How to Make a Scalable SMS Chatbot Using Twilio, Python, and Google Sheets (with Free Code)

Posted by R0bin_L0rd

Many of us are helping businesses that are facing hard times, or we’re facing hard times ourselves. If you’re working for a company (or client) that’s in trouble, the use of SMS chatbots could be a way for you to look outside your normal list of solutions and help them succeed in a completely different way. If you’re a marketer looking for work, adding this to your list of skills could mean you keep things ticking along while many of the usual doors are closed — or that you open new doors.

What you’ll get

In this post, I give you instructions and code to produce not just one, but a series of text-based chatbots that can be managed by Google Sheets.

The example here is set up to work with restaurants, but could be adapted to work with any business that needs to receive orders, check them against inventory/menus, and note them down to be fulfilled.

Once the system is set up, there will be no coding necessary to create a new SMS-based chatbot for a new business. Plus, that business will be able to manage key details (like incoming orders and a menu) by simply updating a Google Sheet, making all of this far more accessible than most other options.

But first, some context.

Some context

In September 2017, as one of my first big passion projects at Distilled, I wrote a Moz blog post telling people how to make a chatbot and giving away some example code.

This April, I got an email from a man named Alexandre Silvestre. Alex had launched “a non-profit effort to help the local small business owners navigate these challenging times, save as many jobs as possible, and continue to serve our community while helping to flatten the curve.”

This effort began by focusing on restaurants. Alex had found my 2017 post (holy moly, content marketing works!) and asked if I could help his team build a chatbot. We agreed on some basic requirements for the bot:

  • It had to work entirely within text message (and if the order was super complicated it had to be able to set up a call directly with the restaurant).
  • Running it had to be as close to free as possible.
  • Restaurants had to be able to check on orders, update menus, etc., without setting up special accounts.

The solution we agreed on had three parts:

  • Twilio (paid): supplies the phone number and handles most of the conversational back-and-forth.
  • Google Cloud Functions (semi-free): when a URL is called it runs code (including updating our database for the restaurant) and returns a response.
  • Google Sheets (free): our database platform. We have a sheet which lists all of the businesses using our chatbot, and linking off to the individual Google Sheets for each business.

I’ll take you through each of these components in turn and tell you how to work with them.

If you’re coming back to this post, or just need help with one area, feel free to jump to the specific part you’re interested in:

—Pricing
—Twilio
—Google Sheets
—Google Cloud Functions
—Test the bot
—Break things and have fun
—Postscript — weird hacks

Pricing

This should all run pretty cheaply — I’m talking like four cents an order.

Even so, always make sure that any pricing alerts are coming through to an email address you actively monitor.

When you’re just starting on this, or when you’ve made a change (like adding new functionality or new businesses), make sure you check back in on your credits over the next few weeks so you know what’s going on.

Twilio

Local Twilio phone numbers cost about $1.00 per month. It’ll cost about $0.0075 to send and receive texts, and Twilio Studio — which we use to do a lot of the “conversation” — costs $0.01 every time it’s activated (the first 1,000 every month are free).

So, assuming you have 2,500 text orders a month and each order takes about five text messages, it’s coming to about $100 a month in total.

Google Sheets

Google Sheets is free, and great. Long live Google Sheets.

Google Cloud Functions

Google shares full pricing details here, but the important things to know about are:

1. Promotional credits

You get a free trial which lasts up to a year, and it includes $300 of promotional credits, so it’ll spend that before it spends your money. We’d spent $0.00 (including promotional credits) at the end of a month of testing. That’s because there’s also a monthly free allowance.

2. Free allowance and pricing structure

Even aside from the free credits, Google gives a free allowance every month. If we assume that each order requires about 5 activations of our code and our code takes up to five seconds to run each time (which is a while but sometimes Google Sheets is sluggish), we could be getting up to over 400,000 orders per month before we dip into the promotional credits.

Twilio

Twilio is a paid platform that lets you buy a phone number and have that number automatically send certain responses based on input.

If you don’t want to read more about Twilio and just want the free Twilio chatbot flow, here it is.

Step 1: Buy a Twilio phone number

Once you’ve bought a phone number, you can receive texts to that number and they’ll be processed in your Twilio account. You can also send texts from that number.

Step 2: Find your phone number

You can see your list of purchased phone numbers by clicking the Twilio menu in the top left hand corner and then clicking “Phone Numbers”. Or, you can just go to phone-numbers/incoming.

Once you see your phone number listed, make a note of it.

Step 3: Create your Studio Flow

Studio is Twilio’s drag-and-drop editor that lets you create the structure of your conversation. A studio “flow” is just the name of a specific conversation you’ve constructed.

You can get to Twilio Studio by clicking on the Twilio menu again and clicking on “Studio” under “Runtime”.

Create a new flow by clicking “Create a flow”.

When you create a new flow, you’ll be given the option to start from scratch or use one of the built-in options to build your flow for you (although they won’t be as in-depth as the template I’m sharing here).

If you want to use a version of the flow which Alex and I built, select “Import from JSON” and click “Next”. Then, download this file and copy the contents into the box that comes up.

Make sure that it starts with a single { brace, and ends with a single } brace. The box that comes up will automatically have {} in it and if you don’t delete them before you paste, you’ll double-up and it won’t accept your input.

If all goes well, you’ll be presented with a flow that looks like this:

You might be asking: What in the name of all that is holy is that tangle of colored spaghetti?

That’s the Twilio Studio flow we created and, don’t worry, it basically splits up into a series of multiple-choice questions where the answer to each determines where you go next in the flow.

Everything on the canvas that you can see is a widget from the Twilio Studio widget library connected together with “if this, then that” type conditions.

The Studio Flow process

Before we go into specific blocks in the process, here’s an overview of what happens:

  1. A customer messages one of our Twilio numbers
  2. Based on the specific number messaged, we look up the restaurant associated with it. We then use the name and saved menu of the restaurant to message the customer.
  3. If the customer tries to order off-menu, we connect a call to the restaurant
  4. If the customer chooses something from our menu, we ask their name, then record their order in the sheet for that restaurant and tell them when to arrive to pick up their order
  5. As/when the user messages to tell us they are outside the restaurant, we ask whether they are on-foot/a description of their vehicle. We record the vehicle description in the same restaurant sheet.

Let’s look at some example building blocks shall we?

Initial Trigger

The initial trigger appears right at the start of every flow, and splits the incoming contact based on whether it’s a text message, a phone call, or if code is accessing it.

“Incoming Message” means the contact was via text message. We only need to worry about that one for now, so let’s focus on the left-hand line.

Record the fact that we’re starting a new interaction

Next, we use a “Set Variables” block, which you can grab from the widget library.

The “Set Variables” block lets us save record information that we want to refer to later. For example, we start by just setting the “stage” of our interaction. We say that the stage is “start” as in, we are at the start of the interaction. Later on we’ll check what the value of stage is, both in Studio and in our external code, so that we know what to do, when.

Get our menu

We assume that if someone messaged us, triggering the chatbot, they are looking to order so the next stage is to work out what the applicable menu is.

Now, we could just write the menu out directly into Studio and say that whenever someone sends us a message, we respond with the same list of options. But that has a couple problems.

First, it would mean that if we want to set this up for multiple restaurants, we’d have to create a new flow for each. 

The bigger issue is that restaurants often change their menus. If we want this to be something we can offer to lots of different restaurants, we don’t want to spend all our time manually updating Twilio every time a restaurant runs out of an ingredient.

So what we really need is for the restaurants to be able to list their own menus. This is where Google Sheets comes in, but we’ll get to that later. In Twilio, we just need to be able to ask for external information and forward that external information to the user. To do that we use a Webhook widget:

This widget makes a request to a URL, gets the response, and then lets us use the content of the response in our messages and flow.

If the request to the URL is successful, Twilio will automatically continue to our success step, otherwise we can set it to send an “Oops, something went wrong” response with the Fail option.

In this case, our Webhook will make a request to the Google Cloud functions URL (more on that later). The request we send will include some information about the user and what we need the code to do. The information will be in JSON format (the same format that we used to import the Twilio flow I shared above).

Our JSON will include the specific Twilio phone number that’s been messaged, and we’ll use that number to differentiate between restaurants, as well as the phone number that contacted us. It’ll also include the content of the text message we received and the “stage” we set earlier, so the code knows what the user is looking for.

Then the code will do some stuff (we’ll get to that later) and return information of its own. We can then tell Twilio to use parts of the response in messages.

Send a message in response

Next we can use the information we received to construct and send a message to the user. Twilio will remember the number you’re in a conversation with and it’ll send your messages to that number.

This is the “Send & Wait For Reply” widget, meaning that once this message is sent, Twilio will assume the conversation is still going rather than ending it there.

In this case, we’re writing our welcome message. We could write out just plain content, but we want to use some of the variables we got from our Webhook widget. We called that specific Webhook widget “get_options”, so we access the content we got from it by writing:

{{widgets.get_options

The response comes back in JSON, and fortunately Twilio automatically breaks that up for us. 

We can access individual parts of the response by writing “parsed” and then the label we gave that information in our response. As it is, the response from the code looked something like this:

{“name”: restaurant_name,

“dishes_string”: “You can choose from Margherita Pizza, Hawaiian Pizza, Vegetarian Pizza”

“additions”: “large, medium, small”}

We get the available menu by writing “{{widgets.get_options.parsed.dishes_string}}”, and then we write the message below which will be sent to people who contact the bot:

Make a decision based on a message

We can’t assume everyone is going to use the bot in exactly the same way so we need to be able to change what we do based on certain conditions. The “Split Based On…” widget is how we select certain conditions and set what to do if they are met.

In this case, we use the content of the response to our previous message which we access using {{options_follow_up.inbound.Body}}. “Options_follow_up” is the name of the Send & Wait widget we just spoke about, “inbound” means the response and, “Body” means the text within it.

Then we set a condition. If the user responds with anything along the lines of “other”, “no”, “help”, etc., they’ll get sent off on another track to have a phone call. If they respond with anything not on that list, they might be trying to order, so we take their order and check it with our code:

Set up a call

If the user says they want something off-menu, we’ll need to set up a call with the restaurant. We do that by first calling the user:

Then, when they pick up, connecting that call to the restaurant number which we’ve already looked up in our sheets:

Step 4: Select your studio flow for this phone number

Follow the instructions in step two to get back to the specific listing for the phone number you bought. Then scroll to the bottom and select the Studio Flow you created.

Google Sheets

This chatbot uses two Google Sheets.

Free lookup sheet

The lookup sheet holds a list of Twilio phone numbers, the restaurant they have been assigned to, and the URL of the Google Sheet which holds the details for that restaurant, so that we know where to look for each.

You’ll need to create a copy of the sheet to use it. I’ve included a row in the sheet I shared, explaining each of the columns. Feel free to delete that when you know what you’re doing.

Free example restaurant sheet

The restaurant-specific sheet is where we include all of our information about the restaurant in a series of tabs. You’ll need to create a copy of the sheet to use it. 

Orders

The orders tab is mainly used by our code. It will automatically write in the order time, customer name, customer phone number, and details of the order. By default it’ll write FALSE in the “PAID/READY?” column, which the restaurant will then need to update.

In the final stage, the script will add TRUE to the “CUSTOMER HERE?” column and give the car description in the “PICK UP INFO” column.

Wait time

This is a fairly simple tab, as it contains one cell where the restaurant writes in how long it’ll be before orders are ready. Our code will extract that and give it to Twilio to let customers know how long they’ll likely be waiting.

Available dishes and additions tabs

The restaurant lists the dishes that are available now along with simple adaptations to those dishes, then these menus are sent to customers when they contact the restaurant. When the code receives an order, it’ll also check that order against the list of dishes it sent to see if the customer is selecting one of the choices.

Script using sheet tab

You don’t need to touch this one at all — it’s just a precaution to avoid our code accidentally overwriting itself.

Imagine a situation where our code gets an order, finds the first empty row in the orders sheet, and writes that order down there. However, at the same time, someone else makes an order for the same restaurant, another instance of our code also looks for the first empty row, selects the same one, and they both write in it at the same time. We’d lose at least one order even though the code thinks everything is fine.

To try to avoid that, when our code starts to use the sheet, the first thing it does is change the “Script using sheet” value to TRUE and writes down when it starts using it. Then, when it’s done, it changes the value back to FALSE.

If our script goes to use the sheet and sees that “Script using sheet” is set to TRUE, it’ll wait until that value becomes FALSE and then write down the order.

How do I use the sheets?

Example restaurant sheet:

  1. Make a copy of the example restaurant sheet.
  2. Fill out all the details for your test restaurant.
  3. Copy the URL of the sheet.

Lookup sheet:

  1. Make a copy of the lookup sheet (you’ll only need to create one).
  2. Don’t delete anything in the “extracted id” column but replace everything else.
  3. Put your Twilio number in the first column.
  4. Paste the URL of your test restaurant in the Business Sheet URL column.
  5. Add your business’ phone number in the final column.

Sharing:

  1. Find the “Service Account” email address (which I’ll direct you to in the Cloud Functions section).
  2. Make sure that both sheets are shared with that email address having edit access.

Creating a new restaurant:

  1. Any time you need to create a new restaurant, just make a copy of the restaurant sheet.
  2. Make sure you tick “share with the same people” when you’re copying it.
  3. Clear out the current details.
  4. Paste the new Google Sheet URL in a new line of your lookup sheet.

When the code runs, it’ll open up the lookup sheet, use the Twilio phone number to find the specific sheet ID for that restaurant, go to that sheet, and return the menu.

Google Cloud Functions

Google Cloud Functions is a simple way to automatically run code online without having to set up servers or install a whole bunch of special programs somewhere to make sure your code is transferable.

If you don’t want to learn more about Google Cloud and just want code to run — here’s the free chatbot Python code.

What is the code doing?

Our code doesn’t try to handle any of the actual conversations, it just gets requests from Twilio — including details about the user and what stage they are at — and performs some simple functions.

Stage 1: “Start”

The code receives a message from Twilio including the Twilio number that was activated and the stage the user is at (start). Based on it being the “start” stage, the code activates the start function.

It looks up the specific restaurant sheet based on the Twilio number, then returns the menu for that restaurant.

It also sends Twilio things like the specific restaurant’s number and a condensed version of the menu and additions for us to check orders against.

Stage 2: “Chosen”

The code receives the stage the user is at (chosen) as well as their order message, the sheet ID for the restaurant, and the condensed menu (which it sent to Twilio before), so we don’t have to look those things up again.

Based on it being the “chosen” stage, the code activates the chosen function. It checks if the order matches our condensed menu. If they didn’t, it tells Twilio that the message doesn’t look like an order. 

If the order does match our menu, it writes the order down in the first blank line. It also creates an order ID, which is a combination of the time and a portion of the user’s phone number.

It sends Twilio a message back saying if the order matched our menu and, if it did match our menu, what the order number is.

Stage 3: “Arrived”

The code receives the stage the user is at (arrived) and activates the arrived function. It also receives the message describing the user’s vehicle, the restaurant-specific sheet ID, and the order number, all of which it previously told Twilio.

It looks up the restaurant sheet, and finds the order ID that matches the one it was sent, then updates that row to show the user has arrived and the description of their car.

Twilio handles all the context

It might seem weird to you that every time the code finds some information (for instance, the sheet ID to look up) it sends that information to Twilio and requests it afresh later on. That’s because our code doesn’t know what’s going on at all, except for what Twilio tells it. Every time we activate our code, it starts exactly the same way so it has no way of knowing which user is texting Twilio, what stage they’re at, or even what restaurant we’re talking about.

Twilio remembers these things for the course of the interaction, so we use it to handle all of that stuff. Our code is a very simple “do-er” — it doesn’t “know” anything for more than about five seconds at a time.

How do I set up the code?

I don’t have time to describe how to use Google Cloud Functions in-depth, or how to code in Python, but the code I’ve shared above includes a fair number of notes explaining what’s going on, and I’ll talk you through the steps specific to this process.

Step 1: Set up

Make sure you:

  • Have a Google account
  • Go to Google Cloud Console
  • Set up billing for your account (until you do, it won’t let you create functions)
  • Copy the Python code from the location I linked to above

Step 2: Create a new function

Go here and click “create a new function”. If you haven’t created a project before, you might need to do that first, and you can give the project whatever name you like.

Step 3: Set out the details for your function

The screen shot below gives you a lot of the details you need. I’d recommend you choose 256MB for memory — it should be enough. If you find you run into problems (or if you want to be more cautious from the start), then increase it to 512MB.

Make sure you select HTTP as the trigger and note down the URL it gives you (if you forget, you can always find the URL by going to the “Trigger” tab of the function).

Also make sure you tick the option to allow Unauthenticated Access (that way Twilio will be able to start the function).

Select “Inline editor” and paste in the Gist code I gave you (it’s heavily commented, I recommend giving it a read to make sure you’re happy with what it’s doing).

Click “REQUIREMENTS.TXT” and paste in the following lines of libraries you’ll need to use:

  • flask
  • twilio
  • pytz

Make sure “function to execute” is SMS, then click the “Environment Variables” dropdown.

Just like I’ve done above, click “+ ADD VARIABLE”, write “spreadsheet_id” in the “Name” column, and in the “Value” column, paste in the ID of your lookup sheet. You get the ID by looking at the URL of the lookup sheet, and copying everything between the last two slashes (outlined in red below).

Click on the “Service account” drop down. It should come up with just “App Engine default service account” and give you an email address (as below) — that’s the email address you need all of your Google Sheets to be shared with. Write it down somewhere and add it as an edit user for both your lookup and restaurant-specific sheets.

Once you’ve done all of that, click “Deploy”.

Once you deploy, you should land back on the main screen for your Cloud Function. The green tick in the top left hand corner tells you everything is working.

Step 4: Turn on Sheets API

The first time your code tries to access Google Sheets, it might not be able to because you need to switch on the Google Sheets API for your account. Go here, select the project you’re working on with the dropdown menu in the top left corner, then click the big blue “ENABLE” button.

Step 5: Go back to Twilio and paste in the HTTP trigger for your code

Remember the trigger URL we noted down from when we were creating our function? Go back to your Twilio Studio and find all of the blocks with the </> sign in the top left corner:

Click on each in turn and paste your Google Cloud URL into the REQUEST URL box that comes up on the right side of the screen:

Test the bot

By now you should have your Cloud Function set up. You should also have both of your Google Sheets set up and shared with your Cloud Function service account.

The next step is to test the bot. Start by texting your Twilio number the word “order” to get it going. It should respond with a menu that your code pulls from your restaurant-specific Google Sheet. Follow the steps it sends you through to the end and check your Google Sheet to make sure it’s updating properly.

If for some reason it’s not working, there are two places you can check. Twilio keeps a log of all the errors it sees which you can find by clicking the little “Debugger” symbol in the top right corner:

Google also keeps a record of everything that happens with your Cloud Function. This includes non-error notifications. You can see all of that by clicking “VIEW LOGS” at the top:

Conclusion: break things and have fun

All of this is by no means perfect, and I’m sure there’s stuff you could add and improve, but this is a way of building a network of scalable chatbots, each specific to a different business, and each partially managed by that business at minimal cost.

Give this a try, break it, improve it, tear it up and start again, and let me know what you think!


Postscript: weird hacks

This bit is only really for people who are interested, but because we’ve deliberately done this on a shoestring, we run into a couple weird issues — mainly around requests to our bot when it hasn’t been activated for a bit.

When Twilio gets messages for the first time in a while, it turns on pretty quickly and expects other things to do so, too. For example, when Twilio makes requests to our code, it assumes that the code failed if it takes more than about five seconds. That’s not that unusual — a lot of chat platforms demand a five-second max turnaround time.

Cloud Functions are able to run pretty fast, even with lower memory allowances, but Google Sheets always seems to be a bit slow when accessed through the API. In fact, Google Sheets is particularly slow if it hasn’t been accessed in some time.

That can mean that, if no one has used your bot recently, Google Sheets API takes too long to respond the first time and Twilio gives up before our code can return, causing an error.

There are a couple parts of our script designed to avoid that.

Trying again

The first time we activate our Cloud Function, we don’t want it to actually change anything, we just want information. So in Twilio, we start by creating a variable called “retries” and setting the value as 0. 

If the request fails, we check if the retries value is 0. If it is, then we set the retries value to 1 and try again. If it fails a second time, we don’t want to keep doing this forever so we send an error and stop there.

Waking the sheet up

The second time we activate our Cloud Function we do want it to do something. We can’t just do it again if it doesn’t return in time because we’ll end up with duplicate orders, which is a headache for the restaurant.

Instead, during an earlier part of the exchange, we make a pointless change to one of our sheets, just so that it’s ready for when we make the important change.

In our conversational flow we:

  1. Send the menu
  2. Get the response
  3. Ask for the user’s name
  4. Write the order

We don’t need to do anything to the sheet until step four, but after we get the user’s response (before we ask their name), we activate our code once to write something useless into the order sheet. We say to Twilio — whether that succeeds or fails — keep going with the interaction, because it doesn’t matter at that point whether we’ve returned in time. Then, hopefully, by the time we go to write in our order, Google Sheets is ready for some actual use.

There are limitations

Google Sheets is not the ideal database — it’s slow and could mean we miss the timeouts for Twilio. But these couple of extra steps help us work around some of those limitations.

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Daily SEO Fix: Investigate Changes in Your Rankings with Moz Pro

Posted by Ola.King

As members of the Moz onboarding team — which gives one-on-one walkthroughs of Moz products to over 500 customers a month — we have our finger on the pulse of what people are asking for when it comes to SEO. We’re here to help you uncover the relevant Moz Pro features for your business.

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Five quick and easy ways to make surveys more effective for content marketing

30-second summary:

  • When writing a survey, clarify your objectives before you start writing questions—time spent writing a strategy is well worth it if it means you didn’t forget a vital question (or include an irrelevant one).
  • Don’t get stuck in your old habits when writing surveys—keep trying new things.
  • Phrase questions in a way to get the most specific and clear answers from your survey respondents. Get granular.
  • When writing surveys, draw connections. How might one question relate to other areas of people’s lives?
  • Fractl’s Creative Strategist shares five powerful ways and details on how you can create successful surveys.

In my (sometimes) humble opinion, well-written surveys can be a reliable and effective method of generating newsworthy content.

Surveys allow you to deeply explore personal beliefs and behaviors. They can be tweaked and tailored specifically for your goals, and they appeal to our seemingly universal need to care way too much about what other people think.

I’ve written a lot of surveys in my time at Fractl, and all that experience has taught me plenty of lessons. So, here are five tips that you can employ today to make your next survey a winner.

Tip #1: Embrace the opportunity of survey creation

As content creators, we get paid to be curious, and that’s awesome. Running a survey is a unique opportunity — don’t waste the chance to ask questions worth asking.

We take for granted that our respondents open up about their deep thoughts and personal experiences, maybe even ones they haven’t shared with anybody else. You can write better surveys by simply appreciating that.

Here’s how I like to think of it: Do you want to think up some questions and find out how basically all of society would answer them? If you asked that to just about anybody, I’ll bet they’d take you upon it. 

The point is simple: It’s pretty freaking cool to find out how thousands of people think, feel, and behave.

When you’re engaged, your findings will be more engaging.

Tip #2: Draft a survey brief and actually use it

A well-developed campaign brief is the absolute most important part of any project. A survey brief provides structure and strategic direction for your survey. By immersing yourself in the topic, you’ll yield better, more insightful questions. 

Let’s dive into each one of those elements a little further.

Survey structure

Here’s something I thought I’d never say: All of those English teachers were right. Every essay did need an outline, and so does every survey. 

(I still don’t believe them that the green light over the river was a carefully crafted metaphor for something-or-other, but that’s a discussion for another article.)

Outlining your survey will give you a clear path to follow. This allows you to focus on the more interesting, nuanced aspects of your topic. Having structure, perhaps counterintuitively, actually makes it easier to improvise and take chances.

Strategic direction

Clients aren’t paying us to write surveys because they know we enjoy it, they’re paying us because we achieve their goals.

Drafting a brief will help you clarify your objectives and strategize how to meet them. Referencing that brief throughout the process will keep your survey and your goals aligned.

For example, we often have the goal to build brand awareness for a client. We do this by earning media coverage through the content we create.

When we run surveys that serve as the foundation of our content, we have to consider what journalists (and their audiences) will find interesting. If we don’t keep this in mind, we won’t meet our goals.

Immersion in the topic

A brief isn’t just about planning and outlining; it’s about digging into the topic and sparking curiosity. 

This allows you to get the obvious angles out of the way and tap into what’s really newsworthy: a novel, personal, unexpected, nuanced, and humanistic takes on a topic (no matter how common it may seem).

My writing process for a brief typically follows a simple formula:

  1. Research and contemplate the topic: Think about it while your boss sits next to you wondering why you’ve done nothing but stare at your computer for 10 minutes.
  2. Take as many notes as you can: In fact, takes notes as quickly and as incoherently (in my case) as possible. Brainstorm, ask open-ended questions, get lost in the rabbit hole, and get as many thoughts onto the page as possible.
  3. Go back into your notes and make sense of them: Condense them into a clear and ordered outline of the angles you intend to explore.
  4. Leave it and come back: Tweak a few things, give it a spit shine, and send it over to your boss or client for feedback.

By the time you get to your actual survey, you’ll have immersed yourself in the topic. You’ll also have a clear understanding of what you hope to achieve, and you’ll have a detailed, strategic plan.

Tip #3: Be specific when writing survey questions

Specificity doesn’t just ensure clarity and accuracy. It enables you to ask targeted, insightful questions.

“It’s not what you said, Dad, it’s how you said it.” – me, all the time

Choose your words — and your questions — carefully. Detailed, nuanced perspectives make topics more interesting, more relatable, and more newsworthy. Specificity is how you get that.

There are a lot of areas where you can employ specificity to write better surveys, but I’ll focus on the most important: How to ask your questions and set up potential answers.

Examples

Here’s an example: “How many times per week do you shower?”

If you’re me, the answer is “not enough, according to my wife,” but if you’re most people, that question could be interpreted in more than one way. Are you asking how many total showers a person takes in a week, or how many days out of the week that person showers? Are you asking about this week, last week, or whatever random week they might be thinking of?

Some better ways to ask this would be: “In a typical week, how many total showers do you take?” You could also ask more specific questions like, “What’s the longest amount of days that you’ve gone without a shower?” or “In your opinion, to what extent is it acceptable to skip a daily shower occasionally?”

When it comes to providing answer choices, I often aim for the option that will give me the most actionable, most specific data. You can’t unmix paint, so give yourself a good palette instead of a few pre-mixed colors. You can always bucket, convert, and manipulate your detailed data later.

For example: Don’t ask for age ranges. Ask for ages. Do you plan on using age ranges? Great, it’ll take you 10 seconds to make them later if you have each age. Income brackets? No. Why? Ask for income and create your income brackets later, after you’ve done all the interesting things (average, median, percentiles, and more…) that income brackets wouldn’t have let you do.

By phrasing your questions specifically and thinking about how you’ll use the answers, you’ll avoid confusion and being too vague. You’ll also be able to ask more targeted questions. Have you ever done X? Have you ever considered X (even if you haven’t done it)?  Have a clear idea of why you’re including each question, and what specifically you hope to do with it.

Tip #4: Get personal

A survey is where the personal and the universal break even.

By tapping into the emotional, humanistic potential of your surveys, you can generate takeaways that truly resonate with a greater audience. 

There are plenty of ways to write a newsworthy survey, but to me, surveys are the most interesting when they explore the human condition — when they reveal something about who we really are, why we do things, and how the world affects us.

So how do we do that? By opening up the clock and seeing what makes it tick.

Ask follow-up questions:

Don’t just ask for answers; ask about those answers. People told you that they do X? Great. How does that make them feel? Is there someone in their life who wishes they didn’t do X? How does that affect their relationships? How does X affect their health? Their life satisfaction? How do they feel about people who don’t do X?

Get personal

Surveys are interesting because they tell us about ourselves. Personal takeaways are more unique and are more likely to resonate with the audience on an emotional level. What people do is interesting, but it’s not as interesting as the reasons why they do it, how it impacts their lives or the way that doing it makes them feel. Tip: If you’re getting really personal, you can make the question optional so people don’t feel uncomfortable having to answer.

Embrace nuance and ambivalence

Everything is complicated and (almost) nothing is black and white. Use your surveys to explore the underlying complexity behind people’s beliefs and behaviors. Measure ambivalence by asking respondents if they acknowledge any points that contradict their beliefs or if they ever second-guess or feel guilty about a behavior. Tap into the inherent nuance of most topics by asking questions about its underlying causes or hidden effects.

Let’s take student loan forgiveness, for example. Many people who support loan forgiveness can believe it’s unfair to some people. At the same time, plenty of those who oppose it might acknowledge that it would benefit people, but that other concerns are more important.

By exploring the layers of complexity, we give the topic a fair and detailed perspective, while also uncovering interesting, newsworthy takeaways.

Draw connections

Explore cause and effect. Ask yourself how the topic might impact other areas of people’s lives. Ask yourself how their perspectives on your topic might correlate to other beliefs and behaviors.

Draw connections between people’s perspectives on your topic and their behaviors: Is it making your life better or worse? What are you doing to deal with it? How has it impacted your relationships? What do you think is causing it? Do you think it’s good/bad? Do you think it’s important? 

Ask questions that people haven’t asked yet. It’s really that simple. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.

Tip #5: Try new things

Do we all get stuck in our habits? Absolutely. Do rhetorical questions seem to be one of mine? Clearly. Is it important to break out of them? Not this time for me, apparently, but yes! 

Try new things in your surveys and on your survey platform, and you might be surprised at how much you’re able to pull off.

Some helpful ideas

If you don’t know what to try, here are some ideas:

  • Open a blank template on your survey platform and play around with it. Look at each feature as a tool and ask what you might be able to do with it. Find a question format that you haven’t used yet, and look for settings that you usually just scroll past. 
  • Tweak the settings. For example: Carry responses forward but ask people about the choices they didn’t select. Ask them why they didn’t select them, or how they feel about people who might’ve.
  • Use your answers in a different way. For example: Count the number of selections each respondent made in a select-all question, then create groups based on those counts. Create new demographics using one (or several) of your questions, and break your other results down by those.
  • Strategically divide your sample. For example: Split your respondents into two groups and ask them complementary questions. One group, for example, could report on their habits while the other group reports on their perceptions of those habits.

You may not move forward with every experiment, but it can certainly open your eyes to new ideas.

Conclusion

I do have to add the caveat that self-reported information has its limitations. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t explore fascinating subject matters and gain more insight into public perception and behavior.

Approach survey creation with curiosity, attention to detail, and a sense of experimentation, and your chances of creating compelling content will increase dramatically.

John Bernasconi is a Creative Strategist at Fractl. When he’s not probing anonymous survey respondents about their innermost feelings, you’ll probably find him out in the garage covered in sawdust or in the kitchen (still covered in sawdust).

The post Five quick and easy ways to make surveys more effective for content marketing appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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What Do Dolphins Eat? Lessons from How Kids Search — Best of Whiteboard Friday

Posted by willcritchlow

We’re bringing back this slightly different-from-the-norm Whiteboard Friday, in which the fantastic Will Critchlow shares lessons from how kids search. Kids may search differently than adults, but there are some interesting insights from how they use Google that can help deepen our understanding of searchers in general. Comfort levels with particular search strategies, reading only the bold words, taking search suggestions and related searches as answers — there’s a lot to dig into. 

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Hi, everyone. I’m Will Critchlow, founder and CEO of Distilled, and this week’s Whiteboard Friday is a little bit different. I want to talk about some surprising and interesting and a few funny facts that I learnt when I was reading some research that Google did about how kids search for information. So this isn’t super actionable. This is not about tactics of improving your website particularly. But I think we get some insights — they were studying kids aged 7 to 11 — by looking at how kids interact. We can see some reflections or some ideas about how there might be some misconceptions out there about how adults search as well. So let’s dive into it.

What do dolphins eat?

I’ve got this “What do dolphins eat?” because this was the first question that the researchers gave to the kids to say sit down in front of a search box, go. They tell this little anecdote, a little bit kind of soul-destroying, of this I think it was a seven-year-old child who starts typing dolphin, D-O-L-F, and then presses Enter, and it was like sadly there’s no dolphins, which hopefully they found him some dolphins. But a lot of the kids succeeded at this task.

Different kinds of searchers

The researchers divided the ways that the kids approached it up into a bunch of different categories. They found that some kids were power searchers. Some are what they called “developing.” They classified some as “distracted.” But one that I found fascinating was what they called visual searchers. I think they found this more commonly among the younger kids who were perhaps a little bit less confident reading and writing. It turns out that, for almost any question you asked them, these kids would turn first to image search.

So for this particular question, they would go to image search, typically just type “dolphin” and then scroll and go looking for pictures of a dolphin eating something. Then they’d find a dolphin eating a fish, and they’d turn to the researcher and say “Look, dolphins eat fish.” Which, when you think about it, I quite like in an era of fake news. This is the kids doing primary research. They’re going direct to the primary source. But it’s not something that I would have ever really considered, and I don’t know if you would. But hopefully this kind of sparks some thought and some insights and discussions at your end. They found that there were some kids who pretty much always, no matter what you asked them, would always go and look for pictures.

Kids who were a bit more developed, a bit more confident in their reading and writing would often fall into one of these camps where they were hopefully focusing on the attention. They found a lot of kids were obviously distracted, and I think as adults this is something that we can relate to. Many of the kids were not really very interested in the task at hand. But this kind of path from distracted to developing to power searcher is an interesting journey that I think totally applies to grown-ups as well.

In practice: [wat do dolfin eat]

So I actually, after I read this paper, went and did some research on my kids. So my kids were in roughly this age range. When I was doing it, my daughter was eight and my son was five and a half. Both of them interestingly typed “wat do dolfin eat” pretty much like this. They both misspelled “what,” and they both misspelled “dolphin.” Google was fine with that. Obviously, these days this is plenty close enough to get the result you wanted. Both of them successfully answered the question pretty much, but both of them went straight to the OneBox. This is, again, probably unsurprising. You can guess this is probably how most people search.

“Oh, what’s a cephalopod?” The path from distracted to developing

So there’s a OneBox that comes up, and it’s got a picture of a dolphin. So my daughter, a very confident reader, she loves reading, “wat do dolfin eat,” she sat and she read the OneBox, and then she turned to me and she said, “It says they eat fish and herring. Oh, what’s a cephalopod?” I think this was her going from distracted into developing probably. To start off with, she was just answering this question because I had asked her to. But then she saw a word that she didn’t know, and suddenly she was curious. She had to kind of carefully type it because it’s a slightly tricky word to spell. But she was off looking up what is a cephalopod, and you could see the engagement shift from “I’m typing this because Dad has asked me to and it’s a bit interesting I guess” to “huh, I don’t know what a cephalopod is, and now I’m doing my own research for my own reasons.” So that was interesting.

“Dolphins eat fish, herring, killer whales”: Reading the bold words

My son, as I said, typed something pretty similar, and he, at the point when he was doing this, was at the stage of certainly capable of reading, but generally would read out loud and a little bit halting. What was fascinating on this was he only read the bold words. He read it out loud, and he didn’t read the OneBox. He just read the bold words. So he said to me, “Dolphins eat fish, herring, killer whales,” because killer whales, for some reason, was bolded. I guess it was pivoting from talking about what dolphins eat to what killer whales eat, and he didn’t read the context. This cracked him up. So he thought that was ridiculous, and isn’t it funny that Google thinks that dolphins eat killer whales.

That is similar to some stuff that was in the original research, where there were a bunch of common misconceptions it turns out that kids have and I bet a bunch of adults have. Most adults probably don’t think that the bold words in the OneBox are the list of the answer, but it does point to the problems with factual-based, truthy type queries where Google is being asked to be the arbiter of truth on some of this stuff. We won’t get too deep into that.

Common misconceptions for kids when searching

1. Search suggestions are answers

But some common misconceptions they found some kids thought that the search suggestions, so the drop-down as you start typing, were the answers, which is bit problematic. I mean we’ve all seen kind of racist or hateful drop-downs in those search queries. But in this particular case, it was mainly just funny. It would end up with things like you start asking “what do dolphins eat,” and it would be like “Do dolphins eat cats” was one of the search suggestions.

2. Related searches are answers

Similar with related searches, which, as we know, are not answers to the question. These are other questions. But kids in particular — I mean, I think this is true of all users — didn’t necessarily read the directions on the page, didn’t read that they were related searches, just saw these things that said “dolphin” a lot and started reading out those. So that was interesting.

How kids search complicated questions

The next bit of the research was much more complex. So they started with these easy questions, and they got into much harder kind of questions. One of them that they asked was this one, which is really quite hard. So the question was, “Can you find what day of the week the vice president’s birthday will fall on next year?” This is a multifaceted, multipart question.

How do they handle complex, multi-step queries?

Most of the younger kids were pretty stumped on this question. Some did manage it. I think a lot of adults would fail at this. So if you just turn to Google, if you just typed this in or do a voice search, this is the kind of thing that Google is almost on the verge of being able to do. If you said something like, “When is the vice president’s birthday,” that’s a question that Google might just be able to answer. But this kind of three-layered thing, what day of the week and next year, make this actually a very hard query. So the kids had to first figure out that, to answer this, this wasn’t a single query. They had to do multiple stages of research. When is the vice president’s birthday? What day of the week is that date next year? Work through it like that.

I found with my kids, my eight-year-old daughter got stuck halfway through. She kind of realized that she wasn’t going to get there in one step, but also couldn’t quite structure the multi-levels needed to get to, but also started getting a bit distracted again. It was no longer about cephalopods, so she wasn’t quite as interested.

Search volume will grow in new areas as Google’s capabilities develop

This I think is a whole area that, as Google’s capabilities develop to answer more complex queries and as we start to trust and learn that those kind of queries can be answered, what we see is that there is going to be increasing, growing search volume in new areas. So I’m going to link to a post I wrote about a presentation I gave about the next trillion searches. This is my hypothesis that essentially, very broad brush strokes, there are a trillion desktop searches a year. There are a trillion mobile searches a year. There’s another trillion out there in searches that we don’t do yet because they can’t be answered well. I’ve got some data to back that up and some arguments why I think it’s about that size. But I think this is kind of closely related to this kind of thing, where you see kids get stuck on these kind of queries.

Incidentally, I’d encourage you to go and try this. It’s quite interesting, because as you work through trying to get the answer, you’ll find search results that appear to give the answer. So, for example, I think there was an About.com page that actually purported to give the answer. It said, “What day of the week is the vice president’s birthday on?” But it had been written a year before, and there was no date on the page. So actually it was wrong. It said Thursday. That was the answer in 2016 or 2017. So that just, again, points to the difference between primary research, the difference between answering a question and truth. I think there’s a lot of kind of philosophical questions baked away in there.

Kids get comfortable with how they search – even if it’s wrong

So we’re going to wrap up with possibly my favorite anecdote of the user research that these guys did, which was that they said some of these kids, somewhere in this developing stage, get very attached to searching in one particular way. I guess this is kind of related to the visual search thing. They find something that works for them. It works once. They get comfortable with it, they’re familiar with it, and they just do that for everything, whether it’s appropriate or not. My favorite example was this one child who apparently looked for information about both dolphins and the vice president of the United States on the SpongeBob SquarePants website, which I mean maybe it works for dolphins, but I’m guessing there isn’t an awful lot of VP information.

So anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little adventure into how kids search and maybe some things that we can learn from it. Drop some anecdotes of your own in the comments. I’d love to hear your experiences and some of the funny things that you’ve learnt along the way. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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How to prioritise for revenue.

Revenue should be your only goal in eCommerce. We help clients set those targets and often we then work out a way to get there. You have to work out the best avenues for achieving those goals, whether through ads, traffic, devices, or improved UX. If you are adding things to your site, make sure you calculate the consequences of doing so. We’ll be running an eCommerce webinar soon to help you understand these things a little better, so stay tuned.

What I learned

  • Revenue goals focus your mind.
  • What’s your best avenue for growth?
  • Why you should be careful about adding things to your site.
  • Interested in our webinar? Stay tuned.

Transcript

Hey, welcome back Rankers. Here you go. I’ve had a fun week. A client reset our budgets for us, which is always fun. And these are our revenue budgets, our goals. So, last year for this particular client, we were bouncing around the 300 mark, around there, and the client said to us, “Okay. The next goal is 400, get us to 400.” So we did that a few months ago earlier this year, late last year, something like that. And then just recently we’ve said, “Okay, we need a new goal. We’ve hit that revenue.” They said, “Okay, let’s do 500 by December.” And we go, “Let me think about it.” And the staff go, “What?” And then we go, “Let’s have a think about it, let’s have a think about it.” And we look into it. “Yeah, we can do it.” And then he said, “Okay. And then by June 2021, we want 600K a month.” That’s like, “Okay. Tell me, how are we going to get there?” But we’ll work out a way.

What’s the best way to get a return?

And that’s what this is, and what we do is all about. It’s like, “Well, how much traffic do we have? What’s the traffic converting at? Is all the devices converting like they should? Is one channel stronger than another? Do we need to get more traffic? Or is it just usability? Or is it the ads aren’t working properly?”

In the case of this particular client, his ads are doing around a two and a half thousand percent. They’re maxed out. He’s not spending any more on ads. He’s kept that budget, even though he could get more from ads, and that’s his decision, which is fine.

I had another client come to me during this week and he said, “Look, here’s a product. The vendor has said they think we’ll make about 200K extra a year using this product.” But I looked at it and I went, “Well, it’s costing around 40 or 50K a year. Is that the right use and time to get that return?” Because with this particular client, they’re already a 100K up a month on last year, which is a 77% increase. So maybe there are other things that we can do, and I know the other thing you can do to get that 200K. And with all of these things, as I said last week, you’ve got to look at, if I put that thing on my site, what’s the unintended consequences of that, or what are the other impacts around that, that we don’t see on other areas of the site? All things like that.

So what we’re doing, we’ve had quite a bit of interest from this when I talked about it last week, is we are going to be doing a webinar. Haven’t done one for years, not a workshop, just a webinar, if people are interested in a workshop, we can get to that. But it’s just a webinar at this stage for retailers, eCommerce people who are interested in working out where they start to focus on revenue.

Ecommerce webinar

So we have it, internally we call it a revenue triage, essentially. Where are the biggest opportunities? Where are the biggest problems that we need to fix straight away? And quite often there’ll be things, speed is always in that. There’s a whole bunch of things, and I saw a new site launch today, an eCommerce site launch, and I’m thinking, “That’s cutting edge design? It’s like they like losing money with that site.” And we can see it straight away. And these are things that we’ve established through mystery shopping and all those sorts of things.

So we’ve got a whole raft of templates and stuff that we look at, that we know make money for our clients. So that’s the sort of stuff that we’ll be sharing, but it is retailers only, it is eCommerce only. And as I’ve said before, we don’t take everyone on board. So if you attend this webinar, chances are you’re not going to be our client anyway, because we wouldn’t be ready for each other. So, but it is for people who want to get an understanding of where to start looking at their revenue and how they give that a focus through the eCommerce site, and I will take you through the steps that we go through so you can maximise your revenue.

Hopefully that’s helpful. Share if you dare. Make sure you subscribe, so you get the date when we announce the date of the webinar. Please tell your friends, and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter and wherever else you hang out. Not much on Facebook. Thanks very much. See you next week. Bye.

The post How to prioritise for revenue. appeared first on StewArt Media.

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Podcasts and internet marketing: Are you missing the boat?

30-second summary:

  • The drive to be more productive, the thirst to learn something new – these are the primary reasons behind the rising popularity of podcasts.
  • One in every four Americans over the age of 12 listens to podcasts religiously. 
  • Podcasts’ share of the ear is projected to increase by 120% in the next few years, with the total number of listeners exceeding 100 million by 2021.
  • But how exactly can you use podcasts to boost your internet marketing campaign?
  • How can you ensure that creating audio content is a rewarding investment for your particular business? 
  • Internet marketing specialist, Nasirabadi Reza, decode the answers to a lot of these key questions. Hop on!

Not so long ago, commuting was my favorite part of the day. Driving and traffic jams aside, it was the time when I could relax my mind. With music blasting on the car’s audio system (which I had specially upgraded – just so you know), I would zone out and temporarily free myself from thinking about all the workload/household chores waiting for me at the end of the journey.

But then that wave of boosting productivity, managing time, and whatnot hit. And I found myself trading my playlist for podcasts.

Make no mistake, commuting is still my favorite part of the day, but not because the idleness is a welcome change.  

I now love the commute because it’s the most enriching part of my day. Every day is a new learning experience as I tune in to a marketing podcast and get deeper insights into my line of work. If I am not in the mood for that, I just switch to a radio drama or a talk show instead and get entertained on the go. 

People in innumerable quantities all around the world are showing a similar change in preferences.  

And for marketers, this presents the next growth opportunity as podcasting promises to open the door to the future. 

Podcasts paving the path to the future of internet marketing

The drive to be more productive, the thirst to learn something new – these are the primary reasons behind the rising popularity of podcasts. Of course, their convenience and accessibility, and the fact that podcasts present the info in easily digestible pieces, make them all the more crowd-pleasing.  

In the U.S. alone, there were reported to be around 75 million podcast listeners during the last year. One in every four Americans over the age of 12 listens to podcasts religiously. And the trend has only started to pick up pace.  

Based on statistical analysis, podcasts’ share of the ear is projected to increase by 120% in the next few years, with the total number of listeners exceeding 100 million by 2021.

But how exactly can you use podcasts to boost your marketing campaign? How can you leverage these findings in your favor? And how can you ensure that creating audio content is a rewarding investment for your particular business? 

These were the main questions that came up in a discussion with a few of my fellow workers when we sat down to reconsider our branding strategies. One of them held the staunch belief that podcasting works for media brands only.  

When a logical explanation couldn’t convince him, that’s when I had to pull out my phone and show him various non-media brands that have successfully integrated podcast marketing into their internet marketing campaigns. 

If you share a similar viewpoint or are still confused about how podcasting can benefit your brand, consider the following businesses that continue to gain popularity amongst the masses by jumping onto the podcasting bandwagon. 

Examples of brands using podcast marketing

1. General Electric

If you aren’t already aware of ‘The Message’ and ‘Life After’, you must be thinking, “wait, an electric company promoting machines and tech-solutions through podcasts?”

As absurd as it may sound, that’s still happening nonetheless.  

‘The Message’ and ‘Life After’ are two series of a science fiction podcast that follows a journalistic style. The first series follows the work of scientists trying to decode extraterrestrial messages using high-end technology developed by- yes you guessed it – General Electric.

Talk about marketers whose creativity knows no bounds.

The second podcast series has a different storyline, but the same method for bringing GE’s products into the public eye. 

This is an incredible technique to create brand awareness not just among the products’ direct buyers, but way beyond. 

The use of podcasting to promote your business is limited only by your imagination. And these audio dramas created by General Electric are the ultimate proof of this statement. 

2. McDonald’s

McDonald’s podcast marketing serves as a great example for companies that might fall prey to public relations (PR) problems.

Remember the saga of the Szechuan sauce? The special sauce was being sold at McDonald’s outlets for a limited time period when things went out of control. People started fighting with each other to get their share of the popular sauce eventually creating a bad image for the retail chain for poor management and not creating a sufficiently large batch in the first place. 

McDonald’s took an ingenious approach to address the issue and restoring the damage done to its brand image.  

The highly popular yet super-limited Szechuan sauce became the subject of an investigative podcast called ‘The Sauce.’ 

Consisting of just three parts, the series might have been short, but it effectively used the power of audio content to rebuild the brand image in no time. 

Keep in mind this brilliant marketing hack from McDonald’s for times when a seemingly minor customer complaint starts to wreak havoc for your business by going viral. 

3. Sephora collection

Sephora launched a podcast titled #LIPSTORIES in partnership with Girlboss Radio. The main aim was to celebrate the company’s line of lipsticks.  

Each episode of the series revolved around women who either served as an inspiration behind the product or other influential female workers who were inspired by the product itself.  

This is a powerful example for businesses trying to upsell their goods or services while establishing a positive image among their customers at the same time.  

Podcasts that you definitely need to listen

If you are unsure how to get started on podcast marketing, consider tuning in to the following channels to let the tricks of the trade:  

1. IdeaCast by HBR

Who wouldn’t be interested in reading Harvard Business Review? But it can be hard to find the time. If that’s the case, you can explore new ideas and actionable advice on innovation and market leadership by signing up at IdeaCast – HBR’s official podcasting channel. These informative podcasts are based on interviews with renowned entities such as Eric Schmidt and focus on bringing something new in every episode. 

2. Outside In

The Outside In podcast aims to reveal the secrets behind some of the world’s most renowned brands. It discusses their customer-centered approach and gives listeners deep insight into how they can implement those strategies on their own. 

Blogging might still be the favored technique for content marketing. But you cannot simply deny the fact that podcasting is climbing the charts incredibly fast. It is a viable marketing channel that you can easily leverage in your business’s favor.  

Nasirabadi Reza is an internet marketing specialist with a passion for writing and sharing valuable insights gained through years of experience in the industry. He manages the content delivery hub at Zigma and is dedicated to creating smart strategies for clients who want to take their business to the next level. Reza can be found at @MarketingZigma.

The post Podcasts and internet marketing: Are you missing the boat? appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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6 Connectors to Spice Up Your Reporting: Introducing Google Data Studio Connectors for STAT

Posted by brian.ho

Data visualization platforms have become a vital tool to help illustrate the success of a body of work. Painting a clear picture of your SEO efforts is as important as ever, whether you’re reporting out to clients or to internal stakeholders at your own company. More and more SEOs are turning to data visualization tools to do so — pulling in data from across multiple SEO tools, blending that data in unique ways, and helping to pull back the curtain on the mystery of SEO.

Platforms like Tableau and Google Data Studio are becoming more commonplace in the SEO community as we seek better ways to communicate with our teams. We’ve heard from a number of folks in the Moz community that having a central dashboard to present data has streamlined their own reporting processes. It’s also made information more digestible for colleagues and clients, as they can see everything they need in one place.

Thanks to the helpful feedback of many, many STAT customers, we’ve been hard at work building six Google Data Studio Community Connectors to help pull STAT data into Data Studio. Fortified by beta testing and your thoughtful input, we’re excited to launch the six connectors today: Historical Keyword Rankings (site and tag level), Share of Voice (site and tag level), and Ranking Distributions (site and tag level).

If you’re already using STAT, dive into our documentation in the Knowledge Base to get all the nitty-gritty details on the connectors. If you’re not yet a STAT customer, why not chat with a friendly Mozzer to learn more?

See STAT in Action

Want to hear a bit more about the connectors and how to implement them? Let’s go!

Historical Keyword Rankings

Tracking daily keyword positions over time is a central part of STAT and the long-term success of your site. The Historical Keyword Rankings connectors send historical highest rank data to Data Studio for every keyword you’re currently tracking in a site or a tag.

You can start out with a simple table: perhaps if you have a group of keywords in a dynamic tag, you might want to create a table of your top keywords ranking on page one, or your top keywords ranking in positions 1-3.

Turn that table into a line graph to understand average rank for the whole site or tag and spot trends:

Find the Site Level Historical Keyword Rankings connector here and the Tag Level Historical Keyword Rankings connector here.

Share of Voice

In STAT, share of voice measures the visibility of a group of keywords on Google. This keyword set can be keywords that are grouped together into a tag, a data view, or a site. Share of voice is calculated by assigning each ranking a click-through rate (CTR) and then multiplying that by the keyword’s search volume.

It’s important to remember that share of voice is based on the concept that higher ranks and higher search volume give you more share of voice.

The default chart type will display a doughnut chart for current share of voice, and a line graph will show share of voice over time:

Find the Site Level Share of Voice connector here and the Tag Level Share of Voice connector here.

Ranking Distribution

Ranking Distribution, available in the Daily Snapshot and Ranking Trends views in the STAT app, shows how your keyword rankings are distributed across the top 119 Google results.

View your top ranking positions as a bar chart to easily eyeball how your rankings are distributed, where shifts are taking place, and where there is clear opportunity for improvement.

Find the Site Level Ranking Distributions connector here and the Tag Level Ranking Distributions connector here.

Getting started with the connectors

Whether you’re a Google Data Studio pro or a bit newer to the tool, setting up the connectors shouldn’t be too arduous. Get started by visiting the page for the connector of your choice. Authorize the connector by clicking the Authorize button. (Tip: Each connector must be authorized separately.)

Once you authorize the connector, you’ll see a parameters table like this one:

Complete the fields using the proper information tied to your STAT account:

  • STAT Subdomain: Fill in this field with the subdomain of your STAT login URL. This field ensures that the GDS connector directs its request to the correct STAT subdomain.
  • STAT API Key: Find your API key in STAT by visiting Options > Account Management > Account Settings > API Key.
  • STAT Site/Tag ID: Retrieve IDs through the API. Visit our documentation to ensure you use the proper API calls.
  • Allow “STAT Site/Tag ID” to be modified in reports: Tick this box to be able to edit the site or tag ID from within the report, without reconfiguring the connector.
  • Include Keyword Tags: Tick this box to add a column to your report populated with the tags the keyword is a member of (only applicable to site and tag historical keyword rankings connectors).
  • Allow “Include Keyword Tags?” to be modified in reports: Tick this box to be able to turn the inclusion of the Keyword Tags column on or off from within the report, without reconfiguring the connector (only applicable to site and tag historical keyword rankings connectors).

Once you’ve filled in the table, click Connect in the top right.

Confirm which columns you’d like to include in the report. Review the columns, and click Create Report.

Once you’ve created a report, the exciting part begins! Whether you’re pulling in your STAT data for a fresh report, adding it into a report with other pieces of data, or using Data Studio’s data blending feature to create compelling views of your search presence — there are so many ways to slice and dice.

Ready to put the connectors into production? We can’t wait to hear how your Google Data Studio reports are strengthened by adding in your STAT data. Let us know how it goes in the comments.

Not yet a STAT user but curious how it might fit into your SEO toolkit? Take a tour of the product from your friendly neighborhood Mozzer:

Learn More About STAT


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Nine mistakes to avoid when contacting websites for backlinks

30-second summary:

  • A backlink is a link that directs visitors from another website to yours.
  • Obtaining backlinks is fundamental to improving your sites search engine ranking, the best ranking sites have thousands of backlinks.
  • While backlinks are important, they are not easy to get and the outreach process can be timely and expensive.
  • There are a common set of guidelines to follow when looking to obtain backlinks. However, these guidelines are often breached, impacting a sites ability to get more backlinks.

Anyone who knows anything about boosting a website’s SEO and earning the praise of the Google Gods knows the importance of backlinks. Not only do backlinks send more traffic to your site, but they help you gain notoriety as an authority in your industry.  

Some backlinks are gained organically, which means one website stumbles upon the amazing content on your web page and links to it without you asking. Others are gained by paying, providing content, or begging and pleading.  

Backlinks are not an easy job 

Let’s be honest, earning backlinks as a newbie or start-up isn’t easy. It sometimes takes years to gain the type of authority and notoriety that makes other websites willingly backlink to you as a resource. So, while you’re gaining traction, building SEO, and working your way to the top, you may need to take a different approach. 

This is where soliciting other websites for backlinks comes into play. With millions of websites crowding the internet, there are plenty in desperate need of quality content. So, what does that mean for you?  

You offer to write a quality, content-driven article (more on this later) free of charge for a website to use on their blog. You might be thinking, “What? Why would I write an article for free?” Well, when you slip a backlink to your website into the article, you’re increasing the chances that you’ll see a boost in traffic and SEO.  

But, as the old saying goes, nothing worth having in life is truly free.  

This is why, in addition to the time it takes you to write the article, you may need to pay a publishing fee. Websites know how valuable backlinks are and they’re not afraid to charge you for them. 

Not sure that jumping through all of these hoops is worth it? Well, it is and we’re about to tell you why.  

What are backlinks? 

Simply put, a backlink is a link that directs visitors from another website to yours. Think of it as a reference. Backlinks are mostly found in informative blog posts. If you’ve ever clicked on blue, highlighted words in an article, and found yourself redirected to another website, you just clicked on a backlink. And chances are, that website owner paid for that link.  

You can get backlinks in a few different ways. The easiest way is to pay the publishing site to place a backlink in an existing article. This method is generally cheaper and requires less work on your part. But, you have less control over the anchor text or the article’s content. If you don’t care, great! But if you want more control over your backlinks, you’ll need to provide the content yourself.  

That means writing a blog post with a link to your website embedded naturally and contextually. Some websites post the content with your backlink on their page free of charge. These are usually websites with low domain authority in need of content to fill their pages.  

While these backlinks aren’t as valuable to your site, a backlink is a backlink and even ones from low ranking sites can help boost your SEO.  

If you’re shooting for more high-profile websites with high domain authority, you’ll need to provide both the content and pay a publishing fee.  

The fees are usually outlined in the publishing site’s guest post criteria and can range anywhere from $30 to hundreds, so be prepared to shell out some cold hard cash.   

Why are backlinks important?

So, why do website owners pay money (or provide free content) to receive a backlink? Backlinks are actually a much more cost-effective way to advertise your business or website. By making a single investment, you could gain thousands of visitors that convert to sales.  

Increased traffic on your website also helps boost your SEO and your ranking on the SERPs (search engine results page). But that’s not all. Backlinks are like a glowing recommendation from a well-known professional in your field. When a high-ranking website backlinks to yours it gives you more credibility. In time, this will increase your domain authority.  

The number of referring domains is one of the first things Google considers when ranking your site. The more you have, the higher your site will rank on the SERPs. 

Proof that backlinks work

Still not convinced that backlinks are worth your time or investment? 

Websites with more than 300 referring domains are much more likely to rank in the number one spot than, let’s say, a website with only 50 backlinks.  

The quality of your backlinks is just as important as the quantity. The higher the domain authority of the referring website, the better it is for your SEO and ranking. For example, if you’re someone designing a new sports beverage, you’re much more likely to gain traction with an endorsement from a professional athlete like Shaq than you would be from a high school basketball coach. 

Major mistakes to avoid when contacting websites for backlinks

Now that we’ve covered the basics of what backlinks are and why they’re so important, you’re probably ready to run out and start contacting publishing websites, right? Not so fast.

Publishing sites are inundated every day with websites looking for backlinks. Not only does your article need to stand out from the crowd, but you need to follow some basic guidelines. Some guidelines are common sense etiquette and professionalism while others are specifically outlined by the publisher.  

Do your research before pitching to a website. In addition, avoid these nine mistakes.  

1. Don’t haggle over the price

There’s nothing more insulting to a blogger than having someone try to beat down their posting price. Some blogs advertise a specific price for getting a backlink on their website. Others welcome free content and give you a link as a “thank you”. For those that charge a flat fee, be careful how much haggling you do. If the price is $100 to post, don’t offer them $50. You won’t get very far and you may burn some bridges along the way. 

That’s not to say that asking for a small discount is always out of line. If it feels appropriate, ask for 5 or 10% off the price – but don’t be surprised if they decline.  

Remember, you aren’t the only person willing to pay for backlinks and you won’t be the last. You’re a dime a dozen. Don’t blow your chances for getting a backlink on a reputable site with a high-domain over a few dollars. If your link successfully posts, the investment will pay for itself ten-fold. 

2. Don’t create over promotional content

There’s no denying that backlinks are a form of self-promotion, but when your content is over-promotional, both the blogger and the readers will pick up on it right away. No one likes to read an article riddled with countless links.  

They’re an eyesore and take away from the content’s value. When creating a post to pitch to a publishing site, focus on the customer experience, not your own agenda. 

What are the customer’s pain points and how does your content address them? Are you providing valuable, credible content that answers your reader’s burning questions? There are countless ways to include your backlink in the article without hitting the reader over the head with it. Publishers want content-driven submissions, not a sales pitch.  

3. Don’t ignore the blogger’s criteria

Rules were made for a reason – and the guidelines bloggers have for guest post submissions have a purpose. If the website you’re pitching to has specific criteria for submitting, follow it.

Similar to a job application, provide all the required information and follow the structured guidelines. It’s hard enough for bloggers to weed through countless emails and pitches – if yours breaks even one rule, it’ll get tossed aside without a second thought. 

The most common guidelines surround the length of the article, what to include in the initial email (bio, headshot, and other details), the format (Google Doc, PDF file), and the submission process.  

Read all of these guidelines before submitting your work. Not doing so will be a waste of time for both you and the blogger you’re pitching to. 

4. Adhere to the word count

Another important guideline that many publishing sites will give you is the word count of the articles. The average length of a blog post is about 2,000.  This isn’t just a number that the bloggers pulled out of thin air.  

Google prefers blog posts over 2,000 pages. New data suggests that 2,100 to 2,400 words is the ideal length for boosting SEO. They often provide the most value to readers. But that’s not to say that posts between 500 and 2,000 words have no place on the Internet. There are plenty of readers who prefer a short, concise, and to-the-point article that’s only 1,000 words or less. 

Trust that the blogger you’re pitching to have done their research and selected a specific length of all submissions for a reason. Don’t disregard their request. Avoid submitting articles that are way over or way under the word count. Also, avoid adding useless information (fluff) just to reach the word count. Publishing websites will see right through this and likely reject your article, costing you a backlink and much-needed exposure. 

5. Stuffing your content with backlinks

One per customer – that’s the theory behind including backlinks in an article. If you successfully pitch your idea or article to a publishing website, most allow one backlink to a page on your site. Not four, five, or ten. Don’t stuff your article with backlinks. Not only does it look sloppy and unprofessional, but it hurts your credibility and the legitimacy of the article. 

Remember, you should be creating content-driven articles that include helpful information. Backlinks should be included in a discrete and meaningful way. When an article is riddled with links, readers are much less likely to read the entire thing and it’s even more unlikely that they’ll click on any of the links. A few links scattered throughout an article are much more attractive and won’t overwhelm the reader (or annoy the blogger you’re pitching to). 

6. Pitching to irrelevant websites

Not staying in your lane is another major mistake to avoid when contacting bloggers for a backlink. When you approach a blogger in an industry that’s not relevant to yours, it shows carelessness. You clearly didn’t research the publishing site. It appears as if you’ve just mass-emailed a list of websites that accept guest posts. And you can guarantee that the publishing website will give you as much time and attention as you gave the research process. Zero. 

If you’re a property management company, you shouldn’t be contacting bloggers in the fashion or beauty industry. Stick with real estate websites or even companies that offer financial or loan advice. Make sure that the relationship makes sense before contacting the websites. 

7. Hounding the blogger

There’s something to be said about following up with a website after pitching your article idea. Follow-up emails show responsibility, eagerness, and a certain level of professionalism. Contacting the blogger more than two times or hounding them for a response, on the other hand, screams desperation.  

Once you initially make contact with the website, wait a few days before sending a follow-up email. When you do, indicate that you just want to confirm that they received your submission or ask if there’s any additional information they’d like. If they don’t answer after this second attempt, give it up and move on. It either means your article idea wasn’t a good fit at this time, the content wasn’t up to snuff, or perhaps they’re not interested in backlinking to your website. 

All of these reasons are legitimate. Don’t take it personally. Accept that it’s a dead-end and start pitching to other websites. 

8. Rambling in the initial email

We get it. You’re excited for the opportunity to post on a blogger’s site. You want that backlink. But it’s important to remain calm, cool, and collected – and that means avoiding overly long emails that ramble on about how honored you’d be if they’d publish your article and backlink. 

The blogger doesn’t need or want your life story. Keep it short, simple, and to the point. 

Not only do overly long emails annoy bloggers but your intended message will get lost in the shuffle. Check the blogger’s criteria once again. What specific details do they ask for? Be sure to include all of these, without going overboard. Most bloggers want a short synopsis of what your business is about, who you are, and what you want (aka a backlink).  

In some cases, you can briefly touch on your budget, but this isn’t always a good approach. If their criteria already outline a price, remember not to haggle too much. If they don’t mention a price, you don’t want to offer more than they normally charge and end up spending too much. When in doubt, avoid talking costs until you get a response.  

9. Submitting unoriginal content

This is SEO no-no number one. Never, ever, ever submit duplicate content to a website for publication. Not only does this teeter on breaking copyright rules and possibly plagiarism, but it hurts the host site’s SEO.  

The last thing you want to do is offend or negatively impact the business that you’re pitching to. Not only will it put a bad taste in their mouth about you and your website, but it’ll downright piss them off. It also shows that you know very little about how backlinking works.  

The content you submit should be unique and written specifically for the publishing site’s target audience. Even if you have the perfect article already written for your niche, avoid pitching it to multiple websites at once. Then, you’ll find yourself in a pickle if more than one blogger accepts it. Instead, try pitching blog post ideas or outlines where you can create original, unique content for each website.  

Backlinks are an important part of the SEO puzzle. As your website climbs the Google ranks to claim a spot at the top, you may need a little boost. Backlinks are one way to get this boost without spending a fortune.  

You won’t get a response from every blogger you pitch to. In fact, you may only hear from a handful out of hundreds. And of that handful, you may only succeed in posting one or two backlinks. So, while you’ll win some and lose some, the most important thing to remember is to always play by the rules.  

The post Nine mistakes to avoid when contacting websites for backlinks appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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10 Reasons why marketers use data to make budgeting decisions

30-second summary:

  • Bear in mind that no marketing strategy has ever succeeded without the complex mix of data analysis and smart budgeting decisions.
  • Marketers face the tough challenge of data-driven decision-making to craft the most profitable and effective marketing plan possible.  
  • Budgeting is a crucial part of any marketing strategy.
  • Because of the growing benefits of using big data to bolster marketing strategies, expenses spent on analytics are expected to climb 200% over the next three years.
  • Here’s a quick look at 10 ways that enable you to use data for crafting profitable marketing plans. 

Creating a marketing strategy isn’t just about rolling out advertisements— marketing has evolved with the times. No longer are businesses confined to print and radio advertising, but they now also have a multitude of online options to choose from, like pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, paid search, and paid social marketing. 

Bear in mind that no marketing strategy has ever succeeded without the complex mix of data analysis and smart budgeting decisionsMarketers can use data to identify problems or issues in campaigns and budgeting. Data are also a fundamental factor in understanding SEO, developing software, and interpreting customer feedback, among other aspects of online marketing.  

Data complexity is one of the biggest challenges for marketers right now. Marketers face the tough challenge of data-driven decision-making to craft the most profitable and effective marketing plan possible.  

Planning ahead: Budgeting in the context of marketing strategies 

What makes a successful marketing campaign lies in the money it reels in for the company. You can tell that your promotional strategies are working when traffic and direct sales are rising. This can be determined by your return on investment (ROI), that is, when the money you invested returns a profit. 

This is why budgeting is a key element of any marketing strategy. No successful business sets goals without first considering if they can afford to take them on. Whether you’re a start-up or a long-time business, your current budget influences your future financial goals and gains.  

Learning how to wisely allocate your resources can both save and earn you a lot of money. Businesses that don’t consider their budget when crafting a marketing plan may find themselves in over their heads, spending too much on unnecessary things without getting the necessary kickback. Businesses may also end up in debt and with lower customer satisfaction if they fail to plan their budget smartly.  

Using data to cash in on your investments 

One way to plan your marketing budget wisely is to base it on data. A data-driven approach to crafting marketing strategies can help you make smarter budgeting decisions 

Because of the growing benefits of using big data to bolster marketing strategies, expenses spent on analytics are expected to climb 200% over the next three years. Marketers can use a wide array of information to create suitable marketing and budgeting plans. This includes data analysis about their audience, competitors, and their own past business efforts. 

All these data-crunching can seem daunting at first, but there are simple ways to explain how using data can help you make better marketing and budgeting decisions. The 10 tips below will teach you how to use data to craft a profitable marketing plan: 

1. Identify your financial goals 

First, set your financial goals, both long-term and short-term. How much revenue do you want and how many sales would it take to reach it? How do these objectives tie in with your brand vision and values? Although a good measure of business success is profit, don’t forget to stay grounded in your company’s mission and your consumers’ needs. 

To identify your financial goals, look back at your previous short-term and long-term goals and how much of these you have achieved. Also, take into consideration your current financial standing before making any grand projections of your business in the future. 

2. Refer to your sales funnel 

Knowing where your consumers stand is a fundamental part of marketing strategies. This refers to a sales funnel, a series of steps someone has to make to purchase your product. An example of this would be asking yourself how much money you spend on acquiring new customers and if your efforts pay off. 

You can use analytics software to set up funnels that show the process that your audience goes through before deciding to buy your product. This can help you prioritize your budgeting decisions to focus on boosting conversion rates.

3. Review past campaigns 

Using analytics, you can also review past marketing or SEO campaigns to see where you succeeded and failed. An example of this is comparing data from your various modes of advertising. This can help you see what’s most effective, in terms of reach and conversion.  

4. Check out the competition 

You can also use data on your competitors to find out what marketing strategy is most profitable in your industry. Check out your competition’s advertising methods, and investigate how much they invest in certain areas. This can help influence your own budgeting planning process, in terms of focusing on what works for your industry. 

5. List down your projected costs 

When setting a marketing budget, you need to outline your projected operational costs. Data on previous expenditures and present prices of services like web hosting, professional fees, ad pricing are crucial to correctly calculating your projected costs.  

6. Set an achievable schedule 

One aspect of creating a marketing strategy is setting an achievable timeline. The amount of time you will spend developing a campaign can also influence the budget planning process. Generally, the less time you spend, the less money you’ll spend too; an overdue project is likely to go over the budget.  

Ensure that when scheduling, you’re giving enough leeway for your team to prioritize important aspects of the campaign and respond to unexpected situations. You can use information from past marketing plans (that is, resource availability vis-a-vis the time needed to complete planning), to determine how much time you usually spend. Then base your new timeline on this, considering new factors, if any. 

7. Use scenario-building tools

If you’re daunted by the amount of data you have to consolidate and interpret when budgeting, you can use scenario-building tools to run multiple budget scenarios. Scenario-building tools will show you various virtual spending situations that can assist you in your real-life budget planning process. 

Using this data-driven approach to budgeting, you’ll be sure to make better budgeting decisions with regard to choosing the best budget scenario that will drive maximum ROI. 

8. Focus on the right platforms

Speaking of what works in your industry, make sure you’re investing in the right platforms. The proper platform depends on the product you offer and the market you cater to. What marketing strategy reels in the most conversion or leads for your business? Is it e-mail marketing or is it social media and PPC? 

For example, collecting data regarding social media use, that is, who uses which platform, how much time they spend on a specific site, and other sorts of granular data can help you determine where to place your advertisements. Promoting on a website that your market regularly visits turns a bigger profit than on platforms irrelevant to your consumers. 

9. Consider predictive analytics

You can also utilize the power of predictive analytics which uses historical data and machine learning to foresee your brand’s future performance. It sounds complicated, but you can actually use analytics tools to help you make sense of the vast amounts of data.  

Based on your own historical data, predictive analytics can help you detect future business and security risks, optimize campaigns, and improve budgeting decisions 

10. Measure your performance regularly 

Aside from trying to predict your brand’s performance, you can also use analytics to tell how your users are currently responding to your campaign. Using social media analytics and social media listening, you’ll be able to see how your audience perceives your brand. This information can help you optimize your campaign to respond to user feedback and reach your target goals. 

A data-driven approach to budgeting decisions can help propel your business forward by utilizing the best mix of resource allocation to drive maximum ROI. Don’t let the complexity of data analysis and analytics scare you into thinking that they’re too hard to understand and analyze. In a world where data is considered as the next oil by business leaders, you’ll be glad to have analytics in your arsenal. 

The post 10 Reasons why marketers use data to make budgeting decisions appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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The Real Short-Term and Long-Term Results of Content Marketing and Digital PR

Posted by amandamilligan

One of the best ways (and in my opinion, the best way) to earn top-quality links is to create your own studies, surveys, reports, etc., and pitch them to online publishers. This is what we do at Fractl, because it’s a tried-and-true way to elevate organic growth:

Over the years, we’ve received a lot of questions about what results to expect. Sure, everyone wants links now, but where does the real growth come in, and how long does it take? And in either case, people want to know what wins they can report on to their superiors, even in the short-term.

There are so many benefits to this combination of content marketing and digital PR, and I’ll walk through what you can realistically expect, and feature examples and data from our experience working with Porch.com.

Short-term benefits

It’s true that content marketing is an investment, which I’ll explain properly in the next section. But there are certainly short-term wins you can celebrate and report on, and that can have an impact on your business.

We started working with Porch.com in early 2018. We created 4-5 content projects per month for them back then, and I’m going to show you two of our early wins — a small win and a big win — so you can get a sense of what’s possible as well as what’s probable.

The small win: “Fixer Upper” by the numbers

This project was my idea, so naturally I think it deserved way more coverage. It was during the heyday of “Fixer Upper” featuring Chip and Joanna Gaines.

We secured top-tier coverage for it on Apartment Therapy, and while I would’ve liked to have seen more media coverage, there are still plenty of wins to identify here (and elements for you to keep an eye out for in your own content):

  • Brand mentions: Porch is mentioned four times in the article (six if you count image credits). Every time your brand is mentioned, you’re upping your brand awareness.
  • Link quality: The article linked to our project three separate times! (Bonus: More links means higher likelihood of referral traffic.) The site has a domain authority of 90, making it a very high-value earned link.
  • Audience relevance: Porch is about connecting people to home renovation contractors. Their audience probably has a ton of overlap with the Apartment Therapy audience, and are presumably interested in improving the look of their homes.
  • Publication readership: Then there’s the matter of the publication’s statistics, which can help you get a sense of potential reach. SimilarWeb is used by tools like Cision and Meltwater to highlight publications’ readership. In this case, Apartment Therapy is ranked #17 in the “Home Garden” category of sites, and has an estimated 9.16 million visitors per month.

So, even in one average-performing project, you can get some great links and brand exposure.

The big win: “Cooking Nightmares”

Okay, “big” win is kind of an understatement. This campaign was a huge win and remained one of our top-performing projects for Porch.

We surveyed people of all ages to determine their cooking skills and confidence, and then broke the results down by generation. People found the results fascinating, and all-in-all, the project garnered about 50 dofollow links.

In measuring this project’s success, you can look at the same qualities I mentioned for smaller wins: brand mentions, link quality, and audience relevance.

But here are some other considerations for bigger wins:

  • Amount of coverage: The project went wild, earning media coverage on Washington Post, USA Today, Bustle, Thrillist, MSN, Real Simple, Southern Living, Better Homes & Gardens, and more. This coverage meant more high-quality links and significantly more brand exposure, including to a more general audience.
  • Nature of brand mention: Exactly where and how is your brand mentioned? For example, in the Washington Post coverage and Thrillist coverage, they mentioned Porch.com in the second sentence. Bustle included a description of what Porch.com is: “an online resource for connecting homeowners and contractors,” which not only gets the Porch name out there, but also explains what they do.
  • Writer connections: The more writers who are happy with what you’re pitching, the higher the chance they’ll open your next email. All secured media coverage is a win in this way, but it’s a significant element that’s often overlooked.

There are plenty of short-term wins to this kind of work, but odds are you’re looking for sustained growth. That’s where the long-term benefits come in.

Long-term benefits

On our site, we have a full content marketing case study that details the impact of the work we did for Porch.com in the span of a year.

That includes building links from 931 unique linking domains and adding 23,000 monthly organic visitors to the site.

This is the kind of long-term growth most people are looking for, and the key is that all of this work compounds.

Building authoritative links is critical to off-site SEO, as Google views your site as more of an authority, which subsequently means your on-site content is more likely to rank higher. And when people see your brand mentioned in the media because you’ve completed these interesting studies, they’re more likely to click on your content when they see it later because they’re familiar with you, again signaling that you have quality content.

This is our philosophy on things:

And this doesn’t even include the brand awareness aspect that I mentioned before. Which is why, to really assess the long-term impact of a content marketing and digital PR investment, you can look at the following:

  • Backlink portfolio health: High-quality, relevant links will always be valued, even if they’re older. But newer links can signal to Google that you remain relevant and continue to actively provide value to audiences.
  • Organic brand mentions: When your brand name is consistently in the media, it increases the chances people know who you are. Are your branded searches increasing? What are people searching for related to your brand? Are you appearing more often organically in content?
  • Organic traffic: This is the primary metric many look at, because as I mentioned, earning brand coverage and links from top publishers means you’re building your authority, which improves your chances of ranking in Google and for being trusted by audiences, all of which impact your organic search numbers.

We ended up working with Porch.com for longer than a year, from about January 2018 to March 2020. In total, we earned them 1,894 dofollow links and the brand mentions and awareness that accompanied all of that media coverage.

But I want to show you what it looks like to get to this place of growth, and how it’s not by going viral on a monthly basis. It’s about sustained, ongoing work.

This is what it looked like for our work with Porch:

As you can see, we had some projects that earned a very high number of dofollow links. This often occurs when you’re producing a high volume of content over the course of many months.

However, the bulk of your content will fall in the average. Most of our work earned somewhere between 1 and 50 dofollow links, with top performers in the 50 to 100 range.

To see this spread, you have to keep doing the work. You won’t get all of those projects that earn 50-100 dofollow links right off the bat and in a row, and even if you did, while you’d get a big boost, it wouldn’t last you forever. You have to demonstrate your ongoing effort to provide value.

Conclusion

It’s true that content marketing is a long game, at least in order to see significant growth for your company. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t wins in the short-term. You can absolutely see a lift from a high-performing project and at the very least start setting up a stronger foundation for brand awareness and backlink building.

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