Creating Influencer-Targeted Content to Earn Links + Coverage – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Most SEO campaigns need three kinds of links to be successful; targeting your content to influencers can get you 2/3 of the way there. In this Whiteboard Friday, Rand covers the tactics that will help your content get seen and shared by those with a wide and relevant audience.

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How to create influencer-targeted content - Whiteboard Friday

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about how to create content that is specifically influencer-targeted in order to earn the links and attention and amplification that you often need.

Most SEO campaigns need 3 types of links:

So it’s the case that most SEO campaigns, as they’re trying to earn the rankings that they’re seeking, are trying to do a few things. You’re trying to grow your overall Domain Authority. You’re trying to get some specific keyword terms and phrases ranking on your site for those terms and phrases.

So you need kind of three kinds of links. This is most campaigns.

1. Links from broad, high-Domain Authority sites that are pointing — you kind of don’t care — anywhere on your site, the home page, internal pages, to your blog, to your news section. It’s totally fine. So a common one that we use here would be like the New York Times. I want the New York Times to link to me so that I have the authority and influence of a link from that domain and, hopefully, lots of domains like them, very high-Domain Authority domains.

2. Links to specific high-value keyword-targeted pages, hopefully, hopefully with specific anchor text, and that’s going to help me boost those individual URLs’ rankings. So I want this page over here to link to me and say “hairdryers,” to my page that is keyword targeted for the word “hairdryers.” Fingers crossed.

3. Links to my domain from other sites, in my sector or niche, that provide some of that topical authority and influence to help tell Google and the other search engines that this is what my site is about, that I belong in this sphere of influence, that I’m semantically and topically related to words and phrases like this. So I want appliancegal.com to link to my site if I’m trying to rank in the world of hairdryers and other kinds of appliances.

So of these, for one and three, we won’t talk about two today, but for one and three, much of the time the people that you’re trying to target are what we call in the industry influencers, and these influencers are going to be lots of people. I’ve illustrated them all here — mostly looking sideways at each other, not exactly sure why that is — but bloggers, and journalists, and authors, and conference organizers, and content marketers, and event speakers, and researchers, and editors, and podcasters, and influencers of a wide, wide variety. We could fill up the whole board with the types of people who are in the influencer world or have that title specifically, but they tend to share a few things in common. They are trying to produce content of one kind or another. They’re not dissimilar from us. They’re trying to produce things on the web, and when they do, they need certain elements to help fill in the gap. When they’re looking for those gap-filling elements, that is your opportunity to earn these kinds of links.

Content tactics

So a few tactics for that. First off, one of the most powerful ones, and we’ve talked about this a little bit here on Whiteboard Friday, but probably not in depth, is…

A. Statistics and data. The reason that this is such a powerful tool is because when you create data, especially if it’s either uniquely gathered by you, unique because you have it, because you can collect it and no one else can, or unique because you’ve put it together from many disparate sources, you’re the editorial curator of that data and statistics, everyone like this needs those types of statistics and data to support or challenge their arguments or their assertions or their coverage of the industry, whatever it is.

  • Why this works: This works well because this fills that gap. This gives them the relevant stats that they’re looking for. Because numbers are easy to use and easy to cite, and you can say, “Feel free to link to this. You’re welcome to copy this graph. You’re welcome to embed this chart.” All those kinds of things. That can make it even easier, but much of the time, just by having these statistics, you can do it.
  • The key is that you have to be visible at the time that these people are looking for them, and that means usually ranking for very hard to discover, through at least normal keyword research, long-tail types of terms that use words like “stats,” “data,” “charts,” “graphs,” and kind of these question formats like when, how much, how many, number of, etc.

It’s tough because you will not see many of those in your keyword research, because there’s a relatively few number of these people searching in any given month for this type of gap-filling data, so you have to intuit often what you should title those things. Put yourself in these people’s shoes and start Googling around for “What would I need if I had to write some industry coverage around this?” Then you’ll come up with these types of things, and you can try modifying your keyword research queries or doing some Google Suggest stuff with these words and phrases.

B. Visual content. Visual content is exceptionally valuable in this case because, again, it fills a gap that many of these folks have. When you are a content marketer, or when you’re a speaker at an event, or when you’re an author or a blogger, you need visual content that will help catch the eye, that will break up the writing that you’ve done, and it’s often much easier to get someone else’s visual content and simply cite your source and link to it than it is to create visual content of your own. These people often don’t have the resources to create their own visual content.

  • Why this works: So, for everyone who’s doing posts, and articles, and slide decks, and even videos, they say, “Why not let someone else do the work,” and you can be that someone else and fill these gaps.
  • Key: To do this well, you’re going to want to appear in a bunch of visual content search mediums that these folks are going to use. Those are places like…
    • Google Images most obviously, but also
    • Pinterest
    • SlideShare, meaning take your visuals, put them up in some sort of slide format, give some context to them and upload them to SlideShare. The nice thing about SlideShare, SlideShare actually reproduces each individual slide as a visual, and then Google Images can search those, and so you’ll often see SlideShare’s results inside Google Images. So this can be a great end around for that.
    • Instagram search, many folks are using that especially if you’re doing photos. You can see I’ve illustrated my own hair drying technique right here. This is clearly Rand. Look at me. I’ve got more hair than I know what to do with.
    • Flickr, still being used by many searchers, particularly because it has a Creative Commons search license, and that should bring up using a Creative Commons commercial use license that requires attribution with a link is your best bet for all of these platforms. It will mean you can get on lots of other Creative Commons visual and photography search engines, which can expose you to more of these types of people as they’re doing their searches.

C. Contrarian/counter-opinions. The last one I’ll cover here is contrarian or counter-opinions to the prevailing wisdom. So you might have an opinion like, “In the next three years, hairdryers will be completely obsolete because of X.”

  • Why it works: This works well because modern journalism has this idea and modern content, in fact, has this idea that they are supposed to create conflict and that they should cover both sides of an issue. In many industry specific sorts of fields, it’s often the case that that is a gap that goes unfilled. By being that sort of challenger to conventional wisdom or conventional thinking, you can fill that gap.
  • The key here is you want to either rank in Google search engine for some of those mid or long tail research type queries. These can be competitive, and so this is challenging, but presenting contrarian opinions is often great link bait. This is kind of a good way to earn links of all kinds in here.
  • Second, I would also urge you to do a little bit of comment marketing and some social media platforms, because what you want to start is to build a brand where you are known for having this contrarian opinion on this conventional topic in your space so that people point all these influencers to you when they’re asked about it. You’re trying to build up this branding of, “Well, I don’t agree with the conventional wisdom around hairdryers.” Hairdryers might be a tough topic for that one, but certainly these other two can work real well.

So using these tactics, I hope that you can go reach out and fill some gaps for these influencers and, as a result, earning two of the three exact kind of links that you need in order to rank well in the search results.

And we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

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Coming soon: Structured data training!

Do you want to increase chances people click on your page in the search results? Want to learn how to get those awesome rich snippets? Next week, we’ll launch our Structured data training. In this new training, you’ll learn how structured data can influence the appearance of your pages in the search results. After completing this course, you’ll be able to add structured data yourself, so Google can show a rich snippet.

Why take our structured data training?

A normal snippet of a recipe looks like this:

You see a title, a URL and a description of a page. If you add structured data to your page, Google (or another search engine) can transform your snippet into this:

So the structured data you add can show up in the snippet. For recipes you can add ratings and reviews, cooking time, calories and an awesome picture. Not only for recipes, but also for books, movies, articles, products etc. structured data exists.

Rich snippets let your page stand out from the other search results in Google. And if your page stands out in the search results, chances are much higher people will click on it.

Is adding structured data hard?

Adding structured data is not very hard, but you do need to know what you’re doing. After some training, everyone should be able to add structured data and get rewarded with those desired rich snippets!

We’ve created a very practical online training in which we take you through all the steps of adding structured data to a site. We’ll first explain the theory and then we’ll show you screencasts that will guide you through the steps you need to take. We’ll discuss multiple strategies you can use to add structured data to a website. Some strategies are more advanced (and more daunting) than others. At the end of the course, you’ll be able to add structured data in multiple ways. Just choose which strategy fits you best and start working on those awesome rich snippets yourself!

Want to buy our course?

The structured data training will be available as of June 29. You can purchase the course for the introductory price of $119 until July 2. You’ll get access to over 75 minutes of training videos, lots and lots of reading material and challenging quiz questions. If you finish our course, you’ll receive a certificate and a badge to put on your site. If you buy one of our courses, you’ll also get access to the Yoast Updates. These updates keep you in the loop about new trends in SEO and WordPress every 3 months.

Want to know more?

Check out the Structured data training and make sure you won’t miss the launch by subscribing to our newsletter!

Not the right training for you? We offer lots of other SEO courses. See which one fits your needs best!

Google Search Console and structured data

Google Search Console is an incredibly important tool for website owners. This tool shows you how your site appears in the Google search results. It also shows you what to improve to make the most of your listings in the results. One of the many cool features of Search Console is the structured data analyses found in the Search Appearance section. Let’s dive into that!

In this post, we’ll cover the Structured data tab in GSC, the Rich Cards tab and the Data Highlighter. If you don’t have Search Console yet – and you really should -, sign up on Google’s website.

Google search console home

Search Appearance

First, log into Search Console. On the left-hand side of your screen, you’ll find the Search Appearance menu item. This tool gives you insights into how your website appears in the search results. You can click any item to see how Google treats your site.

Structured Data

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In this post, our main focal point is structured data, so we’ll jump to the Structured Data section of GSC. Clicking on Structured Data will show you an overview of all the pages that have some kind of structured data attached to it. This could be in any form, like RDFa or Microdata, but usually, it will be in JSON-LD.

Structured data is all the extra information you give search engines to understand what a page is about. For instance, as the writer of this article, I am both a Person and an Author. If I add this data to the source code of this page, search engines can use that data to do cool things. If you sell products, you can enhance your search listings with reviews and ratings, prices and availability. These might all become visible in the search results.

Rich snippets products

Google Search Console shows a red line for the pages on your site that have incorrectly implemented structured data. Red indicate items with errors. You’ll notice that Search Console automatically sorts the list by the number of errors on a page. This way, you can start by fixing the most important issues first.

Google search console graph

Click on the lines in the table to see which pages have errors with the selected data type. Use these errors to prioritize your work. The big graph shows the progression of your structured data implementation as seen by Google. Let’s see how that works.

We’re going to take a closer look at the data. Above the graph, we see how many structured data items Google has found on how many pages, in this case, 218 items on 56 pages. Look closely at the left and right-hand side of the graph. The left side – in blue – goes from zero to 240 and this shows the number of pages with structured data items. The right side – in red – goes from zero to sixteen and shows the number of errors. At the bottom of the image, you see all the different data types Google has found on your site and all the items that have errors.

Errors

Now that we’ve analyzed all the different data on the structured data tab, it’s time to look at our errors. So click on an item with errors.

Google search console errors

After clicking on an error you’ll see this screen. This is where all the errors are listed individually. It’s the same kind of information as the screen before this one, so I won’t cover it again. However, now click on the individual error to see what happens:

Google search console popup

When we clicked on the individual error, a pop-up appeared. It shows information of the domain we’re on, information about the data item that gives an error and a button to test it with the Structured Data Testing Tool. Try to test with live data because GSC might give you an incorrect message. Also, the Structured Data Testing Tool allows you to tweak the code until it doesn’t give an error anymore. This way, you can safely test and improve on the error. Let’s move on to Rich Cards.

Rich Cards

Rich cards are new ways of presenting search results. These results are often amended with special, rich search features that make the results more interactive. For instance, a recipe site might get swipeable cards in the search results or a restaurant might get an option to immediately reserve a seat from the results. These are just a couple of examples. And since this is one of the areas Google is increasingly focussing on, you’ll see a lot more of these in the coming years.

Rich cards aren’t that different from structured data types. You can see structured data as the language used to describe the content on a page, while a rich card is a visually compelling way to present search results. And yes, more often than not, rich cards rely on the structured data that Google finds on a page. That’s why the Rich Cards tab is kind of complementary to the Structured Data tab instead of it superseding it. 

By the way, these are all the rich cards Google creates.

Add structured data to your site, validate it and you’re ready to get rich cards. If Google deems your site the best possible result, that is. In Search Appearance, you can check if your implementation is correct and if Google has already awarded you rich cards.

Google search console rich cards overview

Click on the Rich Cards tab and you’ll see a graph like the one above. On top of the graph, you can tick and untick the boxes. We’ve got invalid cards, cards that can be improved and correct cards. You can probably guess that each box shows a different graph. Also, our issues are sorted by severity. First, we’ll try and find out what our critical issues are by clicking on them.

Google search console rich cards

Now we see all the individual URLs with errors. We know that these are all image-related problems because that’s mentioned in the previous screenshot. Just click on one of the URLs.

Google search console cards popup

A pop-up will appear, similar to the one in the Structured Data tab. It gives you the option to test your live data and read the card documentation. You always want to double check your live data with the Structured Data Testing Tool. As said before, you can edit the code right away and see whether your changes validate. All good now? Great, you can start to implement your new code.

Data Highlighter

The Data Highlighter is a tool within GSC that allows you to markup your pages without any knowledge of coding. There are a couple of things you need to know before you start marking up your structured data with Google’s Data Highlighter. Firstly, your highlighted data is stored in Google’s databases, not on your site itself. Since the data is stored externally from your site, other search engines won’t be able to benefit from it. Ask yourself if you want this. Secondly, Data Highlighter only offers a limited set of schema you can implement. So it won’t be for everyone.

The Data Highlighter does make fixing the issues you’ve found in the Structured Data section easier. For instance, choose one of the URLs that had a faulty Structured Data setup and tell GSC what kind of information you want to highlight.

This will bring you to a live view of that page and you’ll be able to select any element on the page. By selecting an element you’ll be given a choice of what you want to highlight that specific element for. For example, for a Product, you’ll be given these markups to add to the corresponding element on the page:

google search console data highlighter

This makes adding Structured Data, for Google at least, as easy as a few clicks.

You can find the Data Highlighter under the Search Appearance section. Click on the “Start highlighting” button and you’ll see a new screen. Now we can fill in the URL (a product page, for example), select the type of markup we’d like to implement (Product Schema.org) and select if we just want to markup this single page or similar pages like it as well. We’ll only show multiple pages because marking up single pages shares the same core functionalities – only with fewer steps.

You can easily select elements on a page. Google automatically shows the available Schema.org you can select, see the first arrow. Once selected, you’ll see an overview of the data items on that page, check the second arrow. When you’re done, you click on finished – it’s the big red button in the top right corner.

google search console data highlighter save

In the end, Google shows you random pages from your selection to check the implementation. You can verify whether the information holds true for all of your products:

● Did Google unexpectedly include a page it shouldn’t have? Click Remove page.
● Did Google mistakenly apply the wrong Schema? You can correct it by selecting the element and change the Schema.
● Did Google do it right? Just click Next.

The Google Data Highlighter is just one of the tools that helps you implement structured data with Schema.org. It is, however, fully tied into the Google ecosystem and might not be the best option when you want to keep full control over your data.

You’ve reached the end…

Structured data gives you an excellent opportunity to open a conversation with search engines. By adding structured data, you make your site instantly comprehensible for engines. This way, they can use your data to present your content in innovative, highly visible ways that are guaranteed to catch the eye of your customers or readers.

Structured data is becoming so important that we’ve developed a course to educate you on this subject. In this course, we’ll show you exactly what structured data encompasses, what it can do, how to implement it using JSON-LD and Google Tag Manager, and how to check its performance in Google Search Console. This course will be available from June 29.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this article! Keep an eye on yoast.com for more articles on structured data and SEO. And don’t forget to sign up for our brand new Structured data course!

Read more: ‘Structured data with Schema.org: the ultimate guide’ »

What We Learned From Spending $100k On Facebook Ads

100k-fb-ads.png

For a three-person digital marketing team like ours, the prospect of having a big ad budget seemed like a distant dream. So when we were suddenly given $100K to spend on Facebook ads, we were positively giddy.

And unbelievably nervous.

As a lean SaaS startup, we have to be very wise with our marketing investments. Couple that with our low cost-per-sale ($24/monthly for our starter plan), and you can see that being cost-effective while still spending on ads is a challenge.

In May of 2016, we had the honor of working with Facebook Canada. We received a small grant to kickstart our advertising initiatives, and had the opportunity to spend two full days with one of their ad reps.

Other than working with the Facebook team, we are completely in-house. On one hand this was an advantage — since we could make changes to the program in seconds rather than days — on the other hand, we were on our own for creative, landing pages, and analytics.

We ran an early prototype campaign with some decent success. In fact, it performed in the same neighbourhood as our other digital advertising initiatives. Cool beans.

But that was just the start. We’d tasted success, and knew that we were only scratching the surface. So, naturally, we made a pitch to our company’s executive team to increase our digital marketing budget so we could prove that Facebook was a viable avenue for growth. Our commitment to the business: generate trials at a cost-effective rate of $50/trial.

Our pitch was a success, and we found ourselves with a considerable ad budget. Now it was real — it was time to build out an end-to-end Facebook Ads strategy.

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Admittedly, we were quite nervous. Our credibility was on the line.

Here’s what we ended up learning from that process, wrinkles and all. Read on to the end to see our results.

Lesson 1: Fully commit resources or your cost-per-acquisition (CPA) will rise swiftly.

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 2.59.29 PM.png

We received our first lesson early on. We had become complacent with the success of our ad creative in May 2016, and tried to replicate that again. Using the same ad creative from AdWords, we launched on Facebook Ads. Initially, it worked. We generated trials at an acceptable rate.

But we mistakenly saw this initial success as a sign that we could set it and forget it. We went back to focusing on our other digital marketing strategies, like creating organic content, while our CPAs gradually rose.

Facebook CPAs have a nasty habit of rising suddenly — I mean, literally blowing up overnight. One morning, we logged into our marketing dashboard and saw that we were generating trials at twice our target CPA of $50/trial. This was crazy business, and we needed to act fast.

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 3.02.43 PM.png

Fixing this problem took a lot of time and resources, and a few calls with our dedicated Facebook Ads guru (shout-out to the brilliant Mike Empey). The problem was Ad Frequency

What happened was that our Facebook ad frequency had risen so high that our addressable market was seeing ads 3-5 times a day. Ugh. So of course CPAs rose accordingly — we were irritating people to no end.

We resolved to take two actions: first, we swapped in new creative. In fact, we created 5 new ads to push into market. This had an immediate impact, and gave us a deep understanding of how detrimental ad fatigue can be.

Second, and more importantly, we committed to a new process for our creative. We call it “the conveyor belt.” Here’s how it works:

  • Week 1: Design and launch new ad creative in 1-3 ad sets. Test and analyze results.
  • Week 2: Push all variations to all ad sets. Turn off old ads. Analyze initial results.
  • Week 3: Pick winning variations from ad sets. Analyze and deconstruct results.
  • Week 4: Assess week 1-3 learnings. Apply those learning to new ad creative.

conveyer-belt.png

The side benefit of this process is that we’ve tested so many ad variants that we now have a repository of “winning variants” that we can quickly call out of retirement if our CPAs rise.

Lesson 2: Segment your audiences to effectively manage ad set CPAs.

Initially, I think we underestimated the amount of ad sets we’d need to manage. Looking back, I cringe to think we only launched our prospecting campaign with three ad sets: USA, Canada, and Europe (today we manage between 50 and 70 ad sets, depending on ad performance).

We weren’t even going beyond some basic audience targeting.

No age specification. No regional targeting. No device targeting. Just a giant ad campaign.

We were confident in our ad creative and landing page conversion rates, but forgot the importance of audience profiling. 

It’s no wonder that our results were really hard to interpret. I remember naively saying to Valerie Hamilton, our digital marketing specialist, “Europe is performing well today. What’s the story?”

We didn’t know. Were women converting better than men? Was a certain age bracket doing better than another one? We had no clue.

And at this point our CPAs were still floating about 25% higher than our target. It would have been a dramatic understatement to say we had some optimization work to do.

We started to analyze our lead generation activities across demographic lines. We used a combination of Facebook Ads, Google Analytics, Mixpanel, and Salesforce data. What we found out was that we did remarkably better with people aged between 24-45. This totally makes sense, too.

Folks older than 45 are typically in a more senior role, and rarely the ones actually building or trialing our product. Instead, they are often the ones marshaling their team to demo our software.

Our first action was to split out this age range and only focus on where we saw the most success. By cutting more expensive CPA audiences, we were able to reduce our CPA.

Since then, we’ve adjusted our messaging to the >45 crowd by including more language about “their team” and “data transparency.” We’ve also focused a lot more of our ad buys on video assets instead of advertising our free trial.

It’s worth mentioning that we had good reasons for avoiding audience segmentation. First, we didn’t have the capacity to manage dozens of ad sets. Second, we wanted to keep our addressable market as large as possible and let our learnings help us figure out where to whittle down.

Lesson 3: Geographic bidding makes sense when you know regional lifetime values (LTVs).

The other side of the demographic coin for us was splitting out geographies. Treating Europe as a homogeneous advertising market just didn’t make sense for our business at the time (see Lesson 8, where we experimented with world-wide delivery).

While our European campaign was performing well enough, it was clear that we were missing an opportunity. For instance, we knew that leads from specific geographies often convert to customers at a much higher rate, and that their LTV was much higher on average.

In broad outreach campaigns, for example, we saw that we were attracting a high number of leads at $15/trial from Greece and Hungary. But while we have great customers in that part of the world, we’ve run a number of internal reports that show paid leads from that region convert at a much lower rate.

Despite paying such a low CPA, these leads were not converting and we were paying far too much for them. Internal reports (plus complaints from our sales team) had us digging deep into the data.

This is when the lesson clicked for us; we realized it was okay to spend a lot more on leads from, say, the Netherlands, because their LTV and conversion rates were much, much higher.

By splitting out different geographies, we enhanced our ability to match CPA targets to an appropriate LTV.

Lesson 4: Matching ad creative and landing pages.

This is textbook digital marketing, true. But it was a challenge for our scrappy digital marketing team to prioritize this while managing a $100K budget and driving all the day-to-day campaigns required for a fast-growing startup.

Plus, we could rationalize pushing this aside because our landing page was performing reasonably well.

But when you’re spending $100K and your CPAs continue to fluctuate, every conversion opportunity is magnified ten-fold.

With our small team and only one dedicated designer, we needed to call in the big guns. We went with Unbounce, and it’s had a measureable impact on our landing page conversion rates, helping us grab an 18% conversion rate for Facebook Ads leads. 

As we design ad creative, we create its sister landing page. From there, we can make tweaks to the page to improve conversion rates. Little things like form position, who we featured in our testimonials, and even which button colours we chose amounted to some big improvements.

Lesson 5: The one-two punch of video advertisement.

We’ve always been huge users of video to demo the product and create awareness. We’ve created explainer videos that talk about our primary unique selling proposition and give a glimpse into the product, and these videos have been quite successful in garnering views, holding attention spans, and increasing conversions.

As we launched on Facebook, we put ad dollars behind one particular video. Again, good success, but we felt like we could do better. 

This decision was more on gut feel (it still counts!) that video had a big role to play. I mean, just scroll through your Facebook feed right now. The challenge for us was that we’d committed to the business that we’d generate trials at or below our target CPA for that entire $100K. 

Video doesn’t have that wonderful direct line to trial that a prospecting campaign does. So, we took a chance, and our product marketing manager, Chris Wolski, called up an Ottawa video production company we now affectionately call “The Rascals.”

We created a fun, 35-second explainer video that we thought would play well on Facebook and Instagram. The fact is that we generated a hundred thousand views before we could blink.

How? People were actually sharing the video with friends and family, even tagging others in the comments section. We noticed lively conversations taking place directly on the posts themselves, as if the videos weren’t advertisements at all. Here’s that video:

Facebook makes it easy to create remarketing programs by creating lists of users that engage with your video. We set up a list for anyone that watched more than 10 seconds of the video. This was a new cost-effective avenue for generating leads well within our target CPA. Video remarketing leads typically come in at about $30/trial, including the initial video buy.

More importantly, it expanded our reach on Facebook and Instagram exponentially. And we’ve seen traffic to our site go up as a direct result of these ads.

Lesson 6: Create video specifically for Facebook Ads.

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When we launched on video, we didn’t really know what to expect. Lots of views? Engagement? Shares?

As a metrics-obsessed company, we knew we needed to establish a KPI. After doing some research and chatting with peers and the account team at Facebook, we decided on Cost-Per-10-second view.

We chose this KPI to help us drive better video engagement and brand recognition. If someone was interested enough to pass over cat videos and baby pictures to watch 10 seconds of our B2B software video, then we were doing something right.

This KPI has fed directly into our production process, too. We’ve worked with The Rascals to ensure that each video includes text to account for the fact that Facebook’s default setting is to mute video. We’ve also added captions to the mix because videos on Facebook autoplay with the sound off; a whopping 85% of Facebook videos are played with no sound. We would have had disastrous results if we’d relied entirely on the audio within the video to tell our story.

The overall result has been slashing our Cost-Per-10-second view by 50%. This is huge because it means for the same dollar of spend, we’re effectively doubling our reach. And you can bet this metric is front and center on our internal social media dashboards.

Lesson 7: Ask for advice and trade ideas.

I could rant for days about how much we learned from Facebook— they were truly fantastic, and the attention we received ensured we’d be successful. That said, there are no special or secret tricks. You can find everything through a Google search for “Facebook Ads Tips.”

Putting all those tips and best practices together into a single campaign, however, is where the real challenge lies.

Throughout the process we sought advice from those who’ve been there before us, who have been learning from others years before we even thought of going this route. It probably comes as no surprise that our team now pays close attention to what other advertisers do on Facebook. In particular, I think Shopify is a leader in this respect. They do a great job of integrating video.

We’ve also struck up a friendship with the team over at PageCloud , and have enjoyed freely sharing ideas. Many of those conversations have spawned new ad campaigns and experiments. Which leads me to …

Lesson 8: Boldly experiment.

We allocated a percentage of our budget towards experimentation. When we heard about a new product from Facebook called World-Wide Delivery (WWD) we sort of rolled our eyes and remembered what we had learned about geographic bidding from Lesson 3.

But our friend Mike Empey at Facebook persuaded us to give it a try. So we did. What did we have to lose?

The experiment was a huge success and with just a small percentage of our daily budget we were able to practically double lead volume. In fact, this contributed to us setting daily trial record numbers for 3 days in a row.

When the dust had settled, we analyzed the lead quality, made adjustments to our copy and landing pages, and added WWD campaigns to our arsenal of ads.

Lesson 9: Advertising is still top of the funnel.

Asking someone to start a trial of your software is a lot like calling a friend and asking them to catch up with you over coffee in an hour. The message is out of the blue and entails a time commitment. No matter what their interest level is, they simply may not be able to do it right then.

As we stressed about hitting our trial CPA numbers, we started to lose sight of what we were really trying to do, which was raise awareness and leave our audience with positive first impressions.

In chasing those numbers, we ended up making a series of small decisions that led to us making a big mistake: we’d cut so much content from our landing page that it had basically become just an image with a signup form.

Sure, that page converted well. But it also pissed people off. Some people were getting so upset that they were commenting on the ads themselves.

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 4.10.52 PM.png

At this point, we’d driven down CPAs to about $10 under our target CPA. Our hands were sore from the amount of high-fives we’d collected and shoulders we’d patted. But in that process we committed an egregious error: we forgot about the customer.

We were so caught up in the metrics that we forgot that leads are people.

So, we did the only reasonable thing. We added essential content back into our landing pages (including video content from Vidyard into every landing page), and worked on optimizing that content so the customer could wring as much value from it as possible.

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 4.11.51 PM.png

Of course, CPAs rose. But our ad relevance and positive scores rose along with it.

That was the kind of customer-centric tradeoff we were willing to take.

Editor’s Note: Editor’s Note: a version of this post first appeared on Inbound.org, HubSpot’s community for inbound marketers. 

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10 YouTube Pre-Roll Ads You’ll Actually Enjoy

youtube-preroll-ads.png

You technically can’t skip these ads. But you wouldn’t want to anyway.

Last year at Sundance, YouTube unveiled a new ad format to brands: the unskippable, six second “bumper” ad. To prove it was possible to cram a compelling story into such a short window, they recruited a handful of creative agencies to test drive the format — and the results were pretty convincing. 

After that, huge brands like Under Armour and Anheuser-Busch adopted the new six second ad format to tell quick but gripping stories that actually stuck with audiences.

In fact, according to Google, 90% of bumper ad campaigns boosted global ad recall by an average of 30%. That’s pretty impressive for taking up only six seconds of someone’s day.

It might seem like you can’t accomplish much in that amount of time, but with a little creativity, brands can use it to forge an emotional connection with their audience and implant a vivid memory of those feelings in their minds.

Why Six Second Pre-Roll Ads Work

Suffering through 15, 30, or even 60 second pre-roll ads prompted so many head shakes and back button clicks that eventually YouTube added a skip button to their ads in 2009. In theory, though, an ad’s first five seconds are enough to hook viewers and hold their attention for the rest of its duration.

But we all know this rarely happens. Whenever a YouTube ad pops up and shields you from your favorite video, what do you usually do? You immediately glue your eyes to the skip button’s countdown clock and wait … until those lingering seconds finally slug by.

Fortunately, the six second pre-roll ad better engages viewers. When YouTube plays such a short ad for them, it’s not as annoying as a full length ad. And when brands craft these ads into fast, captivating stories, they can resonate well with audiences.

This lets YouTube sustain their ad business while helping brands create a more enjoyable and memorable user experience for its viewers.

So if you’re leveraging YouTube’s six second pre-roll ads right now, then hats off to you. If you’re not, here are 10 examples you can reference to inspire YouTube viewers faster than a Vine could in 2013.

10 Exceptional Examples of Six Second Pre-Roll Ads on YouTube

1) YouTube

To further promote their new ad format’s creative potential, YouTube challenged filmmakers and ad agencies to retell classic pieces of literature in just six seconds.

These are some of the most complex novels ever written. So creatives needed to convey each story’s core in a simple yet spellbinding way.

Rethink, a Canadian agency, did just that. Their rendition of Hamlet is clear and concise (we all know that everyone dies when modern day Claudius spams the buy button). But it’s also unexpected and funny because it gives us a glimpse of how Hamlet could’ve transpired in today’s digital age.

2) Old Spice

You’re probably not surprised that this is an Old Spice ad. But you’re also probably laughing so hard you’re crying like that guy’s armpit.

When you watch this ad, you’re so amused that you forget Old Spice is trying to sell you deodorant. And while you’re still mid-chuckle, your favorite video begins. It’s a seamless transition. And viewers crave that. All advertisers should strive to satisfy their audience, and Wieden & Kennedy, Old Spice’s agency, know exactly how to indulge theirs.

3) Chipsmore

I know you fell for it too.

When I first saw the red face of doom, disappointment started spilling over me. But, luckily for us, the Chipsmore’s Cookie Guy saved the day.

The thing is, we just wanted to watch the ad. Imagine how someone who wanted to watch a video after it must’ve felt.

They were probably frustrated at the initial sight of the “broken” video link, then surprised when the Cookie Guy appears, which grabbed their attention. And, finally, delighted when their favorite video starts.

This ad takes its viewers on an emotional roller coaster. And, honestly, who doesn’t have fun on those?

4) Road Lodge

This is a prime example of insanely honest marketing.

Road Lodge sets the expectation that their hotel is best suited for relaxation. And not so much for partying.

You might think they’re deterring potential customers from their hotel — and you’re right — they are. But it’s actually a good thing because these people would never stay at their hotel in the first place. 

And since their honesty signals confidence, builds trust, and shows that they value their customers’ experience more than short-term profits, their target market becomes more attracted to them.

Road Lodge knows that if you’re brutally honest about your product or service, then you won’t disappoint your customers. This makes it a lot easier to maintain their loyalty.

5) Under Armour

When you play baseball, nothing matters more than your stats. They’re a direct measurement of your performance and can even define your value as a person.

Under Armour sought to uproot this belief.

In six short seconds, Droga5, Under Armour’s agency, injects purpose into ball players everywhere, motivating them to place their value in their character instead of their numbers.

6) Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes uses swift video cuts and a roaring engine to engage their viewers’ senses. This way, their audience can actually see and hear the intensity of reaching 60 MPH in only 3.8 seconds.

7) Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures used this pre-roll ad to promote the full Jason Bourne trailer, which garnered over 14 million views.

And since the ad is chock full of non-stop action, it piqued viewers’ interest and generated tremendous hype around its trailer release.

8) Burn

Burn’s pre-roll ad is so effective because it’s snappy and visually engaging. And since you can process visuals 60,000 times faster than text, a flaming fist across the face will definitely catch your eye.

The slow-mo effect also makes the ad seem longer, intensifying your viewing experience.

9) Airbnb

Family vacations are the best.

You get to explore incredible places and create timeless memories with your loved ones. Is there any other way you would want to bond with your family?

Airbnb agrees too. So their agency, TWBA, produced a charming ad that showcases the benefits of a family vacation: loads of fun and connection.

10) Geico

The Martin Agency, Geico’s creative partner, deserves a lifetime supply of car insurance for this masterpiece.

“Unskippable” was so refreshingly original, it won AdAge’s 2016 Campaign of the Year. And for good reason too. It sympathizes with your annoyance of pre-roll ads, so it ends before you can skip it. But it’s also so unique and witty that you’ll actually watch the entire ad.

Geico says this ad is impossible to skip because it’s already over. But really, this ad is impossible to skip because it’s so clever.

Seen any ads that top these? Share them in the comments below!

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The Case For & Against Attending Marketing Conferences

Posted by randfish

I just finished reading Jan Schaumann’s short post on Why Companies Should Pay for Their Employees to Attend Conferences. I liked it. I generally agree with it. But I have more to add.

First off, I think it’s reasonable for managers and company leaders to be wary of conferences and events. It is absolutely true that if your employees attend them, there will be costs associated, and it’s logical for businesses to seek a return on investment.

What do you sacrifice when sending a team member to an event?

Let’s start by attempting to tally up the costs:

  • Lost productivity – Usually on the order of 1 to 4 days depending on the length of the event, travel distance, tiredness from travel, whether the team member does some work at the event or makes up with evenings/weekends, etc. Given marketing salaries ranging from $40K–$100K, this could be as little as $150 (~1 day’s cost at the lower end) to $1,900 (a week’s cost on the high end).
  • Cost of tickets – In the web marketing world, the range of events is fairly standard, between ~$1,000 and $2,000, with discounts of 20–50% off those prices for early registration (or with speaker codes). Some examples:
    • CTAConf in Vancouver is $999 ($849 if you’re an Unbounce customer)
    • Content Marketing World in Cleveland is $1,195 (early rate) or $1,395 later
    • Pubcon Las Vegas in $1,099 (early rate), not sure what it goes up to
    • HubSpot’s INBOUND is $1,299 (or $1,899 for a VIP pass)
    • SMX East is $1,795 (or $2,595 for all access)
    • SearchLove London is $890 (or $1,208 for VIP)
    • MozCon in Seattle is $1,549 (or $1,049 for Moz subscribers)
  • Cost of travel and lodging – Often between $1,000–$3,000/person depending on location, length, and flight+hotel costs.
  • Potential loss of employee through recruitment or networking – It’s a thorny one, but it has to be addressed. I know many employers who fear sending their staff to events because they worry that the great networking opportunities will yield a higher-paying or more exciting offer in the future. Let’s say that for every 30 employees you send (or every 30 events you send an employee to), you’ll lose one to an opportunity that otherwise wouldn’t have had them considering a departure. I think that’s way too high (not because marketers don’t leave their jobs but because they almost always leave for reasons other than an opportunity that came through a conference), but we’ll use it anyway. On the low end, that might cost you $10K (if you’ve lost a relatively junior person who can be replaced fairly quickly) and on the high end, might be as much as $100K (if you lose a senior person and have a long period without rehiring + training). We’ll divide that cost by 30 using our formula of one lost employee per thirty events.

Total: $4,630–$10,230

That’s no small barrier. For many small businesses or agencies, it’s a month or two of their marketing expenses or the salary for an employee. There needs to be significant return on those dollars to make it worthwhile. Thankfully, in all of my experiences over hundreds of marketing events the last 12 years, there is.

What do you gain by sending a team member to an event?

Nearly all the benefits of events come from three sources: the growth (in skills, relationships, exposure to ideas, etc) of the attendee(s), applicable tactics & strategies (including all the indirect ones that come from serendipitous touch points), and the extension of your organization’s brand and network.

In the personal growth department, we see benefits like:

  • New skills, often gained through exposure at events and then followed up on through individual research and effort. It’s absolutely true that few attendees will learn enough at a 30-minute talk to excel at some new tactic. But what they will learn is that tactic’s existence, and a way to potentially invest in it.
  • Unique ideas, undiscoverable through solo work or in existing team structures. I’ve experienced this benefit myself many times, and I’ve seen it on Moz’s team countless times.
  • The courage, commitment, inspiration, or simply the catalyst for experimentation or investment. Sometimes it’s not even something new, or something you’ve never talked about as a team. You might even be frustrated to find that your coworker comes back from an event, puts their head down for a week, and shows you a brilliant new process or meaningful result that you’ve been trying to convince them to do for months. Months! The will to do new things strikes whenever and however it strikes. Events often deliver that strike. I’ve sat next to engineers whom I’ve tried to convince for years to make something happen in our tools, but when they see a presenter at MozCon show off another tool that does it or bemoan the manual process currently required, they suddenly set their minds to it and deliver. That inspiration and motivation are priceless.
  • New relationships that unlock additional skill growth, amplification opportunities, business development or partnership possibilities, references, testimonials, social networking, peer validation, and all the other myriad advancements that accompany human connections.
  • Upgrading the ability to learn, to process data and stories and turn them into useful takeaways.
  • Alongside that, upgraded abilities to interact with others, form connections, learn from people, and form or strengthen bonds with colleagues. We learn, even in adulthood, through observation and imitation, and events bring people together in ways that are more memorable, more imprinted, and more likely to resonate and be copied than our day-to-day office interactions.

A gentleman at SearchLove London 2016 gives me an excellent (though slightly blurry) thumbs up

In the applicable tactics & strategies, we get benefits like:

  • New tools or processes that can speed up work, or make the impossible possible.
  • Resources for advancing skills and information on a topic that’s important to one’s job or to a project in particular.
  • Actionable ideas to make an existing task, process, or result easier to achieve or more likely to produce improved results.
  • Bigger-picture concepts that spur an examination of existing direction and can improve broad, strategic approaches.
  • People & organizations who can help with all above, formally or informally, paid as consultants, or just happy to answer a couple questions over email or Twitter.

Purna Virji at SMX Munich 2017

In the extension of organizational brand/network, we get benefits like:

  • Brand exposure to people you meet and interact with at conferences. Since we know the world of sales & marketing is multi-touch, this can have a big impact, especially if either your customers or your amplification targets include anyone in your professional field.
  • Contacts at other companies that can help you reach people or organizations (this benefit has grown massively thanks to the proliferation of professional social networks like those on LinkedIn and Twitter)
  • Potential media contacts, including the more traditional (journalists, news publications) and the emerging (bloggers, online publishers, powerful social amplifiers, etc)
  • A direct introduction point to speakers and organizers (e.g. if anyone emails me saying “I saw you speak at XYZ and wanted to follow up about…” the likelihood of an invested reply goes way up vs. purely online outreach)

But I said above that these three included “nearly all” the benefits, didn’t I? 🙂

Daisy Quaker at MozCon Ignite

It’s true. There are more intangible forms of value events provide. I think one of the biggest is the trust gained between a manager and their team or an employer and their employees. When organizations offer an events budget, especially when they offer it with relative freedom for the team member to choose how and where to spend it, a clear message is sent. The organization believes in its people. It trusts its people. It is willing to sacrifice short-term work for the long-term good of its people. The organization accepts that someone might be recruited away through the network they gain at an event, but is willing to make the trade-off for a more trusting, more valuable team. As the meme goes:

CFO: What if we invest in our people and they leave?
CEO: What if we don’t and they stay?

Total: $A Lot?

How do you measure the returns?

The challenge comes in because these are hard things for which to calculate ROI. In fact, any number I throw out for any of these above will absolutely be wrong for your particular situation and organization. The only true way to estimate value is through hindsight, and that means having faith that the future will look like the past (or rigorous, statistically sound models with large sample sizes, validated through years of controlled comparison… which only a handful of the world’s biggest and richest companies do).

It’s easy to see stories like “The biggest deals I’ve ever done, mostly (80%) came from meeting people at conferences” and “I’ve had the opportunity to open the door of conversations previously thought locked” and “When I send people on my team I almost always find they come back more inspired, rejuvenated, and full of fire” and dismiss them as outliers or invent reasons why the same won’t apply to you. It’s also easy explain away past successes gained through events as not necessarily requiring the in-person component.

I see this happen a lot. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve seen it at Moz. Remember last summer, when we did layoffs? One of the benefits cut was the conference and events budget for team members. While I think that was the right decision, I’m also hopeful & pushing for that to be one of the first benefits we reinstate now that we’re profitable again.

Lexi Mills at Turing Festival in Edinburgh

Over the years of my event participation, first as an attendee, and later as a speaker, I can measure my personal and Moz’s professional benefits, and come up with some ballpark range. It’s harder to do with my team members because I can’t observe every benefit, but I can certainly see every cost in line-item format. Human beings are pretty awful in situations like these. We bias to loss aversion over potential gain. We rationalize why others benefit when we don’t. We don’t know what we’re missing so we use logic to convince ourselves it’s ROI negative to justify our decision.

It’s the same principle that often makes hard-to-measure marketing channels the best ROI ones.

Some broader discussions around marketing event issues

Before writing this post, I asked on Twitter about the pros and cons of marketing conferences that folks felt were less often covered. A number of the responses were insightful and worthy of discussion follow-ups, so I wanted to include them here, with some thoughts.

If you’re a conference organizer, you know how tough a conversation this is. Want to bring in outside food vendors (which are much more affordable and interesting than what venues themselves usually offer)? 90% of venues have restrictions against it. Want to get great food for attendees? That same 90% are going to charge you on the order of hundreds of dollars per attendee. MozCon’s food costs are literally 25%+ of our entire budget, and considering we usually break even or lose a little money, that’s huge.

If you’re a media company and you run events for profit, or you’re a smaller business that can’t afford to have your events be a money-losing endeavor, you’re between a rock and a hard place. At places like MozCon and CTAConf, the food is pretty killer, but the flip side is there’s no margin at all. Many conferences simply can’t afford to swing that.

Totally agree with Ross — interesting one, and pros/cons to each. At smaller shows, I love the more intimate connections, but I’m also well aware that for most speakers, it’s a tough proposition to ask for a new presentation or to bring their best stuff. It’s also hard to get many big-name speakers. And, as Ross points out, the networking can be deeper, but with a smaller group. If you’re hoping to meet someone from company X or run into colleagues from the past, small size may inhibit.

For years prior to MozCon, I’d only ever been to events with a couple keynotes and then panels of 3–6 people in breakout sessions the rest of the day. I naively thought we’d invented some brilliant new system with the all-keynote-style conference (it had obviously been around for decades; I just wasn’t exposed to it). It also became clear over time that many other marketing conferences had the same idea and today, it’s an even split between those that do all-keynotes vs. those with a hybrid of breakouts, panels, and keynotes.

Personally, my preference is still all-keynote. I agree with Greg that, on occasion, a speaker won’t do a great job, and sitting through those 20–40 minutes can be frustrating. But I can count on a single hand the number of panel sessions I’ve ever found value in, and I strongly dislike being forced to choose between sessions and not sharing the same experience with other attendees. Even when the session I’ve chosen is a good one, I have FOMO (“what if that other session around the corner is even better?!”) and that drives my quality of experience down.

This, though, is personal preference. If you like panels, breakouts, and multi-track options, stick to SMX, Content Marketing World, INBOUND, and others like them. If you’re like me and prefer all keynotes, single track, go for CTAConf, Searchlove, Inbounder, MozCon, and their ilk.

I agree this is a real problem. Being a conference organizer, I get to see a lot of the feedback and requests, and I think that’s where the issue stems from. For example, a few years back, Brittan Bright, who now does sales at Google in New York, gave a brilliant talk about the soft skills of selling and client relations. It scored OK in the lineup, but a lot of the feedback overall that year was from people who wanted more “tactical tips” and “technical tricks” and less “soft skills” content. Every conference has to deal with this demand and supply issue. You might respond (as my friend Wil Reynolds often does) with “who cares what people say they want?! Give them what they don’t know they need!”

That’s how conferences go broke, my friends. 🙂 Every year, we try to include at least a few sessions that focus on these softer skills (in numerous ways), and every year, there’s pushback from folks who wish we’d just show them how to get more easy links, or present some new tool they haven’t heard of before. It’s a tough give and take, but I’m empathetic to both sides on this issue. Actionable tactics matter, and they make for big, immediate wins. Soft skills are important, too, but there’s a significant portion of the audience who’ll get frustrated seeing talks on these topics.

Hrm… I think I agree more with Freja than with Herman, but it’s entirely a personal preference. If you know yourself well enough to know that you’ll benefit more (or less) by attending with others from your team, make the call. This is one reason I love the idea of businesses offering the freedom of choice on how to use their event budget.

There were a number of these conflicting points-of-view in reply to my tweet, and I think they indicate the challenge for attendees and organizers. Opinions vary about what makes for a great conference, a great speaker or session, or the best way to get value from them.

Which marketing conferences do I recommend?

I get this question a lot (which is fair, I go to *a lot* of events). It really depends what you like, so I’ll try to break down my recommendations in that format.

Big, industry-wide events with many thousands of attendees, big name keynotes, famous musical acts, and hundreds of breakout session options:

  • INBOUND by Hubspot (Boston, MA 9/25–9/28) is a clear choice here. If you craft your experience well, you can get an immense amount of value.
  • Content Marketing World (Cleveland, OH 9/5–9/8) is always a good show, and they’ve recently focused on getting more gender-diverse.
  • Dreamforce by Salesforce (San Francisco, CA 11/6–11/9) has a similar feel to INBOUND in size and format, though it’s generally more classic sales & marketing focused, and has less programming that overlaps with our/my world of SEO, social media, content marketing, etc.
  • Web Summit (Lisbon, Portugal 11/6–11/9) is even broader, focusing on technology, startups, entrepreneurship, and sales+marketing. If you’re looking to break out of the marketing bubble and get a chance to see some “where are we going” and “what’s driving innovation” content, this is a good one.
  • SMX Munich (Munich, Germany 3/20–3/21 2018) is one of the best produced and best attended shows in Europe. This event consistently delivers great presentations. Because of its location on the calendar, it’s also where many speakers debut their theses and tactics each year, and since it’s in Germany (or, more probably because it’s run by the amazing Sandra & Matthew Finlay), everything is executed to perfection.

Mid-tier events with 1,000–1,500 attendee:

  • MozCon by Moz (Seattle, WA 7/17–7/19) I’m obviously biased, but I also get to see the survey data from attendees. The ratings of “excellent” or “outstanding” and the high number of people who buy tickets for the following year within a few days of leaving give me confidence that this is still one of the best events in the web marketing world.
  • CTAConf by Unbounce (Vancouver, BC 6/25–6/27) Oli Gardner, who’s become an exceptional speaker himself, works directly with every presenter (all invitation-only, like MozCon) to make sure the decks are top notch. In addition, the setting in Vancouver, the food trucks, the staging, the networking, and the kindness of Canada are all wonderful.
  • Inbounder (Valencia, Spain 5/2018) This event only happens every other year, but if 2016 was anything to judge by, it’s one of Europe’s best. Certainly, you won’t find a more incredible city or a better location. The conference hall is inside a spaceship that’s landed on a grassy park surrounding an ancient walled city. Even Seattle’s glacier-ringed beauty can’t top that.
  • ConversionXL Live (Austin, TX 3/28–3/30) Peep Laja and crew put on a terrific event with a lovely venue and clear attention paid to the actionable, tactical value of takeaways. I came back from the few sessions I attended with all sorts of suggestions for the Moz team to try (if only webdev resources weren’t so difficult to wrangle).
  • SMX Advanced (Seattle, WA TBD 2018) I haven’t been in a couple years, but many search marketers rave about this show’s location, production quality, panels, and speakers. It’s one of the few places that still attracts the big-name representatives from Google & Bing, so if you want to hear directly from the horse’s mouth a few seconds before it’s broadcast and analyzed a million ways on Twitter, this is the spot.

Outside The Inbounder Conference in Valencia, Spain

Smaller, local, & niche events with a few hundred attendees and a more intimate setting:

  • SearchLove (San Diego, Boston, & London 10/16–10/17) It’s somewhat extraordinary that this event remains small, like a hidden secret in the web marketing world. The quality of content and presentations are on par with MozCon (as are the ratings, and I know from other events how rare those are), but the settings are more intimate with only 2-300 participants in San Diego & Boston, and a larger, but still convivial crowd of 4-600 in London. I personally learn more at Searchlove than any other show.
  • Engage (formerly Searchfest) The SEMPDX crew has always had a unique, wonderful event, and Portland, OR is one of my favorite cities to visit.
  • MNSearch (Minneapolis 6/23) One of the exciting up-and-coming local events in our space. The MNSearch folks have brought together great speakers in fun venues at a surprisingly affordable price, and with some killer after-hours events, too. I’ve been twice and was very impressed both times.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and I’m certain there are many other events that give great value. I can only speak from my own experiences, which are going to carry the bias of what I’ve seen and what I like.

Help us better understand the value of conferences to you

Two years ago, I ran a survey about marketing conferences and received, analyzed, then published the results. I’d like to repeat that again, and see what’s changed. Please contribute and tell us what matters to you:

Take the survey here

I look forward to the discussion in the comments. If the Twitter thread was any indication, there’s a lot of passion and interest around this topic, one that I share. And of course, if you’d like to chat in person about this and see how we’re doing things at Moz, I hope you’ll consider MozCon in just a few weeks in Seattle.


Roger MozBotRoger’s note: *beep* Rogerbot here! I think Rand forgot an important benefit of one conference: At MozCon, you can hug a robot. If you’re considering joining us in Seattle this July, we’re over 75% sold out! Be sure to grab your ticket while you can.

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​Moz Local Report: Who’s Winning Wealth Management?

Posted by Dr-Pete

As more people look for financial advice online, brick-and-mortar wealth management firms and financial advisors are competing harder than ever for search customers. More than 70% of millennials use search engines for research, and 15% of 18–34 year-olds are turning directly to search engines for financial advice. As consumers in their 20s and 30s grow their wealth, have families, and begin planning for the future, who is best situated to capture their attention online?

This turns out to be a more difficult question than you might think. Focusing on Google, there are three major areas where financial service providers can compete: organic results, local results, and paid results (ads). Even organic results are increasingly localized, with top rankings varying wildly from city to city, and traditional organic results are often pushed below both ads and the local 3-pack. Local packs command a large amount of screen real-estate — here’s a local pack for “financial planner” in my own suburban Chicago neighborhood:

In partnership with Hearsay Systems, which provides Advisor Cloud solutions for the financial services industry, we decided to find out who’s leading the pack (no pun intended) in 2017 for wealth management and financial advisory searches across organic, local, and paid results.

Get the full report

Research methodology

For the purposes of this study, we decided to target five keyphrases related to wealth management and financial advisory services:

  1. financial advisor
  2. financial planning
  3. financial planner
  4. financial consultant
  5. wealth management

For each keyword, we looked at page one of Google results across 5,000 cities (the 5K largest cities in the contiguous 48 states, according to US census data). We then captured URLs and ranking positions across organic, local, and paid results.

To aggregate the data, we weighted each result by the population of the corresponding city and the estimated click-through rate (CTR) of its ranking position. We used a fairly conservative CTR curve, weighting top results a bit heavier, but not too dramatically:

For the final analysis across all five keywords, we weighted each keyword by its estimated search volume (according to Google Adwords) in the United States. By far, “financial advisor” was the most popular keyword, scooping up about 55% of search share across the keyword set.

Since some large brands use multiple websites (domains), we consolidated their numbers across those domains. So, for example, morganstanley.com and morganstanleybranch.com were grouped together in the final analysis. Quite a few brands have separate domains for their corporate site and local/branch locations. We’re interested in the strength of the brands themselves, not the particulars of how they divvy up their websites.

Top 5 organic leaders

The Top 5 for organic results were dominated by informational and news sites. The following graph compares the total “Click Share” based on all available clicks across all sites:

Investopedia led the way, scoring almost one-fifth of all clicks in our aggregate model, across more than 4,000 ranking domains. Among major players in the financial services space, only Edward Jones made it into the Top 5.

This is consistent with the idea that people are seeking general financial advice, and may not always be looking to organic results to find local service providers. Google’s results can often tell us a lot about how they’re interpreting search intent.

Curious case of keyword #4

Across the five keywords, we generally saw similar patterns. There were ranking variations, of course, but most of the top sites for one keyword performed well across the other keywords in organic results. The notable exception was keyword #4, “financial consultant.”

The Top 10 organic competitors for “financial consultant” included Monster.com (#1), Indeed.com (#4), Glassdoor (#5), and Robert Half (#7). Google seems to be interpreting this search as a job-hunting search and not a search for a service provider. This goes to show how important it is to make sure you’re targeting the right terms.

Top 5 local leaders

Applying the same analysis to the local pack, we came up with the following Top 5…

Traditional wealth management players performed much better in local pack results. Across our data, though, Edward Jones dominated the competitors in local rankings, consuming almost 40% of the total Click Share.

Interestingly, there was more overall diversity in local pack results, even with one dominant player and only three ranking positions per page. While just over 4,000 different domains ranked across organic results, local packs in our data set sampled from almost 7,000 different domains.

Top 5 paid/ad leaders

Morgan Stanley led the way in paid positioning, capturing just under 20% of Click Share. The rest of the Top 5 paid players were a bit more well-rounded, consuming roughly equal shares…

Interesting to note that relative newcomer SoFi seems to be spending pretty heavily in the space. SoFi (“Social Finance”) is an online finance community clearly aimed at the digital generation.

Given that this is a competitive space with relatively high costs-per-click (CPC), only 366 domains appeared in paid listings in our study. This was not due to a lack of ads — over 99% of the search results we examined displayed ads, and almost every search had a full complement of seven ads.

Non-traditional players

In addition to SoFi, a couple of newcomers fared pretty well in our data relative to their size and spend. Betterment.com appeared in 25th place in organic and 16th in paid. NerdWallet came in 46th in organic results and 22nd in paid. Credio.com took 20th place in organic overall but had no paid presence.

The one advantage traditional players clearly still have is in local results, where none of these newcomers ranked. Big brands with multiple brick-and-mortar presences still dominate local pack results, for obvious reasons, and online-only players can’t compete in local/map results. This makes performing well in local results even more important for big brands with a strong, nationwide physical presence.

Big winner: Edward Jones

Squeezing a lot of data into one graph can be a little dangerous, but let’s take a peek at what happens when we aggregate across all three types of listings (organic, local, and paid). Here are the Top 5 across all of the data in our study…

The combination of their dominant #1 position in our local data, #5 in organic, and a solid #25 in paid makes Edward Jones the clear overall winner, grabbing just over 14% of total Click Share in our study. Industry powerhouse Morgan Stanley comes in at #2, thanks primarily to their #1 paid ranking and #5 local position.

What’s the secret to Edward Jones’ success? Despite what the Internet wants you to believe, there’s almost never just one weird trick to search marketing success in 2017. One significant factor may be that Edward Jones has gone all-in on hyper-local pages. Their dominant local presence was made up of over 7,000 unique URLs representing their individual advisors.

Each advisor page has a clear, consistent Name, Address, and Phone number (or “NAP,” to use local search lingo), office hours, and other essential information. While the pages aren’t particularly unique, Edward Jones has done a good job of making sure that local offices are well represented and have a consistent, structured page.

It’s worth noting that even local rankings are very keyword specific. While Edward Jones ranked #1 overall in local packs for all four keyphrases starting with “financial…”, they fell to #23 for “wealth management.” Edward Jones has clearly carved out their niche.

The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, maintains their dominant organic position with just a single page: a guide to choosing a financial planner. This page clearly benefits from WSJ’s overall authority, and it shows just how different ranking for organic and local search has become these days.

A few tactical takeaways

Based on this research, what advice would we give to financial players (big and small) who hope to be competitive in Google search?

Brick-and-mortar should focus on local

The big financial players with physical offices need to capitalize on that fact, because online-only players won’t be able to compete in local results (at least for now). While a hyper-local approach (to the tune of thousands of pages) is a big undertaking and not without risk, I’d highly recommend testing it if you’re a big player in the space. Edward Jones’ success with this approach can’t be ignored.

For local, focus attention on key markets

You don’t have to compete in every market (you’re probably not even physically in every market). Across even five keywords and 5,000 cities, there were roughly 7,000 domains ranking in the local 3-pack. That means that the winners for any given market varied wildly. Invest your hyper-local resources in key markets with the highest potential ROI.

Online-only should invest in content

Sure, the Wall Street Journal is a huge player, but the fact that they ranked across thousands of cities and highly competitive keywords with a single piece of content is still pretty amazing. Google seems to be interpreting these keywords as informational, and so online-only players need to invest heavily in content that hits the research phase of the buyer cycle. If big financial players hope to compete for organic, they may have to do the same.

You may have to pay for placement

I’ve worked in paid search in a former life, and I believe a balanced approach to search marketing has to be an eyes-wide-open approach. Right now, ads have prominent placement on these searches, often with a full seven ads per page (including four at the top). If you have the money and want to compete against organic and local pack results, you have to at least run the numbers on advertising.

Get the full report

Special thanks to our partners at Hearsay Systems for their industry expertise and contributions to planning this project and analyzing the data. Hearsay provides Advisor Cloud solutions for the financial services and insurance industries.

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