Five most important search marketing news stories of the week

Welcome to our weekly round-up of all the latest news and research from the world of search marketing and beyond.

This week, we’ve got key trends in content marketing for 2017; why social media is the preferred channel for product launches; and how to use an Exact Match Domain (EMD) without being penalised for spam by Google. And in probably unsurprising news, John Lewis‘ annual heartwarming Christmas ad is this year’s best performing yet.

The eight most important content marketing trends in 2017

It’s December already, and you know what that means – every publication you follow will be winding down for the end of the year by reviewing the highlights of 2016, while simultaneously gearing up for next year by making predictions for 2017.

Tereza Litsa has given us an early start on Search Engine Watch’s sister site ClickZ with a round-up of the eight most important content marketing trends we’re likely to see in 2017. From personalisation to ephemeral content, VR and AI, she’s listed the key trends and practices that will make content marketing in 2017 easier and more effective. Follow the link to read more, and decide whether or not you agree!

Marketers are turning to social media for product launches

A new study by marketing communications firm Five by Five has found that nearly three-quarters of marketers (74%) consider social media to be the highest-priority medium for promoting new products.

The study polled over 700 marketers in the US, the UK and Australia to find which marketing channels they consider to be the most important for product launches. Behind social media, sales promotions and email were the second- and third-most popular promotional channels, respectively.

Al Roberts took a look at the study’s findings for Search Engine Watch and delved into why social is the top choice for marketers looking to promote a new product – and whether it’s enough to generate buzz.


What is an Exact Match Domain (EMD), and how can you safely use one?

Exact Match Domains, or EMDs, can be a tempting way to try and boost your website to the top of search rankings. An EMD is a domain name which exactly matches a keyword or search term you’re hoping to target – such as ““.

But EMDs, more often than not, tend to be employed by spammy websites, harming the quality of search results and running the risk of incurring a penalty by Google for their practices. As Christopher Ratcliff wrote for Search Engine Watch,

“EMDs have been long thought of as having an unfair advantage.

As opposed to websites that rise to the top of Google through quality content, solid architecture, trusted backlinks and assorted other white hat best practices, Exact Match Domains can just rise to the top by shoe-horning in a few tasty keywords.”

Is there a way to use an EMD safely, or is it another black hat technique that self-respecting SEOs should avoid? Christopher takes a look at the pros and cons of EMDs, and how EMD users can stay on the right side of Google.

Everything you need to know about changes to the local press

The regional press has come under enormous pressure in recent years from the twin challenges of falling advertising sales and the growth of online news. Yet local news outlets are still a highly trusted form of media, and attract the most effective response to adverts.

What this means for the world of marketing is that while PRs should never underestimate the importance of the regional press, the challenges mentioned above have given rise to drastic changes in the way the local papers now look and work.

Andrew Brookes has written a thorough breakdown for Search Engine Watch of how these titles have changed, how the changes affect your marketing efforts, and the best way to adapt to them in order to ensure a good response.

Too many spam messages in email

Buster the Boxer tops the most shared ads of 2016

The annual John Lewis Christmas ad is an institution, managing every year to become one of the most memorable adverts on TV, and creating a formula that many other advertisers have sought to emulate.

This year’s ‘#BustertheBoxer‘ ad is no exception – and has managed to beat even John Lewis‘ own records. Christopher Ratcliff reported on Search Engine Watch’s sister site, ClickZ, that the ad has topped the list of Unruly’s Top 20 Global Video Ads to become the most shared ad of 2016, with close to 2 million shares. Since its launch on 9th November, #BustertheBoxer has become the 5th most shared Christmas ad of all time, and the most shared John Lewis ad ever.

In his article for ClickZ, Christopher runs down the other top charting ads this year, and takes a look at the methodology used in Unruly’s rankings. And if you haven’t seen #BustertheBoxer yet, give it a watch below – it’s a good’un.


2017: The Year of Machine Learning, Intelligent Content and Experiences

It is common knowledge that the amount of information available in the digital ecosystem is exploding. By 2020 it is expected to have grown from 130 exabytes to 40,000 exabytes.

Digital (and in our case search and content) data holds the keys to marketing success. It contains the critical patterns on consumer intent and behavior, preferences, and content/topics that brands need to provide customers with that critically personal, one-to-one experience that people today want to see.

The problem, however, is that the human brain is only capable of processing 1m gigabytes of memory. In other words, the amount of information available far exceeds the processing ability of humans. The term ‘Big data‘- although often overused and misunderstood – is the science that drives the art of content marketing creation and engagement. However, it can only solve the critical questions of the modern marketer if people can learn how to use it. In 2017, the key to effective content marketing – that attracts, resonates and converts – is incorporating machine learning and automation into the production process.

The role of machine learning

As we head into 2017, machine learning, deep learning and artificial intelligence will be the cornerstone of understanding data.

Machine learning has been part of a marketer’s everyday life for decades, without many realizing it. Modern day examples of machine learning are found with Google, Apple’s Siri, IBM’s Watson, Facebook recommendations, Quora and (related questions) and any technology that says ‘suggestions‘.

Taking Google as an example. On October 25th last year Google introduced RankBrain to focus on Machine Learning. In short, this can be described as the ability of machine programs to ‘learn‘ and predict behaviors. Machine learning can recognize patterns on its own and learn to predict responses.

According to Greg Corrado, a senior research scientist with Google:

“Search is the cornerstone of Google. Machine learning isn’t just a magic syrup that you pour onto a problem and it makes it better. It took a lot of thought and care in order to build something that we really thought was worth doing.”

More recently, in this article on Wired, Google machine learning is now begin to write featured snippet descriptions and using “sentence compression algorithms” on desktop results.

When brands equip themselves with technology to sift through the massive amounts of available information to find the discernable patterns and begin to make sense (learn) of the data, they will be able to walk away with actionable projects that can help them better engage their target audience.

The customer journey today has been disrupted by technology. It is no longer predictable and linear. It is also no longer led by the brands themselves. Instead, it is now in the hands of customers. This customer journey can now better be described as a series of micro touch points– moments in time when customers realize that they have a question or need and turn to the internet to address their concerns.

Creating content and optimizing for these one-to-one experiences that address the unique needs and intent of the individual, however, will only be possible when using machine learning to better understand the data flowing in from consumer behavior and the patterns that emerge.

To use an example, at BrightEdge (disclosure, my company) Data Quant, is a virtual team of data scientists built into the platform, that combines massive volumes of data with immediate, actionable insights to inform marketing decisions. Machine learning can also be used to detect anomalies in a site’s performance and interpret the reasons, such as industry trends, while making recommendations about how to proceed. This allows marketers to make decisions faster and accurately, capitalizing on positive gains and minimizing losses.

Machine learning and its ability to detect changes in interests and consumption behavior allows these organizations to be on the forefront of their industry and produce the material that people need before their competitors, boosting their reputation. Brands will also be able to understand the strategies put forth by their competitors. They will see how well they perform compared to others in their industry and can then make adjustments to their strategies to address the strengths or weaknesses that they find.

The Importance of automation in this process

As brands capture the critical information they need through machine learning, they will find that they still need the capability to take advantage of it quickly, before their competitors. As brands have begun to better understand the central role of the online world in modern commerce, the production of content has also picked up.

An estimated 77 percent of marketers plan on increasing content production in the next year. This means that competition is tight. Just about every industry has multiple brands vying for the attention of customers– and many sectors are completely over saturated. For brands to establish themselves within this crowd, they need to understand how to use the data from their machine learning capabilities quickly: automation will be as important as mining the data. There is no space available for unnecessary content.

When companies decide to produce a new piece of content, basic steps such as uncovering important topics, help with content optimization, and access to information about the content already written on the topic should be completely automated. Brands should optimize material as they write, allowing it to be published fully equipped to rank as highly as possible from the moment they post it to the web.

The content produced will need to incorporate the information gleaned from machine learning, including competitor activities, what customers want to read, and where this particular piece of content will fit on the buyer’s journey. When this process can be largely automated, it will allow brand writers to produce the material ended quickly and efficiently while also creating more effective content and enhancing the position of the brand online.

Automation and Scale

Incorporating machine learning and automation into the content development process allows brands can now look beyond the insights they can gain from their own analysis and their ability to produce effective content based upon their intuition.

Automation will help these brands select the right topic and guide them through the optimization process as they write. This means that the content will rank as highly as possible as soon as they hit publish. Automation creates a more efficient process and maximize the content production ability of the brand, allowing them to compete against others in their industry. Ideally, the automation capabilities should also include the ability to link to other, related pages of content on the site, boosting engagement for the brand.

Kraft is a great example of a brand that has utilized machine learning to understand and automate. Kraft used it to track more than 22,000 different characteristics of its audience based upon how they interacted with the brand’s online content. As a result, Kraft now receives the equivalent of 1.1 billion ad impressions a year and its content marketing produce 4 X ROI.

Balancing Machine Learning and Human Capital

As the digital ecosystem becomes more complex and increasingly filled with unimaginable amounts of data, brands are going to have to turn to technology to effectively understand this information and use it to improve their content production and organic optimization efforts.

Machine learning will never replace humans as the main source of creativity; it will only help make our content production and optimization efforts more efficient. Machine can not manage people and foster creativity, emotion and cultures that drive organizational content and organic search marketing efforts.


7 Timeless Reasons Why & How Content Goes Viral

Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? Planking? Tebowing?

At one time, these memes crossed the line from obscurity to mainstream. Even though Facebook and Twitter play a huge role in amplifying a challenge or helping memes go viral, the origins of that meme can usually be traced to anonymous social networks, like Reddit and 4chan.

Viral content tends to start in smaller, closed networks (that often don’t use real names or identities). Vine and Snapchat – even Facebook Groups – are other places that bring together smaller, more tightly-knit communities with shared and interests and identity that tends to help incite participation.

The meme or challenge takes off in those environments and eventually break into larger, more public social networks.

These smaller networks allow a message to more easily hit a critical mass internally. Once the meme hits Twitter and Facebook, it’s basically mainstream.

So what makes content go viral? And what makes people participate in these phenomena? There are many factors, but here are seven timeless reasons why (and how) some things go viral while others just die.

1. Smartphones Make it Simple to Participate

It’s incredibly easy for us to shoot and edit pictures and video with our smartphones and share it one to one, or one to many. Fundamentally, the rise of memes/challenges is as much a result of the low barrier to entry as much as it may be any cultural trend.

The inclination to share funny ideas and participate in group activities may have always been present in society, but it was just required a lot more effort than before.

Things have always spread by word of mouth. But now technology essentially amplifies how far word of mouth ideas can spread. Also, it’s no longer limited to words – it’s simple to have imagery and video, too.

2. Emotional Content Triggers Sharing

Although the Internet is a multimedia platform, day-to-day usage is still a kind of passive and internalized reader experience. However, studies have shown that content that is able to trigger emotions tends to be the thing that gets shared.

Similar studies have shown that news (e.g., articles or world news) tends to be shared among similar peer groups with similar knowledge needs. In other words, we don’t share news with just anyone – we share it with the people we know will get the most utility out of it.

That means that some stories may not “go viral” as a form of self-censorship is at play, limiting the potential reach of the content. Yet, equally, other stories may go viral just within a specific community of shared interests (otherwise known as social media “echo chambers”).

However, emotionally resonant content sort of jumps those implicit social and political barriers. Everyone can relate to emotions and share the feelings, so that kind of stuff spreads faster beyond and between social circles.

3. Positive Sentiment Helps Content Go Viral

The same studies have shown that good news spreads faster than bad or news with negative spin or connotations.

Challenges and memes are essentially fun. This positive quality is what makes them a phenomenon today.

In fact, it’s extreme emotion in general that spreads fastest. One could also argue that it’s deep shock and outrage that also leads to cyber bullying or mob mentality, another online phenomenon that is characterized by starting with a viral moment. (I’ve written quite a bit about Chinese “human flesh search engines,” which is an unusual term for an online witch hunt.)

4. It’s About People

Mainstream media can’t easily reproduce these kinds of phenomenon because they are broadcast mediums rather than one to one. People have diverse sets of values they want to reflect, whereas mainstream media has to find the lowest common denominator position.

Mainstream media can’t always reach people virally – certainly not via happiness. They are far more likely to have viral success with images and video of shock and outrage.

Personal values can be shared on one-to-one basis, whereas Mainstream media has to reflect values as a whole. Mainstream media is at the end of the cycle, when the meme has already reached a minimum threshold of virality. But once they get hold of the content, they will massively amplify the most successful story angle.

5. Visuals Are Amazingly Powerful


The combination of video and imagery and one-to-one communication has created the ability for everyone to share emotions more viscerally than anyone could before.

“A picture speaks a thousand words” is as true as ever. Now everyone can create a share a picture, video or GIF to communicate their feelings on this more visceral level.

For instance, a GIF of a sloth handing someone a flower communicates the internal world and experience of friendship and respect so much better than writing it!

When an image or animated gif radically simplifies the message, it is easier for others to share with anybody, such that the meaning of the content and can even cross language barriers.

6. Participation Is In Our DNA

Challenges and slacktivism are similar sides of the same coin. But it does speak to a need for people to participate in their society (in a kind of Rousseau social contract) in a way that most people can’t by, say, voting in elections. That, perhaps, may be a bit too philosophical, but on point nonetheless.

People want to create their society and culture. If politics doesn’t enable their self-expression, we tend toward easier ways to demonstrate and stand for our values – even if they might be trivial beliefs in the grand scheme of things, such as believing “that everybody should smile.”

Put another way, there is a natural tendency towards sharing ideas that powerfully represent our most personal and intimate beliefs.

7. Predictably Unpredictable Random Connections

Anything can go viral. You have to choose your topics wisely, of course, but the risk factors of getting it wrong are in your favor.

With the Ice Bucket Challenge, not everyone was worried about the cause (ALS). It succeeded because it was a really simple idea that was real visceral to understand. Watching those videos, you can “feel” in your mind what it’s like to be doused with cold water. That feeling is so easy to relate to, that it went viral regardless of the message.

But then if you look at something like #22Pushups, which was also about an important cause (veteran suicide prevention), it didn’t go viral in the mainstream. However, the people who took part passionately believed in the cause, and probably also already believed in maintaining a healthy lifestyle (the campaign inspired people to do more than 42 million pushups combined). They took part because it reflected their values – not because it was mainstream.

In the end, the reason for something going viral is often random. And sometimes when people express their individual values about a meme, it can cause the story to flip into a whole new narrative that can take off more powerfully.

For instance, my sister, Emma Allen, painted herself as the World Cup trophy and the image of her ended up going viral in two different parts of the world for two completely different reasons.

On the first day the image was released, the image became mascot of pride – she posted the images in time for England World Cup tournament semi-final match in Brazil. The second day Brazilian news media shared the image as representative of the England team’s shame of losing the match and being kicked out of the tournament.

Arguably, the original image represented neither of these things, and was simply a remarkable example of face painting, but it was two different communities that imbued the image with two different meanings that caused it to be viewed over 650,000 times and shared over 51,000 times on social media in just 48 hours.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to point out the great viral successes. After all, those are the only ones we see.

But here’s the thing. You only see virality when it succeeds. We never see the thousands of failed memes and challenges that couldn’t generate critical mass among a small cadre in the first place.

Don’t let your brilliant marketing ideas be shot down just because it might not be wildly successful. You’ll never create anything of value if you’re only thinking of the outcome. And it is actually impossible to imagine the response to a project that goes truly viral.

Virality working well means only the right people see it and the wrong people don’t. True virality is highly targeted.

For example, in 2009 I created 50 SEOs, 1 Question as a marketing experiment for the newly launched (at the time) Facebook Video. Not everyone in the SEO community saw it, but the people who loved it, absolutely loved it, and I was offered a life-changing job in New York as a result.

You can have a viral success even if you only reach a tiny segment of your community and the rest of the world never sees it. When your idea works, you will have made a difference and touched those people to whom that issue matters most to. That’s why you shouldn’t hold back.

If your idea isn’t a viral success, then you’ve lost nothing because no one saw it.

So experiment! The risk to reward ratio is in your favor!

Jonathan Allen is the President of Longneck & Thunderfoot, a brand publishing and digital marketing company. He is the former director of Search Engine Watch 2009-13), an AZBEE award winning blog on search engine marketing, and former co-founder of Moblog, a Webby, MEGAS, RTS award winning & BAFTA nominee, social network for amateur photographers and citizen journalists.


Online Marketing News: Content Deluge, Spotify Data Stories and Cyber Monday Breaks Records


influencer-marketing-lee-oddenWhat Can Be Done About the Content Deluge? Insights From 42 Content Marketing Influencers [Infographic]
Content marketing isn’t easy. Although it’s not a new tactic by any stretch of the imagination, marketers are still struggling to spread their message to an increasingly inundated audience. So, how can marketers make their content marketing stick? These 42 influencers, including our own Lee Odden, have some helpful tips. Business to Community

Spotify Crunches User Data in Fun Ways for This New Global Outdoor Ad Campaign
Spotify mined user data for a delightful purpose – a playful new outdoor campaign thanking 2016 for, frankly, being really weird. Some highlights include showing some love to the 1,235 guys who loved the „Girl’s Night“ playlist this year, and wondering why someone would need to play „Sorry“ 42 times on Valentine’s Day. AdWeek

Report: Cyber Monday was the largest e-commerce day in history
This year, Cyber monday was the largest day in history for eCommerce, bringing in $3.4 billion in revenue. For comparison, eCommerce revenue for Black Friday was $3.34 billion. Interestingly enough, 53% of that revenue came from mobile — 44% via smartphone and 9% via tablet. Marketing Land

Google is Saying Goodbye to Content Keywords
Google announced this week that it’s retiring the Content Keywords feature in Google Search Console. Not to worry – this same data and much more can be found by using the Fetch as Google feature within GSC, which enables users to test how Google crawls and renders an on-site URL. Google Webmaster Central Blog

Four top digital priorities for B2B marketers: Report
A new study from Adobe and eConsultancy shows the top digital marketing priorities for B2B marketers, including catching up on content optimization, targeting and personalization, mastering the tools and analytics for data driven marketing and implementing a customer experience strategy. eConsultancy

Instagram Is Facebook’s Biggest App Advertiser. Twitter Is Banned.
Instagram is advertising on Facebook – and quite successfully. Twitter doesn’t share the same luck. Ad Age reports: „Instagram has grown to 500 million monthly users today from 100 million monthly users in 2013, likely aided in part by its promotion on Facebook. But social-media competitor Twitter, whose 317 million monthly users are growing only slowly, is barred from advertising on Facebook.“ Ad Age

Programmatic To Grow 31% In 2017, Ahead Of All Other Channels
A recent report from Zenith suggests that programmatic will grow by 31% in 2017, which is faster than all other digital marketing channels, like social media (25% growth) and even online video (20% growth). The report also found that the U.S. is the largest programmatic ad market, valued at $24 billion this year and making up 62% of total programmatic spend. MediaPost

Blogging Benchmarks: Writing Time, Post Length, and Media Use
A recent survey showed that 56% of bloggers say that it takes them three hours or fewer to write a typical blog post. 25% of survey respondents say it take them between one and two hours, 24% said between two and three hours, while only 8% said it takes them less than one hour to write a blog post. MarketingProfs

What were your top online marketing news stories this week?

I’ll be back next week with my lovely co-pilot, Josh Nite, to bring you more online marketing news. Have something newsy to share? Tweet it to @toprank or leave it in the comments!

The post Online Marketing News: Content Deluge, Spotify Data Stories and Cyber Monday Breaks Records appeared first on Online Marketing Blog – TopRank®.


What is a Progressive Web App and Who Should Be Using It?


What is a Progressive Web App and Who Should Be Using It? was originally published on, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

According to Google, progressive web apps are the next big thing for “delivering amazing user experiences on the web.” In the same vein as AMP (accelerated mobile pages), PWAs are causing digital marketers to rethink the way they can design and deliver their sites in a mobile-first world. Website owners and designers need to be paying attention. So just what is a progressive web app?

What is a Progressive Web App?

It’s an all-in-one solution for web developers to create a single version website/app that can be delivered across all devices and works like an app but without the hassle of distribution through an app store.

A progressive web app, or PWA, combines the best of a website and the best of a native application. It’s a type of hybrid app. If a user comes to your PWA-run site, they’ll get the mobile version of your site but faster.

With a traditional hybrid app, like the Amazon app, the user’s interactions with it are built into the phone as an app, but the data collected is from the web. Here’s where a PWA is different. A PWA launches a browser to do the same thing. With the introduction of service workers (the scripts running in the background of your browser) and other technological advancements, browsers are more sophisticated than ever. They can do things on your phone that previously could only be done through a native app. This means you don’t have to publish the app in the app store. The barrier to entry of downloading an app is no longer an issue for your users.

As a developer, you no longer have to program different apps for different devices, nor deal with special screen sizes. You can invest your time and resources into designing a PWA. If you have to make a mobile website, you might as well just use a PWA. It’s well worth it.

Talking PWAs with Cindy Krum

My longtime friend Cindy Krum, the CEO and founder of MobileMoxie, is a PWA guru. I wanted to get her take on how far in the future the mass adoption of PWAs looks to be. Here’s what she had to say:

Lots of big companies are already testing PWA code and integrations on their sites. Lyft, Mic, Washington Post, Flipboard, The Weather Channel and more have already launched beta PWA sites for testing. Google has already published some PWA development guidelines for SEO, but I think the update may depend on how aggressively Google and other influential companies promote PWAs.

Google has also been hinting at cross-over between AMP and PWAs, using AMP to make PWA’s work in Safari, so there may be some new iteration of AMP that makes AMP enabled content available in PWA format. The PWA news viewer already behaves a lot like a PWA. My guess is that in the next year, we will see some of the more agile and cutting edge companies take their PWAs out of beta, and making them their main sites, with or without the influence of AMP.

It will be interesting to watch more widespread adoption of PWAs unfold. As with anything new, of course, it can sometimes be hard to get clients to adopt bleeding edge technology. Here’s how Cindy is getting her clients on board.

Cindy: The main recommendation is to try it out. You can add a service worker and an app manifest to any existing website. It is not enough to get the full benefits of a PWA, but it is enough to learn how easy or difficult the integration will be for your company. In our case, we developed an app manifest in five minutes, and a service worker in 90 minutes.

Making web-apps indexable tends to be the harder part of the equation, but that is true with or without the PWA elements. Web apps are hard to index because developers don’t always include URLs for state-changes in the web app.

For the immediate future, PWAs are something to be aware of, and if you’re able to, start working into your testing and planning cycles. There are no guarantees it’ll be the go-forward structure and remain supported by Google forever, but you don’t want to be left behind. There are practical upsides to PWAs that are worth considering regardless of how long it takes this to be a mainstream approach.