SEO’s Outer Appearance Finally Resembles Its Inner Working

Were you involved in the online marketing world back in 2010? Earlier? Ever as recently as a couple of years ago, actually, the strategies that were considered surefire paths to SEO domination were completely different from what they are today.

Interestingly enough, however, Google was saying the exact same things about how you should try and rank a website then as they are now: Provide detailed, relevant, helpful content, network naturally with others, and Google would notice.

Unfortunately, their desired reality just wasn’t the case for most marketers. Hitting the top of search results meant putting in the hours to create backlinks, make sure the anchor text of your links matched the phrases you wanted to rank for, etc. These practices were considered spammy by Google, but they worked… and so people kept right on doing them.

Now, however, Google has finally caught up with its own mantra, and since early 2014 those adhering to old school link building practices are probably walking away a little disappointed.

For Google, it’s a win.

For us marketers, it makes things more complicated, but it’s a win as well.

Right now, SEO is actually simpler than it has ever been, but it’s not easier. That is to say, there’s a lot of work involved, but the work you put in is more valuable to all parties involved now.

In fact, pages are ranking fairly easily for many website owners now, provided they do a great job of providing content. A key component now is Google’s paying attention to social media cues when determining how much of a buzz a page is creating, and therefore how many people find it interesting and useful.

Right now, you can create a page and be ranking on Google within a couple of hours, provided your piece catches social media fire and gets shared around.

Of course, that means you’ve got to come up with something really good. Honestly, though, this can only serve to elevate the level of content that gets produced, as webmasters will be able to spend more time focusing on creating really useful, interesting content for their sites instead of focusing on the post-care SEO of creating countless backlinks.

In order to win, then, you need to be onboard with this new thinking. In fact, if you’re still working within the old framework of SEO, you’re likely going to see more problems than benefits. Sites are constantly being penalized and thrown into the SERPs abyss because they have tried to game a system that has always been about staying one step ahead of those trying to game it (and a goal they’ve finally achieved).

Will SEO professionals still have specific strategies you can take to give your site a leg up?

Absolutely.

Will they work? Probably, but you need to think of SEO best practices these days as a side dish, because there is no longer a substitute for the main dish of hard work creating genuinely awesome pages for Google to crawl.

What Did We Learn from the Ice Bucket Challenge from a Marketing Perspective

So now that the ice bucket challenge craze has died down, and we’ve had a few minutes to not be frightened by every video we see of our friends and family pouring water on their heads lest they say our names, it’s time to analyze the social phenomenon. As any successful internet marketer can tell you, everything that happens on social media is related to marketing, whether we choose to see it or not. So even if you think the ice bucket challenge has nothing to do with how you make your living, think again. 

Here are some key points to take away from the ice bucket challenge while you’re setting up your next social media marketing campaign. These tips will help you achieve a higher level of virality, though probably not as high as seeing Hollywood’s celebrities dump your product over their heads!

 

Low Participation Barriers are Key

People want to participate in online challenges and events. They want to be part of the trend and they don’t want to have to buy any crazy ingredients to do so. What was so brilliant about the ice bucket challenge? It took ice, water, a bucket and a camera to participate. It’s safe to assume that the population of people who frequent social media has access to ice and water free of charge. It’s also fairly likely that they have a bucket around. And a camera? Name the last phone you saw that didn’t have a video camera.

Takeaway: If you want people to participate in your social media marketing campaign, make it easy for them to do so. The less friction there is between initial contact and participation, the more people will engage. Throw in some forms to fill out, specific sites to upload the videos to or an entry fee and the ice bucket challenge is a failure.

 

Self-Promoting Mechanisms Work via Social Invitations

The “challenge” aspect of the ice bucket event was brilliant. This plays right into peer pressure, with your friends and family looking “directly” at you from the camera and calling your name out. To drive the point home, they tag you in their post and everyone knows that you’ve been called out. You have to respond or you’re a horrible person who wants people to die! (Okay, not really, but that’s how it seems!)

Takeaway: Any marketing campaign where people are sharing the idea of their own free will, directly with other people is a winner. You don’t have to do anything to spread the campaign; it does it on its own. Keep in mind that the ice bucket challenge was initially only a three-person challenge, meaning you aren’t calling out a whole crowd of people. This makes it much harder to “hide” or get lost in a sea of tagged names. You’re in the spotlight and you must perform (or be shamed on social media), thus spreading the campaign once again.

 

Pay Attention to the Time Frame

There are two interesting factors built into the ice bucket challenge that have to do with time, both of which play directly into the success of the campaign. First, the urgency that is created through the issuing of the challenge, you have 24 hours to complete the challenge or you have to donate $100 to ALS. Now, forgetting the fact that people are dumping ice water over their head to avoid donating money to a good cause, focus on the fact that a deadline for action has been set, urgency created. Second, think about how short these videos are, 60 seconds was the longest one I saw and that was from a self-professed camera hog. Keep the content short and fun (yes, I do want to see some of my family members drenched in water and screaming, call me sadistic) and you’ll be successful.

 

Takeaway: Timing is important in that you:

1) Create a sense of urgency by building in a timetable during which the participants must act or face consequences AND

2) Keep the campaign short, sweet and fun.

Small Things You Can Do To Make Your Clients Go Wild

So you’ve got your business up and running, whether that means freelance consulting, promoting affiliate products, or running a monetized online community, things are on the up and up. However, you know there’s lots of other, more established competitors in your space… so how do you stand out and convince customers that switching to you is a no-brainer? Well, here are a few proven ways to overdeliver in the digital age.

1. Collect feedback. With the amount of survey tools out there, or the ability to, you know, send an email message, it’s incredibly important that you start listening to what your customers are saying. Early on, this can be as simple as asking them in a post-sale or ideally post-service email what they thought of your service, and if they have anything they would improve.

This serves two purposes: First, it’s going to help you identify people who are really keen on your brand or product, and who might be good candidates to become your affiliates, etc. Starting out, you might just let them know that if they enjoyed working with you, you’d love to send some kind of reward their way if they find a few people to refer to you. These gifts don’t have to be anything expensive, but the gesture is often appreciated and the potential to help you grow is huge.

2. Have a personality. Seriously, for the same reason people vote for political candidates based on how they look, or how they generally “feel” about them, interactions and perception go a long way in purchase decisions. Plus, this is actually something you have a huge advantage at over your larger rivals: When a company has 37 different support agents to help with their massive customerbase, they can’t offer the same kind of repeat interactions or treatment that you can as an individual. Smart companies on the rise use the technique of overdelivering in the personalization and customer support department to win clients from their competitors. It’s not a bad strategy for entrepreneurs and online marketers, etiher.

3. Connect with them via social media as a person, not a brand. This is an interesting one. Now more than ever, people like to know who they’re doing business with, because they can. Social media has greatly raised expectations of interaction and transparency, to the point that even massive brands make sure they have a presence actively chat with those who mention them.

As an individual entrepreneur, you have the unique opportunity to let people know the person who wants to do business with them. This goes hand in hand with point number two about having a personality. Let people Snapchat with you in your off-hours, post Instagram pictures of your work days as they progress. The Facebook page for your freelancing or brand can be a place that people not only get to know you better through written posts, but when you can foster community through asking discussion questions and special offers.

Remember that your biggest weakness, being small and up against long-standing competition, is also your biggest asset, because it makes you more agile than anyone else (and your clients will remember that).

Visual Storytelling as a Means for Conveying Data without Falling Asleep

3 in 10 of the 3.4568% of all top-20 ranked Final Five finishers have all…hello? Okay, just checking to see if you’re still awake. Data has a way of putting people to sleep, not literally, but more of a “mental check out.” Data can be mind-numbing, even if the story that the numbers are telling is mind-blowing. Unless you have a real love for numbers and hard data crunching, chances are you’d rather have the information presented to you in a more amiable manner.

Your customers are no different. Sure, they do care that your service or product can increase their profit by 15% over the next 3 months if the quarterly return on their initial investment is plus or minus 5% (adjusting for a 2.5% margin of error), but they don’t want to read this sentence to find that out, I didn’t even want to write it!

 

Using Visual Storytelling to Compel and Inform

One of the easiest ways to get around this problem is to practice what we call, Visual Storytelling. The art of Visual Storytelling isn’t really a mystery, instead of telling a story with words, use a visual reference to get the point across. Perhaps the simplest visual cue that lends itself to data and numbers is the standard pie charts and line graphs we all grew to love in elementary school math class.

Still, as boring or standard as they might seem, it’s much more visually compelling to look at a line graph that goes way, way up rather than looking at something like this:

* 1/04/12 – 25.5%
* 5/28/12 – 28.5%
* 8/23/12 – 32.6%
* 10/2/12 – 41.8%
* 12/25/12 – 53.5%
* 1/29/13 – 69.1%

That’s a lot of information to take in, even if it is pretty simple to look at the right column and notice that the numbers are going up. But it’s still much easier to see a line graph shooting up through the roof showing profits and gains going up. Further, a line graph will get some points across better than data can. For instance, unless you have a real head for numbers and a keen eye, you probably didn’t notice that the rate the percentage above was going up increased drastically as time went on. Whereas the first percentage jump was 3%, it was followed by approximate jumps of 4%, 9%, 12% and 15%. And did you factor in the different dates? Of course not! That’s too much data to grasp just looking at numbers!

 

Infographics are Visual Storytelling Aids that Work

Of course, as mentioned, line graphs and pie charts are rather basic, so it’s a good idea to combine them into infographics. Infographics can have a number of different mediums for visual storytelling, all combined into one big sharable chart. They can also have blurbs next to the chart to get your main point across, giving you a simple, short and sweet way to explain your content and data without hitting people over the head with numbers and analysis. Of course, sometimes you need to do that, so don’t let this stop you, but thinking of alternative (and more viral) ways to get your point across is always helpful.

 

A good thing to keep in mind when relating data and stats to customers is that it doesn’t have to be boring just because it is informative. For example, you can have some humorous content in the infographics or even tie the data into something more lighthearted. For example, maybe your product increased sales for a specific brand at the same time reruns of the Big Bang Theory started airing on Channel 5. The point is, make your numbers more fun while still getting the point across.