After the smoke had cleared, I found myself wearing a crap jumper and all the mince pies had been eaten. When reflecting upon 2012 I realised it must have been a crazy rollercoster of a year for many in the digital marketing world! There is no time like the present to plan for 2013...
Bizarrely, and by complete coincidence I had a creative moment and managed to brainstorm 13 awesome resolutions for 2013. Thought it must have been a lucky (or really unlucky!) sign. Either way it motivated me to write this blog post.
After being off for a few weeks over Xmas to have my twins, it was an emotional time where I felt compelled to plan for the future, starting with things I want to do better this year. I thought it would be great to share this on the blog (and yes, you guessed it blogging more is also going to be one of my resolutions!) and as usual I will include lots of resources to help make 2013 as awesome for you as it will be for me!
1. Get More Organised
18 Minutes by Peter Bregman was a fantastic book I read over the Christmas period, which I thoroughly recommend. I have been hooked on business and productivity books in recent years to try and help further my career and deal with the torrents of noise that busy digital marketers need to deal with on a day-to-day basis. The genius behind the book is building structured to-do lists which ensure you group tasks into your main area of focus for the year. This means you can make sure that you are focusing on the right tasks and not building never-ending task lists that can make it really tough to prioritise whats actually important. It also encourages mixing up business and personal goals to reflect the challenges of getting your work life balance correct, recommending daily rituals to make sure you are getting s%&t (and the right s%&t!) done.
January is the ultimate opportunity to turn over a new leaf and implement Inbox Zero, the iconic approach to email many digital marketers swear by. It encourages you to keep your emails down to zero and extract actions with both ruthless speed and precision. Sounds like just what I need! When I first started here at GPMD I managed to use Inbox Zero and keep it up for a number of months, it was an awesome feeling not to have too much email hanging over you and I thoroughly recommend testing it. January gives you the opportunity to create a “2012 Archive” folder to clear last years mail and test the system. You can check out the famous video here or alternatively check out the articles where Inbox Zero was born here. Over Christmas I also found an interesting looking iPhone app built around making Inbox Zero as easy as possible.
Getting Things Done (GTD) is a must read for anyone with a busy lifestyle and lots of spinning plates. It recommends approaches to use if you have to handle a heavy workload, helping to build a number of good habits including the collection habit, “waiting for” lists and someday/maybe approach to things you are never likely to actually get around to doing. I have read many people refer to his approach to prioritising getting tasks of under two minutes done as life changing. If all this jargon doesn't make any sense to you and you need help getting on top of your workload, go read the book you won't be disappointed!
Remember The Milk and Astrid for Android are systems I have used for years, they are designed around Getting Things Done (GTD) and currently I am using them to capture things as someday/maybe lists to get down ideas quickly.
Trello is a super simple project management and organisation tool that I have been using for some time. Just recently I have just got back into it and learned about some of the advanced options of using it including Harvest, Dropbox, Google Docs integration, using Google Docs scripts to access their API and building calendars. In short, I love Trello and there is so much to cover Trello will need to be the subject of a future blog post.
Something which stuck with me at one of the Distilled LinkLove conferences was Tom Critchlow recommending “top tens” for digital marketing. I am keen to try and use this approach for increasing the focus of campaigns e.g. top ten keywords and top ten landing pages, as often trying to cover too much in SEO (especially without the resource to back it up) can completely kill a campaign before it's even started.
SpringPad is a tool I have been using more and more, it's a free alternative to Evernote and is invaluable for grabbing quick notes on my phone. It's a great option for trying to consolidate and sync all of your notes, its also great for research as you can compile information into workbooks with text notes, checklists, images, audio and much more.
Pomodoro Technique is something I have tested and had success with for certain tasks, it works best for large tedious pieces of work such as preparing a tax return or revising for exams. Pomodairo is a free Adobe Air app I use sometimes and really like. One of the best things about this app is it's one of the few I have come across that encourages estimation for the length of tasks and reports on how accurate your predictions are. Really useful!
2. Build More Links
One of the best resources I found for link building that I recently revisited was Paddy Moogan's presentation from MozCon where he outlined 35 different ways to build more links in a fantastic and actionable presentation which included everything, but the kitchen sink. It even included some advanced search queries for Amazon contributors, new tools and strategies for generating links through content writers. It's essential reading for anyone interested in building more links in 2013. If you're feeling lazy there is even a video over on SEOmoz you can watch here.
In case Paddy's ideas don't keep you busy enough I came across this epic post over at Kiss Metrics which is a massive round up of post-penguin link building posts which includes many of my favourite posts from last year. You can check it out over here...
Eric Ward's newsletter is something I have heard practitioners talking about ever since I started in SEO, but I never got around to trying it out. Eric Ward is one of the industries best known link builders and has been around longer than any other link building veteran I can think of, so I'll be expecting great things!
There are lots of services I have been meaning to test out and revisit more in 2012, but unfortunately failed to get around to it, these included BrokenLinkBuilding.com, Citation Labs, Ontolo, Zemanta, Guestr, Outreachr, Blog Dash, Group High and a number of PR databases. This year I am going to be trying to make it a priority to test these services as I bet they'll make my life a little easier...
Reviews FTW! Particularly in ecommerce we are fans of recommending outreach around product reviews to achieve two things for our clients. Firstly it's an easy and straightforward approach for blogger outreach, but even better it can directly lead to sales and towards the end of 2012 we had a number of examples of reviews we got published on high profile blogs that lead to multiple sales as well as the obvious SEO benefits.
Testimonials are still the easiest and most “white hat” method I know to get homepage links and links from highly authoritative domains. Simply brainstorm all of your suppliers, partners and service providers, then get in touch with them offering testimonials which are often win-win as they will help their websites convert more users and you get the SEO benefits of great links. It's a tactic I have seen some of the most experienced practitioners use time and time again. There is nothing new about this technique, but it can still one of the most effective.
Universities are often overlooked as being too difficult and time consuming to target, yet still to this day three old school quick wins can include advertising jobs, offering discounts and offering sponsorship or competition prizes. I still regularly see examples of this and often working with Universities can be a great win for PR and recruitment for your business generally. An old client of mine in Edinburgh never fully utilised link opportunities from the University, but often referenced the location and channel for recruitment as a key driver to their success as a business.
This year probably the smartest link building resolution is to get more creative and make sure content you are publishing both on your own website and for outreach are generating both engagement on social media channels (e.g. consistently generating shares and tweets) as well as links from industry sites and bloggers organically. If you don't know where to start often getting involved with offline events, like trade shows and conferences, then networking, speaking, covering events and offering expert content can be an easy win depending on the vertical (and your experience!).
3. Remove more links
Since the Google Penguin update it's become essential to understand backlink profiles and natural linking activity. Unfortunately, this is something which can take years to fully understand and can be highly subjective. A number of pieces of advice that we can give you that are easy to understand are that building a small number of highly relevant, contextual and editorial links from authoritative blogs or industry sites are a really safe and future proof way to go. Generating a high percentage of links with branded anchors is also wise as well as is being careful not to optimise too aggressive for key landing pages.
An awesome tip from Dave Snyder is that some practitioners have been reaching out to bloggers and asking them to add the links themselves however they like editorially. This creates perfectly randomised links. This year I will be generating lists of anchors for key landing pages to make sure there is variance to avoid over optimisation penalties and filtering. These should include at least 15-20 variations and some agencies are reporting success mixing keywords with branded anchors such as; <BRAND KEYWORD> collection from <COMPANY>.
Anchor text ratio is really important especially since 2012, natural linking activity includes high volumes of branded anchors, particularly to a websites homepage and I would expect branded anchors to become increasingly more important in 2013. Some large brands I used to work with often attracted tens of thousands of natural links from traditional marketing and PR channels, nearly always over 90% of time (and sometimes even 100%) of the links anchors didn't include keywords and were branded links to the homepage. Strangely this even included authoritative sites with popular industry resource sections.
Inevitably taking the above points on board for many websites will generate the following actions for this year; contacting website owners to change anchors to more natural and/or branded links, asking for links to be removed completely or using the Google Disavow Tool to flag links to Google as low quality. The pressing action all website owners should do in January is to start (if you haven't already of course) to review all of the websites that link to you and look for the lowest quality candidates that you may want to remove this year. You should ideally get the links removed as a preference over the Google Disavow Tool as it is less proven in terms of effectiveness if they are indeed deemed to be potentially toxic. A great way to qualify candidates includes looking for spam sites with low quality content including grammatical errors, bad neighbourhoods such as blocks of sitewide links to contextually irrelevant sites (usually including gambling and/or adult sites and bizarrely often UGG boots?!) and sites that are generating next to no traffic in tools such as Alexa.com. There is a great article over at SEOmoz here on spam links which is also essential reading.
I have also heard whispers of possible filters where Google may start to ignore links that are unnatural, such as exact matches for target keywords, getting deep links built across a domain i.e. not just to the pages you want to rank for! Has also been reported as a possible quality signal by practitioners this year.
4. Get more social
Social media is probably the number one underutilised channel when thinking back across many clients I have worked with over the years, often as it is potentially so time consuming, requires constant and relentless monitoring often from with time required from senior stakeholders (and even sometimes teams of lawyers!) in the company. In 2013 social will become even more of a ranking factor as a trend that has been increasing over the last few years. There is absolutely no excuse this year not to get more social especially as we are predicting more major updates with social becoming a key ranking factor in terms of local, mobile and traditional SERP results in Google.
It's definitely a long term strategy, but a really important one that requires time and dedication. The real kicker is that as so often needs time and commitment from the most senior members of a company such as founders and Directors (who most often have the least available time – doh!) especially as they understand the business and vertical better than most other employees. The key is often (especially if resources are limited) to focus on combining with lead generation and a formal inbound marketing campaign. Building resource sections, lead capture forms and really high quality digital assets if executed correctly can generate regular leads (and links ;-) every month for years to come if you are brave enough to take a leap of faith...
Some fantastic resources to check out are this book and the below infographic from Eloqua that helps to plan and analyse content marketing from a lead gen perspective: http://blog.eloqua.com/the-content-grid-v2/
5. Get a content strategy with a calendar and content that engages
Content marketing is hot at the moment (and strangely annoying for experienced digital marketers like me). One of the key recommendations I am making for all of our clients is to make sure that content is performing and generating social engagement. If it isn't it is relatively straight forward to fix; either the content isn't good / engaging enough or more effort is required to promote it. One of our favourite tools for analysis of content and engagement is Social Crawlytics, it's especially powerful for running reports on domains that are doing a great job with their content marketing, especially sites that include blogs that consistently perform well. Social Crawlytics makes it really easy to identify the top performing pages and gain insights into what is working well.
Building a calendar is one of the areas where most people fail. A good editorial calendar will compliment other marketing initiatives and seasonal activities, helping to create a sustained approach to publishing. Often the most successful blogs use a mix of publishing regular articles with big pushes on higher value content such as video or infographics.
SEOmoz posted a great article on checklists for launching content that can be found here, it's one of the most comprehensive guides I have seen for quite some time and thoroughly recommended.
Anyone that missed Lee Odden's book “Optimize” last year should add it to their reading list ASAP. It's become increasingly more relevant and recommends mixing of SEO, social media and content marketing. From seeing Lee speak last year, wise words that resonate the most with me are Lee's tips on developing content strategies that are at the centre of a wheel with channels including SEO and social media platforms acting like spokes that require development. His background evolved from a blend of PR and digital, which I have always believed is super-powerful.
One of the quickest wins for a great content strategy, especially if you are not sure where to start, is curation. Rounding up the best articles in your industry is a solid approach and has never been easier with Twitter and services that analyse popular social platforms. This can even help you make make a great newsletter like SearchCap or Moz Top 10. Helping to create valuable blog posts and emails with content that's ideal for capturing email addresses for lead generation.
Quick wins are lists, interviews, event coverage, newsletters, reviews and getting the best people you can schmooze in your industry to create content for you. Here is one of my favourite resources for brainstorming content for clients over at CopyBlogger.
6. Do more research
A few of my favourite sources are SEOmoz, Econsultancy, Distilled Conference Videos, Twitter, Google Newsletters, Moz Top 10, SEO by the Sea, SearchCap and Search Engine Land. If you're anything like me sometimes you can find it overwhelming keeping up with the latest changes at Google, keeping an eye on a small number of sources is highly recommended from personal experience and specifically for algorithm updates this resource over at SEOmoz is worth its weight in gold.
Google Currents is a fantastic app for offline reading of RSS feeds for free. Recently I have been able to catch up on digital marketing news on the way into work, this has worked really well especially on my busiest weeks.
T-shaped skillsets are really important, and once you master one area of digital marketing you should explore areas you are less familiar with such as analytics, CRO, PPC, email marketing, usability, design, social media. It's something I have spoken about before and as digital marketing keeps getting more diverse its going to be really important to have a diverse skillset.
7. Review your design and usability
Something I am a big believer in is investment in good design and usability. Everything is easier with an awesome website; from generating more sales, happier visitors and customers to reaching out to bloggers (who wants to link to site that looks like its from the ninties?!). I have also seen an increasing number of link building strategies around images and image credits that can be a really solid tactic to develop links especially using Google reverse image search or TinEye for searching images.
For tranactional websites I would expect design and usability to always achieve an ROI on any investment in usability, design, performance and testing. Our own Mark Slocock is also a big advocate of these approaches and experienced practitioners will generally all agree that making key parts of your website easier to use is normally the most cost effective way to improve conversions and revenue. CRO is something we love at GPMD as it then acts as a multiplier to get a better return on any marketing activity you participate in afterwards.
Usability, good design and faster websites should be considered the holy trinity of web based businesses and are core to the very biggest ecommerce sites on the internet including Amazon and Zappos.
8. Stop chasing algorithms (but do keep an eye on them and on top of the latest initiatives e.g. authorship)
Experienced practitioners will all tell you how unpredictable and increasingly pointless it is to chase algorithms, especially Google's. With discussion of evolutions in ranking factors such as co-citations and with Google testing on average between 50 to 200 variations of its algorithm, ranking factors have come a REALLY long way.
However, despite algorithm chasing becoming a less valuable way to spend your time, as Google is becoming increasingly more accustomed with legal action they're being forced to become increasingly more transparent. 2012 saw unprecedented examples of detail published around algorithm updates and you can even sign up to a newsletter and have updates sent straight to your inbox :-)
On the flip side to trying to chase algorithms is to gain insights and clues to where Google is going through initiatives like Authorship, structured markup and rich snippets definitely shouldn't be ignored. With a mix of Bill Slawski interpreting patents and keeping up to date with changes over at Google Webmaster Central it can become increasingly more clear (at least broadly speaking) to see where Google is going.
9. Get tooled up
Most people in the industry know me from the time I spent at Analytics SEO and speaking at conferences, usually about SEO software. It's something I have written about previously on this blog too and I have even put together a huge resource of awesome free tools you can access here. One of the most surprising insights I have from working with lots of SEO's over the years is how many people fail to get around to using tools to save them time and make their lives easier, especially if they've being doing it for a long time. A great resolution is to work smarter, not harder this year. As the industry has evolved there is an app for almost anything you can imagine...
Mike King gave an awesome presentation in 2012 at Search Engine Strategies New York where he rounded up all the different software he uses. You can find the slides over here and it's one of the best round ups of software I have ever come across.
Annie Cushing deserves a medal for an epic collection of software for digital marketers over here, but be warned there is so much there even I was overwhelmed at first! If you save these three resources to dip in and out of you won't be disappointed and you'll be able to piggyback from all the hundreds of hours it took to put these archives together...
10. Do more testing
One of my biggest regrets over the years has been ring-fencing the time to do more testing. This year I intend to try and break this tradition by testing as much as possible and it's a great time to do this as there are so many things happening in the digital marketing world from authorship to co-citations and social ranking factors.
Danny Dover has written a section on tests he used to conduct over at SEOmoz in his book Search Engine Optimisation Secrets. He used a smart approach by creating clever test keywords and targeting them, which is one of the exact approaches I have seen both Google and Bing use themselves for testing search results.
One of the easiest wins is to incentivise employees to launch their own blogs (which can also be great training), which will also give multiple domains to play around with and run tests on without getting too spammy ;-)
Great candidates to test specifically are; authorship, citations / co-citations, structured markup, rich snippets, rel=canonical, Google Disavow Tool and all of the various markup recommendations that have been coming thick and fast from Google such as rel=next, mobile and international initiatives. Other options also include testing whether certain links are passing value and if you haven't got much time you could even test building certain types of links to competitors domains, which is a pro tip I learned from an industry peer.
11. Do more blogging
If testing was my number one regret, blogging would probably be a close second, which in a way has kind of encouraged me to write this so early in the year. To start the year as I mean to go on. Blogging is single handedly one of the highest value activities you can do as a business, but it can be tough and more of a marathon than a sprint. Blogs should help become hubs for content marketing approaches and developing genuinely useful and authoritative blogs can help to make many of your digital marketing efforts easier. I also believe over the next 12-24 months building a blog that naturally attracts social engagement and links will help to future proof your link building efforts as Google is getting so much better at spotting natural signals. A quality signal that is becoming more prominent are sites that generate more deep links and inbound links to more pages across the domain (not just the landing pages you want to rank). Developing a popular industry blog can help you achieve this and if you do it right, also help you generate a ton of leads too!
The difficulty with blogging is finding a way of generating decent content in a sustained manner over a long period of time. Often with blogging and social media there is no overnight success, rather success that is developed overtime generating more of a snowball effect. One quick win that can be had is video, if you are fortunate enough to have access to real experts in your industry (ideally in your team) video can be the most cost and time effective ways to generate good content, which Google loves, converts well and is ideal to syndicate to other websites including the video sharing sites. A great service I have found that makes this really easy to use is Screenr, where you can make short how-to videos really easily and it's free!
Curation as previously mentioned is also really powerful and if you do it right it can create amazing resources, because people are busy (and often quite lazy too!), curating content well is a successful approach to blogging I have seen across nearly every vertical.
Incentivising the blogger community and staff members for content is another really smart way to work with examples including Nettuts who pay for expert content.
12. Do more networking
Networking is something I have worked on for a number of years and now it's become one of my biggest assets. It can be hard, scary and to be completely honest nearly impossible sometimes without beer. One of the easiest ways to get involved is through meetup.com, conferences and related trade bodies. Forward thinking companies should also be encouraging their staff to attend industry events specifically for networking.
Similarly to blogging I have seen a snowball effect a number of times where forcing yourself to network over a couple of years can yield great rewards in terms of personal development, your career, leads and some of my best friends I have met through industry events. I am also a big advocate of forcing myself out of my comfort zone and if you didn't do much networking in 2012, this year will be the perfect time to start. If you pick one resolution of this list, networking could yield the greatest rewards for you.
13. Training – spend 2013 becoming a ninja
Training is a key focus for both myself and GPMD this year and I have been really excited about a number of courses and amazingly most of them are completely free. There was also a great blog post over at SEOmoz that covers recent trends in digital marketers increasingly needing to develop technical skills. Some of the most interesting courses I have found include:
Google Analytics – a completely free course that is probably the most useful for internet marketers, you just need to pay for the exam. If your an agency you can even get agency level certification.
DistilledU – a relatively new course, we know they guys over at Distilled pretty well and the most useful thing about this course is having everything in one place. They also recently added their conference videos, which I love.
Excel for SEO – this course is really useful for reference and to learn how to crunch data for SEO campaigns, with really actionable examples to test. If you're not using Excel to its full potential you should be and you should definitely check out this course. They also created a similar course for ImportXML which is an equivalent for Google Docs, the ImportXML functions are really powerful and can help you learn how to build your own agile SEO tools.
Udacity – is one of the highest profile free course providers, they include some of the coolest projects I have ever seen in online courses including learning how to build your own search engine and even a Google self driving car!
Learn Python The Hard Way – is a fantastic course from Zed Shaw which is famous for teaching thousands of people to code who struggled with other courses. I am currently about half way through, I'll finish it one day ;-)
I hope you like my guide to resolutions for digital marketers. Have you got any resolutions? If so let me know through Twitter or in the comments and I hope you have a great 2013!