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What you need to know about Google+ brand pages

Google has decided to breathe down Facebook’s neck with a new social network that looks an awful lot like Facebook, only with a plus sign attached. Soon we’ll see a Google+ version of Facebook’s wildly popular product pages, even though Google’s group product manager, Christian Oestlien, announced today that it would temporarily be shutting down non-user profiles, while opening up a beta program for those who apply.

Before we can predict Google’s upcoming “public” version of product pages, we need to acknowledge the differences between Facebook and Google’s strategy. Even though Google presented the world with a product that is 97% similar to Facebook’s product, it is attempting to differentiate itself by fulfilling a real need in the social world — the need to divide your friends into different groups, just like in real life.

Google is attempting to distance itself from Facebook by mainly creating “circles” that allow you to divide the people you know into groups and share individually targeted content. This might seem like a small difference, but in the social world, a slight change in delivery can completely affect the nature of the interaction. For example, Facebook requires that you accept every friend, but Twitter makes it a bit easier for people out of your network to follow your newsfeed — creating a more “open” environment.

All of our clients at FanGager, including global organizations like American Express and Microsoft, are looking for methods to target specific audiences on social networks — like posting wall messages for women only. My assumption is that Google will attempt to capitalize on this void, and apply the notion of building individual audiences to its version of pages. This will allow page owners to communicate with different groups through one main page.

So, according to this logic, the products page will only look similar to personal profiles when logging in. Perhaps in addition to asking what circle they want to join, surfers will also be asked if they wish to join circles based on a specific category — such as those looking for discounts, for brand fans or for fans of the brand’s spokesperson. This way, they can choose the value they get personally when visiting the page.

The next stage will be combining all of Google’s unique abilities into a section of the product pages, such as its map services and the business services basket. This may include the unique features of Google Analytics, which could feature not only the page’s results, but more importantly, the movement from the Google+ page to the website; linking the visitor’s social engagement with sales and other ROI goals.

So, who wins and who loses when Google+ launches its own version of Facebook product pages?

Short-term loser: brands First of all, Google+ shut down any brand pages already created and is now controlling access to a beta program that will be great for brands that get in early like Ford and MTV but bad for everyone else. It creates a period of uncertainty for brands, as well as another platform they need to be concerned about.

But on the plus side, this delay will give brands some time to get used to the platform and start developing a strategy. Brands will still have to train its social media managers and focus resources that may already be taxed by other social sites for the new marketing platform. But, for now, brands can figure out how, and if they should, create messaging that will be consistent across all its social networks, along with the daunting task of managing more fans.

In the long term, brands could be the overall biggest winner of the targeted “circle” trend. If all moves forward as it should, and other sites catch up to the trend, brands will be able to develop more individualized messaging that will meet specific ROI goals — i.e. sales, website traffic, etc.

Immediate winner: fans and customers Once the pages are officially launched, fans will be able to create their own experience and conversations with brands. So, instead of receiving “white noise” from product pages, they will potentially receive what is only relevant to their individual interests. This can include information on specific discount promotions, customer queries on individual products or issues and other unique requests. Basically, they will now have the ability to get what they really want out of the brands they follow.

Facebook The social network will do what it always does — pressure itself to be better. (As shown by yesterday’s new product rollouts.) Expect it to continue to expand its product pages with new applications and services. Sure, it’ll probably add similar Google services (its only fair), like more advanced data analytics and targeted fan engagement activities. But I don’t think Facebook is worried, yet, due to its current social dominance.

SEO simpler than ever

Today I want to share an incredibly simple yet massively powerful process for building search-optimized, “great content.” There’s no fancy tricks and nothing proprietary about the approach, but it is rare indeed to find an organization that follows these steps and hence, it’s a way to potentially differentiate and build a competitive advantage.

Step 1: Build a Survey

No one knows what searchers want better than the searchers themselves, so let’s hear what they have to say. To find out, we’ll start with a short series of questions asking the survey taker to imagine they’ve just performed the desired query. Here’s an example:

Content Experiment Form

See the full form in action here

The basic structure is simple – request the top 3 content pieces your audience desires, then ask specifically about features that would make the page worthy of sharing (this is important, because it often differs substantively from what makes a page merely answer the user’s query). Finally, you can ask them to actually do the search (you don’t want them to do it until the end, because what they find might bias their responses) and report any results they liked (which can provide additional insight).

Step 2: Send it to Your Customers / Potential Customers

I cheated and used a tweet:

Tweet for Content Experiment

You can find customers or potential customers virtually anywhere – your friends, neighbors, co-workers, friends on social networks, etc. Anyone who fits your customer demographic or is creative enough to imagine themselves as that demographic will work. A link in the bottom of your email newsletter or a share on Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter can often do the job, too. You might even try posting a link in a relevant industry forum or discussion group (so long as you’re sure it won’t be perceived as spammy).

Step 3: Record Responses + Leverage them to Build What the People Want

My Twitter followers are clearly office chair experts because I got some fantastic responses:

Content Experiment Responses

There are some fantastic suggestions in there – enough to form a serious roadmap for content generation and to steer me clear of crafting a landing page missing these features (which would likely increase bounce rate, earn less links/shares and, probably, have a lower conversion rate).

It gets even more fleshed-out with the next section:

Content Experiment Responses

You can see all the responses to my Tweet here

Simply amazing. I really believe that by following the recommendations of these few, late-night, Twitter-obsessed, good web-samaritans, I could build a page of content better than anything the top 20 at Google or Bing have to offer right now.

When you’re doing this formally, collect as many responses as you reasonably can (before all the answers start to look the same) and use your intuition plus the aggregates of the data to make the best page possible. Any feature/content mentioned by 3+ respondents should definitely make the cut. From there, you can learn from what they liked/didn’t in the current SERPs and bolster it with any remarkable suggestions they gave for making the page “share-worthy.”

Google+ features and SEO

Last night I got my first look at Google+, I spent just over three hours diving in and playing with all the features they have to offer. For those of you who already have access, please share your thoughts in the comments and those without access, enjoy this preview and share your thoughts on what this new social network could mean for SEO.

First Look

Below is the “Home” screen, which seems vaguely familiar to a different social network I use but seems to be somewhat more streamlined. You can simply sort your friend groups, called Circles, by clicking on the “Streams” in the left sidebar. This give you a chance to only see things shared from your family or other Circles, for example I can select “Family” and see only their content. This looks like it makes it really easy to combine all your work and personal contacts into one network.

Circles

The first thing I got right into was creating Circles, which are much like Facebook groups where you can categorize people. This is helpful for people like myself who don’t like to share my SEO related stories/posts with my friends/family members. The process of adding people to these Circles was relativity easy, granted I only had 8 people in my list, but this process seems very streamlined.

Hangouts

An interesting feature that Rand, Space, Mike and I got to try last night was Google Hangouts. It’s a feature that allows you to chat and video chat with up to 10 friends. We found the feature to work, though it wasn’t as great as I thought it was going to be. The cool thing is that when you start a Hangout, it alerts other people in your Circles that you have started a Hangout so they can join. You can limit who sees that you have started a Hangout this prevents you from starting a business Hangout and having your Mom show up.

Sparks

Next up was something that Google calls Sparks and describes Sparks as “an online sharing engine.” To me, Sparks seems to be a way to add a “live” SERP into your social network. I added SEO and Cycling as my first two Sparks to see what happens. Basically I got a list of webpages, press releases, and videos that relate to the term I entered and they seemed to update over the few hours I watched them. The content listed in each Spark has a Share link, which allows you to easily share that content with your Circles.

Photos

As with any social network, having the ability to share photos with your friends is key! Google+ has a few different ways of displaying and sharing photos with your friends. Below is the first way to see the photos that your friends have shared. It is quite a user-friendly way of seeing what images are included in each album your friend shared.

If you click on one of the options above, it opens a slideshow of all the images your Circles have uploaded. It allows you to quickly flip through your friend’s images and add comments quickly, along with seeing all other comments. Like other networks you can tag your friends in photos that you upload.

Next is what it looks like when you share a picture within an album that you created. When you roll over the image it increases in size and displays the whole images, which is helpful for some images. I found the ability to upload photos very easy and the uploads happened very quickly.

Overall I found that the ability to share photos was not as streamlined as I would have liked it to be but I’ll leave the final judgment up to others.

Security

Below are some of the security options that you can set when sharing things with your circles. It allows you to stop people from commenting on the thing you shared and you can stop them from resharing it with their circles. Also when you first share something it allows you to pick what Circles you want to see the thing you shared. So if you don’t want your Mom to see the picture of Carlos from Agillian below, then you should make sure you share it only with your SEO friends.

My Takeaways

In closing, I have to say I was impressed with some things but overall I think they have some work to do before this really catches on with the main stream public. Google+ seems to have a large learning curve which could deter many new users. I spent just over 3 hours on it and don’t feel like I really touched the surface of what it can do, nor do I fully understand what the purpose of some of their new features. Rand may have said it best with what he shared on Google+ last night:

How Does This Affect SEO

How do you think Google is going to integrate Google+ with your search results? We did some quick tests last night to see how sharing things on Google+ will effect the SERPs of the friends in your social Circles. So far we couldn’t see any noticeable difference when your friends share something or +1 it within Google+. Now this doesn’t mean anything as Google often rolls out products early and works them into the SERPs later.

We will be doing more testing to see how this new release from Google will effect the way we do our jobs, so stay tuned. Also if you have seen anything that I may have missed, please do share it in the comments below.

SEO copywriting tips for link building

Compare the two posts below, both written by the exact same SEO expert and each containing around the same number of words. Without knowing the subject, can you guess which post earned more links?

Which Post Earned More Links

Try 378 to 6. In addition to its visual appeal, the left post was more timely, useful and informative – all hallmarks of copywriting grace.

The “secrets” of copywriting have existed since before the ancient Greeks. Generations of Don Drapers have perfected the craft. Today we use computer analysis and data mining to uncover the most effective SEO practices. Rand’s early peek at the Ranking Factors hints at some of these factors. My colleague Casey Henry conducted a study of link-worthy material that included elements such as title length and word frequency. Fantastic stuff and I hope he does another such study soon.

So why don’t more authors take advantage? Why all the cardboard looking blog posts?

Here’s the takeaway. To earn links, use copywriting to organize your content.

1. Write for Power Skimmers

Steve Krug’s words of wisdom for website usability in his book Don’t Make Me Think ring true for all elements of SEO copywriting.

Heat Map“We don’t read pages. We scan them.”
-Steve Krug

Krug advocates for a billboard style of design. This means using language, images, layout and color to make your material stand out and shine. Think of motorcycle riders speeding past billboards. Which one will they remember?

To be fair, prettying up mediocre content won’t make it any better. But does your best work look like it belongs in an encyclopedia?

Unless you are Wikipedia, don’t look like Wikipedia.

2. Why Headline Formulas Work

Headlines organize your content by making a promise to the reader. The body of your content delivers on that promise.

Check out this recent cover for Wired Magazine.

Why Headline Formulas Word

Using the “who-what-why” formula isn’t the only way to format your headlines, but it works. Another technique I like is to ask a question, e.g., “Have You Been Secretly Penalized by Google?

Don’t be scared of headline formulas. Instead of “gimmicky,” think of them as a framework for the promise you make. When I’m stuck for headline inspiration, I surf the fantastic resources over at Copyblogger.

There are literally dozens of effective headline formulas out there, so you need never worry about repeating yourself.

3. Get 20% More with Numbers

I made that number up. Why?

Numbers grab our attention. Look at the titles to some of the most linked-to posts on SEOmoz.

It makes you want to click one of those links right now…

Whether in a headline or a list, numbers light up the ordered, mathematical part of our brain to make content more attractive. It also provides you with a way to structure your material in a way that makes sense.

4. Free and Easy Power Words

My writing life changed when I read Robert W. Bly’s seminal work, The Copywriter’s Handbook. He introduced me to the power of choosing the right language for successful communication.

Although some of his “power” words belong in the back of a Sunday newspaper advertisement, their effectiveness can’t be denied. These include words like quick, easy, guarantee and free.

“Free is the most powerful word in the copywriter’s vocabulary. Everybody wants to get something for free.”
-Robert W. Bly

Words are magic. The opposite of power words includes language like try, maybe, might, possibly and perhaps. These “halfway” words kill your writing.

The point is not to use a rote list of words like a checklist in your copy, but rather be conscious of the power (or lack of) your language. Don’t hedge your bets with weak prose.

5. A Picture is Worth 1000 Clicks

Rethink your visuals. Visuals are essential to any story and include:

  • Photographs

  • Artwork

  • Charts and Graphs

  • Slidedecks

  • Video

  • Infographics

The wrong way to add images is to buy stock or steal them off of the web. Instead, make every effort to include original media in your content. A simple, 100% original hand drawing attracts more interesting any day of the week than using Parked Domain Girl.

Unique Images Earn Links

Original Pineapple Artwork by Dawn Shepard Graphic Design

It doesn’t matter what you use, just make it original.

6. Use Sub-Headlines or Die Trying

This is a no-brainer. Imagine the front page of a newspaper with just one headline. All other text is equal. You wouldn’t read it, or you would tire quickly if you did. Our brains don’t work that way.

We want things broken up and organized.

If your text is longer than 250-400 words, you must use sub-headlines. No exceptions.

7. When in Doubt, List it Out

This entire post is a list. Try these numbers on for size:

  • 75% of the top 20 post on SEOmoz contain a bulleted list

  • 60% feature a numbered list

Why do lists work so well? Why is David Letterman’s Top Ten the most anticipated part of his show, even if it’s not as funny as the rest of the show?

Lists are the building blocks of ideas. When we go to the grocery store, we don’t write a story – that’s ineffective. To communicate your thoughts quickly and effectively, nothing gets to the root of the matter like a list can.

Humans crave order. Use lists to create structure and build your content from the ground up.

8. Quotes

My all-time favorite use of effective quoting comes from Michael Crichton’s science fiction work Timeline. He juxtaposes two ideas against each other to explain a single concept about quantum theory.

“Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory does not understand it.”
NEILS BOHR, 1927

“Nobody understands quantum theory.”
RICHARD FEYNMAN, 1967

Utilize quotes to set your ideas apart.

9. The Bold and the Italic

Along the same lines, use bold to emphasize important points. If you don’t have important points, you have bigger problems.

Italics do the same job but sound more European, like this guy.

10. Be Honest

Effective SEO copywriting should never alter or misrepresent your work. Indeed, its purpose is to help you communicate your core ideas more clearly and effectively.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
— Ernest Hemingway

Writing from the heart is always the best copywriting technique.