Social Media Promotion Etiquette: How to Spread Your Content Without Annoying Friends

sharing*

With modern social media you can’t not promote yourself. You have to actively shout out loud or people will overlook you.

Relying on other people to find and spread your great content doesn’t work anymore if it ever did.

There are some things you still can’t do without losing friends. How to keep friends who’ll promote you in future again.

 

The first wave of social media

The first wave of social media was about trying to make the print publishing model work on the Web. The only thing they changed was to let people decide what becomes promoted to the frontpage.

Ideally the wisdom of crowds prevailed and the best or most important content got to the fp of Delicious, Digg or Reddit.

In reality more often than not only lowest common denominator content got voted up or things pushed by certain groups of users. A dark horse political candidate for example was the single most popular one on Digg but got completely ignored during the election. At the end of the day the frontpage model from print did not work properly on the Web.

 

The second wave of social media

These days Delicious doesn’t have a frontpage, Digg ceased to exist in its original crowdsourced form and Reddit has been subdivided into numerous niche communities. Their frontpage isn’t democratic at all.

The social media of the second wave, such services like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ or Pinterest do not have a frontpage. They have a personalized stream.

You get to see the content and updates by those you follow in most cases, sometimes filtered by algorithms, especially in the case of Facebook and Google+. That’s far better. A one size fits all frontpage does not work on the Web. Just because a few people vote something p doesn’t mean that the majority would like to see it.

 

Self promotion or not?

With the early social sites it was often better to get discovered and submitted by a well-known power user of such a site instead of submitting your content yourself. In the first case numerous people would notice it and trust the judgement of aforementioned highly respected community member. Self-submission would not even get noticed or even get considered to be SPAM.

With newer social sites the tide changed again. Now you need to build your own audience whether you like or not. Self-promotion still will stay below the radar as long as nobody listens. You won’t get banned for SPAM just because you spread the word about your won articles but nobody outside will notice them.

 

Audience building by shouting?

I can’t explain the intricacies of the social media audience building in detail here now but let it be said that your audience won’t accept overt self-promotion either. Even in case people voluntarily follow you it doesn’t mean they want to get flooded by useless self-promotional crap. People on social media check out whether you really deserve the trust they give you.

When you don’t share but only shout you get unfollowed quickly.

On the other hand you really need to self-promote in most cases or other people won’t notice you at all. For example I have a large audience of 10k+ on Google+ yet nobody shares my articles there I publish on my blog unless I also promote my own posts on Google+ first. Then people readily vote and re-share as long  as the content matches their interests an dis of substantial quality.

 

Declaring a Red Alert

google-notification

On Google+ there is the option to send a push notification to all of your followers. An option that will show a red alert on top of each person’s Google menu whenever they use Google+ or any other Google service while they are logged in.

This is clearly visible and can be annoying under some circumstances.

Not all people who follow you on Google+ are your friends, some are, others are rather acquaintances or fans. These people like to some extent or are simply interested in the things you have to say. Yet, they don’t love like your parents or spouse so you can’t treat them accordingly.

send-to-your-circles

When sending out such a notification (see above) do not send it to people who are just casual buddies of yours or simple followers you do not even know of. In the example above all my 10k+ followers would get the message!

Let me show you a positive example of someone who alerted me using this Google+ feature:

nicke-eubanks-share

You may even know this guy. Nick Eubanks is pretty widely known in the SEO community so content strategists may know him as well. A little background on our relationship: I subscribe to Nick’s newsletter. He curates a list of must read resources. I haven’t met Nick yet but he even managed to send over a potential client lead to me and I got the job. Nick rarely push-notifies me. I’m not even sure he already did before.

What’s the reason to notify me? He put up an extensive peace of flagship content online, a podcast interview with an expert on buying and selling domains. Even though I do not flip websites as the business is called I was intrigued enough to read through the transcript because I was in a hurry.

It was an exception when Nick used the push notification and the content he shared was exceptional. Also I’d consider him online friend. He might not consider me one yet because apparently I owe by now but you get the point. Similarly you do not simply send a DM (direct message) on Twitter to random followers even in case they do follow you.

A notification by mentioning someone’s name can be rude and intrusive too. Make sure to

  • do it only once in a while
  • have a proper reason for reaching out
  • give first instead of demanding something
  • notify friends not strangers

Some people have sent me push notification every week or more often while they rarely engaged. Strangers or people I didn’t really like did send me such notifications too. I had to remove most of them from my circles. You can send messages to individuals too without pushing your news on everybody.

 

All promotion all the time?

People on Google+ and other social media are not interested in you and your stuff 24/7. They care as long as you provide value to them. It can be a simple as entertainment value or as difficult as technical advice.

As long as you help people you are welcome. There are some rules to follow to make sure you are viewed as helpful and not overtly selfish. How do you reconcile getting yourself out there without appearing to be desperate?

You don’t share only your won stuff or things connected to you and your business.

That should be common knowledge by one. I think it’s even called the rule of thirds but it’s rather about sharing other people’s content four or five times and than yours only once. That would mean that only every four or fifth share should be self-promotional.

  1. One third your content or one you’re affiliated with
  2. One third content by industry leaders and large publications
  3. One third content by industry peers and online friends

Ideally you even share content more often based on quality and not your affiliation with it. Some people tend to share third party articles only when they get mentioned in them. That’s not enough either. It only shows that you’re biased and lose trust over time.

I follow my social media feeds on Feedly so that I have an overview over my sharing habits. Here’s are my latest six shares on Google+:

google-shares

Just one of them is promoting an article of mine. The one about broken links is it. This way I ensure that my followers truly await my next piece and don’t get hungry while at it. They get fed quality content from third party sources. My own articles are often the most popular one in my stream:

* Creative Commons image by włodi

 

 

 

 

Without Links Content Stinks

water

*

Content promotion techniques that solely rely on social media are not enough to succeed on the Web in the long run.

After a few days only links and search engines will send visitors your way.

How to adapt common content sharing and promotion tactics to a sustainable search strategy.

 

Content is like a pond

Content is like water. Imagine it like a pond or lake. As long as there is fresh water supply, even a small trickle, the water stays clean and fresh. Once there is no connection to outside water supply the pond turns green and slimy until it starts to stink and becomes a quagmire in the worst case.

The same thing happens to content on the Web. At first the is a large influx of traffic, a conversation starts, the word spreads, people engage. Then after a while only an occasional visitors say “hi” and adds a comment in an already empty room. With tools like Disqus people may still notice but the lack of audience leads to a gradual death of the debate.

 

The only solution

The only solution is a steady incoming flow of traffic from people who come via search engines by searching for relevant queries. The main route to get the people to find you by way of search is to let other people link to that content. Social media links do not suffice even though some sites are better than others in that respect.

Links from Tumblr are far better than the crippled nofollow links from Twitter or the hidden “private” updates from Facebook.

Yet, most sites, especially blogs ask their readers to share on Facebook, Twitter and maybe one or two more sites. Tumblr is rarely seen among them. It’s viewed as a blogging tool by many not a social networking site. That’s not completely wrong but it’s also the advantage of Tumblr compared to the heavily branded and barely customizable social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

 

Links from publishers

issuu-direct-link

Of course Tumblr is not the only option. The are still hundred of millions of good old website and bloggers using proper software like WordPress, be it hosted on WordPress.com or their own servers. These website owners and blog publishers are those who still decide whether your site will be valued high by Google and other search engines like DuckDuckGo or not.

Why does everybody ignore that obvious decision makers? It’s because social sites want your activity

and thus encourage the spread of their sharing buttons. A simple link button like the one below by Design Bolts is nowhere to be found because there is no one company that is behind it and pushes it by its marketing department.

link-icon

Yet this is the button you need to add along the social media buttons and the mail button. Ideally you let your users also embed your content. This works well for videos and infographics but can also be done with other media types.

 

Copy and paste enhancement

Of course a “spread the word by linking to this post” button is not enough. Many people might also overlook the option as they don’t even expect it or are too lazy to copy and paste a link to their site. There is a tool called Tynt that automatically checks whether someone has copied text on your site and adds a link to that quote.

When the user pastes this text into their page they will also paste the source link.

This can also backfire though. Personally I often copy and paste headlines or quotes and replace the default tweet text for example. I let the link where it is but add a quote. I don’t need another link forced upon me. That’s only additional work. You can ostracize power users that way.

 

Making links linkable

Over the years links have become too cumbersome to use. This is no joke, Why would someone link to you when they can “like”, “tweet” or “+1” your content with one click? It’s too much work! It’s not only only work, it’s also not very usable. Why? Most links are too big, cryptic or both to succeed.

Nobody can memorize can neither long article URLs nor random short URLs.

As often the case the best links cover the middle-ground between length and memorability. They need to be as short as possible while retaining readability and memorability. Do you know what I mean? No? Think adobe.com/flash

The URL must be branded and self-explanatory to be remembered with ease.

How do I know it’s memorable? It was the first URL that came to my mind off the top of my head. In reality the short memorable URL is just a redirect to the a bit longer but still useful one: http://www.adobe.com/products/flash.html

This will work with other common services too:

google.com/mail redirects to https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox as I’m already a user

mozilla.com/firefox leads to https://www.mozilla.org/de/firefox/new/ here

 

Becoming memorable

Just imagine someone writing a quick message or hurrying up to meet the deadline and finish the article. Researching for the link would take too long. Only a link they have memorized and can add right away will do.

I know that most .com addresses are gone these days but with literally hundreds of new top level domains you can find one matching your niche and topic far better now. By adding some humor you can even make this even work better than a .com

Just think

  • jack.black for the comedian
  • abc.xyz for the TV station
  • face.book for large social network.

Become creative and preform a little brainstorming while using some tools that help you navigate through the huge number of new domain name endings (top level domains). Then make sure to add your product or service names in a manner similar to the corporations above. You can redirect to the actual page then. That’s no problem as long as you use a Google friendly 301 redirect. On WordPress many plugins help you with that.

 

* Creative Commons image by Hiroyuki Takeda

 

What the Growing Wired Empire Can Teach You About Identifying Niches

wired-germany-black-out

Recently I have been enjoying the new issue of Wired Germany very much. Wired is now almost a monthly publication here in Germany (10 issues a year) after a start as a quarterly a while back.

Intriguingly the German market for tech oriented “lifestyle” publications didn’t seem that lucrative

before for the locals. How come Wired expanded to Germany, the fifth market after the US/UK, Italy and Japan then?

 

The envied Americans

I always envied the US for their progressive technology press. By press I do not only mean online publications but real life magazines made out of paper. At a time when Germany was flooded by articles on how the Internet is scary, dangerous and a menace to society Americans already had Wired Magazine extolling the new virtues of online freedom and prosperity.

Even though there has been a lot of turmoil in the Wired Magazine history and some failures along the way by now the Wired brand seems to be stronger than ever and expanding globally.

While the US, UK and Japan may seem like very obvious markets for such a publication it nonetheless intriguing to see that Italy and Germany seem to be the next logical stops as the path to the “techno-utopia” the mag initially stood for. The Japanese are infamous for their technological geekery. Italians are rather known for high fashion designer clothes. Most German technology brands that thrived in the past, the likes of

  • Grundig
  • Dual
  • Telefunken
  • AEG

are only shadows of their glorious past. There is no real consumer electronics sectors run by locals here. It’s all Made in China now. Only South Korea can compete.

 

Why Germany not France or Spain?

Take note that there is no Spanish or French Wired magazine despite huge potential audiences. Spanish is not only spoken in Spain by its 40 million inhabitants. Most of South America and even a large minority in the US speak it.

French is not only spoken in France but also in half of Africa, especially in northern African countries, most known for their recent democratic movements that were very Internet-savvy. Also Conde Nast,

the owner of Wired has a large portfolio of magazines in France, mostly focusing on lifestyle and fashion though.

In Germany we had two more or less failed attempts at creating a technology lifestyle magazine. We had Tomorrow for a few years, a copycat mag that tried to imitate the US Wired without having the same type of audience here in Germany (there is no Silicon Valley equivalent here). We also had DE:BUG magazine, a print mag focused on all things electronic including a big part of the music scene.

 

Is there a German audience or not?

Tomorrow had to give up a few years ago, I think in 2009. Shortly before they went out of business they became desperate and even started adding images of naked models to the last few issues. Sadly the much better and independent DE:BUG magazine (full disclosure: I have contributed a few articles to it in the distant past) had to stop publishing the print issue in 2014 too.

The reasons for failure were not the same but in both cases the audience increasingly went online, especially the musicians who could access music right away instead of reading reviews of it offline.

So you have to ask yourself: is there still a German audience for a progressive technology magazine that doesn’t only deal with nerdy topics but also attempts to cover a wider range of aspects of technological progress?

We have a lot of computer magazines dealing with hardware, software, even web development or marketing. There is no real digital culture mag as of now. Well, now there is one again. Wired Germany. So you could argue that now that there is no competition left anymore it’s the best time to enter the empty market again.

 

Nobody wears shoes in Africa

There is an old joke from Poland I have to think of in this context. I’d like to adapt it to the new context:

two shoe marketers visit a newly established country somewhere in Africa, a pessimist and an optimist. The pessimist calls right back home and says “nobody is wearing shoes here, we can’t sell anything!”. The optimist is still in awe and calls in second: “Amazing! Nobody is wearing shoes here yet, we can sell them to everybody!”

Dear African friends: I know people from Africa and I know they wear shoes in most cases. Some don’t because they don’t want to or don’t have to as it’s sometimes too hot in Africa.There are also Westerners who don’t wear shoes either in order to keep their feet healthy (most shoes are bad for your feet hence there are barefoot shoes by now).

This joke is not meant to discredit Africans as primitive or something. It’s a great metaphor on how people in the West (and elsewhere too I guess) can look at the same thing and see two completely different things depending on their personal attitude.

 

The one year long test

Conde Nast has tested Wired Germany with a quarterly publication first. After four issues, which mostly very pretty good, prepared by ad hoc teams and freelancers the publishers finally got the results they wanted and decided to establish a whole new team and invest money and effort into making a monthly mag, organizing events, and offering an online subscription while still offering most of them content online for free (at first?).

So what can we learn from all this? Do you have to move to Germany or at least expand your business there? Not really. I’d like to generalize the lessons I have learned from this niche market identification process:

  1. an empty market is a good market – few or no competition is better than successful competition
  2. testing the waters yourself is better than just looking at other people’s failures
  3. expanding a niche to become almost general interest can be a good idea
  4. you need a substantial investment to enter a niche market not just copy and paste
  5. using an internationally acknowledged brand name is better than coming up with a generic or cryptic title
  6. print is not dead in general, it’s just some business models that go down the drain
  7. the digital audience grows with the Internet so you can tap into it, even “offline”

Quick and Dirty Viral Content Types You Probably Ignore

viral-content

*

While content marketers swear that you need so called long form content the social Web proves them wrong by

spreading tiny information chunks you can come up with quickly.

How to create text images, animated gifs and other memes that carry your message.

 

Essays on cats vs cat pics

Yeah, I really enjoy reading essays – on paper. Indeed I read a book 500 pages strong every second week as long as it’s entertaining. I do it off screen and after work. On the Web I’m quick just like everybody else. I skim pages, scan content and only read a few words here and there.

I want quick solutions, insights or entertaining tidbits. In short memes as in smallest information carrying units. I’m not the only one. User testing has proven that again and again. Thus some types of content just fit the Web better than others.

  • text images
  • comics
  • animated gifs
  • selfies

are just some of the most common type of “content” that spreads like wild fire for different reasons. What they’ve got in common is that they are small and portable. They are

  • quick to digest
  • easy to replicate
  • comparatively small in (file) size.

Initially the word meme has been used by obscure linguists, activists and military strategists (see “meme warfare”). On the modern Web it’s widely used for anything that is most often

  • entertaining
  • funny
  • intriguing

and spreads virally over the Intertubes. Some types of memes are more successful than others. That’s why I picked the four examples from above to show the ones more prone for wider acclaim.

 

Why do text images spread that well? It’s not just Tumblr and Pinterest although those two sites have certainly helped to establish “picture quotes” as one of the most popular online memes. Sure, they’re readable almost at once with short lines and large uppercase letters in most cases. That’s not all though.

Such text images often feature quotes by some of the most respected personalities from human history. These are often words of distilled true wisdom. They are often figures of speech (like metaphors or oxymorons) that sound very intriguing. Unlike retyped quotes in HTML they have some integrity as you can’t simply change the words by copy and pasting.

You can use image quotes as posters, postcards or t-shirts. Thus there is a big market by now for those who design and print them. Sites like Behappy.me are not the exception. This quote by Maya Angelou I shared on Pinterest a while ago got over a 500k “impressions” and more than 4000 repins. My quotes board is my most popular one despite me pinning more on other boards.

4k-repins

There are plenty of free tools that let you type in a quote and spit out a ready-made image. Ideally you use a photo editor, there are a lot free ones too so that your quote does not look like many other quotes. I use Paint.NET on Windows. There are very advanced online tools like Sumo Paint too.

 

Comics are short and funny. You can put complex insights into a few pictures and speech bubbles. Also they have been always popular even in print. On the Web they have become even more widely viewed because again, it’s often just image to share that contains a whole story or sophisticated message.

Ideally the images have some intrinsic aesthetic value but I’ve often seen rather clumsy comics become widely shared just because of their funny or on point message. There are people who make a living online by simply drawing humorous comics for the Web.

In the tech realm we have seen many successful comics over the years. The Joy of Tech is one of the most popular along with Dilbert facing common pitfalls of the modern office lifestyle. In marketing and specifically content marketing we have seen many attempts of using comics but the success has been limited until now. Apparently marketers are still too serious to create funny comics.

comics-in-b2b

 

Animated gifs are like videos for the fast and furious. Most people do not have the time to watch whole videos online, especially at work. Thus animated gifs often feature the funniest, strangest or most outrageous scenes from videos. This might be a fat cat jumping from space, or a parkour professional doing some gravity defying stunt.

In many cases the animation shows just a scene from a movie with or without a subtitle. It may be as simple as a rare facial expression. People enjoy viewing such animations again and again because they often feature funny or incredible things.

Some movies get promoted by using animated gifs in recent years. It works find on Tumblr for sure where I have watched movie scenes from movies I would have otherwise never noticed or cared about. The animation is so short that before you can move you’ve already seen it and laughed. There are tools that let you create animated gifs out of anything.

 

Selfies are often low quality images made from phones at the toilet or in other unfavorable conditions. They feature “authentic” people in all kinds of poses and situations. Most selfies are the exact opposite of the advertising and movie images we are fed all the time. There is some raw imperfection in them.

Even superstars and celebrities post selfies to prove they look good or sexy for real.

Otherwise you might assume it’s just Photoshop and the excellent work of a professional photographer. Selfies have a touch of intimacy. It’s not just the authenticity of looking into a mirror beside your toilet seat. Selfies make loneliness of modern “singles” bearable. You get yourself out there and other people approve of you.

To create such quick and dirty self-portraits all you need is a mobile phone with a camera and a mirror. You can make a selfie without a mirror too, I’ve been doing that before the term has been coined. You may need a few attempts then because it’s hard to assess whether your face or whichever body part you want pictured  is still visible or not.

In case you want make your product appear more authentic encourage people to make selfies

while holding it in their hand and dressed in it. So you don’t even have to make blurry pictures of your private parts yourself. You can ask your customers and supporters to do so. They probably already do. Finding out whether they do it may be as simple as asking them on Facebook, Twitter or wherever you socialize online.

You probably think product selfies are just about fashion or beauty products and exhibitionists.

Well, here is an example from Google+ where acclaimed search expert David Amerland made people photograph his book on arrival. While many of the images do not feature the person who shoots it the authenticity transfer is still there.

* The “viral content” illustration has been created by the team of Freepik.com

How to Use Eye Catcher Images to Get People’s Attention

dog*

One of the often neglected content best practices is the usage of eye catcher images. Everybody in print media does it for ages but on the Web most website owners fail at it. It’s really easy by now. Free images are widely available and can attract readers who otherwise would ignore you.

 

Show People

You know it from magazines. Why do you think most magazine covers show pretty young women smiling? No, it’s not just because women are predominantly buying them. Studies have shown that both women and men get attracted to beautiful females portraits.

Photographs of men have been far less successful but still performed better than image of things, landscapes or motifs. One of the blogs that uses images of people very successfully is Boost Blog Traffic:

boost-blog-traffic-people

 

Use Colors

While artsy black and white images work well in art galleries or on Ello it’s not what people in a hurry on the Web look for. Striking colors like red, green or blue stand out in the often dull daily grind of the Web. When you are looking for hours for useful material for your next task you are scanning faster and faster until some strong visual clues grabs your attention. Then you stop just long enough to check out the headline.

colors-contrast

Use Contrast

Just using a bloat of color doesn’t suffice. You need to show something people can distinguish when scanning large amounts of content on Pinterest and elsewhere. The image needs a main motif, ideally a person, as suggested above already and some contrasting background. When someone dressed in green gets pictured in front of a wood people won’t recognize much of course.

 

Use White Space

crying-kid

**

A lot of clutter makes not only a bad impression it literally fractures the attention of the viewer in so many directions at the same time that we don’t see anything at all at the end and move on. On my cycling blog I often deal with that issues.

Bike manufacturers send me photos of bikes in front of colorful walls or even whole cityscapes so that you can miss the bike altogether.

I can’t use such images at all in many cases. What I need is less distraction. You don’t have to edit everything and just show a white background. So called white space is just empty space for the eyes to rest. Make sure to provide it to highlight the main motif.

 

Don’t be Obvious

When you write about Google please don’t use a Google logo to “visualize” your topic. We see the Google logo dozens of times a day. Yes, we recognize it but we’re so used to it that we do not assign any importance to it anymore. Why should we interrupt our work to take a closer look at something we see all the time?

 

Intrigue

darth-vader-statue-of-liberty

***

Show more by not showing something. Yes, you can hide part of the motif in order to intrigue. You can also show something that is on the verge of being abstract or an item that isn’t really matching the topic at first sight. We then wonder “what happens here” and take another look. One surefire way to intrigue people is to show them something they think they know but differently. Artists do it a lot. The Darth Vader Statue of Liberty mix is a perfect example of this technique.

 

Don’t Use Text Inside Images

Many bloggers add the headline or topic of their post to the header or eye-catcher image. That may work in some instances but why would someone pin it on Pinterest for example? Also the text often distracts from the main message of the picture. Text images or quotes work well on Pinterest when the aphorism is meaningful by itself. A headline that doesn’t explain anything on its own won’t work.

 

Use Metaphors

In many industries and for many topics there are no accurate or attractive images. You can’t show much when dealing with technology for example. Showing code snippets, screen shots or other workarounds will only get you so far. The best alternative in my experience is the metaphor, as long as it’s fresh and not a cliché already. When dealing with links (hyperlinks) for example you can show people holding hands instead of the obvious chain links.

 

Check Other Resources

  1. Photos as Web Content
  2. A Complete Guide to Visual Content 
  3. 5 Ways to Make Shareable Images That Drive Traffic
  4. The Do’s and Don’ts of Blog Images
  5. Make your products the star – The art of getting product images that really sell
  6. How to Use Images in Your Link Building Campaigns
  7. Pinterest Optimization What Tactics, Topics and Media Formats Get Shares
  8. 8 Sites For Free Stock Photos That Don’t Look Like Free Stock Photos
  9. 12 Amazing Sites With Breathtaking Free Stock Photos
  10. 18 Sites with Beautiful Free Stock Photos

 

* Creative Commons image by João Paulo Corrêa de Carvalho

** Creative Commons image by binu kumar

*** Creative Commons image by Star Wars

Are You Leading Visitors Astray? The Dangers of Letting Your Content Rot

rotten-content

*

Trillions of web pages out there are full of outdated advice, broken links or worse links to rogue sites.

Publishers usually focus on churning out fresh content because that’s what content marketers preach.

At the same time old content is hurting your overall credibility on the Web, when it comes to readers and Google.

DJ Content Con and The Fresh Prince

As a blogger who has been publishing for several years in a row I increasingly worry about the things I have written in the past. On my own blog I’m able to fix or delete the posts in question but even there I sometimes overlook outdated posts. The content marketing wave of recent years has been seemingly about quantity. The more the better.

Creating fresh content has been the epitome of doing the right thing.

After all even Google seemed to favor articles that were published recently and even showed their dates on search results. Yes, Google’s Panda updates were about stopping mass produced low level content but also about downgrading sites full of obsolete content in various stages of decay.

There’s something rotten in the state of content

When your existing assets already stink putting fresh content along them doesn’t make sense. Visitors who venture deeper into your publication by following some internal links may quickly wind up in the gutter. It’s not just small-time bloggers like myself.

Large corporate owned blog empires are among the worst offenders. Just think of Mashable, the perhaps still most popular social media blog, it’s full of rotten content that is truly misleading by now. It’s coverage of Google Buzz is exemplary:

mashable-google-buzz

In this screen shot you can still see the date so that you may ask yourself whether the article is still valid when you find it. I resized it though so that I can capture a better image. In reality the date is displayed in light grey and small type at the left below the author photo so that you are likely to overlook it unless you actually look hard for it.

Mashable is too big to fail, is your blog big enough?

Reading the Mashable article doesn’t give you a clue about the current state of affairs. Neither Google Buzz nor Seesmic still exist and Tweetdeck has been bought by Twitter long ago so that it won’t support competing Google services in the near future. Many of the links in the article are dead but the link to Google is still leading to an equally outdated announcement post.

Unless you are Web professional dealing with social media on a daily basis you will have difficulties to find out that the article is completely wrong by now. It’s simply not true anymore. I know what you think.

Mashable is too big to fail by now. They don’t have to care.

You are probably not as large as Mashable though. Also Mashable is just a publication while your blog is probably part of your business or reflects on your personal authority.

Let’s say someone assumes you’re a social media expert, then reads about Google Buzz on your site and then tries to sign up for it just to realize s/he has been tricked? Think about your parents, potential employer and generally people who aren’t spending the whole day online. What kind of impression of your level of expertise will they get from such an outdated article?

Do you need advice on Google Buzz SEO?

Outdated articles often rank well in search results. Here are some of the top results on DuckDuckGo. Please note how all the authority publications make you believe that Google Buzz still exists.

google-buzz-resuls

Google itself is a bit better at the telling the truth about the whereabouts of it’s deceased Buzz service but even here factual and outdated results mix in the top 10. As fickle as modern Web users are the likelihood of overlooking the “was” is still high. Only one article clearly marks Buzz as “dead” right in the title where you can spot it with ease.

google-buzz-results-2

What about Google Buzz and SEO? When we search for advice on it [google buzz seo] we find this page on #1:

google-buzz-seo-impact

Ironically at the bottom of the article the author states:

“As an SEO expert at Fluency Media, I look to stay on top of the latest search engine algorithm changes for our clients, and these recent developments by Google intrigue me.”

There is no date that clarifies that the article is several years old. The only date we can see is “February 9th”. It appears to be of this year. there is no way to comment on that page so nobody can clarify publicly.

The Google Buzz ghost is haunting me

Why did I choose to the Google Buzz example? Isn’t that a bit far off? No. When I search for [google buzz seo] as mentioned above I find myself twice in the top 10 explaining the virtues of Google Buzz SEO to unsuspecting visitors. Why?

An agency I have worked for 4 years ago is careless enough not to update or rather delete these articles. They are meaningless at best by now. Why keep them? To get more search traffic and mislead people? No, that’s probably sheer recklessness or lack of funds.

The Web evolves fast. When you let your old advice online for years you are actively misleading people after a while.

It is your responsibility as a publisher to keep track of changes and to fix your content. When you don’t that “strategy” will backfire by damaging your overall credibility. You will ultimately lose trust and authority. Google may penalize you with it’s low quality content algorithms (Panda) even faster.

Content maintenance is a must. In case you don’t have a budget for that you at least need to provide a disclaimer above all your old content saying something like “this page hasn’t been updated for 2+ years old and the content on it may be outdated.

 

Does it Still Make Sense to Write How to Advice Now that Google Scrapes it?

When you ask Google a question like [how to boil eggs] you won’t see search results on top, sometimes not even ads. Google will often provide the answer right away.

All the years of telling webmasters to “just create great content” do not sound like very good advice anymore.

Is there a way out of the dilemma? How to still get found on Google without giving everything away?

Think outside the Google answer box

google-how-to-boil-eggs

Some short sighted old school SEO practitioners advise you these days to achieve “Total SERP domination” by optimizing your content for the so called Google answer box. This box basically scrapes your content from your site and displays it right on Google so that search users do not even need to click through to your site with queries like

  • how to boil eggs
  • treat sunburn
  • how to make apple pie

Why would you want to dominate that? I’m not sure but being eager to support Google might be a reason when you own enough of their shares. Another reason might be: give Google all your great content so maybe there will be some leftover traffic for you?

Google is effectively cutting out and ripping off the middleman, that is you the

  • content creator
  • online publisher
  • website owner

For most of these people optimizing for the total content loss seems like a very short term business model.

The great Google knowledge grab

Google disowns content creators and publishers of all types. Both book authors and news publishers fought Google for years in order not to let them monetize their content without remuneration to no avail.

Google Books and Google News force publishers out of business because they neither need to buy books anymore nor view ads on newspaper sites. They can just get a quick overview on Google services and move on.

Only a small percentage of users needs to look up more than Google offers and to visit the original source to read in depth or offline.

Then Google started to grab images for its image search so that publishers don’t get much traffic anymore. Now everybody can get your images straight from Google. There is not much left for Google beside the actual content on all other websites. They are working on that and providing more cases where they do take third party content and place it on Google. You don’t need have a PhD in economics to understand what that means. Google is actually taking your money.

Blocking Google?

There is of course a radical measure you can take to stop Google from grabbing your knowledge and monetizing it in case you want to earn money by publishing yourself. Many photographers do it by now. News publishers have at least fought for the right to “opt out” of Google News. Some of them even went as far as blocking Google search altogether or at least setting up paywalls. News Corp has been the foremost of them.

Most publishers are frantically trying to find a compromise.

They are shielding only parts of the content and give away enough fodder for Google to stay in the index.

Image copyright owners tried to use technical means of reminding users to click through to the original sources but Google started penalizing them for doing that a year ago. The “image mismatch Google penalty” makes sure you don’t try to bring Google searchers back to your site when they are looking at your images.

Are you accidentally optimizing for the Google scraper?

Taking a look at the examples where Google already grabs your knowledge without sending through visitors I noticed some technical exceptions you don’t necessarily see on all pages. Google seems to exploit HTML 5 markup intended for internal use only for example. Instead they will use it to identify the content piece to steal from you.

Just take a look what the BBC pages that do get scraped by Google use internally on their recipe pages: I tested with [how to make apple pie] where this page got scraped for the onpage content on Google. The BBC uses HTML 5 data attributes that are

are not intended to compete with microformats. It is clearly stated in the spec that the data is not intended to be publicly usable. External software should not interact with it.

They look something like that:

data-title=”Proper apple pie” data-appid=”food” data-type=”recipe”

So clearly Google doesn’t play by the rules here once again. This data is by no means intended to be hijacked by Google to steal content. In case you want to give all your content away for free to Google to monetize you need to use so called Schema.org microformats.

In case you don’t want Google to scrape your how to advice automatically I strongly suggest you should remove HTML 5 data attributes and not to use Schema.org either. Most sites don’t and only some experts very fond of Google tell people to do so.

Practical solutions without removing your content from Google entirely

Most of you will neither want to block Google completely as the dependency is too strong nor do optimize for data attributes or microformats. So you still need a solution other than not publishing how to advice anymore at all.

I have come up with some simple practical solution worth trying out. I haven’t tested them myself yet so I’d be glad if some of you would do that and add some feedback whether they worked at least to some extent.

1. Removing essential items from bulletet lists

Readers will have to click through then because some details will remain unclear just from looking at the scraped content on Google.

2. Adding CTAs to your bulleted content

Enticing searchers with additional calls to action in the list itself like “click the link below this bullet point to see pictures and examples”.

3. Adding context within bullet points

Google can’t copy and paste your whole website content, they just try to cite the mots important items. Try to make the list items part of the whole page so that they sound incomplete without clicking through. You could add directions for example like “as seen in chapter 5” or “as the picture above shows”.

Desperate measures

The probably easiest way to get rid of the Google content theft problem as of now seems to be not using bulleted lists at all. At least not lists that look like lists in the HTML code. You can style your

  1. span
  2. p
  3. div

elements almost any way you want so replacing the HTML list element may be the desperate measure to take that helps. Maybe removing

  1. “how to”
  2. “tutorial”
  3. “guide”

from your headline would be helpful too. So it still does make sense to provide how to advice for people but you have to consider what happens when Google grabs it from your site and monetizes the content instead of you.

 

Branding Best Practices: “About” Pages that Rock

store-owner*

One of the most neglected parts of many websites is still the about or team page. To establish credibility from the start it has to be very appealing though.

I have collected some good examples to show you so that you can follow in their footsteps.

The about page ideally makes you likeable, memorable and trustworthy.

Do you live in a remote village? Then you may have only one store in you vicinity. You may know the store owner by name. You know the whole family. Your kids may play with them. In such circumstance branding is not necessary. Everybody already knows who the store owner is. Also there is no competition you have to differentiate from. So why bother?

The exact opposite is the humongous corporation. Whether it’s Walmart, Nike or Apple we know their brands and what they stand for unless of course you look behind the scenes. Their branding is the result of enormous advertising budget earned on the backs of millions of minimum wage workers. These companies manufacture or rather buy products from third parties for a few bucks and sell them for ten times the money they paid. So they have a lot of funds to spend on their image.

You are in-between the two. As a small business owner you are like the store oner from the first example, you want to get known and liked by the people but you have to get the word out without a spectacular budget.

The global village is very crowded with businesses similar to yours.

It’s extremely hard to differentiate them let alone remember them. You may be just one of dozens, hundreds, thousands or even more depending on the context. Locally you may one of a few, in your region you will probably already compete with dozens. In the whole country hundreds of other vendors may try to get the attention of potential visitors.

 

Design the about content

One of the issues I often encounter with websites is that the designers do not want to design the actual content. They prefer to put some “Lorem Ipsum” dummy text on your site instead of copying the actual one from your old site for example. While there are design and readability best practices that always apply

you can’t expect proper branding from your about or team page when you just replace dummy text with some of your own.

In most cases the actual content is also so different from the Lorem Ipsum standard that it doesn’t even look good at all let alone leave a positive impression on your visitors. When planning a redesign do not forget the about page or require the designer to provide a custom made one from the start.

Adapt the web design to the actual content, not the other way around. Websites are like trucks, without content they are empty and do not really work. It’s the content that makes them useful. You wouldn’t break up your furniture to fit in the delivery truck would you?

 

Display your core values

You do not only want to appear different by the way your site as a whole – and the about section specifically – are designed. You also have to express why you are actually different than the others. You are not Walmart or a franchise so that you have to consider what your core values are and how express them. Otherwise you can only compete by location and price.

On the Web without branding you would have to rely mostly on generic search traffic.

You can’t compete with the global players who will move from China to Bangladesh once their workers in China demand to get a living wage. Sustainability can be core value. Doing business without killing the planet. Availability 24/7 can be. Just think firemen. Even excellent customer service can be one. Caring for the people who trusted you once.

In case the only reason you started a business is to make money you are doing it wrong. Consider how you want to change the world to the better and communicate it.

 

Show who you are

simply-measured-team-holds-hands

On the Web anonymity and identity can be a slippery slope. As a business person it is often advisable to show your face, your real one. You ideally hire a professional photographer to take pictures of you. There are also other ways to show yourself and more importantly who you are too. You could hire an illustrator who can draw you and your team members. You can even dress up like on Halloween.

curalate-meet-us-dress-up

It’s crucial to prove that real people are behind your business. Nobody trusts generic stock images. Usability studies even have shown that such images get ignored straight away. It’s the same effect we know from banner blindness.

You can show your tools, machinery or team at work while actually doing something.

zomato-strangers-vs-friends

It’s important to be real and prove it. Without real life images your business may be just another website someone built using a free template. Even free templates may be good but they need to be filled with actual representations of real people, be it drawings, videos, illustrations.

In case people are not an option (you may feel too old, ugly or shy for example) items you work with may be sufficient proof that the business is operating for real.

  • Tools
  • machinery
  • your products

may be attractive enough to be shown off and give the reassuring impression of a real business “not jut a website”.

push-people

On the other hand you don’t need to be a model to have your image shown on an about or team page. I love how the people from Push look both perfectly natural and not like a bunch of hipsters so they are even more trustworthy. They are both young and old for sure and some exceptionally pretty women are among them but the lady above left is the “Director of Finance”, a job you wouldn’t entrust a young inexperienced girl would you?

 

Tell your story

Studies have shown that storytelling is one of the most important factors to make people listen to you and remember what you’ve said. That’s why we prefer to watch movies with heroes fighting against all odds instead of factual but boring representations of “big data”.

Yes, I know. Captain Obvious strikes again but the latest data hype had me almost convinced that it’s all about about numbers these days.

It’s not. We’re still humans. We want to deal with other people not companies and we want to know who they are by learning something about their background.

curalate-story-video

What is your story? It can by anything worthwhile to tell about you and your business. It can be the difficult path you had to walk through before starting your business. It could be the process you went through to come up with your actual product idea.It can be the historical or personal context.

push-chris-robb-story

 

More Resources on About and Team Pages Elsewhere

  1. Guidelines for Writing a Good About Page
  2. Creating Creative ‘Meet The Team’ Pages (With 13 Awesome Examples)
  3. How to Create a Great About Page
  4. 20 Creative & Useful “About” Pages
  5. Are You Making These 7 Mistakes with Your About Page?
  6. Write a Better About Us Page – It’s Not About Us, It’s About You!
  7. How To Use Your ‘About Us’ Page To Acquire Customers

 

 

* Creative Commons image by Foo Connor

Why Paid Content is Better than Paid Links

*

Many business people do not have the patience to optimize their sites holistically. They just want to pay and get results like in the good old days when you could trick Google easily and get loads of traffic and sales from your “organic rankings” there.

Website owners would love to buy so called “paid links” and that’s it.

Because…

  • Changing their site
  • crafting content
  • developing a strategy

would be too much. There is another almost as easy route where you can pay and forget. It’s paying for content. You just have to do it the right way. It’s better than risky paid links for sure.

Paid Links

Until 2007 so called “paid links” weren’t officially banned by Google. You could simply buy text link ads as they were referred to and improve your Google rankings while in some cases getting direct traffic too.

Text link ads competed directly with Google Adsense and were affecting Google algorithm too much so that the search giant cracked down on them. It took many years though until the practice of buying links lost its appeal due to the risks involved. Some people still pay for links.

Google penalized many link buyers and sellers in their search results whenever they got spotted.

How Much Do Paid Links Cost?

pagerank-5-links

I have been helping webmasters buy links until 2007, as long as it wasn’t officially outside of the Google Webmaster Guidelines. So I still know how it worked (or didn’t) without getting busted by Google:

Paid links were rather a workaround than really search engine optimization.

You basically fooled yourself and Google into believing that your site was more popular by artificially inflating it’s link popularity. Once the artificial authority was gone the site tanked on Google significantly. Nonetheless many business owners were attracted to that easy to grasp model.

A link would be rented on a monthly basis usually but you needed to pay several months (often in advance) at least in order to make SEO sense. So you ended up paying a monthly retainer and forgetting. Services buying and selling links sprung up everywhere so that you could just select several links from a list and then just pay your monthly rates.

A common price would be $50 a month for a mediocre but not bad link.

It wouldn’t be too obvious for Google to spot and you would of course get several or even dozens of them. So let’s say you would just invest in 10 PageRank 5 links for $50 each. That would be a monthly cost of $500 and yearly cost of $6000. Depending on your business size that already a lot or it doesn’t sound like much. Now let’s consider what you could buy with that money instead and how many links you could earn from it.

 

Paid Content On Your Site

book**

Does your site have a place where you can publish content actually? This might sound like silly question but believe me, most sites don’t have it. E-commerce sites just display products and some additional info on the company, shipping or contact information.

Business sites often just proclaim how great they are by using a high number of sleek sounding buzzwords.

They may add landing pages with “funnel vision” solely geared towards making someone subscribe or buy. Some sites have a content reservation, that is the blog where they cramp all content whether it matters to a blog audience or not. So there is no proper place to provide high quality paid content onsite.

When you publish content to a sales focused site it actually disappears as nobody will notice it.

When you do it right by building an audience either on social media or even better subscribers via mail you can really achieve a high impact with onsite content.

For $6000 you could let a whole team of content creators provide a:

  • white paper
  • study, and
  • infographic

for you. In case you have someone to disseminate the exceptional content piece to you might get more than the 10 paid link quickly and effortlessly.

When you split the budget 50/50 so that the content creation takes half of the effort and the other one is about content promotion you can get even better results

despite having a less sophisticated content piece. Then your content promoters would reach out to blogger already known for their interest in that topic. Influencers who mentioned your brand in the past would be contacted as well. They could spawn a network effect of many shares that ultimately lead to links on plenty websites.

 

Paid Content on Third Party Sites

Did you know? Guest blogging is not the only way to place your content on third party sites. Guest blogging for SEO has been flagged by Google as low quality and suspicious. It has been overused as a one time drop in and never return tactic to get as many links as possible from numerous sites.

What happens when you consider the content to be more important than just a vehicle to get a self-inserted link in it? You could become a regular columnist at an authoritative publication.

With a budget of $6000 a year you could make a writer contribute bi-weekly on your behalf to a publication for a year or maybe two publications monthly.

Of course it depends on how influential the writer is but you get the point. By writing 12 articles in a year you can expect to get at least the 10 links and more. You get direct traffic through such links in contrast to paid links nobody will see in most cases.

After all the paid links are hidden in the archives somewhere because when you buy them the content or page you add them has already been published often long ago. The editorial links you get as a regular contributor stay forever. So you only pay once for each piece of content.

 

Paid Content for Free

creative-commons***

You don’t actually have to pay for paid content. In many cases, it suffices when a person gets “paid”, or compensated, to craft a paid content piece by having other people use this high quality content piece for free on their site. Yes, infographics also an example of such free paid content.

One win to win situation happens when a business pays a professional to craft high quality content and then offers it for free using a non-restrictive Creative Commons license.

This way the content not only spreads around faster, just think CC images from Flickr. I use them myself too for years and I often find images that have been used multiple times not only on blogs but also on major publications.

With Creative Commons you retain legal ownership and get credits from publishers while “making the content travel”.

Images given away using a CC license can spread forever. Of course ideally you don’t let people credit Flickr but your won site.

Imagine how many images you can buy for $6000. Now estimate how many links per image you would get. Let’s say you hire a professional photographer who makes 10 images for you for 6000$. Now assuming that the photographer creates high quality photos you can rest assured that you get at least one link per image. Most likely the photographer will link to them from a portfolio site already so you need just another nine.

 

*Creative Commons image by Rocky Lubbers

** Creative Commons image by Dave Heuts

*** Creative Commons image by Kristina Alexanderson

FREE GUIDE: Boost the Value of Your Content

  • More than 6,000 words, 47 pro content marketing tips
  • Improve profitability for your best(and worst) content
  • Actionable steps for more traffic, links and leads from your content

 

Fear of Links

links
*

Flashback to 1999 – journalists from old media are afraid to link to other publications or sources despite the new opportunities the Web offers – bloggers embrace the Internet and hyperlinks in contrast and get significant attention by doing so.

15 years later history is repeating because publishers afraid of Google do not link anymore

or just using the so called “nofollow” attribute to mark their own links as potential spam.

 

Why is Google scaring people into not linking?

Publishers around the world are increasingly dependent on Google. Germany’s largest publisher, an infamous media mogul similar to Ruport Murdoch is literally afraid of Google.

In recent years Google has made getting so called organic traffic gradually more and more difficult. While at it the search traffic monopolist has been often arbitrarily “penalizing” websites in their search results and thus harming or even destroying whole businesses.

By now Google both algorithmically and manually penalizes webmasters for not only incoming links you have no control over – that is when other people link to your site – and outgoing links – that is when you link other sites on the Web.

Given the wide spread penalties it’s no wonder people think twice before linking out.

Website owners also frequently get link removal requests from people who are themselves scared of Google. They assume that your links are somehow negatively impacting their Google rankings. Often Google even suggests themselves that your links are harmful like happened recently to 15 years old blogging veteran site Metafilter.

Will Google drop links as a ranking factor?

Isn’t it ironic that one of the first blogging pioneers, Metafilter got hit by an ominous Google penalty? Does Google want to weaken the actual backbone of the Web as we know it, the hyperlink? They claim that they want just to keep their index clean and spammer at bay but legitimate websites get affected by updates and penalties all the time.

The Google algorithm still depends on links.

At the same time they are frantically attempting to find other means of determining page authority. They haven’t found any promising alternatives yet. Other ranking factors are mostly about filtering out bad results and additional insights in the value of each resource. You basically can’t tell which page is more important without counting links as of now.

 

The hyperlink is the foundation of the Web

I have said a few times and I say it again: there is no Web without links. A hyperlink is what constitutes the Web. Without a link you only have static text saved and accessible on a server when you know the address. this is more akin to a library. Of course Google is like the ultimate librarian.

Google just need to index everything in their library and then every other link is competing with them.

Google is the ultimate link list. They do not want others to link out to resources. They want people to use their search engine to navigate the Web. Ideally of course these searchers will also click Google ads. Many do without even realizing that they are clicking on ads.

This is evidently a paradox. While Google depends on links it also competes with other sites that offer links. They need your content to index but their frown upon your links in it. This way Google is also undermining the actual foundation of the Web, the connections between documents and their relations.

Linking out is the best content promotion technique

We all have probably heard of the term attention economy and more recently “content shock”. There is a lot of content out there, much more than you and me can digest let alone notice. Even when it comes to small niches like SEO for example you will struggle to read everything important or substantial on any given day.

You have a finite attention span that only suffices to notice a few dozen articles and choose may several of them to skim. You end up reading and saving for later just a few of those, maybe just one or two.

You need influential people to notice your content so that they spread it.

You can do outreach of course, but that’s tedious and potentially annoying. What you need is that people actually notice your article, video or infographic automatically. The easiest technique to achieve this is to mention actual people who need to take notice in the content itself.

This so called egobaiting works to some extent for videos and infographics too. In any case: when you “ping” influencers and other bloggers or publishers and they like what they see they will share your article to their respective audiences.

Independent online strategy

The question now is whether you are implementing an independent online strategy based on content promotion and building audiences or whether you solely rely on gatekeepers like Google l and Facebook.

Monopolistic gatekeepers still give away some “free” traffic without forcing you to buy ads yet.

Both corporations control the largest part of their markets. Google dominates search traffic globally while Facebook is the the far largest social media traffic source in most countries. Even getting that free traffic costs a lot of money and effort. Both Google optimization and Facebook engagement are not be underestimated.

You have to compete not only with your direct rivals selling the same products or offering the same services you also have to fight for attention with a myriad of other content creators, publishers and marketers. Everybody wants to get at least a tiny slice of the attention pie while it gets smaller each day.

Assuming that Google and Facebook will always provide “free” traffic to your site is probably the most dangerous fallacy these days.

I have seen business owners cringe and despair over Google updates and manual penalties while they were very apprehensive to even consider any alternative routes. You need to build an audience of your own. Audience building means that you attract readers to your content directly.

The best way to build an audience is to get recommended by people in your niche, industry and/or country.

The easiest way to get recommendations is to link out to those who are able and willing to recommend you. It’s about people like you:

  1. bloggers
  2. marketers
  3. publishers
  4. webmasters.

It’s not just about getting social shares on the same sites like Facebook. Likes are even worse. You need actual endorsements from your colleagues.

So either you obey Google and thus stop linking out, or you ignore Google’s bizarre policies to focus on your audience while promoting your content by linking out to your peers.

* Creative Commons image by Mark Skipper

FREE GUIDE: Boost the Value of Your Content

  • More than 6,000 words, 47 pro content marketing tips
  • Improve profitability for your best(and worst) content
  • Actionable steps for more traffic, links and leads from your content