Advanced Local Citation Audit With Clean Up To Achieve Consistent Data With Higher Rankings

Are you aware that having consistent and correct citations are neccessities for any local SEO Campaign to be successful? If you’ve read the latest Moz Local Ranking Factors survey or you’ve been in the local SEO game for a while, it’s no surprise to ranking locally in Google your citations are very important. In fact,according to the Moz local search ranking factors survey, citations and external location signals are the 3rd most important ranking factor. That’s why it’s important to have your correct NAP listed across the major citation sources.
So what is the NAP format?

NAP stands for Business Name, Address, and Phone Number. Having this information listed on another website such as Yelp, Citysearch, or Yellowpages acts like a positive vote for your local listings. While many people know they need to build citations to help increase their local rankings, surprisingly many people overlook having duplicate listings and incorrect listings.

Some people think they only need to update their Google My Business listing which is incorrect. In fact, according to David Mihm from Moz “If all you’re doing is updating your Google+ Local Page, you’re going to continue to see problems because “new” erroneous data will constantly feed into Google from all of its other sources.” This has been known to create bigger problems down the road. So what is the downside if you have inconsistent citations, duplicate citations, or citations that are just plain wrong?

In a nutshell you’re missing out on getting credit for that citation, it’s
hurting your local rankings in Google, and its potentially creating longer term issues when the incorrect data is scraped. Unfortunately while there are some resources you can use to simplify this process, it’s not as easy as waving a magic wand or blinking while wearing your Google Glass.

Let’s Start With The Basics: What is an Incorrect NAP?

So what is an incorrect NAP? The long and the short of it is that Google and other search engines want to give you credit for having your business name, address, and phone number listed on other reputable websites. It acts as a vote of confidence for you similar to a link in organic SEO.
You should make sure that your Google My Business Listing has your correct NAP format the way you want it displayed across the web. If any of this information is not the same as it is listed in Google My Business then you may not be getting credit for it. Additionally if you have a duplicate listing it could be hurting you as well. Just because you didn’t create or publish the incorrect information doesn’t mean it’s not polluting the local ecosystem. There are plenty of ways this can happen as I discuss a little later in this article. But first, let’s take a look of some good and bad examples of correct and incorrect NAP.

How Exact Do These Citations Need to Be?
As you can see from the examples above, I was very clear with the items I changed from the correct example. Although Google has gotten good at detecting minor differences, you should always aim to be the least imperfect. The whole reason we are fixing these in the first place is to make it easier for Google to associate the proper listings together for your business. Minor differences such as Street and St. should not be an issue. However, incorrect, duplicate, or false information is a big no no.
The long and the short of it is that the Business Name, Address, and Phone Number you want to use should be 100% correct in your Google My Business Dashboard (formerly Google Places, Plus Local, etc.). From here, you can copy this exact format on every source you wish to get a citation from.
Overall, there are three types of citations we’re trying to fix during this process. These include:Duplicates -Duplicate listings on the same directory
Mismatches – Listings for your business that have the wrong Business Name, Physical Address, or Phone Number (or just the 800 number and no local number). This can get especially complicated for doctors and lawyers, as I will discuss later in this article.
Incomplete Citations – It’s important that you fill out the profiles to completion once you’ve claimed them. This includes adding photo and filling out every field there is an option for.How Does This Happen & What Causes These?
Just because you don’t remember creating an incorrect listing doesn’t mean there is no bad data in the local ecosystem. In fact, here are just some of the common reasons you have incorrect NAP across the web:

  • Your business moved physical locations
  • You used tracking phone numbers at one point
  • You hired an SEO to create citations or get listed on online directories
  • The data aggregators have incorrect information
  • You inherited a dirty phone number
  • You changed your local phone number
  • You used tracking phone numbers
  • You used an 800 number and not a local number
  • You have different trade name or business name variations
  • Your listing was incorrectly submitted and scraped to other sites

Someone in your organization setup the listings without knowledge of NAP consistency (this is pretty common).
While there is a major possible ranking benefit of cleaning up this data, there is another reason it should be on your radar too. If you’re a fan of brand consistency like me, then you want to be the least imperfect and ensure all information about your company is accurate across all mediums you control.
The example below shows just how confusing this data can be and the issues that can be caused by incorrect citations on one of these sites. (Graphic from David Mihm’s Local Search Ecosystem).

Before We Start: Here are Some Important Things to Know If you’re paralyzed just thinking about the hundreds you need to fix, don’t sweat it.

  • While a good long term-goal would be to clean up a lot of the data, the reality is that your first focus should be on the top citations for your industry and city.
  • Also check out Phil Rozek’s list here and the Top 50 Citation Sources that Whitespark mentions on this page.
  • Focus your efforts on the primary citation sources for your niche and area. Once these are fixed up you can move on. Just spend 15 minutes a day cleaning this up.
  • Keep good records using this spreadsheet. You will need to follow up with these directories again and again in some cases. Don’t worry, I made a spreadsheet below that you can use for this.
  • Make sure to update the old incorrect citation instead of just adding new ones!

This work can be tedious, but accuracy is essential. Don’t try to use shortcuts.
Read Moz’s case study from David Mihm regarding cleaning up citationsLet’s Start By Identifying Possible NAP Variations & Recording Them In the Spreadsheet.

  • The first step in the citation cleanup process is to find out exactly what information is actually out there about your business. I put together an
    awesome spreadsheet you can use here. The first tab has a place to post the duplicate information. I like to color code it for simplicity as you can see in the example below:
  • In the example above, I have the correct business information at the top of the spreadsheet in green for easy reference and the incorrect variations in red. You will want to record every variation you find here to make our job a little bit easier moving forward. But how do you find the incorrect variations for your client or business?

I prefer to start at the source by talking to the business owners and marketing managers. After you have collected their proper NAP info, ask these questions to see if you can get any details:

  • Have you ever moved physical locations?
  • Is this the address you have listed on your legal business paperwork with the State and Federal government?
  • Have you ever used tracking phone numbers?
  • Have you ever hired an SEO company or someone to manage your online presence.
  • Do you have a list of logins or websites they submitted you to?
  • Do you use any lead generation services? (Sometimes they use tracking phone numbers)
  • Does your business go by any trade or fictions business names?

Typically asking these simple questions up front can save a lot of time in the long run. If you don’t get any good info from them or they just don’t know there are several ways you can look for this information online first to make your life easier.

After You Have Asked the Questions, It’s Time to Do Your Own Investigative Work
While the questions above are helpful, it’s important to dive a little deeper and see what you can find. These are the steps I typically take:

  • Check the secretary of state’s filing for the business. Most have an online search platform where you can see who registered the business. If it has a different Name, Mailing Address, or Phone number go ahead and add these to the spreadsheet. We will want to check these out when searching for duplicates. (BONUS TIP: Search their filed business documents online and see if they had previously filed for a fictitious business name or DBA.)
  • Review the company BBB listing. Check out Phil Rozek’s article on his BBB Hack for finding possible conflicting information. The long and the short of it is that the business listings show additional reported phone numbers, business names, and addresses as shown in the example below from his website.
  • Check Google Map Maker. By viewing the classic Google Map Maker, you can see the edit history of a business. This will tell you if a phone number or business name has been changed. To get this data simply pull up the Classic Map Maker, search for a business and then select the history tab. Once you’re on the history click “Show All Changes” in the upper right corner of the listing as shown below:
  • Once you have clicked on this, it will show the entire edit history. Look for edits to the NAP over the time the listing has been live. In the example below, you can see how the business name was actually changed at one point. This is the business name I will want to record in my spreadsheet (the old one).

Once you feel like you have a good handle on this, you can start by moving on and searching for these culprits hiding across the web. Now it’s time to get fixing! Here is a Quick Way to See What NAP Variations Google Already Associates with Your Business

If your business is recognized by Google and has reviews on other websites the new Google My Business dashboard tries to condense that information in one place. It provides examples of listings it has associated with your listing already. I recommend checking this to see what differences it recognizes for your business and mainly used for reference. If Google detects an inaccurate citation, don’t assume that it will find others. Remember, always aim to be the least imperfect.
To access this simply follow the steps below: Login to your dashboard at
Open up one of your locations and scroll down to the reviews section.
Click the blue “Manage Reviews” button
Then scroll down and check under the “Reviews from around the web” heading and see what pops up.
You should see the listings here of other detected reviews.
You can click the “View full review on….” link and view the full review there.
Check the NAP for that citation and see how or if it varies from your correct NAP. Record the differences as we can use them later in this guide. Start With the Data Aggregators Before Your Manual Efforts
Tools are great and help make tedious jobs like this easier. While there are some tools I advocate for this job, the reality is that most of them don’t cover the niche specific directories and others you may be listed on. That being said there are some great tools you can use to help save time and money and are recommended in my overall procedure below.Start with Moz Local. Moz Local provides a Check My Listing score which will scan your listings just by entering your Business Name and Zip Code. This will give you a score that includes the citations that are Complete, Incomplete, Inconsistent, and Duplicates from the Top 15 citation sources and data aggregators. If you’re not starting here, you might be shooting yourself in the foot. Signing up for this service which is $50 a year will help fix this data at some of the sources that distribute their data to many other providers across the web. You can also use this service to find other possible NAP variants.
Consider additional tools to see if they will help you. My manual methods are below but if you want to pull other data, you can also check out Brightlocal’s Local SEO Checkup product which will show you NAP variants and the accuracy of major listings. You can also check out Whitespark’s citation finder to start with a list of sites it detects you being listed on. They both offer great citation finding resources which will make this a bit easier. Also, Yext just recently introduced a product for fixing duplicates. While I have not had a chance to review this yet I believe it’s only for their network and it is a paid service.
Once you’re ready, it’s time to move on to the manual side of NAP Cleanup using my method below. The Manual Cleanup Process
When dealing with citation cleanup,
efficiency and accuracy is the name of the game. I have developed a process that I find works best for me when it comes to being productive in fixing citations and removing duplicates. This is what I’m going to explain below in more details, but basically it boils down to four steps. On the second tab of
this spreadsheet that I created for you, you will see the sheet has several columns. They are identified and explained below:


Put the domain of the citation source. This will help you sort it later for easy tracking.

Business Name

Copy and paste the business name from the citation you want to keep here. If the one you want to keep is wrong, paste it here anyhow. We will correct it later.


Copy and paste the address including suite # from the citation you want to keep here. If the one you want to keep is wrong paste it here anyhow. We will correct it later.

City State Zip

Copy and paste the City, State, and Zip Code from the listing here.


Copy and paste the Phone Number from the listing here.

Links To

Put the URL that the citation is linking to if applicable.


Put the main issue here. Mention all issues if possible. If the citation is a Duplicate and has an incorrect name I would put “Duplicate | Incorrect Business Name”

URL Of Live Listing

Copy and paste the URL of the citation source so we can refer to it later if needed.

Duplicate 1

Copy and paste the URL of any duplicates here

Duplicate 2

Copy and paste any duplicates here


I added a status column to check and update the status. Sometimes when you contact them they may not be prompt.



If you highlight the row in this color, you have confirmed there are no issues with this citation and no duplicates.


There is an issue with this listing like the company name is missing “The” in front of the name or the suite number is not perfect. Basically this is for minor secondary issues that don’t need fixing, but you could fix them if you wanted to.


If there is a major issue with the NAP such as wrong Name, Address, Phone Number or a Duplicate you can mark it as red. This will help us to prioritize our work later.

Below are two screenshots of how the spreadsheet looks when you pull it up.

Once you start finding the citations, you will want to color-code each row after evaluating the citation. This will help you prioritize your work later once your’re ready to start fixing these up. The ProcessAudit Your Citations – Using my spreadsheet and the methods listed below you can start by auditing every citation source you find for your business.
Record the Data – Record the NAP information in the spreadsheet provided and don’t be shy with the details. After you have identified a problem make sure to color code the row. Red is a very important fix, Yellow is something you can fix but can wait, and Green is good meaning there are no problems and no duplicates.
Outreach & Fix – Once you have a list of your action items, you can sort the list by RED or priority items. You can then outreach to these sites and record it in the notes with the date.
Follow Up, Record, & Repeat – You can’t just send an email or contact form and call it good. You have to follow up. Don’t change the color of the row until the live listings are fixed. This will allow you to check and re-check until these issues are cleaned up. The reality is that some of these listings will require multiple contacts to get fixed (just like link removals). Finding Your Incorrect Citations
Finding these citation sources can be a difficult task. However, if you already have a list of primary citations you want to tackle you’re in a good spot. Remember that focusing your efforts on the
primary sources will provide the most ROI.
Remember that when you’re searching for citations using these methods you will want to search for each of the ones you identified to ensure complete accuracy. In other words, don’t just search a directory by the proper business name or phone number. Also, search it with the
WRONG information you identified to see if any wrong sources come up. Method 1: Search Specific Directories & Websites
If you only have one business location this task gets a bit easier as there a search string you can use to narrow down your results. However if you’re a multi-location business it may not work as well (depending on how many locations you have). This search string is going to use three commands. The first command
site: searches only within the website immediately following the colon. If I just wanted to search I could type Now putting information after the site command will help narrow down your search. Let’s say that I wanted to search only for my exact company name, but only for listings that DO NOT contain my primary phone number that is associated with my NAP. In this case I could put in this search:

  • “The Reeves Law Group” -714-550-6000The site: command tells Google to search only the website (in this case
  • The Quoted “The Reeves Law Group” tells Google to only return results that include the company name in that exact phrase order
  • The -714-550-6000 tells Google to not include any results that use this phone number. The minus allows you to exclude information you don’t want to appear in the results.
  • If you have a list of citation sources you want to check such as the Moz Top 10 by City or Industry, you could then use these search strings, identify duplicates and problems on the primary sites.
  • Most reputable websites also have an internal search function as well. It’s important to check this too as the Google Site: command only searches for indexed citations. It’s possible that the incorrect one may not be indexed yet, but could cause problems in the future. Method 2: Searching Google’s Index Citations

While you can search specific directories for incorrect citations if you already know the websites you want to check, what if you don’t have that list? Another easy way is to pull the incorrect results direct from Google. To do this we will use the MozBar and modify our search settings which allow us to scrape 100 results at a time. Simply follow the example below.

Before using this method, you need to change your search settings in Google
Start by pulling up and clicking on the gear icon in the upper right hand corner of a search page. You will want to navigate to search settings where you will check the button “Never Show Instant Results” and then change the Results Per Page slider to 100. This will allow you to search 100 entries as a time.

You will also need the MozBar for this. If you don’t have the extension you can download the Chrome version here and the Firefox version here. Once you have the MozBar installed you will be ready to start scraping these results!

When the MozBar is on and you do a search in Google you will now be able to see 100 results and easily export them by clicking the export button in the top left corner of the MozBar as shown in the example below. Once you have these results you can copy and paste them in my trusty spreadsheet for evaluation. Of course if you’re doing a lot of searches I recommend conducting the searches first, combining the results, and then removing duplicates in Excel. This will save you a ton of time!

So Which Search Operators Should You Use?
Using the proper search operators and getting a bit creative will save you a substantial amount of time. Don’t think that you’re stuck with the ones I have provided below. Get creative and think outside of the box based on your situations. Below are some examples you can use along with an explanation of them. They are sorted by categories below.

Casey’s OCD Pro Tip: Using Google can produce different results depending on how the data is entered on the actual citation site. For example it’s a good idea to search different Phone number variations. Some variants include: 111111111111, 111-111-1111, (111) 111-1111Take note that when you do a search with quote around the keyword (e.g: “Keyword One”), it will search for the words in that order exactly as they appear. If you want to learn more about creative boolean search terms check out this resource.

How to Find Listings With Incorrect Phone Numbers
What you should search: 800 Number -Local Number
Example: 800-644-8000 -714-550-6000          This search when preformed in Google is telling it to search for the main company’s 800 number (800-644-8000), but exclude the local phone number of the main office (which is why I used the – sign before 714-550-6000). If you have one location that uses or used an 800 number at some point this will be your primary go to search. If you have multiple locations though it will likely just return results from the other locations. You could of course add – to additional offices and search this way as well. What you should search: 800 Number -Local Number +Company Name
Example: 800-644-800 -714-550-6000 +Reeves Law Group

At first glance this search operator probably looks like the one above with the simple addition of +reeves. However take a closer look and notice how I took out one “0” from the 800 number. What I am doing here is looking for a possible wrong entry but also making sure that part of the company name (in this case The Reeves Law Group) is shown in the string.
How To Find Incorrect Business Names That Have The Proper Phone
What you should search: 555-555-555 -“Company Name”
Searching for the office locations phone number and then excluding the company’s name using the -“company name” command will show all results for that phone number that do not mention the proper company name. This is an easy way to find variants of the business name across the internet.
Other Searches You Can Try

What you should search : “Business Name”+”Address”         With quotes this will search for all instances of the exact business name and exact address you put in. The more specific you get the narrower the search results will be.
What you should search : “Business Name”+”Zip code”              Doing this will give you another list of  options that could include listings without the proper business phone number.

Finding Which Citations are Correct

What you should search (Without quotes): “City Name”+”Zip Code”+”Company Name”+”Phone Number”

Thankfully, you can also use these tricks to see which citations you have that are correct. If you’re scanning for citations this way make sure you also check each of these sites for possible duplicates as you could have one correct listing and one or more bad ones too.

Once you have your list of sources you can us the Mozbar export option outlined above and sort through these on the spreadsheet. Once You Have Them Documented You Can Prioritize and Outreach.

Once all of these are all properly documented comes the painstaking task of fixing them. Some of these websites will allow you to claim listings and directly edit them which is nice. Some you will have to hunt for the contact information and if you can’t find it I recommend checking their WHOIS information to get the data of the domain owner. Most reputable sites though will have some way of contacting them.

Usually when you encounter duplicate listings, you will have to contact the website to get them removed. Be patient. Remember that in most of these cases you’re not paying to be listed on their website so their response can take some time. Be sure to document your contact dates in the spreadsheet as well so you can easily follow up.

Here are a few tips for the outreach methods:Make sure all email contacts come from an email address on your websites domain such as This may help the back and forth verification process where possible.

Some listings will require you to claim and verify them and may call the business with an automated system. Be prepared to take a few calls.

Always be very clear with your request but also be concise. They don’t typically spend a lot of time on these requests so making it as easy as possible with the links is recommended.

Make sure to read the websites FAQ’s for removing duplicates or updating listings. It will save you a lot of time and they may already have a process in place for this.
If you can’t find the procedure try the contact form on the website first, then email if you don’t hear back in a reasonable amount of time.
Contacting Websites to Fix Listings via Email

Below is a very quick and easy sample outreach email I use for some of these contacts. This example can be used if you have two listings at that are on the following URLs:


Sample Contact Email:
I recently discovered that your website has two listings for my business, “Business Name” located at “Address”. I was hoping you could help me delete the duplicate listing.
The correct listing is: 1)
The listing I need deleted is: 2)
Could you please notify me once you have had the chance to fix this?
– Business Owner

How This Helps
By sending out clear and concise emails you may eliminate the back and forth emails and get them done quicker. Over time you may notice that some of these websites don’t reply. The reality is that some of them won’t reply or will charge a fee to be fixed. You can make the decision on a case by case basis whether these are important enough to worry about.

I hope you found this guide useful and hope it’s something tactical that you can put to use right away. Using this method you will be off to a good start at fixing up your citations. Like everything else in local search this will take time to cleanup and time to process. Let Google find and index these naturally over time and watch your local rankings soar. If you have any other tips for citation cleanup please post them in the comments below. Additionally if you have any specific questions please feel free to contact me directly anytime. Just take it one step at a time and you’ll be done in a instant!

Are You The Leader We’re Looking For?

What are your goals? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Our US business is looking for a general, operational and administrative manager, someone who’s ready to lead our wonderfully talented (and very lovely) US team. Someone who’s ready to take a brave leap and help grow a company. Someone to lead, organize and inspire to continue to deliver the amazing work we do for our amazing clients.
What would you like to achieve in life?
I’ve been having a discussion with a close friend on precisely this topic on quite a regular basis. My friend isn’t terribly satisfied with his job.
I believe that a job enables the next stage of your life. Because what you’re doing right now is by choice, your goals should be on track to become reality. This is the wonderful truth about freedom.
Frustration comes from being held back from enabling your longer term goals. In a career context, you need to be working in the right place and be on the right career path to feel good about, everything else.
What are you looking for in a career?
Some of us are still learning. We’re fixing, communicating or making things. As developing marketers, this is a good place for us to be.
Some of us, as more seasoned “Senior” consultants, are quite happy to stay on the front lines, managing our teams and creating new strategies.
Some of us have proven our chops on that particular battlefield, and now we yearn for more. If this sounds familiar, this post is for you.
Are you the leader we’ve been looking for?
Job title is negotiable, it could be COO when you’re ready, it could be “Head of US Market” or “US General Manager” while we’re developing you.
Salary and relocation is absolutely negotiable. If you’re the right person, the numbers part will be easy.
The role comes with a generous stock option offer, great vacation entitlement and excellent health insurance. We’re building something big and exciting, and we’ll need you to be in this for the long term.
You might not be sure if you’re ready for that, and you might not be sure if you want to relocate to San Francisco (San Francisco is beautiful – I absolutely implore you to investigate California – it’s such a beautiful and geographically diverse state), so let me outline the crux of what you’ll be doing:

Looking after our growth hiring and retention needs
Recruiting to growth in technical, research, outreach and creative disciplines
Recruiting junior hires to feed our ever growing need for internal promotion
Working with our team to ensure they have the skills and tools needed for the job
Coaching and training / development and regular team meetings and one to ones
Maintaining a competitive salary, relocation and health insurance package for our staff
Collecting and helping prioritize development feedback for our Zorg platform

Working to achieve our 2014 business forecast
Working with the Sales team to keep us on top line target
Planning, implementing and testing marketing initiatives for Builtvisible
Developing our 3rd party partner relationships
Growth through client relationships by maintaining visibility on each account
Ensuring the USA leads the field on daily marketing activity

Managing the weekly to monthly financial operations of:
Approving payroll and other monthly budgeted expenses
Managing our relationship with our accounting firm
Monitoring cash flow, accounts aging, and the monthly P&L
Working with our UK Finance management for administrative support whenever needed
Managing a monthly budget for marketing, IT, travel, and any general expenses

Put simply, this is a great challenge for the right person.
There’s a lot of on-boarding support, including training in the UK after you’ve joined. You’ll be lining directly into me, joining a team of 6 people currently responsible for running our group of companies.
I will develop you and teach you everything I know, and you’ll have support from everyone across our group. In exchange, I’d appreciate it if you’d teach me everything you know!
Skills & Personality
It’s assumed that you’ve mastered the art of SEO or that you have a very detailed understanding of digital marketing strategy, and that therefore you could lead a savvy digital team. You’ve been effective wherever you’ve come from. You’ve almost certainly got a sales and marketing background. You’re a real problem solving people person. What you’ve seen excites you.
In our case, “SEO” means an incredibly broad skillset, from deep dive technical SEO (log file analysis, in depth site audits, site architecture) to research and outreach disciplines. We’ve also got a growing production capability, as our name suggests, we like to make great content for our clients!
On that note, we like very technically savvy people. People who bring a strong desire to execute high quality marketing product: creative marketing campaigns that win our clients coverage, a passion for the best technical work and the will to lead a group of people towards continuous improvement, curiosity while maintaining the terrific energy our US team brings to the family.
If you’d like to know more about our company and our values, take a look at Our Story.
As a great way to understand some of the qualities we look for, take a look at my thoughts on hiring great people.
To get a sense of how we’re different, take a look at how we work.
If this isn’t quite for you, cool. We strive to recruit and promote internally, so if you like what we do but you’re just starting out, or you’re still very much on the front lines, take a look at the roles we think we need to place here: (if you don’t see something listed on our careers page but you really think you can add value to our organisation, get in touch!).
If this sounds like something you want to do, drop me an email: Thanks for listening, and good luck!

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Explaining Your SEO Job to Your Parents

In a recent global survey of 16,000 parents, LinkedIn found that 35% of them confessed that they are not completely familiar with what their child does for a living.
Now from personal experience, I can vouch for this statistic (and believe that based on ‘confessions’, this 35% figure is probably much higher). When I transitioned from it-does-what-it-says-on-the-tin email marketing, to confusing old SEO (that’s Search Engine Optimisation), I knew there was going to be misunderstanding and potential for arduous questioning about what exactly SEO is. Whilst my parents aren’t complete technophobes, it was evident when I announced my shiny new job with Builtvisible, that SEO was something totally unfamiliar and of the unknown.
The conversation went a little something like this:
Me: I’ve got a job doing SEO for a digital marketing company!
Parent translations…
Mum:  I am the CEO for a digital marketing company.

Dad: SEO usually stands for Senior Executive Officer.

Obviously I’m neither; that’s Richard.
From discussing this with fellow SEO-ers, it seems that the done thing is to tell your parents that you “work in marketing”, or as a colleague of mine does, tells people that he designs biscuits. Whilst I don’t doubt that Pete could design a fine biscuit, he is actually our Chief Technology Officer at Builtvisible, and can design much more than a biscuit. However, this is a fine example of how to avoid technical and lengthy explanations which often lead to more questions and further muddle.
If you do tell them your job is actually in SEO, your parents have probably asked you umpteen times what exactly you do for a living because they do actually want to understand, apparently. According to LinkedIn, 59% of parents want to know more about what their child does for work, with 50% of parents believing they could be of benefit to their child if they had a better understand of their career…
Whilst I thought this misunderstanding was mainly down to a generation difference in perhaps, search exposure, I’m quite wrong – considering that 25-34 year olds use the internet more than any other age group, it’s surprising how many people within these age brackets use search engines daily, but don’t know how they work. Working in digital marketing, I think it’s easy to assume that it’s common knowledge.
Either way, if you overhear your parents telling their friends that you work at Google, or that they think you are a CEO, it might be worth explaining your job fully, once and for all.
That stands for bewildered friends too – let’s help them out.
As you can see below, there has been a huge increase in Google searches for the query “what is SEO”, indicating that people really don’t know and are trying to get their head around it.

Let’s prepare for the questions you may be asked:
Some parent questions, with parent-friendly answers:
I don’t understand, what exactly is S.E.O?
Search Engine Optimisation is making sure a website can be found when you are searching, let’s assume Google, for words or phrases to find something you are looking for. Imagine the big people at Google get to choose who is top of the search results based on a kind of quality control.
Why do they need to be number one?
Because you usually click the first result on Google… It’s important for a website to be on the first results page because:

How does Google choose who’s number one?
Firstly, Google will send a search engine ‘spider’ to ‘crawl’ (or have a good look at) your website; it will make a note of all your websites pages and content and add them to an index or database. It will also make a note of all the links that you have on your website, internally (from page to page) and externally (to and from other websites), thus creating a ‘web’ and making sense of your website for future reference.
This is how Google understands websites before they will show in a search results page.
The search engine process SIMPLIFIED:

You type a search query into Google
Google search their index/database for pages that match the query
They pick out the pages that are most relevant to the query

How do they determine which websites are most relevant?
According to Google, relevancy is determined by over 200 factors…
One of those is a measure called PageRank – it determines the importance of a page based on incoming links from other websites to your page. Each link from an external site to your site passes value to your PageRank, and with value comes authority.
However, not all links are equal – a few links from websites with high authoritative value (such as The Independent) are much better than lots of links with low authoritative value. The better your PageRank, the more authoritative your website becomes, increasing the likelihood of a higher position on a Google search results page.
On the other hand, if you have lots of low authority, spammy links pointing to your website, the big people at Google will punish you; either you will drop past that first page of Google’s results, or even potentially be removed from Google search results pages. This is very BAD.
No Google results page = no traffic = no money = unhappy client
This is Google doing its quality control. Imagine it’s like a fancy party and you’ve taken with you some cheap alcopops and a bottle of White Lightning, whilst others bring bottles of Cristal and Dom Perignon. Assuming that the host has outgrown puberty/is rather shallow and a little ungrateful/has a taste for the finer things in life, those bringing the champagne will be the populars at the party, and you get to hang with the noobs. Or if the worst comes to worst, you may get asked to leave.
Google do this to make a better and more effective search experience for their users. When you search, you want to find the most relevant pages – the best results get favoured (in higher ranking), and the less relevant ones get shunned.
So what do you do in all this?
To help our clients achieve top rankings in search results, we optimise both on page and off page.
On Page:
Exactly as it sounds. We optimise the individual pages of the website, making it easier for search engines to understand them and check them against its quality control criteria.
For example, we optimise the structure of the website so that we present the important information effectively to both the user and the search engine. Also, we determine which keywords we would be able to rank high on Google for and which keywords are going to bring in the most conversions (taking into consideration our competitors). These are then used throughout the site.
Off Page:
Exactly as it sounds. We build the popularity of our client’s website to improve its chances of ranking at the top of search results pages. This is where, amongst other things, we try and increase our PageRank value by gaining links from other good quality sites back to our own.
We do this by creating useful, unique and client relevant content, either in the form of articles, infographics or interactive pieces – a bit like PR. It has to be something that people want to publish, people want to read and that gains exposure to the brand as well as gaining a link back to their website. Good quality links back to the client’s site are a signal to Google of authority and quality, and make your site more relevant to the search query, helping you closer to that number one spot.

Other Important People
Hopefully that’s friends and family up to speed, but what impact does this misunderstanding of SEO have on our clients?
In the Moz 2014 industry survey, they found that overall budgets for marketing tools are on the rise.
In 2012, one third of respondents reported monthly budgets of $500 or more. A year later, this rose to 54% spending over $500. It could be fair to assume that many business owners (like your parents, and your friends) also don’t fully understand what SEO is, but willingly outsource it as a business necessity (they were once told).
However, if the man with the money doesn’t understand the services, how can they justify their spending and understand the ongoing value of SEO? Not understanding the benefits or the ROI’s could lead to confusion, mistrust and potentially long-term harm from short term gains.
So help them out too – if the client understands exactly what you’re doing, you’re onto a winner. They will feel more at ease, and will be more inclined to continue using your services.

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Why Mobile Matters – Now

Having built an online business during the dot-com boom and bust, I’ve always been a bit skeptical about the mobile revolution. Every year since the late 90s, we’ve heard that this would be “The Year” for mobile. In the past year, though, my skepticism has been challenged by a wide range of data, and I no longer believe that the mobile web is simply a miniature desktop. This post is an in-depth analysis of why I think online marketers need to start paying attention to mobile now.Google’s “Mobile First” Shift
It’s no mystery that I follow Google’s actions pretty closely. When Google launched a significant redesign back in March, Jon Wiley – Lead Designer for Google Search – posted this on Google+:

For a long time, we’ve assumed that mobile would naturally follow desktop, and trends like the slow death of WML (Wireless Markup Language) seemed to support that assumption. In the past two years, though, Google has repeatedly designed and launched new features on mobile first, including the most recent ad format and the latest version of Google Maps.
So, it begs the question – what does Google know that the rest of us don’t?Google’s Greatest Fear
In July of 2013, Google migrated AdWords advertisers to what it calls “enhanced” campaigns. Many in the industry viewed this as a euphemism for preventing advertisers from bidding separately on mobile and tablet vs. desktop. Google had been experiencing long-term CPC losses, and most analysts blamed those losses on advertisers’ unwillingness to pay the same rates for mobile/tablet clicks as they did for desktop.
Google has strongly resisted splitting out mobile vs. desktop performance, going as far as to tell the SEC that “…disclosing or quantifying the impact of only one factor, such as platform mix, could be misleading and confusing to investors.” This has nothing to do with usability or confusion – Google is afraid of mobile and its impact on their $60B bottom line, the vast majority of which depends on advertising. Mobile-first design is about survival, plain and simple.Google’s Multi-Screen World
Back in 2012, Google released a fascinating study about the multi-screen world. It paints a complex picture of how we use multiple screens to navigate the web, and often perform activities across mobile, tablet, and desktop. Google ended that report with eight conclusions, and this was the final one:

What led them to this conclusion? A couple of data points give a very interesting view of the impact of mobile on search. First, Google reported (see slide #20) that a full 65% of searches begin on mobile phones. Second, they found – which seems obvious in retrospect – that we reach for the “screen” that’s closest (slide #34). So, if you see something on TV, hear about it on XM Radio in the car, or read about it in the doctor’s waiting room, you’re going to reach for your mobile phone.More Mobile Trends (2014)Recently, Mary Meeker’s closely-watched annual state of the internet report was released, and it contains a great deal of data about where mobile is headed. Smartphone adoption is climbing and tablet sales are skyrocketing, but I’d like to focus on one graph that sums up the trend pretty well (from slide #9):

Globally, the percentage of page views coming from mobile devices has jumped substantially in the past year, and accounts for almost one-fifth of North American page views. Critics will argue that desktop usage has not substantially decreased, and that’s true, but the problem is this – as mobile gets to be a larger piece of the picture, we’re seeing less and less of that picture by excluding mobile data.
Look at it this way – let’s say we had a sample of 1M page views, and all of them came from desktop visitors. That would give us the pie on the left. Now, let’s say desktop holds steady at 1M page views, but mobile is now 19% of total views. This is what that reality would look like:

If we only look at those 1M page views, then it seems like nothing has changed, but the reality is that the desktop piece of the pie has shrunk. If we ignore mobile in this case, we’re missing out on 234,568 page views, and our picture is incomplete.Why This Matters for Search
So what if someone starts a search on mobile – why should that matter to us as search marketers? The problem is simple: while Google desktop search design is being inspired by mobile design, the reality of a small screen means that mobile SERPs can look very different. Just as Google found with ad CTRs, this can lead to very different user behavior.
So, how different are mobile SERPs? I’d like to look at a few notable examples of desktop vs. mobile SERPs, starting from most similar to least similar. For all of these examples, the desktop SERP was captured on a Windows 7 PC using Chrome, at 1280×1024, and the mobile screen was captured on an iPhone 5S using Safari.
Here’s a fairly basic SERP (a search for “plumbers”) with ads and some local features. The desktop version is on the left, and the mobile version is on the right. I apologize for the reduced size, but I felt that a side-by-side version would be the most useful:

The impact of the smaller screen here is readily apparent – even though the desktop SERP shows eight full ads above the fold and the mobile SERP shows only two, the desktop screen still has room for three organic results, a map, and a couple of local pack results. Meanwhile, the one organic result that does pop up on the mobile screen has the advantage of being the only organic element on the “page”.
Unfortunately, we have very little data on relative CTR for either ads or organic results, and Google is tweaking both designs all of the time. I think the core point is that these user experiences, even for a relatively straightforward SERP, are clearly different.
Let’s look at another SERP (“army birthday”) where the major elements are similar, but the screen space creates a different experience. In this case, we get one of the new answer boxes:

An answer box is disruptive on any screen, but on the mobile screen it occupies almost the entire SERP above the fold. Of course, scrolling is easier and more natural on mobile, so I don’t want to pretend this is a true apples-to-apples comparison, but if the answer meets the user’s needs, they’re unlikely to keep looking.
Let’s look at a standard Knowledge Graph box, in this case one for a local entity (“woodfield mall”). Here, while the styles of the Knowledge Graph boxes are similar, the SERPs are radically different:

While the desktop SERP has a rich Knowledge Graph entry, we also see a substantial amount of organic real estate. On the mobile SERP, a condensed Knowledge Graph box dominates. That box also contains mobile-specific features, like click-to-call and directions, which could easily divert the searchers and keep them from scrolling down to organic results.
Finally, let’s consider a SERP where the presentation and structure are completely different between desktop and mobile. This is a search for “pizza” (from the Chicago suburbs, where I’m located), which triggers a local carousel:

Carousels – whether they’re local, Knowledge Graph, or the newer song and episode lists – are a great example of mobile-first design. While the desktop carousel seems out of place in Google’s design history and requires awkward horizontal scrolling, the mobile carousel is built for a finger-swipe interface. What’s more, the horizontal swipe may derail vertical scrolling to some degree. So, again, a single element dominates the mobile SERP in this example.The Mobile Feature Graph
These differences naturally lead to a follow-up question – do mobile SERPs just look different, or are they fundamentally showing different rankings and features than desktop SERPs? You may be familiar with the MozCast Feature Graph, which tracks the presence of specific SERP features (such as ads, verticals, and Knowledge Graph) across 10K searches. I decided to run the same analysis across mobile results and compare the two.
The table below shows the presence of features across both desktop and mobile SERPs. Data was recorded on June 5th. Both data sets were depersonalized and half of the queries (5K) were localized, to five different cities.

For the most part, SERP features were consistent across the two devices. While it’s very difficult to compare two sets of rankings (even when they differ only by a few hours), the similar number of sitelinks suggests a similar make-up of 10-result vs. 7-result SERPs. A cursory glance at the data suggests that page-1 rankings were not dramatically different.
The big feature difference (which is entirely driven by layout considerations) was in the presence and structure of AdWords blocks. Mobile SERPs only allow top and bottom ad blocks, since there’s no right-hand column. While bottom-of-page ads are the rarest block on desktop SERPs, they’re fairly common on mobile SERPs. The overall presence of ads in any single position was lower on mobile than desktop (at least for this data set). All of this has CTR implications, but we as an industry don’t have adequate data on that subject at present.
The local data is somewhat surprising – I would have predicted a noticeably higher presence of local pack results in mobile SERPs. Google has implied that as many as half of mobile searches have local intent, with desktop trailing substantially. Unfortunately, collecting comparable data required matching the local methodology across both sets of SERPs, so my methodology here is unreliable for determining local intent. This data only suggests that, if local intent is the same, local results will probably appear consistently across desktop and mobile.The Google Glass Feint
Beyond our current smartphone and tablet world is the next generation of wearable technology, which promises even more constrained displays. Right now, we tend to think of Google Glass when we hear “wearables,” and it’s easy to dismiss Glass as an early-adopter fad. When we dismiss Glass, though, I think we’re missing a much bigger picture. Let’s say our timeline looks something like this, with us in the present and Glass in the future…

In other words, I think it was fair to say that Glass, whether you love or hate it, was clearly a future-looking move and is pushing our comfort zones. It was ahead of what we were ready for, and so Google pulled us ahead…

Let’s say we’re not quite halfway-ready for Glass. Stay with me – there’s a point to my crude line art. What about the wearables that aren’t quite as futuristic, including the wide array of fitness band options and the coming storm of smartwatches? Our perception now looks something like this…

Before Glass, we were just warming up to fitness bands, and smartwatches still sounded a bit too much like science fiction. After Glass, challenged with that more radical view of the future, fitness bands almost seem passé, and smartwatches are looking viable. I’m not sure if any of this was intentional on Google’s part, but I strongly believe that they’ve moved the market and pushed ahead our timeline for adopting wearables.
This isn’t just idle speculation paired with pseudo-scientific visuals (it is that, but it’s not just that) – Samsung sold half a million Galaxy Gear smartwatches in Q1 of 2014. Google has recently announced Android Wear, and the first devices built on it have hit the market. More Android-based devices are likely to explode onto the market in the second half of 2014. Rumors of an Apple smartwatch are probably only months away from becoming reality.
I expect solid smartwatch adoption over the next 3-5 years, and with it a new form of browsing and a new style of SERPs. If the smartphone is our closest device and first stop today, the smartwatch will become the next first stop. Put simply, it’s easier to look at our wrists than reach for our pockets. The natural interplay of smartwatches and smartphones (Android Wear already connects smartwatches to Android-powered phones, as does Google Glass) will make the mobile scene even more rich and complex.What It Means for You
My goal is to put the data out there as matter-of-factly as possible, but I personally believe that the long-awaited mobile disruption is upon us. Google is designing a SERP that’s not only “mobile first”, but can be broken into fragments (like answer boxes and Google Now “cards”) that can be mixed-and-matched across any device or screen-size. Search volume across non-desktop devices will increase, and mobile in all its forms may become the first stop for the majority of consumer searches.
For now, the most important thing we can do is be aware. I’ve always encouraged browsing your “money” terms – what does your URL really look like on a SERP, and how does the feature set impact it? I’d strongly encourage the same for mobile – open a phone browser and really try to see what the consumer is experiencing. If your business is primarily local or an impulse buy driven by TV and other advertising, the time to consider mobile is already behind you. For the rest of us, the mobile future is unfolding now.

Everything is Marketing

If my hair had not fallen out due to natural causes I probably would have pulled it out by now.
I set aside a chunk of time every day to read the latest punditry on content marketing, SEO, and other digital topics. Every day I read a statement along the lines of “traditional marketing is dead.” Every day I scream in frustration; silently mind you, because I don’t want to scare the dog.
It never ceases to amaze me that so many writers, claiming quite impressive credentials on their about-me pages, simplistically equate marketing with advertising. This leads them to their conclusion that marketing is therefore a thing of the past. All you need is good content!
photo credit: NOAA’s National Ocean Service via photopin cc
Marketing is like an iceberg. Non-marketers might see only the 10% that is above the surface, but the truth is most of what really makes up the marketing process happens before you ever see an ad, receive a sales call, or read a piece of content.
Marketing has many definitions but the simplest definition is this:
Marketing creates, communicates, and delivers value to customers.
Anything that touches a customer communicates with them. It directly impacts their perception of value. Therefore, marketing is the effort that every aspect of your business plays in attracting, converting, and keeping customers. Not everyone in your company is in the marketing department, but they all contribute to marketing by doing their day jobs.
Everything is Marketing
Your product, or service, is a function of marketing. It is, after all, designed to meet a customer need. They touch it, or experience it, and a perception of value is created. Products are created, or refined, because of feedback from the market. Obtaining this feedback is called marketing.
Your sales people will not consider themselves marketers but they are because they affect customers’ perceptions as soon as the customer answers the phone or shakes their hand.
Your accounts department almost certainly do not consider themselves marketers but yes they are. They talk directly to customers. They send them collateral in the form of invoices. They are even marketing when they chase overdue payments, because they are acting as a customer touch point.
Your cleaning crew is marketing the company and the value they communicate simply depends on the quality of their work. How many customers return to a dirty restaurant or shop?
This is just the stuff that customers see directly. But I am not finished with you yet. Here is one more:
Bad managers or poor management practices create negative value by demoralizing staff. All of your internal processes create or negate value by the impact they have on your staff to work well and remain motivated.
Where is this leading?
Everything that touches the customer is marketing. This is because everything that happens in your business affects your customers’ perceptions, directly or indirectly.
This does not mean all of your employees suddenly need to go back to school to learn marketing. It means that every activity, procedure, or piece of collateral that the company engages in or produces should run through the filter of what does this mean for our customers?
What can you do?
Encourage your team, regardless of role, to seek the best possible outcome for your customers. Examine your business and think about how each of your team members has an effect on your stakeholders perceptions. Ask yourself whether your management systems, processes, and incentive schemes drive customer satisfaction or encourage behaviour that is at odds with this goal.
Make sure your sales people are rewarded for the retention and satisfaction of customers, not just for getting an account and throwing it over the wall to be someone else’s problem.
Look at your invoices, statements, and form letters. Do they look more like threats of impending legal action rather than statements of account? Are you missing an opportunity to continue to communicate value to your customers?
Your people can become excellent marketers, even if they don’t realise they have.

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How To Tap Into Social Norms to Build a Strong Brand

The author’s posts are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

In recent years there has been a necessary shift in the way businesses advertise themselves to consumers, thanks to the increasingly common information overload experienced by the average person.
In 1945, just after WWII, the
annual total ad spend in the United States was about $2.8 billion (that’s around $36.8 million before the adjustment for inflation). In 2013, it was around $140 billion.
Don’t forget that this is just paid media advertising; it doesn’t include the many types of earned coverage like search, social, email, supermarket displays, direct mail and so on. Alongside the growth in media spends is a growth in the sheer volume of products available, which is made possible by increasingly sophisticated technologies for sales, inventory, delivery and so on.
What does this mean? Well, simply that the strategy of ‘just buy some ads and sell the benefits’ isn’t enough anymore: you’ll be lost in the noise. How can a brand retain customers and create loyalty in an atmosphere where everyone else has a better offer? Through tapping into the psychology of social relationships.
Imagine that you are at home for Thanksgiving, and your mother has pulled out all the stops to lovingly craft the most delicious, intricate dinner ever known to man. You and your family have enjoyed a wonderful afternoon of socializing and snacking on leftovers and watching football, and now it’s time to leave. As you hug your parents goodbye, you take out your wallet. “How much do I owe you for all the love and time you put into this wonderful afternoon?” you ask. “$100 for the food? here, have $50 more as a thank you for the great hospitality!” How would your mother respond to such an offer? I don’t know about your mother, but my mom would be deeply offended.
New scenario: You’ve gone to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s the most delicious dinner you’ve ever had, the atmosphere is great with the football playing in the background, and best of all, your server is attentive, warm, and maternal. You feel right at home. At the end of the meal, you give her a hug and thank her for the delicious meal before leaving. She calls the cops and has you arrested for a dine-and-dash.
And herein lies the difference between social norms and market norms. Social norms vs. market norms
The Thanksgiving dinner example is one which I’ve borrowed from a book by Dan Ariely,
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions. Ariely discusses two ways in which humans interact: social norms and market norms.

Social norms, as Ariely explains, “are wrapped up in our social nature and our need for community. They are usually warm and fuzzy. Instant paybacks are not required.” Examples would be: helping a friend move house, babysitting your grandchild, having your parents over for dinner. There is an implied reciprocity on some level but it is not instantaneous nor is it expected that the action will be repaid on a financial level. These are the sort of relationships and interactions we expect to have with friends and family.

Market norms, on the other hand, are about the exchange of resources and in particular, money. Examples of this type of interaction would be any type of business transaction where goods or services are exchanged for money: wages, prices, rents, interest, and cost-and-benefit. These are the sort of relationships and interactions we expect to have with businesses.
I’ve drawn you a very rough illustration – it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing visual, but it gets the point across:

Market norms come into play any time money enters into the equation, sometimes counter-intuitively! Ariely gives the example of a group of lawyers who were approached by the AARP and asked whether they would provide legal services to needy retirees at a drastically discounted rate of $30/hour. The lawyers said no. From a market norms perspective, the exchange didn’t make sense. Later the same lawyers were asked whether they would consider donating their time free of charge to needy retirees. The vast majority of the lawyers said yes. The difference is that, when no money changes hands, the exchange shifts from a poor-value market exchange to an altruistic and therefore high-value social exchange. It is a strange psychological quirk that ‘once market norms enter our considerations, the social norms depart.’Mixed signals: when social and market norms collide
In a book called
Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout (originally published in 1981), the authors describe the 1950s as the ‘product era’ of advertising, when ‘advertising people focused their attention on product features and customer benefits.’ It was all about the unique selling proposition (USP).

In this case, the USP is mildness: “not one single case of throat irritation!” (image source)
However, as the sheer volume of products on the market increased, it became more difficult to sell a product simply by pointing out the benefits. As Ries and Trout put it, ‘Your “better mousetrap” was quickly followed by two more just like it. Both claiming to be better than the first one.’
They describe the next phase of advertising (which hit its peak in the 1960s and 70s and which we can probably all relate to if we watch Mad Men) as the ‘image era’, pioneered by David Ogilvy. In this period, successful campaigns sold the reputation, or ‘image’ of a brand and a product rather than its features. Ries and Trout quote Ogilvy as saying that ‘Every advertisement is a long-term investment in the image of a brand’. Examples include Hathaway shirts and Rolls-Royce.

Rather than the product benefits, this ad focuses on the ‘image’ of the man who smokes Viceroys: “Viceroy has a thinking man’s filter and a smoking man’s taste. (image source)
But yet again, as more and more brands imitate the strategy of these successful campaigns, the space gets more crowded and the consumer becomes more jaded and these techniques become less effective.
According to Ries and Trout, this brought the world of advertising into the ‘positioning era’ of the 80s, which is where they positioned (hehe) themselves. As they described this, “To succeed in our overcommunicated society, a company must create a position in the prospect’s mind, a position that takes into consideration not only a company’s own strengths and weaknesses, but those of its competitors as well.”

This one’s all about positioning Winston’s in opposition to competitors: as the brand with real taste, as opposed to other brands which ‘promise taste’ but fail to deliver. (image source)
And yet, despite this evolution of advertising strategy over the course of the 20th century, all of these different approaches are ultimately based on market norms. The ‘product era’ sells you features and benefits in exchange for money; the ‘image era’ sells you on an image and a lifestyle in exchange for money, and the ‘positioning era’ sells you on why a particular company is the right one to supply your needs in exchange for money.Social norms and loyalty

When does cheap not win? When it comes to social norms. Social norms are about relationships, community and loyalty. If your sister is getting married, you don’t do a cost benefit analysis to decide whether or not you should go to her wedding or whether the food will be better and the travel cheaper if you go to your next door neighbor’s BBQ instead. If anything, it’s the opposite: some people take it to such an extreme that they will go into massive debt to attend friends’ weddings and bring lavish gifts. That is certainly not a decision based on monetary considerations.
Therefore, if the average brand wants to get out of the vicious cycle of undercutting competitors in order to gain business, they need to start focusing on relationships and community building instead of ‘SUPER CHEAP BEST LOW LOW PRICES!!®’ and sneaky upsells at the point of sale. This is something my colleague
Tim Allen spoke about in a presentation called “Make Me Love Your Brand, Not Just Tolerate It”. And this is what a large number of recent ‘advertising success stories’ are based on and it’s the whole premise behind many of the more recent trends in marketing: email marketing, personalization, SMS marketing, good social media marketing, and so on.
Some of the most popular brands are the ones which are able to find the perfect balance between:a friendly, warm relationship with customers and potential customers, which also often includes a fun, personal tone of voice (the ‘brand personality’) – in these interactions there is often an offering of something to the customer without an expectation of instant payback, anda strong product which they offer at a good price with good ‘market’ benefits like free returns and so on.
One example of this is John Lewis, who have good customer service policies around returns etc but also offer free perks to their shoppers, like the maternity room where breastfeeding mothers can relax. One of my colleagues mentioned that, as a new mother, his girlfriend always prefers to shop at John Lewis over other competitor stores for that very reason. Now if this is purely a convenience factor for her, and after her child is older she stops shopping at John Lewis in favor of a cheaper option, you could argue that this is less of a social interaction and more market influenced (in some sense it serves as a service differentiator between JL and their customers). However, if after she no longer requires the service, she continues to shop there because she wants to reciprocate their past support of her as a breastfeeding mother, that pushes it more firmly into the realm of the social.
Another thing John Lewis do for their fans is the annual Christmas ad, which (much like the 
Coca-Cola Santa truck in the UK) has become something which people look forward to each year because it’s a heartwarming little story more than just an ad for a home and garden store. Their 2012 ad was my favorite (and a lot of other people’s too, with over 4.5 million Youtube views).
But usually anytime a brand ‘do something nice’ for no immediate monetary benefit, it counts as a ‘social’ interaction – a classic example is
Sainsbury’s response to the little girl who wrote to them about ‘tiger bread’.
Some of my other favorite examples of social norm interactions by brands are:
The catch is, you have to be careful and keep the ‘mix’ of social and market norms consistent.
Ariely uses the example of a bank when describing the danger of bringing social norms into a business relationship:
“What happens if a customer’s check bounces? If the relationship is based on market norms, the bank charges a fee, and the customer shakes it off. Business is business. While the fee is annoying, it’s nonetheless acceptable. In a social relationship, however, a hefty late fee–rather than a friendly call from the manager or an automatic fee waiver–is not only a relationship-killer; it’s a stab in the back. Consumers will take personal offense. They’ll leave the bank angry and spend hours complaining to their friends about this awful bank.”
Richard Fergie also summed this issue up nicely in this G+ post about the recent outrage over Facebook manipulating users’ emotions; in this case, the back-stab effect was due to the fact that the implicit agreement between the users and the company about what was being ‘sold’ and therefore ‘valued’ in the exchange changed without warning.

The basic rule of thumb is that whether you choose to emphasize market norms or social norms, you can’t arbitrarily change the rules.A side note about social media and brands: Act like a normal person
In a time when
the average American aged 18-64 spends 2-3 hours a day on social media, it is only logical that we would start to see brands and the advertising industry follow suit. But if this is your only strategy for building relationships and interacting with your customers socially, it’s not good enough. Instead, in this new ‘relationship era’ of advertising (as I’ve just pretentiously dubbed it, in true Ries-and-Trout fashion), the brands who will successfully merge market and social norms in their advertising will be the brands which are able to develop the sort of reciprocal relationships that we see with our friends and family. I wrote a post over on the Distilled blog about what social media marketers can learn from weddings. That was just one example, but the TL;DR is: as a brand, you still need to use social media the way that normal people do. Otherwise you risk becoming a Condescending Corporate Brand on Facebook. On Twitter too.Social norms and authenticity: Why you actually do need to care
Another way in which brands tap into social norms are through their brand values. My colleague
Hannah Smith talked about this in her post on The Future of Marketing. Moz themselves are a great example of a brand with strong values: for them it’s TAGFEE. Hannah also gives the examples of Innocent Drinks (sustainability), Patagonia (environmentalism) and Nike (whose strapline ‘Find Your Greatness’ is about their brand values of everyone being able to ‘achieve their own defining moment of greatness’).
Havas Media have been doing some interesting work around trying to ‘measure’ brand sentiment with something call the
‘Meaningful Brands Index’ (MBi), based on how much a brand is perceived as making a meaningful difference in people’s lives, both for personal wellbeing and collective wellbeing. Whether or not you like their approach, they have some interesting stats: apparently only 20% of brands worldwide are seen to ‘meaningfully positively impact peoples’ lives’, but the brands that rank high on the MBi also tend to outperform other brands significantly (120%).
Now there may be a ‘correlation vs causation’ argument here, and I don’t have space to explore it. But regardless of whether you like the MBi as a metric or not, countless case studies demonstrate that it’s valuable for a brand to have strong brand values.
There are two basic rules of thumb when it comes to choosing brand values:
1) I
t has to be relevant to what you do. If a bingo site is running an environmentalism campaign, it might seem a bit weird and it won’t resonate well with your audience. You also need to watch out for accidental irony. For example, McDonalds and Coca-Cola came in for some flak when they sponsored the Olympics, due to their reputation as purveyors of unhealthy food/drink products.
Nike’s #FindYourGreatness campaign, on the other hand, is a great example of how to tie in your values with your product. Another example is one of our clients at Distilled, SimplyBusiness, a business insurance company whose brand values include being ‘the small business champion’. This has informed their content strategy, leading them to develop in-depth resources for small businesses, and it has served them very well.
2) I
t can’t be so closely connected to what you do that it comes across as self-serving. For example, NatWest’s NatYes campaign claims to be about enabling people to become homeowners, but ultimately (in no small part thanks to the scary legal compliance small print about foreclosure) the authenticity of the message is undermined.

The most important thing when it comes to brand values: it’s very easy for people to be cynical about brands and whether they ‘care’. Havas did a survey that found that
only 32% of people feel that brands communicate honestly about commitments and promises. So choose values that you do feel strongly about and follow through even if it means potentially alienating some people. The recent OKCupid vs Mozilla Firefox episode is an illustration of standing up for brand values (regardless of where you stand on this particular example, it got them a lot of positive publicity).Key takeaways
So what can we take away from these basic principles of social norms and market norms? If you want to build a brand based on social relationships, here’s 3 things to remember.
Your brand needs to provide something besides just a low price. In order to have a social relationship with your customers, your brand needs a personality, a tone of voice, and you need to do nice things for your customers without the expectation of immediate payback.
You need to keep your mix of social and market norms consistent at every stage of the customer lifecycle. Don’t pull the rug out from under your loyal fans by hitting them with surprise costs after they checkout or other tricks. And don’t give new customers significantly better benefits. What you gain in the short term you will lose in the long term resentment they will feel about having been fooled. Instead, treat them with transparency and fairness and be responsive to customer service issues.
You need brand values that make sense for your brand and that you (personally and as a company) really believe in. Don’t have values that don’t relate to your core business. Don’t have values which are obviously self-serving. Don’t be accidentally ironic like McDonalds.

Have you seen examples of brands building customer relationships based on social norms? Did it work? Do you do this type of relationship-building for your brand?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
About bridget.randolph —

Bridget Randolph is a Consultant with online marketing agency Distilled. She is particularly interested in the way that developments in mobile technology and social media affect our online experiences, and how these changes impact the nature of digital marketing.

5 Fashion Hacks for the Modern Male Marketer – Whiteboard Friday

Editor’s note: Happy 4th of July! We’re off observing our Independence Day, so we decided to celebrate with a non-SEO Whiteboard Friday. From the undeniable class of a full windsor to the (all too common) mistake of letting our underwear become accidental outerwear, today’s modern marketers are prone to some very easily solveable fashion faux-pas. On this Independence Day, we take a quick break from discussing the online world and bring you a whiteboard video on the lighter side. Enjoy!

Rand: Howdy gang, and welcome to a very special Whiteboard video on men’s fashion. Well, so it turns out of all things that, in addition to my deep, deep passion around search and social media and content marketing and all things inbound, I’m also particularly passionate about what guys wear. I hope that I can be helpful in upgrading some of the things that we all wear, because as an industry, occasionally I will go to a conference or an event or someone’s office and see things that make me scratch my head and wonder whether women or men, who might be interested in these men, also scratch their head.

Hence, for you today, I have five fashion hacks for the modern male marketer. The first one is don’t let your underwear become accidental outerwear. So I’m obviously wearing underwear. I’m not going to show you, sorry, or maybe a good thing. But I’m also wearing underwear underneath this shirt, which you can see here. This is an undershirt. It’s underwear.

Now, it turns out that not all men are, let’s say, cognizant or fantastic at hiding their underwear. Let me show you what I’m talking about. Ta-da! Look at this brand new undershirt that I am now wearing and which tragically is on display for the whole world to see because I’m wearing a button-up shirt, but I’m not, of course, going to button it all the way to the top. So you’re seeing my underwear. Unintentionally my underwear has become outerwear. I just find this, well, not optimized, and as you know, I love optimization.
Unintentionally, my underwear has become outerwear. I just find this, well, not optimized.Now let me show you. There is an actual exception to this underwear/outwear rule, and I’ve asked our head of Big Data, Martin York . . . Martin, would you join me here for a second? So Martin has very wisely, wonderfully worn a ring-collar shirt with a button up. But look, it’s a T-shirt. It is not underwear. His underwear is not on display. His T-shirt is on display. This is a totally acceptable way to wear a ring-collar shirt with a button-up shirt and leave the button undone and show it off. No problem at all from a fashion standpoint.

The problem is when you do what I’m doing here. Don’t be like me. Wear a V-neck. Thanks Martin.

Another fantastic thing about having an open collared shirt and wearing an undershirt, like a V-neck underneath it, is when I get home, I don’t actually need to wash this. I can just put it right back on my hanger in my closet, and then I throw the undershirt in the wash. Undershirts are easy to wash. They’re also very inexpensive. If something happens to the undershirt, no problem. It might get a little sweaty during the day, especially filming so many videos.

My second point here, so a lot of times I talk to guys about shoes and footwear, because I’ll compliment a guy on what he’s wearing. I think it’s really cool. I’m obviously deep into footwear, right? I have my yellow Pumas, and I have all sorts of other shoes, and my footwear is just something I’m very passionate about. I love when I get compliments about my shoes, and so I like getting new ones. But I’ve noticed that many gentlemen have a big challenge around this, which is breaking in those new shoes, and I completely get where you’re coming from.

So I’m wearing today a pair of new shoes. I just recently got these. I think I’ve worn them only once or twice before, and not even the whole day, and they’re still breaking in, like they’re not quite comfortable yet. A lot of guys I talk to say, “Gosh, I hate when I buy new shoes, because I have to break them in. They take time. That’s why I have only my old pair of shoes, or I only wear athletic shoes,” or these kinds of things. That’s sad, because there’s a lot of cool things you can do with footwear.

But there’s a trick for breaking in shoes that makes it way more comfortable. It’s totally stolen from hikers. Let me show you what I’m talking about. So watch.

I’m not just wearing one pair of socks. I’m wearing two pairs of socks. So I’ve got this white sock underneath here, which it’s a fine sock. No one’s going to see it, because it’s shorter than the shoe. But then I’m actually wearing a little slip on sock over it, and the reason is I’m breaking in these shoes. Wearing a second pair of socks over them, yeah it uses up an extra pair of socks, but man it’s way more comfortable, very easy to break in new shoes. I wear this a couple of days, three days in a row, and this shoe will feel like an old worn pair, which is just awesome. Slides right over and slides right in. Now if I do it right, no one’s the wiser.

Number three on my list, it turns out that a lot of men’s shirt makers these days are doing some really cool things with kind of fashion details and hidden fashion details. They don’t have to be completely hidden. So one of my favorite things is when I buy a shirt, I look inside and I see, “Wow that’s really cool,” they’ve got kind of an off color cuff, like the cuff is a different shade, and the inside of the shirt material is a different shade than the outside. I almost want to show that off in some way. But the only time you can do it is when you’re putting on the shirt or taking off the shirt, unless you roll up your sleeves in a very clever way. Let me show you what I’m talking about.

All right. Now depending on how OCD you want to be, you can make it look even better than I have here in this short amount of time with no mirror. But you can see what’s happened is I’ve taken the cuff, rolled it up, so that now the exterior of the cuff is actually inside, and the interior is shown off, at least the top of it is shown off. I love that sort of mismatched, interior exposer, showing off the detail of the shirt. It’s just a fun way.

The other thing I love about this is, unlike traditional ways of rolling up your cuffs where it often falls down, these don’t fall. I’ve worn it on stage like this, this particular shirt in fact, on stage with the cuffs rolled up, and it doesn’t fall off, even if I’m doing my wild hand gesticulating while I’m speaking. So I really appreciate that, and I think it’s super cool that you can try this out.

Number four, details aren’t just details. In fact, details are a lot of times what makes men’s fashion really fun, really enjoyable, really shareable. So I like to do some fun stuff with all kinds of things, my eyeglasses that I wear. I’m wearing contacts right now. Obviously, this ludicrous mustache, which is a whole other story, but playing around with hairstyles.

I actually really enjoy messing around with watches. I’ve got this one from ZIIIRO that I love. You’ve probably seen me wear a couple of other ones on Whiteboard Friday.

I have this belt. It’s actually a kid’s belt. I know that’s weird, but it’s kind of fun. It’s got like these dinosaurs eating toast, like making toast and then eating toast, and then stealing it from each other kind of print on there. A belt is a very hidden thing, like you rarely, rarely see it, especially because so few men tuck in their shirts anymore, which, God forbid, please don’t tuck in your shirts, especially not T-shirts. Just don’t do it. It’s not allowed. I should bring in a gentleman from our engineering team to maybe show that off.
God forbid, please don’t tuck in your shirts. Especially not T-shirts.Just don’t do it. It’s not allowed.
But in any case, other kinds of details can be really cool too. So one of the things that I love and that has been taking off in popularity in men’s fashion is socks and shoe matching. So these are some old sneakers that I’ve got, which you can see have purple flowers on the side there. So I grabbed some purple polka dot socks that kind of match the color patterns in there, a few of the flowers, and it just makes for fun. It’s something that might catch your eye as you’re walking by. Details, details.

I’ll show you another one. On the topic of undershirts and underwear, it is absolutely appropriate to wear this ring-collar undershirt when I am putting on a suit. I plan to have a tie here. I definitely don’t want an undershirt that’s going to be V-neck that will show off like a little kind of weird patch of skin underneath the shirt, especially if I’m going to be outdoors, for example, for a wedding or at work or something like that.

Now here in the U.S. it’s spring, which means formal events are coming up, a lot of weddings, Bat and Bar Mitzvahs, all kinds of stuff. It also means that a lot of gentlemen are about to make the critical mistake that you see me making right now.

Let’s imagine that I’m at a formal event, not at work. I probably wouldn’t wear a three piece suit to work, or everybody here would think I was crazy. But what’s going on? What am I missing? What am I doing wrong?

It’s my necktie. Look at this shabby tie. Can you see? There you go. Look this knot is called a four-in-hand knot, and a four-in- hand is a very, very simple to tie, tie. But it is not a formal necktie knot.

Let me show you how a formal necktie knot looks. I’m going to start with a half Windsor, and I do the full Windsor as well. [Cut to new scene.] Here we have the half Windsor. This is what I call the minimum acceptable bar of necktie knot formality for a wedding or another formal occasion.

Now let’s take a look at the full Windsor, which looks even nicer in some ways. [Cut.] Here we have the full Windsor. The full Windsor, as you can see, has this lovely sort of balance to it on both sides. It’s very even. It looks like I’m going to some sort of formal British state affair. English state affair? I don’t know. The Queen will be there. She probably won’t. In any case, what I urge you to do gentlemen is if you’re going to a formal event that demands formal wear, please bring with you a formal knot.

If you’re going to a formal event that demands formal wear, please bring with you a formal knot.

Now I’d very much like to thank my colleague Wes. Wes is one of our lead engineers on Moz Local, and Wes has done me the kind favor of committing a horrible fashion crime. He’s tucked in his T-shirt. Wes, would you repair that mistake?

Wes: Sure thing.

Rand: Oh my gosh, looking so much better. Please gentlemen, don’t tuck. Look, it’s fantastic. It doesn’t need to go in there. You don’t need to show that to people. Thank you, Wes, I appreciate it.

Wes: Oh, you’re welcome.

Rand: One of my favorite trends in men’s fashion, by the way, is the return of the bow tie. Now I think it looks ridiculous with 99% of outfits, but with a full suit, a three piece, or a tuxedo, a bow tie can make a great accoutrement, and it’s actually a little more fun to put on and fun to wear. It can make your outfit a little . . . well go better with a mustache anyway.

Don’t cheat by the way. They are challenging to tie, but they’re also a lot of fun. These things with the little clip, I don’t know what this is. This is like the black hat of bow ties. Don’t do it, people.
These things with the little clip … this is like the black hat of bow ties.Don’t do it, people.
All right, everyone. I have really enjoyed having a little bit of fun, talking some men’s fashion with you guys. I’m sure there are going to be some great comments, and if you have questions about this stuff, I’m happy to answer it. I’m not an expert. This is not my field. I just like to have fun in here, and I really enjoy giving a hard time to the guys in my life who happen to tuck in their shirts or wear clip-on bow ties or mismatch their socks.

So when you see me at a conference, be sure and say hi and give me a hard time about whatever I’m wearing, because I need it and I deserve it. Thanks everyone. We’ll see you again next time. Take care.

Getting a job in SEO: A Candidate’s Perspective

I’ve now been with Builtvisible for a whopping 2 months. I arrived at a time of rather hefty transition, witnessing a complete rebranding of the company followed by a pleasantly emotional move into our swish new offices. Hello Silicon Roundabout!
Before being embraced by the BV family, I had no real exposure to SEO as a line of work and only limited experience of digital marketing in general. In all truthfulness, this time last year, I would not have been able to tell you what an SEO was from an SOE, let alone that an entire industry exists in its name.
On first exploring the concept, I was entertained by the array of posts pitching ‘white hats’ vs ‘black hats’ in a battle to defend (or salvage) the name and honourability of the industry.
I’m still rather amused by the amount of effort and creativity black hats allegedly put in to playing the system and spamming their way to the top of searches. Grow some integrity Pantless Weasels! I finally understand why the Internet is full of so much crap.
It dawned on me fairly quickly how little I knew about the way Google Search operates – a service nearly synonymous these days with ‘the Internet’. From link audits and crawl budget to canonicals, link baiting and why penguins and pandas no longer appear on my list of the cute and innocent – I’ve been introduced to a lot over these last couple of months and that iceberg has a hell of an arse to it.

So – especially as I’ve now outed myself as an SEO noob – rather than try to bluff my way through a blog post on why some amazing tool or data set will change your life, or how to make creative content that will blow the internet’s socks off, I thought I’d speak to those out there who are wondering whether or not SEO and digital marketing is something for them, how to get involved and what you might experience by bagging a job in the sector.

Landing the job
“Why, oh why”, sings a mildly bewildered chorus, “would a company hire someone who flat out admits a substantial lack of knowledge and experience in digital marketing?”
Good question! Thankfully, this is the UK, and over here it’s okay not to know precisely how to do a job before you’re employed to do it. Ludicrous, I know.

As with most typical entry-level job candidacies, you need to demonstrate a suitable level of intelligence and enthusiasm and have done your homework on the aims, purpose and requirements of the company (and your potential role in it). You should also be able to give evidence of possessing a transferable skills set. You can be taught everything you need to know once you’re in.
Never underestimate the simple strength of being able to learn in the deep end of the pool. Not only is there a lot to grasp at the outset when starting a role in SEO – this is an industry that, at the behest of Google, transforms more rapidly than HBO can whip out a new season of Game of Thrones. Just ask last year’s guest bloggers.
I would note that you may want to reconsider your interest in this particular career path if you’ve never touched the backend of a website. After all, who would think to work as a chef without first experimenting in their own private kitchen? Same principle… ish.

Other than the standard interview prep, my approach was to drench my mind in a myriad of blog posts from Builtvisible (then ‘SEOgadget’), Moz Blog and HubSpot, to name a few. If there’s one thing there isn’t a shortage of, it’s SEO and digital marketing blogs.
I also made time to play around with Google Analytics in my last role, at least as much as I could get away with, which was sadly not a whole lot, but it got me excited enough to suspect that digital marketing was the place for me to be.
If you’re after more detailed pointers on what you need to know to get a job in SEO, check out Richard’s extremely helpful post on the topic, written from the perspective of the employer – it sorted me right out. Every interviewer has a different style and prioritises different things when looking for new recruits. Many are just checking you have a brain and a personality – two things I’ve heard can get you quite far in the world.
Don’t forget that interviews are also your opportunity to assess the company – ask as many questions as you can about the working environment, the scope of the role and which direction the employer sees the company going in. Find out everything you can and measure how it fits against your responding levels of excitement and interest. If you love where you work it becomes a kind of second home, and if that happens, then you know you’re winning at life.

You’re in! Now what!?
Prepare yourself for a cascade of technical SEO terms likely to confound anyone with a background in, well… pretty much most other things, and look forward to a plethora of tools that will turn the web into your very own data playground. You’ll be dreaming about metrics before you know it.
My biggest adjustment has been changing the way I think about the Internet and its users.  When coming up with content ideas – particularly new interactives – I get swept away with inappropriate levels of excitement over how useful or entertaining a particular idea would be for people interested in x, y or z, before I get stopped in my naive little tracks by the comment: “Well, yes, but how would it generate links?”. Links from external domains to a piece of content on your site quantifies the content’s success and, if the links are good, boost your site’s rankings. Or so I’m told.
Here’s vaguely how I’m picturing all of this: Google’s endgame is to please users, our endgame, as SEOs, is to please Google, which we manage by feeding the elusive, fickle yet all-determining Google Bot (Sorry Bing), and that particular little ‘spider’ loves to chow down on a diet rich in high quality links. Yum.

One of the best things I was presented with when starting my new role was a mentor. If you haven’t got one, ask for one. It helped that mine happened to be a nice enough human being to refrain from any condescending laughter when I let Inner Blondie loose (cheers Darren!). Patience is another of his much-appreciated virtues – one that our entire team, if not the whole company, gracefully seems to share.
Feeling comfortable enough with someone to ask them stupid questions makes a world of difference when settling in. It also means a lot to have someone simply ask if everything’s going okay and whether you’re getting a chance to learn the things you want to. Thanks for that BV!
In my first few weeks Darren introduced me to a very useful tool I think all fellow younglings in the industry (or perhaps everyone generally) should be aware of – a platform called Feedly.

Feedly allows you to create different categories of feeds collating recent posts from selected blogs. The selections available include a good variety of marketing and SEO blogs led by some seasoned pros. The layout of the app makes it easy to scan through recent posts listed in customised categories, helping you to pick out relevant content at a glance. It can suck you in and spit you out hours later if you’re not careful, but a half-hour session a day is time well spent when you’re on a learning curve – which in digital marketing, I have a feeling you always, always are.
Finally, if you’re an all-rounder – the type of person who gets just as excited over discovering trends in data sets as you do polishing off copy then you probably should get involved. By exposing yourself to all the different skills and practices that make up SEO and digital marketing, you can steadily identify what you enjoy the most and carve out a perfect little niche for yourself. I have my ideas already as to what mine will (hopefully) turn out to be.
So, dear reader, before I go… Are you about ready to jump in yet?

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Panda Pummels Press Release Websites: The Road to Recovery

Many of us in the search industry were caught off guard by the release of Panda 4.0. It had become common knowledge that Panda was essentially “baked into” the algorithm now several times a month, so a pronounced refresh was a surprise. While the impact seemed reduced given that it coincided with other releases including a payday loans update and a potential manual penalty on Ebay, there were notable victims of the Panda 4.0 update which included major press release sites. Both Search Engine Land and Seer Interactive independently verified a profound traffic loss on major press release sites following the Panda 4.0 update. While we can’t be certain that Google did not, perhaps, roll out a handful of simultaneous manual actions or perhaps these sites were impacted by the payday loans algo update, Panda remains the inference to the best explanation for their traffic losses.
So, what happened? Can we tease out why Press Release sites were seemingly singled out? Are they really that bad? And why are they particularly susceptible to the Panda algorithm? To answer this question, we must first address the main question: what is the Panda algorithm?Briefly: What is the Panda Algorithm?
The Panda algorithm was a ground-breaking shift in Google’s methodology for addressing certain search quality issues. Using patented machine learning techniques, Google used real, human reviewers to determine the quality of a sample set of websites. We call this sample the “training set”. Examples of the questions they were asked are below:Would you trust the information presented in this article? Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature? Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations? Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site? Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors? Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines? Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis? Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results? How much quality control is done on content? Does the article describe both sides of a story? Is the site a recognized authority on its topic? Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care? Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced? For a health related query, would you trust information from this site? Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name? Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic? Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious? Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend? Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content? Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book? Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics? Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail? Would users complain when they see pages from this site?
Once Google had these answers from real users, they built a list of variables that might potentially predict these answers, and applied their machine learning techniques to build a model of predicting low performance on these questions. For example, having an HTTPS version of your site might predict a high performance on the “trust with a credit card” question. This model could then be applied across their index as a whole, filtering out sites that would likely perform poorly on the questionnaire. This filter became known as the Panda algorithm.How do press release sites perform on these questions?
First, Moz has a great tutorial on running your own Panda questionnaire on your own website, which is useful not just for Panda but really any kind of user survey. The graphs and data in my analysis come from, though. Full disclosure, Virante, Inc., the company for which I work, owns PandaRisk. The graphs were built by averaging the results from several pages on each press release site, so they represent a sample of pages from each PR distributor.
So, let’s dig in. In the interest of brevity, I have chosen to highlight just four of the major concerns that came from the surveys, question-by-question.Q1. Does this site contain insightful analysis?
Google wants to send users to web pages that are uniquely useful, not just unique and not just useful. Unfortunately, press release sites uniformly fail on this front. On average, only 50% of reviewers found that content contained insightful analysis. Compare this to Wikipedia, EDU and Government websites which, on average, score 84%, 79% and 94% respectively, and you can see why Google might choose not to favor their content.

But does this have to be the case? Of course not. Press release websites like have first mover status on important industry information. They should be the first to release insightful analysis. Now, press release sites do have to be careful about editorializing the content of their users, but there are clearly improvements that could be made. For example, we know that use of structured data and visual aids improves performance on this question (ie: graphs and charts). BusinessWire could extract stock exchange symbols from press releases and include graphs and data related to the business right in the post. This would separate their content from other press release sites that simply reproduce the content verbatim. There are dozens of other potential improvements that can be added either programmatically or by an editor. So, what exactly would these kinds of changes look like?

In this case, we simply inserted a graph from stock exchange data and included on the right-hand side some data from Freebase on the Securities and Exchange Commission, which could easily be extracted as an entity from the documentation using, for example, Alchemy API. These modest improvements to the page increased the “insightful analysis” review score by 15%. Q2. Would you trust this site with your credit card?
This is one of the most difficult ideals to measure up to. E-Commerce sites, in general, perform better automatically, but there are clear distinctions between sites people trust and don’t trust. Press release websites do have an e-commerce component, so one would expect them to fare comparatively well to non-commercial sites. Unfortunately, this is just not the case. failed this question in what can only be described as epic fashion. 91% of users said they would not trust the site with their credit card details. This isn’t just a Panda issue for, this is a survival-of-the-business issue. 
Luckily, there are some really clear, straight-forward solutions to this address this problem. Extend HTTPS/SSL Sitewide
Not every site needs to have HTTPS enabled, but if you have a 600,000+ page site with e-commerce functionality, let’s just go ahead and assume you do. Users will immediately trust your site more if they see that pretty little lock icon in their browser.  Site Security Solutions
Take advantage of solutions like Comodo Hacker Proof or McAfee SiteAdvisor to verify that your site is safe and secure. Include the badges and link to them so that both users and the bots know that you have a safe site. Business Reputation Badges
Use at least one trade group or business reputation group (like the better business bureau) or, at minimum, employ some form of schema review markup that makes it clear to your users that at least some person or group of persons out there trusts your site. If you use a trade group membership or the BBB, make sure you link to them so that, once again, it is clear to the bots as well as your users. Up-to-date Design
This is a clear issue time and time again. In the technology world, old means insecure. The site looks old-fashioned by all measures of the word, especially in comparison to the other press release websites. It is no wonder that it performs so horribly.
It is worth pointing out here that Google doesn’t need to find markup on your site to come to the conclusion that your site is untrustworthy. Because the Panda algorithm likely takes into account engagement metrics and behaviors (like pogo sticking), Google can use the behavior of users to predict the performance on these questions. So, even if there isn’t a clear path between a change you make on your site and Googlebot’s ability to identify that change doesn’t mean the change cannot and will not have an impact on site performance in the search results. The days of thinking about your users and the bots as separate audiences are gone. The bots now measure both your site and your audience. Your impact on users can and will have an impact on search performance.Q3. Do you consider this site an authority?
This question is particularly difficult for sites that both don’t control the content they create and have a wide variety of content. This places press release websites squarely in the bullseye of the Panda algorithm. How does a website that accepts thousands of press releases on nearly any topic dare claim to be an authority? Well, it generally doesn’t, and the numbers bear that out. 75% of respondents wouldn’t consider PRNewswire an authority. 
Notice, though, that Wikipedia performs poorly on this metric as well (at least compared to EDUs and GOVs). So what exactly is going on here? How can a press release site hope to escape from this authority vacuum? Topically Segment Content
This was one of the very first reactions to Panda. Many of the sites that were hit with Panda 1.0 sub-domained their content into particular topic areas. This seemed to provide some relief but was never a complete or permanent solution. Whether you segment your content into sub-directories or sub-domains, what you are really doing here is helping make clear to your users that the specific content your users are reading is part of a bigger piece of the pie. It isn’t some random page on your site, it fits in nicely with your website’s stated aims.  Create an Authority
Just because you don’t write the content for your site doesn’t mean you can’t be authoritative. In fact, most major press release websites have some degree of editorial oversight sitting between the author and the website. That editorial layer needs to be bolstered and exposed to the end user, making it obvious that the website does more than simply regurgitate the writing of anyone with a few bucks. 
So, what exactly would this look like? Let’s return to the Businesswire press release we were looking at earlier. We started with a bland page comprised of almost nothing but the press release. We then added a graph and some structured data automagically. Now, we want to add in some editor creds and topic segmentation.

Notice in the new design that we have created the “Securities & Investment Division”, added an editor with a fancy title “Business Desk Editor” and a credentialed by-line. You could even use authorship publisher markup. The page no longer looks like a sparse press release but an editorially managed piece of news content in a news division dedicated to this subject matter. Authority done.Q4. Would you consider bookmarking/sharing this site?
When I look at this question, I am baffled. Seriously, how do you make a site in which you don’t control the content worth bookmarking or sharing? Furthermore, how do you do this with overtly commercial, boring content like press releases? As you could imagine, press release sites fair quite poorly on this. Over 85% of respondents said they weren’t interested at all in bookmarking or sharing content from And why should they? 
So, how exactly does a press release website encourage users to share? The most common recommendations are already in place on PRWeb. They are quite overt with the usage of social sharing and bookmarking buttons (placed right at the top of the content). Their content is constantly fresh because new press releases come out every day. If these techniques aren’t working, then what will?
The problem with bookmarking and sharing on press release websites is two-fold. First, the content is overtly commercial so users don’t want to share it unless the press release is about something truly interesting. Secondly, the content is ephemeral so users don’t want to return to it. We have to solve both of these problems.
Unfortunately, I think the answer to this question is some tough medicine for press release websites. The solution is multi-faceted. It starts with putting a meta expires tag on press releases. Sorry, but there is no reason for PRWeb to maintain a 2009 press release about a business competition in the search results. In its place, though, should be company and/or categorical pages which thoughtfully index and organize archived content. While LumaDerm may lose their press release from 2009, they would instead have a page on the site dedicated to their press releases so that the content is still accessible, albeit one click away, and the search engines know to ignore it. With this solution, the pages that end up ranking in the long run for valuable words and phrases are the aggregate pages that truly do offer authoritative information on what is up-and-coming with the business. The page is sticky because it is updated as often as the business releases new information, you still get some of the shares out of new releases but you don’t risk the problems of PR sprawl and crawl prioritization. Aside from the initial bump of fresh content, there is no good SEO reason to keep old press releases in the index.So, I don’t own a press release site…Most of us don’t run sites with thousands of pages of low quality content. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be cognizant of Panda. Of all of Google’s search updates, Panda is the one I respect the most. I respect it because it is an honest attempt to measure quality. It doesn’t ask how you got to your current position in the search results (a classic genetic fallacy problem), it simply asks whether the page and site itself deserve that ranking based on human quality measures (as imperfect as it may be at doing so). Most importantly, even if Google didn’t exist at all, you should aspire to have a website that scores well on all of these metrics. Having a site that performs well on the Panda questions means more than insulation from a particular algorithm update, it means having a site that performs well for your users. That is a site you want to have.Take a look again at the questionnaire. Does your site honestly meet these standards? Ask someone unbiased. If your site does, then congratulations – you have an amazing site. But if not, it is time to get to work building the site that you were meant to build.
About russvirante —
I am the CTO of Virante, Inc. I am married to Morgan, who is frickin awesome, and I have two daughters Claren and Aven who are also frickin awesome. We live happily in Durham, NC.

Virante, Inc. is a full service Search, Social and Analytics Consulting Company.