and articles, and slide decks, and even videos, they say, “Why not let someone else do the work,” and you can be that someone else and fill these gaps.
  • Key: To do this well, you’re going to want to appear in a bunch of visual content search mediums that these folks are going to use. Those are places like…
    • Google Images most obviously, but also
    • Pinterest
    • SlideShare, meaning take your visuals, put them up in some sort of slide format, give some context to them and upload them to SlideShare. The nice thing about SlideShare, SlideShare actually reproduces each individual slide as a visual, and then Google Images can search those, and so you’ll often see SlideShare’s results inside Google Images. So this can be a great end around for that.
    • Instagram search, many folks are using that especially if you’re doing photos. You can see I’ve illustrated my own hair drying technique right here. This is clearly Rand. Look at me. I’ve got more hair than I know what to do with.
    • Flickr, still being used by many searchers, particularly because it has a Creative Commons search license, and that should bring up using a Creative Commons commercial use license that requires attribution with a link is your best bet for all of these platforms. It will mean you can get on lots of other Creative Commons visual and photography search engines, which can expose you to more of these types of people as they’re doing their searches.

C. Contrarian/counter-opinions. The last one I’ll cover here is contrarian or counter-opinions to the prevailing wisdom. So you might have an opinion like, “In the next three years, hairdryers will be completely obsolete because of X.”

  • Why it works: This works well because modern journalism has this idea and modern content, in fact, has this idea that they are supposed to create conflict and that they should cover both sides of an issue. In many industry specific sorts of fields, it’s often the case that that is a gap that goes unfilled. By being that sort of challenger to conventional wisdom or conventional thinking, you can fill that gap.
  • The key here is you want to either rank in Google search engine for some of those mid or long tail research type queries. These can be competitive, and so this is challenging, but presenting contrarian opinions is often great link bait. This is kind of a good way to earn links of all kinds in here.
  • Second, I would also urge you to do a little bit of comment marketing and some social media platforms, because what you want to start is to build a brand where you are known for having this contrarian opinion on this conventional topic in your space so that people point all these influencers to you when they’re asked about it. You’re trying to build up this branding of, “Well, I don’t agree with the conventional wisdom around hairdryers.” Hairdryers might be a tough topic for that one, but certainly these other two can work real well.

So using these tactics, I hope that you can go reach out and fill some gaps for these influencers and, as a result, earning two of the three exact kind of links that you need in order to rank well in the search results.

And we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Our Best Tweets Ever (And How to Replicate Them)

At WordStream, we’ve taken a trial-and-error approach to social media. After I took over our accounts about a year ago, we’ve been implementing new strategies, trying out different approaches, and combing through data to see what our audience really likes to engage with.

First, let me tell you: it’s been hard. We post and tweet a LOT. We have a lot to share, what can I say? And obviously social media is part of our overarching marketing efforts, so we want to make sure that not only are we giving our followers what they want to see, we’re also accurately representing WordStream as a company.

Best Tweets and How to Replicate Them

[Shameless plug: if you’re interested in our company culture, check out our new Instagram handle: @WordStreamInc!)

Since it’s officially been a full year since I grabbed control of our social accounts (yes, that was me sending you those Facebook messages and Twitter DMs), I thought it was time to reminisce on what we did manage to get right.

Before we get started, I have some tiny tricks-of-the-trade that I use to make sure our tweets get enough eyeballs.

  • Post each tweet at least twice, but not more than five times. When people check Twitter, they’re not going to check tweets from two days ago, or even 2 hours ago. Make sure you’re covering your bases; and be creative! Don’t post the same, exact tweet if you can help it, use a variety of headlines.
  • If you use social media management software, consider auto-scheduling your tweets. We started doing this and it really helped with engagement—and takes the mind game out of picking a time for each tweet.
  • Know your strengths. Look at Twitter analytics to see what day of the week and time of day gets the most interaction from your followers.
  • Always post a photo. Bonus points for including emojis, too.

Here are our top-performing tweets from the past year and what you can do to duplicate them for your own social media success!

1. Best Tweets with Company Pride

Though a proud mother doesn’t like to pick favorites…these are my favorites. I love when WordStream hits a big milestone or wins an award and I have the platform to share it with the world!

This post was our best tweet from May 2016, posted right after we won the Best Content Marketing Award from MITX. This tweet garnered 216% more engagement than the next best tweet that month!

Best MITX Tweet

How to Replicate this Tweet:

Celebrate the big wins or the small successes. Include a photo of your team celebrating. Tag whoever was involved for maximum exposure.

2. Best Tweets with Gifs

These great tweets celebrated another award and a huge milestone for us as a company—which I tweeted about with some celebratory gifs. Using gifs always seems to lift engagement for us, but these tweets were the best of August and September 2016, by far. Engagement skyrocketed, more than triple the next best tweet of their respective months.

Best Gif Tweets

Celebratory Gif Tweet

How to Replicate these Tweets:

Gifs are eye-catching, as are numbers (see: “5000”, “$9B”, and “1M”) which probably contributed to our high engagement. Don’t be shy about letting your personality shine through!

Pro Tip: Link these kinds of tweets to a press release or blog post on your site and check out the impact on your site traffic. These tweets are also the perfect candidates for pinned tweets at the top of your profile on Twitter.

3. Best Company Culture Tweets

This category of tweets isn’t surprising—people use social media to connect with their friends. When businesses joined the party, it was a bit of a buzzkill for those of us who were used to seeing friendly faces on our screens. Tweets about our employees, featuring our employees, consistently perform well because it personalizes an otherwise faceless entity in your feed.

This tweet, featuring our Halloween festivities, had 420% more likes than our typical tweets.

Company Culture Tweets

How to Replicate These Tweets:

Be that annoying friend who insists on taking a group photo. It goes a long way! For those of you who are like me, and are slightly photographically challenged, take a LOT to edit, crop, filter, and the like. Make sure you tag whoever is in the picture and/or wherever your outing is, throw in some emojis, and call it a grand slam.

Pro Tip: These tweets can be scheduled more than once and auto-scheduled, but I’m a fan of tweeting these in real-time. It’s a little suspicious to tweet about a work event on a Sunday afternoon…

4. Best Tweets with Emojis

Emojis are an easy way to grab someone’s attention, especially on mobile! The best emoji tweets below are a double-whammy; they feature images of our employees AND emojis.

Best Tweets with Emojis

Best Tweets with Emojis

How to Replicate These Tweets:

It can be harder to include emojis when you’re scheduling tweets ahead of time through Buffer or Hootsuite. We like to use GetEmoji for an easy copy-paste. But don’t forget to tweet from your mobile at events, too!

Pro Tip: Use that time of day and time of week data you’ve been collecting, and schedule your tweet to hit that sweet spot. For reference, ours is on Sunday afternoons…

5. Best Tweets with Urgency

We find that increasing urgency generally increases engagement with your content. Using action-inducing words is great for news-based tweets!

Best News Tweets

Best Tweets with Urgency

Best Urgent Tweets

How to Replicate These Tweets:

Focus on your headlines. If you are breaking big news or reporting on an important change, add verbiage like “new,” “breaking,” and “get it now” to drive engagement. Create a few different headlines to make the message hit home.

Pro Tip: Expect these types of tweets to get lots of clicks and retweets! Make sure you choose an original image that accurately portrays your brand and relates to the content of the tweet.

6. Best Tweets with Infographics

Here at WordStream, we have a steady flow of content, but there are a few times when we know we’ve really hit the jackpot. In these instances, I’ll throw together a bunch of tweets—more than your average blog post promotion on social—and make sure to slice up an infographic appropriately for the attached image. I’ll also pin one to the top of our Twitter right away. We’ve had a few that really took off – the expanded text ads best practices tweet was our best performing tweet of the year!

Best Infographic Tweets 

Best Infographic Tweets

This was our best tweet of the year!

How to Replicate these Tweets:

Step one: publish engaging and relevant content with an infographic! If you can’t produce your own infographics, borrow someone else’s (but remember to give them credit!). Next, slice the infographic to choose an eye-catching section to feature in your tweets.

If you’re borrowing an infographic, tag the company it came from—that will absolutely up your engagement when they retweet you. For example, one of our most popular infographics was snagged by Jed Record for this tweet. He kindly tagged us, which allowed us to retweet him, and we helped each other out with this tweet engagement!

Best Tweet Mention

Pro Tip: All the tweets above simply use the title of the post for the copy. Composing an engaging image is half the battle since it will not only draw in your Twitter audience, you’ll get more clicks overall.

7. Best Dark Horse Tweet

I’m going to be honest, when this tweet did well, I was borderline shocked. I had scheduled it days before, thinking we needed a filler for the day but that no one would be checking Twitter on New Year’s Day. I added a gif and signed off to celebrate New Years!

Best Dark Horse Tweet

How to Replicate this Tweet:

Follow your gut and stay true to your company’s personality. If you see an opportunity to stand out from the crowd, grab it. Picking well-known gifs doesn’t hurt, either.

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The Case For & Against Attending Marketing Conferences

Posted by randfish

I just finished reading Jan Schaumann’s short post on Why Companies Should Pay for Their Employees to Attend Conferences. I liked it. I generally agree with it. But I have more to add.

First off, I think it’s reasonable for managers and company leaders to be wary of conferences and events. It is absolutely true that if your employees attend them, there will be costs associated, and it’s logical for businesses to seek a return on investment.

What do you sacrifice when sending a team member to an event?

Let’s start by attempting to tally up the costs:

  • Lost productivity – Usually on the order of 1 to 4 days depending on the length of the event, travel distance, tiredness from travel, whether the team member does some work at the event or makes up with evenings/weekends, etc. Given marketing salaries ranging from $40K–$100K, this could be as little as $150 (~1 day’s cost at the lower end) to $1,900 (a week’s cost on the high end).
  • Cost of tickets – In the web marketing world, the range of events is fairly standard, between ~$1,000 and $2,000, with discounts of 20–50% off those prices for early registration (or with speaker codes). Some examples:
    • CTAConf in Vancouver is $999 ($849 if you’re an Unbounce customer)
    • Content Marketing World in Cleveland is $1,195 (early rate) or $1,395 later
    • Pubcon Las Vegas in $1,099 (early rate), not sure what it goes up to
    • HubSpot’s INBOUND is $1,299 (or $1,899 for a VIP pass)
    • SMX East is $1,795 (or $2,595 for all access)
    • SearchLove London is $890 (or $1,208 for VIP)
    • MozCon in Seattle is $1,549 (or $1,049 for Moz subscribers)
  • Cost of travel and lodging – Often between $1,000–$3,000/person depending on location, length, and flight+hotel costs.
  • Potential loss of employee through recruitment or networking – It’s a thorny one, but it has to be addressed. I know many employers who fear sending their staff to events because they worry that the great networking opportunities will yield a higher-paying or more exciting offer in the future. Let’s say that for every 30 employees you send (or every 30 events you send an employee to), you’ll lose one to an opportunity that otherwise wouldn’t have had them considering a departure. I think that’s way too high (not because marketers don’t leave their jobs but because they almost always leave for reasons other than an opportunity that came through a conference), but we’ll use it anyway. On the low end, that might cost you $10K (if you’ve lost a relatively junior person who can be replaced fairly quickly) and on the high end, might be as much as $100K (if you lose a senior person and have a long period without rehiring + training). We’ll divide that cost by 30 using our formula of one lost employee per thirty events.

Total: $4,630–$10,230

That’s no small barrier. For many small businesses or agencies, it’s a month or two of their marketing expenses or the salary for an employee. There needs to be significant return on those dollars to make it worthwhile. Thankfully, in all of my experiences over hundreds of marketing events the last 12 years, there is.

What do you gain by sending a team member to an event?

Nearly all the benefits of events come from three sources: the growth (in skills, relationships, exposure to ideas, etc) of the attendee(s), applicable tactics & strategies (including all the indirect ones that come from serendipitous touch points), and the extension of your organization’s brand and network.

In the personal growth department, we see benefits like:

  • New skills, often gained through exposure at events and then followed up on through individual research and effort. It’s absolutely true that few attendees will learn enough at a 30-minute talk to excel at some new tactic. But what they will learn is that tactic’s existence, and a way to potentially invest in it.
  • Unique ideas, undiscoverable through solo work or in existing team structures. I’ve experienced this benefit myself many times, and I’ve seen it on Moz’s team countless times.
  • The courage, commitment, inspiration, or simply the catalyst for experimentation or investment. Sometimes it’s not even something new, or something you’ve never talked about as a team. You might even be frustrated to find that your coworker comes back from an event, puts their head down for a week, and shows you a brilliant new process or meaningful result that you’ve been trying to convince them to do for months. Months! The will to do new things strikes whenever and however it strikes. Events often deliver that strike. I’ve sat next to engineers whom I’ve tried to convince for years to make something happen in our tools, but when they see a presenter at MozCon show off another tool that does it or bemoan the manual process currently required, they suddenly set their minds to it and deliver. That inspiration and motivation are priceless.
  • New relationships that unlock additional skill growth, amplification opportunities, business development or partnership possibilities, references, testimonials, social networking, peer validation, and all the other myriad advancements that accompany human connections.
  • Upgrading the ability to learn, to process data and stories and turn them into useful takeaways.
  • Alongside that, upgraded abilities to interact with others, form connections, learn from people, and form or strengthen bonds with colleagues. We learn, even in adulthood, through observation and imitation, and events bring people together in ways that are more memorable, more imprinted, and more likely to resonate and be copied than our day-to-day office interactions.

A gentleman at SearchLove London 2016 gives me an excellent (though slightly blurry) thumbs up

In the applicable tactics & strategies, we get benefits like:

  • New tools or processes that can speed up work, or make the impossible possible.
  • Resources for advancing skills and information on a topic that’s important to one’s job or to a project in particular.
  • Actionable ideas to make an existing task, process, or result easier to achieve or more likely to produce improved results.
  • Bigger-picture concepts that spur an examination of existing direction and can improve broad, strategic approaches.
  • People & organizations who can help with all above, formally or informally, paid as consultants, or just happy to answer a couple questions over email or Twitter.

Purna Virji at SMX Munich 2017

In the extension of organizational brand/network, we get benefits like:

  • Brand exposure to people you meet and interact with at conferences. Since we know the world of sales & marketing is multi-touch, this can have a big impact, especially if either your customers or your amplification targets include anyone in your professional field.
  • Contacts at other companies that can help you reach people or organizations (this benefit has grown massively thanks to the proliferation of professional social networks like those on LinkedIn and Twitter)
  • Potential media contacts, including the more traditional (journalists, news publications) and the emerging (bloggers, online publishers, powerful social amplifiers, etc)
  • A direct introduction point to speakers and organizers (e.g. if anyone emails me saying “I saw you speak at XYZ and wanted to follow up about…” the likelihood of an invested reply goes way up vs. purely online outreach)

But I said above that these three included “nearly all” the benefits, didn’t I? 🙂

Daisy Quaker at MozCon Ignite

It’s true. There are more intangible forms of value events provide. I think one of the biggest is the trust gained between a manager and their team or an employer and their employees. When organizations offer an events budget, especially when they offer it with relative freedom for the team member to choose how and where to spend it, a clear message is sent. The organization believes in its people. It trusts its people. It is willing to sacrifice short-term work for the long-term good of its people. The organization accepts that someone might be recruited away through the network they gain at an event, but is willing to make the trade-off for a more trusting, more valuable team. As the meme goes:

CFO: What if we invest in our people and they leave?
CEO: What if we don’t and they stay?

Total: $A Lot?

How do you measure the returns?

The challenge comes in because these are hard things for which to calculate ROI. In fact, any number I throw out for any of these above will absolutely be wrong for your particular situation and organization. The only true way to estimate value is through hindsight, and that means having faith that the future will look like the past (or rigorous, statistically sound models with large sample sizes, validated through years of controlled comparison… which only a handful of the world’s biggest and richest companies do).

It’s easy to see stories like “The biggest deals I’ve ever done, mostly (80%) came from meeting people at conferences” and “I’ve had the opportunity to open the door of conversations previously thought locked” and “When I send people on my team I almost always find they come back more inspired, rejuvenated, and full of fire” and dismiss them as outliers or invent reasons why the same won’t apply to you. It’s also easy explain away past successes gained through events as not necessarily requiring the in-person component.

I see this happen a lot. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve seen it at Moz. Remember last summer, when we did layoffs? One of the benefits cut was the conference and events budget for team members. While I think that was the right decision, I’m also hopeful & pushing for that to be one of the first benefits we reinstate now that we’re profitable again.

Lexi Mills at Turing Festival in Edinburgh

Over the years of my event participation, first as an attendee, and later as a speaker, I can measure my personal and Moz’s professional benefits, and come up with some ballpark range. It’s harder to do with my team members because I can’t observe every benefit, but I can certainly see every cost in line-item format. Human beings are pretty awful in situations like these. We bias to loss aversion over potential gain. We rationalize why others benefit when we don’t. We don’t know what we’re missing so we use logic to convince ourselves it’s ROI negative to justify our decision.

It’s the same principle that often makes hard-to-measure marketing channels the best ROI ones.

Some broader discussions around marketing event issues

Before writing this post, I asked on Twitter about the pros and cons of marketing conferences that folks felt were less often covered. A number of the responses were insightful and worthy of discussion follow-ups, so I wanted to include them here, with some thoughts.

If you’re a conference organizer, you know how tough a conversation this is. Want to bring in outside food vendors (which are much more affordable and interesting than what venues themselves usually offer)? 90% of venues have restrictions against it. Want to get great food for attendees? That same 90% are going to charge you on the order of hundreds of dollars per attendee. MozCon’s food costs are literally 25%+ of our entire budget, and considering we usually break even or lose a little money, that’s huge.

If you’re a media company and you run events for profit, or you’re a smaller business that can’t afford to have your events be a money-losing endeavor, you’re between a rock and a hard place. At places like MozCon and CTAConf, the food is pretty killer, but the flip side is there’s no margin at all. Many conferences simply can’t afford to swing that.

Totally agree with Ross — interesting one, and pros/cons to each. At smaller shows, I love the more intimate connections, but I’m also well aware that for most speakers, it’s a tough proposition to ask for a new presentation or to bring their best stuff. It’s also hard to get many big-name speakers. And, as Ross points out, the networking can be deeper, but with a smaller group. If you’re hoping to meet someone from company X or run into colleagues from the past, small size may inhibit.

For years prior to MozCon, I’d only ever been to events with a couple keynotes and then panels of 3–6 people in breakout sessions the rest of the day. I naively thought we’d invented some brilliant new system with the all-keynote-style conference (it had obviously been around for decades; I just wasn’t exposed to it). It also became clear over time that many other marketing conferences had the same idea and today, it’s an even split between those that do all-keynotes vs. those with a hybrid of breakouts, panels, and keynotes.

Personally, my preference is still all-keynote. I agree with Greg that, on occasion, a speaker won’t do a great job, and sitting through those 20–40 minutes can be frustrating. But I can count on a single hand the number of panel sessions I’ve ever found value in, and I strongly dislike being forced to choose between sessions and not sharing the same experience with other attendees. Even when the session I’ve chosen is a good one, I have FOMO (“what if that other session around the corner is even better?!”) and that drives my quality of experience down.

This, though, is personal preference. If you like panels, breakouts, and multi-track options, stick to SMX, Content Marketing World, INBOUND, and others like them. If you’re like me and prefer all keynotes, single track, go for CTAConf, Searchlove, Inbounder, MozCon, and their ilk.

I agree this is a real problem. Being a conference organizer, I get to see a lot of the feedback and requests, and I think that’s where the issue stems from. For example, a few years back, Brittan Bright, who now does sales at Google in New York, gave a brilliant talk about the soft skills of selling and client relations. It scored OK in the lineup, but a lot of the feedback overall that year was from people who wanted more “tactical tips” and “technical tricks” and less “soft skills” content. Every conference has to deal with this demand and supply issue. You might respond (as my friend Wil Reynolds often does) with “who cares what people say they want?! Give them what they don’t know they need!”

That’s how conferences go broke, my friends. 🙂 Every year, we try to include at least a few sessions that focus on these softer skills (in numerous ways), and every year, there’s pushback from folks who wish we’d just show them how to get more easy links, or present some new tool they haven’t heard of before. It’s a tough give and take, but I’m empathetic to both sides on this issue. Actionable tactics matter, and they make for big, immediate wins. Soft skills are important, too, but there’s a significant portion of the audience who’ll get frustrated seeing talks on these topics.

Hrm… I think I agree more with Freja than with Herman, but it’s entirely a personal preference. If you know yourself well enough to know that you’ll benefit more (or less) by attending with others from your team, make the call. This is one reason I love the idea of businesses offering the freedom of choice on how to use their event budget.

There were a number of these conflicting points-of-view in reply to my tweet, and I think they indicate the challenge for attendees and organizers. Opinions vary about what makes for a great conference, a great speaker or session, or the best way to get value from them.

Which marketing conferences do I recommend?

I get this question a lot (which is fair, I go to *a lot* of events). It really depends what you like, so I’ll try to break down my recommendations in that format.

Big, industry-wide events with many thousands of attendees, big name keynotes, famous musical acts, and hundreds of breakout session options:

  • INBOUND by Hubspot (Boston, MA 9/25–9/28) is a clear choice here. If you craft your experience well, you can get an immense amount of value.
  • Content Marketing World (Cleveland, OH 9/5–9/8) is always a good show, and they’ve recently focused on getting more gender-diverse.
  • Dreamforce by Salesforce (San Francisco, CA 11/6–11/9) has a similar feel to INBOUND in size and format, though it’s generally more classic sales & marketing focused, and has less programming that overlaps with our/my world of SEO, social media, content marketing, etc.
  • Web Summit (Lisbon, Portugal 11/6–11/9) is even broader, focusing on technology, startups, entrepreneurship, and sales+marketing. If you’re looking to break out of the marketing bubble and get a chance to see some “where are we going” and “what’s driving innovation” content, this is a good one.
  • SMX Munich (Munich, Germany 3/20–3/21 2018) is one of the best produced and best attended shows in Europe. This event consistently delivers great presentations. Because of its location on the calendar, it’s also where many speakers debut their theses and tactics each year, and since it’s in Germany (or, more probably because it’s run by the amazing Sandra & Matthew Finlay), everything is executed to perfection.

Mid-tier events with 1,000–1,500 attendee:

  • MozCon by Moz (Seattle, WA 7/17–7/19) I’m obviously biased, but I also get to see the survey data from attendees. The ratings of “excellent” or “outstanding” and the high number of people who buy tickets for the following year within a few days of leaving give me confidence that this is still one of the best events in the web marketing world.
  • CTAConf by Unbounce (Vancouver, BC 6/25–6/27) Oli Gardner, who’s become an exceptional speaker himself, works directly with every presenter (all invitation-only, like MozCon) to make sure the decks are top notch. In addition, the setting in Vancouver, the food trucks, the staging, the networking, and the kindness of Canada are all wonderful.
  • Inbounder (Valencia, Spain 5/2018) This event only happens every other year, but if 2016 was anything to judge by, it’s one of Europe’s best. Certainly, you won’t find a more incredible city or a better location. The conference hall is inside a spaceship that’s landed on a grassy park surrounding an ancient walled city. Even Seattle’s glacier-ringed beauty can’t top that.
  • ConversionXL Live (Austin, TX 3/28–3/30) Peep Laja and crew put on a terrific event with a lovely venue and clear attention paid to the actionable, tactical value of takeaways. I came back from the few sessions I attended with all sorts of suggestions for the Moz team to try (if only webdev resources weren’t so difficult to wrangle).
  • SMX Advanced (Seattle, WA TBD 2018) I haven’t been in a couple years, but many search marketers rave about this show’s location, production quality, panels, and speakers. It’s one of the few places that still attracts the big-name representatives from Google & Bing, so if you want to hear directly from the horse’s mouth a few seconds before it’s broadcast and analyzed a million ways on Twitter, this is the spot.

Outside The Inbounder Conference in Valencia, Spain

Smaller, local, & niche events with a few hundred attendees and a more intimate setting:

  • SearchLove (San Diego, Boston, & London 10/16–10/17) It’s somewhat extraordinary that this event remains small, like a hidden secret in the web marketing world. The quality of content and presentations are on par with MozCon (as are the ratings, and I know from other events how rare those are), but the settings are more intimate with only 2-300 participants in San Diego & Boston, and a larger, but still convivial crowd of 4-600 in London. I personally learn more at Searchlove than any other show.
  • Engage (formerly Searchfest) The SEMPDX crew has always had a unique, wonderful event, and Portland, OR is one of my favorite cities to visit.
  • MNSearch (Minneapolis 6/23) One of the exciting up-and-coming local events in our space. The MNSearch folks have brought together great speakers in fun venues at a surprisingly affordable price, and with some killer after-hours events, too. I’ve been twice and was very impressed both times.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and I’m certain there are many other events that give great value. I can only speak from my own experiences, which are going to carry the bias of what I’ve seen and what I like.

Help us better understand the value of conferences to you

Two years ago, I ran a survey about marketing conferences and received, analyzed, then published the results. I’d like to repeat that again, and see what’s changed. Please contribute and tell us what matters to you:

Take the survey here

I look forward to the discussion in the comments. If the Twitter thread was any indication, there’s a lot of passion and interest around this topic, one that I share. And of course, if you’d like to chat in person about this and see how we’re doing things at Moz, I hope you’ll consider MozCon in just a few weeks in Seattle.


Roger MozBotRoger’s note: *beep* Rogerbot here! I think Rand forgot an important benefit of one conference: At MozCon, you can hug a robot. If you’re considering joining us in Seattle this July, we’re over 75% sold out! Be sure to grab your ticket while you can.

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10 Highly Effective B2B Link Building Tactics

Regardless of what people say, building up your link profile is a necessary part of your B2B marketing strategy. For most businesses, however, the process of establishing a backlink strategy and then going out and actually getting backlinks can be incredibly daunting.

There is a TON of value in building up your link profile. We attribute a lot of our organic growth to our backlink strategy. In fact we used to have a role here specifically for writing guest posts (8 a week if you can believe it). That’s how much we believe in it.

There are a lot of ways to get backlinks, and some require more work than others. So in this article I’ve tried to break down tactics by three separate categories according to how much effort they’ll entail:

  • Outreach (minimal work)
  • Submission (some light work)
  • Exchange (heaviest amount of work)

I recommend using a nice mix of tactics spread across these three categories. As with most things in life, the links that require the most work are usually the more authoritative, and will have the biggest positive effect on your organic rankings.

b2b link building tactics

So without further ado, let’s dive into the actual tactics. Here are 10 B2B link building tactics you can start implementing today to help get you more backlinks.

Outreach-Based Backlinks

Offer a Scholarship

This is a really cool way to give back to students, while also acquiring some high-quality backlinks. Google knows that .edu and .gov URLs are trustworthy and usually highly authoritative (seeing as not anyone can just go out and purchase a .edu or .gov backlink). This is actually a common thing that a lot of businesses do.

All you need to do is create a scholarship page on your site, then create an application form (we did this through Google Forms). From there we hired a data miner from Upwork to find contact info for someone in the Financial Aid office, as well as in the Marketing/Computer Science program, at over 180 universities. For your own scholarship, reach out to whatever field your company works in.

This is a great way to quickly earn links, and can be done in a few hours. All you need to do is build a page, create a form, and send out an email cadence to your list of contacts!

Here’s an example of our scholarship page, and below you can see that we already have 22 links from high-authority sites pointing there, and we’re still acquiring more every week!

scholarships for link building

Wikipedia Links

Wikipedia is a great way to get high-authority links to relevant blog posts. Essentially, you want to do a quick Google search for relevant keywords. Comb through the Wikipedia page that ranks for your keyword to see if there is any missing information that you’ve touched on or answered in a blog post.

If you haven’t edited a Wikipedia page before, here’s a great guide to get you started. There’s no guarantee that all links will get approved, but as long as your citation adds value to the page, there’s a good chance it stays up!

Keep in mind that Wikipedia links are nofollow – however, Google probably still views them as valuable, they can send a lot of referral traffic, and they can lead to other links.

Icon Packs

If your company has a designer (in-house or outsourced, it doesn’t matter), have them create some custom icon packs for your brand. There are a number of different sites that allow you to upload icon packs for download. Just make sure that you tell people to link back to your site somewhere on the page where they use the icons. There’s a good chance that not everyone will do so, but this tactic requires very little work up front (especially if you already have custom icons for your site), so it’s worth it even if only 50% of people who download the icons link back to your site.

Before you just go ahead and upload icons, however, make sure they are actually original and your company owns the rights to them. Here’s a helpful article from Shopify on 12 trusted places to download icon packs – the majority of which also allow you to upload your own!

Link Reclamation

This is another tactic that doesn’t require much heavy lifting (although it does require some outreach and data mining). Essentially, reclamation is the tactic of going after uncredited brand mentions, either in text or image, and reaching out to ask for a link back to your site.

There are a few ways you can go about this, depending on the amount of time you have. This Ahref’s blog post describes it in detail, but you can do a quick Google search that looks something like this:

“Brand/Company Name” -ownsite.com -twitter.com -facebook.com -google.com

For example:

brand mention monitoring for link building

This will pull up any site that mentions your company, and you can manually go through and see which sites are linking back to you and which ones aren’t. Again, this would be a great task for an Upwork freelancer, and you can usually get someone to mine these websites (for brand mentions as well as contact info) for around $8 an hour.

Another way to do this is to set up Google Alerts or another mention monitoring tool to send you an email anytime your brand or company name is cited. This allows you to stay up to date with any brand mentions that aren’t linked back to your site.

The Google Alerts dashboard is super easy to use, and looks like this:

google alerts link building

Affiliate Link Building

The final tactic in the “Outreach” category is pretty similar to Brian Dean’s “skyscraper technique.” We like to do it in a slightly different order than Dean’s method though.

After we write any piece of content, we do a quick search for that article’s primary keyword on BuzzStream and find 25 (if possible) articles on that subject. BuzzStream then highlights the authors and you can immediately add them to a “project.” For instance, let’s say we’re using this tactic for an article we wrote about link building. We would create a link building project in BuzzStream, and then add authors who have recently written about link building.

buzzstream for link building

We can filter by articles written in the past month, domain authority, location, categories, etc.

From there we can send out emails – we recommend individual emails for each author, as this increases the likelihood of earning a backlink. Here’s an example of one of our outreach emails, written for a CTA analysis post:

affiliate link building for b2b companies

I put this tactic under Outreach (even though it does take some additional data mining work), because a great place to start is through old blog posts. You don’t even have to write new content, but make sure the post you’re trying to earn a backlink to is high-quality and would actually provide value to another site’s readers.

Submission-Based Backlinks

Infographics

People love sharing infographics (or at least good ones). In fact, HubSpot has written THREE blog posts on how to create awesome, shareable infographics.

infographic link building

Infographics are a great way to scale out “guest blogging” opportunities, while requiring much less work than creating an entirely new guest post for every site you reach out to.

Here’s how to do it. Start off by creating an awesome infographic. Then, just as you would for a guest post, send out an email asking if relevant sites would like to post that infographic (as you have similar audiences, and their readers may find it insightful). You can even offer to write a quick intro paragraph to explain the infographic as well.

This is a lot easier than writing original 2,000-word guest posts, and you still get an awesome backlink from it!

P.S. While these aren’t really infographics, David McSweeney wrote an awesome blog post on using maps to earn backlinks. I highly recommend checking that out!

Forum Posting

Let me start by saying that if you are going to use this tactic, your main priority should be providing insight and help to any forum you’re posting to. If your main goal is to plug your own site, you’re going to run into some issues:

  • You’ll earn yourself a bad reputation, and pretty soon your answers will be downvoted into oblivion.
  • The site moderator may just start deleting your answers.

That being said, forums are still a great place to expand your link profile. A great way to start is just by answering questions on Quora, Reddit, Inbound.org (if you’re in the marketing space), Growth Hackers, etc. Don’t necessarily plug your content in every answer, but build up a following as a helpful contributor.

If you run into a question that can be answered by a recent post you’ve written, go ahead and link to it, but do it naturally. Here’s a great example from Neil Patel, who links to his own blog post in a Quora question asking about how to properly build links on Quora. (Linkception!)

Exchange-Based Backlinks

Guest Blogging

In my opinion, guest blogging is the link building tactic that can have the biggest impact on your organic rankings. As I mentioned, we dedicated an entire employee on our growth team strictly for guest posts.

Much like forum posting though, the goal of guest posting should not be to plug as many links as possible. If you do, you’ll most likely upset the editor, because he/she will have to go through and delete them all while still trying to make the post flow.

Your goal when guest posting should be to share new and innovative tactics.

There are different ways to go about earning guest post opportunities, but I’ll dive into the way we did it here at Directive Consulting. (For an in-depth look at our process, check out this article we published on Moz, where we talk about raising our response rate from 8% to 34% on our blogger outreach emails.)

First, we hired a VA from Upwork to find two different categories of sites. We wanted sites in our industry of digital marketing (such as Moz, WordStream, CrazyEgg, Kissmetrics, etc.), because we knew some of our topics would be a great fit for their audience. We also compiled a list of companies that sponsored a few of the big B2B conferences (since those blogs are most likely what our target audience spends its time reading). We had the VA get the names and emails of the managing editors for these sites.

We then sent out an email at scale (via Pitchbox) with these three main components:

  1. A background of our writer and area of expertise
  2. Previous sites we had been published
  3. Topic suggestions for our guest post (broken down into Primary and Focalized)

Component 1 + 2:

link building for b2b

Component 3:

how to use guest blogging for links

It was super effective for us.

HARO

HARO stands for Help a Reporter Out, and it’s a great way to diversify your backlinks across a number of different sites. HARO is used by both writers and contributors. The best part is it’s free to be a contributor. If you sign up to be a contributor, you’ll get three emails a day with a number of different queries that writers are trying to write articles on.

All you need to do is respond to the query with a short paragraph. If the writer likes your contribution, they’ll use it in their post and give you a backlink. Make sure you have an enticing subject line (or something that directly answers their question). These writers get tons of responses, so you need to make sure you can stand out. The below format is simple, concise, and earned us quite a few backlinks!

how to get links from HARO

Conference Sponsorships

This last link building tactic is definitely the most expensive. So while it doesn’t necessarily take a whole lot of time or work, I put it in the “exchange” category because you do need to exchange a portion of your budget.

That being said, sponsoring conferences is a great way to earn backlinks from high-authority sites that are incredibly relevant to your industry. Many times, a sponsorship also comes with a free pass to the conference, so it can be a direct lead generator as well (depending on how good you are at networking).

It can be difficult to determine which conferences you should sponsor, but we like to split our sponsorship opportunities into three categories: Local, Industry, and Target Audience. Local sponsorships are a great way to improve your local SEO. Industry conferences are great for building awareness and potential partners. And target audience conferences get your brand and website directly in front of your ideal clients.

In closing

Link building takes time, and while it’s usually not the most glamorous job, it can pay massive dividends when it comes to your organic rankings. That being said, you won’t necessarily see the fruits of your labor immediately. But if you’re diligent and consistent with the 10 tactics mentioned above, you will see organic growth.

Now go out there and start getting some links!

About the author

Sean Thomas Martin is the Growth Marketing Manager @ Directive Consulting, an industry thought leader based in Southern California, specializing in a unique blend of SEO, PPC, content, and social.

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​Moz Local Report: Who’s Winning Wealth Management?

Posted by Dr-Pete

As more people look for financial advice online, brick-and-mortar wealth management firms and financial advisors are competing harder than ever for search customers. More than 70% of millennials use search engines for research, and 15% of 18–34 year-olds are turning directly to search engines for financial advice. As consumers in their 20s and 30s grow their wealth, have families, and begin planning for the future, who is best situated to capture their attention online?

This turns out to be a more difficult question than you might think. Focusing on Google, there are three major areas where financial service providers can compete: organic results, local results, and paid results (ads). Even organic results are increasingly localized, with top rankings varying wildly from city to city, and traditional organic results are often pushed below both ads and the local 3-pack. Local packs command a large amount of screen real-estate — here’s a local pack for “financial planner” in my own suburban Chicago neighborhood:

In partnership with Hearsay Systems, which provides Advisor Cloud solutions for the financial services industry, we decided to find out who’s leading the pack (no pun intended) in 2017 for wealth management and financial advisory searches across organic, local, and paid results.

Get the full report

Research methodology

For the purposes of this study, we decided to target five keyphrases related to wealth management and financial advisory services:

  1. financial advisor
  2. financial planning
  3. financial planner
  4. financial consultant
  5. wealth management

For each keyword, we looked at page one of Google results across 5,000 cities (the 5K largest cities in the contiguous 48 states, according to US census data). We then captured URLs and ranking positions across organic, local, and paid results.

To aggregate the data, we weighted each result by the population of the corresponding city and the estimated click-through rate (CTR) of its ranking position. We used a fairly conservative CTR curve, weighting top results a bit heavier, but not too dramatically:

For the final analysis across all five keywords, we weighted each keyword by its estimated search volume (according to Google Adwords) in the United States. By far, “financial advisor” was the most popular keyword, scooping up about 55% of search share across the keyword set.

Since some large brands use multiple websites (domains), we consolidated their numbers across those domains. So, for example, morganstanley.com and morganstanleybranch.com were grouped together in the final analysis. Quite a few brands have separate domains for their corporate site and local/branch locations. We’re interested in the strength of the brands themselves, not the particulars of how they divvy up their websites.

Top 5 organic leaders

The Top 5 for organic results were dominated by informational and news sites. The following graph compares the total “Click Share” based on all available clicks across all sites:

Investopedia led the way, scoring almost one-fifth of all clicks in our aggregate model, across more than 4,000 ranking domains. Among major players in the financial services space, only Edward Jones made it into the Top 5.

This is consistent with the idea that people are seeking general financial advice, and may not always be looking to organic results to find local service providers. Google’s results can often tell us a lot about how they’re interpreting search intent.

Curious case of keyword #4

Across the five keywords, we generally saw similar patterns. There were ranking variations, of course, but most of the top sites for one keyword performed well across the other keywords in organic results. The notable exception was keyword #4, “financial consultant.”

The Top 10 organic competitors for “financial consultant” included Monster.com (#1), Indeed.com (#4), Glassdoor (#5), and Robert Half (#7). Google seems to be interpreting this search as a job-hunting search and not a search for a service provider. This goes to show how important it is to make sure you’re targeting the right terms.

Top 5 local leaders

Applying the same analysis to the local pack, we came up with the following Top 5…

Traditional wealth management players performed much better in local pack results. Across our data, though, Edward Jones dominated the competitors in local rankings, consuming almost 40% of the total Click Share.

Interestingly, there was more overall diversity in local pack results, even with one dominant player and only three ranking positions per page. While just over 4,000 different domains ranked across organic results, local packs in our data set sampled from almost 7,000 different domains.

Top 5 paid/ad leaders

Morgan Stanley led the way in paid positioning, capturing just under 20% of Click Share. The rest of the Top 5 paid players were a bit more well-rounded, consuming roughly equal shares…

Interesting to note that relative newcomer SoFi seems to be spending pretty heavily in the space. SoFi (“Social Finance”) is an online finance community clearly aimed at the digital generation.

Given that this is a competitive space with relatively high costs-per-click (CPC), only 366 domains appeared in paid listings in our study. This was not due to a lack of ads — over 99% of the search results we examined displayed ads, and almost every search had a full complement of seven ads.

Non-traditional players

In addition to SoFi, a couple of newcomers fared pretty well in our data relative to their size and spend. Betterment.com appeared in 25th place in organic and 16th in paid. NerdWallet came in 46th in organic results and 22nd in paid. Credio.com took 20th place in organic overall but had no paid presence.

The one advantage traditional players clearly still have is in local results, where none of these newcomers ranked. Big brands with multiple brick-and-mortar presences still dominate local pack results, for obvious reasons, and online-only players can’t compete in local/map results. This makes performing well in local results even more important for big brands with a strong, nationwide physical presence.

Big winner: Edward Jones

Squeezing a lot of data into one graph can be a little dangerous, but let’s take a peek at what happens when we aggregate across all three types of listings (organic, local, and paid). Here are the Top 5 across all of the data in our study…

The combination of their dominant #1 position in our local data, #5 in organic, and a solid #25 in paid makes Edward Jones the clear overall winner, grabbing just over 14% of total Click Share in our study. Industry powerhouse Morgan Stanley comes in at #2, thanks primarily to their #1 paid ranking and #5 local position.

What’s the secret to Edward Jones’ success? Despite what the Internet wants you to believe, there’s almost never just one weird trick to search marketing success in 2017. One significant factor may be that Edward Jones has gone all-in on hyper-local pages. Their dominant local presence was made up of over 7,000 unique URLs representing their individual advisors.

Each advisor page has a clear, consistent Name, Address, and Phone number (or “NAP,” to use local search lingo), office hours, and other essential information. While the pages aren’t particularly unique, Edward Jones has done a good job of making sure that local offices are well represented and have a consistent, structured page.

It’s worth noting that even local rankings are very keyword specific. While Edward Jones ranked #1 overall in local packs for all four keyphrases starting with “financial…”, they fell to #23 for “wealth management.” Edward Jones has clearly carved out their niche.

The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, maintains their dominant organic position with just a single page: a guide to choosing a financial planner. This page clearly benefits from WSJ’s overall authority, and it shows just how different ranking for organic and local search has become these days.

A few tactical takeaways

Based on this research, what advice would we give to financial players (big and small) who hope to be competitive in Google search?

Brick-and-mortar should focus on local

The big financial players with physical offices need to capitalize on that fact, because online-only players won’t be able to compete in local results (at least for now). While a hyper-local approach (to the tune of thousands of pages) is a big undertaking and not without risk, I’d highly recommend testing it if you’re a big player in the space. Edward Jones’ success with this approach can’t be ignored.

For local, focus attention on key markets

You don’t have to compete in every market (you’re probably not even physically in every market). Across even five keywords and 5,000 cities, there were roughly 7,000 domains ranking in the local 3-pack. That means that the winners for any given market varied wildly. Invest your hyper-local resources in key markets with the highest potential ROI.

Online-only should invest in content

Sure, the Wall Street Journal is a huge player, but the fact that they ranked across thousands of cities and highly competitive keywords with a single piece of content is still pretty amazing. Google seems to be interpreting these keywords as informational, and so online-only players need to invest heavily in content that hits the research phase of the buyer cycle. If big financial players hope to compete for organic, they may have to do the same.

You may have to pay for placement

I’ve worked in paid search in a former life, and I believe a balanced approach to search marketing has to be an eyes-wide-open approach. Right now, ads have prominent placement on these searches, often with a full seven ads per page (including four at the top). If you have the money and want to compete against organic and local pack results, you have to at least run the numbers on advertising.

Get the full report

Special thanks to our partners at Hearsay Systems for their industry expertise and contributions to planning this project and analyzing the data. Hearsay provides Advisor Cloud solutions for the financial services and insurance industries.

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5 Insurance Marketing Tactics that Drive Quality Leads

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that lead acquisition in the insurance industry is hella pricey.” – Old Proverb.

In fact, it’s not just expensive: the frustrations associated with running an AdWords account in the insurance industry — whether it’s your own account or you’re an agency running an account for a client in the insurance industry — are very real.  

For every digital marketer extolling her ability to garner leads at a decent clip, there’s an angry mob of woebegone AdWords agencies decrying red tape, three-figure CPCs, and finicky leads.

And depending on which kind of insurance leads you’re attempting to acquire, some strategies simply aren’t available to you. This frustrates your clients (especially the yellers) which in turn frustrates you. It’s all very dramatic.

Insurance Marketing Tactics

But what if I told you there were ways to lower CPA for your insurance industry clients? Ways to help you acquire more leads(!), qualified leads(!!), in a cost-effective way(!!!).

I can see you nodding along. And it’s about to get a bit more vigorous…

Because there are a ton of ways that you can use AdWords to streamline your insurance marketing strategy. And when I say there are a ton, I mean there are 5 (today).

Some call ‘em hacks. Others might allude to mythical horned horses. Either way, let’s get to it.

 

Insurance Marketing Tip #1: Combat Sky-High CPCs With RLSA

Insurance Marketing Tactics Keyword Categories

Mic drop.

In all seriousness, no matter which subset of the insurance industry (health, car, home, what have you) your clients operate in, insurance-related keywords have ridiculously high CPCs. I don’t need to show you this, but who doesn’t love a little late-morning schadenfreude?

Insurance Marketing Tactics Keyword Relevance

Yikes.

Fortunately, RLSA exists.

RLSA (Remarketing Lists for Search Ads) allows you to adjust your bids on the search network whenever a prospect on an assigned remarketing list enters a search query that matches one of your keywords. Simple enough, right? This is incredibly valuable in industries with high average CPCs because it gives you the opportunity to bid slightly more when you feel you have a strategic advantage.

Let’s say someone comes to your website looking for a health insurance quote. 

Insurance Marketing Tactics Lead

They complete the first step and bounce.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Allen, I’ll just remarket to them on the Display Network until they return.”

This is a great retort, but I’ll do you one better. While that person might still be in the market for a quote, their intent as they scroll through Deadspin comments isn’t the same as when they enter “car insurance quote boston” into Google a second or third time around. At that point, they’re probably ready to buy (who window shops for car insurance?!). Suddenly, paying twenty-something dollars for that click seems all kinds of reasonable.

There’s another way to leverage RLSA, though, and that’s to use the oft-ignored “target and bid” feature. Whereas the standard application of RLSA involves a simple bid adjustment, the “target and bid” feature ensures that you only enter an AdWords auction when the searcher is a member of a remarketing list assigned to a given search campaign. 

Insurance Marketing Tactics Bid

This allows you to use Display and lower-cost keywords to bring prospects to your website (adding them to a remarketing list or two along the way), then get more aggressive with your bids for those high-intent, high-cost keywords without having to spend a ton of money on less qualified traffic. While you’ll see fewer impressions using the target and bid setting, the ones you do get are inherently more valuable.

Insurance Marketing Tip #2: Use Emotional Appeals to Overcome the Brand Hurdle

Brand recognition matters in every industry, right?

You want the red can with familiar white script; Shasta and Faygo might taste similar, but they’re not Coke.

Insurance works the same way. The incredible minds that brought us Flo, the Gecko, or that one mayhem dude who’s always breakin’ stuff are protective of their brands. As such, unless you’re affiliated with the brand, you can’t leverage the power of its name in your AdWords text ad copy. If you do, you’re gonna have a bad time.

Insurance Marketing Tactics Brand Hurdles

As you may well know, bidding on [blue cross blue shield health insurance quote] is difficult when you’re not BCBS. And while an insurance company might be gracious enough to allow your client to sell their policies, they aren’t quite so generous as to let you use their brand’s clout in your copy. This can make (I lied, it does make) achieving high Quality Scores next to impossible, sure, but it also makes you invisible on the SERP.

Here’s an example from another industry…

Insurance Marketing Tactics SERP

The ads in positions 2, 3, and 4 are at a disadvantage because they can’t use the word “Xerox” even though the term is (was?) often used colloquially to refer to copiers. But they’re not doing themselves any favors by using bland ad copy. Instead of trying to stand out from Xerox or the other wannabes, the ads all look the exact same. They are expensive white noise at best.

Now, what if the advertisers used sentiment (positive or negative) to spice up their copy?

We recently conducted a sweeping analysis of high-performing AdWords ad copy to find out what makes a good text ad tick. We dug into everything from punctuation to lexical complexity, but the thing that stood out to me was the fact that 45% of top performing text ads used positive sentiment.

Insurance Marketing Tactics Sentiments

What does positive sentiment look like in ad copy? Why, like this!

Insurance Marketing Tactics Positive Sentiment

These ads run for brand keywords we can’t include in our ad copy, but they garner conversions because they don’t just say “PPC Blah Blah Blah PPC.” They leverage the power of sentiment.

Consider the type of insurance your client sells and the various emotional responses to scenarios in which someone would need to purchase it. Think of how the idea can be framed, both positively and negatively (testing doesn’t hurt!), and get ready to stand out! Even if site visitors don’t convert, inciting a click gives you the ability to remarket to prospects. 

Insurance Marketing Tip #3: Control Lead Quality Using Income Targeting

A few realities:

  • People without boats don’t buy boater’s insurance
  • You’re not going to sell a $10k burial policy to a billionaire
  • You’re probably not going to sell variable life insurance to a 26-year-old living in a janky apartment (hi mom!)

My point is this: Swaths of the population aren’t the right fit for your clients’ insurance offerings. Income targeting is one way to focus ad spend on areas in which searchers are likelier to fall within your target demographic.

This basically functions in the same way you used RLSA’s target and bid function to prioritize bidding on your most expensive keywords only after someone has visited your client’s website. If right out the gate you can draw a geofence around an area using average household income as the distinguishing factor, you cut superfluous impressions.

Obviously this is a less effective tactic for something like car insurance, but if you notice that most of your clients’ prospects and policyholders are of a certain income, use that data to your advantage.

Insurance Marketing Tactics Targeted Locations

And the best part? You can layer income-based targeting with the RLSA you implemented two tips ago to virtually guarantee rich, smiling clients. In marketing, we call this “the dream.”

Insurance Marketing Tip #4: Use Demographic Data to Inform Your Ad Creative

Knowing what an objectively “good” lead looks like is the key to maximizing the value of every dollar your insurance-industry clients spend on AdWords. The “Audiences” tab in the AdWords UI is often used as a tool for adjusting bids based on gender and age. But did you know it’s also an excellent way to glean new ideas for your creative?

Insurance Marketing Tactics Demographics

The trick here is to ensure that you change the dropdown from clicks to conversions (note that clicks can be a useful measuring stick, especially in ad copy testing).

If you notice that most of your renter’s insurance converters are males between the ages of 25 and 34 (as is the case above), the way you write copy and conceptualize creative should be completely different than, say, if you were trying to sell homeowner’s insurance in an affluent community.

To illustrate my point further: if your target demo is comprised primarily of middle-aged women you’re probably not going to try selling X, where X is anything from homeowners’ insurance to a hamburger, using an ad like this…

Insurance Marketing Tactics Carls Jr

Controversial ad? Sure. But leveraging creative of this ilk—whether for television or a text ad—can be a death knell if it doesn’t align with your target demographic. This is true in every ad channel and vertical, but never more so than when you’re dealing with keywords with CPCs often in excess of $50.

Insurance Marketing Tip #5: Throw Frequency Capping to the Wind (Temporarily!)

(It almost hurts me to say that ^. The things I do for you people.)

I’m a proponent of frequency capping because I am a consumer. I understand how frustrating it is to have sneakers or a decent looking sandwich follow you around the internet for weeks on end. 

Insurance Marketing Tactics New Balance

I usually like to cap remarketing ads at about 3 impressions per day per campaign. That being said, every rule is made to be bent or skirted. 

Insurance Marketing Tactics Viewable Impressions

Think about it. A prospect just visited your client’s website from a search ad. Odds are, if someone typed the phrase “car insurance quote” into Google, they either a) need car insurance or b) are dissatisfied with their current plan and want to make a change. That’s some USDA-approved, grass-fed intent no matter how you slice it.

When I was looking for car insurance a little while ago I, like any good capitalist pawn, searched for “car insurance quotes”. The first ad that popped up was for Geico, so I clicked.

After entering my zip code, I was taken to a UI asking for more information. It had this rad little slider at the top.

Insurance Marketing Tactics Customer Information

Ultimately the rates quoted weren’t good enough to warrant making a change, so I left the website.

And then it started…

Insurance Marketing Tactics Geico Struggle

This orange dude and his boy, Mr. Large Latte Tomorrow…

Insurance Marketing Tactics Geico Latte

Are still following me.

I’ll never click on them. But if I see my rates increase for some silly reason, or I have a bad customer service experience, how in the world do I not spend 15 minutes maybe saving 15% or more on car insurance?

About the Author

Allen Finn is a content marketing specialist and the reigning fantasy football champion at WordStream. He enjoys couth menswear, dank eats, and the dulcet tones of the Wu-Tang Clan. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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JavaScript & SEO: Making Your Bot Experience As Good As Your User Experience

Posted by alexis-sanders

Understanding JavaScript and its potential impact on search performance is a core skillset of the modern SEO professional. If search engines can’t crawl a site or can’t parse and understand the content, nothing is going to get indexed and the site is not going to rank.

The most important questions for an SEO relating to JavaScript: Can search engines see the content and grasp the website experience? If not, what solutions can be leveraged to fix this?


Fundamentals

What is JavaScript?

When creating a modern web page, there are three major components:

  1. HTML – Hypertext Markup Language serves as the backbone, or organizer of content, on a site. It is the structure of the website (e.g. headings, paragraphs, list elements, etc.) and defining static content.
  2. CSS – Cascading Style Sheets are the design, glitz, glam, and style added to a website. It makes up the presentation layer of the page.
  3. JavaScript – JavaScript is the interactivity and a core component of the dynamic web.

Learn more about webpage development and how to code basic JavaScript.

javacssseo.gif

Image sources: 1, 2, 3

JavaScript is either placed in the HTML document within <script> tags (i.e., it is embedded in the HTML) or linked/referenced. There are currently a plethora of JavaScript libraries and frameworks, including jQuery, AngularJS, ReactJS, EmberJS, etc.

JavaScript libraries and frameworks:

What is AJAX?

AJAX, or Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, is a set of web development techniques combining JavaScript and XML that allows web applications to communicate with a server in the background without interfering with the current page. Asynchronous means that other functions or lines of code can run while the async script is running. XML used to be the primary language to pass data; however, the term AJAX is used for all types of data transfers (including JSON; I guess “AJAJ” doesn’t sound as clean as “AJAX” [pun intended]).

A common use of AJAX is to update the content or layout of a webpage without initiating a full page refresh. Normally, when a page loads, all the assets on the page must be requested and fetched from the server and then rendered on the page. However, with AJAX, only the assets that differ between pages need to be loaded, which improves the user experience as they do not have to refresh the entire page.

One can think of AJAX as mini server calls. A good example of AJAX in action is Google Maps. The page updates without a full page reload (i.e., mini server calls are being used to load content as the user navigates).

Related image

Image source

What is the Document Object Model (DOM)?

As an SEO professional, you need to understand what the DOM is, because it’s what Google is using to analyze and understand webpages.

The DOM is what you see when you “Inspect Element” in a browser. Simply put, you can think of the DOM as the steps the browser takes after receiving the HTML document to render the page.

The first thing the browser receives is the HTML document. After that, it will start parsing the content within this document and fetch additional resources, such as images, CSS, and JavaScript files.

The DOM is what forms from this parsing of information and resources. One can think of it as a structured, organized version of the webpage’s code.

Nowadays the DOM is often very different from the initial HTML document, due to what’s collectively called dynamic HTML. Dynamic HTML is the ability for a page to change its content depending on user input, environmental conditions (e.g. time of day), and other variables, leveraging HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Simple example with a <title> tag that is populated through JavaScript:

HTML source

DOM

What is headless browsing?

Headless browsing is simply the action of fetching webpages without the user interface. It is important to understand because Google, and now Baidu, leverage headless browsing to gain a better understanding of the user’s experience and the content of webpages.

PhantomJS and Zombie.js are scripted headless browsers, typically used for automating web interaction for testing purposes, and rendering static HTML snapshots for initial requests (pre-rendering).


Why can JavaScript be challenging for SEO? (and how to fix issues)

There are three (3) primary reasons to be concerned about JavaScript on your site:

  1. Crawlability: Bots’ ability to crawl your site.
  2. Obtainability: Bots’ ability to access information and parse your content.
  3. Perceived site latency: AKA the Critical Rendering Path.

Crawlability

Are bots able to find URLs and understand your site’s architecture? There are two important elements here:

  1. Blocking search engines from your JavaScript (even accidentally).
  2. Proper internal linking, not leveraging JavaScript events as a replacement for HTML tags.

Why is blocking JavaScript such a big deal?

If search engines are blocked from crawling JavaScript, they will not be receiving your site’s full experience. This means search engines are not seeing what the end user is seeing. This can reduce your site’s appeal to search engines and could eventually be considered cloaking (if the intent is indeed malicious).

Fetch as Google and TechnicalSEO.com’s robots.txt and Fetch and Render testing tools can help to identify resources that Googlebot is blocked from.

The easiest way to solve this problem is through providing search engines access to the resources they need to understand your user experience.

!!! Important note: Work with your development team to determine which files should and should not be accessible to search engines.

Internal linking

Internal linking should be implemented with regular anchor tags within the HTML or the DOM (using an HTML tag) versus leveraging JavaScript functions to allow the user to traverse the site.

Essentially: Don’t use JavaScript’s onclick events as a replacement for internal linking. While end URLs might be found and crawled (through strings in JavaScript code or XML sitemaps), they won’t be associated with the global navigation of the site.

Internal linking is a strong signal to search engines regarding the site’s architecture and importance of pages. In fact, internal links are so strong that they can (in certain situations) override “SEO hints” such as canonical tags.

URL structure

Historically, JavaScript-based websites (aka “AJAX sites”) were using fragment identifiers (#) within URLs.

  • Not recommended:
    • The Lone Hash (#) – The lone pound symbol is not crawlable. It is used to identify anchor link (aka jump links). These are the links that allow one to jump to a piece of content on a page. Anything after the lone hash portion of the URL is never sent to the server and will cause the page to automatically scroll to the first element with a matching ID (or the first <a> element with a name of the following information). Google recommends avoiding the use of “#” in URLs.
    • Hashbang (#!) (and escaped_fragments URLs) – Hashbang URLs were a hack to support crawlers (Google wants to avoid now and only Bing supports). Many a moon ago, Google and Bing developed a complicated AJAX solution, whereby a pretty (#!) URL with the UX co-existed with an equivalent escaped_fragment HTML-based experience for bots. Google has since backtracked on this recommendation, preferring to receive the exact user experience. In escaped fragments, there are two experiences here:
      • Original Experience (aka Pretty URL): This URL must either have a #! (hashbang) within the URL to indicate that there is an escaped fragment or a meta element indicating that an escaped fragment exists (<meta name=”fragment” content=”!”>).
      • Escaped Fragment (aka Ugly URL, HTML snapshot): This URL replace the hashbang (#!) with “_escaped_fragment_” and serves the HTML snapshot. It is called the ugly URL because it’s long and looks like (and for all intents and purposes is) a hack.

Image result

Image source

  • Recommended:
    • pushState History API – PushState is navigation-based and part of the History API (think: your web browsing history). Essentially, pushState updates the URL in the address bar and only what needs to change on the page is updated. It allows JS sites to leverage “clean” URLs. PushState is currently supported by Google, when supporting browser navigation for client-side or hybrid rendering.
      • A good use of pushState is for infinite scroll (i.e., as the user hits new parts of the page the URL will update). Ideally, if the user refreshes the page, the experience will land them in the exact same spot. However, they do not need to refresh the page, as the content updates as they scroll down, while the URL is updated in the address bar.
      • Example: A good example of a search engine-friendly infinite scroll implementation, created by Google’s John Mueller (go figure), can be found here. He technically leverages the replaceState(), which doesn’t include the same back button functionality as pushState.
      • Read more: Mozilla PushState History API Documents

Obtainability

Search engines have been shown to employ headless browsing to render the DOM to gain a better understanding of the user’s experience and the content on page. That is to say, Google can process some JavaScript and uses the DOM (instead of the HTML document).

At the same time, there are situations where search engines struggle to comprehend JavaScript. Nobody wants a Hulu situation to happen to their site or a client’s site. It is crucial to understand how bots are interacting with your onsite content. When you aren’t sure, test.

Assuming we’re talking about a search engine bot that executes JavaScript, there are a few important elements for search engines to be able to obtain content:

  • If the user must interact for something to fire, search engines probably aren’t seeing it.
    • Google is a lazy user. It doesn’t click, it doesn’t scroll, and it doesn’t log in. If the full UX demands action from the user, special precautions should be taken to ensure that bots are receiving an equivalent experience.
  • If the JavaScript occurs after the JavaScript load event fires plus ~5-seconds*, search engines may not be seeing it.
    • *John Mueller mentioned that there is no specific timeout value; however, sites should aim to load within five seconds.
    • *Screaming Frog tests show a correlation to five seconds to render content.
    • *The load event plus five seconds is what Google’s PageSpeed Insights, Mobile Friendliness Tool, and Fetch as Google use; check out Max Prin’s test timer.
  • If there are errors within the JavaScript, both browsers and search engines won’t be able to go through and potentially miss sections of pages if the entire code is not executed.

How to make sure Google and other search engines can get your content

1. TEST

The most popular solution to resolving JavaScript is probably not resolving anything (grab a coffee and let Google work its algorithmic brilliance). Providing Google with the same experience as searchers is Google’s preferred scenario.

Google first announced being able to “better understand the web (i.e., JavaScript)” in May 2014. Industry experts suggested that Google could crawl JavaScript way before this announcement. The iPullRank team offered two great pieces on this in 2011: Googlebot is Chrome and How smart are Googlebots? (thank you, Josh and Mike). Adam Audette’s Google can crawl JavaScript and leverages the DOM in 2015 confirmed. Therefore, if you can see your content in the DOM, chances are your content is being parsed by Google.

adamaudette - I don't always JavaScript, but when I do, I know google can crawl the dom and dynamically generated HTML

Recently, Barry Goralewicz performed a cool experiment testing a combination of various JavaScript libraries and frameworks to determine how Google interacts with the pages (e.g., are they indexing URL/content? How does GSC interact? Etc.). It ultimately showed that Google is able to interact with many forms of JavaScript and highlighted certain frameworks as perhaps more challenging. John Mueller even started a JavaScript search group (from what I’ve read, it’s fairly therapeutic).

All of these studies are amazing and help SEOs understand when to be concerned and take a proactive role. However, before you determine that sitting back is the right solution for your site, I recommend being actively cautious by experimenting with small section Think: Jim Collin’s “bullets, then cannonballs” philosophy from his book Great by Choice:

“A bullet is an empirical test aimed at learning what works and meets three criteria: a bullet must be low-cost, low-risk, and low-distraction… 10Xers use bullets to empirically validate what will actually work. Based on that empirical validation, they then concentrate their resources to fire a cannonball, enabling large returns from concentrated bets.”

Consider testing and reviewing through the following:

  1. Confirm that your content is appearing within the DOM.
  2. Test a subset of pages to see if Google can index content.
  • Manually check quotes from your content.
  • Fetch with Google and see if content appears.
  • Fetch with Google supposedly occurs around the load event or before timeout. It’s a great test to check to see if Google will be able to see your content and whether or not you’re blocking JavaScript in your robots.txt. Although Fetch with Google is not foolproof, it’s a good starting point.
  • Note: If you aren’t verified in GSC, try Technicalseo.com’s Fetch and Render As Any Bot Tool.

After you’ve tested all this, what if something’s not working and search engines and bots are struggling to index and obtain your content? Perhaps you’re concerned about alternative search engines (DuckDuckGo, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), or maybe you’re leveraging meta information that needs to be parsed by other bots, such as Twitter summary cards or Facebook Open Graph tags. If any of this is identified in testing or presents itself as a concern, an HTML snapshot may be the only decision.

2. HTML SNAPSHOTS
What are HTmL snapshots?

HTML snapshots are a fully rendered page (as one might see in the DOM) that can be returned to search engine bots (think: a static HTML version of the DOM).

Google introduced HTML snapshots 2009, deprecated (but still supported) them in 2015, and awkwardly mentioned them as an element to “avoid” in late 2016. HTML snapshots are a contentious topic with Google. However, they’re important to understand, because in certain situations they’re necessary.

If search engines (or sites like Facebook) cannot grasp your JavaScript, it’s better to return an HTML snapshot than not to have your content indexed and understood at all. Ideally, your site would leverage some form of user-agent detection on the server side and return the HTML snapshot to the bot.

At the same time, one must recognize that Google wants the same experience as the user (i.e., only provide Google with an HTML snapshot if the tests are dire and the JavaScript search group cannot provide support for your situation).

Considerations

When considering HTML snapshots, you must consider that Google has deprecated this AJAX recommendation. Although Google technically still supports it, Google recommends avoiding it. Yes, Google changed its mind and now want to receive the same experience as the user. This direction makes sense, as it allows the bot to receive an experience more true to the user experience.

A second consideration factor relates to the risk of cloaking. If the HTML snapshots are found to not represent the experience on the page, it’s considered a cloaking risk. Straight from the source:

“The HTML snapshot must contain the same content as the end user would see in a browser. If this is not the case, it may be considered cloaking.”
Google Developer AJAX Crawling FAQs

Benefits

Despite the considerations, HTML snapshots have powerful advantages:

  1. Knowledge that search engines and crawlers will be able to understand the experience.
    • Certain types of JavaScript may be harder for Google to grasp (cough… Angular (also colloquially referred to as AngularJS 2) …cough).
  2. Other search engines and crawlers (think: Bing, Facebook) will be able to understand the experience.
    • Bing, among other search engines, has not stated that it can crawl and index JavaScript. HTML snapshots may be the only solution for a JavaScript-heavy site. As always, test to make sure that this is the case before diving in.

"It's not just Google understanding your JavaScript. It's also about the speed." -DOM - "It's not just about Google understanding your Javascript. it's also about your perceived latency." -DOM

Site latency

When browsers receive an HTML document and create the DOM (although there is some level of pre-scanning), most resources are loaded as they appear within the HTML document. This means that if you have a huge file toward the top of your HTML document, a browser will load that immense file first.

The concept of Google’s critical rendering path is to load what the user needs as soon as possible, which can be translated to → “get everything above-the-fold in front of the user, ASAP.”

Critical Rendering Path – Optimized Rendering Loads Progressively ASAP:

progressive page rendering

Image source

However, if you have unnecessary resources or JavaScript files clogging up the page’s ability to load, you get “render-blocking JavaScript.” Meaning: your JavaScript is blocking the page’s potential to appear as if it’s loading faster (also called: perceived latency).

Render-blocking JavaScript – Solutions

If you analyze your page speed results (through tools like Page Speed Insights Tool, WebPageTest.org, CatchPoint, etc.) and determine that there is a render-blocking JavaScript issue, here are three potential solutions:

  1. Inline: Add the JavaScript in the HTML document.
  2. Async: Make JavaScript asynchronous (i.e., add “async” attribute to HTML tag).
  3. Defer: By placing JavaScript lower within the HTML.

!!! Important note: It’s important to understand that scripts must be arranged in order of precedence. Scripts that are used to load the above-the-fold content must be prioritized and should not be deferred. Also, any script that references another file can only be used after the referenced file has loaded. Make sure to work closely with your development team to confirm that there are no interruptions to the user’s experience.

Read more: Google Developer’s Speed Documentation


TL;DR – Moral of the story

Crawlers and search engines will do their best to crawl, execute, and interpret your JavaScript, but it is not guaranteed. Make sure your content is crawlable, obtainable, and isn’t developing site latency obstructions. The key = every situation demands testing. Based on the results, evaluate potential solutions.

Thanks: Thank you Max Prin (@maxxeight) for reviewing this content piece and sharing your knowledge, insight, and wisdom. It wouldn’t be the same without you.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Recent History’s Most Controversial Ads

We’ve made the case for controversial marketing in the past. Campaigns that rise above monotony, trigger a strong emotional response, and drive widespread engagement can experience unprecedented returns on investment. The name of the game—in advertising, as in most aspects of life—is balance. When does the incendiary become scandalous? When does gender targeting become sexist? At what number of Monday bathroom breaks, having already taken five, have you officially taken a sick day?

No matter the medium, these are the questions (the first two, to be sure) we marketers must ask ourselves before embarking on an against-the-grain, or an “out there” campaign. Luckily for us, there are myriad advertisers in recent history for whom abandoning the cookie-cutter has also meant abandoning common sense. Just the same, plenty of campaigns have found the line, toed it deftly, and enjoyed rampant success.

So the question remains: Where is the line? In the embarrassment of controversial ads we examined, we found two lines, delineating three distinct categories. We took the best of the best from each category, and voilà:

Most Controversial Ads

The Good 

We’re a positive bunch of marketers here at WordStream. Let’s start with a nod to an “iffy” campaign that, in recent history, boasted great results. 

 Most Controversial Advertisements Recent

You flirted with disaster and came out victorious. Good on ya’.

 1. Carl’s Jr.’s “Au Naturel” ft. Charlotte McKinney (2015)

Most Controversial Advertisements Recent Charlotte 

Perhaps the most conservative gif that came out of this campaign.

Former CEO Andy Puzder has said that sexy burger ads saved Carl’s Jr. from obsoletion.“If you don’t complain,” he told Entrepreneur, “I go to the head of marketing and say, ‘What’s wrong with our ads?’ Those complaints aren’t necessarily bad for us. What you look at is…sales. And our sales go up.”

Football fans: you remember this one from Super Bowl XLIX. The suggestive looks. The epic lighting. The guy shaving ice who, when Charlotte McKinney walks nudely by, starts shaving ever more distractedly, ever more vigorously.

Most Controversial Ads Ice Shaving

Hopefully though, you noticed something else about Ice Shaving Guy (ISG). He’s wearing a sweater. In fact, all the male voyeurs in this ad are wearing inexplicably warm clothing (on what is ostensibly a sweltering day). They’re also in various stages of cooling—besides ISG, there’s the guy in the flannel, working the hose…

Most Controversial Ads Flannel Guy 

and the guy struggling with an inordinate amount of bread (another cooling agent, think about it)…

Most Controversial Ads Bread 

Which brings us to the first reason this ad succeeds:

1. Executes a damn good aesthetic  

So much of this is about drawing attention, which means creating contrast. For Carl’s Jr., contrast amounts to a pristine-looking McKinney making a collection of rough-and-tumble, overdressed men hot under the collar. It’s tough not to look at this ad and come away with the conviction that the goal here is to objectify Charlotte McKinney. Or that, if we’re being generous, Charlotte McKinney is objectified as a byproduct of the goal. To be clear: we’re not advocating for this. Used mindfully and as a technique, this kind of objectification is morally dubious at best, reprehensible at worst. In terms of efficacy, though, it succeeds because it…

2. Knows its target audience

“We got the attention of this demographic, young hungry guys, which was what our marketing and research department advised us to do.”

Andy Puzder

You can polarize people. You can even viscerally offend people. Just make sure your target audience comes away with the feeling you want it to associate with your product. The rest becomes an exercise in not getting the ad pulled, while simultaneously pushing the aforementioned feeling to its apex. Viewers who are not morally fond of your tactics, but who are in your target demographic (for Carl’s Jr, this writer), will most likely not hold it against your brand, or your product. At the same time, viewers who are more qualified—and, perhaps, less self-aware—may now experience primal arousal at the sight of a Carl’s Third-Pound Thickburger. And what about the Twitter chatter, the rhetorical analyses, the reactionary op-eds?

Most Controversial Ads Headline

These all amount to (free) pyrotechnics in a laser show of fallout publicity. These viewers weren’t going to buy your product (in great quantities) anyway. Now, they’re going to help you sell it.

3. Clear and concise in its message

Here’s an ad that probably could have dropped its slogan and avoided controversy altogether. This Young Hungry Guy remembers being so riveted by the aesthetic (touché, Carl’s) that he didn’t really appreciate the message until further examination. If you’re not familiar with Charlotte McKinney, she is a model whose proportions could easily be mistaken for having been artificially manipulated, were it not for her notoriety as a model whose proportions have not been artificially manipulated. The slogan of the ad is, “The All-Natural Burger.” Bravo.

Most Controversial Ads Sarcastic Clapping

The Bad

Nationwide’s “Boy” (2015)

Most Controversial Ads Nationwide Boy 

Most Controversial Ads Richard Sherman

I couldn’t enjoy the Super Bowl uninterrupted, because Nationwide tried to sell me insurance

Affectionately coined “Dead Boy” by the Twitterverse, this Super Bowl ad evoked less shock and outrage than sadness and resentment. Of course, there were some among the 114.4 million viewers for whom sadness spilled over into annoyance:

“Boy” features what we might call an O’Henry ending from hell; think Sixth Sense, without the sense. The eponymous Boy, muss-haired and eager-eyed, spends the ad’s first 30 seconds doing all the things he’ll purportedly “never do”—ride a bike, get cooties, fly—because, spoiler alert (0:28), he’s dead. In terms of why this ad fails, well—that’s mostly all you need to know. But let’s take a closer look.

 

1. Lazy storytelling

One analogous trope to a “ghost ending”—i.e., just kidding, character is dead—is a dream ending, and think of how annoyed you were the last time you saw one of those (looking at you, Alice in Wonderland). In Alice’s latest iteration, actually (2010, ft. Mia Wasikowska), the writers make some adjustments—Alice awakens from her dream an ever more confident and resolute person. This, as an audience, is what we like in our character arcs—growth, change, revelations, redemptions. Typically though, awakening a character from a dream in a fictive work’s ultimate or penultimate chapter/scene can be terribly off-putting for an audience. “You mean she was dreaming the whole time? What do we make of all that awesome stuff that just happened?”  

This is essentially the effect of Dead Boy’s deadness—it’s not earned, and therefore neither is our sympathy. What we’re left with instead is a metaphysical gut-punch—provocation for provocation’s sake, a gross abuse of powerful ad space. 

2. Fear-mongering

Most Controversial Ads Trump Fear Monger

If you’re going to appeal to an emotion, don’t prey on it; if you’re going to prey on an emotion, don’t prey on fear—if not for moral assurance, then for no other reason than it’s easily detected and unbecoming (normally). Really though: fear is one of those emotions over which people hold relentless vigil. Think about that friend of yours who, in spite of the ratings, refused to see Get Out because it was partly a horror movie. To what end is our fear being used here? To sell insurance? Come on, Nationwide.   

3. Ill-fitting in its ad space

We’ve certainly seen worse examples of this…

Most Controversial Ads Grilling

But this isn’t the Display Network—placement isn’t left to the discretion of keywords and algorithms. It’s the Super Bowl. You know exactly who’s watching it, what kind of mood they are/want to be in, and the general tone of the surrounding ads. So you know that, realistically, your audience may have just finished watching a baby project itself out of its mother’s womb for a bag of Doritos.

Appealing to those viewers who are afraid of losing their children to a freak two-story fall (see above meme: curtains billowing ever-so-subtly out of open window) just isn’t prudent targeting, even if you execute well.

*Bonus incompetence: A word about public statements

If you’re not going to renege and pull the ad, if you’re not going to express public remorse, definitely don’t make yourselves out to be wrongly-vilified altruists:

Most Controversial Ads Nationwide Statement

Matthew Jauchius exited Nationwide a little over two months after making this statement; this after being with the company for nine years. Here’s what we can learn from his demise:

Taking the moral high ground when you’ve already offended millions of people is going to come off condescendingor worse, disingenuous. A public statement should be approached like an attempt at reconciliation with a significant other; your relationship with your audience is just as delicate. Simply put, there’s no winning here. Take the loss, apologize, and move on. You’ve already spent an average of $160,000 per second on Dead Boy’s on-air existence. “We did it for the kids!”

Most Controversial Ads Homer Receding

Nationwide, assuming responsibility 

The Ugly

Pepsi’s “Live for Now Moments Anthem” ft. Kendall Jenner

Most Controversial Ads Pepsi Kendall Jenner

We’re going to shred this. But we’re going to try to be measured about it. 

So listen: What would you say if I told you that for over 100 years, nearly unencumbered, a brand sold exclusively heart disease, obesity, and otherwise indigestible hoo-ha, sold it well, and then one day, that same brand tried to remarket itself as the solution the single biggest social injustice that occurred in all 100+ years of its unexamined thriving? Hubris? Never happened? Nothing could be worse than peddling heart disease?

Hubris indeed! We were willing to leave Pepsi well-enough alone until the prodigal daughter of the family “famous for being famous” reached out a well-manicured hand and pseudo-satiated the Black Lives Matter movement. Let’s not throw stones from afar, though. 3 reasons this ad fails:

1. Brand vanity

Who else but Pepsi would have the clout to take on social inequality? Seemingly an answer to Coca-Cola’s 1971 “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” (created by Don Draper, don’t tell us otherwise), the Jenner ad can also be viewed as an example of brand insecurity—i.e.,“Coke took a crack at the iconic, why not us?” Thing is, harmonious hilltop singing doesn’t quite aspire to the level of social action that Pepsi’s going for. Perhaps if the singing had been directed at a collection of anti-Vietnam protesters, and had they been thus appeased, Pepsi would have had an apt model.  

2. Tone deaf

Even an ad with a completely nuanced understanding of contemporary social movements can seem like it’s pandering (and it probably is). That’s why, if you’re going to appropriate these movements, you better nail the tone. The protesters in this ad, even before Jenner breaks the ice, are smiling and dancing. You know, the stuff you’ve come to expect from Black Lives Matter rallies/protests.  

Really, though: if that’s how you want your ad to look, and if we’re going to think in terms of monetizing movements: can’t we think of a more celebratory, less violent one than this? It’s as if the people at Pepsi just went with what was topical (not the worst strategy, generally, though here, clearly, it is). 

Most Controversial Ads Pepsi Berkeley Riot

A man attempting to break up a riot with a Pepsi.

3. Didn’t get a second opinion

It has come out, since the ad’s inception, that all of the members of the creating body were white. Assembling a collection of like-minded individuals is no way to do anything creative, but especially if you have concerns about marginalizing or offending a portion of your audience: get second, and third, and fourth opinions, and get them from an eclectic range of creatives. Otherwise…

 Most Controversial Ads Seesaw

ROI vs. production cost

from Internet Marketing Blog by WordStream http://ift.tt/2sK3Ns4

7 Things Nobody Tells You About Working Remotely

If you’ve ever been stuck in torrential rain waiting for a delayed train after a long day at the office, the chances are pretty decent that you’ve fantasized about working remotely at least once or twice.

 Working remotely things I wish I'd known before I started working remotely

Telecommuting – one of the fancier terms for working remotely – seems to be the perfect arrangement for workers in dozens of industries. And, for the most part, it is. Companies that encourage and support remote work often report higher levels of employee retention and engagement, reduced turnover, higher employee satisfaction, increased productivity and autonomy, and lots of other benefits.

Of course, there are plenty of advantages for workers, too, including better work/life balance, greater control over the working environment, and the ability to make your own lunch in your own kitchen, to name just a few.

Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks to telecommuting – people just don’t tend to be as vocal about them.

Here are seven things I wish somebody had told me before I took the plunge and became a full-time telecommuter.

Telecommuting Truth #1: You WILL Feel Left Out Occasionally

I found out after everyone else that Larry – the founder and once very public face of the company – had moved on to a brand-new venture. An announcement had been made at the monthly company meeting, but because I work remotely, I wasn’t at the meeting.

Working remotely lonely pug left out 

Poor little fella.

This is just one example of how working remotely can lead to feeling left out. Sure, software tools such as Slack can help bridge the gaps between distributed teams (a term for teams and even entire companies comprised of remote workers) and in-house staff, but there will be times when you miss out on news circulating around your company – whether it’s important updates to the executive team or the latest gossip about tawdry office romances.

What Can You Do About It?

The extent to which you can mitigate against feeling left out of the loop depends on the nature of your relationship with your company.

As I write this, I’m sitting in WordStream’s beautiful new offices in Boston’s Back Bay – a far cry from my usual writing habitat of my living room in Providence, Rhode Island, where I work most of the time (often surrounded by my surly cat and dog, both of whom are excellent coworkers). I’ve been with WordStream for quite a while now, and this is the first time in over a year I’ve made the journey into the office to catch up with everyone.

This is because I suck, obviously.

Working remotely WordStream new offices 101 Huntington 

WordStream’s sexy new office

It may not necessarily be news or important company updates you’ll miss as a remote worker. Quick coffee or cigarette breaks with coworkers, long lunches on a Friday, or after-work drinks may be what your new life as a telecommuter is missing (FYI, drinking a bottle of red wine alone in your kitchen while you email your boss doesn’t count, unless it’s Monday afternoon). You may even find yourself missing banal office banter. I love my cat and dog, but let’s be real – pets aren’t the best conversationalists.

Jokes aside, only you can decide how involved you want to be with your company as a telecommuter. Maybe this decision will be made for you. Many companies allow or encourage the use of Slack and other online tools to help teams stay in touch, so be sure to take advantage of these kinds of tools if they’re available. Oh, and don’t be afraid to show your face around the office from time to time if you have the option.

Telecommuting Truth #2: Networking is MUCH Harder for Remote Workers

Think about the last time you heard about a juicy new job opportunity. Did you find the listing on LinkedIn or another job site? Or did you hear about it from a colleague?

Working remotely congratulations new job SomeEcards 

Seriously.

If you’ve ever relied on your network of contacts to find new gigs, you may be unpleasantly surprised by how difficult it can be to find new work as a telecommuter. Without those day-to-day in-person connections, you may be forced to rely solely upon job boards or – dare I say it – sending LinkedIn connection requests.

It’s not even just about finding a new full-time job. Telecommuters may find it more difficult to even learn of new opportunities at growing companies in their field, or which firms are worth keeping an eye on. Even if you follow news in your industry religiously, it’s all too easy to miss updates and announcements that could lead to profitable relationships in the future.

What Can You Do About It?

All is not lost, friend. If you live in or near a major city, there are probably Meetup groups for professionals in your field. In Boston, for example, there’s the Boston Speaks series, the Creative Mornings series, and plenty of other networking events you could attend. Granted, you may have to put on pants a little earlier than you’d usually care to, but sacrifice is often necessary when it comes to career progression.

Working remotely Creative Mornings 

Are you creative? And a morning person? You’re not going to believe this.

If you simply can’t stand the thought of leaving your bedroom – sorry, office – to stay in the loop, there are plenty of ways to stay connected online. LinkedIn groups are surprisingly good at this, so be sure to join groups that are relevant to your role and industry and get involved in the discussion.

Working remotely LinkedIn groups online networking 

LinkedIn groups are a surprisingly good way to network as a telecommuter

Telecommuting Truth #3: Productivity Expectations May Differ

One complaint I hear over and over again from my office-bound colleagues is the constant interruptions of meetings, people dropping by their desk for a “quick chat,” and the myriad other distractions that are part of working in any office.

I don’t have these problems. (The only coworker who intrudes upon my time with no consideration whatsoever is my cat, who will often decide that my laptop keyboard is the only place she can possibly sit.) That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s any less important for me to ensure I’m getting as much work done as I reasonably can.

Working remotely cat sitting on laptop keyboard 

The struggle is real. Also, this isn’t my cat.

Depending on the gig, expectations for how much you should be getting done may vary. However, it’s important that everyone is on the same page in terms of expectations. Just because you don’t have a morning commute anymore, does that mean you should be spending that time working? Similarly, just because you don’t have any (human) coworkers to bother you, it’s unrealistic to assume you’ll be able to work all day, every day, with no interruptions.

What Can You Do About It?

No two telecommuting arrangements are precisely alike, so be sure to talk over your expectations with your manager. Likewise, be sure that you understand everything that’s expected of you as a remote worker – including hours and availability. One of the most common complaints I’ve heard among telecommuters is the expectation of being available at a client’s beck and call. This can be an especially problematic dilemma if you’re a freelancer hungry for work.

Working remotely expectations vs reality fast food 

Expectations vs. reality

Only you can advocate for yourself and what you want out of a remote work arrangement. Many companies have experienced incredible success as distributed teams, such as Basecamp (formerly known as 37Signals), because everyone at that company understands and values the opportunities afforded by remote work. Hopefully you work for a company that does likewise. 

Telecommuting Truth #4: It Gets Lonely

I am an introvert’s introvert. I loathe small talk, have difficulty maintaining eye contact without feeling intensely uncomfortable, and would much rather be left alone to my own devices than socialize with even close friends.

Even I get lonely as a remote worker.

Working remotely lonely man sitting by window 

Feelsbadman.jpg

This aspect of remote work is among the least discussed. Mention remote working to many people and you’ll probably be talking about answering emails in your pajamas and fielding envious glances before long, but far less is said of how lonely it can be working from home.

The “loneliness of the long-distance worker” is a double-edged sword. On one hand, solitude can be immensely beneficial to productivity. On the other, constant isolation can quickly become its own terrible distraction.

What Can You Do About It?

Fortunately, this is one of the easiest drawbacks of remote work to solve. If you need the bustle of being around other people, coffee shops make excellent workspaces. (If you’d like the bustle without the people, there are websites that offer coffee shop ambience right in your browser.)

Working remotely Uberlin coworking space Berlin Germany 

The  Überlin coworking space and photography studio in Berlin, Germany.
Image via
Artconnect.

Alternatively, coworking facilities have emerged in hundreds of cities around the world, offering a work-friendly atmosphere and the perks you’d expect from an office such as conference rooms, refreshments, and even entrepreneur meetups. Many coworking spaces offer other additional benefits for remote workers – including that much-needed human contact.

Another salve for professional loneliness is good old Twitter. Sure, most of the time it’s a waste of time, but it can be a life-saver if you’re starved of a little chit-chat. However, as with unexpected desk visits from coworkers in the office, know when to wrap it up and get back to work.

Oh, and you could always go into the office a little more often.

Telecommuting Truth #5: Self-Directed Learning Suddenly Becomes Crucial

Even if you’re lucky enough to work for a company that actively invests in its workforce (which WordStream does, by the way), you’ll still have to be proactive when it comes to learning and honing new skills.

For example, a few years ago, very few content-related roles mandated that applicants were Inbound-certified through HubSpot’s program. Today, it’s practically an expectation, particularly for companies in the startup and tech sector.

Similarly, many organizations hiring content professionals expect them to not only be excellent writers, but also capable of doing more visual work such as image manipulation and even videography.

What Can You Do About It?

Firstly, you might not have to do anything about it beyond talking to your manager. If your company has skill development programs in place, you might not have to do much more than say you’d like to take a class, then take the class.

If you’re a contractor, however, it’s up to you and you alone to ensure you’re doing everything you can to remain professionally relevant and competitive. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of online resources available on everything from C-suite management to C++ programming, so no matter where you happen to live or what you do, you can always access quality learning resources online – costs permitting, of course. (Protip: online classes can often be written off as business expenses if you’re a contractor.)

Working remotely learn online Khan Academy 

Educational nonprofit Khan Academy is an amazing resource for learning online

Working remotely can be an excellent opportunity to put all that time you’re saving to good use, so be proactive about learning new skills. Speaking of skills…

Telecommuting Truth #6: Remote Work Is a Skill (Hire for It)

If you’re in charge of hiring and firing at your company, hire for remote working as if it’s a skill – because it is.

Working remotely forces you to become a more skillful communicator. It also forces you to be more resourceful, especially if you’re working from an area with limited connectivity or cell coverage. Computer problems? You’re the IT guy now. Miss a deadline because you couldn’t find anywhere with Wi-Fi? It’s on you to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Working remotely MacGyver 

OMG HE DID IT, HE MADE A MACGYVER REFERENCE IN 2017

This kind of preparedness can be a desirable quality in a potential hire, as can the strong work ethic you need to succeed as a remote worker. Communicating online has never been easier, but it takes skill to communicate well online.

What Can You Do About It?

Rather than view this as a problem to be solved, instead think of it as an opportunity to cultivate a new skill.

Transitioning from a full-time in-house environment to working remotely can be a major shift for some people. Fortunately, being productive as a remote worker is a skill that can be learned like any other. It just takes time to settle in, just like it does during those first few weeks at a new gig.

Working remotely productivity tools RescueTime 

Productivity and time-management app RescueTime is a personal favorite

If time management isn’t your strongest suit, there are plenty of apps that can help you stay focused. If working in your kitchen isn’t working out, try working from a coffee shop or your local library. If you work more productively at night than during the day, then work at night. However you choose to do it, think of your newfound professional freedom as a skill to be mastered.

Telecommuting Truth #7: It’s Not for Everyone – and That’s OK

Perhaps the least-discussed aspect of remote work is the fact that it’s not for everybody.

Some people lack the discipline it takes to focus in an entirely newly distracting environment, especially if said person is working from home. Others simply can’t work without the buzz of a busy office or the casual banter of their cubicle colleagues. Whatever the reason, not everyone is suited to remote work – and that’s okay.

Working remotely sad dog 

Nigel had no idea how much he was going to miss the office banter.

What Can You Do About It?

If you’re considering making the shift from the office to working remotely, only actually doing it will show you whether it’s right for you or not. If you try it and it doesn’t work out, that’s okay, too.

However, just as you would with an A/B test, it’s important to give yourself enough time to gauge whether it’s a good fit. It might take a while to adjust, so be sure to give it a fair shot if you’re thinking about making the switch. If you try it and it really isn’t for you, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Hopefully this has given you a much more realistic view of working remotely if you’ve never done it before, or some things to consider if you’re an employer who’s still on the fence about implementing a telecommuting policy.

from Internet Marketing Blog by WordStream http://ift.tt/2sAmDll