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Every web-browsing human being reads a product description, almost every day. Most product descriptions are eye-bleeding horrors of lousy copy and unclear information. That means some of the most-read digital content is some of the worst.

We can do better.

This is my sort-of-system for better product descriptions. Use as you see fit.

Two Kinds Of Descriptions

You’re writing two product descriptions:

  • The SERP snippet, to improve rankings and generate clicks
  • The product description page, to generate sales

Both impact rankings. But writing just for rankings will kill sales, and vice-versa. You have to find the right balance.

I beg of you, please don’t go and rewrite 10,000 product descriptions to the exact formula I outline here. It’s a starting point. Be creative.

The Product Description Page

This is the classic “product description.” Folks read it when they’re making their buying decision. They’re looking at two things that your writing can impact:

  • Value
  • Features

If UX is solid and the product is good, a great description will explain features and establish value so well that the customer clicks buy.

I focus on three elements of the product description page:

  1. The on-page title
  2. The blurb
  3. The bullets
The Product Description Page

The Product Description Page

If you don’t have bullets, may I suggest adding them?

There’s lots of other stuff: Images, call to action, price, for example. I’m not writing about those here. I know my limitations.

Check For Duplication

If you’re rewriting an existing description, check for duplication.

  1. Copy two sentences from the blurb
  2. Put them in quotes
  3. Paste them into Google

Do these sentences appear on other sites? That might be OK. But for SEO, duplicate content is a problem. Also, ask yourself: If your product description matches one or more other sites, what reason do folks have to buy from you, instead of them? If you can’t answer, you need to rewrite.

Gahhh! Duplicates. This is a problem.

Gahhh! Duplicates. This is a problem.

If you need to rewrite the description, don’t worry. Follow the rest of these recommendations, and it’ll happen naturally.

The On-Page Title

Note: Writing titles for Amazon is an entirely different discipline. Start with these recommendations, but you’ll need to include more product detail. It’s annoying, I know.

Your on-page product title starts as the product name:

Fast Roller TX 1000

But it must pass the Blank Sheet of Paper Test: The title, written on a blank sheet of paper, should make sense to a knowledgeable stranger. The Fast Roller is a road bicycle tire. Try this:

Fast Roller TX 1000 Road Bicycle Tire

That sounds like an SEO wrote it. When you’re wearing your SEO hat, though, you don’t write copy. You optimize it. Never optimize while you write.

I want something tighter. Remember, the blank sheet of paper test says a knowledgeable stranger. So this will work:

Fast Roller TX 1000 Road Tire

Maybe there are two TX 1000s, though: One for each valve type. Then I end up with:

Fast Roller TX 1000 Road Tire: Presta; and
Fast Roller TX 1000 Road Tire: Schrader

You want higher rankings, though, so you’re tempted to write a fifty-word title. Use your judgment. An overweight title won’t pass the blank sheet of paper test:

Fast Roller TX 1000 Road Bicycle Tire Flat Proof Presta 700C 150TPI Bike Rolling Thingie With A Valve And Tube And Stuff

The knowledgeable stranger will give up. Think before you start keyword stuffing.

The Blurb: Write An Appeal

Fill the blanks:

If [thing or need] then this is a perfect [product].

Example:

"If you [want puncture-resistance] then this is a perfect [road bike tire].”

That’s your appeal. It’s not the only way, but it’s a robust introduction.

You can combine multiple appeals:

“If you want puncture resistance and great handling, then this road bike tire is perfect.”

Or even:

“The TX 1000 provides puncture resistance without sacrificing weight, for a tire that delivers great handling and low rolling resistance.”

Again, I plead. I beg. I implore. Don’t use this as a formula.

The Blurb: Point Out Results

Something about this product makes it uniquely valuable. I hope.

Tell me how you outperform:

“In testing, the TX 1000 showed greater flat-resistance than all major competitors.”

Describe unique features. Get specific!!!

“The TX 1000 is the only tire with an unobtainium valve for greater durability and easier inflation.”

I won’t call this the USP because the term’s so overused it makes me ill.

The Blurb: Find The Unnoticed Obvious

Find one important unnoticed feature related to the appeal. For example threads per inch (TPI) affect a road cycling tire’s puncture-resistance and handling. If no competitors talk about TPI, we should:

“150 TPI means a supple, flat-resistant sidewall.”

Now, I have:

“If you want to balance puncture resistance and performance, then this is a perfect road bike tire. 150 TPI means a really supple, flat-resistant sidewall that doesn’t sacrifice handling or increase rolling resistance. The TX 1000 is also the only tire with an unobtanium valve for greater durability and easier inflation.”

Progress.

The Blurb: Remove Words That Should Never Be Spoken

Plague words. Ew. Additionally, really, indeed, obviously. Shudder. Dump them all.

I’ve got a whole list of plague words right here. If you use ’em, delete ’em.

“If you want puncture resistance, then this is a perfect road bike tire. 150 TPI means a really supple, flat-resistant sidewall that doesn’t sacrifice handling or increase rolling resistance. The TX 1000 is also the only tire with an unobtanium valve for greater durability and easier inflation.”

I also dislike overuse of unrivaled, unmatched, best, fantastic, or any other phrase that doesn’t apply to your product or your category of product. If you’re Rolex, maybe you can say unrivaled. If you sell shoelaces, stop it.

The Blurb: Remove The Breathless

Avoid the painfully obvious. Without bicycle tires, I get sparks and hemorrhoids. And only an idiot wants a tire that combines high rolling resistance with vulnerability to sharp objects. I get it.

Don’t tell me I’ll love this product, either. You’re already implying that. Saying it out loud seems needy and pushes me away.

“In cycling, tires are important. Performance and flat resistance matter. If you want to balance puncture resistance and performance, then this is a perfect road bike tire. 150 TPI means a really supple, flat-resistant sidewall that doesn’t sacrifice handling or increase rolling resistance. The TX 1000 is also the only tire with an unobtanium valve for greater durability and easier inflation. You’ll love this tire!”

I know I need a bicycle tire. Tell me why I need this bicycle tire.

The Blurb, Resplendent

Here’s what we’ve got:

“If you want to balance puncture resistance and performance, then this is a perfect road bike tire. 150 TPI means a supple, flat-resistant sidewall that doesn’t sacrifice handling or increase rolling resistance. The TX 1000 is also the only tire with an unobtanium valve for greater durability and easier inflation.”

On to the bullets.

The Bullets: Find The Questions (And Answer Them)

Bullets are punchy little bits of information. Readers scan for them. Use them to dispel concerns and answer questions. Finding good bullet content is easy:

Go to Amazon.com. Search for your product, or a relevant one. Scroll down to “questions.”

Answers to questions make great bullets

Answers to questions make great bullets

If there are any, find the five most-read and most-asked. Write a brief response to each one. Keep those answers handy.

Do the same on other sites: Walmart, Jet, and vertical-specific sellers all have “questions” sections.

Those will become bullets in your product description. You might even repeat items from the blurb, like “150 TPI.” Use your judgment.

I found many questions about tire weight, tube versus tubeless, and sidewall color. So my bullets could be:

  • 10 grams (a guy can wish)
  • Requires a tube
  • Black sidewalls

You can skip bullets if you want. Maybe you don’t need them. That’s fine. I mean, who needs to answer all those pesky customer questions, right? That’s my over annoying parental way of saying you need bullets. Bribe the developer. Get the branding team drunk and ask for written approval. Whatever you have to do.

Destroy the FAQ

The FAQ is where copywriters go to die. If there are frequently asked questions about a product, write brief answers for those, too. Add them to your bullets, or the product description. Or add a separate section for related FAQ.

If you’re reselling someone else’s product, look at the manufacturer’s FAQ.

Those can become more bullets or part of the blurb.

Everyone wants to know if we guarantee this tire. We provided this answer, so I turned it into a bullet:

  • 10 grams (a guy can wish)
  • Requires a tube
  • Black sidewalls
  • Guaranteed rim fit and flat resistance against normal debris. No rampaging hippos
What About…?

Product specifications? Your call. I don’t think you need specs for a capybara plushie. You might if you sell roofing shingles.

Product ingredients? I like to put them after the bullets, but it depends on the product. A bag of popsicle sticks doesn’t need a list of ingredients. I hope.

Just Get To The SEO, Ian

If you did all of the above, you’ve got an optimized product description page. If you want to take it further:

  • Make sure you don’t avoid your keyword. You sell bicycle tires, not inflatable wheel support.
  • Start with the important stuff. Ingredients rarely belong in the first paragraph. Your appeal does.
  • Do some smart internal linking.

And, you need to work on your SERP snippet:

The SERP Snippet

The product description page is your pitch. The snippet is about search visibility and clickthru.

I’m going to focus on the title element and meta description. They’re usually the bulk of the snippet:

Title element and meta description tag, in a SERP

Title element and meta description tag, in a SERP

It may include reviews and other bits, too. That’ll be another post.

The Title Element

If you don’t know what a title element/tag (same thing, different names) is, here’s a primer.

First, follow the Blank Sheet Of Paper Test. I like to start with the product description page title:

Fast Roller TX 1000 Road Tire: Presta

But I probably need to include “bike” or “bicycle” to separate me from motorcycles and cars:

Fast Roller TX 1000 Road Bicycle Tire: Presta

Now, use a keyword research tool like Moz, SEMRush or Merchantwords to find the most-researched product features. I found these:

  • Flat-resistant bicycle tires
  • Fast bicycle tires
  • Bicycle tires weight
  • Road tire vs. mountain bike tire

I also found a lot of folks search for quantitative features:

  • Size (700c)
  • Inflation pressure (110psi)

I might add these to my description:

Fast Roller TX 1000 Road Bicycle Tire – Presta – 700c – 110psi

Remember to check the current maximum title element length. We have a nifty SERP preview tool that can help.

Turns out my title is too long, so I have to get ruthless. I remove the less-important feature:

Fast Roller TX 1000 Road Bicycle Tire – Presta – 700c – 110psi

OK. Title complete.

The Meta Description

If you’re not sure what a meta description tag is, read this.

The meta description has zero direct impact on rankings. It does, however, impact clickthru. These are a few things I try to do:

First: Include the features for which you believe people will search. Those get bolded. Their presence will reinforce that this is the right product. If someone searches for “rolling resistance,” “presta,” and “schrader,” and I have that word in my meta description, the search snippet will look like this:

A SERP snippet with bolded words

A SERP snippet with bolded words

The searcher is more likely to click.

Second: Use the highest-performing ad text. A few years ago, Wil Reynolds made this recommendation. It blew my mind: Use the highest-performing PPC ad text as your description tag. You’ve already tested that text. You know it gets high clickthru from a SERP. Blew. My. Mind.

I don’t recommend doing this for the on-page, visible product description. Ad text is optimized for search results, not a product page.

Finally: If it’s relevant, include differentiators: Shipping time, available colors/sizes, genuine original, etc. Anything that matters to your audience. On the other hand, don’t tell me you have genuine original socks. I care exactly not at all.

Try to use all available characters. As I write this, the accepted maximum is 300 characters. It changes all the time. Do your research.

Done! Or Not.

You’ve written a great product description page. You’ve got a great SERP snippet. Nice!

Keep an eye on page performance. Look at clickthru rates. Revise. Keep trying to..

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Portent by Michael Wiegand - 1w ago

Before I get into why I want Google to drop everything they’re doing with Google Data Studio (GDS) – their answer to Power BI or Tableau – and prioritize my personal needs, I’ll say:

This post should read as a love letter to Data Studio because it is. It’s (incredibly) still a free tool, and I understand that comes with some limitations. Still, Portent has already used GDS to:

Google Data Studio Report

Portent uses GDS every day to relay important information to our clients.

Even so, being in Google Data Studio constantly has given me a perspective few have on its shortcomings. I’ll detail GDS growth opportunities here in the hopes that Nick and crew will take them with a grain of salt, but maybe move them up the roadmap.

Aesthetics

They’ve had many updates in the last year already on greater visual fine-tuning of charts and graphs, but for Data Studio to be the silver bullet for agency reporting it needs more ways to affect global settings across many pages.

User Themes

GDS has a few built-in themes (light and dark) that help you dictate background and font colors on entire reports, but it needs a way to store and re-use custom color palettes and fonts (including size relationships) across multiple reports.

We have a style guide at our agency with hex colors and fonts we’re expected to use in all client-facing deliverables. It would be nice to capture that style and add it to a new report with one click instead of manually adding it each time.

Google Data Studio Dashboard

Working our style guide into Google Data Studio Dashboards has been fun, but could be easier to scale.

Data Label Control

Data Studio team has already added a way to re-size data labels on charts, which is brilliant; they were almost always too small before. I’d like to see them take this control granularity a step further. Specifically:

  • Choosing where labels appear on the chart (e.g., Excel-style Inside Top, Outside End),
  • Copying and pasting data label treatments from one graph to another, and
  • Spacing control for labels in stacked column (or other similarly crowded) visualizations
More Fonts

Support for Adobe Typekit or even just matching the fonts available in other Google Doc programs (like Docs or Slides) would be sufficient here. Typography and readability are essential when presenting any content, but especially in data storytelling.

Arrows, Lines, Polygons and Other Shapes

Right now, only Circles and Rectangles can be drawn natively in GDS. So often, I have to screencap my beautiful visualizations in Data Studio and then annotate them with arrows and lines in other programs. Aside from just annotating data though, we’re also working on building funnel-style visualizations for clients, and they look super clunky with only rectangles.

Google Data Studio Funnel

Our funnel prototype is coming along nicely, but could use less rectangles.

Data

Aside from all the visual trappings, the data is still paramount, and some improvements there could take GDS from a great tool to an excellent tool overnight.

Support for Google Analytics’ Multi-Channel Funnels

Today, while the GDS connector for GA is pretty comprehensive, the inability to tell the Assisted Conversion story is brutal on our clients who rely on content marketing to drive results. I’ve long lamented Google Analytics keeping their attribution data separate from their primary data (in both the UI and API) and its absence in Data Studio hurts even more.

Better Documentation for Data Blending

Blending Data Sources is probably Google Data Studio’s most mouthwatering feature for data workers in theory. But in practice, it’s still very clunky; mostly because it lacks documented best practices and examples for things like join keys, date dimensions, filtering, and more.

The other day, I was trying to create a custom field to show the % change between two data points from disparate sources and aggregate it by week and was getting insane math out of it. It turns out deltas only work on a day-by-day basis. Would’ve been nice to know before I went down a 2-hour rabbit hole thinking I did something wrong.

Forecasting

Our most sophisticated clients want to know things like:

  • How are we pacing to annual goals?
  • How many conversions can I expect by the end of the month?

While I could manually enter those things in a bullet chart, one of our objectives as an analytics team this year is to automate everything we can so our content, search, and social practitioners can focus on insight and strategy.

It’s one thing to introduce a trend line, but being able to specify a regression and project anticipated performance against actuals would make GDS a killer app for not just marketing reports, but also finance.

Friendlier Error Treatments

As of my writing this, you can specify what you want to show up in a table when GDS finds a null value in a data source (either “no data,” “0,” or my personal favorite “-“). Similarly, scorecards and charts tend to break in GDS for a variety of reasons. While a glaring error message and a monkey wrench are right to see for those of us who are editing the reports, it can be jarring for clients viewing the reports. A way for us to add an “Under Construction” or “Temporarily Unavailable” message or visual to broken elements would soften the blow for viewers.

Bulk Editing for Metrics Across Scorecards and Charts

When a client decides they want to see a different metric for conversions than we’re reporting on, today I have to modify each element in the report one-by-one to make that change. It would be nice to have a global find and replace or even to highlight items that share a metric in common from the same data source and swap it out wholesale.

Thanks, Google Data Studio!

Ultimately, I’m writing all this because I care. I’m an ardent supporter of GDS and, for my money, their team is the fastest iterating product team at Google. I hope to see some of the changes I listed above adopted, but I won’t be heartbroken if it doesn’t happen. Keep up the good work!

The post My Google Data Studio Wishlist appeared first on Portent.

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I have this friend. Some neanderthal hacked their site and sprayed spam links all over their blog, 2008-style.

So this friend had two problems:

  1. Find all the spam links
  2. Detect new spam links as they occur

 I  My friend came up with a relatively simple process using ScreamingFrog. Here it is:

Yeah, yeah, it was us. I won’t detail how. It’s embarrassing, and I don’t want to get beat up on the nerd playground.

This process uses Screaming Frog. You can use another crawler, but Screaming Frog is a bucket of awesome.

The Process

Here’s what you’ll do:

  1. Crawl your site
  2. Clean up the bad links
  3. Do a “clean crawl”
  4. A few days/weeks later, do a new crawl and compare that to the previous one, looking for new, suspicious links
  5. Repeat 2 and 3
Step 1: Crawl

First, crawl your site:

  1. Open Screaming Frog (I know, I know, it’s obvious, but I like to be comprehensive in my step-by-step).
  2. Click Configuration >> Spider
  3. In the “Basic” tab, uncheck “Check Images,” “Check CSS,” and “Check JavaScript.” Uncheck “Check SWF,” if you’re still using Flash. But you’re not, right? Your Spider configuration should look like this: Basic Screaming Frog Spider Configuration

    Basic Screaming Frog Spider Configuration

  4. Make sure ‘Follow External “nofollow”’ is not checked.
  5. Optional: If your site has tens of thousands or more pages, and your computer has a solid state drive, consider going to Configuration >> System >> Storage and switching to Database Storage.
  6. Start your crawl. If you have a big site, have a coffee or something. Your computer’s fan may start to shriek in protest. It’s OK. Just keep a fire extinguisher handy.
  7. Set up an exclusion filter. See “Set Up An Exclusion Filter,” below.
  8. Save the completed crawl. Your computer worked hard. It’s the least you can do.
Set Up An Exclusion Filter

Most crawls generate a long list of external links. You can make life easier by filtering out links to Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. In theory, links to those sites are legitimate. A good filter is a sanity-saver. It can reduce the list of links you have to review by 70–80%. Screaming Frog has a handy exclusion tool for that very purpose.

  1. In Screaming Frog, click Configuration >> Exclude
  2. Type whatever URLs you want to exclude

Screaming Frog’s filter uses regular expressions. Here’s what our regex genius, Matthew Henry, came up with:

https?://(?:[^/\.]+\.)*domainname\.com/.* will filter www.domainname.com and domainname.com.

For example, https?://(?:[^/\.]+\.)*twitter\.com/.* filters out https://www.twitter.com/whatever and https://twitter.com/whatever

Here’s how the exclusion filter looks once you’ve entered a few domains:

Screaming Frog Exclusion Filter

Screaming Frog Exclusion Filter

You can use the “Test” tab to see whether your filter works.

You can see our filter list here. If you want to, download it, copy it, and paste it right into the Exclude field. Note this list is perfect for us, but you’ll need to customize yours over time. Or live with a less-relevant exclusion filter based on our outgoing link profile.

Save your exclusion filter!!! You’re going to run regular crawls. Save the filter. Don’t lose it.

What You’ve Got

With the crawl complete, you’ve got a complete list of external links, minus the filtered domains. Click the “External Links” tab, and you’ll see something like this:

external-links-tab

The External Links Tab

Time to get to work.

Step 2: Clean Up The Bad Links

You’re going to have to look at all those links.

In case you’re wondering, yes, that’s hellaciously tedious. We tried all kinds of automation. None of it was accurate, and we need as close to 100% accuracy as possible. We forged ahead. You will, too.

Don’t give up. After this first cleanup, you can automate detection.

  1. In the External Links tab, clean things up a bit. Look to the right of the column labels. Click the “+” sign.
  2. I always uncheck “Content,” “Status,” and “Crawl Depth.” It makes skimming through the links easier and keeps your exports cleaner. change-columns

    Changing Columns

  3. Start scrolling through the list of links.
  4. As you scroll, look at the info pane at the bottom left of Screaming Frog.

The info pane shows the link type, the source page, and the target. It also shows (and this is important) the anchor and ALT text. Look at those, and the spam jumps out at you. Look at this example:

reviewing-a-link

Reviewing A Link

That’s a link from the HTML version of Conversation Marketing. It points to Cooper.com. The anchor text is “Cooper.com.” I was suspicious, but a glance at the “from” page showed it was legit. We sifted through all the links, looking for:

  • Moronic anchor text
  • Links to irrelevant content. You can usually figure that out by looking at the source and destination URLs
  • Links to SEO agencies we didn’t recognize

By the way, if you’re an SEO agency, don’t hack other marketing companies’ sites for links. It’s like jacking a police car full of angry, mace-bearing trainees all anxious to prove themselves. There are only a couple of endings. None are good for you. The only reason I’m not listing you all in this post and subscribing your webmaster address to every porn site on the internet is the very, very slim chance someone else placed these links.

When you find a spam link, note the “From” page. That’s the linking page on your site—you’ll go there to delete the link. Now, remove all those links! It’s very satisfying.

Examples

Here are three of the links we caught, and why:

  • A link to another SEO agency pointed at www.agencyname.com/seo-[city] page with the anchor text “SEO-[cityname]” from a 2014 blog post about SEO analytics. It made zero sense. That was easy.
  • A link to a greeting card company (?!!!) from a blog post about digital marketing strategy to the “leaving cards” page on their site with the anchor text “leaving cards.” Okaaaayyyy.
  • A link to an SEO agency with the anchor text “[city in Australia] SEO.” I’m sure [city] is beautiful, but we’d use better anchor text than that if we suddenly decided to start reviewing Australian SEO agencies.
Why Not Use Link Data?

You can use the link metrics provided by tools like Moz, ahrefs, and Majestic to score the spamminess of a link. That can save you oodles of time, and we tried it. We discovered that many of the target pages appeared legitimate — for example, one of the links we found pointed at a site with a spam score of 1%.

If a spam link points at a perfectly normal page, link metrics won’t flag it.

Step 2a (Optional): Update Your Exclusion List

If you find many external links to a single legitimate domain, add that domain to your exclusion list. It’ll make future crawls and reviews easier, and keep crawl files under control.

After our first review, we copied all domains we knew were OK, used some search-and-replace, and added those domains to our exclusion list. It cut the next crawl export in half.

What You’ve Got

You now have a clean site. You can do a clean crawl.

Step 3: Run and save another crawl

Now, run another crawl using the same exclusion filter. You saved the filter, right?

Once the crawl’s done:

  1. Clean things up a bit. Look to the right of the column labels. Click the “+” sign.
  2. Uncheck everything except “Address.”
  3. Click the “Export” button. It’s next to the Filter drop-down. Save the result.

I convert the result from a csv to a text file. It’s a one-column list. Why get complicated?

You’ll compare your next crawl to this one and never, ever have to hand-review thousands of links again.

Step 4: Run A New Crawl And Compare

Run a new crawl and save it, just as you did in Step 3. I keep my old crawls and organize files by date. Compulsive. I know.

Now for the fun part! You’re going to compare the most recent crawl to the new one, looking for new links. Don’t fret — you don’t have to do this by hand. While computers suck at finding spam links, they excel at finding differences between files.

Tons of tools let you compare files. If you want something simple, I like Mergely.

Here’s what a comparison of the last and latest crawls looks like in Mergely:

mergely

Mergely File Comparison

The highlighted line is a new link. Easy!

Mergely might bog down with humungous files, though.

So I use the command line. On Linux, this command works like a charm:

‘comm –13 [oldfile] [newfile]’

That command compares oldfile to newfile, showing new stuff in newfile. Try File Compare (FC) on Windows. Your results may vary.

Here’s what a comparison of the last and latest crawls looks like in comm:

comm

Comm File Comparison

It’s fussier than Mergely, so you may get some false positives.

Review any new links. If they’re spam, you know what to do.

This is an excellent time to update your exclusion filter, too. See Step 2a, above.

Step 5: Repeat

Save the last crawl as your new baseline. When you run the next crawl, you’ll compare it to the last one. And so on. Repeat steps 3–5 as desired.

I run crawls every two to three weeks. If you have a faster-growing site, run crawls more often. It’ll make step 5 easier by reducing potential differences and delivering shorter lists of new links.

Enterprise-scale Alternatives

Our site is about 5700 pages. With the exclusion filter, our crawl generated a list of 2300 links. Hand-reviewing those isn’t all that bad. I divided it into chunks of 100, passed them around the office, and we finished reasonably quickly. If your site is millions of pages, you may need to use a crawler like Deepcrawl or OnCrawl.

You may need to look at machine learning as a spam link detection tool (there I said “machine learning” so this is now a legitimate marketing article). However, machine learning gets sticky when you’re sniffing for spam links that point at not-spammy pages.

Worth it?

Is all this work worth it?

Google won’t penalize you for trash links pointing to other sites. Probably. The linked sites don’t benefit from these links. Much.

It boils down to pettiness. I’m a petty person. I have an intense hatred of sleaze. Every spammer we found had “acquired” links from other sites. We contacted all those site owners. Then we reported every linked site to Google.

I have no idea if it’ll have an impact. But I sure feel better.

The post How to: Check Your Site For Spam Links Using Screaming Frog appeared first on Portent.

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Update: I wrote this article in 2015, but I thought with the new year right behind me that I should update it with all the learning I’ve received on the subject of post-mortems. I realized, in retrospect, that I left one key tip out that I make sure to include in all my post-mortems. So, what’s better than 10 Tips For A Successful Post-Mortem? I present the much new and improved 11 Tips For A Successful Post-Mortem. (Spoiler: #5 is new.)

I love meetings. Actually, let me clarify. I like creative, strategy-focused meetings like a brainstorm or its emo cousin, the Post-Mortem.

What is a post-mortem? To some, it’s an examination of a corpse in order to determine the correct cause of death. To other more well-adjusted individuals (no offense Dana Scully), it’s a discussion (usually at the end of the project) to identify and analyze elements of a project that were successful or unsuccessful. It answers the question, “How’d we do?”

Many people find the name “post-mortem” too macabre. They’d rather call it a “retrospective,” which I find boring and lacking imagination. Even if a project was a ridiculously successful delight from start to finish, the post-mortem marks the end of a job (or phase) and your team is probably happy to have it behind them. If I had my way, I’d call it the “[insert project name] Super Post-Mortem Extravaganza!!” Now don’t tell me you wouldn’t rather go to that than the “[insert project name] Retrospective.”

Not Just For Single Projects

Many people assume that post-mortems are only for one-off projects. Although they’re extremely important for projects with a clearly defined start and end date – think apps, web sites, infographics, etc. – they’re just as useful for ongoing marketing efforts. Post-mortems can keep the big picture in perspective with monthly, quarterly, or annual reviews. Obviously, having one every month is time-consuming, but a few hours every quarter is time well spent.

Not Just For Agencies

Post-mortems aren’t just for agencies trying to retain clients or win new business. They are every bit as useful on the brand side. Marketing Directors can equally benefit by holding post-mortems after finishing any campaign or project. To note, in a perfect world, the post-mortem can involve the client team and the agency team together. Remember, it’s “How’d we do?”

So, now that you’ve been convinced of the awesomeness of the post-mortem and have probably already scheduled one, here are my 10 tips for getting the most out of your post-mortem:

(Note: For the purpose of these tips, I’ll refer to them in the context of a single campaign with a goal of completion rather than an ongoing project.)

1. Have a post-mortem for every project, no matter how small or how big, no matter what the outcome.

Even if a project is small, there are always things that pop up which will help you learn for larger projects. For example, let’s say that the project was delayed because of communication issues. This could lead to a delay of a few days for a small project. But in a massive project, this could delay you by months and more importantly, increase the cost by two-fold. Always a fun conversation with the CFO.

Importantly, post-mortems should be held no matter how well a project went. Some tend to think that a post-mortem is all about what went wrong. Again, I prefer to think of it as “how’d we do and why?” I’ve never worked on a project that went perfectly. Likewise, I’ve never worked on a project that was a complete disaster. There is always something of value to learn.

“The minute that you’re not learning I believe you’re dead.”
Jack Nicholson

2. Schedule the post-mortem directly after the project concludes.

If you’re like me, project details evaporate from memory when the big push is finished. If a project goes well we lose sight of problems in light of a job well done. If a project goes poorly we lose sight of successes as we try to figure out what went wrong. Have your post-mortem while details are still fresh. Bonus points for scheduling them in advance.

“The palest ink is better than the best memory.”
Chinese Proverb

3. Set a constructive mindset.

This is by far the most important tip on this list. A post-mortem is not about highlighting failures with the purpose of assigning blame. It’s not about reviewing employee performance. It’s about reviewing the work and the result for purposes of team and personal improvement. It needs to be constructive.

Therefore, it’s important that your team is in the right mindset: positive and learning-focused, not defensive or hypercritical. The best way to do this is to start off the conversation with something positive. Generally, the more powerful or proud they feel, the more effectively they can process constructive criticism.

As one of my team members always likes to say when things go wrong, “Well, nobody was killed, so…” Remind everyone that, no matter how embarrassing a gaffe, you can learn from it. Obviously, this doesn’t work if somebody did die, but no Portent project has killed anyone so far… so I’ve been told.

“I’m the kind of person who likes to create the environment and mindset – not because I do it deliberately, but because that’s how I like to live – where, from catering to makeup to hair to wardrobe, electricians, camera department lighting, sound, you know, it’s our movie; we’re together, and we have that camaraderie and that closeness.”
Steve McQueen

4. Create an agenda.

Even a relaxed meeting needs an agenda. The last thing we want is a completely disorganized mess that leaves you an hour later with no idea of what you actually learned. Having an agenda will actually help with all of the tips I’ve spoken about so far.

Here’s a sample agenda for an effective post-mortem:

  1. Set Tone / Explain Format (5 Min) – This is possibly the most critical, pivotal 5 minutes of the meeting. It’s where you remind the group that this post-mortem is all about constructive analysis. It’s your chance to guide the mindset of the group and hopefully get them to relax and feel safe enough for a truly productive session.
  2. Recap The Project (2 Min) – That’s it. You’ll give a synopsis of what the project was about and what the initial expectations were. This will let you focus on the measurable goals so you can objectively evaluate whether the project was a success.
  3. Recap The Outcome (3 Min) – Although there might be a difference of opinion on how everyone thought the process went, usually there’s a pretty straightforward idea on whether the goal was met. Was the client happy? (This could be a client in the literal sense, or it could be the CMO of your own company.) Did the cost exceed the budget? Was the product delivered on time?
  4. Team Member Questions (40 Min) – This is the meat of the post-mortem. Where all this setup will pay dividends. It’s where the conversation really gets going and your team members get an opportunity to speak up. It helps to jump-start by asking one person a question and allow people to riff off each other. The important thing is that everyone gets a chance to contribute. Here are the questions that I like to ask:
    1. Are you proud of our finished deliverables? If yes, what made them great? If no, what was wrong or missing?
    2. Did we get the results we wanted and did it make impact?
    3. Which of our methods or processes worked particularly well?
    4. Which of our methods or processes were difficult or frustrating to use?
    5. How would you do things differently next time to avoid this frustration?
    6. What else could we do better next time?
    7. What was the most gratifying or professionally satisfying part of the project?
  5. Wrap-Up (10 Min) – This is where you thank everyone for participating and let them know that notes will be coming soon.

Admittedly, it can be really challenging to keep to this agenda on the fly, but the last thing you want to do is stop the conversation from flowing organically. Most times, the conversation will jump naturally from one question to the next. The important part is that you make sure each of the answers is a conversation and everyone is able to address them.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Benjamin Franklin

5. Send out a questionnaire to all the participants prior to the meeting.

An agenda is extremely important, but it’ll be hard to stick to your timetable if the participants aren’t prepared themselves having thought about all the questions you plan to cover. If they haven’t already though through the questions, I guarantee you if you ask them what methods or processes worked well, you’ll get at least 10-20 seconds of blank stares.

This is productive for two reasons. First, you’ll more likely get better answers. It’s hard to come up with something on the spot that has substance. Secondly, when somebody finally feels like they have a good answer, nobody else will listen to them because they’re busy trying to think of a good answer themselves.

So, along with a simple agenda, make sure that you send all the participants a list of questions that they should think about prior to the meeting. It’s best if you give them plenty of time to get this done so it’s not a last minute dash right before the post-mortem.

“We must open the doors of opportunity. But we must also equip our people to walk through those doors.”
Lyndon B. Johnson

6. Identify the moderator.

Along with an agenda, there must be one person responsible for moderating the meeting. This is generally the same person that set the agenda and scheduled the post-mortem. Having a moderator not only creates bumper rails for the conversation, but allows all the other team members the freedom to speak their mind without worrying excessively about the structure or process.

A good moderator will give the right amount of leeway for the conversation to tackle a tangent before reigning it back in.

The moderator should also be the one to take notes. I recommend using a white board. That allows team members to stay engaged, rather than frantically scribbling notes.

“Can you repeat the part of the stuff where you said all about the things?”
Homer Simpson

7. Keep it relaxed.

As I mentioned earlier, I love creative strategy meetings. They tend to be more relaxed and therefore more fun. Dreaded, high-tension post-mortems kill creativity and seal your team into their personal shells. That kind of meeting is as productive as a team-wide nap time.

You’re uncovering uncomfortable stuff much of the time. Deliberately promote a relaxed environment. If it’s early in the morning, bring coffee and donuts. If it’s later in the day, bring beer and well… donuts. Always bring donuts.

“A cheerful frame of mind, reinforced by relaxation… is the medicine that puts all ghosts of fear on the run.”
George Matthew Adams

8. Encourage participation.

The goal of a post-mortem is a deep dive into the project and learning as a team. By surfacing the perspectives of everyone in the group – many of whom are often more in the weeds – they let us uncover issues at a micro-level that add up to a seriously macro impact. If only a few team members are speaking up, be sure and ask the others what thoughts they have. Sometimes it only takes a small amount of prodding before people feel comfortable talking.

“In teamwork, silence isn’t golden, it’s deadly.”
Mark Sanborn

9. Leave the laptops behind.

Just like creative brainstorms, I prefer that post-mortems are screen-less affairs. Folks are encouraged to bring notes, but computers often provide more distraction than they’re worth. For those already a bit hesitant to share their thoughts, there’s nothing worse than opening up only to find that people aren’t paying attention. A post-mortem should create dialogue and bounce thoughts and ideas back and forth. There’s no room for a computer in this process – even for note taking. (I’ll explain why later.)

“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser focus.”
Bruce Lee

10. Develop actionable takeaways.

Even the most productive post-mortem is no good unless there are clear, actionable takeaways. “Do better” is a noble takeaway indeed, but how do you act on that next time? You need specific to-dos the team can remember in the heat of the next project.

In our previous example, if communication was the problem, perhaps the actionable takeaway is to set more regular, in-person check-ins.

Actionable takeaways set clear expectations. The team can hold each other accountable for implementing them on the next project.

“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.”
Jack Welch

11. Share post-mortem takeaways.

Nothing groundbreaking here. The last important tip is to share the post-mortem takeaways with anybody who might benefit from your newly-found pearls of wisdom. This definitely includes your post-mortem attendees. But spend the time to identify others in your company who deal with the same challenges.

“Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.”
His Holiness the Dalai Lama

While some of these tips are bit more rigid than others, the most important thing to remember is to keep the nature of the post-mortem light, yet still productive and impactful. If you succeed, you’ll watch your team take away immensely valuable insights that’ll make the next project even better.

Or if this is all just too much, just be sure and call it a Super Post-Mortem Extravaganza. And bring donuts.

The post 10 Tips for a Successful Post-Mortem appeared first on Portent.

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Recently, the team from Portent attended the latest installment of Seattle Interactive Conference, a fantastic digital conference just down the block from our shiny new home office. Thousands of attendees flocked to downtown Seattle and listened to dozens of speakers share their insights about the digital marketing landscape. (Portent’s own Tim Mehta spoke at SIC about friction in UX and how it affects a user’s journey.) As with any conference, some talks were riveting and others just missed the mark. I attended 11 talks during the two-day event. Here are three content strategy insights I took away from those SIC discussions.

Emphasize Data Transparency (Multiple Speakers)

In a GDPR world, we are the product for many global companies, like Facebook, Twitter and Google. Old news to digital marketers, but still very much worth repeating. Knowing what data these companies collect about us and how it’s used is of monumental importance. Look at the Cambridge Analytica scandal as an example of how data gets abused when users are kept in the dark or mislead.

Nathan Kinch, the author of “Designing for Trust: The Data Transparency Playbook,” says data transparency is crucial because user trust is at an all-time low. His solution is for brands to tell users exactly how they intend to access and process their data. This includes discussing who else (external companies, partners, etc.) has access to the data and what benefits users gain from this data exchange.

Among companies that do provide this transparency, many of them don’t present the information in a user-friendly fashion.

Ask yourself this question: Is any “average user” going to scroll through 15 pages of legalese that they can barely understand, let alone use in an actionable way? I highly doubt it.

Data transparency must be easy-to-digest information that involves users from the get-go. Not just checkboxes and an “I Agree” button.

So what does that interactive process look like?

If users create a new account with your brand, hold their hand and guide them through visual and interactive steps that discuss exactly what happens to their data. If at all possible, give users the option to opt out of data collection entirely. If you do give users this option, provide a caveat that teaches them what services and benefits they’re going to forfeit for withholding the data exchange. An important reminder for this step, teach your users in plain language what they’re giving up but don’t guilt-trip or shame them into giving data access.

This interactive process builds trust and allows users to create a positive connection with the brand. The opt-in, opt-out method allows users to become partners instead of just a data piggy-bank.

Unlike a bad navigation or slow website, data collection is not an in-your-face UX concern for many users. But unlike aesthetic UX snafus, if a brand misuses, loses or abuses data, users lose trust in the brand as a whole. Ultimately, user experience is all about trust, communication and ease-of-use. And data transparency is among the most important pieces of that puzzle.

Congratulate Your Users (Multiple Speakers)

Receiving a high-five feels good, right? It’s a celebration that you did a great job or achieved some task worthy of congratulations. But when is the last time a website or app gave you a high-five for visiting, making a purchase or being a returning customer?

Unfortunately, you probably don’t get to experience high-five moments online very often.
A high-five moment in UX, also known as a “delighter,” occurs whenever you provide users with a fun, congratulatory experience for completing a given task.

For example, MailChimp uses a literal high-five GIF after users send off a survey. The GIF is cute, funny, and makes the experience more fun overall.

Ultimately, high-five moments provide users with a more human experience and allows them to feel more connected to a brand, product or website.

If high-five moments are so beneficial for a user’s psyche, why don’t more websites use the tactic?

The simple answer is that properly executing a high-five moment is really damn hard. And there is no “look at their elbow” cheat in UX.

As UX Planet writes, the MailChimp high-five GIF works as a delighter because the underlying MailChimp product does a great job of fulfilling user needs. MailChimp has fine-tuned its service so it’s useful and easy to use.

The totality of product functionality and the service’s UX is what makes-or-breaks a delighter.

“In order for your delighter to have a positive effect, you must first meet or exceed the user’s basic expectations,” the UX Planet article states. “Otherwise that moment will likely add a layer of cheese on top of the original disappointment.”

There are countless examples of cheesy delighters, but one high-five moment gone horribly wrong stands atop the garbage heap: Clippy, your “favorite” helper from Microsoft Word. Clippy is obtrusive and annoying when it congratulates you for writing in a Word document. Instead of providing a helpful service or making you feel accomplished, Clippy creates aggravation and diminishes Microsoft Word as a whole.

Too often, designers and UX’ers alike focus on ensuring designs are aesthetic and practical. We forget that users love delightful experiences, too (just don’t go overboard and create something like Clippy). So the next time you’re designing or evaluating an experience, ask yourself three questions:

  1. Does this product/experience/website/etc. meet my users’ basic expectations?
  2. Do I think the product/etc. can be innovated or improved enough to provide a performance payoff?
  3. What change to the product/etc. can make the intended innovation more delightful for users? The answer becomes your “delighter.”

If numbers 1 and 2 are a “yes,” then consider how to incorporate number 3 into your design or recommendations. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a well-earned high-five?

Use Authentic, Emotional Stories to Inspire Action – Paul Norris

Storytelling is humankind’s natural form of communication. Stories teach us morality, entertain us, and even help our societies evolve. They’re also crucial components in any marketing strategy because an excellent, authentic story compels users to satisfy whatever emotions or desires the story inspires.

So how to do you create a compelling story? The best place to start to place a modern twist on Aristotle’s classic storytelling framework.

At SIC, Paul Norris spoke about emotional storytelling in UX. Below is his modern twist on Aristotle’s formula.

  • Vision: Present your users with a scenario. Help them imagine how life is in the world.
  • Problem: Teach your users about what’s wrong in the world you’ve presented.
  • Inspiration: Show users how the problem has changed the world in this story, and give them a glimpse of hope for how these villainous circumstances can be repaired.
  • Involvement: Present users with the solution you hinted about earlier.
  • Fascination: Allude to (or show) how the world has changed or can change now that users are involved and adopting the solution.

During the presentation, Norris used this framework to explain a recent Airbnb advertisement.

Let's Keep Traveling Forward | Airbnb - YouTube

As you can see, within 30 seconds the video tells a compelling story that successfully follows this formula.

Importantly, viewers are left with one defining message: travel keeps the world moving forward and you should participate. With a posteriori knowledge of Airbnb, the argument that Airbnb helps people travel is unstated but readily apparent, too.

This type of storytelling is powerful because it empowers users to see the story as aspirational and shows how they can have a positive effect in the world by getting involved and traveling.

This formula works because it triggers three distinct responses in users:

  • Inherent Response: an immediate feeling that influences your instinctual perceptions about a scenario.
  • Reflective Response: how you believe this scenario affects your life or the lives of people you care about.
  • Behavioral Response: the actions you take based on the outcome of your reflective response.

Tapping into these three responses helps guide users toward a specific behavior. It’s a stellar method to use while developing your user journey map.

If you missed SIC this year but you’d like a taste of what it was like to be in the room for a standing-room only presentation, you can watch Portent’s own Tim Mehta give his full talk on finding and fixing friction in user experience here.

The post 3 Content Strategy Lessons from Seattle Interactive Conference appeared first on Portent.

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I have this friend. Some neanderthal hacked their site and sprayed spam links all over their blog, 2008-style.

So this friend had two problems:

  1. Find all the spam links
  2. Detect new spam links as they occur

 I  My friend came up with a relatively simple process using ScreamingFrog. Here it is:

Yeah, yeah, it was us. I won’t detail how. It’s embarrassing, and I don’t want to get beat up on the nerd playground.

This process uses Screaming Frog. You can use another crawler, but Screaming Frog is a bucket of awesome.

The Process

Here’s what you’ll do:

  1. Crawl your site
  2. Clean up the bad links
  3. Do a “clean crawl”
  4. A few days/weeks later, do a new crawl and compare that to the previous one, looking for new, suspicious links
  5. Repeat 2 and 3
Step 1: Crawl

First, crawl your site:

  1. Open Screaming Frog (I know, I know, it’s obvious, but I like to be comprehensive in my step-by-step).
  2. Click Configuration >> Spider
  3. In the “Basic” tab, uncheck “Check Images,” “Check CSS,” and “Check JavaScript.” Uncheck “Check SWF,” if you’re still using Flash. But you’re not, right? Your Spider configuration should look like this: Basic Screaming Frog Spider Configuration

    Basic Screaming Frog Spider Configuration

  4. Make sure ‘Follow External “nofollow”’ is not checked.
  5. Optional: If your site has tens of thousands or more pages, and your computer has a solid state drive, consider going to Configuration >> System >> Storage and switching to Database Storage.
  6. Start your crawl. If you have a big site, have a coffee or something. Your computer’s fan may start to shriek in protest. It’s OK. Just keep a fire extinguisher handy.
  7. Set up an exclusion filter. See “Set Up An Exclusion Filter,” below.
  8. Save the completed crawl. Your computer worked hard. It’s the least you can do.
Set Up An Exclusion Filter

Most crawls generate a long list of external links. You can make life easier by filtering out links to Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. In theory, links to those sites are legitimate. A good filter is a sanity-saver. It can reduce the list of links you have to review by 70–80%. Screaming Frog has a handy exclusion tool for that very purpose.

  1. In Screaming Frog, click Configuration >> Exclude
  2. Type whatever URLs you want to exclude

Screaming Frog’s filter uses regular expressions. Here’s what our regex genius, Matthew Henry, came up with:

https?://(?:[^/\.]+\.)*domainname\.com/.* will filter www.domainname.com and domainname.com.

For example, https?://(?:[^/\.]+\.)*twitter\.com/.* filters out https://www.twitter.com/whatever and https://twitter.com/whatever

Here’s how the exclusion filter looks once you’ve entered a few domains:

Screaming Frog Exclusion Filter

Screaming Frog Exclusion Filter

You can use the “Test” tab to see whether your filter works.

You can see our filter list here. If you want to, download it, copy it, and paste it right into the Exclude field. Note this list is perfect for us, but you’ll need to customize yours over time. Or live with a less-relevant exclusion filter based on our outgoing link profile.

Save your exclusion filter!!! You’re going to run regular crawls. Save the filter. Don’t lose it.

What You’ve Got

With the crawl complete, you’ve got a complete list of external links, minus the filtered domains. Click the “External Links” tab, and you’ll see something like this:

external-links-tab

The External Links Tab

Time to get to work.

Step 2: Clean Up The Bad Links

You’re going to have to look at all those links.

In case you’re wondering, yes, that’s hellaciously tedious. We tried all kinds of automation. None of it was accurate, and we need as close to 100% accuracy as possible. We forged ahead. You will, too.

Don’t give up. After this first cleanup, you can automate detection.

  1. In the External Links tab, clean things up a bit. Look to the right of the column labels. Click the “+” sign.
  2. I always uncheck “Content,” “Status,” and “Crawl Depth.” It makes skimming through the links easier and keeps your exports cleaner. change-columns

    Changing Columns

  3. Start scrolling through the list of links.
  4. As you scroll, look at the info pane at the bottom left of Screaming Frog.

The info pane shows the link type, the source page, and the target. It also shows (and this is important) the anchor and ALT text. Look at those, and the spam jumps out at you. Look at this example:

reviewing-a-link

Reviewing A Link

That’s a link from the HTML version of Conversation Marketing. It points to Cooper.com. The anchor text is “Cooper.com.” I was suspicious, but a glance at the “from” page showed it was legit. We sifted through all the links, looking for:

  • Moronic anchor text
  • Links to irrelevant content. You can usually figure that out by looking at the source and destination URLs
  • Links to SEO agencies we didn’t recognize

By the way, if you’re an SEO agency, don’t hack other marketing companies’ sites for links. It’s like jacking a police car full of angry, mace-bearing trainees all anxious to prove themselves. There are only a couple of endings. None are good for you. The only reason I’m not listing you all in this post and subscribing your webmaster address to every porn site on the internet is the very, very slim chance someone else placed these links.

When you find a spam link, note the “From” page. That’s the linking page on your site—you’ll go there to delete the link. Now, remove all those links! It’s very satisfying.

Examples

Here are three of the links we caught, and why:

  • A link to another SEO agency pointed at www.agencyname.com/seo-[city] page with the anchor text “SEO-[cityname]” from a 2014 blog post about SEO analytics. It made zero sense. That was easy.
  • A link to a greeting card company (?!!!) from a blog post about digital marketing strategy to the “leaving cards” page on their site with the anchor text “leaving cards.” Okaaaayyyy.
  • A link to an SEO agency with the anchor text “[city in Australia] SEO.” I’m sure [city] is beautiful, but we’d use better anchor text than that if we suddenly decided to start reviewing Australian SEO agencies.
Why Not Use Link Data?

You can use the link metrics provided by tools like Moz, ahrefs, and Majestic to score the spamminess of a link. That can save you oodles of time, and we tried it. We discovered that many of the target pages appeared legitimate — for example, one of the links we found pointed at a site with a spam score of 1%.

If a spam link points at a perfectly normal page, link metrics won’t flag it.

Step 2a (Optional): Update Your Exclusion List

If you find many external links to a single legitimate domain, add that domain to your exclusion list. It’ll make future crawls and reviews easier, and keep crawl files under control.

After our first review, we copied all domains we knew were OK, used some search-and-replace, and added those domains to our exclusion list. It cut the next crawl export in half.

What You’ve Got

You now have a clean site. You can do a clean crawl.

Step 3: Run and save another crawl

Now, run another crawl using the same exclusion filter. You saved the filter, right?

Once the crawl’s done:

  1. Clean things up a bit. Look to the right of the column labels. Click the “+” sign.
  2. Uncheck everything except “Address.”
  3. Click the “Export” button. It’s next to the Filter drop-down. Save the result.

I convert the result from a csv to a text file. It’s a one-column list. Why get complicated?

You’ll compare your next crawl to this one and never, ever have to hand-review thousands of links again.

Step 4: Run A New Crawl And Compare

Run a new crawl and save it, just as you did in Step 3. I keep my old crawls and organize files by date. Compulsive. I know.

Now for the fun part! You’re going to compare the most recent crawl to the new one, looking for new links. Don’t fret — you don’t have to do this by hand. While computers suck at finding spam links, they excel at finding differences between files.

Tons of tools let you compare files. If you want something simple, I like Mergely.

Here’s what a comparison of the last and latest crawls looks like in Mergely:

mergely

Mergely File Comparison

The highlighted line is a new link. Easy!

Mergely might bog down with humungous files, though.

So I use the command line. On Linux, this command works like a charm:

‘comm –13 [oldfile] [newfile]’

That command compares oldfile to newfile, showing new stuff in newfile. Try File Compare (FC) on Windows. Your results may vary.

Here’s what a comparison of the last and latest crawls looks like in comm:

comm

Comm File Comparison

It’s fussier than Mergely, so you may get some false positives.

Review any new links. If they’re spam, you know what to do.

This is an excellent time to update your exclusion filter, too. See Step 2a, above.

Step 5: Repeat

Save the last crawl as your new baseline. When you run the next crawl, you’ll compare it to the last one. And so on. Repeat steps 3–5 as desired.

I run crawls every two to three weeks. If you have a faster-growing site, run crawls more often. It’ll make step 5 easier by reducing potential differences and delivering shorter lists of new links.

Enterprise-scale Alternatives

Our site is about 5700 pages. With the exclusion filter, our crawl generated a list of 2300 links. Hand-reviewing those isn’t all that bad. I divided it into chunks of 100, passed them around the office, and we finished reasonably quickly. If your site is millions of pages, you may need to use a crawler like Deepcrawl or OnCrawl.

You may need to look at machine learning as a spam link detection tool (there I said “machine learning” so this is now a legitimate marketing article). However, machine learning gets sticky when you’re sniffing for spam links that point at not-spammy pages.

Worth it?

Is all this work worth it?

Google won’t penalize you for trash links pointing to other sites. Probably. The linked sites don’t benefit from these links. Much.

It boils down to pettiness. I’m a petty person. I have an intense hatred of sleaze. Every spammer we found had “acquired” links from other sites. We contacted all those site owners. Then we reported every linked site to Google.

I have no idea if it’ll have an impact. But I sure feel better.

The post How to: Check Your Site For Spam Links Using Screaming Frog appeared first on Portent.

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Amazon recently announced an entire blog dedicated to its “Amazon Stores” feature, which made us think it’s the right time to give this brand outpost more thought. Amazon Stores is an interesting concept in that advertisers, who are historically faceless and arguably commoditized on Amazon now have the opportunity and a dedicated space within this vast site to tell shoppers why their brand is one worth remembering.

At the surface, this seems like a fantastic, benevolent move by Amazon, and it’s a great opportunity for individual brands or even multi-brand retailers to tell their story to one of the largest shopping audiences in the world.

But it doesn’t come without effort, and there are real tradeoffs to consider.

Should I Set Up An Amazon Store?

If you aren’t currently selling your products on Amazon and you can barely wrangle the content on your website and your paid, owned, and earned channels, you should probably stop there until you get those aspects of your digital presence in a solid place.

If you feel like you do have a good grasp on your content already and want to use your resources to expand your brand name via Amazon, we definitely recommend looking into Amazon Stores. These multi-layered mini websites are free, self-controlled, and fairly easy to create. They roughly mirror the merchandising and positioning opportunity of a brand’s own site, and much like a good branded e-commerce site, they offer the ease of a streamlined online shopping experience.

Considerations and Guidance If You’re Going to Create an Amazon Store

You MUST Put Time and Thought Into It

If you decide to create an Amazon Store, it’s yet another place you have to build a thoughtful presence. And developing the right positioning and messaging for any specific channel takes time and effort.

This is not a place to copy and paste the masthead paragraph from your home page. Nor should you put an intern to the task of imagining what this new store should look like.

Many brand owners fall into the trap of thinking I must be on this platform just because it exists, even if I don’t have time to manage it. Think about social media. How many businesses have you seen create a Facebook page only to stop publishing for months on end? Oftentimes, these are businesses that shouldn’t even have a Facebook page in the first place. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Facebook updates from my dentist. I go twice a year and that’s all the contact that I need.

The same thing applies to Amazon Stores. Just because everyone’s doing it, doesn’t mean you should jump on the bandwagon. Make sure it makes sense for your brand, that you already have enough products on Amazon to make this worthwhile, and that you have the bandwidth and resources to properly create your store.

As a marketer or business owner, there’s a lot to accomplish every single day. Adding more content creation and ongoing upkeep or governance into the mix could be more than your team can realistically handle right now. Or worse, you may stretch yourself too thin to get this new platform launched and let overall quality suffer. That’s certainly not a guarantee, but it’s a real consideration.

If creating an Amazon Store lines up with your business goals and it’s high on your priority list, consider doing the following before you set out:

  • See if your competitors have Amazon Stores
  • Research other brands’ stores. To determine if a brand has an Amazon store, go to https://www.amazon.com /brandname. For example, https://www.amazon.com/Guess/. Note: Currently, there isn’t a way to find these just by browsing
  • Meet with your team and determine how many resources you will need
  • Estimate how much time setting up and maintaining the store will take
  • Evaluate whether you have the expertise to optimize this content for user experience and discoverability in-house, or if you’ll need an agency partner

Be realistic about what you can accomplish. Building a store may look simpler than it actually is. You don’t need to have any coding skills, but if you want to do it well, it’s not as straightforward as plugging in a few images and product descriptions.

Create Unique Content

Content and SEO 101: It’s important that you create unique content for your Amazon Store.

Beyond concerns about accidentally causing Amazon to outrank you for your own brand terms (more below) one of the big reasons unique content is a requirement here is that Amazon has certain rules for Brand Stores as well as individual products, and how they evaluate content.

In order to maintain consistency across a huge number of businesses clamoring to sell within their marketplace, Amazon imposes strict guidelines on what you say, how you say it, and where you say it. Just like any setup of an online marketplace, you have to think about strict page templates, unique fulfillment considerations, and any specific user guidelines.

According to an article on Digiday about the challenges of selling on Amazon, one marketer expressed the following concern:

“There are mixed feelings at the top whether we use it as a customer brand awareness platform. One thing is photography. To put a product on Amazon, we have to reshoot it specifically for them.”

At first glance, it may seem easy to upload a few product photos, but be cautious that you’ll need to build in extra time to do it within Amazon’s guidelines.

Duplicate Content and Amazon Stores

Another reason why you want to create unique content is to avoid duplicate content issues. If you’re a marketer strapped for time, it would be easy to take copy from your website and paste it into your Amazon Store, but this is a not a good idea.

Requisite PSA for folks reading this post who are totally unfamiliar with SEO: duplicate content is bad. To grossly oversimplify, if a search engine sees duplicate content on two or more sites it has to make a decision about which site to show in search results. Or worse, the search engine could perceive malicious intent from the duplicate content and actually penalize the site they perceive to be in the wrong. For more on this, here’s a great exploration of duplicate content considerations.

Chances are that you don’t have a higher domain authority than Amazon. This means that for any search (non-branded OR branded) there’s a risk that Google will show a link from Amazon, leaving you suddenly competing against yourself in the SERPs.

Think About Which Parts of Your Brand Story to Tell Fast-Moving Shoppers

If executed correctly, Amazon Stores allows you to tell your brand story in a way that you weren’t previously able to on the platform.

It also gives you the time and precious real-estate to tell your brand story in an otherwise transactional environment, and to provide those conversion points a little lower down the page. However, It’s important to think about what aspects of your story are actually going to hook consumers who are looking to purchase a product immediately.

For example, will your brand story tell users why your product is higher-quality or more reliable or will it tell a compelling personal story?

Let’s look at TOMS as an example:

Their backstory is a huge part of their brand and why people would buy their shoes vs. a competitor’s. Their Amazon Store allows them to both tell consumers what they’re about, as well as merchandising their products without rushing to get the conversion.

Again, notice that TOMS doesn’t just dive into the products right away. You have to scroll through some of their lifestyle and positioning imagery before you get to the individual products.

This isn’t a prescription, but it’s a good lesson. You need to think through what specific facets of your brand make sense to showcase in this specific channel.

What route you choose to go will likely depend on whether your brand is well-known and whether you have a truly compelling story behind it. Not everyone has such a feel good, purposeful marketing story as TOMS. But that’s okay. If your biggest differentiator is that you have high-quality products that far outlast your competitors’, then you should showcase that in your Amazon Store. Reading reviews that discuss product details such as durability and other parts of product quality is commonplace on Amazon, so telling a story with that angle could really work in your favor.

Before diving too deep into how you want to tell your story, we recommend starting at a few of the following places:

  • Your products.
  • Determine which products you want to highlight and include in your store

  • Your competitors’ related products.
  • Look at your competitors and determine whether or not they have a store. If so, how are they writing about their products and their brand?

  • Common questions.
  • Determine what questions real shoppers are asking and then answer some of those questions in the copy in your Amazon Store. These questions indicate what customers care about

Pro-Tip: You MUST Properly Label and Organize Your Navigation

We advise most of our clients who sell on Amazon to not use a standard eCommerce navigation in their Amazon Store. You should avoid “Solutions” “Products,” “Wholesale,” etc. Amazon is singularly focused on selling products and your navigation should reflect that.

At Portent, we often talk about the importance of descriptive navigation. For example, if your site sells yoga gear, it’s better to label your navigation “yoga gear” than “products.” This not only helps with SEO, it makes for a richer, more intuitive user experience on your website.

Although we can’t claim to know whether navigational labels affect Amazon’s A9 search algorithm, it still makes for a better and more intuitive user experience.

This may be tough to visualize in writing. Let’s take a look at another example from Listerine:

Their navigational labels are clear and to the point, which makes it easy to browse. Users know exactly where they’ll land when they click on “Floss.”

Notice that their Amazon Store’s navigational labels are different than their website’s. For example, instead of having a label for “Products” or “Gums & Gum Disease,” they have labels such as “Classic Mouthwash” and “Extra Benefits Mouthwash,” which showcases the products and gets right to the point.

You can also use your navigation to push seasonal products.

Maybelline created a seasonal nav label for Halloween called “Halloween Looks.” From there, they were able to create an immersive online shopping experience that not only featured products, but step-by-step directions on how to do your makeup for Halloween.

However, it’s important that you update your navigation. At the initial time of writing this blog post, they still had the Halloween nav item up, some days after the relevant window had passed. Make sure that if you change your store seasonally, you don’t set it and forget it!

Conclusion

It’s impossible to ignore Amazon’s reach and the potential business you can bring in for your brand. However, that doesn’t mean that creating another brand outpost (an Amazon-based microsite with your own copy and content) is right for everyone. We hope you’ll carefully consider some of the points above about what it takes to get this brand outpost “right” before making a decision. And of course let us know if you decide to create an Amazon Store for your brand and want to share that experience in the comments.

The post Amazon Stores: Benefits and Tradeoffs to Building One For Your Brand appeared first on Portent.

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[This article was updated in December 2018 with new additions to the list. It was originally published in 2014.]

Over the years that I have worked in the project management field, I’ve taken a number of courses, read a number of books, and have seen and utilized a number of tools that have all promised success in leading teams and managing successful projects. And as helpful as they were, I found that the greatest asset in leading teams and managing projects is not found in technical tools and procedures but in skillfully relating to people. You can have all the processes and procedures memorized, have all the certifications, be an expert in all the technical tools, and list out all the terminology without skipping a beat. But if you can’t skillfully manage human relationships and interactions, you will fail in your attempt to successfully lead teams and manage successful projects.

If you’re not the greatest natural leader since Captain America, I’m here to help out. I’ve listed 10 guidelines to help you improve your ability to lead. If you can master these, you will exponentially increase your ability to lead teams and manage successful projects. Keep in mind that you won’t always get these skills right away. You’ll make mistakes. I know I do. But that’s ok as long as you keep working at it and resolve that no matter what, you’ll be a better leader. You need to do this because so few people are, and this world is starved for good leaders. So without further ado…

1) Don’t criticize or complain about people.

The surest way to demotivate people is to constantly criticize them or complain about them. If they make a mistake, put it in perspective with the things they constantly do well. Accentuate the positive and utilize mistakes as opportunities for continued improvement. This leads us to our next item…

2) Praise improvement, even minor improvements.

Psychologists discovered long ago that when you positively reinforce a desired behavior, people are far more likely to repeat that behavior. Most people want to do the right thing, which means you will find far more success in leading a team if you focus on using positive reinforcement rather than negative actions like threats and fear tactics.

3) Give honest and sincere praise and appreciation.

All people deeply desire significance. One of the easiest ways you can help fulfill desire that is by offering honest and sincere praise and appreciation whenever possible. This is probably one of the greatest motivational methods you can ever employ.

4) Encourage other people to talk and be a good active listener.

People want to be heard, really heard, and not patronized. Oftentimes, instead of listening to someone in a conversation, people are really just waiting for an opportunity to speak. If this is an area where you struggle, one trick is to say “What I understand you’re saying is…” By repeating what you understand the other person to be saying, it forces you to really listen to what they are saying. And as a side benefit, it reinforces to the speaker that you truly are listening to them and respect what they have to say.

5) Be genuinely interested in other people and make them feel important.

Everyone’s favorite primary subject is themselves, its human nature. Social media at large and the “selfie” testify to this fact. Nobody likes to feel ignored and unappreciated, including you (see item 3). So go ahead and make an effort to be interested in people and you will win their gratitude and by extension a cooperative attitude.

6) Be sensitive to people’s pride and let them save face.

The simple fact is that all people are prideful creatures. If you call them out on being wrong about something and make them look bad in front of others, they’ll fight you to the bitter end. But if you can offer criticism or disagreement in a manner that allows them to save face, they’ll be much more willing to cooperate and work with you.

7) Be respectful of other people’s ideas and opinions. Try to see things from their point of view.

When you try to understand another person’s point of view you may find that you learn something. But even if you don’t, you will still find it much easier to respect the people with whom you disagree.

8) If you are wrong, be honest and humble enough to admit it.

Sit down for a moment, are you ready for this? You are not perfect, you are not always right; you can and do make mistakes. One of the greatest personality traits you can develop is that of humility. We all make mistakes, and rather than deny and repeat those mistakes, wise people admit their failures and learn from experience. In doing this the wise person is able to grow and continually get better. If you’re honest and humble enough to own up to your mistake, apologize to those affected, and work to avoid repeating your mistake; you will gain the respect of those you work with.

9) Set a high bar for people and let them know you believe in their ability to succeed.

In 1980, the US Olympic Men’s Hockey Team was set to play against the Soviet Men’s Team in the Winter Olympics. At the time the Soviet team was the undisputed powerhouse in men’s hockey. Nobody expected the US team to have any chance of beating the Soviet Team. The US team was a mix of amateur and collegiate players and the Soviet Team had won the gold medal in six of the seven previous Olympic Games. Before the game, the US team coach Herb Brooks read his players a statement he had written out on a piece of paper, telling them that “You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours.”(Coffey, 2005). The US team went on to beat the Soviet Team and then Finland and secure the Olympic Gold. Set a high bar for your people, believe in them, communicate that to them and be amazed at what they can achieve.

10) Set Clear Goals.

Goal setting theory teaches us that goals are the primary drivers of the intensity and persistence of effort. Both for you, and the team you intend to lead.

Very simply: assigning employees difficult goals results in higher performance than easy goals. Further, assigning employees specific goals results in higher performance than general goals (such as “do your best”).

Goals organize and direct our attention by necessity. They require us to regulate our efforts. They increase our persistence. And they encourage strategy and planning.

If you’re looking for a concrete way to put this into practice, look no further than the classic SMART Goal framework.


 

11) Understand Equity Theory and Practice Procedural Justice.

How do we move motivation beyond just financial incentives? How does fairness or unfairness influence your work environment? And what steps could we take to increase intrinsic motivation in ourselves and those around us?

There’s a lot going on in this diagram, which is why it’s still taught in a lot of MBA classrooms.

Expectancy theory from Victor Vroom suggests that if you can:

  • Set your team’s understanding about what is expected of them
  • Set what the rewards will be for meeting or exceeding that expectation and deliver those rewards
  • Offer incentives that they truly value…

You will dramatically increase satisfaction and both individual and team performance. Failing to live up the expectations you’ve set, whether intentionally or unintentionally, can have major negative consequences to morale and future performance.

12) Follow the greatest leadership rule ever given (IMHO).

If you wish to be a great leader, make it your focus to serve those whom you would lead. There are a lot of people that want the power, prestige and pay that comes along with leadership positions, but few want to do what it takes to actually be a good and effective leader. Great leadership isn’t about bossing people around; it’s about inspiring and guiding people towards a common goal for everyone’s benefit. Build your team up, give them credit for their work, praise their efforts and reward them when they succeed. There is a saying that states “Be the change that you want to see”, we can adapt that to this discussion by saying “Be the leader that you would want to lead you”.

*Coffey, Wayne (2005). The Boys of Winter. New York: Crown Publishers.



The post Lead by Example: 12 Ways to Be a Successful Team Leader appeared first on Portent.

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The holidays are already here or at least they certainly are when it comes to your budget and campaign strategies. The time to plan for holiday season campaigns is giving way to the timeline for implementation and final optimization.

If you’re feeling behind, here’s a list to help with merriment across your marketing team this holiday season. Even if you’re not in the retail sector, it’s worth checking this list twice and heeding some advice from some experts Josh Thompson, Senior Social Media Strategist, and Max Trotter, PPC Strategist.

Refine, Clarify, and Tune Your Budgets

If you have extra budget, define now how much extra you’re willing to invest in campaigns that perform well. It’s also important to identify how much you want to risk on ad copy tests that might not pan out as planned. A few questions to ask:

Brand vs. Non-Brand Spending
  • Talk with your paid advertising specialist and ask: How much campaign spending should be dedicated to brand vs. competitive non-brand terms on key dates?

“If you’re going to spend on anything, it should be brand keywords. It’s more important than ever to protect your brand name during this season, when there are so many bottom-of-funnel purchases,” says Max Trotter. “If you can afford to bid on brand and non-brand, then do it. Right now, you’ll have the highest conversion rate and chance of engaging long-term customers.”

Budget Increases for High Performers

What percentage are you willing to increase your budget if the return on ad spend (ROAS) is performing well?

“Don’t leave money on the table. Most importantly, be ready to be flexible and be aware of your campaign performance,” says Max Trotter. “If daily spend was set at $2,000, ROI is positive, and the campaign is gaining traction with customers, why would you stop now? And if it’s not performing well, then don’t push it harder. Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean you have to spend more.”

Similarly, if you underspend, where do you want the additional budget to go? If you slightly overspend, where could that budget be pulled from?

General Rules for Holiday Budget Changes

Plan to increase your remarketing budget and engage past customers or users who have already have a touch point with your brand. Consider shifting your prospecting and remarketing breakdown from 80% prospecting and 20% remarketing to 65% prospecting and 35% remarketing.

Prioritize Home and Landing Page Changes for Holiday

Dead end homepage takeovers, isolated campaign landing pages, and microsites are about as helpful to your users as an ugly Christmas sweater. Sure, promote product specials, sales, discounts, and events, but make sure everyone has a pathway to get back to your primary content and products too. This is still a time to build brand affinity, and you don’t want to lose an opportunity by directing a user to a disconnected experience. Attract their attention, but tastefully and simply.

If you plan to make any last significant changes to your top landing pages this season, don’t forget to:

  • Test the promotional experience and watch colleagues test it.
  • “Watch for friction points,” says Josh Thompson. “Checkout using a promotion should be as seamless as possible. If you can, use links that apply discounts automatically at checkout to keep the user engaged.”
  • Ensure priority pages are being indexed by Google and Bing by submitting it to Search Console. If your user can’t get to a landing page again by searching for it, they’ll get frustrated.
  • Plan in time to test and troubleshoot any new functionality.
  • Closely coordinate campaign launch timing, so there isn’t a disconnect between ad copy or email content and what users find on different sections of your site.
  • “Use an optimized landing page linked from the homepage to promote a sale. And on products pages add links to specials page,” recommends Max Trotter. “Create a connected experience around the highest potential pages for conversion.”
  • Ensure your site and especially new pages are as optimized as possible – you have about 3 seconds to capture someone’s attention. Use this developer-facing checklist to triage your site.

Be bright and engaging for the season, but clear. Prioritize content for your site and your paid campaigns that will answer your user’s questions and keep them engaged while they are busy this holiday season.

Write and Evaluate Your Content Now

Bring some holiday cheer to your product messaging: Even if your business doesn’t have a big, competitive promotion, you can still garner attention with holiday-themed ad copy.

  • “If your generic ad is sandwiched between more relevant, seasonal ads, you might lose that potential customer,” warns Max Trotter.
  • Use Google Analytics to keep an eye on what content is engaging your users, then prioritize edits for those pages.
  • Make sure landing pages are optimized for topics, not only specific keywords. You’ll show up in the SERP when it matters most for brand visibility and conversions.
  • Update metadata to align with the new content, sending a signal to Google and searchers about what’s on your landing pages. A helpful, relevant meta description can attract a busy potential customer to your site over a competitor’s.
  • Employ a tool like Grammarly or Hemingway to avoid any embarrassing typos in your new content or changing ad copy
  • And Keep your paid campaign content simple and connected to your landing page content.

And on that last point: “Don’t include discount codes in your ad copy. Promote the offer and give customers the right link that applies a discount at checkout.” Josh Thompson reminds us. “You can’t copy and paste from a Facebook ad. Keep thinking about having the least amount of friction as possible in your user experience. People are going to make a purchase during this season. If they don’t have time for you, they will buy from someone else.”

Know What You Want for Christmas

Keep your Goals and KPIs top-of-mind when making decisions about campaign changes. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the holiday hustle and bustle and say “yes” to too many opportunities, campaigns or last minute changes.

  • Double check your progress and trends in Google Analytics, Google Ads, Bing Ads, and keyword tracking tools.
  • Watch for red flags but don’t get too distracted. Focused effort during this influx of traffic and final stretch toward year-end goals and influx of traffic can help you clearly identify new campaign, testing, and budget opportunities for the New Year.
  • Check in weekly to identify barriers to progress. Stay focused on your primary goals and the steps you and your team need to take to meet them.
  • “With paid social, it’s OK to push the budget threshold, but don’t make changes too frequently,” says Josh Thompson. “You need to give the Facebook algorithm time to optimize. Make a change once and a maximum of twice during a busy campaign day. Over-optimizing hurts way more than it helps.”
  • “For PPC, changing bids once a week is ideal, unless the campaign is spending insane amounts of money,” says Max Trotter. “You need to take time for more analysis and informed decisions before bid shifts.”
  • Celebrate successes along the way. Keeping teams and partners motivated during the holiday season can take extra effort. Over communication and recognition about the impact of their time and energy on progress toward goals is always worth the time.
Keep The Lights On

No matter how much you plan for every scenario, there’s always the potential for technology or human error that could have a dramatic effect on your site or campaign platform.

  • Find out who’s on call from your team, your agencies and your development and hosting partners? Make sure everyone on your team has the contact list and knows who’s responsible for each channel and solution. The last thing you want on a busy holiday is confusion about who’s in charge and who can make a final decision.
  • Create a backup plan for when the site or server goes down. This approach should be consistent across site sections and platforms so users don’t get confused by mixed messages or changing landing pages.
  • Build a checklist of campaigns to be paused if issues arise with site performance. There’s no need to burn budget or frustrate your audience by directing them to a page that’s not functioning properly. Save money and customer service inquiries by taking swift action and communicating clearly through these pauses.

You can survive the holiday season, learn about your customers, and achieve your goals. Clarity and over-communication with your teams about expectations will always make the difference when roadblocks and distractions arise. I hope this checklist is a good starting point for your marketing team and collaboration with an agency this holiday season.

The post Last Minute Holiday Survival Checklist for the Digital Marketer appeared first on Portent.

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Expanding into a new international market is an incredibly exciting moment for a business, and can open up fantastic opportunities for new growth. If you’ve done the research and are confident that this is the best next step for your business, let me start by congratulating you.

And when it comes to international SEO as a necessary part of global expansion, it’s important to keep in mind that what you’ve learned in your home country won’t necessarily translate to every new market. (See what we did there?) While the use case for your product or service remains the same, simply translating your existing marketing copy may throw a wrench into the way that information is perceived by your future customers and search engines.

Lost in translation – A lesson about localization

I came to the U.S. in fifth grade. To this day, I have a very vivid memory of a “self-esteem building” exercise we did as a class. For the exercise, all students taped a blank sheet of notebook paper to the top of their desks. Then, everyone had to go around the room and leave positive comments about each one of their classmates.

At the time, I barely spoke any English. Aside from knowing how to say “hello” and “how are you?”, I relied on my pocket translator to help make sense of the world around me.

After everyone completed the task, we went back to our seats to review. The comments were anonymous. To me, so were the words.

I reached for my pocket translator and began translating every word, from English to Russian.

One of my classmates wrote, “you rock!” — A common phrase, usually interpreted in a positive regard. But think about the direct translation… “you stone!”

Here’s where my foreign brain immediately took me:

“Am I dull and boring?”

Since then, I learned that telling someone they rocked was a compliment. I also learned not be so trusting of my pocket translator. There’s a great and not-so-subtle lesson here for businesses looking to expand to new markets and new languages. Your good intentions won’t translate without a little extra effort.

Why Google Translate or translation chop-shops won’t cut it

Though technological advances in natural language processing have come a long way, when it comes to marketing your business in a foreign language, it’s best to avoid using direct computer translation without a heavy dose of human help from someone living in the market who knows your industry.

While programs like Google Translate may be sufficient to help you get directions or to order a meal in 100 different languages, pure translation services should not be trusted with the core messaging of your business. At least not yet.

The example from my childhood is harmless. However, consider how a direct translation of the word “rock” could impact your customer’s understanding of your product.

Say, for instance, you run a business that sells top of the line toothbrushes and you want to expand your market to Russia. Why toothbrushes? Because I’m a strong believer in dental hygiene (just ask my dentist).

Now imagine, somewhere in your marketing copy, you quote a happy customer: “this toothbrush rocks!”

Russian translation: “Эта зубная щетка камни!”

Direct meaning: “This toothbrush stones!”

I don’t know about you but something about a stone-like toothbrush doesn’t sound pleasant. If I came across that quote, I’d pass.

*If you think this sort of a thing doesn’t happen, check out this list of 20 epic fails in global branding. If those brands have done it, you could too.

So what can you do instead? Hire a professional translator to both translate and localize your content. If you find a good one, they’ll be able to provide a far more accurate and engaging translation of your copy—which plays a major role in the way your customers will find you.

Going further with localization

Now that your content doesn’t read like a direct output from Google Translate, your next job is to make it feel as though it belongs in the targeted region. This means finding a way to fully localize it.

I think of localization as travel research. Before traveling abroad, I research cultural customs, learn a few basic communication phrases, and of course, get a good understanding of the local currency. Why? Because I don’t want to look like a complete idiot, especially not while wearing my obnoxiously bright, 60-liter travel backpack. #tourist

Beyond not wanting to look like a total goon, I also do that research because I want to avoid being immediately judged as the outsider. For a business, avoiding this moment of mistrust is key to growth and development in new markets.

Localizing your business means taking the extra step in getting to know the foreign market and the individuals who live there. It’s also a critical step in establishing your business as authentic to the new country and communicating your message without friction.

Beyond things like changing dollar symbols into rubles, you’ll want to ensure that other parts of your content are customized for things such as regional variations and cultural norms.

Regional variations

Even if you’re expanding from an English-speaking home base to another English market, you need to be mindful of regional differences. For example, if you’re marketing a U.S. based product to Brits, at the very least, you’ll want to have a good understanding of the most common regional variations that exist between the two.

Keep in mind, regional differences aren’t only international. If you take a look at the U.S. market, you’ll find search differences for “soda” vs. “pop”. While search engines are generally smart enough to understand the user’s search intent, the user is still likely to choose the option that is more familiar to them—this is based on the mere exposure effect.

Having a solid understanding of regional variations will improve your search results. After all, if you don’t know how your prospective customers are referencing your product or service, they’ll never find you.

Cultural norms

Cultural norms can mean a lot of different things. A useful guide to the dimensions of cultural difference as you’re looking at international expansion is Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions framework. Cultural norms vary region by region, city by city, and even home by home, but this model looks primarily at differences between countries. One of the best examples and most important as you’re planning your marketing strategy and brand positioning is in the difference between individualistic and collectivistic cultures.

If you’re marketing to an individualistic culture, you’ll want your message to focus more on the “I”. It is common for people of such a culture to have goals and desires that help them be independent. Countries like the United States, Canada, United Kindom, and Australia are well known for their individualistic views and practices.

Alternatively, if you’re marketing to a collectivistic culture, you’ll want to focus more on the “we”, highlighting groupthink mentality and focusing on solving goals that will benefit the well-being of a community, not just a single individual. Countries like China, Russia, and the Philipines are great examples of markets that fit into the collectivistic culture norms.

To state the obvious, this is the kind of foundational positioning and marketing work that would never, ever come back from a translation engine or an inexpensive translation service.

Tying it back to SEO

If you read our post on Content-First SEO, you already have a clear understanding of the content/SEO relationship. When it comes to the international expansion and SEO, the core lesson from that post still applies: SEO is about content.

Once your content is properly translated and you have a solid understanding of your localized target keywords, then (and only then) will you be able to make technical SEO changes that will help you show up in search for the exact phrases that your customers use to find a business like yours.

Whether you found a new way of referencing your product or service, or you identified new keyword opportunities, you’ll need to optimize your website with all of those new or refined targets in mind.

Where to next?

Expanding to a foreign market is incredibly complicated. We’re only scratching the surface of the cross-cultural marketing considerations here, and there are a huge number of fundamental marketing challenges from core positioning to brand or line extensions that you’ll need to work through before you ever get to international SEO and localization. But, beyond ensuring that your content is simply coherent and optimized for search, I hope you take this charge to create content that connects with the people in every market you serve.

The post Speak your Customers’ Language – The Importance of Localizing International Content appeared first on Portent.

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