SEO content marketing roundup, week ending May 30th

In the classic words of Steve Martin: let’s get small! In this week’s latest and greatest Web writing news, small business owners are given much attention by both content and SEO/search marketers, Google once again slips in an update over a holiday weekend, and the social media community discusses Facebook and the state of their industry. Get ready to get small with this week’s web gems…

Content Marketing

Heather Lloyd-Martin’s top five posts addressing the common challenges faced by the small business freelance copywriter are at SEO Copywriting.

Neil Patel shares eight “marketing twists” to make your small business stand out at QuickSprout.

“5 of the Most Important Content & Social Media Tips For A Successful Business Blog” are shared by Lee Odden at Top Rank.

Contently posts an article by Kylie Jane Wakefield on the critical importance of images for your content, with “Your Content Is Sunk Without Good Photos.”

Seth Godin discusses the art of B2B sales with “A hierarchy of business to business needs.”

Heidi Cohen posts “Three Content Super Powers that Will Transform Your Social Media, Search, and Sales” at Content Marketing Institute.

Katie Fetting-Schlerf discusses the conversion challenges of the old-school marketing technique, AIDA, in the internet age at SEO Copywriting.


SEO & Search

Jonathan Allen discusses “why small businesses are completely at a loss as to what constitutes ‘ethical’ SEO” with “SEO, Why You Are Doing it Wrong” at Search Engine Watch.

While the rest of us (in the U.S.) were giving it a break over the holiday weekend, Google pushed out what it claims to be their first Penguin algorithm update, reports Matt McGee at Search Engine Land.

Gabriella Sannino posts the delightful and most relevant “Penguin, Penguin, Who’s Got the Penguin? Let’s Throw a Link At It…” at Level 343.

Yo! Yo! SEO’s Dana Lookadoo shares her story on integrating social media and education with word-of-mouth/conversational SEO in an in-depth interview at SEO Copywriting.

Alan Bleiweiss posts “Another Black Hat Company Caught Selling Links” with a surprise (?) ending at Search Engine Journal.

Ian Lurie exemplifies how his company does SEO proposals (admittedly forgoing his usual sarcasm) at Portent.

The new “Lead SEO” at SEOmoz, Ruth Burr, describes “how [she] rolls” with her introductory post, “SEO Isn’t Magic – So Stop Doing SEO Tricks.”


Social Media Marketing

In her 4th Quarter edition of her website cleanup series, Lyena Solomon discusses the social audit atNetSprinter.

Denny Hatch posts “Saving Facebook (A Business Plan for Mark Zuckerberg to Save Face)” atTarget Marketing Magazine.

Pamela Vaughan posts “Facebook Study Shows Brand Related Posts Drive Highest Engagement” atHubSpot.

Matt McGee reports on’s overhaul and social networking ambitions at Marketing Land.

Brian Solis posts “From Co-creation to Collaboration: 5 pillars for business success.”

Jeff Bullas posts a video interview with Brian Solis on “The State of Social Media in 2012,” conducted by Maria Petrescu of




Top 5 Worst Practices in Paid Search

There is a saying in advertising: “Clients change agencies like they change {keyword: socks or underwear}.”

The reality is a little less volatile, given that familiarity and relationships often prevail in business, usually for the right reasons.

A better analogy – when things are going absolutely awry – is tectonic plates crunching together, or ice caps melting in the North: disaster may not happen today or tomorrow, but there is a certain inevitability to the outcome. When service levels and performance levels remain low for an extended period of time, eventually clients shop around and make the switch.

If you study the switching activity, there’s a remarkable consistency to clients’ fundamental beefs with their existing agencies. I’ll review five big ones here.

No one’s perfect, so this isn’t about nitpicking. I happen to think that service providers generally over-deliver in many subtle ways in this impersonal world. The best act like linchpins – becoming part of the family, and waking up in the night thinking about account performance and strategies. Long-term relationships have important roles to play in business performance.

From direct observation as well as anecdotal evidence, here are five acutely unacceptable practices; reasons clients often give for switching from their “worst-practices” PPC service provider.

  1. The client doesn’t get to own their own account. This one is actually often more of a symptom of a low-service level rather than a direct cause of contention. When clients get a nagging feeling they could be doing better, and want to have a look inside their accounts, that’s when the trouble starts. They’re not allowed in. Turns out they aren’t going to get access to their account, ever. The agency now owns much of the client’s critical business data.I can understand why some agencies have cooked up this model. It prevents clients from free riding; if they want to take the campaign in-house prematurely, for example, they’ll have to go it alone, without the campaigns built and tested by the agency. But the problem with this model is that it lowers the overall level of trust, collaboration, and ultimately, account performance.The best antidote to this is simply a contract that includes a clause stating the account data is the client’s intellectual property. And, of course, the client – not the agency – owns the root account credentials.

    Regardless of who owns what, business relationships typically won’t work unless there’s a climate of mutual trust.

  2. Extreme incompetence (display network). When I read “The Black Swan” by Nassim Taleb, I was convinced that rare and cataclysmic “black swan events” were more the purview of the financial markets – especially bets on complex derivatives – than anything that could happen inside an advertising auction. Unfortunately, some campaign managers find a way to create them in spite of the many safety mechanisms and optimization methods available to them. What’s the point of detailed optimization, frequent meetings, and meticulously prepared reports if something like 25 percent of the spend gets chewed up on boneheaded experiments or simple lack of knowledge of how these complex systems work?The display networks (such as the Automatic Placements you can run in Google AdWords campaigns) are increasingly impressive in terms of potential performance. But they won’t discern for you if the list of matching publishers is creating inappropriate leads for your software download, from countries and demographics that are more into gaming and hacks than corporate security solutions. There are so many ins and outs to the network these days, that it takes experience to address it properly. A classic mistake is to bid low because it’s “safer.” Low bids typically match you up with low-quality publishers who, amazingly, manage to deliver tons of useless traffic.
  3. Extreme incompetence (keyword intent). Many agencies come from a “media buy” background and are more than willing to try boneheaded keyword experiments just to address a big swath of imaginary potential customers. Whoops, in many cases the keyword is very specific to something entirely different the user wants, such as something related to an enormously popular competitor’s brand name (something our client spotted its sister company doing last week through a clueless campaign manager, wasting $20,000 on a “fun experiment” in two days). Whoops, your landing page is so irrelevant it literally offends people. The bounce rate is through the roof. Quality scores plummet. The wasted funds on a single keyword could have paid for several months’ worth of good service from a top-drawer manager.
  4. Outsourcing to Google. Google provides great resources. By consulting Google as one professional to another, an advertiser, agency, or manager can walk away with potential insights and support to apply to the overall effort. Don’t just take Google’s word for it, though. Shouldn’t this be obvious? Try this: enable the column for effective CPM in the AdWords reporting. Then try to imagine how Google feels about that number. Does Google cringe when you figure out how to get it lower, for the same quality of traffic? Is Google high-fiving when it’s sky-high; too high? You should always be aiming for KPIs that are either directly or indirectly related to ROI. Googlers may talk about your ROI to be polite, but it doesn’t really affect them or Google. What affects them is average CPMs on Google Search across all keywords, across all countries, across all users. By and large, Google isn’t going to be upset if you take its half-baked optimization suggestions and wind up overpaying for clicks. Sure, Google wants you to be happy, but as a strong second option, it’ll take “blissfully ignorant.” A PPC practitioner that is too deferential to Google – especially where it comes to deciding what traffic you buy, and how – is a practitioner you should fire.
  5. Just a white label, not a dedicated marketing agency. Trusted brands in industries like web hosting naturally have call centers, recurring billing systems, and people who can sound vaguely technical enough that they’re on top of your account. They can facelessly send you a pretty-looking automated report. But they probably commit one or more of the above worst practices, particularly No. 1. If you don’t get to work with an identifiable professional who works at an actual marketing agency that specializes in SEM, then all you’re left with is a call center, a recurring bill, a few buzzwords, and a report that you can’t put much faith in. And don’t be fooled if the company is “AdWords Certified” or any other type of certified. While they may be indicative of some level of commitment and a modicum of skill, these certifications amount to little more than studying for and writing relatively easy exams. They say little about the track record for real-world optimization, strategy, and commitment to long-term client service.


5 of the Most Important Content & Social Media Tips For A Successful Business Blog

business blogging

The tendency for corporate marketers and their agencies to chase shiny social objects seems to be manifesting as conflicting trends in the usefulness of social media for business. Companies that execute their social media marketing tactics poorly often conclude the channel doesn’t work. A good example is the “corporate blogging is dying” story which contrasts with a study that shows blogging is thesecond most effective B2B lead generation tactic.

I’ve always said that tools are only as good as the skills of the people using them and the moving target of social savvy customers along with a rapidly evolving social web make social media marketing skills acquisition a bit tricky. I think part of the answer to the distracted approach to social media marketing efforts like corporate blogging could be arrested by mastering these basics.

If I were only to give 5 content marketing tips to a company that wanted to get the most for and from its customers through blogging, here are the tips I’d give:

1. Customer. Problem. Solution. 
Gather information related to what your target audience wants, likes and needs related to your industry, company, products and services.  Develop key value propositions about what your blog will stand for and the things your blog will solve for those people the business is trying to reach.

The mistake many companies make is to either talk solely about themselves, their products and services or worse: to never talk about themselves, their own products and services. A balance is the key and the trick is to find that balance for your own situation.

The “customer” for your blog need not be limited to people who buy. Other audience considerations include the people who influence buyers but may never be buyers themselves, journalists, other bloggers, industry analysts, business and marketing partners, existing customers, current employees and potential employees. What problems will content published on a blogging platform solve for them that will also help advance your business?

2. Define the Topics.
Once you’ve decided on goals, audience and key value propospitions the blog will communicate, the next step towards constructing a great corporate blogging plan is to identify the topics. The outcome of this exercise is the start of your blog editorial plan. Some inspiration and long tail definition for topics can come from a SEO Keyword Glossary and the Social Media Topics Glossary.

In fact, any content or media produced and promoted through a business blog should be leveraging SEO best practices. Being visible through search as well as sharable through social networks is a powerful combination. Download a free XLS file for keyword glossary and editorial plan here.

As a company gets more advanced in their content marketing, an editorial approach for specific customer segments and their sales cycle can be developed as outlined in this workshop from my presentation at Fusion Marketing Experience.

3. What’s the Story? Plan the Narrative.
Storytelling is one of the things that’s most often missing in many SEO-centric efforts towards blogging. Without an underlying story that connects what the business stands for with satisfying target audience information needs, the business blogging effort becomes more mechanical than meaningful.

Planning topics for specific audiences is great, but tying them together through a themed content plan, topics and keywords is even better. That means a story expressed through text, images, audio, video, interactive applications and any other content or media that can deliver the customer/brand experience in a meaningful way.

4. Attract & Grow Your Audience.
One of the most effective models for business blogging and community development uses a hub. We like a hub and spoke model of content marketing and social network engagement which allows for a deep, topical repository of knowledge to be supported by a constellation of social networks and other channels of content sharing.

As part of the ongoing business blogging effort, it’s important to factor in time to participate on other blogs and social networks with resources and links that point back to useful information on the brand’s blog. Many online versions of business publications also publish blogs, so it’s worth monitoring for articles on relevant topics and providing useful insight in the comments or even linking back to those articles from the business blog. The combination of links and off site engagement can expose the brand’s expertise to the media as well as new audiences that are not currently aware of the brand’s blog.

5. Set Goals, Monitor Progress, Measure Results, Refine. Repeat. 
With any content marketing, it’s important to engage in an adaptable cycle designed to make iterative improvements to content effectiveness. That means based on goals, monitor progress through key performance indicators like on and off blog comments, links, mentions, sentiment, referred social network traffic, referred search engine traffic and the behaviors of visitors one they arrive on the blog. Analysis of KPIs should reveal opportunities for improvement in SEO, messaging and interaction to result in more desirable business outcomes for the blog.  It’s an ongoing process and like the tasks of content creation and promotion, should be expected for as long as the blog is intended to be a communications tool to attract and engage.

Business blogging is a journey, not a destination. As a communications tool, it has the ability to contribute to thought leadership, lead generation, customer service, recruiting and many other business goals.  The question is, do you have a plan and are you working that plan as an ongoing, adaptable process?


3 Hard Lessons to Learn From Penguin: Be Relevant, Be Balanced, Keep it Real


Google’s most recent Penguin update has caused a storm of controversy since it began cracking down on search engine enemy No. 1: “unnatural” links.

The Panda update targeted low value on-page optimization focusing on duplicate content and spammy outbound links, while Penguin is targeting largely inbound links, dropping the rankings of sites/pages that might have unnatural links pointing to them. Some businesses that were early adopters of SEO are seeing rankings, traffic, and income vanish with lower rankings.

Jonathan Allen wrote an excellent postcovering what happened to one small business site that for two years has been deriving its ranking by using mainly black hat SEO tactics – from article spinning, buying links, forced anchor text, to inbound links from link networks. The site owner hadn’t appreciated how profoundly these spam tactics went against Google’s mission, which is purportedly to provide the most relevant results to users. And why would he? Until the latest update, his online sales were increasing, even after Panda!

Recently, his website felt the wrath of Penguin.

What Allen says, which I agree with, is that “small businesses are completely at a loss as to what constitutes ‘ethical’ SEO.”

There is a strong case for an algorithm update like Penguin. As a user, you want to find the best possible answers to your queries, not fall prey to the trickery of manipulative SEO. The rub is that not every webmaster is an SEO master. There is a fuzzy line as to how much optimization is too much optimization.

Google’s guidelines and updates, to most webmasters, are like following a pastry recipe that tells you the ingredients but not the measurements. Baking is a science, add too much or too little of one ingredient and your whole recipe could be ruined.

With the mercurial search engine algorithm, what worked one year ago, or even three months ago, is subject to change. Drastically. If you aren’t in the know about an algorithm change, you risk putting your online business in a vulnerable position. Which begs the question…

Can a Small Business Ever Survive Using Bleach White Hat SEO?

Thanks to Penguin, we’re about to find out. To clean up the “cesspool” that Eric Schmidt so tenderly referred the Internet as, “fishy” links need to go. So if you’re serving mackerel, turbot, or minnow as part of your link building strategy, expect the Penguin to devour your site for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Let’s do a quick recap of what constitutes a fishy link:

  • A number of unnatural /spammy inbound links pointing to you.
  • Paid text links using exact match anchor text. Google considers link buying a violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines. Overdoing exact match anchor text will also get you penalized.
  • Comment spam. Using exact match anchor text for your “money keywords” in comments or in the username in the comment section
  • Outbound links using exact match anchor text from low quality sites (or penalized by Google), or from the same IP address
  • Low quality paid directory listings
  • Link networks
  • Hidden links
  • Unnatural footer links

What Exactly is “Unnatural”, “Low Quality” or “Spammy”?”

In many ways, this is a matter of semantics and if you’re not up to date with the latest changes in SEO you might be approaching link building all wrong.

Some of the most insightful commentary I have come across regarding Penguin and the future of link building can be found in this article featured on CognitiveSEO. There, you’ll find the opinions of 13 renowned link builders on what makes a link low quality, explanation on what anchor text devaluation is, and their predictions of how link building will change in only a year’s time.

Simon Penson sees guest posting as the emergent form of building links. He says, “The key now is to become a knowledge center and work hard on promoting that fact to the key influencers in your niche.”

Practicing guest posting as a link acquisition method has proven successful for many years as is using personas to increase the level of blogger engagement and build an online presence in niche segments. Now is the perfect time to consider implementing a persona plan in your digital marketing strategy.

Factor in Google’s authorship mark-up, which will increase your visibility in the SERP (given that your content is awesome too). Google is stating, point blank, the more “real” you are (in Google’s eyes), the more we’ll reward your site.

Here are three things we can learn from Penguin.

1. Be Relevant

The solution for not getting pummeled every time Google changes its algorithm is to focus on providing the best possible relevancy to users. With the introduction of Google Knowledge Graphthe SEO game is about to change in a colossal way.

Search is evolving to an environment where results will be based on how concepts are meaningfully related to each other, rather than disjointed keywords. The quality of inbound and outbound links will be increasingly weighted on how relevant, useful and pertinent the information is to the end-user’s query. This is why developing authority and connections in your niche will besuper important ranking factor in a post-Penguin world.

To do this, community building will be a top priority. Your greatest sources of natural links will come from engaged members of your community whether it be on a blog or through social channels. Having a community where users are actively engaging with your brand is an incredibly powerful tool for links, managing reputation, and customer retention.

2. Be Balanced

Penguin’s penalization of sites who have been spamming aims to improve the quality of the SERPfor searchers. If you want prime real estate there, you’re either going to have to dish out some exceptionally relevant content or buy your spot through ad campaigns.

Let go of guerrilla optimization tactics. Keyword-dense title tags, unnatural interlinking, and low quality backlinks are the Penguin’s first targets. Also, mix\ up your content types as the SERP is becoming increasingly crammed with video results, ads, and other signals.

3. Keep it Real

Building trust, credibility, and authority in your niche should be your main focus. To do that, it may mean a total recall of your content strategy. Create better content in all relevant areas: on-page, guest posts.

The main takeaway is to:

  • Make it clean.
  • Make it clear.
  • Make it useful.

Tips to Help You Bounce Back From Penguin

  • Break out your SEO shears and cut out any low quality links, most importantly those coming from sites that have been penalized by Google, have low PR and low quality links pointing to them. This will involve using tools like Google Webmaster Tool or Open Site Explorer to analyze your incoming links and identify the bad seeds.
  • Analyze link type distribution. Is it found in a relevant area of an article, the comments, sponsored listing, a directory listing?
  • Ensure that anchor text distribution is natural. Too many links with targeted anchor text will result in a loss in value in the search engine’s eyes.
  • Diversify your anchor text and include a branded keyword. Be transparent about who you are.
  • Be selective with directory listings and choose ones with a good reputation.
  • Avoid link networks, Penguin will penalize you for having a suspicious number of sites interlinking with optimized anchor text.
  • Focus on users. This is probably the most important tip. Create content that’s updated, useful, and relevant. People, not just machines, have to get something out of it.


Let’s return to the question of where Penguin and semantic search technology will leave the smaller scale sites that rely on optimization strategies to get the kind of exposure they need.

While specific, useful content is a must it leads to a kind of “optimization paradox” that some in the industry believe is the inevitable future of the web.

Big brands have the obvious advantage in that they’re popular already, they have massive media and advertising budgets and they don’t depend on perfect title tags and on-page optimization for people to find them. The shift in search is likely to fall in the favor of the big brands because they are who searchers already recognize and trust.

So perhaps the lesson here is to start thinking and acting like a big brand. Your website’s future, no matter how big or small you are, depends on the recognition and trust you build in your niche.


Lost on Google: Small Businesses Seek Answers After Penguin Update

Many small businesses have lost search rankings, traffic and income in the weeks since Google’s latest algorithmic update, known as Penguin, was launched. A Wall Street Journal article on Google’s Penguin update highlighted some of the damage, as well as a couple beneficiaries of the update.

Unfortunately, it seems the small business owners featured in the piece don’t truly understand why their search rankings fell. It’s sad to these hard-working folks hurting, but unfortunately simply existing on the web doesn’t guarantee your site will appear in a prominent position in Google’s organic search results.

A post earlier this week, “SEO, Why You Are Doing it Wrong,” attempted to educate SMB owners about search engine optimization and Google rankings by examining one business who engaged in spammy tactics and was impacted by Penguin.

The solution isn’t removing bad links, as the small business owners featured in the WSJ think. Removing links isn’t a long-term solution and won’t necessarily restore search rankings.

As we covered in “How to Get Rid of Unwanted Backlinks“, this is a lengthy process, and one which ultimately may prove fruitless. Even if these small businesses remove any or all of these unwanted links, they still need to add quality links from other authority sites or sites within the same niche, rather than relying on links from completely unrelated sites, comments, or low-value links.

But the bigger issue: if you want to rank well on Google, you need to create a better website experience than your competitors. Taking a quick look at these hurting websites offers some clues.

Google Goes to the Dogs

Sad Dog

The co-owner of Oh My Dog Supplies LLC is the first one featured in the WSJ piece. Sadly, he’s reported that his business is “crippled” after the site lost 96 percent of its traffic from Google, and his sales dropped from $68,000 in March to $25,000 April. That’s hardly an insignificant drop.

However, he was also relying on Google to send him 70 percent of his customers, mainly through searches for “dog beds” or “dog clothes.” As we’ve stated here on Search Engine Watch numerous times since Penguin launched, relying on Google for 70 percent of your livelihood is a doomed business model. Be grateful Google sent you all that traffic and business while it lasted, but you can’t count on it forever.

His theories on why his traffic tanked: he bought hundreds of links after another Google algorithm update in 2011 (Panda perhaps?). Or, perhaps, it was articles he wrote for and, which contained links to Oh My Dog Supplies?

So was his site “punished” for that? No. It wasn’t. It wasn’t punished or penalized. Penguin wasn’t a penalty, it was an algorithmic update. To understand the difference, read “Google Penalty or Algorithm Change: Dealing With Lost Traffic”.

What really happened in April is that Google changed the way it evaluates backlink profiles of websites. As we noted in “Google Penguin Update: Impact of Anchor Text Diversity & Link Relevancy“, “Google Penguin & Unnatural Links: How to Protect Your Site Moving Forward“, and “Insights From the Recent Penguin & Panda Updates“, sites with an unhealthy mix of links that appear unnatural (65 percent or higher), complete with anchor text that aims to help the recipient rank for certain optimized keywords, aren’t a shortcut to Page 1 of Google. Simply, Google has changed how it ranks sites.

EzineArticles and Squidoo are neither the way to the top of Google nor the cause for a punishment. It is one link – and another possible avenue for customers to find his site. How much value it carries, only Google knows exactly, but links from sites with a similar topic focus (in the same niche) would be far more helpful to establishing the site as an authority.

A quick look at the links coming in (via Blekko’s SEO tools area) reveals they have 13,449 links from 1,224 domains. What is likely screaming “spam” to Google is a closer look at where these links are coming from: unrelated sites, comments, and more than 7,000 are coming from one domain.

As for his claim of buying “hundreds” of links, that seems to be quite an understatement.

Ahrefs reveals that 124 domains are responsible for sending 10,321 links with “dog beds” as the anchor text; 36 domains are sending 10,014 links with “dog feeders” as anchor text; 30 domains are sending 10,011 links with “dog toys” as anchor text; 28 domains are sending 9,989 links with “car seat covers” as anchor text; 22 domains account for 9,978 links with “dog collars” as anchor text; and 21 domains send 9,991 links with “dog gates” as anchor text. If you’re Google, it isn’t hard to spot these unnatural linking patterns.


Also, another big factor is simply that this site is facing tough competition for pet keywords. The competitors appearing on Page 1 on Google now for “dog beds” or “dog clothes” all appear to have stronger backlink profiles from authoritative domains.

In Google’s Penalty Box?


The WSJ article also featured Google Penguin update victim The Internet Hockey Database. The site, which had 50,000 daily visitors, is down 30 percent post-Penguin. The owner said he hasn’t done paid links or keyword stuffing, and thinks it could be that Google suddenly doesn’t like a few of the thousands of sites linking to him.

It is possible Google has discounted some links, or some links have vanished, but another factor at play becomes obvious when looking at the competition. Just looking at Page 1 of Google reveals there is some stiff competition from the NHL, Wikipedia, Yahoo, ESPN, and other strong authoritative domains, some of which offer the exact same content The Internet Hockey Database is trying to rank for. Again, it may not seem fair, but a Page 1 ranking isn’t a given right.


For example, The Internet Hockey Database’s page on Evander Kane, which is called out as an example in the WSJ piece, honestly offers nothing unique when compared to other stronger domains. Other sites offer more detailed stats, news, images, videos, and other info, such as what ESPN offers.


Also, while I was surfing around the site, I got a warning that the site shows content from “potentially dangerous or suspicious sites”. Not sure what that’s all about, but perhaps this is something they should have a look at.

The website owner might want to consider adding some content to the homepage, as right now it’s a bunch of links surrounded by advertising blocks (which seems like it could be a Panda “thin” content issue, rather than spammy Penguin issue).

Google Forgets the Lyrics

Also suffering is First issue: the owner says that the site depends on Google traffic to generate advertising income (and traffic is down 20 percent). Google isn’t promoting these types of sites in its SERPs anymore. Again, diversifydiversifydiversify.

This Penguin victim feels he is being “punished” and hopes removing unwanted links will restore his rankings. They won’t, unless he is able to improve his website and add enough links and good signals to help his site outrank all the hundreds of other lyric websites competing for Page 1. As a song lyric by AC/DC says, it’s a long way to the top (if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll).

How many links does he have to remove? Is it those 172,115 with “lyrics” as anchor text from 278 domains, according to ahrefs? Or the 312,036 pointing at his site from 112 domains. There is a very suspicious ratio of domains to links here, but someone needs to do a much deeper dive into the link profile to see which of these appear to be legit links.

In the meantime, perhaps they too should consider doing something more useful with their home page, which at this point is a bunch of links to other pages, advertising, and no actual content. Same problem the hockey site had, so perhaps Panda also demoted this site a bit.

Stained Glass Shop’s Dreams Shattered by Google

The owner of A Glass Menagerie saw her traffic drop and customer inquiries and orders dry up for her stained glass and other products after Penguin.


The site was launched in 1996, and looks like it. Animated GIFs, a dated color scheme, duplicated navigation (as images at left, as text at the bottom of the page), badly written meta descriptions, non-optimized title tags, product images that you can’t click on for more details or to go to a product page, badly named image files, broken internal links… there is plenty that needs to be looked at and improved.

Another big problem: links to the A Glass Menagerie site are almost non-existent. Nine links, according to ahrefs.

Rather than worrying about removing what few links she has, she should find someone who understands computers to modernize and redesign her website to provide a better user experience. Then she can focus on building links and a true web presence.

Bottom Line

If you’re a small business owner who is relying on Google for a living, it’s now much harder to avoid shortcuts. You need to spend the time to understand what Google wants and, just as important, what your customers/visitors want.

What does Google want? Try checking out the recently opened Webmaster Academy to learn how to create (or repair) a website that will potentially thrive on Google – but again, don’t just rely on Google as your only marketing outlet.

Without a doubt, it’s hard to keep up to date with the various changes Google rolls out yearly. But considering the thousands of dollars at stake, you need to invest your time (or hire someone to do the job for you) to minimize the chances of eventually losing your rankings and traffic due to a future Google update.

Removing links isn’t a magical cure. Providing a useful website that keeps customers coming back is ultimately what Google tries to reward. Most of all, your site and business needs to be better than your competition.


How to Build and Operate a Content Marketing Machine

Content Marketing is hot. White hot. SEO and digital marketing thought leaders are declaring that Content Marketing is the next big thing. Even Rand is touting its importance.

The strategy of Content Marketing makes sense: instead of pushing messages about your product at prospects, pull prospects towards you by publishing content about your prospects’ interests. Search rank, traffic, leads and all sort of goodness flow from this approach.

So the conversation is no longer about if or why an organization should practice Content Marketing. But the still unanswered question is “How?” How does a brand actually become a publisher, produce great content, and attract traffic and generate conversions?

So if you’re wondering “How?”, fear not. This post will provide a guide on how to build and operate a Content Marketing Machine. But, to be clear, I’m not talking about dipping a toe in the water: doing some blog posts, busting out an infographic. I’m talking about a sustained effort to generate content excellence in your category. I’m talking about a machine that generates more traffic and leads at lower cost than all of your other channels combined.

The Machine

First, let’s take a look at the machine, all of its pistons, cogs, smokestacks and miscellaneous parts. This will give you an overview of what you’re building and what you’re going to operate:

Now we’ll go over the machine, part by part.

Goals & Plan

What is the goal, the end output for your Content Marketing Machine? Content marketing is utilized for lots of objectives, including customer retention, upsell, support and brand awareness. But by far the major objective for most Content Marketers is Lead Generation / Customer Acquisition, which can take the form of adding an item to a shopping cart, filling out a lead-gen form, or signing up for a trial.

Your plan then becomes to create a content-powered path that takes your prospect from where they are today to the end goal. This plan is best plotted on a matrix, called The Content Grid, where one axis lists your customer personas and the other axis lists your various stages in the buying cycle. We can do a close-up on this part of the machine here:

Then for each cell in this grid, you have to ascertain what content can attract the persona to that stage and help move them on to the next stage. Specifically each cell should answer the following questions:

  • What questions does the Persona want to answer at this stage in the process?
  • What are the topics and categories that would provide this content and answer these questions?
  • What are some sample headlines for content in each cell?
  • What formats (blog posts, videos, eBooks, etc.) would this content be delivered through?

Remember, at the top of your buying cycle, the prospect does not care at all about you and your brand. Your content here should be at some intersection between your prospect’s interests and the expertise within your organization. The content here at the top should never promote your own products and services. But as you move down the Content Grid and the prospect has indicated interest in your products and services, your content should provide more information about them.


So you’ve got a plan. Now you have to figure out who is going to execute it. Begin by looking at your grid. Who can produce these pieces of content? Is it going to be internal contributors? External paid freelancers? Guest posters?

Naturally this depends a good amount on your budget. But for most organizations it is a mix of internal and external contributors: you want to utilize your unique internal expertise, but you also use external talents to share the burden, particularly on rich media content like video and infographics.

While there is a variance in the mix for the set of contributors, there is one consistent, crucial role: the Managing Editor. Many stakeholders will submit ideas and content into the Content Marketing Machine, will turn its Audience Development crank, and will pull leads and reports out of the Machine. But you need at least one person whose primary responsibility is to man the controls of the machine: to plan the editorial calendar, to supervise content production and distribution, to generate traffic and conversions, to monitor metrics and to be accountable for results. Without such a person, you aren’t operating a Machine, but rather a small appliance (perhaps a Content Marketing toaster).

Ideally the Managing Editor should have content experience from a journalism, copy writing or PR background. But the Managing Editor should also know the web and the ways of search, social, analytics and link-building. Lastly the Managing Editor should be familiar with marketing and the end objectives of driving traffic and conversions.


The Ideas section of the Content Marketing Machine is where marketers most often struggle. In the Content Marketing Institute’s 2012 Content Marketing Research Report, over half cited consistently outputting content as their greatest challenge, which a particular struggle over figuring out what to produce. To truly become a publisher requires consistently producing content 3, 4, 5 times a week. What in the world, marketers lament, am I going to write about every day?

Remember: the bulk of the content that you are going to produce is about your customers’ interests, not about your products. Thus the best way to generate content ideas is to understand what your customers are interested in.

There are two best practices for idea generation. First is online social listening. Dive into the categories you are covering on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. See what topics the communities are interested in. Q&A sites like Quora and Yahoo Answers can identify the specific questions your prospects want answered.

The other best practice is to leverage the ears in your organization. Your colleagues in sales, services, support, etc. are talking with customers every day. Encourage them to listen for nuggets of customer concern and then submit those into the Content Marketing team. To give your colleagues incentive to participate, make sure that their submissions don’t end up in a black box. Instead, if you reject them, let them know. If you accept them and convert the idea into content, keep them informed of the content and how it performs. The best organizations at this even keep a leaderboard to showcase which employees are making the best contribution to the Content Marketing ideas effort.


As you get your idea generation going, you’ll then need to operate the heart of the Content Marketing Machine, the content production. The centerpiece of production is an Editorial Calendar. The calendar should specify who is going to create what piece of content, when they will have it submitted, when you plan on publishing it, and to where you plan on publishing it (your site, YouTube, Slideshare, all of the above, etc.).

The Editorial Calendar should look something like this:

In your Editorial Calendar you should also note the Customer Persona and Buying Stage that the content is intended for. As you look over your Calendar, you should be able to visually see whether or not you producing the right content mix to cover the various cells in your Content Grid.

Many organizations can get buried in the logistics of the Production stage. Many stakeholders can be involved, including: the idea generator, the content creator, graphic designers, the Managing Editor, the SEO expert, the social media team, Legal & PR (for approvals), etc. Often too much of the effort goes into coordinating these players instead of creating great content.

If you’re in a moderately sized organization with decent complexity, make sure your map out the process involved to get content out the door. Who will submit the content? Who needs to approve it and at what stage of the process? Who is going to be posting messages to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn once the content has been published? Identify the required workflows and have a plan to manage them so that your efforts don’t get consumed by administrative tasks.

Audience Development

So you’re publishing content now! Your machine is up and running! Congratulations!
However, creating the content is just half of your task. The other half needs to be around getting visitors to that content, which is the Audience Development component of the Content Marketing Machine. Audience Development breaks down into 4 major buckets:

  • Influencers
  • Search
  • Paid
  • Syndication

Influencers. Influencers are the most important component of Audience Development. Begin by identifying the influencers in your space: the individuals and organizations in your topic that have lots of visitors to their sites, followers to their Twitter accounts, etc. In other words, these are the places on the web where the prospects who you want to read your content hang out.

Your objective is to win links from these Influencers to your content. Get started by building relationships with these Influencers. Retweet their tweets. Comment on their blogs. Get into a dialog.

Once you’ve gotten on the influencer’s radar, craft content with the end objective–the Influencer link–in mind. Ask yourself: What content would be of enough interest to this Influencer that they would want to share it with their audience? Or try to bring the Influencer into the process from the start: tell them that you are working on a piece of content and would appreciate their feedback or a quote.

Search. Winning these Influencer links is the key to getting referral traffic to your content. It is also the biggest way that you can improve category two in Audience Development: search traffic. Win links from authoritative influencers, and the Search Engines will improve your rank, driving more traffic. Of course you need to be deliberate about this process: identify the search keywords that your personas will search for; target and optimize your content for keyword; and track how your content efforts, keyword by keyword, are effecting your search ranking.

Paid. Despite all of the inbound, organic goodness that Content Marketing centers on, Paid traffic does have a place in the mix. Whether it is SEM, or Facebook ads, or sponsored Tweets, or paid Email newsletter distribution, using paid tactics to drive content part of Content Marketing Machine mechanism. What’s interesting to note, however, is how Content Marketers are using paid to drive traffic to their content pages (i.e. about the prospect’s interests) instead of their product pages (about the marketer’s products). The process of developing a relationship with a prospect built on informative content is so powerful that marketers are taking the more patient but more effective approach of buying traffic to their content.

Syndication. Finally, the content you produce need not be limited to your own properties, whether your site, YouTube account, Slideshare account, etc. The most straightforward way to earn a link from a site where your prospects frequent is to give that site quality content. Syndicating your content earns at least one link to your site through your author bio, but also begins to develop a relationship between you and your prospects before they have ever visited your site. Particularly at the beginning, others sites have a lot more traffic than yours does, so syndicating content there is a great way to get your traffic off the ground.

Measurement & Conversion

OK, now the Machine is running full tilt! You have content being produced, and visitors coming for that content. As the Machine runs, you need to keep an eye on a set of gauges for each part of the machine so that you can learn how it’s running and continue to tune it and optimize performance.

Ideas & Production. Keep an eye on the mix of content you are pushing out the door. Do you have the right distribution across the personas from your Content Grid? Are you hitting the relevant categories?

Audience Development. What Influencers are sending you the most traffic? You should be sure to express your gratitude to these Influencers and link back to them. What types of content are succeeding in generating the most valuable links? You need to double down on that content. What keywords have high search volumes but fail to drive you much traffic? You need to improve your production of content around these keywords to improve your rank. Which paid channels are proving the most cost effective traffic?

Traffic & Conversion. This is the major objective as it gets to our end goal of the conversion. All of your content needs to be assessed for how it is performing in bringing first time visitors to your site, bringing back returning visitors, and moving them down the buying cycle, particularly to the conversion event (e.g. form submission; add to cart; start a trial) that you are looking to track. Score all of your content on these objectives, and look for the trends: which authors are pulling in the most new visitors? which content types (e.g. blog post, eBook, video) are keeping each of my personas coming back? which categories of content are leading to the most conversion events.

Every initial content strategy is a best guess. Only by operating your Machine and monitoring your metrics can you understand what’s working and what’s not working and improve your performance over time.

Building Your Own Machine (versus Renting Someone Else’s)

And indeed, you have to recognize that the results of Content Marketing accrue over time. Traditional marketing tactics, i.e. advertising, involve the Marketer renting the attention of someone else’s audience: the marketer pays the media to be able to put the marketer’s message in front of the media’s audience. Despite the problems of advertising, this renting has immediate effects, because the media already has an audience.

Content Marketing takes longer, particularly because, when you start, you have no audience! But don’t be deterred! Just like the difference between buying and renting a house, with Content Marketing, you are building equity as your build your audience. Over time, your audience becomes an incredible asset: a perpetual source of leads / trials / new customers at extremely low cost relative to traditional marketing (i.e. advertising). There are now many brands who have successfully built and now operate such a Content Marketing Machine (here are 50 examples).

This highest state of Content Marketing nirvana is for your Content Marketing Machine to become self-perpetuating. Typically the machine works with content as the input and audience / leads as the output. But once you’ve become such the authority on your topic, your output, the audience, will begin to supply the inputs, the content (see prior section on Syndication).


5 Common SMB Online Marketing Optimization Issues Solved: Q&A with Lee Odden


Small and medium businesses face a number of challenges inherent to their size; many simply don’t have the budget, manpower, or in-house expertise to pull off the online marketing campaigns bigger companies can manage.

Selling online has this wonderful equalizing factor, making it possible for even the sole entrepreneur working from home to connect with markets they otherwise may never have accessed. However, as search engines continue to evolve, placing more and more emphasis on content and user experience, many SMBs are finding it difficult to compete with competitors that may have the capacity to churn out content, win in social, and outrank them at every turn.

Lee Odden, author of “Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing,” offered to help us solve five common SMB online marketing problems. We receive a lot of questions and feedback at Search Engine Watch through comments, emails, social media contacts, and at events like SES. A number of problematic issues have cropped up in conversation with SMB owners and entrepreneurs:

  1. They know their website needs major work but don’t know where to start.
  2. Content creation is daunting and time consuming.
  3. They’re trying different things in social but don’t know what to do if one channel doesn’t pan out or they have to choose to focus on just one.
  4. They have too much social data to digest and aren’t sure which metrics matter, or if it’s worth the effort.
  5. They know they should be more active online but need time to actually run their business.

So what is a marketer with limited resources to do? Though there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, Odden’s recommendations can help get your SMB web presence optimized and on the right track.

1. Website Needs Work? Start With an Audit and Prioritize to Make a Site Overhaul Manageable


This seems to be one of the bigger issues plaguing SMBs. Often, many small changes and updates are made over the years, without much thought as to how these constant tweaks affect the site as a whole. When a website no longer lives up to what users or search engines expect of it, where do you even begin?

“A site evaluation through audits can help determine how much of an asset the website is currently and can be in the future,” said Odden. As to what that should entail, he recommends, “An SEO audit will cover keywords, technical/code, SEO copywriting, the linking footprint and social presence. Through the audit, a sort of GAP analysis can be conducted to identify where the site needs attention for most impact.”

Odden shared the example of a medium-sized business site with thousands of pages, with a simple SEO error of duplicate title tags. This might be updated using basic programming to extract content off the page (like product names) to dynamically populate title tags, he said. If the site has many, many articles that are frequently found through search and have a good number of social referrals, then embedding social share functionality can increase social distribution of those articles just by making it easy.

“In most cases, the low hanging fruit identification comes from having an evaluation of the website and expertise to determine where to apply resources in order to reach business goals,” Odden explains. Use an audit to identify problems and opportunities, then prioritize and take action.

2. Uninspired? Ongoing Engagement Means You’ll Never Run Out of Things to Talk (or Write) About


We asked Odden what advice he has for entrepreneurs who have shied away from blogging and/or social because they don’t feel they can produce enough contenton a regular basis to keep things interesting.

“I often say, ‘If a company doesn’t have anything interesting to say, they have bigger problems to solve than where their next blog post is coming from,’ Odden responded. He knows it’s a bit of a jibe, but it does reflect the need for a change in perspective. He notes that, “Many companies see themselves as a vessel, with a finite number of ideas and pieces of information. In other words, their view of content is fairly static and self-centered. Once they’ve said all there is to say about their own products and services, the well goes dry.”

Instead, marketers need to look at blogging as a byproduct of the ongoing listening and engagement between a brand and its customers, he advises. “A change in perspective that allows the brand to see things from their customer’s perspective with empathy can reveal many opportunities for making observations, answering questions and interacting with the community through blog content,” said Odden. “Just checking for commonly asked questions that customer service and sales people hear can be a rich source of blogging ideas.”

A few other tips and tools Odden recommends for ongoing information to inspire content creation:

  • Social media analytics data.
  • Social media monitoring tools with suggested topics related to areas of interest around products and services being tracked.
  • Web analytics can reveal questions people most often use on Google that send them to the company website. Blog posts can be planned to answer those questions.

Odden has been blogging as a business owner for more than eight years and he understands the challenges in regular content creation.

The key to persistent, productive blogging, he said, is to “have a plan, be adaptable and use blogging as a platform to share useful information that provides value to readers but also reinforces sales, referrals and social shares. Ongoing engagement will mean a never ending source of things to blog about.”

3. Social Not Panning Out? How to Cut Your Losses Without Killing the Channel


This is a unique challenge that happens more often than you might suspect. We asked Odden how SMBs should handle social channels that just haven’t worked out enough to justify ongoing management. Once you’ve given Facebook or Twitter an honest shot, is it better to delete the account if it’s not meeting your goals, continue without much of a presence, or is there another alternative?

Odden had some creative recommendations for SMBs, noting that he would approach it differently, depending to what the goal was and what social platform was being used.

“On Twitter, I might just discontinue manually posting to the account and determine it to be a source of news information,” he said. In order to accomplish this, Odden told us he would do a relevant query on Google News, take the RSS feed of the search results for that query and run it through Twitter feed and populate the account with news stories once or twice a day.

“I’d still check the account once a day for engagement opportunities, but I’d probably not kill it if it can continue to provide some value,” he offered. He would only consider deleting the account if it could not provide value and there is no chance of it being used again.

He would approach a struggling blog differently, Odden notes.

“Then I might absorb the past posts into a resource center format without comments, but still organized by category. It would not look like a blog but more like a collection of articles on topics that would be useful to prospects and customers,” he said.

In this case, he would discontinue daily or weekly blogging but new articles could be added from time to time, possibly incorporated into a company newsletter or as bylined articles in industry media.

4. Drowning in Social Data? Learn to Track & Measure What Helps You Achieve Your Goals

Big companies have teams analyzing trends in their social data, measuring goals, making recommendations… where should a smaller business even begin?

“Optimize” offers insight into identifying goals that work in tandem with measurement.

“The first step in understanding social KPIs (key performance indicators) and business objectives is to establish what the goals are,” Odden said. “In many cases, goals might emphasize customer acquisition or revenue. There are other revenue oriented goals that can be affected by integrated SEO, social media and content marketing like the length of sales cycle, order volume, order frequency, per transaction profitability and referrals.”

Other goals covered in the book deal with increasing the effectiveness of PR objectives like awareness and building thought leadership. Yet other goals may augment content reach and effectiveness, for customer service or talent acquisition.

“The social KPIs worth measuring should help you track progress towards your goal,” Odden recommends. “For example, if you think better search ranking of optimized content will result in more qualified visitors and sales, then the things that affect ranking are KPIs worth tracking, such as inbound links, social shares and other SEO metrics.”

In another example Odden shared, he uses the premise that the number of unsolicited media pickups will increase if the brand can become present in the social streams and news feeds of key journalists and bloggers that cover the industry. In that case, he advises, you would work social engagement and content into your social media tactics. Social KPIs might be the number of retweets and shares of your targeted stories, the direct interactions with bloggers and media through comments, shared content and direct messages.

5. Stretched Too Thin? Try Working With Online Marketing Consultants

SMBs, in particular, may not be able to justify the overhead to hire online marketing talent to work in-house. What should they be looking for if they decide to outsource?

“The industry is mature enough that outside consultants should be able to show that they have experience implementing solutions and solving difficult problems using an intentional approach vs. social or SEO guesswork,” Odden said. “In many cases, it makes sense for a SMB to engage a consultant at a strategic level who can provide assistance with overall approach and oversight of implementation. For others, the need for niche expertise is what’s needed.”

Either way, he said, marketing professionals should be able to listen and understand the nature of the SMBs business problem and offer a thoughtful approach and tactics to solve it. Some things can be done by the SMB and some by the consultant.

For more of Odden’s tips and advice on integrating SEO, social media and content marketing, get “Optimize” online from Barnes & Noble or Amazon, or grab your copy in-store. If you have more SMB online marketing questions, let us know in the comments!