Blog

As many brands focus much of their attention on producing content for other social properties, corporate blogs tend to fly under the radar. Building an effective corporate blog takes time and effort, but it also offers a huge unique set of benefits. In today’s content-everywhere world, you have to make your company blog relevant.  That means establishing  your company blog as a true news source for reporters and customers alike.

How do you get there? Publish newsworthy content. Publish official company statements to it, use your blog to elaborate on official statements published on Twitter or elsewhere on your company’s website. Arm members of your comms staff with them when these statements are live so they can use them when following up with reporters online or off.  If the information you post to your company blog is useful to reporters, it’s likely that same information will be useful to customers.

In earlier posts, I discussed how to build relationships with reporters online, and how to use new tools to stay on top of industry news going on around you. Why do those things matter? Because they will lead to links to your company’s blog, and links are the life blood of blogs. By design, blogs are outward-facing. At their best, they connect to external sources. Those sources can be things you encounter during your daily reads, comments or tweets you’re reacting to, or ideas that validate points you’re making or ideas you agree or disagree with.

In this context, there are two categories of links: inbound and outbound links. Outbound links are hyperlinks from a blog post to another source. Pay closer attention to this next time you read a corporate blog post. Many posts don’t contain a single outbound link. Some will contain links to a company press release, maybe a company-sponsored whitepaper or links to general information pages on the company website. While links to company sources are a start, you need to go further. Links to customer tweets (you should embed those tweets too), a specific comment in a blog or article comment thread, or a link to the third-party post/article itself is worth much more than links to company resources.

Inbound links are hyperlinks from other blogs or sites directly to your content. When I said links are the life blood of blogs, inbound links are the top of the hierarchy. The more inbound links a blog earns, the more important it is in Google’s rankings. Driving quality inbound links is still the most effective way to improve your blog’s SEO—something that’s critically important. Inbound links happen in various forms: sometimes, an outlet may embed a statement or other social content from a post like this recent Recode article where the author embedded this video from the SpaceX YouTube channel. But the goal should be to have your company blog post be the source for the news.

Take a look at this recent Windows 10 post from the Verge regarding how Microsoft will roll out the operating system starting July 29. The Source section at the bottom of the image below shows Microsoft as the source. It links to this Terry Myerson post on the official Windows blog.

Windows 10 July 29 rollout

Another recent example: TechCrunch’s coverage of the Google Trends redesign where they linked to the Google blog post (see image below) where the company explained the redesign in more detail. Google’s News Lab post was another source for many media outlets.

Google Trends - Official Google Blog

One reason I’ve defended long-form content in the past: SEO benefits. Sure, paying attention to keywords, adding tags and writing good headlines help the cause, but it’s links from other sites that drive SEO much more significantly. That’s something that’s been fairly consistent even when Google makes changes to their search algorithms. When I ran the Dell blog, things worked best when we found the right balance of content. That means starting with things that matter to customers and connecting your brand to broader trends in the industry. Doing so effectively builds credibility, which leads to trust. In today’s noisy content world, it’s not surprising many content creators jump right into Marketing mode. The reality? You will be much more effective when you earn your way in.

Credibility Builders

It’s one thing for big companies like Apple to drive news cycles with a few tweets or others like Microsoft and Google with a blog post. But you don’t have to be a multi-billion dollar corporation to develop a blog into a news source. It just takes patience, a bit of an appetite for risk and some discipline.

What Matters to Customers:

It’s easy to make the assumption this means using a blog for issues management. While that is important (systemic issue-related posts we published on the Dell blog were always among the most popular posts for a longer period of time), it can also mean blogs about corporate updates like quarterly earnings or business strategy updates. Speaking of business strategy, many companies these days are facing big changes. It’s during those times of change that your customers and employees have lots of questions about the company’s future. Use a blog post to answer some of those questions over time. Your customers and employees benefit from a deeper understanding of your company’s strategy. If your business strategy posts offer solid perspective on where your company is heading, chances are good that reporters will find it useful. If it’s useful enough, those same reporters will link to it and write their own articles and posts in reaction.

Broader Trends Impacting Your Industry:

This takes effort, both in terms of finding relevant content, and especially seamlessly adding company perspective to an ongoing narrative. When done right, it can be very effective. It’s important because no matter how good your storytelling capability, customers are more interested in the broader context. No matter how loyal your customer base may be, they don’t check your company blog on a regular basis. They do however, execute Google searches about products and topics. Even after Dell’s corporate blog Direct2Dell had been established for several years, by the time I left in 2013, almost half of the total traffic to the Dell blog was the result of Google searches. That means if your company blog posts don’t rank in the first page of search results, many customers are not going to get to your company blog in the first place.

What You Want to Promote:

You probably already have an established process for telling stories about your customers and employees on your company blog. You probably publish posts your company culture and shed light around your company’s commitment to CSR efforts large and small. There’s a place for all of those things, but this is where balance is important. Product posts are probably another type of content you  typically publish. In my experience, product posts are most effective when they are useful to a range of customers. Let’s say you’re a brand that sells smartphones. It’s not hard to see that customers spend a lot of time looking for information on the latest version of the iPhoneSamsung’s next Galaxy Note device, Google’s next Nexus smartphone or countless others. When it’s time to confirm availability of the next hot device, give your customers context by linking to third-party initial hands-on previews (like this LG G4 hands-on from Engadget), and augment the post later with the more in-depth reviews that always follow once the smartphone is available (here’s Engadget’s full LG G4 review). Doing so broadens your post’s reach by connecting your blog to influential third-party sites, but more importantly, you will create a resource that saves customers time by centralizing details into one useful post. That means customers will be more likely to share this kind of post to their friends on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or elsewhere. Finding good third-party reviewers may require a bit of research, but there are definitely ones that rise to the top. Besides the Verges and the Engadgets of the world, there are a number of blogs that do great in-depth product reviews: sites like BGR.com, 9to5Mac.com and their Google equivalent, PhoneDog,com, and TechnoBuffalo to name a few. Besides linking to those reviews, it’s probably worth embedding a YouTube video review from someone like Marques Brownlee (also known as MKBHD). I consider Marques one of the best product reviewers on the web. Lisa Gade from MobileTechReview.com also does great in-depth video reviews, as does the team from PocketNow.com’s YouTube channel.

Regardless of what category of content you’re writing for, focus on making that content useful to anyone who reads it. Many times, that means providing unique insight that a customer or reporter is not going to see in a company press release or elsewhere on your brand’s website. Getting there may require a change in thinking. Think of blog communications as iterative communications. In traditional comms, before the rise of social in the corporate space, it was common for companies to hold onto news until certain milestones were reached or things culminated into an event, or some other splashy thing occurred. That could mean months before any element of the news was shared externally. However, these days, with options like a company blog, brands can share news in an iterative fashion, instead of holding it until all the pieces line up for one big announcement.

This concept can be useful when articulating business strategy like I discussed before. Another area where it applies is acquisitions. You’re probably thinking that communications around acquisitions are tightly controlled, and you’d be right. But think about what can be confirmed when an acquisition is announced. Even a small bit of context is useful to reporters and customers then. Once an acquisition settles, start thinking how you could add to what execs are saying to the media with a blog post. Maybe it’s an expanded statement from an executive, or it could be a YouTube interview with execs where they shed light on new strategy as it relates to an acquisition posted to your company’s YouTube web page. Embed that interview into a blog post that provides context of the news, and link to several media sources that have written stories on the topic before.

All of these things probably require more effort than you’re putting in now. It may mean more collaboration with other groups in your organization, and may translate into an extra layer of approval or editing. But here’s the good news: once you establish your company blog as a news source for reporters and customers, the momentum can carry you through for years to come.

I love helping brands on this front. If you have questions or comments about this post or others, feel free to reach out to me via @LionelGeek on Twitter, here on LinkedIn, or drop me a line in the blog comments.

Just when you thought the internet couldn’t get any more endless, ICANN, the non-profit dedicated to maintaining the namespaces of the internet, decided to release hundreds of new domain extensions known as GTLDs (generic top-level domains)  We currently have about 22 GTLDs.  These are the .com, .us, .biz, .net and other addresses you’re used to visiting.  Add to these the country level domains: .es for Spain, .it for Italy, .co.uk for the United Kingdom, and so on.  Soon there are going to be over a hundred more.  Think .luxury, .cool, expert, .dating, .guru, .clothing, and more.  Particularly vexing for marketers is the new ‘.sucks’ domain.

In what amounts to super-highway robbery, the company that won the registration rights for .sucks, Vox Populi Registry – owned by the Momentus Corporation, is asking trademark owners to fork over a jaw-dropping $2,499 to own a yourbrand.sucks domain.  If brand owners are not ready for that level of investment, they can block the branded domains for a mere $200 per year.  After an early-bird “sunrise” period, irate consumers will have access to what remains for $250.  It will be an arms race for brand-bashing territory, with most of the competition made up of cyber-squatters hoping for a big legal settlement once they’ve made enough noise.

Robberyer
Cyber-Squatter in Traditional Attire.  Source: Wikimedia Commons

This may sound complex but it really isn’t.  The one word that describes all of this is coercion.

This is a new game of internet whack-a-mole.  If you’re a proactive marketer and buy up your company’s trademarked domain during the sunrise period, you’d better account for every permutation imaginable.  Just shelling out for yourbrand.sucks doesn’t cover the creative genius who will snap up yourbrandREALLY.sucks and yourbrandTOTALLY.sucks soon after.  The promise of .sucks is consumer advocacy and it could have some viable, humanistic uses through cancer.sucks and hunger.sucks.  Some pessimists may have finally found their promised land on everything.sucks.  At best, you can buy your domain and direct people to a customer service portal if they’re taking the time to type a .sucks domain in their navigation bar.  But the real problem with these infinite GTLDs is that there is no end for the marketer with a finite budget.

Many major brands are not bothering with the GTLDs.  Aeropostale.clothing and Burberry.clothing are currently registered by squatters. These brands made a decision to ignore the hype and invest instead in empowering their existing domains.  This may be the best approach because it is only a matter of years before domains like .istheworst, .stinks, and .hatestheircustomers join the fray.  So ignoring it is always an option..but what does .sucks mean for SEO?

In 2012, Matt Cutts from Google had the following to say about GTLDs:

“Google has a lot of experience in returning relevant web pages, regardless of the top-level domain (TLD). Google will attempt to rank new TLDs appropriately, but I don’t expect a new TLD to get any kind of initial preference over .com, and I wouldn’t bet on that happening in the long-term either. If you want to register an entirely new TLD for other reasons, that’s your choice, but you shouldn’t register a TLD in the mistaken belief that you’ll get some sort of boost in search engine rankings.”

In other words these new domains won’t get any special ranking, but they won’t get left out of the ranking either.  Being brand new, these domains don’t have anything behind them when they first launch, but the eager consumer advocate can get a site up and running and full of torch-wielding product-reviewers in no time.  Even smarter consumer advocates will take the review site they’ve been running for years and move it to the new domain with 301 redirects and social media promotion so they can get fresh inbound links and still benefit from Google’s ‘Query Deserves Freshness’ SEO value.  New things on the internet sometimes find their way to popularity.

After reading all this you must think the sky(net) is truly falling.  The domains are going to keep proliferating, they’ll always be one step ahead of you, and even if you try to keep up, a popular .sucks site could eat your lunch.  But this game is nothing new.  We had the same emotional response to social media and the democratization of product reviews.  But social media has opened up an entirely new means of reaching and engaging with consumers.  Brands have seen net promoter scores skyrocket in response to engaging social media campaigns and a great review on Amazon or Yelp can mean the world to a brand.  Already, individuals can amass thousands of followers on twitter under a @YourBrandSucks handle and spend the whole day spitting vitriol about their negative experience.  Brands can engage with that user and do everything they can to solve their problem, converting them into positive influencers.  The means have changed and your opportunities have grown.

Brand equity is important, and if you have the money and anticipate negativity it may be worth locking up whatever you can while you still have the chance.  But for the most part, if you don’t run a vacuum cleaning business, it’s probably not worth buying into [dot]sucks.  New platforms emerge everyday.  There is far more traffic on Facebook and tumblr and snapchat than there will be on any .sucks site for a long while. If you have limited hours, limited dollars, and a legion of fans out there, focus on connecting with them in the places they spent their time.  In doing so you’ll have the back up you deserve if the haters come calling.

With all of the hiring W2O Group/WCG have done recently, we wanted to take a little time to let our partners/customers/employees get to know some of these new employees better. To that end, we are conducting a blog series that asks some of our new employees to answer five questions — some straightforward and some that show our more playful slide. Via this process, we’re hoping to give our readers a little better sense of who we are. In the sixth installation of our series, we talk to our newest Director of Search, Sri Nagubandi.

  • [Aaron] Welcome to the W2O Team. We’re looking forward to working with you. For our first question, talk a little bit about your past experience.
    [Sri] I’ve spent 13 years in the digital marketing and analytics space, most recently at Razorfish where I led Organic (SEO) and Paid (SEM) Search and Social Optimization.  Prior to that, I was a Director of SEO at Rosetta. 
  • [Aaron] What is your “super power?”
    [Sri]  My super power is making the complex simple and the simple understandable and actionable. 
  • [Aaron] If you could work with any company as a client, who would it be and why?
    [Sri] Trek. Would have to be Warby Parker. They enter markets ripe for disruption, are willing to take risks, and they always give back while making a profit.
  • [Aaron] How do you stay up to date on latest trends/industry news?
    [Sri]  I read The Moz Blog, The PPC Hero Blog, Marketing Experiments Blog, and SEO By The Sea
  • [Aaron] Finish this sentence… “The agency of the future is ________.”
    [Sri]  The agency of the future is able to challenge clients, embraces change as a way of life and culturally entrepreneurial at the core.

Thank you Sri. To learn more about Sri, follow him on Twitter.

This week’s decision by Politico‘s whip-smart Ben Smith to abandon the powerful political website he helped build to join Buzzfeed, a site known best as a haven for procrastinators looking for funny animal videos, is the most significant media news of 2011. Bigger than the NYTimes.com paywall. Bigger than Facebook’s “frictionless sharing”. Bigger than the rise of the tablet.

That’s because the hiring of Smith officially marks a decline to the most detestable media trend in memory: search-engine optimized content.

As a reader, nothing has been more agonizing to watch than the rise of writing  created specifically to look good to search engines, engineered to be heavy on keywords and light on subtlety. The intention was not to necessarily create compelling narratives, but rather writing that Google machines could understand without difficulty.

Making Google the arbiter of what kind of media we would see gave us the easy-to-mock Demand Media and Associated Content, famous for high-ranking articles that said nothing at all. But the trend changed journalism at higher levels, too, encouraging newspaper editors to run banal, overly literal headlines rather than clever ones. (The Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten skewered this trend last year in a must-read piece on the evils of SEO-driven journalism.)

Smith says that the decision to marry his hard-news background with the meme-creation machine of Buzzfeed is the start of something different and something better: rather than writing to impress computer algoritms, journalisms should be writing to encourage sharing on social networks such as Facebook. Here’s how he described it to Fast Company:

“We’re going to operate on the assumption that the main way readers get our stories is through sharing, and that we should be writing the sort of things people want to share,” he wrote back. “There’s a huge advantage organizing yourself around the distribution model that is actually how people get news.”

… “A lot of online journalism has been about gaming search engine algorithms–writing, in a way, for machines. Sharing is fundamentally about producing things people like.”

The fear, of course, is that a hyper-focus on what readers want (as opposed to what they need) encourages the creation of more Kardashian news and less journalism about, say, the death throes of the Euro. But those fears have always existed in journalism, and they’d exist with or without Facebook. Though I still have Filter Bubble fears, given a choice between what my friends like and what Google likes, I’ll stand with Smith.