Painting the picture:
We’ve all been in the situation where we hear of a brand and want to learn more about their business. Just like any savvy online shopper, the next logical step would be to Google their name and look at the top results. This is a perfect scenario for any business that has a good online presence. Ideally, the potential customer will click through to the main site and learn what the company is all about. This is, after all, the goal of branded SEO.
But what if the main site is crowded by a number of review sites in the search engine review page (SERP)? Here, the potential customer is likely to notice this and want to investigate further. In this situation, the potential new customer will either be persuaded to give their business to the brand, or become weary and look elsewhere depending on the content of the reviews. With an abundance of review sites on the web these days it’s almost inevitable that a brand will run into this problem at some point. Take for example a local coffee shop I recently heard about:
Seeing all of the review sites ranking so high, I was moved to look at the reviews and make sure it would be worth my time to visit this shop. Review sites are mostly built from user-generated content that is out of the brand’s control, but there are ways to somewhat sidestep this issue by taking over as much result page real estate as possible.
In past times, the use of subdomains were a powerful SEO tactic to gain more real estate in the SERPs, however this is no longer the case. Previous Google algorithms were known to allow for two results per host, subdomains included. If all of these assets were ranking for the branded terms, competitors or negative review sites would be pushed down below the fold essentially making them irrelevant. Unfortunately, this method was abused by brands to monopolize the SERPs and the term “domain crowding” was born. This forced Google to push in the direction of greater “SERP diversity” taking away the previous advantage of subdomain usage. Subdomains still hold their place in the web design world for organization of giant sites but in terms of SEO or reputation management, their value is dwindling with every algorithm update.
Sitelinks have been used for quite some time now and are, for the time being, still very helpful in terms of regaining SERP real estate. But what new tactics can be used to take place of the no-longer-useful subdomain usage? Fortunately, the concept of gathering assets to force competitor or review sites down the ranks is not all lost. However these days, instead of using subdomains or multiple top-level domains, brands would be wise to use social media assets and local search. If the business has physical locations, Google+ Local is your best friend. Once your Google+ Local account is set up correctly branded search results will contain a map with the locations nearest to your set location.
If your business has social media accounts like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. these pages will show up in results pages as well. As an added bonus, if your rel=”author” and rel=”publisher” tags are set up correctly, you can get nice pictures of the author or company next to the results. And if you are active on Google+ and have all of your SEO/SM ducks are in a row, you can gain a giant info box on the right side of the SERPs. As a comparison to the SERP screenshot above, the results for a Starbucks query showing good use of both Google+ Local and Google+ are below:
As you can see, other than the Wikipedia entry, Starbucks owns the vast majority of this SERP. Below the fold and not seen in the screenshot are more local listings, the official Starbucks Twitter and Facebook pages, and because SERP diversity is still in effect, some related news articles. With this much real estate under a brand’s control, it becomes far more difficult to notice any bad reviews or competitors. It is important to note that it’s not as simple as creating an account on as many social media platforms as possible. Each account should be managed closely and used often if they have any chance of ranking high enough to beat out the popular review sites like Yelp or Urban Spoon.
Although SERP diversity makes it harder for brands to completely control branded SERPs, there are still plenty of ways to regain any lost real estate. With the growing importance of Google+ and other social media platforms, we will continue to find ways to once again dominate the branded SERPs.
Customer service is hard. Just walk down the hall to the CSR “wing” and listen in to a couple of calls throughout the day. Customer service on social media platforms, however, adds a whole new level of drama to the experience simply by taking place in a public forum. Social media marketing allows for a direct line of communication, hitherto unavailable to the common consumer, and it’s public- suggesting that the user holds great leverage over the actions of the brand. Sometimes these public posts are legitimate inquiries regarding products/services. Sometimes, however, users just want to stir the pot. Here are a couple of guidelines to follow when determining whether or not intervention is necessary.
Here are three tricks of the trade when managing customer service on social networks:
1) Don’t feed the trolls. This cannot be mentioned in community management/customer service class enough times. As University of Central Lancashire lecturer Claire Hardaker so eloquently points out at the bottom of this infographic, the only way to combat trolling is to ignore it.
2) Elongate the conversation. This simple practice will weed out the trolls after your first or second response (trolls are too busy for an actual conversation). A good way to do this is to institute a character limit on yourself in your responses. You won’t be able to provide the full detailed resolution in your first 100 characters, which will allow you to carry the conversation over multiple comments during the resolution process.
When responding to legitimate inquiries (read: not trolls), always include a question to finish your response. 90% of the time (strong estimate) you, or the customer, do not know what the inquiry actually is. Don’t assume that the customer is entirely familiar with your product or your brand. This simple practice will cover most bases when managing your page; extracting all details, determining validity of the claim, showing personal attention in a public forum, etc.
3) Assume a “first name basis” with everyone. Always use the inquirer’s first name in your response. You will surprise yourself at how disarming something this simple can be, and the respect given will show throughout the conversation. It is not recommended, however, to use your own first name when representing the brand publicly. Use initials publicly, and your first name when responding in private messages.
Incorporate these three tricks today, and your community will silently thank you!
As a recent article by Kyle pointed out, the smartphone maps apps of today are powerful and amazing tools. We used to have to pull out a Thomas Guide and use address numbers of all things to find a location. Then smartphones came along and changed all that. We could not only find exact directions based loosely on a business name and region, we can do this from almost anywhere outside our home. The car-driving public rejoiced.
But now we’re entering a another dimension – a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.
That’s right. Maps apps are in our cars now. The navigation system of old is becoming more integrated with popular smartphone apps. We not only don’t have to spend time at home looking at a paper map, we don’t even have to find those directions before we throw the car in gear and press the pedal to the floor. We can talk to our cars and they can talk back to us. It’s like “Knight Rider” mixed with “Star Trek” and a little bit of “The Golden Girls” thrown in.
As Kyle’s post mentioned, Apple Maps is fine if you know the name and general location of the business you want, and Google Maps is handier for when you don’t really know exactly what you’re looking for. And Hyundai, Kia, Audi and more will include Google Maps integrated into their in-dash navigation systems. Is this awesome news for those people who really would rather use Google Maps?
This is my nightmare scenario: I’m cruising around, confident that I cannot possibly get lost, and I say out loud, “All right, Beyoncé,” – my car’s name is Beyoncé – “I fancy a Double Double. Get me directions to In-N-Out, post-haste!”
And my car replies, “Sure thing, Bil. I will get you those directions. However, reviewers in your area seem to prefer Jack-In-The-Box, and did you know there is a McDonald’s less than a mile away from you?”
“Malarkey,” I scoff, “just get me to In-N-Out. Don’t argue with me.”
“Okay,” says Beyoncé. “By the way, there is also a Starbucks up the road, and a CVS on the corner where you could pick up a wall calendar and some lipstick.”
“Lipstick?” I say. “But I’m not even a woman!”
“That’s debatable,” my car says. “Anyway, what I’m getting at,” she continues, “is that there’s this whole world for you to explore, and I would just like to encourage you to drive around and around and around and around and around and make as many stops as possible to buy as much stuff as you can before we get to In-N-Out.”
Obviously, this is not a real scenario, it’s just a fictional allegory. There are two points I’m making; one is that when it comes to in-car maps apps, there is a user limitation. Most people will be looking for a specific place to get to, be it business or residence – when they ask their car for directions, having half a dozen other choices to make will only hinder driver safety. At this point in time, which specific maps app is in a new car should not be a deal-maker or a deal-breaker. Smart dealers can let it boil down to the personal preference of their customers, just like the color of the car or the material the seats are made of.
The other point – the more important one – is to emphasize the importance of being on Facebook Nearby and Google+ Local (Google Places) and all the rest. Because by the time someone sits behind the wheel, if they’re going to rely on their in-car maps app to get them somewhere, you can safely bet that they won’t get to your doorstep if that app doesn’t tell them you’re there. The apps may be sophisticated beyond compare, but they are still used by human beings…And we will always find a way to confuse ourselves.
The introduction of Maps applications has been a godsend. I think back to the days when venturing off to a new store or business involved grabbing a note pad, your local map and plotting out your trip across town. If you got lost you turned back home and either called the business from your dial tone phone, tried searching aimlessly or simply gave up.
Google Maps / Places was introduced and suddenly anyone with a smart phone could receive directions to a destination in minutes. Apple Maps is another Maps application that has been recently released, although to a barrage of negative fanfare. The recent introduction of Facebook “Nearby” has now given us not one but multiple avenues for finding our way to our destination or discovering new businesses to visit. With these new offerings comes new choices, and in this blog post I’d like compare these applications and lay out the pros and cons of each.
By modifying the Facebook “Check-in” feature to include nearby businesses on their map Facebook has now entered the Maps arena. If you’re on the Facebook app on your iOS or Android phone simply tap the menu breakout in the top left hand corner – hit the “Nearby” button and you’re able to see nearby businesses while also searching for your favorite shop as well. After using this feature multiple times I have arrived at the following conclusions:
- You can see where your friends have been and what they thought of their visit. A true focus on social interaction meeting local business.
- There is a wealth of reviews concentrated on one page (doesn’t suffer from duplication).
- Any legit business should have a Facebook page – thus the information is coming straight from the business owner and cannot be changed by the average user.
- There is a click to call feature, granting the ability to call the business right from the “Nearby” result.
- No Facebook Page for the business = no result in “Nearby”
- Once you click the Directions link you’re taken out of the Facebook app and into Apple Maps.
- It’s only available for mobile for now.
- Is anyone aware that this exists?
Overall I love this feature and I’m surprised Facebook hasn’t advertised the release of this new feature more prominently. Hopefully more users will discover this feature because this is one feature on Facebook where more social engagement really does lead to a merrier experience.
Apple Maps has had a tough run of it. From Apple having to publically come out and say that you shouldn’t use this app to Australian police saying Apple Maps could kill you, it hasn’t been easy for this Maps application. Even with all of this I’ve still run across a few friends and acquaintances that vouch for Apple Maps. My experience with Apple Maps resulted in these findings:
- Turn-by-turn instructions.
- 3D flyover is cool
- Working in tandem with Facebook “Nearby” may revive this struggling product.
- Sometimes crowd sourcing the data can be a bad idea. This allows the average user to change what would be correct information to the wrong information – sending you nowhere near the actual destination.
- No Local Business Center to allow business owners to set-up, correct or upgrade their listings.
- Leverages 3rd party data aggregators as the primary data source. These aggregators buy and sell information with no form of fact checking before releasing the data.
- Non-branded queries can show results that are not relevant at all.
It seems Apple has a long way to go here. For what it’s worth, if you know the name of the business and where you want to go Apple Maps will find the business and get you there. (Most of the time)
Google Maps / Places
Google Maps has been around since February 2005 and thus Google has been able to learn from their mistakes and make the appropriate corrections. Google has also introduced a slew of new features to help your business stand out. I would consider myself a pro at managing and using Google Places and here is where I stand right now:
- Google’s customer support and report-a-problem feature allow you to address any misinformation associated with a listing.
- Local Business Center allows you to claim your listing, upgrade it and optimize it for searches – both branded and non-branded.
- The upgrade to Google+ Places brings a more visual aspect to your listings while allowing customers and business owners to interact within the reviews and comments.
- The updated Google Maps app for smart phones now includes turn-by-turn voice directions.
- Crowd sourcing & 3rd party aggregators cause misinformation regularly.
- Duplication is still a huge issue, which fragments not only your information but the social interactions as well.
- I just learned from an employee at Google that multiple users can claim and manage a listing.
- The Google Automated Program can still merge listings that have nothing to do with each other.
- The removal of the “Drop A Pin” feature, which allowed users to easily share their exact locations.
I’m so knee deep in Google Places that I can be hard on their service, but it is really a great offering and one app I constantly have open on my iPhone.
In conclusion I’d still say that Google Maps still has the upper hand when it comes to the battle of the Maps applications. I do not want to discount Apple Maps & Facebook Nearby though. Google continues to struggle to get people to engage socially over G+ Places but puts a premium on functionality – conversely Apple Maps struggles with its functionality but is leveraging Facebook’s wealth of social information. It will be interesting to see how these three giants parry and joust in the future.
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of speaking at SMX Social Media in Las Vegas, and I am pleased to be returning to speak at SMX West in March 2013 (pro tip: sign up for our newsletter to get a 15% discount to the conference!). While the entirety of the conference focused on social media, SEO, and how to two worlds work together, some of the most talked about sessions were those surrounding Google+. In fact, my favorite part was listening to Vic Gundrota, the Sr. Vice President of Engineering, Google+, speak about the exciting changes that are coming to the platform. It was an item crossed off my geek bucket list, no doubt.
Google+ is one of my favorite places to be social online, but I don’t necessarily consider it a “social network” even though I have nearly 1,800 followers. I consider it to be Google socialized, which is to say that with everything online moving toward a more personal, local, and mobile-friendly experience, having the world’s most powerful search engine customize your digital experience has tremendous value. In this post, I’m scratching the surface on why Google+ should be a part of your 2013 social media marketing strategy.
In the words of Google itself, the Communities feature of Google+ is similar to a forum, in which people can gather and discuss topics of particular interest. Communities can be private or public, and you can easily +1 content from the web directly to a community. It might be instinctual to compare the Communities feature of Google+ to Facebook Groups or LinkedIn groups, which are similar, but there is one major advantage to utilizing the Google+ version: the audience.
The crowd on Google+ is incredibly tech-savvy, and as a result, many of them yield online influence. Influence can mean as little as writing a blog post and providing a genuine link back to your content, or it could be a tweet, a +1, or a share. It can be a variety of different actions, including compelling his or her audience to trust your brand. The Google+ crowd likes sharing information and understands the value they provide when they interact with your page.
Google+ Communities also allow you to host hangouts for the community (which can be uploaded to YouTube for a 2-in-1-shot of content), assign moderators, and plan community events.
Brands with Google+ Communities
Google+ and SEO
All search engine ranking signals revolve around content and if you don’t believe that social signals play a part in those rankings, you are blind. Social signals are increasingly important, and as such, it’s crucial that your social sharing snippets are optimized. One of the biggest missed opportunities on Google+ is optimizing your +Page. Remember, the digital sphere is transitioning to all things LOCAL, and Google+ is an excellent way to capitalize on that local traffic while getting ahead of your competitors. At the bare minimum, you should do the following:
First, make sure you’ve verified your official page with Google by linking your website to your profile. Then, make sure said profile is optimized with keywords, phrases, and links back to your website. Don’t force or “stuff” keywords, though, make sure it’s a logical description that makes sense for readers, first. Ensure that the photos you upload in your scrapbook (you can have five) are relevant to your business and the filenames of the photo contain your page name (businessname_front.jpg).
If your business has a YouTube channel, you need to connect it to your G+ page. The top videos from your YouTube channel will now automatically show up in the “Videos” tab of your Google+ page. You should also make sure that all employees who contribute to your company blog have enacted rel=author. The business site should have rel=publisher in place. This connects your G+ business page to your entire site. Rel=publisher also provides an enhanced page result when someone searches for your brand, such as the Sony example below. Searchers will see your logo, a link to immediately follow you, and all of the latest posts from your account.
Creating this obvious and tactical “web” between your business, your social networks, and your content is crucial to your SEO efforts.
Participate on Google+
As an avid user of G+, I am particularly perturbed when I hear people bemoan the site because “no one else is there.” False. There are millions – hundreds of millions – of Google+ users. Remember, Facebook fans only see about 20% of your content. Google+ followers, however, are far more involved with brands and a result, can have a higher impact on your bottom line. At the very least, you should be posting to Google+ four times per week, even if it’s the same as what you post on Facebook, and respond to all comments on your posts. Find communities that make sense for your brand and participate as appropriate. Don’t be obnoxious, but be helpful and establish your business as a thought leader NOT a spammy marketer.
Finally, don’t be a Wells Fargo. They launched in 2011 but haven’t been bothered to do what their inaugural post said they’d do. It’s better to not launch at all than to launch and look like an amateur. Even with over 5,000 people following them, they can’t be bothered to participate, and that’s just unprofessional.
For most marketing directors, the ROI question as it relates to social media budgeting continues to loom as a conundrum. Here is an extremely simple way to place value on your social media users to better budget and plan.
Step One: Identify your conversion.
Are you looking for leads, sales, or walk-ins? All three are applicable when valuating your users. For leads, ensure that you can place a dollar amount on your average lead count during a month-long period. Your sales and walk-ins will already have an inherent dollar amount attached to them (hopefully).
Step Two: Create a social promotion.
The promotion should be able to capture all lines of your business. If that seems unreasonable, go ahead and plan multiple promotions. Ensure your promotion is on-par with promotions your have held in the past. You do not want to specialize this one at all.
Make sure you have tracking tools for the results. With lead generation, make sure you create a specialized landing page for click throughs from social media. Do not publicize this URL anywhere other than your social media platforms.
For sales, make sure you are utilizing a custom segment within your analytics service that will only report on traffic that comes from social media URLs. This, coupled with a discount code within your Ecommerce platform, will accurately depict direct sales from social users.
Tracking walk-ins is a bit more tricky, but leaning on the discount code in the form of a digital coupon will go far in tracking results.
Step Three: Assign the value.
The preferential treatment for assigning value is to base it on the engagement that occurs during the promotion online. For instance, for a Facebook-only promotion, you will want to assign a dollar value on each individual “Engaged User” (column L in Facebook Insights) during the promotion period. On Twitter, you will want to count mentions during the entire promotion period, and divide your total net sales from the promotion by that number. Example below:
- Promotion: 25% Off Entire Catalog for Facebook Fans!
- Promotion Period: 14 days
- Total Engaged Users during Promotion: 1500
- Net Sales from Promotion: $50,000
- Facebook User Valuation: $33.33 per Engaged User
Keep in mind, $33.33 per Engaged User would be absolutely incredible, so don’t be too disheartened when it turns out to be $1 or less. Remember, conversions are the last step in a well-built strategy. If you aren’t satisfied with the numbers, feel free to contact Intrapromote to build a strategy that will return some results.
Now you have a valuation for your Facebook fan base, and a good way to project future sales and determine ROI. You’re welcome.