Modern music marketing: is what you don’t do more important than doing everything?

My evolution as a music lover over the years has basically gone something like this:

1. Buy everything I like on CD
2. Listen to everything on Spotify instead

Since discovering Spotify two years ago, shortly after it came out in the UK, I have stopped buying CDs. I don’t need them anymore. I’ve also run out of space for them in my house, but that’s just an aside…

These days, the majority of my music-listening takes place on a computer, so Spotify is fine for that need. 90% of the music I like is on there. I’m a proud premium user: I hate the ads and I am an iPhone user, plus I used to spend £10+ per month buying CDs (that’s about one CD per month), so I’d actually argue that the Premium is a bargain in comparison.

Even so, there’s just two albums I really, really want to buy on CD at the moment:

1. Adele’s 21
2. Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs

Why?

Because they’re not on Spotify.

As I said, “90% of the music I like is on there.” Whatever the reason for that other 10% not being on there, I’d argue that it’s potentially a good move on their part.

The musician’s mission is the musician’s dilemma

As a musician myself (from way back when), I can personally vouch for the two words that describe the goal of the little-known, unsigned musician: maximum exposure.

If/when we can afford the time and money, we market ourselves in a particular way because it’s the norm in the industry: we have to record demos or a proper album; we have to get a website made; we have to get on MySpace (once upon a time), Facebook, Spotify and various other social/music sites. The more you do, the better chance you stand. The goal is to maximise exposure, and by doing some or all of the above, you are attempting just that. I know because I did it. I even got myself onto Spotify, even though I’d stopped playing live by that point (note: for the curious among you who want to have a listen via that link, it’s the two EPs – the albums are by a different Steve Morgan).

Of course, fully-fledged signed musicians can be more selective, which their label/agents/managers/etc. will be responsible for, and yet Universal, Sony, EMI, Warner and more are all working with Spotify, according to Spotify’s Labels page.

Is this a bad thing? Yes and no, depending on how you look at it. No because it’s maximising exposure. Yes because it’s not profitable.

Spotify is not profitable to musicians. David McCandless’ infographic highlights the differences between Spotify’s royalties (£0.0012 per stream) and other ways a musician can earn money by selling their music. When Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” reached 1 million streams, the biggest news about it was the fact that she only earned £108 in royalties from it.

Pirates gonna pirate, but…

Arguably, tenths of pennies is better than nothing at all, say if someone were to download music illegally. Of course, if people are that way inclined, it’s likely that they’ll always download the stuff for free, regardless of whether it’s on Spotify or only available on CD.

However, what about those who don’t download illegally? Whether it’s a case of ethics, wanting to own ‘the real thing’ or they’re simply scared of ever getting caught, those who choose the non-piracy route (myself included) will want to hear the music by legitimate means. A CD might cost about £10, but Spotify membership is £10 monthly and I can listen to numerous albums without any ads interrupting. I know I’m basing a lot of this on my own experiences, but I’m sure I’m not the only one, and that a lot of Spotify users are in the same (or similar) boat at the moment.

So why wouldn’t a musician be on Spotify? It could be that their label hasn’t yet negotiated terms with Spotify, or maybe they simply don’t want to be on there. Adele’s latest album and Arcade Fire aren’t on there, so what’s the alternative? To buy the CDs or MP3s. If they were on there, I’d probably listen to them on there, without the need to buy the CDs.

Time for some quick maths: if I were to listen to the Arcade Fire’s album in full five times…

– It contains 16 tracks. 16 x 5 = 80. 80 x £0.0012 = £0.096, or £0.10 rounded up. 10p. Wow.

– Meanwhile, it’s £8.99 on Play.com.

Now there is the assumption that someone could listen on Spotify and then buy on CD as well, but that will still depend on a person’s needs. Someone might buy the CD so that they can listen to it on a proper stereo, in the car or so that they have the physical copy, but if someone can listen to an album for cheaper or for ‘free’ (depending on their type of Spotify membership), they probably will. Fair enough if you do, but why buy the CD if you don’t need to?

Profit comes from demand, demand comes from desire

I’m not saying that musicians have to become capitalists, plus there are other ways musicians can support themselves (e.g. touring and merchandise), but let’s be fair… The way the music industry is heading at the moment is ridiculous, with musicians expecting to pay money to record and release music that people will then listen to free or for a pittance – Spotify’s low royalty fees are reflective of that. That said, it can be argued that that’s a result of there being too much ‘supply’ and not enough demand: i.e. lots of people playing and recording music, with listeners only being able to invest so much of their time and money into a finite amount of music. Even if they are a fan of dozens or hundreds of different artists.

So what’s a musician to do? In the case of Adele and Arcade Fire, people who’d usually do all their listening via Spotify will be more inclined to buy a CD. For once, not achieving maximum exposure via every possible outlet might actually be beneficial to them, in that it forces people down a particular route, which might require spending more money than listening via a cheap or free alternative.

Of course, Adele and Arcade Fire have done really well in making themselves in demand. The former has appeared on everything recently, from about every radio station ever to the first episode of the most recent series of Doctor Who. The latter won a Grammy.

But then that’s easy for big artists like them, who are supported by big record labels. What about the small fry – the little guys – the unsigned? Well if you make all of your music available via Spotify and similar services, then less people will want to buy your CD. So give them a reason to want to buy: maybe only make your music only available via CD and at gigs. Create excitement. Create demand. After all, if you offer everything, people will gladly take everything.

Easier said than done maybe, but at the end of the day, if people want something that they can’t have for free, they’ll pay.

[Guitar case & money image credit: Brave Heart]

The #SMsceptic: The dangers of integrating and automating social media accounts

Picture the scene…

You dabble in social media for your [blank] (replace with website(s)/affiliate project(s)/company/clients or whatever’s applicable), making use of the main and most popular social networking sites: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and possibly even the brand new Google+.

You’re a busy person. Maybe you’re in charge of all the offline marketing. Or maybe you do SEO and PPC as well. So fitting in the social media work – something that would ideally need to be monitored on an on-going basis – seems like a tedious and time-consuming task.

(…Or maybe you’re just unapologetically lazy, who knows…)

So when you find out that you can integrate all of the various accounts together and can automate them through just one of them, it sounds like a dream come true. Post a tweet and it also appears on Facebook and LinkedIn. Boom.

Of course, integrating and automating social media accounts in this way can be godsend and a lifesaver for the busy individual. But what do you lose by doing so? Are there any risks involved? Is it really just worth going to the effort of logging into each account and posting separately, which might take slightly longer but ultimately have a greater effect and impact?

I’ll admit that I’ve not experimented or played around with every single possibility and outcome (I do personally prefer to post separately on each account), but the most popular way seems to be automating one’s tweets, so that Twitter is the main account and its tweets automatically appear as Facebook and LinkedIn status updates. While this may seem good and harmless on the surface, there are some downsides to venturing down the integration/automation path…

Lost in tw-anslation

Here are the five biggest observations I’ve noticed so far, where social media integration and automation has not worked out so well:

1. Tweets on LinkedIn: personal posts on a professional page

Perhaps one of the biggest sins I see committed with social media integration is when all of an individual’s tweets – both professional and personal – also appear on their LinkedIn page, a social network which is particularly more formal and professional than Twitter and Facebook. LinkedIn is great for talking about work-related and industry goings-on, but not so much when it comes to your weekend plans, the subsequent hangover or your thoughts on reality TV shows…

There’s the option to pick and choose which tweets you want to show on LinkedIn, by tagging tweets with “#in” (note: make sure that your Twitter settings on LinkedIn are configured accordingly). That way, your personal tweets can stay Twitter-based, whilst your more professional tweets can feature on LinkedIn and be presented to your more professional acquaintances.

2. Tweets on LinkedIn & Facebook: lost potential for longer posts

With Twitter’s 140 character limit, tweets will feature on Facebook and LinkedIn at the same length. However, LinkedIn and Facebook allow more room in their status updates than Twitter, so in this case, it may be worthwhile updating separately on those sites.

Arguably, short may be sweet, but sometimes the message can be lost when trying to squeeze it into the tight confines of a tweet. In which case, it may be best to type a longer, more in-depth message when posting to Facebook and LinkedIn, especially if it means avoiding abbreviations, trimmed words or txt speak.

3. Tweets on LinkedIn & Facebook: lost potential with links

While we’re on the subject – due to Twitter’s character limit restrictions, the platform thrives and relies on URL shorteners such as bit.ly and tinyurl.com. While these are great on Twitter for fitting more into the message, with the shortened URL taking up less character space than perhaps the lengthy original, when a tweet appears on Facebook and LinkedIn, the link will not be “attached” to the status update.

What does this mean? When sharing a link on Facebook and LinkedIn, you have the option to “attach” a link, which will show its title, a snippet (as its description) and an associated image (which you can usually choose, based on the page’s content). Otherwise, the alternative is just the written text link, as you would see it on Twitter. Although not the end of the world (after all, the link will still work), the description and image might help to make it more noticeable amongst all the other updates showing up on someone’s News Feed. You will be able to write a lengthier description of your own to go with the link, too.

4. LinkedIn & Facebook status updates on Twitter: the message is cut

In point #2, the issue was with losing potential with short tweets. This time, it’s the opposite: updating on either Facebook or LinkedIn and integrating it so that it automatically tweets on your behalf could mean that the message is cut, if it’s longer than a particular length (probably about 120 characters – maximum tweet length with a shortened URL).

Having a message that stops partway through a tweet with a “…” and a shortened link to either LinkedIn or Facebook to read the rest is pretty tacky-looking, I’m sure you’ll agr…

5. When integrating accounts, check all profiles

Of course, one of the most important things to remember is to check to see how an automated tweet/update looks on the other platforms. Just because you only have to update one site, doesn’t mean you should completely ignore the rest of them. Be sure to check the others, in case you encounter any of the above problems or something else entirely, which could affect your marketing efforts, even if only slightly – after all, everything counts.

[Robot vs. laptop image credit: Ѕolo]

The #SMsceptic: 12 things businesses (and some social media experts) get wrong on Twitter

Twitter Fail Whale - alternative art #1

This is the first of what I am hoping will be a series of posts, attributed to the hashtag #SMsceptic (a.k.a the “Social Media Sceptic”). However, before anything else, an explanation as to why I have taken this seemingly pessimistic, grumpy-old-man angle:

I’m not a social media expert, I’ll happy admit that. I’d much rather say that I’m an SEO expert because I know more about the subject (I don’t even consider myself to be an SEO expert, but I’m sure you get my point – if I had to say I was one of the two). I’ve merely dabbled with Twitter, having slowly but surely learnt the ropes – just like everyone else – and have been trying to figure out how it can benefit me and – in turn – how I can benefit others.

With social media becoming more and more popular as another channel for businesses to use to market and advertise themselves, the thing that truly baffles me is the amount of interest – and the amount of money being spent – on something that seems to provide very little ROI compared to other avenues of marketing. Of course, there are theories that social media should be treated as branding more than anything else, along with the fact that it complements and works alongside other forms of marketing and advertising, rather than simply standalone.

Either way, while you’ll hear many people singing social media’s praises, some have argued that it could be a bubble about to burst, similar to the dot-com crash at the beginning of the millennium. However, that said, I’m not saying that social media doesn’t “work.” I’ve heard some absolutely great case studies and success stories, although only a few so far and not as many as I would like, what with the current and on-going interest and fascination with the medium.

Also, it is still a brave new world, with many businesses only just starting to get acquainted, onboard and get to grips with the various social media sites out there. Although there isn’t anything like a handbook telling someone everything they need to know (then again, maybe there is? – prove me wrong!), but some of the things I’ve seen some businesses do have been annoying, embarrassing, cringe-worthy or all of the above. Hell, I’ve even seen people who call themselves social media “experts” to be guilty of one or two of the following…

1. Thinking a tweet with an @reply at the start is seen by everyone

I once heard someone say that one of their industry leaders had tweeted about something they’d said to their own followers, amounting to the 1,000s. Sounds impressive on the face of it, but it turned out that it wasn’t a retweet, but instead an @reply, in response to having been @mentioned by the individual originally.

The individual in question believed that the industry leader’s tweet would have been seen by everyone, i.e. all of that person’s followers, but of course, if one Twitter user sends another user an @reply (with the @reply at the start of the message), the only people who will see it are: 1) the person they’re sending it to, 2) anyone who happens to visit the sender’s profile at the time, until it’s buried by later tweets, and 3) anyone following both accounts. Therefore, this individual was sad to find out that instead of the possibility of 1,000s of people seeing their tweet, only a handful might have done. Ouch.

Oh by the way, did I mention that the individual was a supposed “social media guru,” who teaches people how to use Twitter? Double-ouch.

2. Sending a tweet with a mid-tweet @reply that’s personal (but is seen by everyone)

Twitter Fail Whale - alternative art #2If somebody were to post a tweet that said…

“Hi @twitter, did you get my email?”

…Is it an @reply that’s only seen by the only three types of people mentioned in #1? No. It’s seen by everyone, i.e. all of the sender’s followers at least. Some people mistakenly believe that because it’s an @reply, it is only properly seen by that individual. However, that is only the case if it appears at the beginning of the tweet. Place it further on and all of your followers will see it as well. Think about an #FF (“Follow Friday”), which contains multiple @replies – it is seen by your followers as a recommendation to your followers, assuming it begins with “#FF” (which they usually do).

So… Want to send an @reply to someone and you also want your followers to see it, say if you want to communicate something to a fellow Twitter user but want to broadcast it as well? Some people do the above (i.e. starting it with “hi”), or use similar alternatives: start the tweet with “dear @so-and-so,” put a full-stop at the start, etc. Otherwise, it’s only seen by the recipient, a profile visitor or a follower of both accounts. Which leads us to the opposite…

3. Sending a tweet with an @reply at the start that’s intended to be a broadcast

Conversely, who sees the following tweet?

“@twitter is my #FF for this week.”

Not your followers. The @reply is at the start, so it’s instead only seen by the people listed above: the recipient, the visitor, the follower of both (sounds like a modern-day version of either “the good, the bad and the ugly” or “the cook, the thief, his wife & her lover,” but I digress…)

4. RTing the same person constantly

Retweeting (or RTing) someone often isn’t necessarily a bad thing – a user might want to retweet a fellow Twitter user that’s important to them: a friend, a colleague, their employer, an industry expert, etc. However, retweeting the same person on a daily basis is more tedious.

After all, if you are simply going to retweet everything a person says, then your follower might as well be following them instead, especially if you spend more time retweeting others than tweeting yourself.

5. RTing EVERYTHING mentioned about themselves

If someone says something positive about a business on Twitter, then that business might be very well inclined to retweet it, and rightly so. However, doing so should be done in moderation. I see some companies retweet absolutely everything spoken about them, which is overkill.

If people do say a lot of complimentary things about you, retweet in moderation – perhaps only the best of the bunch, those that are absolutely glowing testimonials. Spread them out as well, don’t retweet them all in one go.

…In fact, while I mention it…

6. Tweeting too often (or all in one go)

Twitter Fail Whale - alternative art #3The best Twitter usage is natural, regular and spread out. If someone jumps into their Twitter account once a week and shoots off a ton of tweets all in one go, only to disappear again for another week, then it won’t appear to be any of those things.

I had to stop following one business’ account because they tweeted about sixty times in one 30-minute period. Whether it was them themselves or an agency on their behalf, it looked as though someone had some time spare, logged in and tweeted for the sake of it, simply to get the number of tweets up and their presence known. I found it so overwhelming – clogging up my feed at the time – that I just had to unfollow them. I was thinking of following them again at some point later on (thinking that they might have calmed down a bit later on), but if I’m honest, I don’t think I ever got round to it.

Admittedly, it can be difficult jumping in and out of Twitter on a regular basis in order to tweet more regularly, especially if the person managing the social media on behalf of a company has other responsibilities as well. But even popping in once a day for five minutes would be better than going mad for half an hour once a week.

7. Incorrect #hashtag usage (bordering on spam)

I have seen a self-professed social media expert behind this one, and you know what? It bugs the hell out of me.

They are based in London, and at the end of every single tweet that they post, they will throw a #London hashtag at the end. Makes some sort of sense – they’re based in London, so they are hoping that people following the #London hashtag (most likely people native to the city) will see their tweets and take notice of who they are.

The problem? Very, very few of the tweets actually have anything to do with London. Most of them are national – or even international – news stories. What’s London got to do with news taking place in America, even if you yourself – sharing the news – are based in London? Nothing. In my eyes, this is hashtag spam.

Don’t abuse hashtags. There are countless stories of businesses improperly using hashtags, causing more embarrassment and bad press for themselves than enquiries or sales. Only use them when they are relevant to what you are talking about. For example, I recently tweeted the news that Liberty are hiring. They’re #SEO roles, based in #Cardiff, so that’s fine. In hindsight, I probably should have included a #jobs hashtag, too – although arguably, #SEO and #jobs will be global (and therefore extremely fast-moving) Twitter streams, so I would have been impressed if anyone at all had noticed it, let alone anyone in the UK, Wales or Cardiff.

8. #FF legions of people without explanation

I’m pretty sure someone’s already covered this one in a blog post somewhere (sorry, I’ll edit the post and credit you if/when I find it again!)

Doing a #FollowFriday (a.k.a. #FF for short) that basically involves writing a long* list of people and nothing else isn’t exactly ideal. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it is bad etiquette, but what benefit is churning out a long list of names?

The whole point of #FollowFriday is to recommend other Twitter users to your followers, so that they will consider following them, too. Just like with any recommendation or testimonial, you should give a reason why they should be followed. I don’t often tweet them myself, but when I do, it’ll usually be just one or two people, with an explanation as to why they’re worthy of my #FF for the week. Want to include more people? Do multiple tweets, each of them including brief explanations and reasons why.

* Well… “Long” inasmuch as Twitter will allow, anyway!

9. Providing off-topic facts & info

Twitter Fail Whale - alternative art #4I would argue that tweeting random facts is good. Sometimes it can be hard to think about what to tweet about (particularly for some businesses in some industries), so it can help to fill the void between more important tweets in addition to keeping followers interested and hooked.

However, I would argue the importance of keeping it relevant. Tweeting purely random facts – irrespective to your industry – is a bit much and a step too far. If I talk about SEO, chances are that my followers are following me because they are also interested in SEO. Therefore, random facts about SEO will probably be enjoyed by them. Random facts about animals, cars, our planet…? Probably not. It’s just not relevant to them. Instead, those types of things could be tweeted by veterinary surgeries, car showrooms and environmentalists, respectively, whose followers would probably appreciate it.

10. Bad spelling

This may seem like an especially petty one, but bear with me…

I’m not saying I’m a perfect speller. I moaned at myself recently about how I always forget to proofread my tweets before posting them. But my account is a personal account. Admittedly, Twitter is a spur-of-the-moment medium and when people act fast, they tend to make mistakes, regardless of whether it’s personal or business. But sometimes I’ve seen Twitter accounts run by businesses that are consistently lacking in proper spelling and grammar (although it’s fair enough to say that the latter’s especially hard when you’re restricted to 140 characters)!

My point isn’t that a business’ Twitter account should be run by someone who has flawless spelling and grammar skills. My point is that for businesses, Twitter is another form of advertising; of marketing; of media. A business would proofread and/or involve some level of quality control for their TV advertising, promotional literature, webpage copy, blog posts, etc., so surely Twitter should be treated with the same courtesy.

11. Tweeting the same things over and over

One Twitter user I know will say the same thing 5-10 times a day (albeit with slight tweaks to the wording sometimes), spread out throughout the day, each and every day, pushing their product or service. It’s as if they’re hoping someone will do a Twitter search for whatever it is at that exact moment and get in touch and enquire. If only it were that simple, huh?

I won’t do it because I don’t want to upset them, but I am really, really tempted to get in touch and ask if they have ever had an enquiry as a result of any of these tweets. Arguably, they might only take a few seconds to do each time, so it’s hardly a time-consuming effort that’s not paying off, but it doesn’t look very credible – in fact, I’d say it borders on desperation.

Just because you say you provide a product or service, doesn’t mean someone will definitely use you. Therefore, saying it 5-10 times doesn’t mean that someone is 5-10 times more likely to buy from you. Actually, they’re probably 5-10 times more likely to get annoyed and click the “Unfollow” button.

12. Getting lots of followers for the sake of numbers

Twitter Fail Whale - alternative art #5Unfortunately, a lot of marketing is a numbers game: number of impressions; number of clicks; number of visitors; number of page 1 rankings. For Twitter and Facebook, it’s typically the number of followers and “likes,” respectively.  Now it’d be utterly naïve of me to suggest that marketers should ignore the numbers as a benchmark, but oftentimes, quantity will trump quality to the point of silliness.

I believe this to especially be the case with social media, particularly with Twitter. For example, one tactic for increasing one’s follower count is to follow lots of people, some of whom will be obliged to return the favour. You get 1,000s of followers, but in order to get to that level, you also have to follow 1,000s. You can try to gear the followers that you want (e.g. you operate in the finance sector, so you follow other finance-related users, hoping that they’ll reciprocate), but ultimately, many of the people who do follow will probably be doing the same thing. You get 1,000s of followers, but how many of them actually give a damn about what you say? You can show it your client, manager or board or directors, but how many will be truly interested in what you do and – most importantly – what you can do for them or provide to them?

It may not please the client/manager/board because the focus won’t be on the numbers, but surely growing followers organically has to be the best approach in the long run. It may mean you get 100 followers in one month instead of 1,000, but arguably, that 100 are much more likely to be interested in what you have to tweet about. Out of that 1,000 on the other hand, there could very well be less than 100 who do.

It’s sad that sometimes follower count almost represents one’s status. Just because Person A has twice as many followers as Person B, it does not mean that Person A is twice as interesting, twice as important or twice as good at whatever it is they do. Anyone can go out and get a ton of followers – you can even go and buy them for dirt cheap, if that’s your thing (not that I’d ever recommend it, for many reasons). But the end of the day, it doesn’t mean jack. What does? Sharing good content (ideally stuff that you’ve produced yourself), conversing with others, giving tips and advice… All of which – I’m sure you will agree – is the whole point of Twitter and is probably why it became so popular in the first place.

So that’s it! Thanks for reading. But what you think? Have I forgotten anything obvious? Is there something you see businesses do every day that really drives you mad? Let me know via the comments…

[Image credits for the Twitter Fail Whale alternative art, in the order that they appear: first one by Paul Muller, the other four by kun530: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4]

Want more traffic? Teach the experts something new

I won’t lie… I’m a search engine geek. Since discovering SEO 2-3 years ago, I have gradually yet increasingly become more passionate on the subject. And as anyone who’s passionate on a subject will attest to, every subject and/or industry has its experts and its heroes. I have a few, one of them being Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz.

So I was delighted when after liaising with him on Twitter, I eventually discovered something and taught him something that he didn’t already know, leading him to then share the discovery with his 30,000+ Twitter followers. Here’s what happened…

Teaching an expert

A few weeks ago, Rand tweeted saying that he’d seen a weird search result, linking to a screenshot of it and saying that he couldn’t figure out why some of the results were ranking. Looking into it, I responded saying that I thought the anchor text of the in-bound links was helping at least one of the results (a result that didn’t even have the words on the page whatsoever p after all, how else would Google know to show that page for that keyword?)

@randfish & @steviephil tweetsAlthough Rand agreed with my theory, he still wasn’t convinced that “it would be enough for such a tough-to-rank SERP.” I replied asking if he thought that perhaps negative/removed keywords could affect the anchor text of in-bound links as well as the on-page text.

@randfish & @steviephil tweetsAt this point, I was tempted to leave it be, but after thinking about it for a while, I decide to look into it some more. Before Rand had the chance to respond, I took a deeper look into it and drew a few conclusions. To my delight, Rand responded positively and enthusiastically.

@randfish & @steviephil tweetsThe next day, I detailed my findings in a post for the Liberty Marketing blog. Although arguably a bit cheeky on any other occasion, I notified Rand of the post’s existence, seeing as we’d discussed it the day before and I thought that he’d be interested.

@steviephil tweetThe result? Rand didn’t retweet my notification, but tweeted about it in its own right, mentioning me in the process, which was probably better than retweeting my tweet (it was certainly more presentable than what I’d written to him).

@randfish tweetCompared to other tweets, this one didn’t start with “@steviephil,” meaning that it wasn’t sent solely to me… Instead, it was addressed to his followers. All 30,000+ of them.

For someone who loves SEO, loves learning new things (especially something that no one’s ever documented or picked up on before) and who also looks up to Rand and what he’s achieved in the industry, this was a huge honour. I was ecstatic.

But the purpose of this blog post isn’t to brag about what happened. It’s to talk about the benefits of going to the effort of doing what I did and suggesting that others try and do the same if and when they can. When Rand tweeted the first time, it was Sunday evening (UK time) – I could have ignored it. Hell, I could have missed it altogether, so I was lucky to have caught it and that I wasn’t busy doing something else at the time. I persevered and the end result was certainly worth the effort…

An influx of traffic

Rand’s tweet saw the Liberty blog and the website as a whole get a ton more traffic than usual. Unfortunately I don’t have access to Liberty’s Google Analytics account as I type this, although you can picture the graph: a huge peak on the date of the post, with a drop in the days afterwards.

I may not have Analytics access, but I do have bit.ly account access, and I can tell you that this particular blog post had 30 times the clickthroughs compared to the blog’s other recent posts. We couldn’t believe it!

Other benefits

Okay, so admittedly, although the volume of traffic was great, one can argue that the traffic was probably primarily made up of other SEOs, and although that’s still cool from a relevancy point of view (e.g. they may then go on to browse other news and advice posts we’ve written), they’re hardly our target market. We want business owners to check out the Liberty site – they’re the ones who enquire and hire us for our services, not our industry peers.

However there are still some great benefits attributed to the tweet and the rise in traffic that can benefit Liberty in other ways:

Links: The blog post has acquired more in-bound links than some of Liberty’s other blog posts, probably because more people saw it, offering more of an opportunity that someone would link to it. Also, being mainly industry peers, SEOs – many already owning blogs and knowledgeable about linking – are probably more inclined to link to it than other people. Not only that, but we might also have a legitimate and genuine Wikipedia link opportunity, what with is being an industry discovery and research.

Retweets: Old and new-style tweets combined, Rand’s tweet was retweeted about 20 times. Although the sharers themselves might have mostly been made up of industry peers, their followers may not be. It’s not impossible that one or more of the retweeters was an SEO agency or freelancer in the UK, who has followers that might benefit from Liberty’s services, the retweet along with the link to the blog post now putting Liberty on their radar.

New Followers: Both me and Liberty earned a few more followers as a result of Rand’s sharing, some of whom have hopefully continued to follow us for future tweets and updates, both business and SEO-related.

Pride: In my excitement, rather than retweeting Rand’s tweet, I tweeted about the whole thing separately, giving me a chance to word it how I wanted (a bit like Rand not retweeting my notification but putting it in his own words instead). It gave me the opportunity to call it a “massive honour,” while linking to the Twitter profiles of Liberty, Rand and SEOmoz, all in one tweet. Liberty shared it, as well as Liberty’s PR agency, making it more widely accessible to our more local contacts.

@steviephil tweetAuthority: Linked to the above point (especially in terms of Liberty sharing the tweet), it helped to strengthen Liberty’s authority and standing in the SEO industry. By discovering something like this, we are showing that we know what we’re on about and know what we’re doing. This should give comfort to clients – present and future, current and prospective – to give them confidence in our abilities, skills and knowhow.

Recognition: Now that Rand has seen what I/we can do, it might be easier to do something like this again, with him sharing another discovery. It’s like a foot in the door, with it being not impossible that he might remember and recognise me in the future, especially as I have started to comment on a number of SEOmoz blog posts in my own right (and with the fact that I currently use the same avatar on my SEOmoz profile as I do on Twitter).

Networking: I’m a member (and a big fan) of BNI. It’s given me another thing to talk about and to tell people – in my opinion, saying “we taught an expert in our industry something new” is as impressive as saying “we helped to get a website higher in Google.” Although very few people in my chapter will know who Rand is (and that’s fair enough), they can always look into it afterwards, plus some people in related industries may already know who he is (e.g. web developers and social media specialists – I may not be a dedicated expert in either area but I’ve still heard of some industry experts in both areas).

Things to be careful about

I can’t see this type of thing working for everyone. I do think I was extremely lucky, in noticing and responding to the tweet and in taking the time and initiative to investigate and then write about the issue.

A big risk is the person taking the credit for the discovery themselves. Given Rand’s standing in the industry and his morals and views on sharing with others, I knew Rand wouldn’t do such a thing (“that’s definitely a discovery worth sharing” was almost his way of saying “you should tell people about it”), but that’s not to say that everyone would necessarily follow his example.

Alternatively, they might simply not share it. Rand might have not bothered to pass on the tweet, even with my nudge/notification to him. Or they might not share it properly – I was lucky that Rand @mentioned me in the tweet as well as linking to the blog post, but others might only do the latter.

Which brings me onto a big point – not everyone is familiar with Twitter and not everyone uses it. It may differ from industry to industry, with Rand in SEO being a regular Twitter user, while an expert in another industry simply doesn’t touch it.

However, for those who do, there is no harm keeping an eye on what they say and jumping on an opportunity to help them if they want feedback, advice or someone’s input – it sure worked well for me.

“We rank therefore we rock,” said the agency – Beware the misleading ranking claim

Technology WinDisclaimer: This post is not intended as an attack against anyone, so be advised that any keywords/rankings that I go on to mention are purely examples – any correlations between the agencies ranking for them and the way they market themselves is purely coincidental and unintended.

A good measure of any agency can be seen in how they do what they do on themselves. If a PR agency has a bad reputation in the press, a web design agency has a poorly-built website or an SEO agency doesn’t rank for anything then it’s not a very reassuring sign.

So it’s understandable when an web design or online marketing agency that does SEO wants to let people know when they rank for a keyword. “Hooray, we rank! We rock!” Right? Not necessarily. It may sound great on the surface, but dig a little deeper and it may not be that impressive at all.

We rank ≠ we rock (necessarily)

Sometimes on Twitter I come across a web design agency which provides SEO services saying that they rank #1 on page 1 organically in Google for a keyword like, say, “web designers in cardiff”. At first, that sounds really impressive, but think about it for a moment… That’s just one variation of a number of things someone might type into Google. There’s a lot of different things someone might search on in order to find effectively the same thing:

  • “web designer” could be singular or plural: “designer” or “designers” (2 variations)
  • It could be “website designer(s)” instead… (4 variations)
  • …Or you could just call it “design” (6 variations)
  • Although arguably a different requirement, some people are inclined to call it “development,” or might be looking for a “developer” or “developers” (12 variations)
  • They might be looking for one in “cardiff” or maybe “south wales” or “wales” as a whole (36 variations)
  • When typing in keywords containing locations, searchers tend to put the location afterwards, either with or without the “in,” or before, e.g. “web design cardiff,” “web design in cardiff” or “cardiff web design” (108 variations)

We’re now up to 100+ different ways that someone might be looking for a web designer/developer in Cardiff or the wider Wales.

Variations and their search volumes

Not only that but some variations are undoubtedly going to be more popular than others, whether it’s due to searcher’s habits, one term being more renowned or used than another, or perhaps Google Suggest highlighting a particular search term as a searcher starts typing. Just looking at some of the variations using the Google AdWords Keyword Tool can show the difference (which can be used for free and by anyone, by the way):

web design cardiff and variations in the Keyword Tool

According to its results, “web design cardiff” receives c. 2,400 searches per month, while the bottom three keywords – including the aforementioned “web designers in cardiff” – show no data whatsoever, suggesting that search volume is minimal or non-existent. It’s likely that “web design cardiff” has a lot of agencies fighting over it, trying to optimise themselves and their sites for that keyword, simply because of how popular and in demand it is. Likewise, this should suggest that the likes of “web designers in cardiff” will have very few people going for them – after all, why optimise your site for something that no one’s searching for? Therefore, in comparison it should be an easy one to rank for… I bet that keyword sounds even less impressive now, doesn’t it?

How about the website that ranks highly for “web design cardiff” though? Surely that’s a good sign of an agency that knows how to do SEO! Perhaps… While it certainly carries weight to rank for the whale, it may not be a good sign if they don’t also rank for littler fish, either. Maybe they’re focussing all of their energies on just that one keyword? Or maybe they just got lucky?

What’s a business to do?

Someone in the market for an SEO agency may not know all of this stuff, along with how to check for search volumes, and that’s fair enough. If gauging an SEO’s performance on their own rankings, it is wise to check a few rankings in their industry and location(s).

I did a presentation for Liberty Marketing recently and in the Q&A session afterwards I was asked how we rank. Fortunately I was able to say that we do quite well – as I type this, we’re the #1-3 result for searches such as “seo cardiff,” “online marketing cardiff” an even just “marketing cardiff” (even though we don’t provides any offline marketing services whatsoever). We’re also on page 1 for “online marketing agency,” which – with no location keyword involved – means we’re competing UK-wide. Not too bad for a three-year-old agency.

Of course, my advice would be not to go down this route at all. I’ve heard stories of people who have somewhat naïvely recruited SEO agencies by simply typing “seo” into Google and asking the top few results for proposals. Compared to other industries, it’s possible for a site to have gamed the system and used dodgy, black-hat technique to have gotten there in the first place. You could end up hiring someone who engages in dodgy practices which can have long-term damaging effects on your site, or – in the worst case scenario – is simply a con artist.

If it were up to me, I’d work on the basis of recommendations and testimonials. I’d also think about the competition of an industry – a high result in a UK-wide insurance search (likely to be in the 1,000s of searches each month) is certainly going to be a lot more impressive than someone looking for a particular niche product or trade in a small town or city. After all, regardless of the industry, a happy client is what makes a good agency.

[iPhone/thumbs up image credit: Stéphane Delbecque]