11 Social Media Apps You Should Be Using in 2018

If your 2018 social media goals have anything to do with saving time, being more productive, or improving the ROI of your marketing efforts, then the following social media apps are here to help.

Continue reading to discover:

  • The most useful tools for keeping up with all the latest social media trends
  • The best social media apps that will help you save time—and money
  • Easy-to-use apps that will give your visuals a professional touch

11 of the best social media apps for marketers

1. Planoly

2. Datally

3. Adobe Premiere Clip

4. Signal

5. Hootsuite Amplify

6. Habit Minder

7. Sprinkles

8. Clips

9. Swiipe News

10. Botletter

11. MindFi

1. Planoly

best social media apps

For busy social media marketers, it’s easy to get caught up in the details and forget about the big picture. Nowhere is this more true than your Instagram feed.

While you might be sharing great individual posts, if these aren’t supporting your overall brand voice and building a consistent Instagram aesthetic, they could be hurting your long-term results.

The Planoly app, which is recommended by Hootsuite’s social marketing team lead Amanda Wood, is the first visual planner for Instagram. The app lets you see how your individual posts will look as a grid before you post, in addition to providing data and engagement rates for each post.

Free for iOS
Free for Android

2. Datally

social media apps

Between all the scrolling, editing, posting, and scheduling, it’s a miracle any social media manager stays under their monthly cell-phone data allowance.

Google’s Datally app is here to help. The mobile data manager helps users monitor, save, and gain control of their data usage through tracking.

The Data Saver feature alone can reduce mobile data usage by over 30 percent. Other features, such as the Wi-Fi finder and data usage metrics, work together to save money for those who rely on their phones more than the average user.

Free for Android

3. Adobe Premiere Clip

Forty-six percent of respondents in Hootsuite’s 2018 social media trends survey said they’re already creating and sharing social video, with another 26 percent planning to over the next year. If you’re looking for a way to easily create professional-looking videos, Adobe Premiere Clip is a must-download app.

The free video app gives you advanced (but easy-to-use) features including editing capabilities, soundtrack support, and custom lighting and aesthetic options.

“Adobe Premiere Clip is the industry standard for mobile video production and what I personally use on a daily basis,” says Hootsuite’s resident video expert Liam McLeod.

Free for iOS
Free for Android

4. Signal

Security and privacy are two areas social media marketers can’t cut corners with. Whether you’re discussing clients or confidential business information, you want to ensure your messages are protected.

The Signal instant messaging app uses an advanced, end-to-end encryption protocol that provides privacy for all content sent on the network, offering unbeatable peace of mind.

Don’t trust us? Information privacy expert and former CIA agent Edward Snowden is a daily user.

Free for iOS
Free for Android

5. Hootsuite Amplify

According to Altimeter’s social media employee advocacy research, 21 percent of consumers report “liking” employee posts —a far higher engagement rate than the average social ad.

Your customers want to talk to a person, not a brand. With Hootsuite Amplify, you can easily find and share news, articles, and other engaging content about your brand across your social networks.

For more on how to create an effective employee advocacy plan, read our post Employee Advocacy on Social Media: How to Make It Work for Your Business.

Free for iOS
Free for Android

6. Habit Minder

social media apps

With every new year—or new week—comes the opportunity to set new goals. Habit Minder makes sure you stay on top of these good intentions by sending you reminders to drink water, walk, breathe deeply, or any other task you choose.

With Habit Minder you can track your progress and analyze detailed statistics for each of your goals. For stressed-out social media marketers, these little nudges and micro-goals can make all the difference between a forgotten intention and a completed accomplishment.

Free for iOS

7. Sprinkles

When you’re rushing to get an Instagram post up, the last thing you have time for is coming up with a witty caption.

The Sprinkles app is a camera tool that automatically detects the subjects of your photos and suggests appropriate captions. Sprinkles also includes face-detection technology so you can apply Smart Stickers (masks and filters) to your images.

Free for iOS

8. Clips

social media apps

Apple’s Clips lets users create and share short videos complete with special effects, text, graphics, and more.

One of the more interesting features of Clips is Live Titles, which let you create animated captions simply by talking as you record.

Clips also uses a specialized facial recognition technology thanks to Apple’s Machine Learning technology. It compare faces of those in your video to those in your device’s picture library. Not only that, but Clips will find these individuals in your address book and let you share the video with them in one click.

Free for iOS

9. Swiipe News

For social media marketers that are always on the go, it can be hard to keep up with world events and news. The Swiipe News app helps solve this problem.

Designed for a world that loves swiping, the tool lets you easily swipe through stories and headlines without having to scroll through endless, full-length articles.

Choose from over 250 trusted news sources for a customized feed full of the news that matters most to you—or your audience.

Free for iOS

10. Botletter

As we highlighted in our 2018 social media trends report, Facebook went from 33,000 bots in 2016 to over 100,000 in 2017—a 200 percent increase.

And this movement shows no sign of slowing down.

While not technically a mobile app, Botletter is a tool that lets users send newsletters to customers over Facebook Messenger. Customers can subscribe to company’s newsletters directly through Facebook Messenger, meaning brands can reach their audience where they are most active.

Interact with the bot on Facebook Messenger

11. MindFi

Along with taking the time to schedule engaging content, social media marketers need to schedule time for mental health and wellness.

Traditional meditation apps can take some commitment—a quiet room and at least five minutes to close your eyes and think of nothing—but MindFi knows busy individuals don’t often have that luxury.

Use the app to incorporate meditation into your busy schedule without interrupting your lifestyle. The three-minute long meditation sessions can be done with your eyes open, and while you work, eat, or do other tasks.

MindFi also features a ‘Deep Work’ option aimed to help users focus and prevent distractions for 25 minutes at a time. With MindFi, users report increased focus, attention spans, and productivity. This is one meditation app busy social media marketers can make the time for.

Free for iOS
Free for Android

The right tools can make all the difference for social media marketers. Whether you need help with your visual content, incorporating 2018 social media trends into your strategy, or making the time to do it all, the above apps will help you build the most engaging content for your customers.

Increase your productivity with the Hootsuite mobile app. The easy-to-use social media app allows you to schedule, publish, and monitor conversations from anywhere.

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How to Schedule YouTube Videos: A Quick Step-by-Step Guide

Creating great content on YouTube is enough of a challenge without the time it takes to publish and promote your videos. The good news is you can schedule YouTube videos on the platform itself or with a social media management platform like Hootsuite.

For time-strapped social marketers, one of the key benefits of choosing the latter option is that you can then promote your video across other social networks with just a few clicks.

This guide will teach you how to schedule YouTube videos using Hootsuite and then save time promoting on other social channels.

How to schedule YouTube videos

Watch the video or read the step-by-step instructions below to learn how to schedule and publish YouTube videos using Hootsuite.

  1. Sign up for Hootsuite. There’s a free plan if you’d like to start there.
  2. Add your YouTube channel or channels to the Hootsuite dashboard.
  3. In the Compose Message box, click Attach Media.
  4. Click on the YouTube Video tab and choose a file to upload to YouTube.
  5. From the drop-down menu in the top left corner, select the YouTube channel you want to publish your video on.
  6. Give your video a title in the Title field.
  7. Enter a video description, tags, and category from the drop-down menu. Your tags will not be shown publicly.
  8. You can select a video thumbnail pic by clicking on the left or right arrows.
  9. Click on the Privacy drop-down menu.
  10. Click the Schedule to go Public toggle, choose a date and time to go public and click Set.
  11. Click Schedule in the top right corner.
  12. Your scheduled video will appear immediately in your My Videos stream.

How to edit scheduled YouTube videos in Hootsuite

  1. Go to the Hootsuite Publisher.
  2. Under the Scheduled tab, adjust the scheduled publishing time of your video.
  3. You can also edit details like the title, description, and tags.

5 tips for scheduling YouTube videos

1. Include a descriptive video title

This is important because it’s the first thing your audience sees when they find your video—and it’s great for SEO too. You want to grab your audience’s attention while also taking keywords into consideration. Here’s how to create a great video title:

  • Tell the viewer why they need to watch. Like a headline on a blog post, your title is a promise to the viewer, so tell them how they will benefit by viewing your content. Grab their attention by emphasising the value of your video.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t make them work hard to understand what your video is about. Keep titles short and to the point. And because Google truncates page titles at 66 characters, anything beyond that will be cut off in the search results anyway—so make those 66 characters count.
  • Do keyword research. Use a tool like Google Adwords Keyword Planner to nail down a couple of relevant keyword phrases to include in your title. This will help your video rank higher in search results.
  • Search YouTube. An easy way to find relevant titles is to start typing the words you are thinking of using into the YouTube search bar. Experiment a little and try out other words too. YouTube auto-fills the search bar, so this reveals what audiences are actually searching for, which can give you a better insight into how to write a winning title. This will help you to write your video description too.

Here are examples of both a good and not-so-good video titles to help you out:

  • Not so good: “Super Cool Ways to Get the Timing Right for Uploading Videos to Your Personal YouTube Channel”
  • Good: “How to Schedule YouTube Videos: A Quick Step by Step Guide”

2. Write clear and succinct video descriptions and tags

When writing video descriptions and tags, you need to keep things clear and concise. YouTube’s algorithm takes both into account when it selects videos for search results—so your search rank is informed by how clear you are. Here are some tips:

  • Work backwards. Not sure what keywords you want to rank for? Consider this: if someone wanted to find a video like yours, what words and phrases would they use to find it? Those are your keywords.
  • Include as much information as possible. The algorithm takes a lot into consideration when compiling search results, so include as much information as possible. In addition to your keywords, use concise image file names and meta descriptions.

3. Promote and share your videos across other social networks

Here’s the easiest way to do it using Hootsuite:

  1. When a video has been published, a pop-up appears containing an embed code you can insert onto your website. The pop-up also includes the YouTube video’s URL. Simply click Share via Hootsuite and insert the video URL into the Compose Message box. Click Send Now.
  2. To share at a later date, select Streams from the launch menu.
  3. Click the tab hosting your YouTube stream.
  4. Click More beneath the video, and then click Share.
  5. Select the profile or profiles you want to post on from the social profile picker in the top left of the screen.
  6. Write your message in the Compose box.
  7. Copy and paste the YouTube link into the Add a Link field to shrink it.
  8. Click Scheduling to publish the post at a later date.

Now site back and watch your YouTube views and subscriber count soar.

4. Engage your audience

Scheduling video content with Hootsuite makes it easier to monitor comments and engage with subscribers—which in turn builds a loyal YouTube audience for your brand. You can even create a Comments Stream for each specific video. And Hootsuite’s YouTube Search Stream makes it even easier for you to discover and amplify relevant YouTube content across multiple networks.

5. Track video performance to optimize your YouTube strategy

For a better way to identify your top performing videos and get additional data points, add the YouTube Analytics app to your Hootsuite dashboard from the App Directory. You have two App options to choose from:

  • The free YouTube analytics app: Get valuable insights into your videos and channels and brings rich analytics data to your Hootsuite dashboard.
  • The $5 per moth YouTube analytics app: This option provides individual video insights into engagement levels, trending content, content discovery methods, playbacks, countries and sources of traffic. You can also track channel subscriptions and demographic information.

Grow your YouTube audience faster with Hootsuite. It’s simple to manage and schedule YouTube videos as well as quickly publish your videos to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter—all from one dashboard. Try it free today.

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Everything You Need to Know About Using Facebook Groups for Business

Facebook is evolving to focus more on building communities, and groups are the natural tools to help forge those new kinds of connections. One billion people already belong to Facebook groups. About 10 percent of those belong to groups that Facebook has identified as “very meaningful”—communities that “quickly become the most important part of someone’s experience on Facebook.”

Since people who love a brand want opportunities to get more interactive than is possible through a Facebook Page, Facebook has recently made it easier for businesses to create their own Facebook groups. Groups for Pages allows businesses to set up “fan clubs and groups centered around your super-fans.”

“Super-fans” are a group any business should be keen to target. By giving those extra-keen brand loyalists a chance to interact with each other as well as with the brand itself, groups create a powerful ecosystem in which members forge meaningful connections with your business.

And those connections among customers and fans are more important than ever. The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that people are far more likely to trust someone like themselves (60 percent) for company information than they are the company CEO (37 percent).

Read on to learn how to use Facebook groups to grow your business and engage your audience.

Table of contents

Facebook groups vs. Facebook Pages

How to create a Facebook group

How to find and join relevant Facebook groups

Facebook groups strategies for business

Tips for using Facebook groups for business

Facebook groups vs. Facebook Pages

A Facebook Page is essentially a Facebook profile for your business. As Facebook puts it, “Facebook Pages enable public figures, businesses, organizations and other entities to create an authentic and public presence on Facebook.” Only official brand representatives can create a Facebook Page for that business.

Groups, on the other hand, “allow people to come together around a common cause, issue or activity to organize, express objectives, discuss issues, post photos and share related content.”

Anyone can create a group, which means that even if you have not created a Facebook group yourself, there might already be a group related to your brand. For example, fans of Hallmark movies created and manage the group called Fans of Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries and Hallmark Drama, which currently has more than 21,000 members.

Facebook Groups

If groups related to your business already exist, you should definitely get involved to keep an eye on the conversation, learn from what people are saying about you, and help provide the brand’s perspective. You might even uncover some potential ideas for new product development. (We’ll get into more detail about finding and joining existing groups below.) But you should also create your own official group as the brand-endorsed meeting place for fans on Facebook, so that you can grow those relationships in a context that gives you greater control.

How to create a Facebook group

The actual process of creating a Facebook group takes just a few clicks. The harder work is making decisions about the purpose of your group and how best to support it through the various options available. Here’s how to get started.

1. Open the Create a group window

Log into your brand’s Facebook Page and click the more icon (…) at the far right of the menu bar under your cover photo, then choose Create group.

Facebook Groups for business

2. Choose a name for your group

You’ll want this to be something that’s easily recognizable as connected to your business and conveys what group members will get from the group that they can’t get by following your Facebook Page.

Keep in mind that you can create multiple groups to cover different aspects of your business or different customer groups, so you don’t need to try to make your first group a catch-all. For example, HBO has a group specifically for fans of its Big Little Liars series.

Facebook Groups for business

3. Invite some members

Just like no one wants to be first to arrive at a party, no one want to be the first person to join a Facebook group. Invite some colleagues, employees, or friends to get the ball rolling. You may also want to reach out to some of the more active participants on your Facebook Page and let them know you’re creating a group you’d love them to be a part of.

You can choose to customize your invitation with a note—this is a good way to let people know why you are inviting them to the group, and how they can expect to benefit from participating. Click the paper icon in the bottom right corner of the invite box to add your note, which will go out to all invitees.

4. Select the privacy level for your group

You have three privacy options: public, closed, or secret.

Facebook Groups for business

A public group is exactly what it sounds like. It’s fully visible to everyone, and anyone can join without being approved. All members’ posts are fully visible to all other Facebook users, so this type of group does not offer the sense of privacy and security that comes with the more restricted group types. However, it is the easiest group type for users to join, and can therefore grow quickly.

In a closed group, posts are only visible to members, so there’s a sense of being involved in an exclusive community. The group itself appears in Facebook searches, and the description and member list are visible to anyone on Facebook. It doesn’t offer complete privacy, but members can feel comfortable knowing that the posts they share are visible only to members of the group. All new membership requests must be approved by an existing member or administrator of the group.

A secret group offers the same post privacy as a closed group, with an added level of stealth: the group does not show up in Facebook searches. The only way to find and join a secret group is to be invited by an existing member.

There’s no right type of group for all businesses. If you want to encourage lots of public discussion, a public group might be your best bet. If your business deals with an area of life that people consider to be personal or private, you might want to consider a closed group so that people feel comfortable sharing thoughts that they might not want to be publicly visible. A secret group could even be a fit, if your goal is to offer a super-exclusive online meeting place—for premium members of your subscription site, for example.

Once you’ve selected your privacy level, click Create.

5. Personalize your group

Your Facebook group is now up and running, but it’s pretty bare bones. You’ll need to do some customizing to make it an appealing place for potential group members to gather online, and to give it some credibility. Here’s how:

  1. Add a cover photo: Choose something that highlights the unique purpose of this specific group, rather than a generic image for your business. And make sure you’re using the recommended image size dimensions.
  2. Add a description: Create a catchy explanation of what the group is all about. Remember that this information is publicly visible for public and closed groups.
  3. Add some tags: These tags function as keywords that will help your group appear in search.
  4. Add locations: If your group is tied to a specific geographic area (or several), you can indicate so here. If not, you can choose to mark you group as “global.”

Facebook Groups for business

6. Start posting

Get the discussion started with some posts of your own, and encourage your colleagues, employees, and friends to post as well. Once the discussion gets rolling, conversations will start to happen more organically.

You may wish to pin a post to the top of the group to provide additional information that you don’t want to include in the public description (for example, rules for participation in the group).

How to find and join relevant Facebook groups

In addition to communicating with potential clients and customers, Facebook groups can be a great source of professional connections and networking opportunities. Getting to know fellow entrepreneurs in your local area or niche topic of expertise, for example, can help create growth opportunities for all group members. You can share information and ideas within a safe shared space, which can be particularly valuable if you work from home or within a small company.

A simple Facebook search will help you uncover existing Facebook groups that are relevant to your business goals. The process of finding these groups is easy. The tougher part is deciding which types of groups will be most useful to your professional development and help you grow your business.

If you join too many groups, you’ll be overwhelmed with posts and won’t be able to participate in regular discussions. Facebook allows you to join up to 6,000 groups, but this would be an impossible number of communities to keep up with, so it’s important to zero in on the groups that offer the most benefits. Here are three ways to find them.

Method 1: Use the Discover groups tab

  1. Log into your personal Facebook profile
  2. In the left column, under the Explore heading, click on Groups. If you’ve already joined some groups, you’ll see them listed on this page.
    Facebook groups
  3. Click on the Discover tab at the top of the page. Facebook will bring up some recommended groups based on Pages you’ve likes, your location, groups your friends belong to, and other clues from your activities on Facebook. You can also scroll through various topics and to find relevant groups for each subject.Facebook groups
  4. Once you find a group that looks interesting, click on the name of the group to view the publicly available information, or click Join to become a member of the group. Depending on the privacy settings, you may become a group member automatically, or you may have to wait for your membership request to be approved.

Method 2: Search for relevant groups

  1. Log into your Facebook profile.
  2. Enter a relevant keyword in the search box at the top left of the page.
  3. Click the Groups tab to see a list of groups related to your search term.
  4. As above, click on the name of the group to learn more, or click Join to become a member of the group.

Method 3: Uncover secret Facebook groups

The thing about secret groups is, well, they’re secret. That means you can’t find them using either of the methods above. The only way to find and join a secret group is to be invited by an existing member.

Talk to your contacts to learn whether they belong to any secret groups they might be willing to invite you to. When asking for an invite, be sure to mention ways you could bring value to the group, rather than simply seeking out benefits for yourself.

Facebook groups strategies for business

The ways in which you use Facebook groups for business will vary depending on your industry, the size of your business, and your social networking goals. Let’s look at two examples of very different businesses using Facebook groups to build strong communities online.

1. Major publisher: Connecting with super-fans

Facebook’s chief product officer, Chris Cox, cited the Washington Post’s wildly successful PostThis Facebook group as one of the motivations for launching groups for Pages. Two reporters from the Washington Post started the group from their personal profiles before it was possible for Pages to create their own groups.

Facebook Groups for business

The goal of the group is to allow reporters to connect with the newspaper’s most dedicated readers, sharing information about how they do their work, where story ideas come from, and how the job of political reporting gets done. While the group has fewer than 4,000 members (compared to the more than six million followers of The Washington Post’s Facebook Page), it is very active, with multiple posts per day.

Rather than simply Liking or commenting on stories, group members can engage in active discussions with the people who work in the Post’s newsroom, giving them an inside look at the work that goes into modern journalism. They can also connect with other readers, sharing opinions and information among themselves.

2. Online entrepreneur: Building a community and establishing expertise

In April of 2016, Shirley Weir of Menopause Chicks posted an online survey asking women what topics they wanted to learn more about. She had planned to use the answers to inform the content she would develop for her website, but when she learned that 70 percent of respondents said they didn’t have anyone to talk to about perimenopause or menopause (or that they would never talk about it with anyone), she decided it was high time to create a safe place for those discussions to happen.

She launched her Menopause Chicks Private Community Facebook group that same week.

Facebook Groups for business

“Creating a private online Facebook group seemed like the most natural thing to do,” Shirley said. “It was quick and easy to set up, and my tribe ‘lives’ on Facebook. It was the perfect launch into creating two-way and group conversations about the perimenopause-to-menopause transition that allow women to get informed, know their options, and then make the health decision that’s best for them.”

More than 80 percent of the 3,500 members are active in any given month, and the conversations are personal, vulnerable, and highly valuable to those women who felt they had nowhere else to turn. Shirley gets involved in the conversations, highlighting her own value as an expert in her niche, delivering important information and resources to group members, and building her brand—all at the same time.

“It’s the age-old ‘if you’re happy, tell others’ mantra,” Shirley said. “Women love to share with other women, so we hope to continually move women along the I have a question > I received a thoughtful and meaningful reply > I want to tell all my friends spectrum. Every single day we get notes of gratitude—usually within the same theme: I was suffering in silence and now I realize I am not alone and I can get through this.”

Tips for using Facebook groups for business

1. Engage consistently

Once your group reaches critical mass, it will take on a life of its own as members start conversations amongst themselves. But to get the most value from your group, it’s important for you to engage regularly with members, whether by starting conversations or jumping into ones that are already underway.

One key benefit of having your own Facebook group is the opportunity to showcase your expertise and establish yourself as the go-to resource in your niche, so make sure you do so regularly. Respond to questions, ask follow-up questions of your own, and generally keep the conversations going.

One easy way to engage and get new members involved is to post regular welcome messages. The built-in welcome message feature allows you to tag new members automatically, so you can introduce them to the group and let them know you’re happy they’ve joined.

Facebook Groups for business

2. Keep things under control

Most people who join your group will likely do so with good intentions. But there are always some spoilsports out there. And things can sometimes take a negative turn. It’s up to you or your designated moderators and administrators to maintain a positive atmosphere that’s welcoming and safe for all group members.

Start by creating a clear code of conduct for your group and posting it in a prominent place (such as a pinned post) so that everyone understands what’s acceptable, and what’s not. You don’t need to get too draconian, but be sure to lay out your expectations in a way that everyone can understand.

If things start to get heated within your group, you can use Facebook’s group administrator tools to temporarily black a member from posting or commenting, or permanently remove members who have violated your group’s rules. If one post in particular seems to be inspiring inappropriate comments, you can turn off commenting for that post, or delete it. If you have to remove a member, you can also choose to delete all of their past posts.

3. Learn from Group Insights

Once your group reaches 250 members or more, you’ll gain access to Group Insights, which can provide information about which posts are most engaging, and what times create the best engagement among members.

These analytics can help you refine your Facebook groups business strategy over time so you can focus on what works best.

4. Collect user-generated content

Since group members know they’re in a safe and regulated space, they may be more willing to share than they would be on other social media channels. Try asking your group members to share their favorite relevant content or give you feedback, and make sure to comment on and like what they share.

You can also create and upload documents like text files and spreadsheets within a Facebook group. These can be a great resource for organizing information and keeping it in a consolidated, easy-to-find location.

Facebook group documents are also helpful for collaboration on projects, brainstorming, or anything else, which can help establish your group as a place where ideas can flourish and connections can be made.

5. Gain customer insight

Your Facebook group is essentially a focus group of your best customers and potential customers, so it can be an important source of valuable opinions and insight that can help you identify pain points, hone in on what your customers like best, and even come up with new product ideas.

Use social listening techniques to get a sense of what matters most to group members. If you’re seeking specific information or opinions on one topic, try posting a poll within the group to measure responses numerically.

Easily manage your Facebook presence using Hootsuite. From a single dashboard you can schedule posts, share video, engage with followers, and measure the impact of your efforts—all from the same platform that run your other social channels on. Try it free today.

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Using Micro-Communities to Boost Organic Reach on Social Media

As more people and businesses compete for attention on social media—and networks like Facebook continue to tweak their algorithms—many businesses are seeing a steady decline in organic reach.

The most touted solution is to buy social ads. But what if your business doesn’t have a social advertising budget? How can you increase organic reach… organically?

The rise of dark social and messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and WeChat proves that people are seeking personalized engagement and one-on-one connection on social media. This is why creating “micro-communities” can help boost your organic reach, by offering your followers a more tailored and relevant brand experience.

Instead of one general social handle representing everything, a micro-community is focused on a specific element or aspect of your business. Dedicated customer support accounts and regionalized accounts are common examples, but you could create a micro-community that revolves around a niche hobby or interest (as long as it relates to your business). The most effective micro-communities aren’t only focused on a business connecting with customers—they’re also about connecting customers to one another.

Aside from creating entirely new profiles, here are three ways to create and participate in micro-communities on social media.

1. Start a Facebook group

Businesses have the ability to create Facebook Groups within their Page. This means you can use your Facebook Page for general information about your organization and key marketing messages, while offering more targeted and one-on-one engagement to your most passionate fans.

For example, reporters from The Washington Post use a group called PostThis – from The Washington Post to talk directly to the paper’s superfans about how stories come together. This group is a micro-community that lives within The Washington Post’s main Facebook Page. Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer, says it’s a “digital version of letters to the editor, but with ongoing real-time discussions.”

Not sure what your group should be about? Identify what it is about your business that brings people together. A public library could start a group that acts as a monthly online book club, for example. A non-profit could start a group dedicated to volunteer opportunities in the community. If you have a product that’s a bit more technical, a group could help customers get real-time support and advice from experts at your company or other users.

To create a group within your Facebook Page, simply click on “Groups” on the left side of your Page and you’ll receive this prompt:

2. Organize or participate in Twitter chats

A Twitter chat is a public discussion people have at a predetermined day or time using a shared hashtag. They can revolve around a specific industry, topic, or trend—and they’re a great way to encourage engagement among your followers and boost your organic reach.

For example, TalentCulture, an online community focused on the modern workplace, hosts a Twitter chat every Wednesday using the hashtag #WorkTrends. In the chat, they discuss topics like technology, recruiting, benefits, workplace culture, and more. They promote the Twitter chat directly in their Twitter bio and introduce each week’s topic in a live podcast.

You can host a Twitter chat about any topic relevant to your business. Just make sure there’s enough subject matter to sustain a regular cadence—whether it’s weekly or monthly. For more tips, check out our step-by-step guide to hosting successful Twitter chats.

If you’re not ready to host your own Twitter chat, finding a relevant one for your business to participate in can help boost your organic presence. Use this comprehensive list of Twitter chats to find one that may fit with your brand and then monitor the chat at least once.

When you have a good sense of who’s participating and what value your business could add, go ahead and jump in. But avoid being overly promotional and self-serving; you’re there to add value and insights that people will want to share.

3. Bring people together with an Instagram hashtag

Instead of only using a hashtag to promote your business, create one that serves as a rallying cry or a badge of honor for a micro-community.

For example, Herschel Supply Company’s #WellTravelled and #CityLimitless hashtags not only encapsulate what the Herschel brand is all about, they also attract millions of travel photos from users around the world. This helps boost the organic reach of their brand, both directly and indirectly.

Herschel posts their own product photos with these hashtags, but they also share user-generated content that aligns with their visual aesthetic. This helps them regularly update their Instagram account with fresh content that attracts organic engagement, while exposing the incredible photography of their followers to a large audience.

“The #WellTravelled hashtag is a route of escapism on Instagram for us,” says Sheila Lam, Herschel’s community manager. “We can showcase not only where our product goes, but the stories and people behind it.”

Take a risk and create a hashtag that doesn’t include your brand name (and don’t force your product into every photo). Create a hashtag that personifies your brand and then allow your community to define and shape it. This way, the hashtag can take on a life of its own on social media while your brand remains at the center. You won’t just increase brand awareness, you’ll cultivate brand loyalty—and increase organic reach while you’re at it.

For more tips, check out our definitive guide to using Instagram hashtags.

Nurture and engage your micro-communities alongside your other social media efforts using Hootsuite. From one dashboard you can easily manage all your social channels, collect real-time data, and engage with your audience.

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The Google AdWords training courses you need ASAP

Much as Google has become synonymous with the Internet, AdWords has become synonymous with marketing.

The search engine giant’s advertising platform is, without a doubt, one of the most integral parts of any online advertising campaign. In fact, for every $1 spent on digital advertising, 42 cents goes to an AdWords campaign.

That being said, regardless of whether you’re a first-time AdWords user or a seasoned online marketer, getting the right training—and certification—can make or break your online advertising efforts.

So if you want to be fully trained in how to use AdWords to its best effect, here are the courses you need ASAP.

Google’s Academy for Ads

Where better to start learning about AdWords than from its creator? When you join Google Partners, which you’ll need to do if you want to get your AdWords Certification, you gain access to libraries of free AdWords training modules with Google’s “Academy for Ads.”

There are several learning paths you can follow, each focused on a different aspect of AdWords, including (but not limited to):

  • AdWords fundamentals (good for certification training). This includes advertising on Google’s Search, Display, and Shopping networks.
  • DoubleClick by Google
  • Advertising on YouTube, advertising apps, and mobile advertising.

The courses are specifically designed to help you pass the AdWords Certification exams, but can also be taken as quick refreshers on best practices when it comes to advertising with Google.

The modules are interactive and provide the information in an easy-to-understand manner, making the courses a great starting point for someone who’s new to AdWords. From ad creation to bidding strategies, keyword selection to trademark infringement, Google Academy for Ads covers all you need to know to set up a successful AdWords campaign.

Udemy: Ultimate Google AdWords Course – Stop SEO and Win with PPC

Udemy is an online repository for people interested in teaching and learning about a virtually endless range of topics—AdWords being one of them.

You can take video-based courses from a number of AdWords experts, some for free and others for a low price (usually around $12 each). Each course is structured like a college class, complete with a series of lectures and assignments for you to complete.

Udemy is a nice option because there’s a course for everyone. Some courses are broad, covering just the AdWords basics, and others are much more focused, covering topics like emotions and ad creation, mobile app advertising, and even as specific as video advertising for dance and yoga businesses.

The highest rated AdWords course on the site can be found here, though it was last updated in January 2017 – let’s hope a 2018 refresh is on the way!

Lynda: Google AdWords Essential Training

Similar to Udemy, Lynda is another online community where teachers and learners come together in the pursuit of knowledge. Lynda’s different from Udemy in that it’s a subscription-based service (with Udemy, you pay by the course).

This means you can potentially get more training for your money by using Lynda, as long as you’re dedicated to setting aside a few hours each week for your AdWords classes.

With Lynda, you can take video-based AdWords courses taught by industry leaders, ranging in topic and timespan. Courses on more focused topics, such as AdWords budgeting tips, are just 5 minutes long.

Other, more extensive courses, like those better suited for AdWords beginners, could last up to 3 hours, but can be completed on your own time. Lynda’s most popular general AdWords course is Google AdWords Essential Training.

LunaMetrics

If you’re prefer learning in a face-to-face environment or are looking to interact and collaborate with other people (in person), LunaMetrics offers the AdWords training you need. LunaMetrics facilitates conference-type events in cities across the U.S., open to anyone with the time (and budget—these courses aren’t cheap) to attend.

The greatest advantage of signing up for one of LunaMetrics’ multi-day AdWords trainings is the collaboration and networking available to you at the event. You’ll meet people from all different industries, with different levels of AdWords expertise, to bounce ideas off and maybe learn a few new tricks.

This is an especially good option if you’re able to attend on a company-sponsored basis because of the professional connections you’ll make and again, the steep price point (right now it costs around $500 to attend the 5-day AdWords training).

WordStream PPC University

WordStream is a Mecca for online advertisers—the online firm offers guidance to assist with all aspects of online marketing. WordStream’s PPC University comes equipped with a wide variety of free AdWords training modules.

If you’re new to AdWords, you can work your way through WordStream’s PPC 101 and 102 courses, which feature lessons written in a blog-style format that makes it feel like you’re learning from a real person and not a dry textbook. These lessons get into the jargon AdWords experts rely on and cover everything you need to know for a well-rounded AdWords education.

There are also webinars you can attend to expand your AdWords knowledge in a collaborative environment. Take some time to explore WordStream’s site, as you’ll probably find even more opportunities for learning about AdWords and online advertising in general.

Perry Marshall’s Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords

Perry Marshall is a well-known and respected member of the online marketing community. He’s been using AdWords since it was first released in 2002, and is a leading expert on the platform.

In his continued impartation of online advertising knowledge to the masses, Marshall has released his fifth edition of the Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords. This book comes at a low cost and includes free trainings from WebSavvy’s founder, Mike Rhodes. There’s a chapter for everything, including up-to-date AdWords strategies and functionalities.

Marshall’s book is nice to have on-hand when you’re creating or editing your campaigns, serving as a reference point when you find yourself in an AdWords conundrum.

Quick refreshers

If you’re experienced with AdWords and looking to refresh your knowledge of the platform (or are a beginner just looking for a general idea of what AdWords is about) you may not need to commit the time and money required for the aforementioned trainings. You can start with the following, relatively broader, guides and infographics on the topic:

The takeaway

The AdWords training that’s right for you may not consist of just one course or education provider. Finding the format that works for you will require some exploring and experimenting on your own.

Each training provider requires a different amount of time and monetary commitment, so make sure you’re realistic about what your schedule and budget can accommodate for.

But most of all, remember to have fun and get excited about the future success of your AdWords campaigns. AdWords is your key to the world of online advertising, and when you know how to use it correctly, your business will thrive.

Amanda DiSilvestro is a writer for No Risk SEO, an all-in-one reporting platform for agencies. You can connect with Amanda on Twitter and LinkedIn, or check out her content services at amandadisilvestro.com.

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How to use Google Trends for SEO

Google Trends for SEO

Google Trends, first launched in 2006, provides marketers with invaluable insights into how people search on the world’s most popular search engine.

In its earlier guises, Trends (or Insights for Search, as it was previously known) was a rather static resource, updated only on an infrequent basis with fresh data.

Over time, the power of this service has been tapped in new and enlightening ways.

For example, a study undertaken using Trends data by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz and written up in the New York Times in 2014 found, “Parents are two and a half times more likely to ask “Is my son gifted?” than “Is my daughter gifted?””

Such newsworthy incidents revealed the richness of Google Trends as a data source to the wider public. People’s underlying attitudes, desires, and beliefs start to come to the fore when they communicate with a search engine.

As the megalomaniac founder of a fictional search engine puts it, while discussing the data at his disposal, in the 2015 science-fiction movie Ex Machina:

You see, my competitors, they were fixated on sucking it up and monetizing via shopping and social media. They thought that search engines were a map of what people were thinking. But actually they were a map of how people were thinking.

Both of these examples – one real, one imagined – highlight exactly why Google Trends is so valuable for search marketers.

It is the closest we have to a synthesis of market research and SEO data. With its ability to segment trends by geography, product category, content topic, and date, it allows us to go much broader in our analysis than traditional SEO tools ever could.

With Trends’ recent expansion into News, Shopping, Images, and YouTube, it seems the perfect time to revisit and refresh the many ways in which this powerful tool can help your SEO efforts.

First, some housekeeping

If you are relatively new to Google Trends, there are a couple of things to bear in mind when you look at the data visualizations.

First of all, Google Trends data is adjusted to make visual comparisons between different data sets easier for users. Google offers the following to explain for its methodology:

“Search results are proportionate to the time and location of a query:

  • Each data point is divided by the total searches of the geography and time range it represents, to compare relative popularity. Otherwise places with the most search volume would always be ranked highest.
  • The resulting numbers are then scaled on a range of 0 to 100 based on a topic’s proportion to all searches on all topics.
  • Different regions that show the same number of searches for a term will not always have the same total search volumes.”

In practice, this means that we end up with graphs like the below, showing trended data on a scale from 0 to 100:

cats-dogs

Furthermore, a note is applied to all graphs that look back to before 2016, as Google made a significant update to the collection of data at this point. This can cause some unexpected jumps in graphs at the beginning of 2016, but the overall trends still provide a good guide to the historical demand for a topic.

Now, onto the tips.

How you can use Google Trends for SEO

Keyword research

Keyword research seems the most obvious SEO-based use for Trends, but it is often overlooked in favor of Keyword Planner and the other industry-standard tools.

In fact, it serves as the perfect complement to these platforms, bringing to light patterns that they cannot reveal.

Trends will suggest new keywords based on different criteria to those employed in Keyword Planner. For example, it highlights related search queries (using the example of “dogs” again) that have very recently risen in popularity, as we can see in the screenshot below:

dogs_apples

Clearly, these will require a sense check before you add them straight to your keyword list. As stated before, we really can learn something about the human condition from Google Trends.

There will also be some outliers (in this case, the Watch Dogs video game), as Google groups together a lot of related sub-topics under the aegis of the main categories.

Nonetheless, these examples do show how frequently this tool can provide unexpected ideas.

It is also reflective of how the readily available nature of fresh data on Trends can add vital, new elements to a keyword list.

This is significant as we move beyond simple keyword matching and into an age of semantic relevance. Building out a keyword list that contains the spectrum of audience demand for your products is no longer a luxury; it is a pre-requisite for performing well.

Moreover, if SEOs can target trending queries before they peak, competition will be lower and potential rewards will be greater.

For those that would like to examine the data outside of the platform, there are numerous R and Python packages that can make calls via the Google Trends API.

This allows users to download queries in order to manipulate and visualize the data. One such package for R, (gtrendsR), is explained in more detail in this handy blog post.

Combined with a versatile plotting package like ggplot2, this approach opens up a new level of functionality to Google Trends data for SEO research.

Compare search trends across Google search engines

The addition of filters for News, Shopping, Images, and YouTube to Google Trends has opened up a wide range of new SEO research opportunities.

These can be accessed from a drop-down menu at the top of the results page.

cats_dogs_2

Image search data in available from 2008 to the present day and it should prove a very valuable source of inspiration for SEOs.

Not only is image search responsible for a huge amount of queries already, but it is also an area of focus for Google as it aims to fend off threats from the likes of Facebook, Amazon, and Pinterest.

Once more, we can segment the data by sub-region or city and there are suggestions for related image search queries too:

dogs

It is also possible to compare these search trends across two different queries, due to the manner in which Google processes and displays the data. In the example below, I have set the filter to show the trends for “cats” in the US and for “dogs” in the UK:

uk_us_dogs

We can therefore say that image searches for dogs in the UK are more popular than image searches for cats in the US, in relative terms, even though this would likely not be the case in absolute terms.

On YouTube, the eternal cats versus dogs battle lives up to its fiery reputation, with a much narrower gap between the two search topics:

cats_dogs_yt

Trending queries are highlighted here too, which should give us even more reason to keep visiting Google Trends for our research:

Cats_dogs_yt2

Assess and predict seasonal peaks

Perhaps the most common use of Google Trends for SEO is the analysis of peaks and troughs in consumer demand.

To cite a simple, but illustrative, example of how this works, we can look at the search query [olympics]:

olympics

We see significant worldwide peaks every four years for the summer Olympics, with the winter equivalent attracting another (if smaller) increase two years later each time.

In this example, history tells us that we are about to see another peak in demand for [olympics] very soon, but that insight alone does not translate into much.

Firstly, we don’t know the size of the opportunity in absolute terms, as Trends provides only relative values.

However, if we cross-reference what we see in Trends with the data we have from Keyword Planner, we can start to understand what a value of 100 on this chart means in real terms.

Admittedly, Keyword Planner data is indicative at best, but we may also have data from AdWords campaigns. This can at least guide us towards a predicted search volume for the upcoming Olympics.

Of course, it seems very intuitive that a major event will lead to more searches for the event’s name. Nonetheless, if we take this same approach and apply it to less predictable industries, such as fashion for example, Trends can help you to identify keywords before the competition does so.

This is supplemented by Trends’ use of real-time data to suggest new topics.

Trending topics for reactive content

One of the most useful aspects of Google Trends is the access it provides to real-time search data. There are plenty of content marketing and SEO technologies out there, but none can provide data as reliable as the information Google serves from its own databases.

These can be accessed directly from the Google Trends homepage:

trends_homepage

Clicking on a story will then lead to a selection of featured articles, plus a detailed breakdown of search interest and published articles over the past 24 hours:

time

The analysis goes further still by showing search interest by state, related queries, and related topics:

time2

This should be a go-to resource for anyone that produces reactive content, whether for their website, social media, or elsewhere.

Another interesting way to work with this data is to take the URLs that are listed as featured articles and use an SEO tool like Ahrefs or SearchMetrics to source the keywords that the page ranks for.

This provides insight into how quickly a page can be indexed and ranked, along with the quantity of semantically related queries one page can rank for in a short period of time. More than anything, this can help us understand how Google processes and prioritizes fresh content.

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SEO TIPS FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON

SPI 295: 35 Quick Life Lessons from 35 Years of Life—Plus a Pencils of Promise Birthday Challenge!

Guess what? Today’s my birthday! I am 35 today and very grateful to have lived this long and experienced so much. I wanted to share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way, so today I’m giving you 35 quick lessons from 35 years of life. I’m also ending today’s episode with a challenge.

This week, I want to give you the opportunity to reflect on the amazing things that you’ve encountered, experienced, and enjoyed in the life you’ve lived so far. Here at SPI, we’ve created a lot of great content, a lot of actionable items over the past several months—last month was Affiliate Marketing Month, for example—but today I want to shift gears and talk about my 35 life lessons.

These are short nuggets of wisdom from my business journey and life experiences. This is what I’ve learned so far, in summary, about how to carve out your career and business, and some best-practices for creating opportunities and making the most of them. I’ll also be sharing what I’ve come to understand so far about life in general, the habits and rituals that make me stronger, and the rules that guide my day-to-day decisions.

Pencils of Promise Birthday Challenge

To further celebrate my birthday, I’m asking you to join me in making a difference in the lives of children who do not have access to education. I’m talking about Pencils of Promise, an organization that builds schools and creates educational opportunities for children in developing nations.

Previously, the goal was to build two schools which we accomplished in 2014 thanks to your support. This year, the goal is to raise $75,000 to help reach—and provide education for—1,000 students.

I will also match your donation 100 percent up to $50,000. So if you donate $100, I will donate $100 of my own—for each donation up to $50,000.

Let’s do this! Donate at SmartPassiveIncome.com/pop.

I’m an advisor for Pencils of Promise, and I’m really excited to get the SPI community involved, as I’ve done in the past. Every little bit counts (even just $1!), so please join me in donating at SmartPassiveIncome.com/pop. Thank you so much.

Thanks for Listening!

To share your thoughts:

To help out the show:

  • Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one.
  • Subscribe on iTunes or download our mobile app.

Killer demand gen strategy, Part 3: Facebook advertising

If you’ve been keeping up with this series, you’ve got your audience defined and designed creative to match. You’ve constructed smart Google Display Network campaigns to get those users pouring into your funnel.

Now let’s talk some of the most powerful targeting capabilities of all.

In addition to advertising on the GDN, Facebook is a platform you must use to reach your target personas. Facebook’s audience targeting capabilities are among the most effective you can access.

You can target interests, behaviors and a variety of demographic information to get in front of your ideal audience.

Explore Facebook’s targeting options

Think about the personas you have created and begin choosing the audience targeting available within Facebook that will help engage those users. For example, let’s say you’re selling luxury home décor. One of your personas is female, between the ages of 30-40, likes home décor, and is affluent. You would then pick targeting as relevant as possible to get in front of these users.

One example would be:

Additionally, you can layer further information onto your personas – for example, some of them might like celebrity gossip. Leverage Facebook’s audience narrowing and layer it on to test how it impacts performance. See below:

In addition to leveraging Facebook’s native audience targeting capabilities, consider leveraging 3rd-party data audiences from companies like Axciom or Datalogix.

These companies can provide you with rich data that can be highly relevant to your personas – and help you develop new ones.

Take advantage of Lookalikes

Lookalike targeting is another great way to identify the right types of audiences and leverage Facebook’s thousands of data points to get in front of them.

First, look at your customer list and identify different ways you can segment those customers into groups of identifiable characteristics. For example, you can segment out your highest-LTV audiences, different categories (e.g. furniture categories, high-AOV purchasers, etc.).

Then upload these customer lists into Facebook, which will leverage its algorithm to serve your ads to audiences that mimic your seed lists in characteristics, behaviors, and traits.

A reminder: use tailored creative to these audiences. If you’re serving ads to lookalike audiences of your high-AOV purchasers, show creative with more high-end products to match their purchase behavior.

Another great way to get in front of relevant users is to leverage lookalikes as a base audience and then add in persona layers. For example, you may think about having an LAL of 5% and layering on celebrity gossip as a narrowing layer.

This makes your base audience similar in characteristics and traits to your customers, and it allows you to refine the audience to more closely match some of the personas you have built out.

Additionally, when creating your audiences, keep an eye on size. You will almost always want to leverage Facebook’s oCPM (Optimized CPM) tool, which requires an audience size of at least 400K to reach people, collect conversion data, and optimize towards users who are likely to convert.

As you know, a lead gen marketer’s work is only beginning when the leads are captured; there’s a long and winding road from lead to conversion, which will require a whole new series to address. But the above strategies should ensure that you’re working from a healthy foundation of leads.

Related reading

The highs and lows of enterprise SEO: Which strategies paid off best in 2017?

As we come to the end of 2017 and embark on the inevitable dozens of review articles looking back over the past year of search, it’s as good a time as any to reflect on SEO strategy.

What are the greatest challenges being faced by the industry as a whole? What have been the biggest successes? What are companies of different sizes setting as their top priorities for SEO strategy – and how well is it paying off?

To find out, link-building and content marketing agency North Star Inbound, in partnership with seoClarity and BuzzStream, set out to “take the temperature” of enterprise SEO.

They surveyed 240 SEO specialists across the USA from both in-house and agency teams, in a bid to discover how and where enterprise SEO teams are spending their budgets, their most pressing issues, their biggest stumbling blocks, their perception of their own success, and more.

The results shed an intriguing light on what different companies consider to be most important about SEO, how they go about tackling those issues, and which SEO tactics pay the greatest dividends – particularly in terms of how these findings vary across businesses of different sizes, and between in-house and agency SEOs.

So what were the key findings, and what do they mean for the way that SEO is being carried out in 2017-8?

Resources for enterprise SEO: What are they, and where are they going?

How much of a company’s budget and workforce typically gets allocated to SEO? And where do enterprise SEO teams primarily focus their time and attention?

Unsurprisingly, larger companies tend to outspend smaller firms when it comes to SEO, but the study found that companies’ SEO budgets cover the whole range – meaning there is definitely no “magic number” for SEO spend.

The good news (at least for SEOs!) is that the most popular budget was also the largest: 27% of respondents reported that they had a monthly budget of more than $20,000 for SEO. Close to a fifth of companies (19%) had between $5,000 and $10,000 to play with, while a very similar percentage (18%) were allocated less than $1,000.

Perhaps surprisingly, 11% of large companies (with 500+ employees) fell into this bracket – though of course, it’s not just about what you spend on SEO, but how you spend it.

What about people power? The study found that the most common size of SEO team is 2 to 5 members – regardless of the overall size of the company. Two fifths of respondents surveyed (42%) reported working in an SEO team of 2 to 5, while close to a third (32%) had 6 or more people in their team. Nearly a quarter of companies (23%) said that the responsibility for SEO falls on a single person.

Regardless of resources, companies seemed to broadly agree on their priorities for SEO. When asked to rank four areas of SEO in order of priority, respondents from companies of all sizes reported that their top priority was technical SEO.

Second, third and fourth priorities were – again regardless of company size – content development, traffic analysis, and link building, respectively.

But maybe enterprise SEOs should be putting more emphasis on link-building, as survey respondents overwhelmingly described it as the most difficult SEO strategy to execute. Well over half of respondents (58%) ranked it top out of a list of eight, with small companies (with 1-100 employees) feeling the pain most of all.

Why is link-building proving such a tough nut to crack? Let’s look at how enterprise SEOs are tackling link-building.

All about link-building

Well over half of survey respondents reported that link-building was their most difficult strategy to execute, although there were some noticeable variations by size. 68% of small companies rated link-building as the most challenging part of SEO, followed by 62% of medium-size companies and 42% of large companies.

But the difficulties associated with link-building aren’t preventing SEOs from investing in it. 85% of respondents, across all business sizes, reported that they will be maintaining or increasing their link-building budgets this year.

Large companies were most likely to be maintaining their link-building budgets, with 49% reporting they would be keeping their budget for link-building “about the same”, while small companies were most likely to be increasing their budget.

Link-building can be done in a huge number of ways, but there were clear frontrunners for the most effective strategies. SEOs from small, medium and large firms all reported that public relations is their most beneficial tactic for link-building, though for small company SEOs, guest posts came a very close second.

Other effective strategies included infographics (third-most effective for large companies of 500+ employees), local citations/directories (which came in third for small companies), and resource links (which ranked third for medium-sized companies, joint with local citations).

Paid links and comments were universally rated as the least effective strategies by all respondents, though this may also be due to a lack of employing these tactics in the first place – Google penalizes almost all types of paid links, and discourages systematic blog commenting as a method of link-building.

Which companies have been seeing the most success with link-building as an SEO strategy? When asked to rate their most successful strategy over the past 12 months, respondents overwhelmingly pointed to technical on-site optimization: 65% of large companies, 67% of medium-sized companies and 53% of smaller firms rated it as their most effective SEO tactic.

For small companies, blogging and link-building follow close behind, with 35% of SEOs from small firms reporting success with blogging for SEO, and 33% reporting that link-building was their most successful tactic. This was not so for large companies, for whom link-building ranked a distant 6th out of 7 SEO strategies, with just 14% saying it was their most successful strategy.

We know that small firms are more likely to have increased their budgets for link-building in the past year, so perhaps this extra resource towards link-building is making all the difference. But this is something of a chicken-and-egg style conundrum: are small companies allocating more budget towards link-building because it’s successful, or are they successful with link-building because of the extra budget?

Small companies are also more likely to be employing local-level link-building tactics such as local directories or citations. Link-building at a local level can be highly effective when carried out correctly, so perhaps this added emphasis on local SEO is making the difference for enterprise SEOs at small firms.

Finally, which KPIs are SEOs using to track their success with link-building? The favored metrics are Moz Domain Authority and Page Authority, together with the number of linking root domains (both used by 52% of SEOs).

The relevance of the linking page is third-most-used at 47%, while Majestic’s “Trust Flow” metric trails behind on 27%.

Agency vs in-house: Who’s winning at SEO?

Of the 240 SEO specialists surveyed for the study, two-thirds were in-house SEOs, while the remaining third worked for an agency. What differences in approach and outlook did the survey find between these two groups?

When it comes to organizational challenges, agency and in-house SEOs differ slightly on what they consider to be the most pressing issues. Agency SEOs are more likely to encounter challenges with finding SEO talent (44% reported this as their most challenging obstacle) or demonstrating ROI (41%).

For in-house SEOs, developing the right content was their most pressing obstacle (reported by 42% of respondents), while demonstrating ROI was again a key challenge, faced by close to two-fifths of in-house SEOs (37%). Agency SEOs were least likely to struggle with allocating the right resources, with only 18% reporting this as a top organizational challenge, while in-house SEOs struggled least with securing budget (21%) but were more likely to encounter challenges in allocating it (31%).

But the real differences came in the way that agency and in-house SEOs perceived their own success. Agency SEOs were vastly more likely to be confident about their own success: 40% of agency respondents rated themselves as “Successful – we’re absolutely crushing it” compared with just 13% of in-house SEO teams.

However, perhaps in-house SEOs are just modest, as almost half (49%) rated their SEO success as “Positive – we’re doing well enough” (versus 39% of agency SEOs).

In-house SEOs were also more likely to report being “frustrated” with their SEO outcomes (the lowest possible rating) than agencies – 8% of them gave their SEO efforts this rating, compared with only 3% of agency respondents.

Key takeaways

What do the findings from the study tell us about the state of enterprise SEO? While SEO will always depend somewhat on the individual circumstances of an organization, there are some broad conclusions we can draw from the data.

  • SEO as a discipline appears to be well-resourced overall, demonstrating that companies consider SEO a branch of marketing worth investing in. The challenge is therefore more often deciding how and where to allocate those resources, rather than a lack of resources.
  • Technical SEO is a top priority and a top source of success for enterprise SEOs, while companies seem less sure of where they stand with link-building. Many are putting budget into it without necessarily being satisfied with or confident in the results.
  • While some SEO mainstays (like technical on-site SEO) are effective regardless of company size, the effectiveness of SEO strategies often depends on the size of a company, with smaller companies seeing much more success with strategies like blogging than larger organizations.
  • Agency SEOs are much more likely to feel confident in their SEO success than in-house teams, in spite of reported difficulties with securing the right talent for SEO. However, both in-house and agency SEO teams face difficulties with proving the ROI of SEO, showing perhaps that this perceived success can be difficult to translate into hard numbers for the benefit of the higher-ups.

Related reading

SEO TIPS FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON

Highlights from TechSEO Boost: The key trends in technical SEO

Although most search conferences contain some sessions on technical SEO, until now there has been a general reluctance to dedicate a full schedule to this specialism.

That is an entirely understandable stance to take, given that organic search has evolved to encompass elements of so many other marketing disciplines.

Increasing visibility via organic search today means incorporating content marketing, UX, CRO, and high-level business strategy. So to concentrate exclusively on the complexities of technical SEO would be to lose some sections of a multi-disciplinary audience.

However, the cornerstone of a successful organic search campaign has always been technical SEO. For all of the industry’s evolutions, it is technical SEO that remains at the vanguard of innovation and at the core of any advanced strategy. With an average of 51% of all online traffic coming from organic search, this is therefore not a specialism that marketers can ignore.

Enter TechSEO Boost: the industry’s first technical SEO conference, organized by Catalyst. Aimed at an audience of technical SEOs, advanced search marketers and programmers, TechSEO Boost set out to be a “technical SEO conference that challenges even developers and code jockeys”.

Though the topics were varied, there were still some narrative threads through the day, all of which tie in to broader marketing themes that affect all businesses. Here are the highlights.

Towards a definition of ‘Technical SEO’

Technical SEO is an often misunderstood discipline that many find difficult to pin down in exact terms. The skills required to excel in technical SEO differ from the traditional marketing skillset, and its aim is traditionally viewed as effective communication with bots rather than with people. And yet, technical SEO can make a significant difference to cross-channel performance, given the footprint its activities have across all aspects of a website.

The reasons for this discipline’s resistance to concrete definition were clear at TechSEO Boost, where the talks covered everything from site speed to automation and log file analysis, with stops along the way to discuss machine learning models and backlinks.

Though it touches on elements of both science and art, technical SEO sits most comfortably on the scientific side of the fence. As such, a precise definition would be fitting.

Russ Jones, search scientist at Moz, stepped forward with the following attempt to provide exactly that:

This is a helpful step towards a shared comprehension of technical SEO, especially as its core purpose is to improve search performance. This sets it aside slightly from the world of developers and engineers, while linking it to the more creative practices like link earning and content marketing.

Using technology to communicate directly with bots impacts every area of site performance, as Jones’ chart demonstrates:

tech_seo_2

Some of these areas are the sole preserve of technical SEO, while others require a supporting role from technical SEO. What this visualization leaves in little doubt, however, is the pivotal position of this discipline in creating a solid foundation for other marketing efforts.

Jones concluded that technical SEO is the R&D function of the organic search industry. That serves as an apt categorization of the application of technical SEO skills, which encompass everything from web development to data analysis and competitor research.

Technical SEO thrives on innovation

Many marketers will have seen a technical SEO checklist in their time. Any time a site migration is approaching or a technical audit is scheduled, a checklist tends to appear. This is essential housekeeping and can help keep everyone on track with the basics, but it is also a narrow lens through which to view technical SEO.

Russ Jones presented persuasive evidence that technical SEO rewards the most innovative strategies, while those who simply follow the latest Google announcement tend to stagnate.

Equally, the sites that perform best tend to experiment the most with the latest technologies.

There are not necessarily any direct causal links that we can draw between websites’ use of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), for example, and their presence in the top 1000 traffic-driving sites. However, what we can say is that these high-performing sites are the ones leading the way when new technologies reach the market.

That said, there is still room for more companies to innovate. Google typically has to introduce a rankings boost or even the threat of a punishment to encourage mass adoption of technologies like HTTPS or AMP. These changes can be expensive and, as the presentation from Airbnb showed, fraught with difficulties.

That may go some way to explaining the gap between the availability of new technology and its widespread adoption.

Jones showed that the level of interest in technical SEO has increased significantly over the years, but it has typically followed the technology. We can see from the graph below that interest in “Technical SEO” has been foreshadowed by interest in “JSON-LD.”

tech_seo_trends

If SEOs want to remain vital to large businesses in an era of increasing automation, they should prove their value by innovating to steal a march on the competition. The performance improvements that accompany this approach will demonstrate the importance of technical SEO.

Everyone has access to Google’s public statements, but only a few have the ability and willingness to experiment with technologies that sit outside of this remit.

Without innovation, companies are left to rely on the same old public statement from Google while their competitors experiment with new solutions.

For more insights into the state of technical SEO and the role it plays in the industry, don’t miss Russ Jones’ full presentation:

Automation creates endless opportunities

The discussion around the role of automation looks set to continue for some time across all industries. Within search marketing, there can be little doubt that rules-based automation and API usage can take over a lot of the menial, manual tasks and extend the capabilities of search strategists.

Paul Shapiro’s session, ‘Working Smarter: SEO automation to increase efficiency and effectiveness’ highlighted just a few of the areas that should be automated, including:

  • Reporting
  • Data collection
  • 301 redirect mapping
  • Technical audits
  • Competitor data pulls
  • Anomaly detection

The above represent the fundamentals that companies should be working through in an efficient, automated way. However, the potential for SEOs to work smarter through automation reaches beyond these basics and starts to pose more challenging questions.

As was stated earlier in the day, “If knowledge scales, it will be automated.”

This brings to light the central tension that arises once automation becomes more advanced. Once we move beyond simple, rules-based systems and into the realm of reliable and complex automation, which roles are left for people to fill?

At TechSEO Boost, the atmosphere was one of opportunity, but SEO professionals need to understand these challenges if they are to position themselves to take advantage. Automation can create a level playing field among different companies if all have access to the same technology, at which point people will become the differentiating factor.

By tackling complex problems with novel solutions, SEOs can retain an essential position in any enterprise. If that knowledge later receives the automation treatment, there will always be new problems to solve.

There is endless room for experimentation in this arena too, once the basics are covered. Shapiro shared some of the analyses he and his team have developed using KNIME, an open source data analysis platform. KNIME contains a variety of built in “nodes”, which can be strung together from a range of data sources to run more meaningful reports.

For example, a time-consuming task like keyword research can be automated both to increase the quantity of data assessed and to improve the quality of the output. A platform like KNIME, coupled with a visualization tool like Tableau or Data Studio, can create research that is useful for SEO and for other marketing teams too.

Automation’s potential extends into the more creative aspects of SEO, such as content ideation. Shapiro discussed the example of Reddit as an excellent source for content ideas, given the virality that it depends on to keep users engaged. By setting up a recurring crawl of particular subreddits, content marketers can access an ongoing repository of ideas for their campaigns. The Python code Shapiro wrote for this task can be accessed here (password: fighto).

You can view Paul Shapiro’s full presentation below:

Machine learning leads to more sophisticated results

Machine learning can be at the heart of complex decision-making processes, including the decisions Google makes 40,000 times per second when people type queries into its search engine.

It is particularly effective for information retrieval, a field of activity that depends on a nuanced understanding of both content and context. JR Oakes, Technical SEO Director at Adapt, discussed a test run using Wikipedia results that concluded: “Users with machine learning-ranked results were statistically significantly more likely to click on the first search result.”

This matters for search marketers, as advances like Google’s RankBrain have brought machine learning into common use. We are accustomed to tracking ranking positions as a proxy for SEO success, but machine learning helps deliver personalization at scale within search results. It therefore becomes a futile task to try and calculate the true ranking position for any individual keyword.

Moreover, if Google can satisfy the user’s intent within the results page (for example, through answer boxes), then a click would also no longer represent a valid metric of success.

A Google study even found that 42% of people who click through do so only to confirm the information they had already seen on the results page. This renders click-through data even less useful as a barometer for content quality, as a click or an absence of a click could mean either high or low user satisfaction.

Google is developing more nuanced ways of comprehending and ranking content, many of which defy simplistic interpretation.

All is not lost, however. Getting traffic remains vitally important and so is the quality of content, so there are still ways to improve and measure SEO performance. For example, we can optimize for relevant traffic by analyzing our click-through rate, using methods such as the ones devised by Paul Shapiro in this column.

Furthermore, it is safe to surmise that part of Google’s machine learning algorithm uses skip-gram models to measure co-occurrence of phrases within documents. In basic terms, this means we have moved past the era of keyword matching and into an age of semantic relevance.

The machines need some help to figure out the meanings of phrases too, and Oakes shared the example of AT&T to demonstrate query disambiguation in action.

at_and_t

Machine learning should be welcomed as part of Google’s search algorithms by both users and marketers, as it will continue to force the industry into much more sophisticated strategies that rely less on keyword matching. That said, there are still practical tips that marketers can apply to help the machine learning systems understand the context and purpose of our content.

JR Oakes’ full presentation:

Technical SEO facilitates user experience

A recurring theme throughout TechSEO Boost was the relationship between SEO and other marketing channels.

Technical SEO has now sprouted its own departments within agencies, but that can see the disciplined sidelined from other areas of marketing.

This plays out in a variety of scenarios. For example, the received wisdom is that Google can’t read the content on JavaScript websites, so it is the role of SEO to reduce the quantity of JavaScript code on a site to enhance organic search performance.

In fact, Merkle’s Max Prin posited that this should never be the case. The role of an advanced SEO is to facilitate and enhance whichever site experience will be most beneficial for the end user. Often, that means working with JavaScript to ensure that search engines understand the content of the page.

That begins with an understanding of how search engines work, and at which stages technical SEO can make a difference:

search_engines

Prin also discussed some useful technologies to help pinpoint accessibility issues, including Merkle’s fetch and render tool and the Google Chrome Lighthouse tool.

Another significant area in which technical SEO facilitiates the user experience is site speed.

Google’s Pat Meenan showcased data pulled from the Google Chrome User Experience Report, which is open source and stores information within BigQuery.

His research went beyond the reductive site speed tests we usually see, which deliver one number to reflect the average load time for a page. Meenan revealed the extent to which load speeds differ across devices, and the importance of understanding the component stages of loading any web page.

The load times for the CNN homepage showed some surprising variation, even between high-end smartphones such as the iPhone 8 and Samsung Galaxy S7 (times are in milliseconds):

load_times

In fact, Meenan recommends using a low- to mid-range 3G smartphone for any site speed tests, as these will provide a truer reflection of how the majority of people access your site.

Webpagetest offers an easy way to achieve this and also highlights the meaningful points of measurement in a site speed test, including First Paint (FP), First Contentful Paint (FCP), and Time to Interactive (TTI).

This helps to create a standardized process for measuring speed, but the question still remains of how exactly site owners can accelerate load speed. Meenan shared some useful tips on this front, with HTTP/2 being the main recent development, but he also reiterated that many of the existing best practices hold true.

Using a CDN, reducing the number of HTTP requests, and reducing the number of redirects are all still very valid pieces of advice for anyone hoping to reduce load times.

You can see Pat Meenan’s full presentation below:

Key takeaways from TechSEO Boost

  • Technical SEO can be defined as “any sufficiently technical action undertaken with the intent to improve search performance.”
  • Automation should be a central concern for any serious SEO. The more of the basics we can automate, the more we can experiment with new solutions.
  • A more nuanced understanding of Google’s information retrieval technology is required if we are to achieve the full SEO potential of any website.
  • HTTP/2 is the main development for site speed across the web, but most of the best practices from a decade ago still hold true.
  • Improving site speed requires a detailed understanding of how content loads across all devices.

You can view all of the presentations from TechSEO Boost on Slideshare.

This article was originally published on our sister site, ClickZ, and has been republished here for the enjoyment of our audience on Search Engine Watch.

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