Distilled & SEOmoz link building seminar overview

I attended the highly popular Distilled & SEOmoz link building seminar in London in mid March. Speakers were from various SEO backgrounds and topics ranged from personal link building mistakes to the future of link building – even touching on some dark hat tactics that surprisingly many agencies still adopt!

I won’t go into full detail of each talk but have compiled the top advice and insights:

Having a plan for all your link building activity might sound obvious, but it was highlighted how many times a great idea is executed without considering the wider context. Always have a solid plan and map it back to your wider strategy before embarking on any link building activity. At Leapfrogg we always create central content plans at the start of campaigns that all creative content and link building cascades from. This helps tie all activity into the wider marketing mix and enables all communication output to be unified.

An important aspect for any brand is building advocates – these can be on topic bloggers or even better, current users of your site. If you have an active community on your site already, use them! Continue to build an ‘army’ by creating blogger relationships and nurturing them well before you think you may want their input in return.

Using social media does work. It may not deliver rankings per se, but will enforce the voice of your brand amongst your target audience. You can use Twitter as a short term strategy to see temporary boosts in rankings. As social search is becoming more vital in the consumer purchase journey, it’s important to be fully aware of the power of these channels.

There have been some opinions that widgets are an old and useless tactic. However, widgets still work – any embedded content does! This is good news for me, as I’m about to embark on some widget building activity… (more on that later!).

Finally, don’t forget the importance of existing links. Link reclamation is often a quick and powerful win. If you can’t get a keyword rich link, ensure your brand or website link is correct – this will still add value to your whole domain.

The main take out was simple: always think of the end user first, search engines second – by creating diverse, compelling content…not spam! This is the same message that Leapfrogg has been advocating since 2003 when the agency started out so nothing particularly new there. But it was good to see even some of the most hardened black hatters in attendance coming round to this way of thinking.

Distilled & SEOmoz link building seminar overview

I attended the highly popular Distilled & SEOmoz link building seminar in London in mid March. Speakers were from various SEO backgrounds and topics ranged from personal link building mistakes to the future of link building – even touching on some dark hat tactics that surprisingly many agencies still adopt!

I won’t go into full detail of each talk but have compiled the top advice and insights:

Having a plan for all your link building activity might sound obvious, but it was highlighted how many times a great idea is executed without considering the wider context. Always have a solid plan and map it back to your wider strategy before embarking on any link building activity. At Leapfrogg we always create central content plans at the start of campaigns that all creative content and link building cascades from. This helps tie all activity into the wider marketing mix and enables all communication output to be unified.

An important aspect for any brand is building advocates – these can be on topic bloggers or even better, current users of your site. If you have an active community on your site already, use them! Continue to build an ‘army’ by creating blogger relationships and nurturing them well before you think you may want their input in return.

Using social media does work. It may not deliver rankings per se, but will enforce the voice of your brand amongst your target audience. You can use Twitter as a short term strategy to see temporary boosts in rankings. As social search is becoming more vital in the consumer purchase journey, it’s important to be fully aware of the power of these channels.

There have been some opinions that widgets are an old and useless tactic. However, widgets still work – any embedded content does! This is good news for me, as I’m about to embark on some widget building activity… (more on that later!).

Finally, don’t forget the importance of existing links. Link reclamation is often a quick and powerful win. If you can’t get a keyword rich link, ensure your brand or website link is correct – this will still add value to your whole domain.

The main take out was simple: always think of the end user first, search engines second – by creating diverse, compelling content…not spam! This is the same message that Leapfrogg has been advocating since 2003 when the agency started out so nothing particularly new there. But it was good to see even some of the most hardened black hatters in attendance coming round to this way of thinking.

Google’s Panda Update and the importance of strategic link development

Last month the SEO blogosphere was awash with hype and concern about Google’s latest algorithm update; Panda (otherwise known as the ‘Farmer’ update thanks to Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land). This update is Google’s latest attempt at removing low quality content from their search results by devaluing websites that both produce and host huge volumes of low-quality, often keyword-stuffed content, sometimes known as ‘content farms’. The rational being that users are finding these sites in their search results but the content they provide does not always match expectations. The problem is arguably Google’s own doing as website owners are creating content simply in the pursuit of links, a key factor in how Google ranks one site over another. The big problem is that content is being created purely for the purposes of garnering links at the expense of quality.

Over the years, Google has regularly updated it’s algorithm with the objective of providing the most useful and relevant search results for it’s users. Google will  continue to do this which means tactics that add value today may not add the same value tomorrow, with ‘content farming’ a prime example.

From everything I’ve read online (and in print) most commentators seem to be working themselves into a fit of worry about how the update is going to affect their rankings. Of course, this is something we’re constantly monitoring and looking into, but for me, the main point to take away from the whole process is the reinforced importance of a varied approach to link building, but with a particular focus on editorially driven link development strategies. It has become the norm for Leapfrogg to approach link building from an editorial angle; we create content that is of genuine and relevant interest that adds value to the experience of the reader both on-site and elsewhere. However, it seems many others have been over-reliant on techniques that focus on quantity over quality and thus are concerned by the impact of the Panda update.

To ensure your link building efforts deliver the best results possible, you must think strategically about what you’re doing. Focusing all of your energies and time into one tactic, regardless of the value of that tactic, is not sensible. Unsurprisingly, Google like to keep updates to their search algorithm under wraps until they are ready to be launched. What this means is, that unless you’re lucky enough to own a crystal ball, there really is little chance of knowing what Google will do next. So in order to cover yourself for new updates that might be around the corner it’s crucial to ensure your link development activity includes a wide array of different techniques and tactics.  Carrying out different link development tactics like this should hopefully result in a varied and colourful back link profile. This is a really important point because if Google’s next update devalues a certain type of link the impact to your rankings will be limited if the update only devalues 25% of your links rather than 80% or 90%.

Essentially what I’m trying to say is that putting all of your eggs in one basket is never a wise move. If you separate your eggs, or links, into different baskets the impact of damage to one basket will not hurt you as much as it would if all of your eggs were in that damaged basket. So think strategically and plan your activity around a range of tactics rather than simply looking for the quickest win. As a simple rule of thumb when it comes to any search based activity, think…

Users first, search engine’s second

If you are currently creating content purely for the purposes of gaming search engines, stop. Not only are you failing to add value to the experience of your website visitors by providing content that is genuinely useful, you also run the risk of Google placing little or no value on this content. Which in short, makes it a complete waste of time and resource.

ASA’s CAP Code expansion and how it impacts your social media strategy

The Advertising Standards Authority’s expansion of the Committee of Advertising Practice Code came into force last week to try help ‘legitimise’ social media.

According to NMA, the code now includes a brand’s non-paid-for online marketing, such as its website and social media space. This is an expansion from regulating only paid-for marketing communications, such as pop-up and banner ads, paid search and viral ads.

As the social media space becomes more monitored, businesses will need to ensure they are abiding by the new rules. The full guidelines can be found here, but we have compiled the key areas to be aware of when executing your social media strategy:

  • First and foremost, ensure that all your content is accurate. All copy and messages on your business website or in any social media channels must be legal and any claims must be backed up with statistical data which is properly referenced
  • You must not falsely claim or imply that you are acting as a consumer. You (and your business) must make clear your commercial intent if it’s not obvious from the context
  • Comments from consumers about your brand on your Facebook page or Twitter feed are a part of natural conversation and will not fall under the code; however, should you use these comments in your marketing activity, they will. You must check the customer source and legitimacy before using their content, such as when retweeting
  • Laws are already in place in terms of using paid endorsements – this includes any comments on blogs, Facebook and Twitter. It must be clearly stated if, for example, a celebrity has been paid or given free products in return for talking about your brand

These moves, whilst still a work in progress (the code is valid for two years with quarterly reviews), are looking to take social media into a more mature, controlled space.

In the end it’s also to protect the consumer even further in an area in which they share so much personal information.

Brand link building vs conversion link building

In my last post I talked about different methods of link building. For Leapfrogg, it’s not just about being creative in our output; it’s also about being strategic in our thinking.

We design our natural search campaigns to consist of different tiers – each with a different objective. For example, the first tier could consist of brand link building to the homepage through broad search terms to drive volume of traffic, with further tiers focusing on longer tail terms to build links to deeper, more specific landing pages to aid conversion.

The two fold benefit of this approach means that the PR coverage enables us to communicate to a wide audience, with the SEO benefit of the links supporting the natural search objective.

I’ve illustrated in the diagram below how this may work in terms of a travel target audience:

The audience in the outermost circle can be captured with broad online PR, social media and brand link building activity before they are even considering a purchase. The best way to target this audience is by using creative tactics placed in general, everyday media.

Broad search terms help build a brand and capture the ‘inspiration’ searches. Furthermore, this tactic gets your brand in front of a potential customer before they’re even looking for a holiday.  For example, if I know I want to go on holiday but have not decided where to go, I will search for ‘beach holidays’ to inspire me.

By using creative tactics to acquire high quality links you get the added benefit of brand awareness. Tactics we are currently adopting include a combination of guest blogging, editorial features with bloggers / online press, case studies and blog sponsorships. Creating compelling content engages and informs your target audience to make your brand stand out.

The middle circle is the audience who have already decided on the purchase but not on the exact item. They are looking for inspiration and can also be reached by broad link building activity placed in travel specific publications.

Whilst ranking number one for a broad search term is great, it’s often the more specific, longer tail keywords that deliver conversions. Your target audience searching in more detail are influenced well before making any purchases. Now if I know I specifically want to go on holiday to Marmaris in Turkey, I will search for ‘beach holidays Marmaris’ for the best deal.  Understanding where your audience is and what they’re looking for is key and enables you to target them in the right way, at the right time with the right message. Traffic will be less so at the long tail, but conversion arguably higher and ranking an easier win.

Often the deeper landing pages are more difficult to build links to so quick wins delivered by a combination of link reclamation, directory and article sharing site submissions (not those recently damned by Google’s Panda update!)  and news wires are the best way to get them ranking. More time can then be spent around the tougher, more PR led tactics to generate higher quality links to aid the broader search.

A combination of both brand and longer tail links will help to build a varied external link profile to your site and enables you to trade clear business ROI from a marketing function previously difficult to measure.

The rise of mobile barcode tagging

Last year we predicted 2011 would be the year of mobile retailing and m-commerce. So we were really interested to see figures, released by ASOS at the end of last month, revealing they had taken £1m through their mobile site in December alone.

ASOS plans to launch a fully transactional mobile app later this year to take advantage of the bulging m-commerce market, which has been globally valued at £172bn for 2011 by market analysis’s Informa Telecoms & Media. Other retailers like Net-a-Porter and John Lewis have said they plan to increase their investment in the mobile sector this year by releasing mobile apps and improving their mobile sites.

One mobile tactic we expect to see boom in 2011, particularly for retailers, is the use of QR Codes (mobile tags). At the moment Microsoft is leading the pack with a simple app that can be downloaded for Microsoft 7 phones, Microsoft Windows phones, iPhones, Blackberry’s and Androids. The concept is simple: a publisher, such as a retailer, prints or electronically displays a ‘tag’. Smart phone users can then open the app and scan the tag with the camera on their phone. As soon as the camera reads the tag the user is taken to the webpage that the tag is ‘hyperlinked’ to. To make things more interesting the tags can be printed to display pictures and images so they don’t have to look like traditional dull barcodes.

Just before Christmas, Diddy, (or whatever he likes to call himself these days!) teamed up with Microsoft to donate $50,000 to charity. Over the twelve days of Christmas, users were invited to scan the daily tags to see a picture of Diddy announcing which charity would receive his donation. The campaign site also featured tags that would take users to a page where they could buy his latest album.

Just like generous rappers, the opportunity for innovative retailers to use mobile tags to increase sales is huge. Tags give retailers the chance to connect web and video content with traditional hard-copy marketing materials. For example, displaying tags in-store gives shoppers the chance to learn more about the product; how it was designed and made, for example. If the tags were to be displayed in a catalogue or advert users would be able to buy the product directly from their phone by simply scanning the tag.

Over the course of the next year I suspect we will start seeing these tags popping up everywhere. As soon consumers become familiar using the technology the number of opportunities to use it will multiply drastically. Watch this space!

From tadpole to frogg – what I’ve learned about link building

As a new-ish member of the Leapfrogg team, I thought it was about time I blogged about what I’ve learned so far. I’ve been in the world of digital marketing for just over three months now and what a whirlwind of discovery it has been!

My experience over the last five years has been in traditional PR both agency-side and in-house, concentrating on the textbook ways of getting coverage; building journalist relationships and content sell in. I will be applying my offline knowledge to support the team’s development in online PR, helping Leapfrogg to build relationships in retail, travel, entertainment and national media.

It’s been really exciting getting to grips with how SEO link building works. The team at Leapfrogg has been great at teaching me the basics and how facets of traditional PR fit into the mix of link building techniques.

Over the last three months I’ve learned how to use link building to support SEO strategies – from the relatively quick links gained from submitting to the better quality directories and article sharing sites, to more labour-intensive blogger relationships and feature-led, online PR.

Introducing my ‘evolution of link building’ infographic

As a bit of fun, and to demonstrate how I perceive link building to have evolved over the years, I’ve put together the infographic below (I say ‘I’ve’ but credit must also go to Libby for her artistic flair!):

Beginning from the right hand side, submitting to directories, for example, represents perhaps the most straightforward of link building techniques; low hanging fruit if you like. Directory submissions are the ‘frog spawn’ of link building; there are plenty of them but only a limited number will flourish to have any real impact on your search marketing efforts.

Working around the diagram, I would consider the techniques to be both more complex and contemporary in nature (certainly where SEO is concerned). For example, writing exclusive features on behalf of a client for a relevant publication, website or blog requires a greater amount of research and planning. In some cases, the approach borrows much from the offline PR world; developing journalistic contacts, understanding editorial schedules and positioning your client (and their content) accordingly. These techniques are represented by a fully grown frog; more complex, mature and rounded in nature and thus delivering far greater impact commercially than a link on a directory, for example.

Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll be blogging in much more detail about the different methods of link building in the above infographic and their impact on our clients’ campaigns. So far I’ve had great success for clients including FindMeTV– both by creating features to send through SEO newswires and securing reviews for their mobile app. I’ve created higher quality links by writing an exclusive post for a wedding blog for Ecclesiastical Wedding Insurance, and achieved local radio presence for Roedean School, which resulted in some great online coverage…and links!

I’ve learned to take a two tier approach to campaign planning by encompassing the above strategies to both maximise ‘on the page’ optimisation and to fit link development into the wider marketing strategies of our clients. I’m particularly interested in starting to use widgets and social media tools within link building, as these are becoming easier to ‘sell in’ editorially to sites and they’re great ways to communicate with the audience. Another area I’m keen to learn more about is the use of mobile – the new frontier of search. How exactly link building, in its many forms, will evolve further with advances in technology is hugely exciting and something I’ll be keeping a close eye on. Maybe I’ll be the one to come up with the next big idea!

Riding the online retail roller-coaster

2011 has started with a roller-coaster of reporting from retailers.

Nationwide it seems as though the dreadful weather took it’s predicted toll on the high street, with footfall down more than 3% on 2009 and some high streets left virtually deserted for days. There has also been profit warnings from HMV, Clinton Cards and Mothercare, whose future looks as bleak as the view out of the windscreens of cars stranded on the M25 last month.

The VAT and petrol duty increase is also adding to the uncertainty. Some retailers claim the combined effect will have a huge impact on high street sales, others are planning to swallow costs initially until the sales season is over and therefore rolling out price increases becomes less complicated, and others claim the effect on consumer buying habits will be negligible.

Whilst the high street has taken a battering over the Christmas period, online sales once again saw significant growth compared to the previous year. 44% of Britain’s online adult population upped their online spending this Christmas compared to 2009 highlighting convenience, stress reduction and cheaper prices as their top reasons for doing more shopping on the web (based on a study from customer experience management specialists, Tealeaf).

John Lewis claimed that Christmas Eve traffic alone was up 45% on the previous year, reflecting an early start to their January sale. And according to eDigitalResearch, 86% of the UK population used the Internet on Christmas or Boxing day (22% on a smartphone or tablet device).  This saw many retailers report record online sales over Christmas period.

A big contributor to record breaking online sales and the saviour of the bigger department stores across the land, has been the consistent growth in the luxury sector.

Many luxury brands have reported strong trading periods in 2010 and Mastercard reported that spend on luxury goods in 2010 was up more than 8% compared to 2009.  HSBC predicted that as the global economy evens out in the next couple of years the “new normal” levels of spend will see a demand for luxury increasing at double digit rates throughout 2011 and 2012.

This is in part supported by the huge demand from China, a trend that our MD Rosie saw first hand on her fact finding mission last year.  But it’s not just Chinese demand, HSBC predicts that “…high end consumers in America and Europe are willing to spend, even in a subdued economic environment”.

Smart retailers are also learning lessons from their consumers and competitors and taking the very look and feel of premium retail one step further and embedding it throughout the actual shopping experience. French Connection’s YouTique has taken the best bits of asos.com’s shopping journey and added elements that represent why consumers love luxury retail (personalised shopping experiences and attention to detail) and turned them into what is essentially a private online shop.

Offline examples of the trend are very much about more edgy premium brands and a better shopping experience.  Westfield East’s proposed 24 hour ‘lifestyle street’ which will feature stalls and boutiques of up and coming local cutting edge, limited edition fashion.  “Box Park”, the new concept in shopping opening in August in Shoreditch, will be a ‘pop-up mall built from shipping containers with short term leases offered exclusively to the less traditional premium retail brands such as Fred Perry, APC, Nudie and Religion.

We’re looking forward to a challenging but exciting year for our retail clients – with the traditional high street changing forever, online budgets growing and premium and luxury retailers looking for an edge, it’s going to be more important than ever to develop robust online retail marketing strategies, find creative solutions and make sure that all digital activity maps back to the bottom line.

eCommerce and social media – what do customers really care about?

We had a really interesting conversation with one of our clients about ‘social commerce’ recently. (Social commerce or sCommerce is the use of social media in the context of e-commerce, for example user ratings and reviews, recommendations and referrals, forums and communities and advertising across social networks).

We were discussing a number of brands seemingly doing it well and although we had great examples of activity and experimentation, mostly in the fashion sector, it’s still a challenge to single out brands where social media is making a consistent and measurable difference to the bottom line.

Last month, Ted Baker’s Take on Ted online marketing campaign tapped into all of the latest trends in eCommerce and sCommerce.

The campaign combined Facebook activity, an advocacy programme, Twitter and the Ted Baker website to deliver a campaign live to an international audience.  The campaign involved seven US based bloggers, who tweeted @ted_baker instructing stylists how to dress models based in the London headquarters.

The bloggers, including Brit abroad, Karen Blanchard, were briefed on looks they were to create and given 15 minute slots live online to deliver the looks.  The team at Tedbaker HQ, then styled the models while the video of the looks being put together was streamed live on Ted Baker site.  Images of the final looks were then uploaded to the Ted Facebook page – which at the most recent count, has more than 22,000 fans – for their comment and feedback.

So far, so creative…it’s a heady mix of super cool US blogging, live action and social media; BUT…what did it achieve?

As a PR stunt, it was great, providing followers with genuine entertainment and with an aggressive US store opening strategy in the pipe line (New York and Chicago stores both opened in the last 4 weeks), it’s tapped into the fashionista US blogosphere at an important time.

In terms of fan engagement, although there were some tweets and comments around Take on Ted, the most popular look received about 60 comments or votes on Facebook – a small drop in the ocean, you could argue.

But in terms of sales, was Ted Baker missing a trick?  We loved the Ted Baker campaign, the brand took risks and experimented, but we think having a couple of digital marketers in the room at brief stage could have made this campaign work harder for them.

The campaign was crying out for a way to enable fans to buy parts of the outfit direct through Facebook.  There’s a lovely swizzle VT piece on the Take on Ted page, but we’d have recommended using this great content to gain wider coverage, build links from relevant websites and perhaps most importantly, worked with the footage to ‘hotspot’ it to encourage sales.

Our view is supported by Google. Their retail blog had a interesting post earlier this month, which is real food for sCommerce thought.  Google claims that shoppers have been conditioned to primarily engage with a brand through social media for the purposes of receiving offers, coupons and discounts (certainly Google’s recent  interest in Groupon supports their point of view and in terms of the sheer volume and popularity of voucher sites tells a positive story for eCommerce). Therefore, as creative as the Take on Ted campaign was, it perhaps failed in understanding the audience and their primary goal in engaging with the brand; the opportunity to purchase the products on show (and ideally at a discount).

So how do we link up the two disciplines?  How do you develop a relationship with an audience to foster and encourage demand and repeat purchase when all they seem to want is discounts?

Making sure your digital marketers are in the room when you’re briefing out the creative is key – make your fabulous and exciting PR and online engagement stunt work harder in terms of sales and search.  Think holistically and not only will your audience love your brand, but you’ll also love the sales you’re making as a result!

M-commerce is ready to go mainstream…but can the mobile networks support it?

For me, 2010 has finally been the year that mobile took off. I remember sitting on a packed commuter train roughly two years ago and being amazed at the number of people with Blackberry’s and iPhones buzzing away in their sweaty palms. Of course, two years on and smart phone usage has grown exponentially, meaning mobile Internet is very much part of the here and now.

Emailing, social networking and browsing the web are all part and parcel of using a smart phone, but the one ‘ing’ missing is retailing. This is starting to change with companies like ASOS, Tesco and Marks & Spencer making significant moves into the world of m-commerce. However, to go truly mainstream the mobile networks need to step up their game to prove to consumers that the concept is viable.

Last month, a joint initiative between advertising, mobile and retail trade bodies was announced, the aim of which is to help members take full advantage of  mobile retail. This is of course great news but, in my view, more needs to be done between the big three mobile operators (Orange, O2 and Vodaphone) to encourage mainstream adoption by consumers. High quality, low cost, secure Internet access and better data syndication between networks and retailers is essential in giving the masses faith in mobile commerce.

For retailers the opportunity is huge. Saying it’s on par with that of ecommerce ten years ago is probably going a step too far, but I truly believe mobile commerce has the potential to be a game changer. For retailers, particularly those in the luxury sector for example, mobile commerce offers the chance to reach time poor and cash rich individuals on the go. Retailers are certainly not failing to identify this opportunity; the three trade bodies issued a joint research piece in August citing that 40% of UK retailers are planning to launch a transactional mobile site or app within 12 months.

So the message is clear, consumers and brands are ready for m-commerce. Its now time for the networks to get moving!