Chapter 1: The rise and rise of digital marketing in a data-driven world

The first post in this series introduced the new TrinityP3 book “The Ultimate Guide to Digital Marketing in a Data-driven World” – you can read the introduction post here.

This is Chapter 1 of the book and in it we look at the history of digital marketing and the importance of data. We also discuss some of the incredible statistics and some of the big players – Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and we also look at the rise of Content Marketing (and much more).

We will be releasing this book as series of 11 posts over the coming weeks or if you don’t want to wait that long you can go to this page to download the full book right now.

 It all begins with data

Big data, little data – it all begins with data. While the old direct mailers from way back have been immersing themselves in data warehouses and databases for decades, it’s now the top brand marketers who are embracing these practices and espousing the power of data to drive their businesses.

Major TV advertisers are now talking at conferences about the power of digital marketing and data, and the challenges of harnessing it for their businesses. But this isn’t just talk. There has been a dramatic shift from TV, print and radio budgets to budgets for an array of digital media. In fact, on average, 35% of a marketing budget is now spent on digital marketing.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, however.

Let’s go back to the beginning

The information and digital marketing revolution fired up in 1989 and sped forwards at warp speed. That was when the so-called ‘information superhighway’ was created by a British computer scientist called Tim Berners-Lee.

He invented the World Wide Web (www) with the aim of connecting people, places and information using servers, computers and something that has since become as common as cars, houses and televisions – the internet.

It wasn’t long before e-commerce was born, which soon began to transform our economic and social landscape. It was a completely new way of life. Having said that, many lessons can be learned by taking a quick look back at a past life – that which followed the industrial revolution.

The industrial revolution

In the late 1700s, low-yield production by hand started to give way to mass production by machines with the use of chemicals and coal. New types of jobs were created, productivity grew, cities expanded and living standards dramatically improved. Factories, canals and railroads forged a new era of urbanisation and connectivity. But these changes were not instant ones.

The industrial revolution is widely recognised to have taken place from the mid-1700s through to about 1830 (over roughly 70 years). And a second industrial revolution is said to have begun in the 1850s, when steel made it easier to produce railway tracks, and electrification started to make its mark.

These were times of major innovation and knowledge transfer. And inevitably, along with major improvements in productivity, wealth and knowledge came greed and an imbalance in society. The new middle-class business owners lived in splendour; the workers lived in squalor.

The advent of the information age

Fast-forward to 1989 and we see the start of the next major shift in development – from analogue to digital technology. It was the advent of the information age, the point at which the product economy evolved into the service-based economy.

Computers, digital cellular phones and fax machines were created and adopted at a much faster rate than the bulkier machinery of the earlier transitions. The internet was shared with the public from 1991, giving people faster access to global information and previously untapped international markets.

Just like the industrial revolution, we experienced two major waves of change. To begin with, the 1990s saw innovation and experimentation, with internet companies springing up out of nowhere: Yahoo and Amazon were born in 1994, eBay in 1995 and Google in 1998. The mantra was to raise venture capital, operate at a loss and ‘get big fast’. It was also a time when companies were focused on getting their brand names into the vernacular.

The tech bubble burst

However, dotcoms such as Flooz, Boo, Webvan, Pets and Zap, among many others, didn’t last long. The tech bubble finally burst in March 2000 after numerous internet companies had skyrocketed to life and then spectacularly crashed due to the lack of a solid business plan.

The Nasdaq Composite lost 78% of its value as it fell from 5046.62 – more than double what it had been a year earlier – to a low of 1114.11 in 2002. In 1999, there were 457 IPOs (initial public offerings), most of which were internet- or technology-related. Of these, 117 doubled in price on their first day of trading. But by 2001, the number of IPOs had dwindled to 76, and none of them doubled in price on the first trading day.

Some internet companies survived by revising their business models, but most simply disappeared. It is widely believed that it was a case of too much, too soon. Greed was back, and people had forgotten the simple lesson of hard work.

The waves of digitisation

This first wave of digitisation can be summed up as ‘convergence’ – work and life started to converge, media started to converge, even countries started to converge as the ‘global village’ mentality was adopted. But by the mid-2000s, a new wave of ‘divergence’ was being created. The second digital revolution was characterised by hardware differentiation.

This time, new products were created to allow people to access digital content like never before. These included portable audio and video media players, PDAs (personal digital assistants), ultramobile PCs, mobile phones with internet multimedia access (smartphones), and entirely new forms of internet access such as in-store consoles, kiosks and radical surface technology. Society was again transformed in terms of technology and users, customers and organisations, and employers and employees.

A new social networking service emerges

In 2004, up popped a new social networking service called Facebook, only a year before a global video-sharing platform called YouTube was launched. Ten years after going live, Facebook has over 1.26 billion users.

If this was put in terms of country population, it would rank second globally, with only China boasting more people. And Facebook is currently banned in China, which means that country’s 1.3 billion residents are as yet untapped.

Facebook and YouTube, along with iPads, iPods, iPhones and a myriad other ‘smart’ devices and applications, have indeed revolutionised the world as we know it. There are millions of digital and data statistics we could quote here, but we’ve narrowed it down to a top 10 that we feel puts it all in perspective and highlights what impacts marketers the most:

1. Mobile

In 1982, there were 4.6 billion people in the world, with not a single mobile/cellular-phone subscriber among them. In 2013, there were seven billion people on the planet and six billion mobile-phone subscriptions, of which 73% were in the developing world (source: Are smart phones spreading faster than any technology in human history?). Yes, the world truly has gone mobile, and it’s time for marketers to incorporate this into the mix.

2. Search

Of all the traffic to the 18,000 e-commerce sites analysed on the KISSmetrics blog (source: 8 important stats), 30.5% came from organic searches on Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines.

As Google continues to update its search algorithm, it is critical for websites to not only be relevant but also to be connected and contain conversational engagement.

So have you reassessed your search strategy in the last six months? If not, then refer to the section we’ve included in this chapter specifically to help you understand Google.

3. Social

93% of marketers use social media for business (source: Social media is all about revolution). You may have dabbled in it or you may be highly proficient with it. Regardless, it’s now table stakes to be in social media from a customer service, engagement and advocacy perspective. Are you?

4. Trust

82% of buyers say they trust a company more when its CEO and senior leadership team are active in social media (source: War of words). It’s not just the hipsters and early adopters who use social media.

Consumers are demanding that all levels of business utilise it. What percentage of your business, in particular your senior leadership team, is using social media regularly?

5. Facebook

80% of Facebook users prefer to connect with brands on Facebook (source: Amazing social media statistics). While we have already mentioned social media, it’s worth reinforcing that Facebook is the killer network. Have you got a structured content calendar for your Facebook activity that maps to your business plan?

6. Online ad revenue

Online advertising revenue recently overtook TV revenue for the first time in Australian history. For the first six months of 2013, online revenue was $1.88 billion, while FTA (free-to-air) TV was $1.80 billion (source: IAB Online Advertising Expenditure Report).

This doesn’t mean that you have to spend 50% of your budget online. However, you should be assessing the effectiveness of your online spend. How are you optimising online activity every month?

7. E-commerce

E-commerce now accounts for just under US$1.3 trillion globally and involves an estimated 1.03 billion digital buyers around the world (10.3 million in Australia) (source: The Global Information Technology Report 2012). E-commerce may not be relevant to every business, but it’s still important to consider how it might be integrated into the customer experience.

8. YouTube

YouTube users upload 100 hours of new video every minute of every day (source: YouTube Statistics). This has helped give rise to the notion of ‘unstructured data’, or data that is not organised according to a predefined model/process. As the song went, ‘Video killed the radio star’.

Online video has transformed the concept of a corporate video by allowing bite-sized imagery to be created cost-effectively (and your customers make the most of this too, in user-generated content). Have you seen what Zappos has done?

9. Big data

The volume of business data across all companies is doubling approximately every 1.2 years (source: 2012 IBM Annual Report). This information tidal wave makes it easy to drown in data. How are you gleaning insights from all your data?

10. Content

Over the past three years on Facebook alone, the total number of pieces of content shared per week has increased from 3.50 billion to 33.25 billion (source: 20 mind-blowing social media statistics).

We’ve left this number until last. However, it’s possibly the number-one stat. All the digital channels and platforms are irrelevant without the relevant content. Do you have an effective content strategy and editorial calendar for your marketing activity (not just an old-fashioned promotional calendar)?

Feeling a little overwhelmed? Are you thinking, ‘Should I even bother to read on’? Well, take a deep breath and relax as we start to demystify this digital whirlwind and all the mind-numbing statistics it throws up.

In Chapter 2, we will explore how digital fits into the marketing mix and challenge the conventional thinking that regards it as being a single piece of a jigsaw puzzle. However, before you click on, let’s explore the world of search a little deeper.

Understanding Google

The title of this section is a bit of a misnomer. Very few people have a complete understanding of how Google actually does what it does, even those who work there. Various silos at Google can reveal pieces of the puzzle, but only a small number can offer detailed insights into the full, complex picture.

Google’s business model is based on revenue from advertising, and this is inextricably linked to the quality of the results that Google’s famous and incredibly complex algorithm gives. If the organic search results deliver less-than-optimum answers, then eventually Google will lose market share, and the demand and price charged for the ads around these results will both drop.

Here are a few stats to give you an idea of what is at stake here (source: By the numbers):

  • Current daily searches on Google – 30 billion per day
  • Monthly unique visitors to Google sites = 191.50 million (October 2013)
  • Google share of US search market = 66.9% (October 2013)
  • Number of URLs Google was requested to remove in September 2013 = 21.50 million
  • Drop in global web traffic when Google had a five-minute outage in August 2013 = 40%
  • Total online advertising revenue earned by Google = 33% (August 2013)

We’ll let you ponder that last figure for a few seconds …

How many of our daily tasks are not tied to the use of Google products? Even the most zealous Macophiles would have trouble avoiding the vast array of Google products and platforms. Who can conduct their business lives without Google Drive, Google Calendar, Gmail, Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools, Google Maps, Google News, Android, Chrome, the social channels (YouTube, Blogger and Google+) … and what about the big one, Google Search?

This is true market dominance. And Google’s goal is, of course, to grow this further. How will it do this? With innovation and creativity that is beyond what anyone else out there is able to match.

Your website and Google

So how does all this affect your business, and how does it inform your marketing strategy? Any business that is serious about its web presence and its online brand has to understand what Google’s requirements are. Google gets to make the rules in this space and you either step up or face less-than-positive results.

Your online business hub is your branded website – the domain that you covet and the aesthetics and attitude that you project with your investment in design and technology. In order for this hub to be universally found and accessed, it is critical to know what Google wants and what Google does not want. And make no mistake. It is very easy to stray into the ‘does not want’ sector by accident. We have all heard the stories – major brands that have suffered financial hardship due to breaching guidelines and which have spent a fair amount of time and resources trying to recover their positions.

Why is Google so uncompromising with the dishing out of non-compliance penalties? It all comes down to search quality. In other words, Google’s core business relies on delivering the best possible experience to its customers – people using search – so that it can continue to dominate internet advertising.

Because of the huge amount of potential income at stake, an entire industry has bloomed around being smart or skilful enough to circumvent the filters and to hack into the top positions for money keywords. This is a frantic game of cat and mouse – find an Achilles heel, exploit it, sell the tactic and rake in the cash. It seems that a significant number of businesses play this game, one in which they see the rewards as great and the risks as minor. But unfortunately, this is not the case. Recovery from a penalty can take six months and tens of thousands of dollars, and even then it is likely that you will not regain your previous level of search engine trust.

Google game changers

Panda update

Up until February 2011, it was relatively easy to gain top page positions for targeted keywords. You could create a video, publish an article or a press release, and write a blog post, then use software to quickly mass-submit this content to multiple sites.

Then Google rolled out the Panda update – originally referred to as the Farmer update because it targeted so-called ‘content farms’, or sites that offered little value. This caused huge ructions in the online marketing industry, as sites that had been huge drivers of business suddenly disappeared from search. Major article directories lost 90% of their traffic overnight. Many cried foul, but when you looked at the quality of the content on these sites, it was crystal clear that they were being used to manipulate the SERPs (search engine results pages). Even Seth Godin’s Squidoo got hammered by this ‘clip-on’ algorithm, as it too fell into the content farm category.

But Google’s Search Quality Team (also known as the Webspam Team) had much more in its sights. There is still some debate about exactly what the various incarnations of Panda honed in on, but here are a few of the more accepted targets:

  • Content farms – too much low-quality, duplicated content
  • Not enough content ‘above the fold’ (refers to what can be seen when a web page first loads, without having to scroll down)
  • Thin content or pages with no content
  • Multiple pages saying much the same thing
  • Too many ads above the fold
  • Machine-generated content
  • Multiple affiliate links

Over time, it became clear that many technical aspects of search optimisation had fallen out of favour. Accidental duplication, crawl errors, server issues and international SEO (search engine optimisation) concerns started to become more problematic as each of the Panda updates was rolled out. These were the first of many signs that it was no longer OK to develop a website and go live without consulting an SEO specialist.

The big directories have never recovered their previous positions of authority because Google does not see these sites as having any value. Of course, in the wake of the Panda updates, people were still able to find loopholes and perform hacks to build authority and a presence for particular websites. But the respite would not last long. Google was working on something much bigger than Panda.

Penguin update

Although the head of Google’s Search Quality Team, Matt Cutts, had telegraphed that something big was coming at various search marketing events in early 2012, the Penguin update still sent a shock wave through the world of search marketing when it launched in April that year.

Websites large and small were flung to the outer reaches of search results, and in many cases disappeared from search altogether. There was plenty of speculation about what was called ‘an over-optimisation penalty’, but very few people realised the scope of what was happening. It took another couple of versions of Penguin to be released before it became apparent what had been hit:

  • Paid links, including advertorials
  • Too many exact-match keyword anchor text links
  • Too many links from low-quality sites (as a percentage of overall links)
  • Paid blog networks
  • Comment spam
  • Anything deemed to be a ‘link scheme’

Penguin went to the heart of manipulative techniques and successfully shifted the focus from ‘link building’ to ‘link earning’. Unfortunately, it also created an opportunity for negative SEO, where a large number of low-quality links are directed at a competing site in order to get it penalised. Various SEO forums, including ‘black hat’ SEO discussions (‘black hat’ refers to aggressive SEO strategies that focus on a quick financial return), have suggested that this is not an uncommon practice.

Other Google spam targets

Over the past couple of years, Google has made a number of other moves against webspam and manipulation.

The Page Layout update targeted thin content above the fold coupled with too many ads (ironically, Google’s own search results layout violates this update!). The Exact Match Domain update was supposed to shoot down low-quality sites that were ranking purely due to a keyword in the domain name, though the jury is still out on whether this update had much of an impact on the practice. The DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) penalty was created for sites with repeat copyright violations (funnily enough, YouTube continued unscathed). Google also sent out thousands of ‘Unnatural link’ warnings via Webmaster Tools, and then proceeded to announce that these may not have been a problem after all. Throughout, Google has been on a seek-and-destroy mission, identifying link schemes and banning the primary sites, then penalising everyone linked to them.

To demonstrate the power of Matt Cutts and his Search Quality Team, the Google browser Chrome was removed from Google Search for the phrase ‘browser’ for 60 days for violating guidelines. The team at Chrome had compensated bloggers for talking about Chrome, which fell into the category of ‘paid links’. Even Google Maps was removed from search at one stage for being ‘too spammy’. Can you imagine the glares directed across the Google cafe tables at these times?

Recently we have also had the Pigeon update which has caused some serious difficulties for companies in “local SEO” and we have had the Pirate update which targets piracy and led to a 98% reduction in visibility of torrent sites like Pirate Bay.

There was also the HTTPS/SSL update which offered increased performance for “safe” websites. In the rush by many to take advantage of this change several high profile sites had less than positive results. Buffer lost 90% of their traffic for several days until Google found a “bug” which returned them to their previous rankings.

Google is not, however, all about combating webspam. If the company did not also continually innovate, it would perish in this fast-moving space.

Search innovations

Google is continually refining and maximising the effectiveness of its search engine. Indeed, it has implemented many innovations over the past few years.

In August 2009, Caffeine was launched. This was a new architecture created to cope with the speed with which information was arriving from social media platforms, particularly Facebook and Twitter. It enabled Google to surface fresher results and allowed the index update time to be shortened substantially.

The Knowledge Graph was another huge innovation, one that has become a familiar feature of search results pages. This was the beginning of semantic search and signalled increased intelligence in judging searcher intent based on a range of criteria, including context. The Knowledge Graph takes information from a number of sources, including Wikipedia and, interestingly, the CIA’s World Factbook. It allows the search engine to display responses to a range of queries without the searcher needing to navigate to another page for the answer.

This all lined up with the assertion by Google’s Amit Singhal that search needed to:

  • answer
  • converse
  • anticipate

It was further confirmed with the incremental launch of “Answer boxes”. These offer instant answers at the top of search results that take away the need for a searcher to click through to websites. There are well over 100 search types that will trigger an Answer box including any search around the weather, how tall is…?, how far is…?, how old is…?, sports results, calculators for converting a number of measurements and many, many more.

An interesting answer box appears if you type in “the answer to life the universe and everything” which will appeal to fans of “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

These answer boxes have led to some consternation and a good example why is Government weather sites who now have to pay for a position with Adwords to appear at the top above the large answer box. The drop in traffic when the weather answer box was launched must have been frightening.

Following this evolution, sometime around August 2013, came the comprehensive refurbishment of Google’s algorithm and the soft launch of a new animal named Hummingbird, so named because it was very fast and very accurate. But this wasn’t merely a new version of Caffeine. Hummingbird had other objectives in mind – most significantly, future-proofing.

Hummingbird anticipates the dominance of mobile devices and the move towards ‘voice search’ as the primary search function. It is a major shift away from keyword-based search behaviour. It is about a real conversational search in that a user can ask, in a full question, exactly what they want and then continue the conversation without referencing the original request. This is made possible due to the update’s advanced abilities around context, history and behaviour. It means that a question like ‘How old is it?’ has meaning to the software, which interprets intent.

Pretty cool stuff! And how about prompts like ‘OK Google’ to get the ball rolling?

Here we have a search engine that is a big part of the daily experience of much of the world’s population and which is predicting the future (Google Glass and Google Cars), delivering innovation to grow its multimarket domination.

But what does all this technobabble mean for your online business presence? Well, it means you have to grasp the opportunity afforded to you.

Post–Hummingbird content strategy

Content may already have been King, but we will have to find an even higher position for it in the aftermath of Hummingbird.

Panda and Penguin spelled the end of cheap tactics and ushered in the era of strategy in SEO. Everything Google is working towards is completely reliant on quality.

Low quality = low satisfaction.

Frequent low satisfaction = time to look at options.

And in our increasingly impatient world, market share can be lost in days, not weeks.

For business, this is both an opportunity and a conundrum. It requires a complete reassessment of resourcing. It requires a commitment to investment in content creation and also expertise in content optimisation and promotion. It requires a big investment in time, as training, education, workshops, schedules and deadlines have become important parts of the strategy. And it requires investment in top-level staff or partners with expertise in the many digital disciplines. The rewards for such investment, however, are significant.

Understanding the key elements of content, those that drive engagement, sharing, advocacy and attraction, is the first step towards increased revenue and brand presence. This is at the core of inbound marketing – delivering expertise and value to such a high degree that your prospective clients or customers are falling over each other to buy from you or work with you.

The traditional branding and marketing principles are still important:

  • Who are our customers?
  • How do we help them?
  • How are we different to our competitors?
  • Who are the people who can help promote our message?
  • What is our story?

Then it comes down to how generous you are with your expertise and how well-thought-out is your engagement strategy. Consultants/agencies will always need to demonstrate a high level of leadership, creativity and expertise. The difficulty can lie in letting go of the concept of intellectual property: What if our competitors use this information? What if our clients do? What if we make it all sound so intuitive that we are diminishing the value of our services?

There are boundaries, of course, but overall, the demonstration of expertise will do nothing but put your business front-of-mind when potential clients are looking for the service you offer. Consistently build on this expertise presence and you will drive demand across a range of offerings.

Companies that sell physical products also need to understand what their markets are most interested in, and often it will not be the companies themselves or even their products. Coca-Cola recently launched a content strategy based on a huge amount of research and testing. A website was developed to embrace a new model, the ‘Coca Cola Journey’. It was all about storytelling and engagement, with the emphasis on actioning consumer feedback. There were some surprising inclusions, such as background on Coca-Cola marketing campaigns and information about jobs in the company. But the main focus was on elements that were prominent in the research results, such as music, lifestyle and food.

These are the key characteristics of effective content:

  • It must be what your target market is looking for – in this sense, it is solutions-based.
  • It must be of high quality.
  • It must be interesting/entertaining/informative.
  • It must speak in a voice that your market understands.
  • It must be unique/innovative.

And this is critically important:

  • It must reach the target market.

Amplification of content

Too often we see blogs where there is almost no engagement, no sharing and very few actual views. In other words, there is no strategy. Without a content promotion strategy that identifies the potential channels for amplifying your content, you are wasting valuable time and resources.

Here are a few of the crucial elements of such a strategy:

  • SEO – metadata, URL optimisation and heading tags
  • Content structure – what appears where and how you improve the UX (user experience)
  • Social media promotion schedule – the correct frequency for multiple platforms
  • Newsletter and list promotion – email marketing
  • Influencer and network outreach – crucial people through whom to extend your reach
  • Technical promotion – pinging and URL submission for speed of indexing
  • Offline promotion – trade press, press releases and PR
  • Interested organisations – more outreach

This is also where a highly developed social media presence pays dividends. Developing a tuned-in audience through various social media channels affords your content great reach. But this is not just about numbers. Accounts we have analysed that have had some of the biggest numbers of likes, followers and connections have also had some of the lowest engagement figures.

Having big numbers is only part of the picture. There are other, equally important issues to address. How are you giving value to these networks? What are you doing to build relationships with potential customers/clients, collaborators and advocates? What are you doing to increase brand visibility and seek out influencers to engage with? What is your strategy for engagement on trade sites?

It is just not useful to set up multiple social media accounts if your strategy does not address all of the above engagement factors. The result of this lack of focus will be the impression that your brand is not popular or that it is inept. Either of these can be damaging, so it is critical to get things right.

When we look at four of the most popular social media platforms, it quickly becomes apparent that separate strategies are required for each of them.

The Facebook paradox

Facebook is the largest of the social networks, but it can be difficult for B2B companies to gain traction here. Aspirational, FMCGs (fast-moving consumer goods), fashion and music all work very well here, and their effectiveness can be increased with the various paid options Facebook offers. Boosted posts and PPC (pay-per-click) ads, for instance, will allow you to reach large numbers of people, grow your likes and drive up engagement. However, there is quite a big divide between what Facebook Insights reports and what Google Analytics says is the reality about clicks on links.

Anecdotally, it seems that Facebook currently inflates the figures around website visitors to increase the desire for further promotional spend. In one case, Insights reported 200+ clicks on a blog post link, yet Analytics recorded just 25 visitors from Facebook on the same day. And we don’t think that Google Analytics is underreporting, so …

The targeting features in boosted posts also seem to be fairly random. Choosing specific countries and interests seems to get content in front of people who are completely unrelated to the targeting – boosting to your fans and their friends would seem to be a bit more reliable.

But, in the end, the spend does bring an overall increase in visitors from Facebook. And the popularity of the content does have a positive effect on organic visitor numbers.

Welcome to LinkedIn

LinkedIn is going from strength to strength, and it would be unwise for key people in any organisation to not have a solid presence here. It has morphed from an employment-related site, where everyone hung their CVs, to a powerful content and engagement channel.

Content placed here has the potential to reach a large number of relevant people, and the level of conversation is increasing all the time. But as with all social strategies, it is not a good idea to be overly self-promotional. This is about giving value in the range of content shared and contributing in a generous way to discussions that relate to your areas of expertise. LinkedIn Groups are the most effective areas for these contributions, as they remove a layer of brand advocacy that many on LinkedIn are a little wary of. Regular, helpful contributions demonstrate expertise and leadership and serve to improve personal brand presence.

LinkedIn Company Pages are still a little tentative unless your brand has high visibility generally. I am guessing that this will be on LinkedIn’s radar in the near future, though, as many Company Pages get to a certain stage of growth related to encouraging employees to follow the page, and then the enthusiasm for sharing content there gradually diminishes. And as you can’t connect with individuals with a Company Page, this somewhat limits the potential for higher reach.

The addition of LinkedIn publishing has created a very useful new channel and having content published here has the ability to get in front of a lot of people. Click-through is also very good and has led to very good website visitor results.

Unfortunately with a feature like this, there is no barrier to entry and the steady rise of low quality content has meant fewer views for the high quality posts.

High-speed Twitter

Twitter is the fastest and probably the most complex of all the social channels. It benefits from having a large number of followers, and high engagement is shown quite clearly in Analytics visitor numbers. It does require a consistent effort, though. Fortunately, a range of social scheduling tools can assist in managing the regular posting of valuable content.

Because of Twitter’s structure, it is quite OK to post multiple times every day, and some level of repetition is acceptable. On publication, you can schedule a new tweet to be shared more than once on the first day and can repeat it over the next few days – assuming, that is, you are following the unwritten rule of sharing more content from other people than from yourself.

Because the feed on Twitter moves so rapidly, this is a great platform on which to hone your short-copy skills. It also encourages constant testing and learning: How do you get noticed? What types of titles get the best click-through rates? What topics are the most popular?

Twitter is also a brilliant customer service channel. People will expect an answer or a response fairly quickly, though, so you will have to resource this accordingly, with constant monitoring.

Is Google+ an echo chamber?

This is the social channel that is the least understood. Google has announced usage figures that put Google+ second behind Facebook for active users, but this is a little disingenuous. Every time someone logs into Gmail or uses a Google product, the Google+ page appears in the menu, and this is seen as an ‘active’ user. So let’s ignore the hyperbole and concentrate on the benefits.

Google+ is Google’s great social media hope, and so the company has given users some pretty useful advantages. Firstly, the links from Google+ are ‘dofollow’, which means that they count towards site authority. Dofollow is a tag that tells search engines they can use the link to go to the destination page and that they can allow PageRank to flow to the destination site (‘nofollow’, on the other hand, tells search engines they should not follow the link or pass PageRank).

Google recently removed Authorship which added the author’s image and numbers in circles to the search results. These were so successful in attracting clicks however that it is suspected that these were removed due to a drop in paid Adwords clicks.

The usefulness of Author Rank is still being debated. While there does not currently appear to be any weighting on this, the influence of an author and the value of their network will have a bearing on search result presence at some stage (Google holds the patent for Author Rank). We are already starting to see data that backs up the notion that interaction with influential users is having an effect on how well posts are ranking. Google+ influencers do primarily operate in tech-related industries, but this dominance should dissipate as more and more people from other vertical markets grasp the benefits.

The evolution of content strategy

Over the past couple of years, content strategy has come of age. This largely has been driven by Google’s need for as much high-quality content as possible, as well as the series of safeguards discussed earlier that inhibit the ability of low-quality pages to gain high SERPs.

The best way to attract a completely natural link profile is to create exceptional content and to give comprehensive value. The days of posting frequent short blogs are over (unless you are Seth Godin). What is needed now is complete and exhaustive research and documentation. With Google’s recent addition of ‘in-depth articles’, the bar has been raised for content length and quality.

Recent data has confirmed the relationship between increased social shares / pageviews and content length. Analysis of the TrinityP3 blog has shown that the sweet spot on this site lies around the 1500–2000-word mark. Posts in this range achieve significantly higher figures in both the aforementioned metrics.

This raises various questions concerning resourcing:

  • If you want to publish regularly, how do you resource the 5+ hours needed to create each post?
  • How many authors will be contributing?
  • Will you use expert pieces from individuals who are outside your organisation (rather than random guest posts for the benefit of SEO)?
  • As the business achieves the targeted growth figures, how will this resourcing be managed?
  • Who will perform the role of managing editor or content director?
  • Who will drive the selection of topics and the creative and design aspects of the posts?
  • What are the key metrics that will demonstrate success?

And content has evolved in a number of other ways:

  • Correct content optimisation is now paramount.
  • Metadata must be handled carefully so that every opportunity to engage is taken. Titles are the hook – they must be appealing or compelling enough to gain instant attention. Meta descriptions must summarise the theme and have a call-to-action. This call-to-action does not have to be a generic ‘read more here’ but can be much more strategic. Asking questions, being provocative and tapping into emotions are all ways to optimise click-throughs.
  • The correct heading structure will allow readers to scan for key points. It will also persuade the visitor to investigate in more detail or will help them navigate to the specific solution they are seeking.
  • Grouping content by relevant categories helps guide readers to more information on their particular field of interest.
  • The use of images, GIFs, graphs, diagrams, videos and drawings all add to the UX and help break up the text.
  • The art of copywriting has been elevated. Those with the skills to bridge the divide between informal and professional, warm and informative, engaging and instructional, are in high demand. Shorter sentences and paragraphs that speak directly to the reader increase time on page and build the connection.
  • Technical compliance has become very important. The correct use of Open Graph and heading tags, the elimination of duplication, a good URL structure, the optimisation of images – these issues and more should be checked off before you hit the publish button.
  • UX has also grown in importance. Larger font sizes, white space, ease of navigation and overall great design have really jumped to the fore.
  • CRO (conversion rate optimisation) is likewise becoming an important element of content. This refers to gaining increases in the desired actions through a focus on testing buttons, colours, navigation, calls-to-action, copy, layout and more.

The most crucial element, though, is value:

  • Who is the content going to help?
  • What is the solution that the content is offering?
  • Will the reader be satisfied that the solution is trustworthy and easy to understand?

The three pillars of a succes