This is a guest post by Terry Van Horne. Terry is the founder of SeoPros and a 15-year veteran of Web development, currently working out of his consulting and development firm International Website Builders. Terry's interests are primarily the socialization of search and analysis of social Web traffic and applications like Twitter.
Search Meet Social ... Now Play Nice!
In the last SEO Training Dojo Friday Chat, I discussed using the Tumblr micro-blogging tools as a content distribution strategy. A few SOSG warriors wanted me to expand on it, so I decided to share this case study here on the WordStream blog. The temporal nature of universal search, which I had kinda stumbled upon before I embarked on this campaign, is partly why this strategy worked as well as it did.
This particular campaign took place during the holiday shopping rush. Timing the release of content and the channels the content was sent down were, IMO, big factors in ROI and conversion rate. I believe this is because people are sometimes frantically looking for gift ideas when shopping for Christmas. What better gift than something someone has just shared and better still "liked" recently on Facebook or another community? This strategy leverages the need to find a gift.
Universal Search Has Changed the Game Plan
Events are getting different treatment than they have in the past. Studying the SERP to understand the competition is important to a marketing campaign. The e-commerce space I was in was definitely seasonal – I watched a reference and a media/blog site containing the primary term go from positions 1 and 2 to nearly getting bumped off the first page around December 15th.
During this time, the "Shopping Paks" (blocks of shopping results) get that much bigger, so there is no big change in position on the page – it's just Google taking another piece of SERP real estate that drives traffic, pushing merchants below the fold. Hmmm, wonder if that helps those PPC listings in the "hot spot" at the upper left in the SERP? #JustSayin'
Just in case you haven't noticed, universal search is dominating the SERPs for the top terms, which means when the number regurgitaters say it is only about 25% of the queries, they are quoting very misleading numbers. Brothers and sisters, the universal results are driving some big traffic! So if you aren't tweeting or doing some kind of social media, you are not sending the temporal signals needed to crack the universal SERP. Where are the best places to get your temporal signals? Social networks, press releases and public relations campaigns!
Social Marketing 101
In this strategy, I used the micro-blogging communities Tumblr, Typepad and a couple of others that were supposed "spam holes." The client had a crew from the "Far East" doing Facebook and Stumbleupon. I bought unique articles which I made multiples of by stripping out product descriptions (for Tumblr) and editing the language.
I had already started a press release campaign using a mix of paid and free releases to announce events, product releases, support for a cancer charity and another charity for impoverished children. The company understands the role of PR (the old kind) so I had a budget to promote the scheduled "events." This is a new strategy I was implementing for the first time.
Press releases were supported by tweets, including coupons, direct links from Tumblr, the company website press release page, Squidoo, HubPages and a few others. The Tumblr strategy was to stick to narrow niches of products featuring name brands the audience was already interested in. Again, fulfilling shoppers' needs is still a super strategy and I can't think of a time when it's not the best marketing path to take.
All promoted press releases were for major events you'd find written about in a major NY paper, or significant change like a green product announcement or an online contest with a prize of up to $1000. The company milestone announcements were for the release of the first exclusive in-house brand and line of products.
This strategy was built on my instincts, which were screaming that news was creeping into the SERPs everywhere. Then I started to see the flux in the SERPs as Wikipedia and a well-known media/blog site seemed to be moving up and down based on the seasons. Of course, we now all know the period from Black Friday to about December 23 turns many query spaces very transactional in nature. Yes, the Christmas shopping season was largely responsible for this strategy being successful.
First off, let's make it clear I use no fake accounts on any communities, the exception being the usual suspects for bookmarking. Secondly, in no way is this a link wheel. Yes, it uses some of the same techniques, i.e., was there some cross linking of communities? You betcha! However, the bottom line is a link wheel is the millennium version of the old link farm or network! What I did was far from a link network, and if "finding my audience" is spam? Then call me a spammer ... that's my job!
The networks I targeted were based on a feeling of the audience being suitable for the products. Goes to relevance, my son. Relevance for my audience is what I seek – only a dimwit chases search engine relevancy with expectations of selling to real peeps! Real is all that matters (i.e., that always puts lots of colored paper in the bank).
How I Made Sales and Drove Traffic Using Press Releases and Social Networking
Tumblr and Typepad are my favorite social networks. Tumblr was originally targeted because it seemed to be a young audience with disposable income, and Twitter searches were indicating that new activity had emerged in colleges. (Maybe it has been around for a while, but I'm well past hanging with college kids.)
The Tumblr community did visit the store with no tracked direct sales ([sigh] Google Analytics). The social distribution tools I discovered on Tumblr were just icing on the cake. I will be going into them in more detail later in the post. Typepad was great for visibility but beyond that not a lot of traffic and no sales.
Typepad is a favorite because the publishing and social tools work well together. The RSS feeds produced here are useful because it is an easy and convenient way to get more social distribution with little echo because of the varying sizes you can publish in. The excellent social tools provide superb control enabling me to produce more signal with less "RSS feed echo."
RSS feed echo is the result of having the same RSS feed piped into multiple social networks. IMO, this is too easy to spot and I got to think Google is wise to how easy it is to distribute these RSS pipes. What the threshold is I'm not sure. But I'm sure I don't want to find it, so I am careful of not tripping any filter that may exist.
Some of my Squidoo pages were in the Google results almost off the hop. I was able to use the Squidoo pages to drive traffic and sales! Ahhhhhhhh social nirvana! The sales were not Facebook-like but were sales none the less. Squidoo provides a number of ways to bring in multiple RSS feeds and pages come together quickly because a lot of the content can be sourced through feeds. I also like the multimedia nature of the content editor.
I also loved that they used Amazon product feeds, as the client had a store there as well. This is another way of getting around the restrictions on multiple links to one site. Especially useful was the ability to pull Tumblr feeds into a page based on tags. This ensures that the feed will always be relevant as you have control of the products displayed in the feeds. I used separate accounts in Delicious to do the same thing with news bookmarks.
The HubPages social network was my least favorite, because it seems to be poorly programmed or maintained. All I know is some images were impossible to upload. Linking to our sites was harder because of system restraints on the number of links to a single site and lack of viable options. Though there are many of the same components, the functionality of these was far below those I used on other networks. The workarounds on others for the linking problem were either not available or wonky. Therefore, HubPages also took much longer to build than all the others.
The above is the attitude you often see in these young Tumblr users. Tumblr is the only social site that I actually go to spend time just surfing, i.e., for entertainment. Generally my surfing is restricted pretty much to work and Mapleleafs.com and related fan pages. I just love finding the works of truly talented young people. Tumblrati are for the most part photographers, graphic artists, young undiscovered models and web developers and in some cases some pretty odd kids. Let's just say fckyeah is a frequent 7-letter beginning to many nicks. You will see a lot of Formspring.me posts in some streams.
The really cool part about Tumblr is all the fantastic tools it has to distribute and publish content. First stop is the dashboard. There you have the ability to view your queued and draft posts. It is also where you can reblog and share other Tumblr posts from peeps you are following.
The publishing editor tool has a variety of formats for different types of posts. Video, text, link, chat, photo, audio and quote (works really well with the bookmarklet). Besides the usual queue and draft post options the publisher also has options to publish now, tag, have keywords in the post url and send to Twitter (setup in Customization of the template). In other words by far the best editor and post publisher I've ever used.
The scheduling tools at the top provide real control for queuing a number of posts and precisely timing their release. Since Tumblr is a secondary distribution, I have the time set for a period when I am busy and there is a good window to my audience during those hours, so I automate this a bit using the scheduler in the post queue.
Note that the publisher has the ability to publish at an exact time in the future. These features are excellent for people who are looking to increase productivity without the appearance of it being a sock puppet account. The "queue post" app also has options for publishing a set number of posts, starting at a specified time each day, with specified time intervals between posts.
Just like those pitches you see on TV ... THERE'S MORE! You can go the "customize page" to set up a custom URL and hook the RSS feed into Twitter and other places. Pretty much any social aggregator I've seen includes Tumblr. You can also pull in the Tumblr RSS feeds by tag. Did I mention that?
THERE'S MORE! Not only do you get these awesome publishing tools – click the Goodies link at the top and you'll find a cornucopia of distribution and publishing tools. The bookmarklet is stored in your bookmarks and when you select text and click the bookmarklet, it sends the highlighted text to Tumblr! You may have seen a few of my Tumblr bookmarklet tool quotes on Twitter when I was publishing facts as I collected stats for the video SEO posts I was working on.
The TypePad bookmarklet is better still, with the ability to also include pictures! I get lots of stats from emarketer and it was an easy way to also post the graphs with the text. I will be doing more with TypePad in the Future.
There are more apps on the Goodies page. I use some of them, some I plan to use in the future, but that's not it ... THERE'S MORE! At the bottom of the Goodies page, under Tumblr 3rd party apps, you guessed it: even more tools and apps that work with Tumblr! So Tumblr provides not only some of the slickest micro-blogging tools, the Goodies page with more publishing and distribution apps ... THERE'S MORE! The Tumblr API looks very robust and gives you even more ways to use Tumblr. The only drawback is that at times Tumblr gets pretty slow and will time out on 3rd party sites, so this can be a problem. I found this out publishing on Squidoo during Christmas shopping season.