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    Can You Run a Marketing Program With Zero Goals?

    Thursday, June 18th, 2015

    So much of marketing, it seems, is geared toward growth and traction, particularly when it comes to startups and technology. We are pressed on all sides by tracking metrics, pivoting, learning, and growing—a sort of exponential growth mindset that envelops, well, everything: content, social, email, community. If you haven’t measured it, then it doesn’t count. If you can’t measure it, you’re better off without it.

    We’re surrounded by this movement at Buffer, kind of like a stone is surrounded by a stream: change is flowing around us and we’re deciding whether to tumble along or stay still.

    Today’s marketing teams seem quite focused on growth and traction.

    Can you run a marketing program with an emphasis on neither?

    And one of our favorite follow-up questions: What happens if you do?

    marketing goals

    How to run a marketing team that runs itself

    What marketing looks like for a self-managed, whole, purpose-driven team

    We’re in the midst of exciting things at Buffer—Pinterest integration and Pablo fun, yes, but also some serious and impactful changes around the way we organize.

    We’re striving to be a Teal organization, as described in Frederic Laloux’s book Reinventing OrganizationsThe idea is that organizations evolve over time toward higher and higher paradigms with Teal being the most recent iteration.

    Human Development Reinventing Organizations chart

    Looking at the chart above, schools and government and churches might be the Amber formal hierarchies, most Fortune 500 companies operate in Orange, some cool folks like Southwest and Ben & Jerry’s run Green.

    We’re aiming for Teal.

    Reinventing Organizations summarizes the main characteristics of Teal organizations as these:

    1. Self-management. Everyone follows their interests and passions.
    2. Wholeness. Everyone chooses to bring their whole self to work.
    3. Evolutionary purpose. The organization grows organically in the direction that it’s meant to.

    This is the path we’re on at Buffer, and we’re learning tons as we go.

    One of those areas of learning is with marketing.

    What does marketing look like for a Teal organization?

    The book had several great insights and examples to get us thinking. Here are a few of my favorite quotes that point toward a possible route for our marketing team.

    In comparison, Teal Organizations’ approach to marketing is almost simplistic. The organizations simply listen in to what feels like the right offering.There are no customer surveys and no focus groups. Essentially, marketing boils down to this statement: This is our offer. At this moment, we feel this is the best we can possibly do. We hope you will like it. 

    Most business leaders would feel naked without budgets and forecasts. I put this question to Carlson: How do you deal with having no forecasts to compare people’s performance to? For instance, how do you know if the guys in Germany (where Sun has a plant) were doing a good job last year, if you have no target to compare against? His answer came shooting out of the barrel:

    “Who knows? Who cares? They are all working hard, doing the best they can. We have good people in all the places around the world and if I need that sort of scorecard I probably got the wrong person. That’s just the way we operate.”

    FAVI believes we should think like farmers: look 20 years ahead, and plan only for the next day.

    “In the new way of thinking, we aim to make money without knowing how we do it, as opposed to the old way of losing money knowing exactly how we lose it.”

    – FAVI

    marketing teal quote

    It’s a bit risky to think about running a marketing campaign with the sole goal of “hoping people like it.”

    It also feels quite great to afford ourselves that freedom.

    Why grow?

    Our co-founder Leo has done some really amazing reflection on this topic, coming around to the question, “Why grow?”

    For the last 2 to 3 years, about every day, I would wake up, open my laptop and type the letter “g” into the Google Chrome bar and hit enter. Chrome would auto-complete it to “growth.bufferapp.com”. It was like a daily ritual to check on Buffer’s growth numbers from a number of different angles. Revenue, new users, daily actives, monthly actives.

    Growing, increasing our monthly revenue, our traffic, our user base, that was the number one priority in my mind. It only hit me very recently, about 4 months ago now, to pose a very simple question “Why grow?”.

    One thing that’s so fascinating with everything that grows is this: It has a limit. Organically, nothing grows forever.

    With your startup or any type of company, it seems that no matter how big you’ve grown, you’ll always want to grow bigger. It seems completely unthinkable today, to say that for example Apple or Google would announce “we’ve grown enough, we’ll stop here”.

    Would it make sense then that growth fits more as the result rather than the focus?

    If you are constantly after growth and there’s no end in sight, what does that do to the mindset of your team? Any effect could well be subconscious, a longing to continue pushing, achieving, striving to be the best or the biggest. I’d imagine it’s a slow burn. Eventually you wake up and realize you’ve been chasing growth for 5 or 10 years without knowing it.

    Is that what we want for ourselves?

    An example of Teal marketing that worked

    leo facebook post

    We had the privilege to see one of our blog posts republished on Medium’s official blog. And from our side, we did very little:

    • No outreach
    • No coordinating
    • No planning
    • No strategic goal in mind

    We wrote the article because we thought it might be useful for people. The Medium team was so kind to spot the article and reach out about a possible republication. And before we knew it, there the post was, sitting on the Medium blog.

    Like Leo said in his Facebook update:

    It’s really hard to measure things like this on the outset and even harder to plan for something like this to happen (although I catch myself wanting to do so often!).

    I’ve come to think that maybe genuinely trying to help others with useful content will lead to great things, and it’s ok to leave one’s intentions there, everything else will follow.

    How growth and traction fit with Teal

    One of the leading factors we’ve held to in this transition to Teal is a strong sense of intuition. We let intuition guide us in our marketing decisions. We trust our intuition, which has been informed so much by our past experience.

    Where do growth metrics fit with intuition?

    I often see myself going about my work in a pendulum fashion—I’ll swing to the extreme in one direction (too far, probably) and then come back the other way. I’ve done this with blogging, being quite regimented about a set publishing schedule and then not regimented at all.

    I want to be mindful of this as a possibility with intuition also.

    Our founder Joel shared some great thoughts with me on what might be a possible middle ground, where the pendulum might eventually settle. His advice went a little like this:

    Track everything. 

    Don’t let the tracking drive the decisions.

    Use metrics to inform. Use intuition to guide.

    You can’t know everything about the impact of a campaign. You can’t know how it feels to someone on the other end. Metrics can only go so far.

    metrics vs intuition

    Moving forward: How to organize marketing without a set goal

    I’m at the point where so many different ideas are swimming around my head. I’m thinking toward growth and feeling excited to track new experiments, create new processes, and get things all smooth for our marketing team. I’m also thinking toward doing nothing out of the ordinary, just helping people.

    In his book Growth Hacker Marketing, Ryan Holiday describes the role of a growth hacker as one who focuses on only what is testable, trackable, and scalable.

    A bit later on in the book, almost as a foil to the definition of growth hacker, he says:

    Marketing, too many people forget, is not an end unto itself. It is simply getting customers. And by the transitive property, anything that gets customers is marketing.

    Getting customers seems like exactly what we’re doing at Buffer. We’re just going about it in our own very unique way.

    I mentioned earlier the analogy of a stone in a river. Perhaps it’s more like this analogy from Seth Godin’s book Poke the Box. Instead of stones refusing to budge, we’re logs letting the current carry us forward.

    Like a rock in a flowing river, you might be standing still, but given the movement around you, collisions are inevitable. The irony for the person who prefers no movement is that there’s far less turbulence around the log floating down that same river. It’s moving, it’s changing, but compared to the river around it, it’s relatively calm. The economy demands flux.

    Our BHAW at Buffer: Help as many people as possible

    I’ve adapted Jim Collins’s BHAG version of goal-setting (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) into our Big Hairy Audacious Wish: to help as many people as possible.

    We recently had the chance to chat as a Buffer marketing team about the purpose and mission for what we do. Here’s an early look at what we’ve come up with so far for our mission:

    To create helpful, actionable content that helps people with their social media presence. To connect a community of like-minded people with passions for social media, self-improvement, and Buffer’s values. To share Buffer’s internal approach, philosophies and culture to help create a new way to work.

    How this fits with our values:

    1. Positivity and happiness. Put a positive spin on all we create, looking out for the good of others.
    2. Transparency. Share everything, absolutely everything we think might be useful.
    3. Self-improvement. Try new things, experiment, grow personally so that we can share our learnings.
    4. No ego. Put the reader/customer/commenter first.
    5. Listening. Slow down and hear other’s problems.
    6. Clarity. Communicate clearly.
    7. Reflection. Be willing to sit and think on bigger ideas. Ship things, but not in a hurry.
    8. Live smarter. And help others to do the same. (Tied in nicely with transparency and self-improvement.)
    9. Gratitude. Remember the lessons we’ve learned early on and pay it forward.
    10. Do the right thing. Help others.

    The Buffer Culture (with a new 10th value) from Buffer

    How we measure helping others

    This is one we’re still iterating on. We’d love your thoughts!

    Who we’re helping

    First, I think it’s useful to recognize the people that we’re able to help with our marketing efforts. It’s a bit of a bigger list than I originally thought.

    1. Buffer customers
    2. Anyone who shares to social media
    3. Anyone who’s interested in new perspectives on business, productivity, work, culture
    4. Our Buffer teammates
    5. Ourselves

    The first few are maybe a bit obvious. We of course would like to help our customers share better and easier to social media. We’d love to help any social media sharers who might be interested in our learnings. We’re grateful for the chance to be on this journey at Buffer and to share everything on the Open blog.

    Beyond that, our marketing helps our Buffer teammates. We help those in customer support by writing articles and guides that can be shared as resources in support tickets. We help our customer development team by writing stories that can inform our product processes.

    And we help ourselves. We get to experiment and explore new areas of interest and to grow as individuals and social sharers

    It all falls under the umbrella of helping people.

    Specific metrics

    So how can we find a way to measure the amount of “helping people”?

    Is “helping” a metric?

    It’s a good question and one I’m not sure I’ve found the answer to yet. Here are some ideas.

    For social media

    • Follows. People find our content helpful and want to hear more from us. (This probably doesn’t apply to all who follow us, but some at least.)
    • Engagement metrics: Clicks, reshares, comments, likes. Each of these is a signal that the content is helpful or useful or valuable in some way.
    • SentimentHow do people talk about us online? What is the general vibe? The analysis here is likely quite intuition-based.
    • Volume of conversations. If positive conversation picks up around a certain topic or campaign, we can believe it was successful.

    For content

    • Time on page + social shares. This combo stat shows that readers are both finding the content worth reading and, when finished reading, worth passing along to others.
    • Unique comments. How many individual people found the content worth responding to?
    • Email replies. How many people send us email regarding content we’ve made?
    • Long-term traffic and social shares over time. Tells us whether readers continue to find the content valuable into the future.
    • Incoming links. Do others see our content as valuable and helpful?
    • Inbound.org and Growth Hacker upvotes. Signals from the community that the content is helpful.
    • Email newsletter signups. People find our content valuable and would like to learn more and stay connected with us.

    The one thing missing from this list: Conversions.

    Are Buffer signups a signal that our marketing efforts are helpful? 

    I’d love your thoughts here. I’ve gone back-and-forth between two minds and have currently settled on Yes, conversions are helpful. We believe that Buffer is a helpful tool that positively impacts your social media sharing. Therefore, getting people to sign up for Buffer would be a way of helping.

    Do conversions carry extra weight in the big picture of how we choose what to work on next? I’m not quite sure. My gut is that they’d be equal to any other metric listed above as everything points back to helpfulness.

    What this might look like at Buffer day-to-day

    I take a lot of inspiration from the amazing workflows and deep thinking of others, especially how they organize their marketing efforts.

    One method in particular has caught my eye recently. Based on Brian Balfour’s method for creating and analyzing marketing experiments, Rob Sobers built a Trello template for how to see new experiments through from idea to implementation (and beyond).


    The full 9 stages to work through are:

    1. Brainstorm
    2. Backlog
    3. Pipeline
    4. Design
    5. Implement
    6. Analyze
    7. Systemize
    8. History
    9. Playbooks

    Phew! That’s quite a bit of stages. It definitely feels like a great process to see an idea through. I think it might be a bit too far from away where we’re aiming with our Teal marketing.

    That being said, I’d be keen to adopt bits and pieces.

    Here’s a very trimmed down version.

    buffer trello board

    Ideas and brainstorms

    This list contains all the random ideas, all the larks and what-ifs we can imagine. Anything goes, and anyone can add something here.

    Some ideas might be a bit more fleshed out than others, with additional detail added to the Trello card. This can happen either in the “Ideas & Brainstorms” stage, depending on how fully-formed the idea is to begin with, or it can happen when an idea moves into the “Pipeline.”


    Cards first arrive in the Pipeline when we’re ready to act on them. At a glance, the Pipeline would always be the current list of all active experiments.

    The cards at this point have a bit of extra information on them. Each experiment includes a spec, which can either be listed out on the card itself or written down in a hackpad with the link included on the Trello card.

    In general, experiments might include the following elements:

    • Overview – What the experiment is
    • Hypothesis – Why we think it might be a cool idea to try
    • Specifics – What the experiment will involve, how it will look
    • Results – What happened
    • Learnings – What this means
    • Action items – Both for during the experiment and for afterward

    Here’s a quick look at a sample hackpad:

    buffer hackpad

    And here’s a possible look for a Trello card:

    trello card

    Within the pipeline, an experiment can be at different stages, as denoted by a label.

    • Orange = Planned
    • Yellow = In Progress
    • Green = Complete!
    • Purple = Analyzing
    • Black = Systemizing
    • Teal = Success!
    • Pink = Maybe Later


    Once complete, the card moves here where it’ll sit forever so that we can check back on what we’ve tried before.

    A Buffer wrinkle: A decision maker for each experiment

    One unique element that is a bit specific to us at Buffer is who decides whether an experiment was successful enough that it can become part of our marketing process.

    As a self-managed company, we’d need to choose a decider.

    This means assigning each of the above Trello cards to a person who can then make the final decision on an experiment’s success, taking into account the metrics involved and also the intuition of how things felt.

    For choosing a decision maker, we follow closely to the process described in Dennis Bakke’s The Decision Maker:

    • Proximity. Who’s close to the issue? Are they well acquainted with the context, the day-to-day details, and the big picture?
    • Perspective. Proximity matters, but so does perspective. Sometimes an outside perspective can be just as valuable.
    • Experience. Has this person had experience making similar decisions? What were the consequences of those decisions?
    • Wisdom. What kinds of decisions has this person made in other areas? Were they good ones? Do you have confidence in this person?

    Performance measurements vs. goals

    In iterating on our Teal structure, we’ve found it important to have someone be responsible for each area of Buffer marketing and for this person to have a method of accountability.

    We view accountability more in terms of performance measurements instead of goals—e.g., time on page can be a measure of performance for blog posts, and it’s not necessary to aim for a particular target time.

    Overall, a person’s contribution to an area would include these factors:

    • Responsibilities – whether you act, advise, and/or decide for an area
    • Commitments – kind of like an area job description
    • Performance Measurement – what you’ll look at for progress and accountability
    • Status – whether active, background, or done as necessary

    Final thoughts

    What are some specific metrics you can use to measure if your marketing is based on helping others?

    It’s a big question for us, and one we’re still in the midst of answering. Courtney wrote a great post about all the different marketing KPIs out there. She found 61! At Buffer, we’ve measured many of those in the past, and we continue to measure many of them—they just aren’t quite why or how we make decisions any more.

    I’d love to keep you updated on how this develops for us and which directions we choose to take next. And if you have any thoughts at all, I’d be so grateful to learn from your ideas!

    Image sources: Pablo, UnSplash, IconFinder

    The post Can You Run a Marketing Program With Zero Goals? appeared first on Social.

    The Colossus Update: Waking The Giant

    Thursday, June 18th, 2015

    Posted by Dr-Pete

    Yesterday morning, we woke up to a historically massive temperature spike on MozCast, after an unusually quiet weekend. The 10-day weather looked like this:

    That’s 101.8°F, one of the hottest verified days on record, second only to a series of unconfirmed spikes in June of 2013. For reference, the first Penguin update clocked in at 93.1°.

    Unfortunately, trying to determine how the algorithm changed from looking at individual keywords (even thousands of them) is more art than science, and even the art is more often Ms. Johnson’s Kindergarten class than Picasso. Sometimes, though, we catch a break and spot something.

    The First Clue: HTTPS

    When you watch enough SERPs, you start to realize that change is normal. So, the trick is to find the queries that changed a lot on the day in question but are historically quiet. Looking at a few of these, I noticed some apparent shake-ups in HTTP vs. HTTPS (secure) URLs. So, the question becomes: are these anecdotes, or do they represent a pattern?

    I dove in and looked at how many URLs for our 10,000 page-1 SERPs were HTTPS over the past few days, and I saw this:

    On the morning of June 17, HTTPS URLs on page 1 jumped from 16.9% to 18.4% (a 9.9% day-over-day increase), after trending up for a few days. This represents the total real-estate occupied by HTTPS URLs, but how did rankings fare? Here are the average rankings across all HTTPS results:

    HTTPS URLs also seem to have gotten a rankings boost – dropping (with “dropping” being a positive thing) from an average of 2.96 to 2.79 in the space of 24 hours.

    Seems pretty convincing, right? Here’s the problem: rankings don’t just change because Google changes the algorithm. We are, collectively, changing the web every minute of the day. Often, those changes are just background noise (and there’s a lot of noise), but sometimes a giant awakens.

    The Second Clue: Wikipedia

    Anecdotally, I noticed that some Wikipedia URLs seemed to be flipping from HTTP to HTTPS. I ran a quick count, and this wasn’t just a fluke. It turns out that Wikipedia started switching their entire site to HTTPS around June 12 (hat tip to Jan Dunlop). This change is expected to take a couple of weeks.

    It’s just one site, though, right? Well, historically, this one site is the #1 largest land-holder across the SERP real-estate we track, with over 5% of the total page-1 URLs in our tracking data (5.19% as of June 17). Wikipedia is a giant, and its movements can shake the entire web.

    So, how do we tease this apart? If Wikipedia’s URLs had simply flipped from HTTP to HTTPS, we should see a pretty standard pattern of shake-up. Those URLs would look to have changed, but the SERPS around them would be quiet. So, I ran an analysis of what the temperature would’ve been if we ignored the protocol (treating HTTP/HTTPS as the same). While slightly lower, that temperature was still a scorching 96.6°F.

    Is it possible that Wikipedia moving to HTTPS also made the site eligible for a rankings boost from previous algorithm updates, thus disrupting page 1 without any code changes on Google’s end? Yes, it is possible – even a relatively small rankings boost for Wikipedia from the original HTTPS algorithm update could have a broad impact.

    The Third Clue: Google?

    So far, Google has only said that this was not a Panda update. There have been rumors that the HTTPS update would get a boost, as recently as SMX Advanced earlier this month, but no timeline was given for when that might happen.

    Is it possible that Wikipedia’s publicly announced switch finally gave Google the confidence to boost the HTTPS signal? Again, yes, it’s possible, but we can only speculate at this point.

    My gut feeling is that this was more than just a waking giant, even as powerful of a SERP force as Wikipedia has become. We should know more as their HTTPS roll-out continues and their index settles down. In the meantime, I think we can expect Google to become increasingly serious about HTTPS, even if what we saw yesterday turns out not to have been an algorithm update.

    In the meantime, I’m going to melodramatically name this “The Colossus Update” because, well, it sounds cool. If this indeed was an algorithm update, I’m sure Google would prefer something sensible, like “HTTPS Update 2” or “Securageddon” (sorry, Gary).

    Update from Google: Gary Illyes said that he’s not aware of an HTTPS update (via Twitter):

    No comment on other updates, or the potential impact of a Wikipedia change. I feel strongly that there is an HTTPS connection in the data, but as I said – that doesn’t necessarily mean the algorithm changed.

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    Why You Should Share to Social Media in the Afternoon + More of the Latest Social Media Research

    Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

    I love to see new stats and research about how to best share to social media.

    If it’s research-backed or numbers-driven, sign me up. These actionable tips are what drive a lot of our experiments at Buffer as we’re keen to see if the best advice from these studies meshes with our experience, too.

    And there’s a lot of new info to go off of.

    I’ve collected 10 of the latest surprising, revealing studies on social media here in this post, with takeaways and insight into social media timing, Instagram sharing, Facebook users, and more. If you’ve seen a recent study worth mentioning, I’d love to hear from you!

    Social Media research

    1. The peak performance of social sharing

    Late afternoon to nighttime is the best time to reach people on social

    Social traffic substantially underperforms overall traffic from about 5 a.m. to noon, and social substantially overperforms overall traffic from about 3 p.m. until 1 a.m.

    Chartbeat reported on the data of the sites it tracks, looking at how social media sharing corresponds to site traffic. The general trend seemed to follow: Traffic and social sharing both increase throughout the early morning, peak midday, then lessen into the evening.

    The unique finding here was in the subtle difference in exactly where each metric peaks.

    Social traffic outperforms website traffic from 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time to 1:00 a.m.

    Chartbeat social trfafic web traffic research

    2. What the average Facebook user looks like

    The very male, college-educated, heavily IT, somewhat liberal demographic

    Only two publishers–BuzzFeed and Yahoo!–have more women than men in their audiences at 51% and 56% respectively.

    Only two publishers–Forbes and Wired–exceed a 10% likelihood in their audiences working at management level.

    Fractl and BuzzStream collaborated on a study of 20 publishers’s Facebook audiences, looking at the Audience Insights for publishers like The Guardian, Wired, BuzzFeed, Yahoo, Huffington Post, and more.

    In the case of these audiences, the results skewed heavily in a few directions:

    • 18 of the 20 publishers had an audience that was more male than female.
    • The majority of active users on these pages has graduated from college.
    • All but one publisher had an audience makeup of more IT workers than the U.S. Facebook average.

    Facebook Audience Insights for 20 major publishers

    Comparisons might be a little tricky to draw between these pages and yours, though the research does point to the value of understanding your audience. My best guess at the demographics of some of these publishers would be that the audience was more female (I was wrong) and perhaps not as IT focused.

    3. Instagram vs. Facebook

    Instagram a more engaged platform than Facebook, Twitter

    Instagram leads social platforms for engagement with 2.81% of audiences engaging with a post.

    Locowise studied 2,500 Instagram profiles from April 2015 to measure a wide assortment of different engagement metrics and content strategies. One of the big takeaways was how engagement on Instagram far outperforms Facebook and Twitter.

    Instagram research - Engagement compared to Twitter Facebook

    Average engagement per post on Instagram was 2.81%.

    On Facebook, engagement was 0.25%.

    On Twitter, engagement was 0.21%.

    (For Instagram engagement—as you can see from the graph above—the best results still come from photos versus video.)

    Other interesting takeaways from the Locowise study include:

    • Likes account for 96% of all engagements (comments account for the other 3%)
    • Brands post 2.3 times per day to Instagram
    • The largest profiles post 7.24 times per day, the smallest profiles post 1.68 times
    • Average follower growth month-over-month is 1.95%, meaning that if you had 1,000 followers in March, you could expect to gain 19 new followers in April.

    4. Interactions and Instagram

    More interactions happen on Instagram—5 likes or comments for every 100 followers

    The average interaction % on Instagram is up to 10 times higher than on Facebook.

    Quintly analyzed over 5,000 Instagram accounts (and broke those accounts into buckets of followers, too) to see the current trends in engagement, content type, and strategy. One of the main takeaways from the study: Interactions are amazingly high on Instagram.

    Quintly measured Interaction Rate, which is interactions per post divided by number of followers. They found that Instagram’s Interaction Rate was 4.80 interactions per 100 followers. Facebook’s rate is 0.72.

    Further, Quintly also shared the average interactions per post for Instagram photos or videos, along with a breakdown of what you might expect at varying follower levels.

    Quintly Instagram report - Interactions

    5. Where is social media marketing headed?

    Survey says Twitter, YouTube, & LinkedIn

    Social Media Examiner surveyed over 3,700 marketers on their social media strategies, goals, and plans, ending up with some truly fascinating results on where social media marketing may be headed.

    A significant 66% of marketers plan on increasing their use of Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

    Future use - social networks via Social Media Examiner

    Additional cool findings from the Social Media Examiner survey include:

    • Marketers are most keen to learn about Facebook
    • Nearly 3 out of every 4 marketers plans to increase video usage
    • Facebook and LinkedIn are the two most important networks for marketers
    • Most marketers aren’t sure their Facebook marketing is effective

    6. On reposting content

    How to get more engagement with a second tweet

    We’ve written much before about the case for reposing content, sharing an article more than once on social media. A research team from Cornell investigated this strategy, looking at the effect of wording on sending multiple messages through Twitter.

    The researchers developed an algorithm that could successfully predict which variation of the same tweet would receive more retweets. (You can try out the free tool that is based on the algorithm.)

    Here are the factors that researchers identified as being helpful for reposted content. (The most significant factors are highlighted in bold.)

    • Ask people to share – Use words like “RT, Retweet, spread, please”
    • Informativeness helps – Focus on length, nouns, and verbs (and not so much @-mentions or hashtags)
    • Make your language align with both community norms and with your prior messages
    • Mimic news headlines
    • Use positive and/or negative words (both seemed to work equally well)
    • Use third-person singular – He, she, it, and one
    • Generality helps – Use indefinite articles like a, an

    7. Twitter images for smaller accounts

    The 9x increase in retweets just by adding an image

    In a huge Twitter analysis by Stone Temple Consulting—over 2 million tweets analyzed for eight different factors, including unique things like domain authority and Followerwonk social authority—the authors discovered a few insightful trends, perhaps none more actionable than the power of tweets with images.


    According to Stone Temple’s study, adding an image to your tweet doubles the likelihood that your tweet will receive a retweet or favorite.

    And for those with low-level social authority—low follower counts, just getting started on Twitter, or otherwise—adding an image to your tweet generates 5 to 9 times as many retweets and 4 to 12 times as many favorites in total.


    From Eric Enge of Stone Temple:

    At lower authority levels including an image will get you 5 to 9 times as many Retweets and 4 to 12 times as many favorites than you will if your tweets don’t include an image. Hopefully, you were sitting down when you read that. Note that high authority levels also benefit as well, though for the 90-99 range the gain is relatively modest. For those high authority accounts, people are already hanging on their every word.

    8. The top social networks

    The surprising result at #1, plus the unique spot for Twitter

    The Global Web Index’s most recent quarterly report (a survey of more than 40,000 Internet users) looked at social media usage and came out with a couple keen insights.

    1. More Internet users visit YouTube than Facebook.
    2. YouTube and Twitter have significantly more visitors than active users. 

    Social media active use and visits

    So in case you had yet to consider YouTube as a possible channel to meet your audience, there seems to be solid evidence here that your audience is quite familiar and comfortable with hanging out at YouTube. (We’ve got some tips on how to make videos for your brand also, if that’d be interesting for you!)

    And as for the drop in active users for YouTube and Twitter, I like to think of this in terms of consumption versus sharing. Someone may be on Twitter to hear the latest news, click some links, see what’s happening—they may still be engaged with your Twitter stream without contributing anything of their own to Twitter.

    We covered a series of social media personality types awhile back, and these folks seem to fit well into the lurker category—still a valuable addition to your network, just with their own personal tastes when it comes to being involved.

    9. How people spend their time on social

    Twitter is for news, Facebook is for friends

    Another interesting takeaway from the Global Web Index report is in the survey responses about how people spend their time on social media sites. For Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, the report found the following:

    • The most popular activity on Twitter is reading a news story
    • The most popular activity on Facebook is clicking the “Like” button

    Here’s how the rest of the activity breaks down. Note how many of the top Twitter activities deal with reading the news or catching up on what’s been happening whereas many of Facebook’s top activities involve connecting with friends.

    User activity on Twitter Facebook Googlt+

    10. Make waves by responding quickly

    5 in 6 messages that need responses are not answered by brands

    Sprout Social regularly shares insights from its data, making particular note about the way that brands and businesses listen and respond on social media. Their 2013 benchmark study showed great room for brands to improve, and Sprout’s followup study in 2014 had many of the same takeaways.

    There is great opportunity for you to stand out on social media by simply replying to everyone. 

    The data from Sprout Social showed that businesses are learning how to reply quicker to responses (we’ve mentioned before that response expectations on Twitter typically hover under 60 minutes). However, they’re replying to a smaller percentage of the volume of messages they receive.

    Response study - Sprout Social

    • Response rate: 17% (was 21% one year ago)
    • Response time: 5% improvement from previous year

    Over to you

    Which of these stats stand out to you? 

    Is there anything here that seemed particularly surprising or true from your experience? 

    I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! Feel free to leave any input you might have, it’d be great to hear from you.

    Image sources: Pablo, IconFinder, UnSplashNew social media research

    The post Why You Should Share to Social Media in the Afternoon + More of the Latest Social Media Research appeared first on Social.

    Can You Rank in Google Without Links? New Data Says Slim Chance

    Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

    Posted by Cyrus-Shepard

    For years now, we’ve heard the drumbeat from Google that marketers should stop focusing on building links. While it’s accepted wisdom that you should avoid manipulative link building to rank higher in search results, the popular narrative would have us believe that external links aren’t important in Google’s ranking algorithms at all, and that link building can be safely ignored.

    Is there any truth to this?

    To find out, we mined new information from our upcoming biannual ranking correlation study, conducted by Moz’s scientist, Dr. Matthew Peters.

    External Link Definition


    Moz’s study examined the top 50 Google search results for approximately 15,000 keywords. This allowed us to examine not only what factors correlate with higher search rankings, but also how frequently those characteristics are seen.

    At this point I must insert the usual caveat that correlation is not causation. Simply because a feature is strongly related to high rankings, this doesn’t prove or disprove that Google actually uses it in its algorithm. That said, it sure is a hint!

    The relationship between external links and rankings

    When we look at what the study found about links, we find a strong relationship.

    The correlation between higher rankings and the number of linking websites (root domains) sits at .30. This number seems small, but it’s actually one of the highest correlations the study found. (Smaller correlations are also not surprising—with over 200 ranking signals, Google specifically designed their algorithm so that one factor doesn’t dominate the others.)

    Even more telling is the number of websites we found in the top results that had external backlinks, or rather, the lack thereof.

    Out of the top results, a full 99.2% of all websites had at least one external link. (The remaining .8% is well within the margin of error expected between Mozscape and Google’s own link index.) The study found almost no websites ranking for competitive search phrases that didn’t have at least a single external link pointing at them, and most had significantly more links.

    The Relationship Between Google Rankings And Links

    In other words, if you’re looking for a site that ranks well with no external links, be prepared to look for a very long time.

    That said, the study did find numerous examples where individual pages ranked just fine without specific external links, as long as the website itself had external links pointing at it. For example, consider when The New York Times publishes a new page. Because it’s new, it has no external links yet. But because The New York Times‘ website itself has tons of external links, it’s possible for the new page to rank.

    In all, 77.8% of individual pages in the top results had at least one external link from another site, which means 22.2% of individual pages ranked with no external links.

    What the data says about links and Google rankings

    There are a number of conclusions you can reasonably draw from these numbers.

    1. External links are almost always present for competitive searches

    If you want to rank for anything that’s even remotely competitive, the chances of finding a website ranking without external links is very rare indeed.

    2. It’s possible to rank individual pages without links

    As long as your website itself is linked externally, it appears more than possible to rank individual pages on your site, even if those pages themselves don’t have external links. That said, there’s a strong relationship between links to a page, and that pages performance in search—so it’s much better if the page actually does have external links.

    To put this in layman’s terms, if a lot of people link to your website homepage, it’s possible for other pages to rank as well, but it’s even better if those pages also have external links pointing at them.

    Although not examined in this study, it’s likely most of the pages without external links at least had internal links pointing at them. While not as strong as an external link, internal links remain a decent way to pass authority, relevancy and popularity signals to pages on the same site.

    3. More links correlate with higher rankings

    It seems obvious, but the study confirmed the long-standing correlation between higher rankings and the number of external links found from unique websites.

    Indeed, out of all the data points the ranking correlation study looked at, the number of unique websites linking to a page was one of the highest correlated relationships we found.

    4. When can you rank without links?

    Despite the fact that we found almost no websites ranking without external links, it is still possible?

    Absolutely, but there’s a catch.

    The 15,000 keyword phrases used in this study were, for the most part, competitive. This means that lots of other people and websites are trying to rank for the same term. Think of phrases like “Galaxy s6 and New York car insurance.”

    Non-competitive phrases, by their nature, are much easier to rank for. So if you want your website to rank without obtaining any backlinks, you might succeed by targeting more obscure phrases like “Oregon beekeeper ballet emporium” or “Batman flux platypus.” These phrases have much lower competition, and by default, much lower traffic (and in many cases, none.)

    There are other edge cases where it’s possible to rank without links, such as when the user is searching for your website specifically, or when you offer something very unique that can’t be found anywhere else. Even in these cases, it helps tremendously to actually have links pointing at you.

    Proceed with caution

    There’s good reason people believe link building is dead, as readers of this blog know well. For readers less familiar with this concept, or those newer to SEO…

    A link isn’t always a link.

    Google Penalty

    In the past 10 years, after people spammed the heck out of link building to gain higher rankings, Google began cracking down in a serious way starting in 2012. First with its Penguin algorithm, then by de-indexing several link networks, and then by cracking down on guest blogging.

    Today, even slight deviations from Google’s guidelines on manipulative links can land webmasters in penalty jail.

    The web is filled with links. Billions of them. Many are built by robots, some are paid for by advertisers, some are good old fashioned editorial links. The challenge for Google is to separate the good from the bad in its ranking algorithm.

    When Google finds a link pointing at your website, it can choose to do one of 3 things:

    1. Count it in its ranking algorithm
    2. Ignore it – or not give it any weight in boosting your rankings
    3. Penalize you – if it thinks the link is manipulative

    In fact, most people would be surprised to learn how many links don’t actually help you to rank, or can actually hurt. To play within Google’s good graces, it’s best to understand Google’s guidelines on manipulative link building, and knowing what types of links to avoid.

    The safest link building is simply link earning, and to get your content in front of the right people.

    But trying to rank in Google without any links at all?


    Photo Credit: Geographically Accurate Paris Metro Map by Nojhan under Creative Common License

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    Should I Use Relative or Absolute URLs? – Whiteboard Friday

    Saturday, June 6th, 2015

    Posted by RuthBurrReedy

    It was once commonplace for developers to code relative URLs into a site. There are a number of reasons why that might not be the best idea for SEO, and in today’s Whiteboard Friday, Ruth Burr Reedy is here to tell you all about why.

    Relative vs Absolute URLs Whiteboard

    For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard. Click on it to open a high resolution image in a new tab!

    Let’s discuss some non-philosophical absolutes and relatives

    Howdy, Moz fans. My name is Ruth Burr Reedy. You may recognize me from such projects as when I used to be the Head of SEO at Moz. I’m now the Senior SEO Manager at BigWing Interactive in Oklahoma City. Today we’re going to talk about relative versus absolute URLs and why they are important.

    At any given time, your website can have several different configurations that might be causing duplicate content issues. You could have just a standard http://www.example.com. That’s a pretty standard format for a website.

    But the main sources that we see of domain level duplicate content are when the non-www.example.com does not redirect to the www or vice-versa, and when the HTTPS versions of your URLs are not forced to resolve to HTTP versions or, again, vice-versa. What this can mean is if all of these scenarios are true, if all four of these URLs resolve without being forced to resolve to a canonical version, you can, in essence, have four versions of your website out on the Internet. This may or may not be a problem.

    It’s not ideal for a couple of reasons. Number one, duplicate content is a problem because some people think that duplicate content is going to give you a penalty. Duplicate content is not going to get your website penalized in the same way that you might see a spammy link penalty from Penguin. There’s no actual penalty involved. You won’t be punished for having duplicate content.

    The problem with duplicate content is that you’re basically relying on Google to figure out what the real version of your website is. Google is seeing the URL from all four versions of your website. They’re going to try to figure out which URL is the real URL and just rank that one. The problem with that is you’re basically leaving that decision up to Google when it’s something that you could take control of for yourself.

    There are a couple of other reasons that we’ll go into a little bit later for why duplicate content can be a problem. But in short, duplicate content is no good.

    However, just having these URLs not resolve to each other may or may not be a huge problem. When it really becomes a serious issue is when that problem is combined with injudicious use of relative URLs in internal links. So let’s talk a little bit about the difference between a relative URL and an absolute URL when it comes to internal linking.

    With an absolute URL, you are putting the entire web address of the page that you are linking to in the link. You’re putting your full domain, everything in the link, including /page. That’s an absolute URL.

    However, when coding a website, it’s a fairly common web development practice to instead code internal links with what’s called a relative URL. A relative URL is just /page. Basically what that does is it relies on your browser to understand, “Okay, this link is pointing to a page that’s on the same domain that we’re already on. I’m just going to assume that that is the case and go there.”

    There are a couple of really good reasons to code relative URLs

    1) It is much easier and faster to code.

    When you are a web developer and you’re building a site and there thousands of pages, coding relative versus absolute URLs is a way to be more efficient. You’ll see it happen a lot.

    2) Staging environments

    Another reason why you might see relative versus absolute URLs is some content management systems — and SharePoint is a great example of this — have a staging environment that’s on its own domain. Instead of being example.com, it will be examplestaging.com. The entire website will basically be replicated on that staging domain. Having relative versus absolute URLs means that the same website can exist on staging and on production, or the live accessible version of your website, without having to go back in and recode all of those URLs. Again, it’s more efficient for your web development team. Those are really perfectly valid reasons to do those things. So don’t yell at your web dev team if they’ve coded relative URLS, because from their perspective it is a better solution.

    Relative URLs will also cause your page to load slightly faster. However, in my experience, the SEO benefits of having absolute versus relative URLs in your website far outweigh the teeny-tiny bit longer that it will take the page to load. It’s very negligible. If you have a really, really long page load time, there’s going to be a whole boatload of things that you can change that will make a bigger difference than coding your URLs as relative versus absolute.

    Page load time, in my opinion, not a concern here. However, it is something that your web dev team may bring up with you when you try to address with them the fact that, from an SEO perspective, coding your website with relative versus absolute URLs, especially in the nav, is not a good solution.

    There are even better reasons to use absolute URLs

    1) Scrapers

    If you have all of your internal links as relative URLs, it would be very, very, very easy for a scraper to simply scrape your whole website and put it up on a new domain, and the whole website would just work. That sucks for you, and it’s great for that scraper. But unless you are out there doing public services for scrapers, for some reason, that’s probably not something that you want happening with your beautiful, hardworking, handcrafted website. That’s one reason. There is a scraper risk.

    2) Preventing duplicate content issues

    But the other reason why it’s very important to have absolute versus relative URLs is that it really mitigates the duplicate content risk that can be presented when you don’t have all of these versions of your website resolving to one version. Google could potentially enter your site on any one of these four pages, which they’re the same page to you. They’re four different pages to Google. They’re the same domain to you. They are four different domains to Google.

    But they could enter your site, and if all of your URLs are relative, they can then crawl and index your entire domain using whatever format these are. Whereas if you have absolute links coded, even if Google enters your site on www. and that resolves, once they crawl to another page, that you’ve got coded without the www., all of that other internal link juice and all of the other pages on your website, Google is not going to assume that those live at the www. version. That really cuts down on different versions of each page of your website. If you have relative URLs throughout, you basically have four different websites if you haven’t fixed this problem.

    Again, it’s not always a huge issue. Duplicate content, it’s not ideal. However, Google has gotten pretty good at figuring out what the real version of your website is.

    You do want to think about internal linking, when you’re thinking about this. If you have basically four different versions of any URL that anybody could just copy and paste when they want to link to you or when they want to share something that you’ve built, you’re diluting your internal links by four, which is not great. You basically would have to build four times as many links in order to get the same authority. So that’s one reason.

    3) Crawl Budget

    The other reason why it’s pretty important not to do is because of crawl budget. I’m going to point it out like this instead.

    When we talk about crawl budget, basically what that is, is every time Google crawls your website, there is a finite depth that they will. There’s a finite number of URLs that they will crawl and then they decide, “Okay, I’m done.” That’s based on a few different things. Your site authority is one of them. Your actual PageRank, not toolbar PageRank, but how good Google actually thinks your website is, is a big part of that. But also how complex your site is, how often it’s updated, things like that are also going to contribute to how often and how deep Google is going to crawl your site.

    It’s important to remember when we think about crawl budget that, for Google, crawl budget cost actual dollars. One of Google’s biggest expenditures as a company is the money and the bandwidth it takes to crawl and index the Web. All of that energy that’s going into crawling and indexing the Web, that lives on servers. That bandwidth comes from servers, and that means that using bandwidth cost Google actual real dollars.

    So Google is incentivized to crawl as efficiently as possible, because when they crawl inefficiently, it cost them money. If your site is not efficient to crawl, Google is going to save itself some money by crawling it less frequently and crawling to a fewer number of pages per crawl. That can mean that if you have a site that’s updated frequently, your site may not be updating in the index as frequently as you’re updating it. It may also mean that Google, while it’s crawling and indexing, may be crawling and indexing a version of your website that isn’t the version that you really want it to crawl and index.

    So having four different versions of your website, all of which are completely crawlable to the last page, because you’ve got relative URLs and you haven’t fixed this duplicate content problem, means that Google has to spend four times as much money in order to really crawl and understand your website. Over time they’re going to do that less and less frequently, especially if you don’t have a really high authority website. If you’re a small website, if you’re just starting out, if you’ve only got a medium number of inbound links, over time you’re going to see your crawl rate and frequency impacted, and that’s bad. We don’t want that. We want Google to come back all the time, see all our pages. They’re beautiful. Put them up in the index. Rank them well. That’s what we want. So that’s what we should do.

    There are couple of ways to fix your relative versus absolute URLs problem

    1) Fix what is happening on the server side of your website

    You have to make sure that you are forcing all of these different versions of your domain to resolve to one version of your domain. For me, I’m pretty agnostic as to which version you pick. You should probably already have a pretty good idea of which version of your website is the real version, whether that’s www, non-www, HTTPS, or HTTP. From my view, what’s most important is that all four of these versions resolve to one version.

    From an SEO standpoint, there is evidence to suggest and Google has certainly said that HTTPS is a little bit better than HTTP. From a URL length perspective, I like to not have the www. in there because it doesn’t really do anything. It just makes your URLs four characters longer. If you don’t know which one to pick, I would pick one this one HTTPS, no W’s. But whichever one you pick, what’s really most important is that all of them resolve to one version. You can do that on the server side, and that’s usually pretty easy for your dev team to fix once you tell them that it needs to happen.

    2) Fix your internal links

    Great. So you fixed it on your server side. Now you need to fix your internal links, and you need to recode them for being relative to being absolute. This is something that your dev team is not going to want to do because it is time consuming and, from a web dev perspective, not that important. However, you should use resources like this Whiteboard Friday to explain to them, from an SEO perspective, both from the scraper risk and from a duplicate content standpoint, having those absolute URLs is a high priority and something that should get done.

    You’ll need to fix those, especially in your navigational elements. But once you’ve got your nav fixed, also pull out your database or run a Screaming Frog crawl or however you want to discover internal links that aren’t part of your nav, and make sure you’re updating those to be absolute as well.

    Then you’ll do some education with everybody who touches your website saying, “Hey, when you link internally, make sure you’re using the absolute URL and make sure it’s in our preferred format,” because that’s really going to give you the most bang for your buck per internal link. So do some education. Fix your internal links.

    Sometimes your dev team going to say, “No, we can’t do that. We’re not going to recode the whole nav. It’s not a good use of our time,” and sometimes they are right. The dev team has more important things to do. That’s okay.

    3) Canonicalize it!

    If you can’t get your internal links fixed or if they’re not going to get fixed anytime in the near future, a stopgap or a Band-Aid that you can kind of put on this problem is to canonicalize all of your pages. As you’re changing your server to force all of these different versions of your domain to resolve to one, at the same time you should be implementing the canonical tag on all of the pages of your website to self-canonize. On every page, you have a canonical page tag saying, “This page right here that they were already on is the canonical version of this page. ” Or if there’s another page that’s the canonical version, then obviously you point to that instead.

    But having each page self-canonicalize will mitigate both the risk of duplicate content internally and some of the risk posed by scrappers, because when they scrape, if they are scraping your website and slapping it up somewhere else, those canonical tags will often stay in place, and that lets Google know this is not the real version of the website.

    In conclusion, relative links, not as good. Absolute links, those are the way to go. Make sure that you’re fixing these very common domain level duplicate content problems. If your dev team tries to tell you that they don’t want to do this, just tell them I sent you. Thanks guys.

    Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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