How Sharing Pays Dividends

The Sharing Dividend

Bruce SchneierIf you’re looking for an expert on computer security, it’s almost impossible not to find Bruce Schneier. The BT chief security technology officer and author of several books on privacy and security uses his blog, Schneier on Security, to provide a constant stream of insights on topics ranging from viruses to the papal selection process.

As a result, Schneier is in the top Google results for all kinds of search queries around security keywords, and this translates into a bounty of press coverage, speaking engagements and high-profile career opportunities.

Schneier’s secret isn’t that he’s an exceptionally gifted writer. It’s that he has a compulsion to share his thoughts. By taking a little extra time to commit them to his blog, he exposes his wisdom to a wide audience.

Anyone can do this today. It’s surprising more companies don’t.

Read more at BtoB magazine.

Creating Long-form Content for the Distracted Audience

If you still view view research reports, white papers and customer case studies as a “Big Bang” proposition, then you’re missing the boat. Maximizing audience size and impact is increasingly a matter of summarizing, teasing and packaging in other formats. We need to rethink the way we create longform content and package it as a series of short-form updates.

Tweet research findings as you go along. Capture highlights and blog entries. Summarize case studies in podcast interviews. Create top 10 lists and factoids to post on Twitter. And be ready to promote your finished report through multiple channels upon publication.

The benefits: increased awareness before the content is released and longer shelf life as you promote conversations about it.

Read more at BtoB magazine.

Search Essentials – What You MUST Know

Visibility in search engines is critical to nearly every business these days, but the basic mechanics of search are still in mystery to many people. Success begins with good keyword selection and continues with optimal page construction, good descriptions and continuous campaigns to generate inbound links. Providing high quality content is critical to search engine success, and recent revisions to Google’s search engine algorithm reinforces that point.

I recently posted a 38-slide presentation covering the essentials of search. It includes detailed notes that served as a script for an accompanying webcast recording on the subject. Feel free to download the presentation and share it with colleagues who still don’t get why a keyword strategy is so essential to growing your business.

Tip of the Week – Spundge

Occasionally a tool comes along that is so drop-dead useful that it causes you to change the way you work. For me, that tool is Spundge, a content curation console that makes it easy to grab articles and assemble them into a single stream that can be embedded on any website that accepts scripting. It’s like Storify, but more flexible.

Spundge is like a super RSS feed with bookmarking built in. It comes out-of-the-box with more than 45,000 embedded feeds from major news and technology sites, along with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks. You can add your own feeds and apply whatever filters you like. The engine learns from your choices and consistently delivers you more relevant content.

You can create embeds that display content from your Spundge notebooks in any website that accepts scripting. For a modest fee of US$9 per month, you can generate blog posts from that content using a WYSIWYG editor. But you don’t need the paid account to get a lot of value out of this great new service. I recommend you give it a try.

Read more on my Newspaper Death Watch blog.

Just for Fun: Scale of the Universe

Scale of the UniverseIf you’re feeling insignificant today you might want to skip this one, but bear with me for the surprise at the end.

The universe is a mighty big place, and I’ve never seen anything that quite dramatizes that fact like this Flash movie, The Scale of the Universe.

Scroll left to begin your journey at the smallest known particle of Quantum Foam (.0000000001 yoctometers or 10-35  meter. Keep scrolling to the right as you pass neutrinos, quarks, uranium nuclei and other little tiny things.

As you keep scrolling, the scale gets larger: chromosomes, aunts, human beings, Redwood trees, the Hoover dam, California, Ganymede, Alpha Centauri B and so on. At the extreme right is the estimated size of the universe at 1027 meters.

It’s a mesmerizing display with beautiful graphics and even a soundtrack. If it came from the Stanford Linear Accelerator Laboratory, you wouldn’t be at all surprised. But this remarkable animation is the work of two junior high school kids: Carey and Michael Huang.

Carey was the principal architect and Michael put it online. Carey didn’t even do it for extra credit; it was just a fun way to express some relationships he learned about in seventh grade. Here’s the story on ABC News.

MIT might want to get to these kids with the scholarship offer early.

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A New Kind of Search Engine

Andrew McAfeeBetween South by Southwest and the Cognizant Community 2010 Conference, I’ve heard some fascinating presentations over the last couple of weeks. I want to tell you about one in particular, though, because it introduced me to whole new ideas about how we acquire information.

The speaker was Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the MIT Sloan School, fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center and author of Enterprise 2.0. McAfee specializes in the application of advanced Internet technologies to corporate communications, and his observations about the impact of Twitter and Facebook on the way we find information raise the possibility that a new kind of search is emerging.

Speaking at the Cognizant conference earlier this week in Scottsdale, McAfee described how much the process of finding information has changed in just the last 15 years. As recently as 1995, the most common reference source we had was a library where professional human curators made decisions about what we needed to know. Information was not only scarce but constrained by space and the limitations of indexing systems that forced information into uncomfortable categories (David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous describes this brilliantly).

When the Internet went mainstream, we initially tried to recreate the curated model online. Remember that Yahoo started as a structured taxonomy designed by humans that organized the Web into categories. There is some value to that, but few people access information that way today.

Instead, we discovered that search engines are faster and bring us directly to the information we’re seeking. It’s amazing how quickly people have discarded the library metaphor that dominated our thinking just a decade ago in favor of search. In December, people conducted more than 4.7 billion searches worldwide every day.

A New Approach to Search
Now there may be a new kind of search taking shape based upon the ask-and-answer principles introduced by social networking. Twitter users understand this well. Let’s say I’m in Chicago looking for a place to take business colleagues to dinner. I can search the Web for restaurant reviews, but I can also ask a question of my followers: “Recommend a good restaurant within 10 minutes of McCormick Place?” Both actions yield useful information, but the Twitter inquiry may actually provide superior value because the response comes in real time from people I know and trust.

I’ve already noticed my behavior changing as a result of this network effect, and perhaps you have, too. When I’m about to make a major purchase decision, I often ask my Twitter followers for advice. In effect, I’m conducting a search against a database of unpublished information that’s stored in people’s memories.

If we can unlock and share this untapped resource, we can potentially open a treasure trove of new information. In McAfee’s words, “Your ignorance makes everyone smarter.”

Organizations that are experimenting with Web 2.0 tools behind the firewall are discovering that this is a remarkably powerful idea. For 20 years, we’ve tried to capture knowledge by interviewing veteran employees and storing what they told us in databases. That’s never worked very well because it’s an unnatural knowledge-transfer mechanism.

It turns out that people are more generous and spontaneous with expertise when they answer ad hoc questions from peers. Some organizations are beginning to scrap the old tools in favor of this free-form exchange.

The trick is to preserve, organize and rank this wisdom. You can bet that Google and others are trying to figure that out right now. I was a little mystified last month when Google acquired Aardvark, a “social search engine,” for a pricey sum of $50 million. Aardvark is sort of a structured Twitter; its members can ask questions of others who have a self-declared area of expertise.

Having listened to Andrew McAfee’s insights, I now understand better what Google executives were thinking. This doesn’t mean that today’s search engines will become irrelevant. Social search is an extension of an already-powerful metaphor, and it has some very exciting implications.

What do you think? Are there scenarios in which social search could replace the ubiquitous Google query box?

Free Webinar This Week, Then Meet Me In Chicago

Just a reminder that next Thursday I’ll conduct a free seminar from Awareness discussing the interim findings of some research I’ve been doing into business use of multiple social media platforms. This research indicates that there’s been a striking increase in just the last couple of years in the number of platforms social media platforms that businesses are using. Click on the link to sign up.

On April 8, I’ll be in Chicago for a luncheon that the local Business Marketing Association is sponsoring on how to do business marketing on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn. Each speaker will cover a different platform, and I was lucky enough to draw the Twitter card. Hope to see you there!

Tip of the Week: entered public beta test this week, and it’s a tool worth looking at if you’re interested in getting more mileage out of your publishing activities. distributes information from your RSS feeds to Twitter and Facebook without user intervention. Other services will be added soon. So you don’t have to tweet the stuff you publish; does it for you.

The real power of the service, though, is on the back end. For each syndicated item, whether it be an article or a single tweet, you can see who retweeted the item, how many times it was distributed and how many clicks it received. There’s a metric called “direct reach” that measures the follower count of people who re-post an item. There’s also a calculated metric called “extended reach” that figures out how many people have tweeted your content using other URL shortening services. You would have no other way of knowing about this activity other than through by looking at server logs for referring URLs.
The service still needs some work on the user interface side, but the back-end metrics appear solid. I’ve seen a noticeable uptick in retweets of my blog entries since I started using it.

Just For Fun: OK Go’s This Too Shall Pass

You might be familiar with OK Go, a band that is known for its inventive and intricate music videos. They’ve outdone themselves with their latest effort, a four-minute celebration called This Too Shall Pass that features some of the most innovative ideas I’ve ever seen in a Rube Goldberg machine. It ends with paint guns being fired at the band members. Considering the amount of paint the the band members are wearing at the beginning of the video, it no doubt involved many takes. But the results — nearly 10,000,000 downloads so far — are probably worth it.

OK Go's This Too Shall Pass

More Tips for Unblocking the Idea Jam

<a href=This is the second installment in a multi-part series on how to write killer content for your blog. It continues the thread I began last week on how to come up with ideas for topics.

Defy conventional wisdom. This is an old newspaper columnist trick, but it works well. Think of a topic that most people agree upon and argue the exact opposite point of view. For example, try to build a case for why social networks are a passing fad or the New York Jets are the team to beat in the NFL this year (okay, that last one’s a stretch). You have to think creatively to argue your point, and the result may be more satire than opinion, but just let the idea take you where it wants to go. Going against conventional wisdom is one of the best ways to fuel creativity.

Get Angry. The best writing is driven by emotion. Think about something you’ve heard or seen recently that really made you mad. Are there lessons you can share? Or can you abstract the issue into a more general commentary ? Maybe you got cut off by a driver talking on a cell phone. That could lead to a bigger essay on distraction. Let your passion guide you, but be careful not to push the “publish” button till you’ve calmed down.

Aggregate other opinions. Go to a news/blog aggregation site like and browse a category that interests you. Find a topic that several people are commenting upon, summarize their comments and add your own. For an extra twist, try the tactic mentioned in the first item above and arguing the opposite case.

Tell a story. It’s the most powerful form of human communication. Reach back to an experience that was meaningful to you and start writing it down. What did you learn from that experience? How can those lessons help others?

Revisit. The simple act of scrolling through your past blog entries can yield ideas about new topics or new angles on old topics. If your predictions were wrong, tell why. If they were right, build on them.

Conduct a small research project. Two of my most well-received blog entries of the last year were quick experiments, each of which took less than an hour to conduct:

  • Last year, I visited 15 corporate blogs shortly after the financial meltdown and looked at what they were saying about the economy. The lack of attention to this hugely important story was stunning. It made me angry, and that’s a good formula for writing.
  • Last month I picked a stream of 100 tweets at random and analyzed them for content and value. The results surprised me and my essay generated quite a few tweets from others.

Make a list. This is the most popular organizational tools in the blogosphere. Pick a topic about which you have some expertise and offer quick hits of advice. For example: “10 Ways to Research a Company on the Web,” or “Seven software utilities I couldn’t live without.” Or you can skip the numbers and just organize your thoughts in modules, like I’m doing here. I get tired of all the numbered lists after a while, but I have to admit, readers love ’em.

Predict. Predictions are hugely popular at the end of the year, but you can make them any time. To add variety, limit your time frame or endpoint. Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz did this effectively with the 500th edition of their “For Immediate Release” podcast by asking their listeners to predict what topics the two will be discussing during their next 500 shows. Pick a topic, make a prediction and argue your case. Then revisit later and write about how you did.

Recommend. Are there blogs, discussion forums, podcasts or how-to websites that you love? Write them down, tell what you like about each and share them with your readers.

Explore everyday things. This is an offbeat approach, but it’s a great way to satisfy your curiosity while delving into little-known corners of the Web. Pick a topic about which you know very little and research it. For example, learn why golf balls have dimples or find the origin of the phrase “the whole 9 yards.” This work may have limited relevance to your business, but it’ll probably yield a fascinating tidbit of information and help you learn new ways to find things online.

Serialize. Take any of the ideas above and publish it as short thematic entries. Few people read long articles anymore, anyway, so break out those ideas and sprinkle them around. Just be sure to tag and categorize them appropriately so you can reassemble later.

I could go on. There are dozens of other ways to generate ideas. But let’s hear from you. Comment below on some tactics that you use to unblock those creative juices.

All About Social Media ROI

Social Media ROI title screenI’ve devoted quite a bit of time recently to researching the topic of social media ROI, which is probably one of the hottest issues in marketing today. I developed a new 90-minute slide presentation on this subject, which can be expanded to a half-day workshop if you’re interested. Bottom-line: not only can you measure ROI, but you can unearth some fantastic insights about your prospects and customers in the process. View and download my slide presentation here. I also borrowed liberally from two other experts on the topic: Katie Paine and Olivier Blanchard. I recommend following them both.

Tip of the Week: Google’s Similar Pages

Here’s a Google treasure that will save you loads of time, particularly when researching products. One little noticed feature of Google search results is the “Similar” link that appears at the end of the result summary. Click on this link and you kick off a rather sophisticated Google search that looks for pages that have the same characteristics as the search result you chose.

Radian_similarHere’s an example. Suppose you’re interested in conversation monitoring tools. Within the top 10 results you’ll find Radian6, a popular (and very good) product in that category. Click on the “similar” link and you get search results that list dozens of other conversation monitoring tools. The results are more focused than those you would get from a standard search query because Google can infer from the document that you’re probably looking for a technology vendor. Try this next time you’re researching options in a market.

Just For Fun: Old Computer Ads

Penril early computer adIf you think the idea of using sex to sell technology originated with, then you should check out this collection of old computer ads assembled by CIO magazine. The journal, which is put out by venerable publisher International Data Group, dug back into the archives of sister publications like Computerworld and InfoWorld to find some of the funniest ads from the early days of the industry. In addition to the classic bits-and-babes promotion like the one shown at right, they include standouts like Bill Gates’ endorsement of RadioShack computers. I’m old enough to remember when some of these promotions originally ran, and can attest to the fact that these are not exceptions to the rule. Just think of how far we’ve come. Or have we?

Blogging Blunders, Part 1

Your last entry is dated April 17. Most of your entries are press releases. Your headlines are dull as dirt. Your articles are devoid of links. And you wonder why no one comes to your blog.

Failed house designI’ve done many content audits of clients’ blogs over the last two years and found the same shortcomings cropping up again and again. Most businesses don’t use blogs to their full potential. Often, they treat them as just another channel to distribute information they’re already distributing by other means. It’s not surprising nobody comes.

A successful business blog uses the unique characteristics of the medium and engages in a discussion, not a speech. Pay attention to details and give it some time. Over the next couple of newsletters I’ll look at the most common failings of business blogs and how to avoid them.

Let’s start with three big mistakes:

Handing it off to PR — When businesses start a blog, they often designate the corporate communications/PR department to maintain it. This almost never works. Communications professionals are skilled at delivering messages, not promoting conversations. When presented with another channel, they tend to use it to push out a message. In the worst cases, these messages are nothing more than press releases. Lacking interactivity and insight, they fail to generate any reaction. Worse, they make the company look clueless about the medium.

Communication professionals should be actively involved in a company blog, but mostly on an advisory basis. Contributors should be the experts within the company. They are most likely to be the ones who will have meaningful dialogue with the audience. The communications people should focus on big-picture issues like voice, topic selection and quality of writing. They should also sweat details like copyediting. Like orchestra conductors, their role is to bring out the best from the individuals in the ensemble.

It’s All About Me — A publishing mentor once recommended that editors find a picture of someone to represent their target reader and paste it on the wall of their cubes. The purpose was to constantly remind them that they were working on behalf of somebody else, not themselves.

Blog contributors would do well to heed this advice. Too many blog entries are self-serving and egotistical. They talk about awards, sales wins and accomplishments as if somebody actually cares. In reality, few people do.

What attracts people to your blog is useful information. The key word is “useful.” You should constantly ask yourself what insights or valuable information your visitors will take away. Blogging is a “give to get” strategy. The more information you share, the more goodness will come back to you in the end. If you don’t believe that, don’t start blogging. If you’re just looking to push out a PR message, here’s a list of free PR services you can use.

A Look That’s Boooooooring! – Blogger, WordPress and TypePad all offer small selections of default templates for your blog. Ignore them. It’s difficult enough to distinguish yourself among the millions of sites that are already out there. Don’t make it worse by looking just like them.

All the major services support third-party templates. There are literally tens of thousands of free templates for WordPress alone. Pick one that’s distinctive. If you’re willing to spend a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars, you can get one designed to your specifications. I strongly recommend a custom design if your blog is tied to a company website.

While you’re at it, get rid of the default wording and links that these services impose on your site. There’s nothing like scrolling down a blog page and finding links to the WordPress developers forum. This just indicates that the blogger isn’t paying attention to details, which doesn’t do wonders for your credibility.

These are just three of the most common mistakes business bloggers make. In the next issue, we’ll look at links, multimedia and other frequently overlooked features. (Thanks to Fail Blog for the photo.)

Your Name in Lights (Or At Least in E-mail)

BtoB magazine has a new weekly newsletter called Inside Technology Marketing, and this is your chance to be featured there. Editor Ellis Booker is always looking for examples of successful marketing programs by technology companies. I’m always looking for good case studies to write about. So if you’re a marketer for a technology company and if you have a recent campaign that you’re especially proud of, drop me a line and let’s get your story in a forthcoming issue. Just send me your contact information and a one-paragraph summary.

Tip of the Week: Yebol Humanizes Search

There’s a new entry in the search engine race that I think is worth more than just a casual look. It’s called Yebol, and it claims to combine human intelligence with algorithmic processing. According to the 10-minute video introduction on the site’s home page (note: that’s way too long, guys), Yebol’s algorithms are imbued with knowledge sources such an encyclopedias, medical journals, popular magazines and other records of human knowledge. These are combined with algorithms to deliver results that recognize the type of information you’re looking for. The founder is a computer scientist with Yahoo credentials.

For example, the search results for the 60s rock group the Monkees features a list of Monkees songs, members of the group, lyrics, Twitter messages, news headlines and links to other social networks where Monkees information can be found. Regardless of whether its search engine is better, Yebol’s results display is the best I’ve seen.

Just for Fun: Free Entertainment

This recession of ours has lost its novelty. Yes, we’re all eating out
less and shopping at discount stores, but we all still want to have fun
and enjoy the summer without shelling out hefty entrance fees. Luckily,
we’ve found some options to enjoy your Saturday afternoon (or Tuesday
evening or whatever free time you can wiggle out of your schedule),
which range from “take a hike!” to “plant an herb in a waterspout.”
There are even some rainy-day and geekyish fun options.

RSS Matters To You: Here’s Why

Mention RSS to non-techies and their eyes assume a faraway look that tells you that you’re better off changing the subject. Really Simple Syndication is seen by most people as being anything but simple. Their early experience with the little orange buttons that grace most websites has been that clicking on them resulted in a screen full of cryptic text that prompted them to quickly close the browser window and take a deep breath.

RSS is widely misunderstood. People think that its main use is by the small number of techies who have the time and expertise to consolidate all their information in feed readers. But the main audience for RSS is machines, which are increasingly incorporating RSS feeds into the information streams that power websites.


Let’s look at a silly example: Here’s a page about cheese on the popular website Alltop is a huge engine of information about nearly any topic you can imagine, yet it produces no original content. All of its information consists of headlines provided as RSS feeds from the websites it indexes. Mouse over any of those headlines and you get an expanded description that tells you whether the information is of interest.

Now head on over to BlogHer, the popular site for women bloggers. Nearly everything at the top of this page comes via RSS feeds. BlogHer automatically collects the latest posts from members of its network and streams the headlines to its home page.

It’s the same at Engadget, which is one of the top 10 blogs on the Internet. Nearly the entire right side of this page is given over to content delivered in the form of RSS feeds.

So you can see that the audience for RSS feeds isn’t individuals, it’s websites. They can potentially magnify your content to reach thousands of other people. It gives you the potential to reach much larger audiences than you could with just your own small online outpost.

Personal Use

RSS also has personal productivity benefits. If you look at my own home page on the right side under the “Speaking” banner, you’ll see a list of upcoming events at which I am presenting. I don’t post this content myself; its origins are this collection of Delicious bookmarks. By inserting a small snippet of code on my home page, I can have items that I bookmark distributed automatically. To add an item, I simply bookmark it, modify the description and give it the appropriate tag. All of the websites that I own are updated instantaneously.

You can even use RSS to feed your own information needs. Look at this page of Twitter search results for the query “global warming.” Note the orange button in the upper right corner. Click it, copy the URL in the address bar and plug it into any RSS widget to display the Twitter search results on a website. Every time you refresh the page, the latest search results are added to the mix.

Nearly anything you read or publish on the Internet these days can be formatted as an RSS feed. Once it’s in that form, it can be syndicated anywhere else. That’s the real power of RSS. It gives you the means to flexibly reuse and syndicate content to reach a much wider audience with very little effort.

Developing Your Personal Brand

A new book by a veteran journalist demonstrates how much individuals can do to elevate their personal brand these days for very little money. Fans, Friends And Followers by Scott Kirsner is packed with useful information about how to create a following online and possibly quit your day job. Kirsner, who writes extensively about film for a variety of publications as well as his own CinemaTech blog, did his homework, conducting dozens of conversations with successful artists who have created enthusiastic followings and featuring their words in a section of first-person narrative interviews that make up the majority of the book. He distills their experiences into 35 pages of advice about how to maximize your search visibility, use low-cost promotional channels and distribute products cheaply. Read my review and order the book on Amazon.

Tip of the Week: Search All

When you want to run a quick search, you can usually rely on Google, Yahoo or Microsoft Live Search to satisfy your needs in seconds. But sometimes you need a search engine that can give you a more holistic view. My favorite new discovery in the category of so-called metasearch engines is Addict-o-matic, a service that aggregates search results from all the major engines as well as Twitter, YouTube, Digg, Flickr, Delicious, Wikio and other social media sites. If that isn’t enough, you can expand the results to include up to 25 destinations. Find out what people are really saying about you.

Just for Fun

Maybe it’s because all of us have been misjudged at some point in our lives, maybe it’s just because this video is a good reminder of the old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but Susan Boyle is definitely hitting a positive nerve with the YouTube crowd. Check out the video that’s taken the world by storm this past week.

Why Online Matters More Than Print

A blog I write about the ongoing transformation of the newspaper industry has begun to acquire a following, and in the process it’s demonstrated to me why online press mentions are now more powerful than those in print. That’s right: you get more bang for the buck from a prominent blogger today than you do from an article in the New York Times, and I’ll show you why.

My blog is called Newspaper Death Watch. While the title betrays a certain pessimism, it’s actually a chronicle of change and rebirth. As concern over the perilous state of the newspaper industry has spread, Newspaper Death Watch has begun to attract some media attention. In January, I was fortunate to be mentioned in three prominent media outlets: Jeff Jarvis’s BuzzMachine blog, the lead paragraph of a major feature in The New Yorker and a short opinion piece in the Economist.

What was interesting was the impact these references had on the blog’s visibility. Prior to the reference in BuzzMachine, the site was getting about 500 unique visitors per day. After Jeff Jarvis linked to one of my year-end roundup articles, that average jumped by about 200 visitors a day. It jumped again after the mention in the Economist, eventually settling at about 1,000 average daily visitors, or nearly double its traffic at the beginning of the month. However, a prominent reference in the New Yorker, which is one of the most venerable English-language magazines, had no discernible impact.

Why? Because The New Yorker reference was the only one that didn’t include a hyperlink. That meant that anyone who was curious to find out about this offbeat blog would have to make a note to visit Google later and run a search. Who’s got time for that? Even if some people did go to the trouble, there was no way for me to know.

Link Love

In contrast, The two online references had immediate impact. For one thing, I was aware of both within hours and was able to promote them to my readers and Twitter followers. For another, links beget links. In both the BuzzMachine and Economist cases, a surge of inbound links from other bloggers followed the mentions on their websites. This improved my Google search performance and Technorati authority rankings. Subscriptions to my RSS feed shot up by about 5% in each of the days following the links’ appearance.

Perhaps most importantly, one of them led to a call from a leading journalism foundation, which hired me to conduct a series of seminars for newspaper editors beginning next month.

In contrast, the print reference in The New Yorker generated a couple of nice notes from colleagues but little else that I could measure. Don’t get me wrong; I was grateful for the attention. But it was difficult to assign any clear benefit to the print reference.

Tables Have Turned

Not long ago, online publishers were frequently called upon to defend the value of a mention on their properties. Public relations professionals told me that Web coverage was nice, but their clients really valued a mention in a prominent print publication. I would submit that this scenario has now been reversed. With companies increasingly using the Web for promotion, lead generation, sales and customer support, a link from a prominent website is of far greater value than a print article in a prominent print or broadcast outlet. And as a younger generation of business and consumer readers gathers more of its information online, that value will only accelerate.

That print article may look nice on your wall, but if you’re looking for coverage that generates business results, the Web is where you want to be.

Not Optimizing For Search? Shame On You!

When I meet with corporate marketers and their agencies these days, I’m frequently surprised to learn how little they think about search engine optimization.This is despite the fact that Google alone processes an estimated 750 million queries daily, and that IT professionals are some of the most active and advanced users of search engines.

One reason for this, I suspect, is that marketers are trained to be good at “push” marketing. Their craft has traditionally involved intercepting customers with messages that grab their attention and inspire action. Customers, however, are becoming more resistant to these tactics. Increasingly, they engage with companies and products on their terms when they’re ready to make a buying decision. That’s a much better time to reach them. The trick is to show up on their radar when they’re in this “pull” mode.

Google is now the universal homepage. Look at your traffic logs and you’ll probably see that search engines vastly outperform any other referral source. Yet many marketers devote lots of time and money to creating beautiful homepage designs that are rich in animation and graphics. Not only are these pages rarely seen by today’s web site visitors, but images and Flash animations are almost useless at attracting search engine traffic.

Successful IT marketers are learning to reverse the push model. They know that buyers start the research process in a search query box and that the sites that make the first page of results get 10 times the click-throughs of anything else.

The Great Equalizer
You might think search engines favor the big brands, but that’s not the case. Try this: Type “router” into Google and look at the results. Note that only four of the top 25 results are vendor sites. Now type “PC.” Note that the only vendor in the top 10 results — Apple — doesn’t even market its products as PCs! In fact, neither of the top two PC makers in the US market even makes the top 100 results on Google.

Now look at what dominates search results for both terms: sites that provide definitions and helpful how-to advice. This should tell you something. Your search engine performance will be greatest when you deliver content that helps customers make good decisions through practical, impartial guidance from knowledgeable sources.

Search is the great equalizer. The leading engines’ proprietary algorithms are designed to screen out material that their developers consider uninteresting. Your challenge is to match your content to their preferences.

Start by choosing the search terms that really matter. Be specific. Get general agreement that these are the terms you want to dominate in search performance. Marshall all of your internal web site contributors to reinforce those terms every time they write.

Discard terms like “industry-leading” and “innovative.” No one searches for those words. Start a blog or discussion forum. Both are search engine magnets. Pick up a copy of Search Engine Marketing, Inc. by Mike Moran and Bill Hunt. It’ll tell you a lot of the ins and outs. Make SEO a basic consideration in every marketing campaign. Then let those buyers reel you in.

Putting Specialized Search Into Action

In my last issue , I introduced two useful blog search engines. Now let’s put them to use on our test case: a Quebec resort. You’ll find that these resources do a pretty good job of scoping out possible influencers, but they also demonstrate that the search engines alone aren’t enough.

We start at Technorati, where we go to advanced search and type Canada resort into the search bar. We then specify that we only want blogs that the authors have identified as being about travel. We get a list of “44 results for canada AND resort in blogs tagged travel.”

We see that the top results are all from a site called TravelPod, which describes itself as “The Web’s Original Travel Blog.” Going to the home page of this rich site, we type Quebec into the search box. Our top result is a traveler named “Cobi” who has posted more than 100 entries and whom the site identifies as a “Top pick.” We also see that 39 of those entries are about a Canadian trip. Even though Cobi lives in Great Britain, she could be a good candidate for a repeat visit. We bookmark her profile page, where we can send her a message later.

Our search yields another top pick named “kevandsian” who has traveled to over 21% of the world and logged over 190,000 views from visitors. We also bookmark this traveler’s profile.

Returning to Technorati, we see that the second page of search results lists Jaunted, The Pop Culture Travel Guide. Technorati assigns it an authority of 670, which is very high. This site has many contributors and there are quite a few articles about Québec, so we hunt for people who have written a lot about the topic. One of them is Alex Robertson, who describes himself as “Senior Features Editor at, as well as a freelance travel writer.” There’s a link to A Google search on alex robertson takes us directly to a staff listing and an e-mail address for Alex.

Not all our searches are as successful. points us to AndrewLog, a blog written by a Canadian which has several posts about travel. But how influential is Andrew? If we enter the blog’s URL into Technorati, we find no links and the link: command in Google turns up just five. This blogger probably isn’t a good target for us.

Back at Ask, though, we stumble across, a Canadian site that features deals and discounts for Canadian consumers, including travelers. There’s a page of editor profiles here, too. A Google link: search turns up 113 citations. That isn’t bad. It’s probably worth offering some kind of coupon or other incentive.

As you can see, there’s nothing fast or easy about identifying influencers. Even though a clutch of services has emerged to handle some of the dirty work, it’s still up to human beings to assess whether an influencer deserves attention.

Our task doesn’t begin and end with search, though. There are elements on each site that may lead us to other influencers. Blogrolls, for example, are links to sites that bloggers find useful. This can be a quick way to discover new resources. You should also look at the profiles of the authors themselves. Frequently they list other sites to which they contribute, and you can often find other enthusiasts there.

That takes care of blog search, but there’s a whole new world of social networks that still need to be mined. Next week, we’ll continue the hunt through a few of those.

Use Specialized Search to Find Influencers that Other Engines Miss

Search engines do an excellent job of mining the Web as a whole, but if you want to focus on social media, you need to tap into one of the specialized search engines mentioned in the first issue of this newsletter series. You can find all the back issues here.

For blogs, the two most popular engines are Technorati and BlogPulse.You can perform searches with these sites the same way you would with Google or Yahoo, but the results will look very different.For one thing, both sites make an effort to index only social media sources, which they do with reasonable success. Both also take a stab at assessing the authority level of the blogs that they index.

Authority figures

Technorati does this with an authority ranking based upon the number of blogs linking to a web site in the last six months.There’s also a ranking metric that assesses the relative authority of a blog relative to all of the two million-plus blogs in Technorati’s database.

BlogPulse links to a profile page that lists a blogger’s recent activity, links from other blogs, posting activity and other bloggers that have similar interests.You can also track conversation threads for posts that generate a lot of activity.BlogPulse’s “Neighborhood” feature is one of its most interesting services.It attempts to identify authors who have similar interests based upon the words they use and where they link.Click the “Tools Overview” link to learn about these distinctive features.

Technorati indexes many more blogs then BlogPulse and includes photo and video results.Many bloggers also register themselves on Technorati and provide profiles and photos (BlogPulse doesn’t have this capability).This makes it easier to put a name with a face, which is useful information to have at hand when making contact with an influencer.

Technorati also offers the option of viewing search results by authority level. Use this option to screen out spam and occasionally updated blogs. This can save you time. Going back to our example of the Quebec resort looking for travel-related influencers, we search on Quebec travel and find over 10,000 mentions on sites that Technorati says have “any authority.” However, there are less than 4,000 results on sites that are classified as having “a lot of authority.” Both services also offer the option of tracking mentions over time, which is useful in identifying topics that generate swirls of activity.

Tags add human element

Many blog search engines also track tags, which are keywords that authors associate with their content. Tags are useful to marketers because they are a sort of human-powered description engine. This can greatly narrow the list of results. For example, searching on Québec travel in Technorati delivers nearly 4,000 results. However, searching on Québec travel in blogs that describe themselves as being about travel turns up just 111 results. We’ll take a closer look at tags in a future issue.

As noted in the first article in this series, Technorati and BlogPulse aren’t your only options. There are dozens of blog-specific search engines that each have unique features. Subscriber Ed Vielmetti just introduced a new one to me this week, in fact. BoardReader indexes only message boards and discussion groups, which other search engines sometimes miss. Using Boardreader, I actually found a review of my book that I had never seen before!
Why not make it a goal to learn one new search engine every week? It won’t be a big time investment, and you’ll be amazed at the capabilities you’ll unlock.

Smart Searching Saves Time and Frustration

In the last issue I talked about choosing a search engine to help you monitor online conversations. You choice of search engines doesn’t matter much if you don’t ask the right questions, and here’s where it pays to know the advanced options that are available to you and how to be creative with search terms.

Let’s continue to assume that you’re marketing a resort destination in Quebec, Canada. Of course, you’ll want to start by searching for your own resort in the various engines I’ve outlined. Then you’ll probably want to find people who are talking about your industry but who perhaps aren’t familiar with your business. They can help build awareness.

Think like a customer. Experiment with combinations of words that describe not only the destination but also what people expect to do there. For example, Québec resorts fishing, Québec resorts skiing, Québec lodging winter, Québec luxury hotel, Québec resorts recommended and Quebec hotel best all deliver different result sets. Substituting Canada for Quebec will also give you different results.

One powerful timesaver is to narrow your results using quotations. This will deliver pages that have words in the exact sequence that you specify between the quotation marks. This can make a huge difference in the size of the results domain. For example, “best Quebec hotels” returns only seven results on Google while best Quebec hotels returns nearly 2.3 million! You can also combine quoted and unquoted search terms in interesting ways: Quebec luxury hotel and Quebec “luxury hotel” actually return somewhat different results, with the latter query identifying specific hotels on the first results page that don’t show up from the first query.

Use Advanced Search

Most search engines allow you to narrow your search using quotes. However, not all do. Use the advanced search page in that case. You can also use advanced search to narrow your query terms. For example, you can specify that search results may not contain the word Montreal. Advanced search is also where you can specify whether words appear in the title, text, page name or other locations. This is another way of winnowing down your result set to a more manageable number. For example, it’s a safe bet that a page that mentions Quebec luxury hotels in the headline is going to be more specific to that topic than one that doesn’t.

You can even use advanced search to specify results for a single site. This is useful in assessing influence because it quickly shows you the level of activity about a particular topic on any site. For example, the query “quebec luxury” delivers a small number of articles from the site that specifically mention the keywords. This filtering is useful if you discovered a site that seems relevant to your area of interest and want to find out how active it’s been.

Another useful filter is the “link:” command. This quickly shows you a list of all other pages linking to a site or page you specify. It’s a quick way of assessing influence. For example, if you want to find out the popularity of The Informed Traveler blog, you’d type and immediately learn that 649 pages link to this site. You could visit a sampling of those pages to see how valid those links are.

That takes care of the general-purpose search engines, but did you know there are sites that search only blogs and social networks? In the next installment, we’ll take a look at those.