Nice Assets Baby! Leveraging Digital Content For Universal SERPs

Welcome to today’s first SearchEngineStrategies NYC 2010 breakout session on the Beyond the Crawlers Track, Digital Asset Optimization.  Moderating this session is Richard Zwicky, Founder & CEO, Enquisite and set to speak are Mark Knowles, President & CEO, Pixelsilk, Inc., Chris Boggs Director, SEO, Rosetta, Josh Cobb, Sr. Director, Publisher Revenue Optimization, Yahoo, and Lee Odden, SES Advisory Board & CEO, TopRank Online Marketing.

Mark Knowles is up first to talk about the opportunity and fear of universal search and digital assets. Let’s travel back in time to 2003 when Google filed the first paten for a universal search web interface. Some questions came to mind:

  1. How are we going to present different data to users?
  2. What constitutes categories that need to be represented differently?

Nowadays all the engines are getting into universal search, taking multiple elements into account simultaneously: image, audio, video, news, blogs, product listings… it just goes on… and local search is a whole other ballgame. Do a search for “deli” with an NYC IP address and all of a sudden you’ve got local listings on the regular SERPs. So it’s not just super tech websites that are affected by universal results- it’s small auto-body shops, mom and pop eateries, boutique clothing stores…

Still, the question surfaces once more:  is this important?

Mark noted that Bruce Clay said it had significant impact on what he’s doing. And Adam Audette, along with the rest of us (god willing) are starting to look at SERPs as much more than just ten blue links.

The goal should be to get your team to understand how things show up in the search engines. There is a very real opportunity emerging. Should you invest? When? How? The benefits of optimizing for universal search results seem obvious but then in comes fear.

Overcoming the Fear of “The Second Click”
This can be quite a hurdle for some marketers. Your brand comes up in the SERPs. That’s great. But then thanks to Google’s wide reach of multimedia properties (YouTube, Picasa, Product Search etc.) when users click on a blended search result for your brand, they’re still within Google’s bosom.

“All-things-Google is probably not good for us,” Mark said. “But you have to remember – Google is a business.” If Google goes down the tubes, which is a potential fate for every business, you should still be in control of your brand presence in universal results. This is why overall optimization, especially of digital assets, is so valuable.

Recipe for Success
Mark used the example of a trip to the grocery store to illustrate his point: when people go food shopping, they usually show up with a list. Lists are generated from recipes they’re working with. How can you make this work to your advantage? Cosco, for example, created a recipe book Thanksgiving weekend that basically organized the whole shopping experience for customers, subtly pitching, of course, their own Kirkland products.

This concept stretches across the board for all types of businesses. Yes, even Google. Google purposefully acquired a zillion properties to help make the user experience more cohesive. Is Google to be feared? Mark says, “No.” Remember, they’re a business, and every business will eventually grow or die. Right now, they’re still growing. That is why seizing the opportunity of DAO optimization is so important.

Next up is Chris Boggs.

When it comes to evaluating the opportunity in optimizing digital assets, SEO experts look at optimization as a whole composed of three main parts:

  1. Technical optimization
  2. On-site optimization
  3. Off-site promotion

There are dozens of choices as to where you can invest your resources if you want to be holistically optimized. Like every other element of business, there is one goal in mind: ROI.

It’s essential to remember that there’s no one-size fits-all approach. Some verticals may or may not be aligned with optimizing digital assets.

In the universal search landscape, optimizing to get your homepage images or videos right on the SERPs can certainly help your pages in general rank because they contribute to the overall footprint of your site. Links start flowing in through more natural and hollistic patterns of content, and rather than just having text-based links, you now have powerful anchor text surrounding your video and images.

Here are some questions you need to ask when approaching digital asset optimization:

  1. Do a lot of high performing sites in my vertical  leverage non-text content prominently?
  2. Would my target segments benefit from digital assets including video, images, podcasts, etc.?
  3. Are there additional legal compliance issues to be addressed?
  4. Do I have the funds to create and optimize content that may not be as easy to track ROI as paid search and organic search?

Ultimately your goal should be to assess what type of content you aim to deliver users and decide what forms of content would provide the most value. For information that’s a bit dry, such as tax advice, perhaps a fun but educational video would be most effective when reaching out to users. Users searching for medical conditions (think: “weird bump on my 5 year old’s neck”) are often appreciative of images they can compare and learn from. Decide what type of digital assets would best serve your audience, then create and optimize the heck out of them.

Josh Cobb takes to the podium next.

It seems Josh was a last-minute addition to this panel (his name was not in the itinerary), but a welcome one indeed. “It’s been about six or seven years since I’ve spoken publicly,” he says, mentioning that he’s “never felt so recorded before” what with 78% of the room snapping digital cameras, tweeting presentations verbatim… oh, and quite literally, flip cameras abound.

Josh takes us through his 4-fold approach to optimizing digital assets:

  1. Take an inventory of your digital assets. Of course, consider user-generated content and internally generated content, but consider your online audience as a digital asset as well. Things haven’t changed: the person with the biggest, bestest thing usually wins. Google has the biggest index. It often wins. The LA Times had the largest archive of print material that wasn’t online for a long time. When they created digital archives, they stole the show.
  2. Sort your inventory accordingly. There are four main groups: commercial value, editorial value, entertainment value and added value.
  3. Align these assets and their values against the user, advertiser and publisher experience.
  4. Build a test for all of your marketing assumptions, user behavior, and technical limits.

Regarding monetization, think of it as work for users. Ads organize our thoughts in exchange for perceived or actual value that users expert you to deliver.

And when it comes to deciding what to deploy, these are the main three profiles:

  1. Long term, loyal user base
  2. Highly transactional sites (e-Commerce)
  3. Pass through traffic

The next priority is when to deploy.

  • Most importantly, don’t be afraid.
  • Take things little by little, but be meticulous.
  • Set your goals, be ready to measure things.
  • Go after 80% of the opportunity you discover- don’t burn yourself out trying to capture all 100%.

As Josh said, “Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress.”

Face it- on the Internet, you’re either ahead or behind- you’re never on time. So stop trying to be. The best you can do is understand that users are going to choose for themselves. Just try to make yourself the most attractive choice :).

Lastly, you must understand how to assess deployment:

  • A/B testing
  • specific goals
  • proper rotation of users
  • statistical and temporal relevance
  • isolated
  • specific begin/end
  • specific owners and roll-back plan

And how will you know if your assumptions are correct? Make sure you’re measuring results at the baseline. Leverage third party analytics packages and internal custom data analytic tools– everything from Excel to MS SQL to SAS. Investing in a trusted, knowledgeable analytics staff is a wise choice, too.

Key metrics include:

  • revenue / RMP / CPM
  • session length
  • CTR of all content assets
  • return users whole page yield

Last up is fellow Minnesotan, Lee Odden.

Universal Search was really born in 2007. But now three years later, the search landscape is different. We still have all the same digital assets, but now we have to weigh them against  personalized, social and real-time search. And lest we forget mobile search… even though mobile only represents about 3% of search, the smartphone adoption rate is sizeable, and thrusts another card in the mix we must consider.

Lee’s point is simply this: it’s all marketing! If something can be searched, it can be optimized.

Here’s a breakdown of Lee’s DAO Content Strategy Pyramid:

  • Keywords – leverage PPC KW research as well as social conversation keywords. It’s really smart to understand what keywords and what concepts people are talking about in social environments, and the vocabulary they’re using to describe them.
  • Personas – who is your audience? What are their behaviors? What are their needs? What are there interests? Where are they in the buying cycle? Do they prefer images or video?
  • SERPs – evaluate the serps – what shows up? wheres the opportunity? its not static.
  • Asset–  assess what you have. What’s already there? Online as well as offline.
  • Editorial – make sure you create a content plan.
  • Mapping – create a map for the keywords that relate to the content. This is just regular SEO but it takes digital assets into consideration.
  • Operationalize – integrate this into your regular process.
  • Off-page DAO – add digital assets, such as video, right on your site- but you better be sure yo’re promoting it across a variety of platforms.
  • Promote – leverage RSS, email marketing and other forms of direct marketing.
  • Measure – make sure you take traditional metrics into consideration as well as social media metrics, both front and and back end.

Lee like to build up the blog as a centerpiece to which all your social channels point towards. Of course he does. He’s got a beaut under his belt,

Holistic SEO In Action

Here’s a little case study Lee and the TopRank Online Marketing conducted last year:

  1. Their Goal: build keyword authority, leads.
  2. Ideal Keyword: “social media marketing”
  3. Buyer Persona: fortune 1000 companies, corp marketers
  4. Already in SERPs: web pages, blog posts
  5. Ideal Assets: blog posts, images
  6. Off-page Assets: Flickr, StumbleUpon, etc.

What They Did

  • Asked 25 top dogs in social media marketing the same 8-10 questions (some interviews were even done by video)
  • Took answers from one topical question (specific SMM tactics)
  • Optimized content and published
  • Promoted post via social media channels, RSS and email

The result? 25 Must Read Social Media Marketing Tips a.k.a. a totally hot, beloved post with incredible SEO value.

IMHO this was a wonderfully insightful session to kickstart my week of goodies here at #SESNY. Be sure to stay tuned for our coverage throughout the conference, and follow our live tweets @beebow, @MerryMorud, @MannyRivas and of course, @aimclear.

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