Batch link evaluation

When link building, it’s often necessary to gather a large list of targets for a campaign. Here’s one way to quickly get some good URLs, with basic metrics attached, without pulling them one by one.

Let’s say you’ve got a new infographic about coffee and you’re trying to find a list of blogs that would potentially be interested in posting about it. The first step is to find some pages that list the kind of blogs that we’re after. Lists like these are popular on the web so we shouldn’t have too much trouble. Google is a good place to start, either by searching for round up posts or by using the SERPs themselves as a list. Also try Technorati, DMOZ and Alltop.

Once you’ve got a page with a bunch of links listed, copy the URLs. It’s often easiest to use a tool like SEO for Firefox for this. Right click the page and select SEO XRay.

The SEO for Firefox plugin overlays some data on top of the page you’re on. Select external links and export them as a CSV file.

If you need to clean up your list to filter out duplicates, ads and other irrelevant links, pull open your CSV with Excel. Then copy them to your clipboard for the next step.

To add some quick evaluation metrics, try backlinks.in. It’s a tool built on SEOMoz’s Linkscape data and allows you to evaluate up to 1000 URLs per day in bulk. You get page MozRank and the number of backlinks for each URL, which can help you prioritize your potential link targets.

Paste back into Excel and you’re set to start pitching!

*Update – see a bonus use for batch link lists here

Hacking LinkedIn for Research

LinkedIn.com is as close to a comprehensive business directory as there is and usually reveals a lot about a company’s make up. But if you’ve ever tried to track down business leads, site owners or potential partners, you’ve probably had trouble locating the right person to contact at some point. Try this trick to get more names out of LinkedIn and locate that key person.

Let’s say you’re trying to get in touch with Pixar to show them your new promotional product. You start by searching for “marketing pixar” in LinkedIn’s search box.After browsing the results, you think the person with the title “Marketing and Promotions at Pixar Animation Studios” would be the perfect one to contact. By clicking through you can see work, education and connection details but the name of the contact is listed as private.
Bummer. Without a name it’s difficult to go much further. Here’s what you do.

Scroll down the mystery contact’s profile until you see the section labeled “Viewers of this profile also viewed…” You’ll see the names of other people that are closely associated with your contact.
Try clicking on a few of them. If you find one that’s in your network (even a 3rd degree contact) you’ll see their profile page.
Going back to our Pixar example, viewers of our target’s profile also viewed the Director of Worldwide Publicity. Since we apparently have some friends in common, I’m able to click through to her profile.

Once I’ve got Robin’s profile page open, I can scroll down to her “Viewers of this profile also viewed…” section. Because she’s closely associated with our “Marketing and Promotions” target, chances are that person will appear in her list. And she does! Using the title that we saw on the private profile page, along with background info that is available on private pages like education, we can confidently match the two and identify the mystery contact.

Depending on her privacy settings, you can now click through to her detail profile or just note the name and do some additional research on Google.

And that’s it. It’s one of those tips that doesn’t work every time but it may help in your research. Happy hunting!

Overhead at the SEOmoz Pro Training Event

SeoMoz’s Pro Training Series wrapped up yesterday and I learned a lot listening to these company insiders talk shop. Here are a few of the quotes overheard during the event that are worth repeating:

On responding to negative reviews

“Remember that the unhappy customer isn’t the audience for your response.”

David Mihm @davidmihm

Using Google Analytics effectively

“Top level performance measures aren’t helpful. Look at micro conversion events to find what is happening with your business.”

Joanna Lord @joannalord

Business process

“When SEO is institutionalized, it dies on the vine.”

Marshall Simmonds @mdsimmonds

Keyword targeting in content

“After you’ve built pages for high- and mid- volume keywords, use tools to keep the super long tail words in front of you as you write your content. Including them naturally within your copy can help in aggregate.”

Tom Critchlow @tomcritchlow

Visual distractions on landing pages

“If it doesn’t directly contribute to the current transaction, get rid of it.”

Tim Ash @tim_ash

“Rankings are a milestone, not the goal.”

Seth Besmertnik @besmertnik

Waiting for Google to reward your big link

“Authority links don’t always add instant value.”

Wil Reynolds @wilreynolds

Building links manually

“Your best links are the ones competitors can’t get.”

Rob Ousbey @robousbey

Designing link bait

“Ask your audience about linking to your content before you write it and do it on the phone.”

Rob Ousbey @robousbey

Encouraging community participation


“Reduce the friction to participate.”

Rand Fishkin @randfish

Writing headlines that stand out

“Use active language and include references to current events.”

Ian Lurie @portentint

“SEO strategy is product strategy”

Laura Lippay @lauralippay

On @bhendrickson‘s new LDA data on language usage on-page

“Remember 45 minutes ago when we thought that links were really important?”

Rand Fishkin @randfish

Presenting data

“The sexiest report is a phone call.”

Will Critchlow @willcritchlow

“Engage people, not sites.”
Tom Critchlow @tomcritchlow

Here are the slides from the presentations at the event.
http://www.seomoz.org/dp/presentations-seminar-2010

A Dangerously Level Playing Field

It seems like all my posts lately have been about Google Reader in one way or another. So let’s keep it going!
Just a small observation today: when reading posts in Reader, all posts are presented in the place and in the same way. That’s a good thing for info-holics but it can also be dangerous.
For the most part, the text formatting, professional graphic design, additional content and the overall ‘feel’ of the source site is stripped away in Reader leaving you with just the article itself. That’s great for avoiding distractions, especially when you don’t have to contend with mortgage ads or the dreaded auto-play videos that some sites insist on using. But some of those things (professional layout, the content that surrounds the article, etc) are indicators of authority that you just don’t get in Reader.
If you’re like me, you organize Reader feeds using folders. That puts all of your sources for news, which have varying levels of trustworthiness, in the same place with very little to distinguish between them. In Reader, all sources are presented equally.
That’s good news for small publishers or business that offer RSS feeds – your content will appear right alongside the big time news outfits. It’s dangerous to consumers who are digging through a large volume of news in Reader. Without a good mental filter, it’s easy to take in all of that information as if it’s been reviewed by an editor and appropriately vetted when in reality it can come from any rube with a laptop.
I put myself in that category and have caught myself reacting to information before considering the source carefully enough. It’s especially tempting to take news and run when it’s niche or industry content that major outlets might not have or if it’s breaking, juicy news. (See Brett Farve’s latest retirement proclamation, based on second hand emails and spread via Twitter.)

Google Reader as an activity hub

I’m an unabashed Google Reader fan. Reader is considered to be a best in class web-based feed reader. But it can be so much more than that. Here are a few ways that I use Reader other than tracking my favorite feeds.

Bookmarking
Using the “Note in Reader” bookmarklet, I’m able to save any web page and organize it in Reader. Tags keep things tidy and I’m also able to add my own personal notes to remind myself why I saved it in the first place.

Custom Search
Because I’ve gathered all of my favorite authors and other sources of content in Reader, the search feature can be really useful. I have a lot of feeds and don’t get around to reading all of the posts. In fact I usually skim the headlines for interesting items and use the “mark all as read” button generously to keep things clean.
Using search, I can focus a query on my favorite sources of info rather than the whole web. For instance, I read a lot of tech blogs that post dozens of times a day. If I’m looking for a review on a new product or a commentary on a new website, I’ll use Reader’s search to get the info from sources I trust, and quickly.

Brand Monitoring and Sharing

After using a variety of tools to create persistent search feeds, I use Reader to collect and share interesting items. Irrelevant results are a part of persistent searches. Rather than trying to fine tune my queries too far, I add my own human filter to the rough results to make sure I’m keeping only the quality items.
Using Reader, I scan the headlines of the items that come through and open the ones that look interesting. If the item passes the my quality check I add a label, which puts it in the ‘keep’ pile. The rest go unlabeled and stay out of the way.
The result is an ultra-clean set of persistent search results. And because I’ve labeled them, I can share them with co-workers on a web page (manage subscriptions -> Folders and tags -> view public page), in a ten-foot display format (subscription menu -> View in Reader Play), or as a new RSS feed. For stubborn email users, I can use Feedburner to deliver those items by email too.

Discovery
The team behind Google Reader has made great strides in this area lately. Because Google knows so much about you (which scares some people but doesn’t bother me much) it can make pretty good suggestions about what you’d like to see. Reader’s Explore bar gives you suggested posts and suggested sources of popular stuff related to your interests.
If you find that you’re sorting through too much clutter, you can try PostRank for Reader, which further filters suggestions by giving them a popularity score based on other users’ behavior. If you have a lot of feeds or if your feeds post frequently, it can be especially useful.
You can also try typing a topic into the ‘Add Subscription” box and find new feeds that way.

More Reader Ideas
Besides reading blogs, I also use Reader to:
-Watch for new Craigslist and eBay listings for things I’m interested in
-Find interesting things to share on Twitter
-Get notified when there are questions on Yahoo Answers that I could comment on
-Refresh my desktop wallpaper with the best photos on the web
-Monitor the occasional Woot Off (although Reader is usually too slow to catch the elusive BOC.)

Add to all this the fact that the regular feed browsing features are amazing too and it’s no wonder I’m in Reader most of my work day.

So bad it’s good, so good it’s bad: when campaigns turn on you

The performance of a Marketing campaign is difficult to predict. There are just too many variables: vehicles used, frequency, the mindset of the recipients, unforeseeable marital scandal by celebrity pitchman, etc.
It’s no wonder that sometimes we get completely unexpected results.

The Cult Status Effect – Execution that is so bad, it becomes a meme of sorts, spreading the word much further than if it were merely mediocre. A lot like winning the lottery, these rarely happen on purpose. It worked for The Snuggie, The Doyle and Devoe Real Estate Team and the Montgomery Flea Market but pursue this strategy at your own risk. Most bad commercials or ads simply die out quickly and anonymously. Or worse, you could become…

…The Punchline – The worst kind of viral ad. This type of message gets remembered and passed on for all the wrong reasons. What seemed like a good idea on paper becomes the bane of your existence. Bad campaigns are notoriously hard to live down once they’ve picked up steam online.

Too Much of a Good Thing – Like mom said, Halloween candy is wonderful but too much will give you a stomach ache. Growing up in Minneapolis, we visited family in Chicago on a regular basis. In Chicago, I remember hearing the catchy jingle for Empire Carpet – “5-8-8; 2-3-hundred… em-PIRE!” and thinking that it was a fun ad.
Now Empire commercials are aired in the Twin Cities and I hear their ads every single day on TV and on the radio. My nostalgia-hazed memories of Empire have been replaced with an intense loathing for the cursed song. (I realize that Advertising 101 says that repetition is good and even annoying ads work if they’re memorable. There is a line though and Empire has crossed it.)
If the Empire ads are not familiar, think Presidential campaign ads or football TV commercials for men’s prescription medication. You get the idea.

Extenuating Circumstances – Some things are simply out of a marketer’s control. No matter how good an ad campaign is, it can be sabotaged. A classic example in the news today is Toyota. Their recent ad campaigns have been eye-catching and effective. (Even their Prius campaign, which is a little creepy, delivers their message well.) But all of that is undermined by safety concerns resulting from massive recalls.

It’s good to remember that while we do our best to influence our marketplaces, persuasion is an unpredictable field that sometimes yields strange results.

Domino’s Pizza Turnaround: The Missing Ingredient

By now you’ve probably seen Domino’s Pizza’s commercial where they admit that their pizza was terrible. They’ve grabbed a lot of attention with this bold tactic and I give them credit for daring to be so transparent.

For all the things they’ve done well here, the story still seems less than genuine to me. They forgot one thing: the scapegoat.
They show chefs and executives reading all the negative feedback, swallowing hard and going back at it with a new enthusiasm. After a big group clap, they unveil the new pizza recipe that tastes way better than before. Does anyone else see the problem here?
The people delivering the new pizza are the same people that made the old pizza. Why should we trust them to do any better this time?
Domino’s almost got it right. But if you’re going to admit your product stinks, heads have to roll. We need to know that the problem has been identified and eliminated. There has to be a ‘new management’ moment that makes us feel like things are truly different.
Ending the ‘pizza makeover’ that way might not have been as uplifting but it would be more believable.

The Sacred Moment of Unboxing


Shopping online is great for selection. It seems that no matter what you’re after, you can easily find multiple vendors willing to ship it to your door.
The age old knock on e-commerce is that you don’t get your hands on your product before you buy. Or even after you buy – not immediately anyway. You have to wait.

That’s why your heartbeat might speed up a bit when you spy a brown box on your front step. The virtual experience you had a few days before has now shown up in the real world. You’ve already paid and endured the waiting and now the payoff is here. Will the product be right or will you be disappointed?
There is even more anxiety if you’re trying a new vendor – are they legitimate? Or did you just get ripped off by a shady scammer?

Once the box is opened, all is revealed. It’s a make or break moment for an online business. How the customer reacts will determine whether or not they remember your name, how they’ll review you online and what they’ll tell their friends. The moment of unboxing can be great for business or it can be a lost opportunity for growth.

In Pow! Right Between the Eyes, Andy Nulman encourages marketers to use the power of surprise to make an impression. It’s relatively easy, can be extremely inexpensive and remarkably effective. So why not apply that wisdom to the critical moment of unboxing and give yourself the chance to maximize the opportunity?

That’s just what MFM Apparel does when they deliver their unique t-shirts, illustrated with quirky characters. The resident artist, Saman, draws a small cartoon and message for each order that goes out the door. It’s an unexpected, personal touch that reaches customers at that critical moment.
The rest of the process was pretty mundane when I shopped at MFM – browse for a shirt, check out online and wait for it to show up in the mail. The shirt was delivered in a boring white mailer too. But the surprise message inside was fun and memorable – surprises usually are. And during the unboxing, the fun of the unexpected extra rubs off on the product which rubs off on the vendor. And here we are.

If you’re selling online, consider carefully what your customers will experience when they open up your box. And if you’re interested in powerful word of mouth marketing, consider using the element of surprise to make sure that experience is a positive one.

Unsolicited Advice for the Professional Service Industry

The recent explosion of information and tools available through the internet has changed things in a variety of industries. One industry that is slow to be transformed? The professional services: painters, landscapers, movers, appliance repair, etc.
Whenever I look for someone to help me with one of those tasks, I’m amazed at how stuck in the past these vendors are. That makes it a real opportunity for someone willing to get with the times.

The experience of hiring a contractor is a little unsettling. When looking for a furnace repairman for example, you’ve got to find someone qualified for the job even though you don’t know much about furnaces. What questions do you ask? What is a reasonable price? Am I inviting a weirdo into my house?

Ultimately, the issue comes down to trust. Trust is everything to contractors.

Getting people to trust you is tricky. It’s hard to put customers at ease, especially if they have just shelled out a bunch of money.
Most vendors don’t help the matter at all with their behavior. I’ve found that even simple acts that build trust like calling someone back when you say you will or showing up on time are missed by your average painter or handyman. Here’s where technology can help.
The internet can be a great equalizer. Small operations can use design templates to create a good looking website that will be miles ahead of the crappy designs that typify contractor sites. Using basic SEO practices, a 2-man lawn mowing service can rank for relevant keywords, boosting their credibility. (Because these jobs are performed by local contractors, ranking for local terms is very doable.) Blogging is a great opportunity to demonstrate expertise and build trust too.

Tech savvy companies could really stand out if thought about using new services creatively. Why not use Google Voice to ring multiple phones from the same 800 number and manage voicemail quote requests online? Or allow customers to see a live schedule for estimates on a website and book their own time? Or offer GPS tracking of service trucks so customers can know when to expect their service person to arrive?

The amazing thing is that the tools to do these things aren’t prohibitively expensive or hard to use. They’re cheap or even free.
And for these types of jobs, each additional sign up is huge. A typical painting job might be worth $2,500 and keep a crew busy for the better part of a week.

So why don’t more professionals take advantage of the free tools available? I’m not sure. I think it has to do with the fact that often times the same person fixing your plumbing is the one handling lead generation. They are focused on their trade and don’t want to think about the business side more than they have to. Marketing is something to get out of the way so you can get on with your work.
If that’s right, technology can’t help after all. The effort needs to come first.

For a company willing to try new things though, today’s tools present an opportunity for extremely efficient marketing which costs very little money. The industry will change eventually so this opportunity is only available for a limited time.

Minnesota Tech Scene at SMBMSP

I attended the latest Social Media Breakfast on Friday morning. I’ve always been curious to go and since the event was at the State Fair this year (and I wanted to go there anyway) I decided it would be a good time to give it a try.
The day started off early and wet and I found myself wandering through an un-crowded fairground for the first time I can remember. The event was held at the Blue Ribbon picnic area, on the opposite side of the fair from the bus drop off. That meant that I arrived a bit late but didn’t have any problem finding a seat.
The program itself was pretty silly. It was funny to sit back and hear the bacon jokes and mixer games but there wasn’t a whole lot of new content presented there. I started to feel a little disappointed that I’d come out until I left the tent and started shaking hands.
I spoke with Rich Goldsmith for a few minutes. (He had just presented an especially angst-ridden bacon haiku about the temptation to eat the non-Kosher food.) He shared a bit about his work in social media and how he’s using it to reach new audiences. You can read Rich’s work at Defenestrator.
Thanks to David Erickson (see his e-Strategy blog) from Tunheim Partners as well. He was at the fair representing No Name Steaks and we talked about their recent effort to add social media tools to their campaigns. The chocolate-and-bacon Conan O’Brien bust that has been all over the media lately was their doing and it was interesting to get a behind the scenes look at how they pulled it off.
The official content up on stage came around too. Eventually, the program moved away from musical chairs and toward some interesting and useful case studies from local companies. That of course is what the Social Media Breakfast events are all about – meeting people and learning from each other. Although I could do without some of the silly games, I enjoyed the event and would try it again.

The rain dried up quickly too and I had a great day at the Fair with my family. I recommend the cinnamon rolls for pre-lunch snacking!