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Search and Social

Thursday, February 4, 2016

On this week's Writer Podcast, Byron talks to Rob Garner, Head of Growth at 3Q Digital, and author of Search and Social: The Definitive Guide to Real-Time Content Marketing. Learn if SEO is still stronger than ever, why you have to optimize your content, and the tools that Rob is using for social media.

Byron:                   Welcome back everyone. I’m here with Rob. Rob, welcome.

Rob:                       Hey, glad to be here. Thank you.

Byron:                   Sure, sure thing. You’re the author of a near-famous book now that was written back in 2012, which enlightens lots of questions. The name of the book of course is, Search and Social: The Definitive Guide to Real-Time Content Marketing. I love the word real-time. What did that mean to you back in 2012 and how does that differ now?

Rob:                       Yeah. Real-time is a distinction I think coming up in content marketing was something that frankly was a little bit scary to a lot of content marketers and I think still is. It’s essentially about, we’ve come to this point in time with the internet where, of course, you’re able to publish… You’ve always been able to publish instantaneously on the web. I think we’ve just come of age in terms of the consumer expectation for content in a variety of ways in real-time and also real-time being, in some ways, a lot of things around social principles, but also a lot of things related to real-time search principles in terms of really indexing the web up to the minute as was the goal of Larry Page going way back. When you think about content marketing, content production in real-time, it’s a lot of things. It’s about creating. It’s about disseminating. It’s about taking real-time audience feedback and creating on the fly. We’re just in a much more fluid point in time for content production and bottom line is that, real-time is I think the distinctive strategy between cutting edge content marketers and the ones who may be still in the process of getting there.

Byron:                   You find an interesting sort of fork in the road historically in looking at social and search and the two silos if you will, and your book really calls for, “Getting it together people.” What are mistakes that companies make, to sort of illustrate exactly what problems you were trying to surface when you wrote the book? How are people screwing up search versus social?

Rob:                       Yeah, great question. Yeah. When that fork came in the road, a lot of the things I was addressing was more of I think the static view of social and social marketers had a lot to learn at that time about algorithmic principles. Really between that time, I started a lot of that writing into where we are now, we’ve seen social networks truly become algorithmic and model off of basic search principles like a link graph, and looking at websites as nodes and links as edges. Well, social networks have borrowed that in the sense that now people are nodes, and their connections are edges, and they can be measured in a similar fashion for things like authority and around theme, and what are their interests, and what are the linguistics. Linguistic processing, also a huge part of social and content marketing. I think early on though, a lot of social marketers, a lot of content marketers did not take, really fully leveraged the power of what Google or Bing could do algorithmically to scale their content and become more sophisticated in their content.

Byron:                   I’m not sure if you remember the famous moment and I think it was around 2012 where Moz made a radical decision; Rand to… Let me think about this. No, it wasn’t Rand actually. Rand was on a webinar with me. But anyway, there was a big company that decided to bow to the almighty Google and to stop using Google data to showcase results within their tools. Raven Tools, I think. Did you remember that? It was a legendary moment when there was perhaps this thought that SEO was going to change forever and SEO is maybe dead, and maybe we’ve reached the final pinnacle where Google has finally killed all the black hat people and there’s nothing left, so SEO’s dead. Can you remember that because that was around that time period I think when you wrote the book?

Rob:                       I do, yes. I do remember that. Not the specifics, but I do remember that point in time and how Raven had shifted somewhat.

Byron:                   What’s up with optimization? Is SEO with us still and stronger than ever in your opinion?

Rob:                       Yeah, I really think it is. You could say some aspects of it are somewhat commoditized. However, I think there’s always going to be a place for very skilled and knowledgeable SEOs particularly when you talk about the hygiene of the site. There is simply always SEO work to be done, whether it’s keeping things clean from a technical side, it could be server administration. On the enterprise side, the website is a living thing practically. There are many different aspects within a company that are touching a website and everytime they touch it without knowledge of the search impact, there could be something going wrong. But at the same point, the SEO viewpoint is always relevant to a website. Again, I think as far hygiene goes, general maintenance, this is something that has to be done every day, every week, day-in, day-out to maintain search visibility.

Now, I do think another aspect of it has absolutely changed and this is something that we do in our approach here at 3Q Digital and also that I put it in the approach with the book and past methodologies, there’s more of a convergent methodology around SEO and SEO does not exist in a vacuum nor does, I don’t think content marketing exist in a vacuum. I don’t think that social exist in a vacuum. What I mean by that is there’re synergies between the three. If you’re looking at each in a silo, you will never get as much as you could get by thinking of them altogether. I think a convergent methodology, an SEO who is knowledgeable in both content marketing and social distribution. If you’re a local play, then you need a local view of things. There’re just a myriad number of situations that are specific to SEO and the findability of content that I don’t think SEOs ever going to die. It may, under semantically, named other things, but you certainly have a core maintenance aspect and you have these other convergent aspects as well.

Byron:                   In the work that you’re doing these days, are you optimizing content? Are you developing content plans that are mapping out keyword strategy and keywords that are going to be required to use, and pounding those keywords within the content, and cross-pollinating and crosslinking, and making sure keyword… Are you even using title tags and meta descriptions. How deep are you going in reality on today’s date with SEO?

Rob:                       Yeah. SEO is a basis. It’s foundational to any type of content. I’d like to say that if you have a website, then you’re a publisher. If you’re a publisher, then you need to optimize your content, period. There’re a lot of staples, that you have a word press set up, and a lot of things are automated and that’s great. But there’s other things, other considerations you have to do. A content alone, again in a vacuum, will not get you the visibility. You have to optimize.

Linguistics are huge both at a granular level, long tail level, but also in terms of head terms. Frankly, in terms of keyword research, I’m really a big fan of finding that one word. A lot of times, there can be that one linguistic cue that can lead to hundreds or thousands of other terms and you only get there by experimenting. You get there through understanding your audience. At 3Q Digital, we’re very big on understanding audience. We research audience from every aspect in terms of drivers. Within our group and I should say that the way we’re set up, we have our innovation group and it’s basically two arms: One is strategy and the other side is analytics, mobile, creative and SEO. These two arms, we’re really looking at the drivers throughout their business. Again, the search piece is core to what we’re doing.

Byron:                   Where do you think SEO’s going to go? By the way, Penguin has peaked its head out of the iceberg. Have you tracked that and followed that, and where do you think SEO’s going to go as moving forward, and where’s Google going to take us as far as their algorithm is concerned?

Rob:                       Well, I’ll tell you. I’ve always been of the thinking that… I don’t know if I can visualize this for you via audio, but I am very much in SEO about a strong signal as oppose to the noise, and the noise being a lot of the things that can be out there that can cause people to get dinged by a Penguin- or Panda-type update. Those are the more riskier tactics. I’ve always been of the stronger signal and that strong… Really that strong signal is focusing on content that resonates with an audience and with a clean website. Now, I think if you stick, a lot of what’s coming of age now, is what is really been the most sustainable strategy since the beginning and that is good content, focusing on the user. It almost sounds cliché now, but it’s so true. If you tend to play on the fringes with your SEO, there’s always going to be a risk involved and you’re always going to be swayed by algos. But if you stay consistent and understand that there will be good times and bad, and with a strong content play, and by truly understanding your audience, and by being there in real-time, that your benefits from SEO will [0:10:38 mirrored] by that approach.

Byron:                   Do you worry that social will ever have too much of an impact on search results for example? In other words, only popular people will somehow get content listed on the top of Google in search results or only super populated authorities that have a gagillion of followers will end up in your Facebook feed?

Rob:                       Yeah. You mean in terms of the actual… What you would see on Facebook for example?

Byron:                   Yeah, exactly.

Rob:                       The influencers there, understood. Yes, we tend to be… It is an issue. I find it as a user somewhat frustrating, that the people closest in my network, though they might not have the signals there, immediate family members won’t appear in my feed because somebody else that I’m connected to tangentially happens to have a bigger network of friends or more engagement on the page. I think it’s frustrating in that sense, in the pure social sense. When it combines over into search, yes, that’s a concern as well. It’s both a double-edged sword. From a user experience, it can be frustrating. From a media experience, if you are the marketer or the writer or the social producer, you want to have that kind of authority. You want to have that because it is your advantage and becoming more visible in social spaces and search basis.

Yes, I think it can be… I believe there was a term for it called, “the filter bubble”, that were somewhat only were insulated by what the people we like and the influencers within our networks. You do kind of have to, as a user, break out off of that. But by the same token… I think there’s always going to be a balance. If it becomes oversaturated and it’s bad for the user, there will be reactions socially from an algorithmic standpoint. It’s always something, as we both know, that search engines have always looked at. If the results become oversaturated with X-, Y- or Z-type of results, it’s not benefiting the user, they tend to fade out of favor and something comes out. I think that it will always be something that’s being tested and be in the balance.

Byron:                   What new technologies are you using particularly in the social sphere to track and measure performance?

Rob:                       Great question. We like using different dashboards. It really is subjective to a client and the types of tools we’re looking at. If you’re talking about pure Facebook measurement, I like the native tools. I like looking at network-type metrics as well. For me, I think the holy grail in social is knowing not only what do you get in your immediate network, but what really spread from networks to networks. Those are the types of things we’re really looking at.

Byron:                   What about actual content itself? Have you seen content change? Are you seeing longer form content be more popular? What type of assets are you creating these days? Are you by default publishing all of your blog post, for example, out in the social sphere? Are you more regulated with that particular target audience? What’s happening with content in your mind?

Rob:                       Yeah. I think what’s the most exciting and probably one of the more popular ways of content being distributed is the pure social content play. If you look in content marketing as a slice in the budget, it’s there. But if you also look at social from a budgetary standpoint in terms of what marketers are spending on, the number one thing spent in social is content. Socialized content is one of the biggest changes over the last few years. That would obviously entail customized content for Facebook or types of post that you might put in Twitter, or your Pinterest gallery, etcetera. It’s more socially specific, created and curated content for those channels and in building upon those network principles. You have something good for your network and then occasionally you have the ones, you know, the snowballs that turn into an avalanche and really start to spread from network to network. Definitely, social content I think is the biggest one. I would say it’s also not just for organic, but also using social promotion to get your content out there is a big one as well.

Byron:                   How are you determining what to push out in the paid sphere? Are you trying to test organically initially see what sticks and if you have some action or interest on the organic front, are you choosing to amplify that with paid? What amplification channels are you attempting to use these days for some of your clients?

Rob:                       Yeah. I definitely like Facebook a lot. I think to answer to your question, yes. It’s a little bit of both. It’s about testing different types of content for what will resonate based on just… A lot of organics and pushback for brands in Facebook, they want you to buy. But as you see what people start to engage with, then it’s also another, I think a good proxy for what you might push out there. The other side is what message are you trying to send and in understanding our audiences, there’re certain messages that we know resonate. It might not immediately resonate, when you kick it off in organic social, but a little bit of a push with paid will take it a long way.

Byron:                   One of the most difficult things to do in this content marketing space is to truly learn the wants and needs of your customers probably because those needs are changing all the time as our customers learn more things and download more things and get advice and get information all over the web. How do we offer information and advice to them and how do we offer them things that they want and need? Do you have any secrets to learning the wants and needs of customers?

Rob:                       I think that is a great question and it’s always the question for a client, and it’s about understanding your customers and we again… We tend to think of customers as audience or the plurality of our customers and finding like-minded customers. Obviously, we want to reach our core customers, but we want to get out to a greater audience. I think that… I’m sorry. I was losing my train of thought here for a second. But yeah. In terms of assessing this, we ask that question first and foremost of our clients - what is it about your audience - and we go through a deep strategic process to identify who that audience is and where they congregate. Every audience is different. I think what marketers might make a mistake about is assuming where their audience is and we don’t like to assume where the audience is. We want to find out where that audience is and there is definitely always surprises. You might have, for example, a certain B-to-B audience, might be big in certain forums, and they might be a little bit on Twitter, and they also might get their information from a news hub around a conference for example. You only get that kind of information by studying and knowing the audience, and then creating an appropriate strategy to carry out your messaging.

Byron:                   Final question for you, what’s the best way to advance your content marketing knowledge in your opinion?

Rob:                       Another great question. I think constantly producing content, doing it in practice all the time. I think you need to be looking at it as if you’re a company and looking at your company as a media publisher. Test new articles. Publish regularly. Test different metrics. See what’s working, see what’s not. Focus on the things that are working. Constantly test, but constantly do as well. If you’re a writer, the more you write, the better you get. Personally for my company, I started writing back in, on a very frequent basis in 2006, and it was a little bit of a crawl to a run; but in very short order, I had a book together and it wasn’t there to begin with. The same goes with your marketing as well. I’ve had many clients that start very simply and they just keep doing and going and pushing forward. They look back in the rearview mirror, and they see that they’ve accomplished quite a bit, and they’ve become sophisticated content marketers in their own right.

Byron:                   Rob, it’s been great chatting with you. Two final questions. How can listeners get a hold of you and who would you like to hear from?

Rob:                       Great question. Well, certainly, they can email me directly, rob@3qdigital.com. That would be one of the best ways to do it. I always love to hear from other writers and content marketers; anybody who is interested in developing their content marketing. I’m the kind of guy… I love to share my knowledge and I like to help people out with this kind of stuff. Especially I want to hear from the people who are really passionate about content marketing whether they’re beginners or advanced. I love talking with those folks, always happy to talk to you. If you’re interested in talking a little bit of shop, shoot me a line. Let’s start a conversation.

Byron:                   Rob, pleasure being with you today. Thanks for everything. I really enjoyed the conversation.

Rob:                       Likewise. Great conversation. Great questions too.

Byron:                   Indeed. Thanks for tuning everyone. We’ll see you next week.