Zazzle Media » Blogs We are a content and data led Content marketing, SEO consulting and social media agency Tue, 16 Sep 2014 14:28:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Guide to Laser Targeted Content Strategy > SearchLove San Diego Thu, 11 Sep 2014 17:28:46 +0000 Zazzle Media puts data driven content strategy at the heart of every campaign. Simon Penson was asked to unveil our secrets at Searchlove San Diego last week, one of the most exclusive events in the digital marketing world. The transcript below is taken from Zazzle Media founder and MD Simon Penson’s recent presentation delivered at […]

The post A Guide to Laser Targeted Content Strategy > SearchLove San Diego appeared first on Zazzle Media.

Zazzle Media puts data driven content strategy at the heart of every campaign. Simon Penson was asked to unveil our secrets at Searchlove San Diego last week, one of the most exclusive events in the digital marketing world.

The transcript below is taken from Zazzle Media founder and MD Simon Penson’s recent presentation delivered at Searchlove San Diego.

The premise of the talk was how marketers can use easily accessible data to create super-focused and super-smart content strategies – from initial audience insight and persona creation right through to how you create ideas and pull them together.

So, without further ‘ado’ here is that presentation in full…

See the full presentation here…

Searchlove San Diego 2014 transcript

“Good morning everyone. Thank you for the kind welcome. I’m excited to be here and want to get into the good stuff as quickly as possible. We have a lot of ground to cover.

Today I want to leave you with a thorough understanding of how you can use data to create an audience centric content strategy and creation process – and leave your competitors in the shade.

I want to start that with a question. What is the single factor that ties all these US properties together?

This. The most expensive residential real estate in Manhattan. This beautiful Hamptons weekend abode. Or how about this 11-bed mansion in the Hollywood hills? Oh and a yacht…I could go on.

This is wealth right here. Wealth created by this – traditional print media.

No wonder this guy is happy. Rupert Murdoch take a bow!

Now, the point of this is not to highlight Murdoch’s lavish lifestyle but instead to look at why… why was he able to create such value?

The simple answer is because of these guys, or their approach. This is a typical newsroom of the 70s. What a place! Cigars and beards. How cool can you be?

The point is, these guys didn’t worry about asking questions like ‘what anchor text ration should we use?’ or ‘is my keyword density right?’

Can you imagine if they did?

Instead they were solely focused on this. People.

The maturing web

Now we’re web focused in the main, right? Hands up who would say they are web first in their role?

The good news is that the web is maturing. With it comes the opportunity to utilize offline marketing tactics to reach our customers.

Hell, even Google is a focused on people now, so shouldn’t we be? Whether you look at the instructions given to their quality raters now. These are the people given the power to sink entire domains and they’re told not to measure keyword density but E-A-T, or examples of Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness.

Even the ad model is moving away from keywords to behaviours. Affinity Segments categorize audiences into specific interests and lifestyles so you can target people, not searches.

It’s how media has always been.

But I’m aware that I sound like I’m condemning the skills of the 2000s into the annals of history. That’s not the case and nothing of true value dies.

It simply lives on in another form.

And the real piece of value is in the search marketer’s ability to find and handle data.

It’s about time that skill set met with content because together they could do great things together.

Working in the right way good data can give us a clear understanding of who our audience actually is. What makes them tick?

I know how hard that process used to be having worked in print publishing myself for 10 years.

Believe it or not I used to work here. Yep, that was a real job. Editor of a top car and girls mag at the age 26. Lots of stories I could share, but not today…

I then made the crazy decision to move into this market. Golf. Hmm…

They may seem diametrically opposed but I saw my job not as an editor of a car or golf magazine but instead as a person whose job it was to create and grow a specialist audience that would be of real value to our advertisers.

My job was to ensure those working for the titles didn’t focus on design or writing but people.


And here’s how we did that. Personas.

Meet Craig. God I really thought I’d seen the last of him! This guy lived with us constantly. His vital stats were painted on every meeting room wall. Every conversation we had was brought back to his needs. He was our focus.

Creating that persona though was not easy. The web was still in its infancy then and so we relied on spending hours in places like this – ‘natural setting’ focus groups. There was absolutely nothing natural about them, however, as the rooms were dressed like your grand mother’s front room!

We then also relied on ethnography – or studies of our readers in their natural surroundings. Not far from the truth there.

These ways still add value of course but we were still guessing.

The good news is that the net gives us search and social data, allowing us to know, for the first time ever, which we are really talking to.

But with that vast amount of data available where do you start?

There is no better data pot than that held by Facebook. And we’ve yet to see the full extent of its power.

Graph Search is the tangible interface to that treasure trove and it’s improving rapidly.

We now use it as part of the initial data dive that will ultimately inform our persona creation process. Let’s look at that in a bit of detail now.

Until very recently Graph Search was pretty pointless but it’s now been plugged in and as a result you can really get into the data.

Free Graph Search Cheat Sheet

We’ve created a free cheat sheet to help you navigate and you can download it here.

But let’s look at a couple of examples in real time now so you can see how it works.

For this run through we’ve chosen a client of ours in the bingo space and you can start to examine the audience in greater detail. Here we look at other pages liked by those who like the brand and as you can see you can start to get an understanding of the people you are talking to.

If we then dive a little deeper still we can start to look at interests – and there are certainly some interesting ones there. We’ll come back to that!

And you can then apply some competitive research by looking at shared interests across larger data sets that include competitors.

And mine into specific interests to understand definitively which movies, games, drinks etc they may like.

This is super interesting, right?

It doesn’t stop there. If you look at this slide I’d be really worried if I ran TripAdvisor or any other review-based site. While their reviews are based on the general public view, Facebook is able to slice and dice to give you the views of anyone from your friends or family to those with similar interests, or ages, to you.

You can see here how that can apply to almost anything. Here we have places visited by people who like the brand I like.

All this data gets me very excited. But there’s a problem. While it’s great qualitative data it fails to tell us just how interested they are in each thing.

We need to quantify this thing.

I now want to share with you a little hack we use to do just that.

Facebook data insight

There is no fancy tool I’m afraid, just a bit of simple math and to help we’ve built this simple calculator, which you can use via this link.

Start by jumping onto Facebook’s ad centre and click ‘create ad’. You’ll then be presented with this screen. Click on any of these but we’ll use the Page Likes option here.

Once in the console scroll down until you get to the Audience section.

Start by selecting the geography you wish to look at. You can choose everywhere but for this study we have chosen the UK. On the right hand side you’ll then be able to see how many people fit the selection. For instance, here we can see that there are 36,000,000 people in the UK on Facebook.

The next step is to add in the audience interest. This can be anything from an interest to a brand, so let’s start with Mecca. The right-hand column now tells us that there are now 96,000 people in the UK who like Mecca Bingo.

The next step is to start to understand a little more about those interests we saw earlier using Graph Search.

Remember pole dancing. Who wouldn’t?

We know that our audience likes pole dancing so we now need to know how much!

To do that we simply ad pole dancing to our Mecca audience and it gives us the combined audience of 126,000 people.

OK so far? Now comes the maths part – and this is where the calculator can come in useful.

This slide gives us the formula that will give us a better understanding of just how much our audience likes pole dancing.

Taking the numbers we have just talked through we create a sum that looks a little like this and it tells us that 6.25% of the Mecca UK audience likes pole dancing.

That sounds like a decent percentage but to truly understand what that means we need to look at the average person too.

To do that we work through the same process by first getting the number for the UK Facebook audience and the pole dancing audience separately.

We can then use this simple formula to work out what percentage of the average facebook audience likes pole dancing.

0.1%. The Mecca audience just got interesting!

The idea is you rinse and repeat this process for multiple interests so you can then chart them against each other like this:

This is where we really start to understand our audience. The pink column represents the Mecca audience and the blue the average Facebook audience and we can clearly see where the over indexing is.

Those are the interests you want to really concentrate on, as part of your content plan, as you know there is a high propensity to engage.

Interestingly as another aside note our initial Graph Search research suggested that both Keith Lemon and Alfie Moon were liked by our audience, but here we can clearly see that Keith Lemon is much more popular.

This kind of insight is great for content of course, giving us great ideas for interviews but also for the wider marketing plan. Who should be their brand ambassador, for instance?

And we can look at geography too. Here, for instance, we might be thinking of running a competition to win restaurant vouchers but rather than just generically doing the same thing for everyone in the UK why not look to see if there is a North/South, or state divide. This would suggest there is as we would be better offering McDonalds or Nandos vouchers to those in Manchester and Frankie and Benny chain coupons to those in London.

It goes on forever. This is a very exciting data set and please do have a go yourself and make use of our calculator.

The next step is then to create personas. The process now is to take all the over indexing interests and attempt to group them together alongside a view on age, which we can again extract from Facebook insights and map against the average Facebook audience.

One great tip is to make sure you include digital capability in that mix as you are creating. This is a matrix created to break that group down and you should classify each persona into one of these so you avoid assumed knowledge issues.

Your job now is to do the fun bit. Bringing those ‘people’ to life and the classic rule is not to have too many. 2-3 is right to ensure you are focused.

What you should end up with is something that looks like this. These are super simplified for ease of remembering them but behind it will be a much more in depth Persona document – and there is a free template download coming up to help you with that.

The tough bit of persona work is to get all your team on the same page. Sharing that understanding can be REALLY hard but there is a way around that.

Aligning Personas

To make that much easier, at Max Power we aligned Craig to a famous person. That way we could easily ensure that the tonality, attitude and character of the words we wrote were the same, irrespective of who was typing.

Imagine if one of your personas was this guy, Clint Eastwood. How easy would it be to share that across the team? Be Clint Eastwood when you write….

Or Beyonce. You can quickly see how helpful that can be.

Once you know your audience though it doesn’t end there. The next stage is the critical ideation bit and I was once told by an editor much older and wiser than I that: “ideas are the lifeblood of any content strategy. Without them, mate, you are stuffed.”

That’s something that really stuck with me and I’ve spent the last 15 years attempting to work out the best way of ensuring I’m not ‘stuffed’.

That has culminated in the creation of this – the Zazzle ideation process. A pillared process that brings order to what can otherwise be a chaotic attempt at brainstorming.

The idea is, you split one long session into two containing several separate mini brainstorms that look at very specific parts of the strategy and we have created a free ‘tool’ to help guide you through.

Before that even starts though it’s important to do your groundwork and we always use a content strategist to work through as much as possible in order to make the actual meetings as useful and productive as they can be.


The process begins with an Audience discussion, designed to paint as clear a picture as possible of the people we are attempting to target.

Stage one of that is a piece around the ‘mission statement’ of the brand or the particular campaign we are looking to work on.

In Zazzle Media’s case we know we want to focus on being seen as thought leaders in the digital marketing space, specifically around data driven content strategy and digital PR and to grow our search visibility and reputation around those things.

Defining this then helps us to really focus efforts on producing content to affect this goal. It should act as the focal point of all other discussions.

With that defined we can then move onto the really interesting bit – and this is where the work discussed previously around social data insight is brought into play.

At this stage it is not about creating specific ideas but instead about ensuring that content personas are created. Exactly what these look like depends again on the objectives defined above as you may be looking at creating ideas for a specific campaign or an entire long term strategy. The key bit is ensuring they are created based on the insight you have and that you follow the rules we set out earlier in this presentation.

The final part of the initial meet stage is to work through which content ‘types’ are relevant for those personas. At this stage it is less about creating ideas, per se, but about thinking of series and then ideas within which those ideas can hang.

That means brainstorming around schematic content frameworks from which to hang great ideas.

One of the best ways of finding those is to pick through a magazine and look at each page (including the front cover) and pick out the feature ideas they have. Great ones are particularly prevalent in the front section of magazines within the ‘news’ sections.

Great examples may be Q&As, ‘5 questions with’, ‘What’s Hot and Not’, ‘Know your…’ and so on.

Creating a framework calendar

By picking a number of these framework ideas your content strategist can go away and lay out the foundation for your editorial plan.

You should end up with a single month populated with these types throughout the month, ready for those ideas.

Let the ideas flow

As you now have the foundations in place the next ‘meet’ is the fun one and the idea here is to work through each area methodically to ensure that no stone is left unturned.

That starts with this, the long tail opportunity in search. Working on ideas that specifically match what is being searched for will ensure you maximize potential audience opportunity. To do that make use of tools such as Ubersuggest, Semrush, Google keyword planner and so on. These ‘ideas’ can be created and listed outside of this meeting and then refined within it.

Next is a related area but one that requires some cognitive time to understand what other topics are related to what your brand does, but not far enough away to be off brand or off topic.

Tools like LSI Keywords really help you understand what they may be and will often spark off great idea streams when used in the meeting.

The next phase involves looking at what is trending in the space. Here we can make use of Google Trends, News searches and tools like Bottlenose’s Sonar, which gives you a map of trending topics.

From these it is possible to create a number of ‘news led’ ideas for immediate use in the plan.

To add variation we then add in a session on evergreen content. This is about creating a list of key areas in the buying process to ensure you cover these well. This conversation often pulls in the next phase of the session in ensuring you have content ideas that cover off the entire cycle. Often you’ll end up with lots of ideas at the top of the funnel but less as the visitor moves through it.

Ensuring you answer all of those burning consumer questions is the key here, so have a session on each stage in the process and also make sure you have carried out some related keyword research to uncover the high volume keywords you can create content around consistently and update.

One great way of doing that is to look at competitor strategies and there are several tools to help with that.

Firstly we make use of tools like SEMRush and Searchmetrics again to understand which keywords are driving traffic to them. And if those competitors add most of their content to a subdomain it can be very easy to analyse that separately and create a priority order list of good content ideas for your own site.

If you want to be really smart you can take data on social shares for those URLs from a tool like Buzzsumo or Social Crawlytics and overlay it, giving you a view on what is also most likely to engage your audience.

You should now have a complete list of initial ideas. The next stage is to ensure they fit together in a way that will attract engagement.

Content flow

So, before we simply throw everything together in a calendar we must understand the concept of content flow.

The best way to do this is to look at the assets you will be creating in terms of the time it takes you to pull them together. Smaller pieces such as articles and quick Q and As may only take a few hours to finalise, while major campaigns can take weeks of planning, creation and execution.

By mapping them in this way in a chart we get this kind of effect – something I call content flow.

The ideal shape you are looking for is something that looks a little like this – like a heart monitor with ebb and flow. The low bits are those every day articles, while the higher peaks are big bang campaign content.

By spending a little time testing your content plan like this you’ll ensure you are getting the variation right and with it keeping your audience entertained and coming back for more.

Your content calendar will then work like a dream and you’ll have the template there to continue with into the future.


So, there you have it. Traditional media’s principles are still as relevant today as they always have been.

Digital has a real opportunity to take on key learnings from traditional media and run with it, taking brands into a new era of data driven marketing. Hopefully the last 30 minutes has given you a process to maximize returns from that.

Thank you for you time.”

To download any of the tools mentioned here head over to our Content Strategy Toolkit Page now.

The post A Guide to Laser Targeted Content Strategy > SearchLove San Diego appeared first on Zazzle Media.

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Increase your Twitter brand awareness in 140 characters or less Thu, 04 Sep 2014 14:40:47 +0000 Picture the scene…it’s lunchtime, on a rainy Wednesday. The thought of venturing out of the comfort of the office on your lunch hour is not appealing, so you open up your browser and search for some light entertainment to keep you busy while you pick at your sandwiches. But where do you go? Chances are, […]

The post Increase your Twitter brand awareness in 140 characters or less appeared first on Zazzle Media.

Picture the scene…it’s lunchtime, on a rainy Wednesday. The thought of venturing out of the comfort of the office on your lunch hour is not appealing, so you open up your browser and search for some light entertainment to keep you busy while you pick at your sandwiches.

But where do you go?

Chances are, your first stop on the internet is a social media sƒite – and while Facebook might be your thing there’s no denying that Twitter is the King of Content Sharing. More and more people are accessing articles, images, videos and who knows what else via the 140 character musings of their favourite brands and celebrities. With huge news stories like the recent shooting of Michael Brown now being shared by witnesses in real time, Twitter is increasingly becoming the place to go for breaking news too.

With Twitter’s popularity continuing to explode, it’s crucial for businesses to take advantage of the platform to increase brand awareness and build customer relationships. While your tweets are unlikely to reach the lofty heights of Ellen or even Obama, there are certain things you can do to help increase your posts’ popularity with your followers.

  • Firstly, get organised. The key to a strong Twitter presence is consistency, and the best way to achieve this is by spending some time creating a content calendar. This can be broken down by platform so you can keep track of what’s being posted where and when. It’s easy enough to create a content calendar template in Excel, but there are plenty of ready-made templates available online.This one was created right here in Zazzle HQ, and will give you a good idea of what to include and how to lay it all out.Spending a couple of hours a month on a content calendar may seem an insurmountable task to start with – after all, how are you supposed to know what people will be talking about in three weeks? – but in the long run it will save you a lot of time and stress. Finding five or six different things to tweet about can be difficult if it’s a slow news day. Having a few tweets already drafted will make life a lot easier for you, and will ensure that your Twitter presence remains consistent.
  • Make it shareable. The shareability of your content is crucial and needs to be kept in mind when drafting tweets. If the aim of the game is to increase brand awareness then you need to be retweeted as much as possible, and nobody is going to share a ‘how are you this morning?’ tweet because they could write that themselves.In order to generate retweets you need to be posting content that is interesting, informative or funny – if you can make it all three, that’s even better. Crucially though, your content needs to be relevant. Your audience clicked the follow button because they believe you can offer them something that is of interest to them – if you’re a digital agency then chances are your audience want you to update them on digital innovation. They’re not following you because they want you to share pictures of cute fluffy animals or political commentary – they can get that elsewhere. There is often a temptation to get involved in big conversations, but unless these are relevant to your brand it’s probably best to steer clear.Instead, you should be tapping in to what your audience wants to hear…tools such as Radian6, Followerwonk, and SocialBro can provide you with invaluable data on what your audience is talking about – harness this data, and make it your best friend. If you can tap into your followers’ interests and passions then you’re one step closer to producing content they actually want to share.
  • Make it timely. This is a double-edged sword, and many people underestimate the importance of timeliness on Twitter – or any social platform, for that matter.Firstly, you need to ensure that you’re making the most of any relevant chatter that is already taking place. Your audience are more likely to engage if you’re commenting on something that is happening right this very second, so keep an eye on trending topics and any breaking news stories that are relevant to your brand. I mentioned previously that news is now breaking on Twitter – this means that conversations move on quickly and what’s trending now might not be in a couple of hours. Don’t wait to get involved in the conversation, as chances are you’ll end up missing it.So what is the other edge of this sword that I speak of?As well as ensuring your content is timely in terms of what’s happening in the rest of the world, you also need to think about the best time to publish your tweets. Now that Twitter has opened up its analytics tools to everyone it’s never been easier to keep track of when your audience is online. Twitter analytics pulls data from the last 28 days and can show you at a glance which days your tweets generated more engagement. It’s easy to then structure your content calendar around this information, insuring that your most compelling content is posted on the day that most people are looking at your tweets.It’s possible to go even deeper than this using some of the tools I mentioned above. Radian6 and SocialBro (as well as plenty of others out there) can give you an hour-by-hour breakdown showing when your audience are online and when your interactions took place. You can then use this data to inform your strategy – if more people are talking about digital at 3pm on a Tuesday than at any other time, then this is when you need to be publishing your stand out content. This Econsultancy article is a great source of information on how you can use Twitter analytics to find the optimum time to post.
  • Give them more. A report in 2013 showed that link clicks account for more than 92% of all engagement on Twitter. Not only that, but tweets with links are retweeted 86% more than those without – so not only are they taking people where you want them to go, they’re also helping to raise awareness of your brand. Beware though – your engagement will drop faster than a lead balloon if your link doesn’t work!It’s not just links that help drive engagement. There have been numerous reports (including the one I mention above) that show that tweets including photos generate up to double the engagement than those without. This number drops slightly for tweets that link to videos or include quotes, but these are still retweeted more than those comprised solely of text.So, what do all these lovely statistics tell us? Well firstly, they tell us that people are a teeny tiny bit lazy. They don’t want to go to the trouble of copying and pasting your link into their browser, and as Twitter is becoming more and more mobile I can’t say I blame them.Secondly, these stats tell us that audiences want to share something of value with their followers. While a humorous tweet might get people smiling, an amusing image or a thought-provoking article will get people clicking – and that’s what it’s all about.
  • Use hashtags – but not too many. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that tweets with hashtags generate more engagement than those without, but did you know that too many hashtags is as bad as none? Engagement rates drop by around 17% for tweets that have three or more hashtags, proving that just because you can hashtag anything it doesn’t mean you should.If you’re ‘creating’ your own hashtag then make sure you keep it as short as possible, otherwise you’ll have eaten up all your characters without having said anything of value. If you’re commenting on a trending issue then check to see what hashtags everyone else is using first. Most events or products will have a designated hashtag that’s being used by the company or organiser, so if you want to comment on this then make sure you seek this out and use it – this will ensure your voice is heard by those already involved in the conversation. Crucially, ensure your hashtag is spelled correctly – #googelpidgen is no good to anyone if you’re talking about Google’s new algorithm.
  • This leads me neatly to my next point – check, double check and triple check. Check your spelling. Check your grammar. Check your facts. Get any of these wrong, and you risk generating engagement for all the wrong reasons. One example that springs to mind is a famous fitness brand that asked its audience what their ‘Wednesday Workout’ was going to be…on Thursday morning. It was swiftly deleted, but not before a few hundred people had got in touch to highlight the failings of their social media manager.Aside from spellcheck (and we all know how unreliable that can be!) there is no magic tool to help you with this one. It simply comes down to due diligence on your part. Make sure you’re proofreading all your tweets at least twice, and if you’re not 100% of something have someone else check too. Only once you’ve done this should you hit ‘tweet’.
  • Keep an eye on the competition. Mark Twain once said that ‘all ideas are second hand’, and he wasn’t wrong. Unless your business specialises in something incredibly niche then you do have competitors, and while intellectual theft or copyright infringement isn’t what we’re aiming for there’s nothing wrong with taking inspiration from what the competition did well – and learning from what they did badly!The best way to approach this on a day-to-day basis is to create a private list of all your competitors and check in on what they’re doing each day. There are also tools out there that will allow you to delve deeper should you need to – Social Crawlytics and Shared Count are two tools that can help track competitor activity, and my old favourite Radian6 has tons of tools that can compare how different brands are doing across social platforms.
  • Keep it brief. This is obviously more difficult than it sounds, because 140 characters is pretty brief already. Unfortunately though, research by TrackSocial shows us that tweets between 71 and 100 characters generate the most engagement, so this is really what we should all be aiming for.
    • Keep doing what works…and ditch the things that don’t. With so many powerful tools now available there’s really no excuse for not knowing what content performs best on your channels. Twitter’s analytics tools can show you at a glance which tweets are generating the most engagement, but it’s also possible to export this data to get a more in-depth analysis.By exporting the data to an excel document you can categorize your tweets in order to see which type of tweet does better overall. The example below is taken from @ZazzleMedia’s analytics. After exporting the data to excel we broke the tweets down by category – internal posts (for example blog posts), external posts/news (where we are linking to an article on a site that is not affiliated with Zazzle Media), Zazzle news and events, and Interactions.


Once you’ve categorised your tweets, you can calculate the average engagement rate for each category. This will give you an idea of what content is working well on Twitter, and what content you should consider scaling back on.Based on this data, we can see that the most successful tweets from @ZazzleMedia have been interactions, with an engagement rate of 4.16%.

This, to some extent, is to be expected due to the nature of the tweet, but it also tells us that communicating with other users on Twitter is an effective way to increase engagement. Company news and events came second, with an average engagement rate of just under 2.78%. Engagement for internal posts rests at 1.42% with external posts trailing behind at 0.9%.

Once you have this data in front of you, it becomes much easier to make an informed decision about what content to really push, and what you should scale back on. By establishing that interaction with other users can help boost engagement, we can begin to implement a plan that will have us spending more time engaging with industry leaders as opposed to simply posting their articles on our feed.

This will help us to spark conversation with other thought leaders and boost engagement, but will also allow us to share our thoughts on recent digital news and updates.Twitter Analytics is not the only tool available to help with this kind of analysis – in the past I’ve used Adobe Social, Hootsuite, Meltwater, Tweetdeck, Bit.Ly, BuzzSumo and plenty more besides. Each have their own merits and drawbacks, but between them it’s possible to draw up a comprehensive picture of what works well for your brand and where you should be focusing your efforts.

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What 10 Years Of Interviewing Teaches You About Creating Stories Thu, 28 Aug 2014 13:16:06 +0000 Have you ever come away from a conversation and thought “I wish I’d asked him about that”? Or listened to a statement or comment, and realised that two minutes later you had no idea what was said, even though you seemed to understand it at the time? When I started as a journalist a decade […]

The post What 10 Years Of Interviewing Teaches You About Creating Stories appeared first on Zazzle Media.

Have you ever come away from a conversation and thought “I wish I’d asked him about that”? Or listened to a statement or comment, and realised that two minutes later you had no idea what was said, even though you seemed to understand it at the time?

When I started as a journalist a decade ago the backbone of my interviewing technique, as is common for a newbie reporter, was a sheet with five or six basic questions prepared beforehand. These were basic, obvious reminder-type questions which would give me enough data to create a story; the who, where, when and what.

I would excitedly scribble down the answers, happy that my crude shorthand could just about keep up. And then I would speak to my news editor and happily boast that I’d got the story he had assigned to me. He would then ask about the details of story – and more often than not I would have forgotten them.

That’s because I asked, but I didn’t interview. I wasn’t thinking about what was being said, and if I did I was still too nervous to find out more. I didn’t explore the emotions and thoughts and feelings that were on display. I didn’t listen. Only as I grew in confidence and technique did I realise that if the right questions and the right directions are pursued, it could create spectacular content, far-removed from the original piece conceived in the newsroom. For me, an interview is a conversation refined.

Interviewing takes years to hone, and no two are ever the same. In my career I’ve interviewed everyone from council leaders to Chico and Bill Kenwright. I’ve spoken to a family who had lost their 17-year-old daughter in a road accident a day after passing her driving test, and a young mum cradling her daughter months from succumbing to terminal cancer. I’ve spoken to lottery winners and Commonwealth Gold medallists.

The Interview…

You’ll notice that I didn’t include two other questions in the list in paragraph two: the ‘why’, and the ‘how’. That’s because ‘why’ is often a question that requires the most bravery, but it’s often forgotten. Why did you do that? Why did the council do that? How did you feel when that happened?

So you’re sitting face-to-face with your subject. We’ll assume that your tape recorder or camera is fully-charged, that your pens are full of ink (always bring at least one sharpened pencil with you for emergencies), and you have a notepad or two. We’ll assume that you are neat and tidy, and that you’re dressed appropriately.

After thanking them for agreeing to talk to you, some interviewers fire straight into questions about the main topic. My first question, no matter the subject, is always “How are you?” It is simple, to the point, and innocent. It applies to the elderly man who has received an MBE, the man whose house has just burned down, and the ten-year-old who met David Beckham. And it shows you’re interested in them, not just their story.

I then take it to the start, and my next question usually begins with three words: “Tell me about…” It’s a simple, open-ended question that allows the interviewee to paint the story for you in their own words. “Tell me about what happened”. “Tell me about your daughter”. “Tell me about why you’re complaining about the council.”

As they speak, watch for emotional cues. Listen for their language, and treat them appropriately. Don’t use complicated words with children or ill-chosen colloquialisms in a formal setting.

If necessary step in softly and try to fill in the gaps, particularly with our two friends: ‘Why did you do that?’ and ‘how did it make you feel?’ Similarly, don’t be afraid of stepping back and letting them think. Once each part of the story is completed, return to the main thread with another simple question: ‘So what happened next?”

Before long a tale should form, and you’ll have an idea of what has happened before, and what is happening now. It might seem obvious, but far too many interviewers forget to complete the trilogy: What happens next? What are your future plans, and why? How will you do that? What happens if you can’t?

By now you should have a partially completed story – 80% perhaps – but you’ll probably still be missing a couple of other aspects. Some of your pre-conceived questions will seem irrelevant – dump them. However, asking a subject to elaborate on something they’ve said earlier should not be frowned upon, and neither should drawing out further interesting information.

Think of an interview as a tree in a forest; the trunk is the overall story, and the larger branches are the various ideas which sprout out in the form of answers to create a complete structure. Those branches might go in all directions and might become unwieldy if you let them, so you may have to prune them back a little. But sometimes you’ll find a golden egg in a nest at the end, in the form of an unexpected answer or comment – and suddenly you look backwards and that tree has changed shape.

As an example, I once found myself asking a council leader about his hobbies away from the office and found that he likes polishing Samurai swords; that went straight into the headline of the story and changed how it was written.

Don’t ignore visual cues: If they’re wearing an unusual item of clothing or jewellery, ask them politely about it. If they offer to show you a poignant photograph on their phone of someone related to the story, then accept – it might sound strange, but it does happen.

One of my more memorable stories back in the day told of two gentlemen in their late 80s who met every June to reminisce about the D-Day landings. Our conversation was fairly loose and easy-going, despite the traumatic subject. One of them still had a brooch with his late wife’s picture, and towards the end of the interview I asked about it. It seemed amazing and was possibly apocryphal, but that brooch had gone to Normandy – and deflected a bullet away from the soldier’s heart. The bullet mark was still there. In effect the picture of his wife had saved his life – you can guess how the story was written, and only because we started speaking about a little piece of 70-year-old jewellery.

You may have an awkward or difficult question that needs answering, and you’ve left it until the end because you didn’t want to anger, embarrass or upset the subject early. I have several set-up techniques for asking a beast of a question:

1) “I am now going to ask you a difficult question, which you don’t have to answer.”

This psychologically prepares my subject, but also shows them that I care.

In their mind, I am on the defensive and control has shifted to them. They have the option to tell me to get lost – but perhaps because I’ve given them that option, no-one ever does.

2) “My editor asked me to put this question to you”.

It creates an image of a nasty boss, sitting in his office and making me, the poor interviewer, ask questions that I would never normally ask. But since we’re here….

3) “I’m going to ask you something that our readers/viewers will be interested in.”

Again, it shifts the blame for posing a stinker of a question elsewhere. But the question is still posed, and its importance is signposted.

4) The ‘Door in the Face’ technique

Straight out of the social psychology textbook: You want to know the council’s deficit in children’s services, but instead you ask the council for its overall, total deficit – a much larger question that you don’t actually really care about.

It’s likely that your request will be turned down, so THEN you ask for the children’s services deficit – which is what you really wanted anyway.

Because they’ve batted away your first question it becomes more likely that they might respond to a smaller, seemingly-more reasonable request, rather than making it in isolation.

Finish the interview with a biggie: Did you ever think all this would happen? What would you say to someone who is reading/watching this, and recognises some of those symptoms but is scared to go to the doctor? Do you have any regrets?

Thank them for their time and continue chatting, but don’t turn off the camera quite yet. You’d be amazed how many times someone says something that’s worthy of inclusion after they think things are over. If they do, you may wish to ask them if you can use that in the finished piece, or ask them to repeat it so you can write it down. Or you may wish to use it anyway…

I recently tutored a group of youngsters who were interested in journalism. They were due to interview local people who were homeless but had been helped by a local charity, for the purposes of a video package. We worked through the basis of an interview, and questions they might ask and should perhaps leave alone.

But I tried to emphasise that arriving with pre-conceived ideas and questions is only the starting point; establishing a rapport, reacting to answers, and not being afraid to search, is far more important. So when it got to the interviews I found myself watching one of the students, an Oxbridge undergraduate with impeccable diction, speaking to a self-confessed ex-bad lad with a tattoo of a scorpion across his face. And they got on famously, because it was a conversation, not an interview.

This is by no means a perfect piece of advice; most interviewers will find their own methods and techniques, which will hopefully become automatic within time. Most interviews meander, and only the practised interviewer can take them in the correct direction with a combination of memory, bravery, compassion and intelligence. I would argue that the journalistic skills can be learned – the human skills, such as empathy, cannot.

So to summarise, here are ten key points for a great interview:

  1. Arrive promptly, dress appropriately, prepare properly
  2. Break the ice with simple but personal question to begin
  3. Refer to your notes, but not too much
  4. Short, open questions are often the best ones
  5. Conduct the interview as a conversation
  6. Listen out for any gaps and don’t be afraid to return to elaborate
  7. ‘Why’ is often the most important question
  8. Ask difficult questions, but do it in the correct way.
  9. Sign off with a ‘biggie’
  10. Thank the subject for their time

The post What 10 Years Of Interviewing Teaches You About Creating Stories appeared first on Zazzle Media.

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The Beginner’s Guide to Digital PR for Search Benefit Thu, 14 Aug 2014 13:19:10 +0000 Mention PR and what immediately springs to mind? Press releases sent out en masse to journalists working on newspapers and magazines, perhaps? This is certainly the view most people have of the profession, which harks back to the more traditional form of the trade. The aim of PR is simple – to gain positive exposure […]

The post The Beginner’s Guide to Digital PR for Search Benefit appeared first on Zazzle Media.

Mention PR and what immediately springs to mind? Press releases sent out en masse to journalists working on newspapers and magazines, perhaps? This is certainly the view most people have of the profession, which harks back to the more traditional form of the trade. The aim of PR is simple – to gain positive exposure for your clients. To do this in the past meant securing coverage across the three primary mediums: print, radio and television.

Over the past decade the Internet has experienced exponential growth in both popularity and importance as to how the world conducts its business. In 2014, print, radio and TV are dwarfed by the phenomenon that is the Internet, meaning PR has a new partner in crime.

That said, PR and the Internet had a stumbling start to its relationship. SEO has been the buzzword for businesses looking to get online exposure with digital PR being almost an afterthought, and definitely so for smaller businesses. Only the major players were afforded the luxury of resource in this department. However, as Google’s algorithms evolve and we learn more about the intricate details of these patents, those reluctant to invest in PR may find themselves at a disadvantage.

So why is this exactly? As we know a healthy link profile is more than just a bundle of high PR back-links. They’re still an important part, but by and large, a page’s authority is judged on much more than this.

Along with the revelation that the infamous no-follow link has a much bigger part to play than first thought, it has been revealed that brand mentions are also viewed as ‘implied links’. Just to clarify, Google’s panda patent has confirmed; “Google defines non-linking citations as implied links”. This is where it gets very interesting, and our Managing Director Simon penned a post on Moz explaining what this means and why it is such a revelation:

“This is black-and-white evidence that Google is looking at mentions as a measure of authority.

It is logical after all; that a popular brand would have more people talking about it online than one that is simply good at manipulating the algorithm and has invested heavily in link building to that end. The results from our sample research also support this, with larger, better-known brands generally attracting greater numbers of mentions than others.”

“This could be especially important where lots of links from the same company (or “group”) point at a site, as the search engine could discount those from the true overall picture. It then also gives engineers the ability to look at “quality” as a measure of the overall relevance to the queried subject matter.”

This could have massive implications for how companies approach their SEO needs in future. Google is forever hitting home that quality is king and will punish anyone they think is trying to game the system. It’s an exciting time for SEO and PR agencies alike. The rewards for professional, quality content are enormous.

For too long it’s been the case that a link in any post, regardless of the quality of the content, has been enormously valuable for websites, therefore prioritising the need for a link over the need for useful content.

This is all about to change.


Sarah Skerik put it best in one of her recent blogs that “Google is emphasizing the value of authentic earned media”, and who can deliver this better than those working in PR? To me it seems that a marriage between the two professions is in order. A strategy that ensures clients get content on a site, which has both a high page rank and high circulation and readership, appears to be the ideal.

For those unfamiliar with the term digital PR, it’s the process of utilising traditional PR techniques combined with modern data-led resources to boost content marketing campaigns and gain online exposure, therefore boosting brand awareness and search.

Getting started in digital PR can be tricky. It takes time and perseverance before results start coming in. So how can we start getting links from editorial institutions and not just bloggers?

Firstly, concentrate on creating the best content you can. Something thought provoking, funny and timely; something in tune with a major conversation that is going on across the web.

Once we have our content it’s time to get our PR hats on. Who would want to host this on their site? Who has an audience that will get the most benefit out of reading this? A lot of this comes down to general knowledge about the major publications. For example, The Guardian is a politically left paper, so a piece on how great Margaret Thatcher was during her reign as Prime Minister will have almost no chance of being featured. Of course this base knowledge is just for starters.

Approaching individual journalists/influencers is the key to getting a great link. After all, emailing the news desk of a national paper/magazine and competing against the piles upon piles of press releases submitted daily is a sure fire way to get your content overlooked. Because of the paper they write for we already have an idea of the type of content they are likely to accept, but every journalist is different and will favour certain topics over others.

Topsy is a tool that can tell you which influencers are talking about the topic your content focuses on.


Simply type in a keyword that your content focuses on, select the influencers tab and voila! For the below example I used the key phrase “climate change’, and the top 5 results were as follows…


We can see that four blogs/websites and one individual have been highlighted, all of whom mention climate change a lot. As you can see, the top result ‘NewGreenStuff’ mentioned the phrase 484 times.

So let’s now focus our attention on the one individual who popped up in that search, D.R. Tucker. A quick search of Mr. Tucker reveals that he has written for Washington Monthly, his works have been mentioned on, he is a contributor to the Huffington Post and writes his own blog. We can also tell from reading his articles that he is a fan of citation links in his articles, and as a PR it is our job to give him something to cite!

We now have an influencer who has access to several high profile platforms and is interested in the type of content we have to offer. It’s time to pitch.


One of the most important parts of any pitch is the headline. It needs to be clear, concise and interesting. Posing questions is one technique, and using the title of your content as the title of an email is another. Short and sweet is the rule to follow, but if this isn’t possible don’t fret too much. Once they’ve actually opened the email it’s time to turn up the charm.

Making the influencer aware that you have read their articles and are interested in their work is important. A sentence or two on this is all that’s required but it’s something that should not be overlooked. An example…

Hi D.R,

I hope you’re well.

I’ve just finished reading your latest article in the Washington Monthly about the ongoing debate on climate change. First off I wanted to congratulate you on the article, the way in which you described the debate as a war against polluters really highlighted the magnitude of the crisis we face.

Compliments cost nothing so dish them out!

Now we have established our familiarity with D.R’s work, it’s time to get to our content. We need to establish why it’s relevant, why it would be a good resource to include and why his audience need to see it.

Whilst reading the article I noticed there were several parallels in the topics you were covering with a piece of content I’m currently helping to promote and I was wondering whether you’d be interested in taking a look?

After we have established the link of relevancy it’s time to sell! The bottom line is that no matter how relevant you believe it to be, or how perfectly suited the potential website is, the content needs to do the talking.

So, we’ve looked into finding influencers and how to approach them, and that’s enough for your first foray into PR activity. If you’re thirsty for more I previously wrote a post which features another 50 tips and tricks to get started in digital PR.

Guest-posting outreach may be more fruitful in terms of quantity but there is no substitute for digital PR when it comes to quality.

The post The Beginner’s Guide to Digital PR for Search Benefit appeared first on Zazzle Media.

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Google Pigeon – How to Future-Proof your Local Search Strategy Thu, 07 Aug 2014 13:51:41 +0000 Unless you’ve had your head under a stone the past couple of weeks, you’ll be aware that Google has been causing some fairly significant waves once again with the launch of its latest algorithmic rewrite – this time affecting search results with implicit or explicit local intent. The so-called Pigeon update is currently only affecting […]

The post Google Pigeon – How to Future-Proof your Local Search Strategy appeared first on Zazzle Media.

Unless you’ve had your head under a stone the past couple of weeks, you’ll be aware that Google has been causing some fairly significant waves once again with the launch of its latest algorithmic rewrite – this time affecting search results with implicit or explicit local intent.

The so-called Pigeon update is currently only affecting US search results but is expected to roll out globally within the next few weeks as the search giant attempts to simplify its user interface to improve the overall mobile search experience.

With more traffic than ever coming from mobile devices, Google is keen to make the experience as clean as possible and it looks like part of that plan will involved ‘integrating local search results into the main algorithm’.

This means you are likely to see fewer searches with the ‘six pack’ of separate local results going forwards and rankings will take into account the wider set of ranking factors applied to the main results.

As with any significant update though there are still issues to iron out before it is rolled out globally but when it does it is critical that there is a plan in place to ensure visibility is maintained, especially if you are a business dependent upon local traffic.

Be proactive

It’s all about local with this new algorithm, so how does that impact what you need to do or are already doing?

  • Local directories are a must, but stay away from the low quality bulk submissions please!
  • Find the most influential relevant directories in your niche and get in contact.
  • Check out this post by Sameer Panjwani for a list of directories you should be in.
  • Continue building good content and make sure your site is on-point with your competitors.
  • Improve your overall web presence and don’t simply concentrate on polishing Place pages.

It’s really all about getting your site ready for continuous Google updates, so if you relied heavily on rankings for traffic the Pigeon update could mean a massive drop in organic, especially if there was minimal adverts or no local results. If you don’t have local listings/places set up, now is the time to do so.

And to help brands with that transition Google has also rolled out improved business verification processes. It only affects a small number of categories at the moment, but will be available for all. Google business listings can now be also verified with Webmaster Tools. No more waiting two weeks for a postcard that a client will throw away anyway. Further info on specifically how that works can be found under instant verification. It’s really easy to set up, even if the instant verification isn’t available yet for you. And remember, you can easily set up a Google Places page here,

Wider signals

According to insiders the view is that while certain local factors will still be measured the weight of those signals will diminish and will lean less towards Place page quality and review sentiment etc. Instead the entire 200+ main algorithm factors will come into play again. This does seem to help larger brands over local businesses, which could be a frustration going forwards BUT is a real incentive to build overall domain and brand equity through wider digital strategy.

US businesses are reporting an overall increase in organic traffic to local terms, so the change does appear, at least, to be attracting a greater share of the overall search volume. The concern is that there are still a great many inconsistencies in what appears for some terms, doesn’t for others but this will be ironed out.

For those with weak websites but strong local presence the Pigeon update may have a negative overall impact but no one can argue that Google is not being consistent with its message about working hard to add value to your overall web presence and not to simply ‘game’ the system!


The Google clean up doesn’t stop here though. Alongside the simplification of local searches comes the removal of author images in search. Just months after revealing Authorship to the world search engineers have decided to remove one of the key benefits to implementing the mark up, much to the dismay of many industry leaders.

Our view is that Authorship is still very much worthwhile as the true benefits are not in getting your photo in the results, but in the build up of author authority around certain subject matters. It will only become more important as the month and years go by as the search engines move towards semantic search. As it gets smarter it will start making connections between content, authors and the search strings; the sites will start to matter less.

We would suggest adding local schema, as well as authorship, if you haven’t already. Adding local schema is easy, especially if your site is running on a simple to use CMS. Schema makes it easier for search engines to work out what information is, which with local its even more important right now.

Here is what our address would look like without schema:

The Gridiron Building
One Pancras Square
London, N1C 4AG

This is with local schema mark-up – it’s that simple!

<div itemscope itemtype=””>
<a itemprop=”url” href=””><div itemprop=”name”><strong>Zazzle Media</strong></div>
<div itemprop=”description”>Zazzle Media is a digital content marketing agency with a BIG reputation for creating award winning strategies. We have offices in London and Peterborough.</div>
<div itemprop=”address” itemscope itemtype=””>
<span itemprop=”streetAddress”>The Gridiron Building , One Pancras Square</span><br>
<span itemprop=”addressLocality”>London</span><br>
<span itemprop=”postalCode”> N1C 4AG </span><br>
<span itemprop=”addressCountry”>United Kingdom</span><br>

This is easy to create by using a service such as Schema Creator.

The removal of authorship images aren’t the end of it and there will be continued changes with what data Google wants and doesn’t. It needs to continually test what the user wants to see and how to display it to them, this is why your website really has to be ready for everything! Here is my checklist on how you can be ready for the next six months.

  • Make the content on your site answer questions. Google is scraping this information and in turn means you’ll be number one!
  • Continue to mark data and information up with schema even if some of it stops being used. After all data is what Google wants, so make it as easy as you can.
  • Set up local listings with Google Places and also submit your site to local directories such as Yelp. Don’t buy a Fiver gig for 7,500 directories as they will be placed on sites.
  • Include your business address on your site to make sure it is easy enough to be picked up when crawled; the easiest place to put this is in the site footer.
  • Links will still be important with any algorithm changes so don’t forget about them. Google is not going to start ranking purely on social signals.
  • Don’t just concentrate on rankings or positions, make sure your site is as good as it can be to enable the user to find exactly what they want.

Changes are part and parcel of working with Google. The key is to embrace them and understand the long term goal – to surface sites that are knowledge centres within their niche. The ‘brand as publisher’ model will always win out in the end if invested in correctly!


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Banishing Link Networks from your Backlink Profile Thu, 31 Jul 2014 12:58:15 +0000 Before the inevitable eye rolling and sighing takes place at the sight of yet another debate about guest posting, this blog post is not designed to reiterate the rules of content marketing. Nor is it meant to be another show of support for Matt Cutts and his strong views, although most of us within the […]

The post Banishing Link Networks from your Backlink Profile appeared first on Zazzle Media.

Before the inevitable eye rolling and sighing takes place at the sight of yet another debate about guest posting, this blog post is not designed to reiterate the rules of content marketing. Nor is it meant to be another show of support for Matt Cutts and his strong views, although most of us within the world of SEO will appreciate his opinions in even the smallest of forms.

Instead, this blog post is designed to simply serve as an actionable piece of information that can stop your link profile from turning your site into an unprofitable, unloved mess.

Throughout the great guest posting debate, one thing has become clear; as much as Google hates it people are continuing to do it and there are a few very clever people out there who are making money out of people’s laziness and ignorance.

Relevant and expert content placed on high quality sites can easily create natural links encouraging the reader to visit a mentioned website or become affiliated with a brand and increasing the level of traffic to the site. This is at the very heart of content marketing.

If we know how to do it the right way, why are so many people getting it wrong?

There are two answers to this question, it is either due to laziness and the desperation to ‘just get it done’, OR it is due to ignorance. Both answers are pretty inexcusable. There is no room for laziness or ignorance when it comes to SEO and your marketing strategy. This can jeopardise the future of your business or your client’s livelihood, neither of which can be taken lightly.

Link networks fall under the bracket of ‘content marketing: the wrong way’ and form the basis of Google’s issue surrounding guest posting. It is essential to explore and understand a link network, what it is and how seriously it can negatively impact your link profile and your site.

Let’s assume for a second that most people are completely unaware of a network and that posting on these sites can be detrimental. That said, let’s take the time now to pull apart the idea of a network and define what it actually is:

“Simply, a link (or site/blog/article) network is a group of sites that are connected. They can be owned by one person or multiple people, their connections can be as obvious as a badge displayed that proudly identifies the site as a member of X network, or as covert as a footprint uncovered by lots of digging.”

This explanation perfectly sums up what a link network is. Now we have that we can move forward with how they can be identified and later the serious implications they can have.

Typical traits of a network

  • The sites will have the same or a similar design template regardless of the niche, or metrics.
  • The Google analytics number and AdSense number will all be the same.
  • One site owner will claim ownership of multiple sites (could be 10, could be 100).
  • The sites will all have the same IP address.
  • The site owner will send you a vast list of the sites he has access to without you requesting it.
  • The site will be of low quality.
  • Will have phrases such as ‘guest post’ or ‘submit your guest post’ or will label content as such somewhere on the site.
  • Duplicate content is commonplace.
  • Articles will not be relevant to the site’s theme; a ‘we will publish anything’ approach.
  • User interactions are limited or non existent and the facility to comment on articles is closed.
  • All posts will be labelled as the ‘admin’ being the author.
  • Articles will be between 4-500 words and will contain 2-3 links within each post that hold little relevance to the topic of the article.
  • There will be no ‘about’ section, contact information or author name.
  • Exact match anchor text pointing to sites at random.
  • Excessive cross linking between the sites will be apparent in the backlink profile.
  • Social signals will often be duplicated in the attempt to make the site seem legitimate.
  • If a site owner asks for payment to post on the site, chances are it is a network. Paid for links are frowned upon by Google and is deemed as ‘black hat’ SEO.

As I’ve said before, building a high quality link profile is not simple, nor is it always straightforward, and this same theory applies to identifying a site that is part of a link network. The typical traits, as mentioned above, are common of networks yet sometimes a poorly designed site, or one that isn’t necessarily cared for in the right way, doesn’t automatically make it part of a network. In this instance, a little more digging is always required. As much as you should avoid posting on a network, you also want to avoid a site that is actually okay simply because you have suspicions…

How Can We Be Sure We are using a Network?

It is important to be sure that the site(s) you wish to use are in fact a network and often this will require a little more investigation.

General overview of the site

You need to conduct a thorough breakdown of a site, exploring all possible avenues to ensure you are not being fooled into using a site which is part of a link network. The areas to consider are listed below…

Social traffic

  • Do sites have social media pages and are they updated regularly?
  • Do they have true followers and likers?
  • Is there any genuine social interaction and engagement?

Page Rank

  • A low PR is usually a sign that a site has been penalised, as it has lost its rankings. Networked sites are regularly hit with penalties.

Domain Authority

  • Domain Authority is a way of seeing how well a domain can be expected to perform in Google search results. As you are analysing a website’s performance and rankings, Domain Authority is a good indicator of how well the entire domain will perform.
  • A networked site may have a reasonable DA yet this could be a false figure as the intentions of the site are unclear until a better overview is established.
  • Typically, however, guest posting sites will have a relatively low DA as the site is overlooked during search engine results.

Trust and Citation

  • The citation figure is the amount and value of the links which point to a site and the trust is essentially that – the level of trust a site has in terms of its backlink portfolio and the way in which it operates.
  • A good quality site will boast high figures in terms of both.

Anchor Text

  • You need to review the backlink portfolio of a site before you establish a relationship, or at the very least before publishing content.
  • Is the anchor text on the site over optimised?
  • Is the AdSense spammy?
  • Does it point to or contain spammy links? Such as casino, porn, gambling and medicinal drugs.

The Look

  • Does the site look plain and standard, possibly using a template?


  • Are there duplications?
  • Have you seen the same article on a different site?
  • Are phrases from articles repeated elsewhere?
  • Is the content low value?

Tools for Investigation

To really fine tune your investigation into a potential network, you often can’t rely on observation alone. You may need to thoroughly look into a site and although this will take a significant period of time, it could mean the difference between a high value natural link and a Google penalty.

Spy On Web

This tool will allow you to input the URL of the site you are suspicious of and will show you how many domains are on the same IP address. This can establish whether the sites are legitimate and are simply involved in shared hosting, or whether the IP address is the home of multiple guest posting or sales based websites.


One site, as this image shows, shares the same IP address with a large number of other sites. A quick look into the sites on the list is proof that this is a large guest posting network due to the look and nature of the sites, and the varied themes they cover.

Search Metrics

This will show a site’s visibility within different countries. Looking in the hosting country will establish the amount of traffic the site has and whether or not it has been penalised.


The blue line on the chart above relates to the SEO visibility of the site. The dramatic falls indicate that the site has been penalised and the traffic to the site has dropped considerably.

Way back Machine

The history of a domain will give a good indication of the nature of the site.
You will be able to identify if the site has been purchased and the domain repurposed specifically for guest posting.

bg-wayback currently serves as a technology blog covering all aspects and information of the modern technology era, yet the above screenshot shows the origins of the site. It is clear that the site was originally created to sell Israeli souvenirs and has been purchased in 2012 for guest posting purposes.

What are the implications of using a network?

  • Networks can be de-indexed or have their links devalued by Google. This WILL apply to any links you have built through any of these sites.
  • It is unnatural to use networks to link build, which can result in penalties to your site.
  • The links will have little value to your site and won’t generate as much traffic as networked sites do not receive the attention a high profile website would.
  • Network is penalised.
  • Your links are not considered to be natural and your links are devalued.
  • Your site will be penalised and traffic to your site will drop considerably.
  • Page Rank will drop considerably.
  • All paid for and spammy links will be lost and rankings will fall.
  • All links will need to be removed.
  • A reconsideration request will need to be submitted to allow your site to once again be indexed by Google.
  • The link building campaign will need to be started from scratch using a legitimate method.

Now we have established what a link network is and how it can be the worst thing to ever happen to your link profile, what are the actionable takeaways from this article?

  • If a link is easy to get then it probably isn’t worth getting. A high quality backlink portfolio takes time and effort.
  • Google hates link networks, so try to avoid them or you will feel their wrath.
  • Investigation is the key. If you are unsure then do some research using common sense and SEO tools to either calm or confirm your suspicions.
  • Curiosity may have killed the cat but it could save your link profile and the future of your site, so make sure you follow your suspicions and prevent a penalty from being incurred.

The post Banishing Link Networks from your Backlink Profile appeared first on Zazzle Media.

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How to Leverage Facebook Data to Create Informed Strategies Thu, 24 Jul 2014 12:56:27 +0000 As Google continues to evolve its algorithms, it’s making it harder to manipulate rankings through the old methods of link acquisition. We’re being made to think of different ways to acquire links that will have an impact on search results. Links are having the most impact on a websites rankings, yet evidence is starting to […]

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As Google continues to evolve its algorithms, it’s making it harder to manipulate rankings through the old methods of link acquisition. We’re being made to think of different ways to acquire links that will have an impact on search results.

Links are having the most impact on a websites rankings, yet evidence is starting to appear that quantity is no longer the key, quality and ‘natural acquisition’ is.

Using different methods to acquire high quality links is leading to new methods being used to create content strategies that we know a website’s audience will want to read.

‘Natural acquisition’ was mentioned as unless the content is outstanding, or content is interactive and goes viral, this content is still seeded with a website owner – this is not natural. However, it’s far more natural than buying 100 directory links for $5.

We’re a long way from 100% out-and-out natural link acquisition being the only way that a link will have an impact on a website’s search rankings, but we had better prepare ourselves.

What data can we use?

There’s a large variety of data sources that we can use to create natural content strategies that will in turn acquire links. There are many articles about creating content strategies through a variety of data mining tools such as; SEMrush, Social Crawlytics, etc.

One used less than others is Facebook ads manager, insights and audience in comparison with Facebook’s general audience profile. This data is invaluable, free and allows you to drill down into their most common interests.

Facebook Data

So what data can we mine from Facebook?

  • Ages
  • Audience Engagement
  • Facebook Engagement
  • Audience interests
  • Most successful posts – through shares and likes as this shows interest
  • Post frequency
  • Post frequency vs. daily engagement
  • Engagement by no. of posts per day

Firstly, all this data may not be necessary when running this evaluation as too much data is sometimes overwhelming when trying to create a defined strategy.

For example, the number of posts in a day is not something we need to factor in and neither is post frequency or post frequency vs. daily engagement.

However, that data will be invaluable to assess if looking at social performance.

To give you an example of how this data set can be effective when compiling link building strategies, let’s look at the informative pieces of data that we can then turn into an effective link building campaign.

ASOS are a large brand with an exhaustive Facebook audience that has recently reached 3,391,861 likes. When analysing this insight data, a large brand on Facebook will get much more from their data as it’ll be a more telling story.

It’s hard to trust small data sets due to reliability.

The first thing to assess when creating content, and as mentioned in the Zazzle ideation process, is establishing what age brackets are the most popular with ASOS. Without knowing the audience, you would be blindly creating content, wasting resource and acquiring zero links.

From looking at the data set that we extracted from Facebook insights, it’s clear that ASOS’ defined market age bracket lies between the ages of 18-34, with the majority between 18-24. That’s just over 40% of their entire Facebook audience.


We now know that the majority of ASOS’ Facebook audience lies between the ages of 18-34 and this will be more than likely transfer through to their sales data.

Aligning this with most common interests really allows us to establish personas that ASOS should be targeting with their content, which will in turn attract links.

The data below shows the top 5 interests of ASOS’ Facebook audience.


These data extracts took less than 10 minutes to compile. Comparing against Facebook’s general audience trend is important as it gives you a clear indicator of where your audience’s interest lies.

We now know if we were to ever create a content strategy, for on or off site, that content based on topics to do with Celebrities, Reality TV, Movies, Pop Music or Sports will naturally bring their age demographic of between 18-24 years old.

Brainstorming content topics that transect that data – age/interests

A study from Forrester Research (mentioned on the Social Media Exmainer) shows the importance of interacting with influencers on social media.

This study showed that 13.4% of US adults online create 80% of content that influences people, meaning the remaining 86.6% of US adults online create just 20% of content that influences people – identify your influencers, it’s important!

jp3Finding these influencers is the easy part as there are so many tools readily available to use. Below are a few to kick start your hunt for finding influential people to connect with and start schmoozing!

A recent favourite trick of mine is to find influential people through tools such as Kred, Peer Index, Klout, Traackr and Followerwonk then searching for them within Quora.

For example, an influential person within my space is Rand Fishkin. If I search for him within Quora (after finding him through Twitter/LinkedIn), I will then see all the questions that he’s asking or getting involved with by answering questions for other people.

This is a great space to get involved with discussions that they’re actively participating in. Impress and connect via LinkedIn and they should remember your name and that is the door open to an influencer.

Bringing it back to ASOS, a recommended step would be to find an influential editor at a magazine such as Heat Magazine, as their interest demographic is into Celebrities, Reality TV and Pop Music – all of which is covered in Heat Magazine.

A simple search on LinkedIn brought up an interesting result of someone who is the ‘Acting Digital Editor’ at Heat Magazine/Heatworld – exactly who we need to get in touch with.
A search on Quora brings his profile up – although he hasn’t interacted with any questions – a follow on there, and LinkedIn, will bring a number of emails into his inbox that you’re following him and again, opens that door.

Following people on Twitter allows you to establish their personal interests through the content they share, the retweets they do and content that they tweet. It’s invaluable, free data for you to study and then use to target your influencer with an appropriate content idea subject to their own and industry interests.



The next thing you have to do is pitch a relevant and exciting topic to Laurence as you don’t want to waste his time.

A great way to begin brainstorming topics that will take his interest is through topical and highly relevant content topics that are trending. Using software such as Alltop allows you to do this.

There appears to be a bizarre story doing the rounds about Kid Rock and a glass dildo – I’m sure someone with a creative mind would be able to come up with a piece of content on this.


Put a spin on one of these and your hands will be bitten off…

Alltop has a variety of areas for trending content, such as which is relevant for this search.

This can become part of a bigger process which will result in daily content ideas on trending topics that busy content editors will want to snap up!

As part of this process, continuously refining your influencers list is important as you need to have your fingers in all the pies, so to speak.

  1. Promote influencers content.
  2. Comment on their content.
  3. Become an active contributor to their Tweets, Facebook Pages and LinkedIn groups.
  4. Message them with suggestions, in-depth answers to questions and content ideas where appropriate.
  5. Create content for them when ideas are approved.
  6. Attend any events they go to enhance relationship.
  7. Do they offer freelance? Is there a small project they can work on for you to establish relationship?

This shows that using social data, such as Facebook insights and ads, can lead to creating content and link building strategies around relevant content that your audience is interested in.

If your audience is interested in this type of content, finding the influencers is the next part and once they have been identified and analysed, providing them with content that both they and your audience want should be the easiest part.

Try not to treat social, content and link building as separate campaigns, make it a holistic digital marketing strategy and each channel CAN influence each other.

Twitter is starting to provide much more insightful analysis on profiles now which could be used in a similar approach.

You are able to export individual tweet data to see the ones which received most impressions, engagements, engagement rate, retweets, replies, favourites and user profile clicks. An export of this data is shown below.


This is another blog post entirely, but a snapshot of the dashboard is also below to show you how this area has been improved significantly for us to start dissecting and using as part of an entire strategic approach to content.


Overall, Facebook data can influence more than just social strategy, but what websites to target, get links from, content ideas/strategy and influencers.

Don’t isolate your channels, use the great data provided by Facebook and many other platforms to create an overarching strategy that can influence an entire digital campaign.

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DADI 2014 Use of Organic Search Nomination Wed, 23 Jul 2014 12:53:58 +0000 The Zazzle Media team is this week celebrating being nominated for one of the most prestigious awards in digital media as they continue to cement themselves as one of the most in-demand brands in digital marketing. The DADIs (the Drum Awards for the Digital Industries) have been celebrating digital excellence for the past eight years […]

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The Zazzle Media team is this week celebrating being nominated for one of the most prestigious awards in digital media as they continue to cement themselves as one of the most in-demand brands in digital marketing.

The DADIs (the Drum Awards for the Digital Industries) have been celebrating digital excellence for the past eight years and we’ve been shortlisted for the Use of Organic Search (SEO) award.  The nomination is for our work in successfully overturning two Google penalties for one of our biggest clients, Mecca Bingo, and helping rebuild their online search visibility.


Simon Penson, Zazzle’s MD and founder, said he was delighted the company’s hard work had been recognised by this, our first-ever award nomination.

“This nomination is testament to the talents of our amazing team who worked around the clock to successfully remove the penalties which were seriously hindering Mecca’s search visibility.

Our data-informed, content led marketing strategy actually resulted in a 141% increase in search visibility outperforming Mecca’s pre-penalty position.”

The DADI awards evening will take place at Park Plaza in Westminster, London, on Wednesday, October 1st and will see Zazzle Media compete against companies such as Barclays, Branded3, Distilled and Epiphany.

Click here to see a full list of the nominations.

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Google+ Guide for SMEs Wed, 16 Jul 2014 08:49:41 +0000 A few days before penning this piece we held our first ever ‘Zazzle Live!’ event. It was during that conference and the resulting networking time afterwards that the idea for this post came to me as many of those in attendance kept asking the same question: “What is Google+ and why should I – a […]

The post Google+ Guide for SMEs appeared first on Zazzle Media.

A few days before penning this piece we held our first ever ‘Zazzle Live!’ event. It was during that conference and the resulting networking time afterwards that the idea for this post came to me as many of those in attendance kept asking the same question: “What is Google+ and why should I – a small/medium sized business owner – care about it?”

Over the course of this blog post, it’s hoped that not only can we answer this question – whilst shedding some light on this giant platform – but encourage you guys to embrace the Plus community.

Google+ is, in it’s most basic form, a social media platform. Described by Google, as their ‘social layer’ and with a, reported, 300 million active monthly users – second only to Facebook’s 1 billion monthly active users – it’s no minor entity. However Google+ is more than ‘just another social platform’; quite a bit more, in fact.


(Image Source)

There are hundreds of blogs and articles passing their thoughts on Google+. we’ve read plenty of articles that seem insistent that we’ll be viewing the demise of the platform altogether, because it’s not performing as ‘well’ as Facebook. With this in mind, I’ve decided to dispel 3 common myths and misconceptions about Plus that I’ve come across, straight off-the-bat;

“Google+ is a ghost town”

WRONG. We’re not sure that a platform with 300 million active users can ever really be classed as a ghost town. Quite frankly, if your home feed is quiet, to the point of ghostly stagnation, then it’s because you’re doing Plus wrong. You aren’t seeking enough Communities and individuals to connect with and, as a result, you won’t see anything of note in your home feed. It really is as simple as that. Imagine Facebook if you didn’t have any ‘Friends’ or didn’t ‘like’ any brands…

“Google+ is failing because Facebook is still the ‘go-to’ platform for peoples social media needs”

WRONG. Google never intended on using Plus as a ‘Facebook killer’. From their perspective, using Plus as a social skin, that will connect all of your Google affiliated accounts, is incredibly lucrative for them. They’re a business that thrive on data. The more data they can harvest, the better their advertising product will be for it’s customers. As you all – no doubt – know, targeted advertising is a big earner for Google.

“My target audience isn’t on Google+”

WRONG. You just haven’t found them yet. There are a huge array of Communities already established on Google+, it’s up to you too seek the relevant ones and join-in on the conversation. Once established among the Google+ world, your audience will begin to find you. If, incredibly, there isn’t already an established Community for your particular interest/specialty, then perhaps look into creating & managing a Community of your own. If you can’t find a relevant Community, chances are there are many others with the same issue, so become the authority instead.

Whilst there is a lot of disparity across the web, as to how Google chooses to rank posted content from Google+ among searches, we think you’d be a little foolish to believe anything other than it receiving favourable treatment from the search giant.

In fact, as Eric Schmidt (Executive Chairman of Google) wrote in his book, ‘The Digital Age’:

“Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results”.

So, for all intents and purposes, Mr Schmidt may as well have written, “Within search results, information tied to a completed, popular and actively used Google+ account, will be ranked higher than content without…”. There is huge value in brands having a well established, and highly valued, Plus account for this sole reason. In addition, and as we all know, Facebook posts, tweets and other forms of content hosted on social sites, gather very little traction with regards to page ranking.

Yes, of course, when used effectively they can still drive traffic in their own way. However, what if that brilliant piece of content, with the link to your site, that you just posted on Facebook – obtaining a sum of likes in minutes – also passed PageRank? Well, if you had posted it to Google+, it would have had that opportunity. This is no small factor and isn’t to be underestimated, particularly given Google’s seemingly never-ending quest for high quality, content driven, search results (see Google Panda).

If there’s any chance at all that your content and brand is going to receive a welcome boost in the page rankings, in exchange for utilising the platform, you’d be naive not to take advantage, surely?

Okay, so you’ve read the above and reached the stark realization, that Google+ is essential for you business, you’ve followed the step-by-step guide on Google+ and setup an account for yourself and a Google company page, but now what? Well, the next step is to get posting, sharing and +1’ing! I’ve composed a few tips, below, to get you ahead of the game.

11 Top Tips for Making the Most of Google+

  • Complete your page fully. Like Facebook and Twitter, it’s important that your profile is complete. Professional looking pages, with relevant and interesting profile pictures and company information are an essential starting point
  • Seek out relevant business communities and actively engage in the discussion. An important element of this is not rest on your laurels. Google+ communities are always growing, evolving and establishing themselves, so never stop reaching out for communities to engage with
  • Make sure that your sharing option is selected as ‘Public’. This will assist in maximising your post reach and engagement levels
  • Ensure you’ve got a good spread of different ‘post types’. Include your own original content, shares of other interesting posts and links that you think may be of interest to your audience. Get a good mixture of pictures/graphics and written pieces to appeal to all of your audience
  • Experiment with different posting times, and frequency, to find the optimum levels of engagement for your brand
  • When you’re sharing content from others, be sure to describe why you’re sharing; ‘Plain’ links and shares often get less engagement than those with descriptions. Would you be as keen on clicking through a link, if you didn’t know what the link was too or why you should bother clicking it?
  • Make use of the differences between Plus and the other social platforms. Google+ posts permit formatting, so make the use of the tools available. Don’t be afraid of bold necessary quotes or italicising statements, where appropriate
  • There is no notable character limit for Plus posts, so make use of this benefit. Google+ posts can be treated like a smaller version of blog posts, if the content is interesting enough. There’s no point in writing a long-winded post when a shorter, snappier and more concise prose will suffice. Again, feel free to experiment, in order to get a feel for the prime post length
  • Use #hashtags. From experience, hashtags continue to work brilliantly for Twitter and Instagram, but we feel they fail somewhat on Facebook. People just don’t use them as much to tie together relevant content. The Google+ community not only embrace the use of hashtags, but Google themselves further develop on their use, associating the hashtag with other relevant terms.
  • Utilise the ‘Ripples’ tool on Google+. This allows you to see how far and wide your post has spread.
  • Make the most of the +1 tool. The ‘+1’ button within Plus, is the equivalent of the ‘Like’ button over on Facebook, but – depending on what you read – it carries a lot more weight, especially within Google search rankings. It’s your way of showing appreciation for a given piece of information or content that has been shared. Another area that Google’s +1 differentiates from Facebook’s ‘like’ function, is that it collates all of the content that you’ve +1’d into a handy list, accessible from your profile. If, for example, you find yourself consistently liking the shared content from any given source – don’t be afraid of reaching out and befriending them!

In conclusion, if you’re a small to medium sized business – and aren’t already making the most of Plus – then we can’t help but feel that you’re missing out on a potential market place. Google+ is all about Communities and establishing friendships/relationships. As far as we’re concerned, and whilst Plus is likely to undergo a sum of changes over the coming months with Vic Gundotra (one of the creators of Google+ and a senior vice president of Google) leaving the company earlier this year, one thing’s for sure; Google+ isn’t likely to be going anywhere, anytime soon.


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Zazzle Live Event Roundup Summer 2014 Fri, 11 Jul 2014 12:36:15 +0000 Zazzle Media this week celebrated its 5th birthday with our first ever live event, designed to help regional businesses become more effective online. The showcase, which operates under the ZazzleLive banner, is a completely free expert advice-led meet up covering everything from  organic search to content and social at a level  fit for any level […]

The post Zazzle Live Event Roundup Summer 2014 appeared first on Zazzle Media.

Zazzle Media this week celebrated its 5th birthday with our first ever live event, designed to help regional businesses become more effective online. The showcase, which operates under the ZazzleLive banner, is a completely free expert advice-led meet up covering everything from  organic search to content and social at a level  fit for any level of in house marketer. Commenting on the event Zazzle MD and founder Simon Penson said: “We were a little apprehensive as to how the meet up would go given the fact that we have never done anything like this before but the response was brilliant with 90% of tickets ‘sold’. Moreover feedback has been amazing and we had more questions from those in attendance than we ever could have imagined, which is exactly what we wanted – an engaged audience.” Suffice to say that more events are now planned and we’ll be announcing further details in the coming weeks right here on our blog. Below are some of the key takeaways from each presentation… ***Warning content of this was aimed at beginners level*** Getting the Basics Right for Maximum Results Adam Brown, Zazzle Search & Data Consultant During his presentation Adam addressed the minefield of reacting to the ever- changing Google rules and how search engines – Google, Yahoo and Bing – love amazing and unique content. Top takeaways from this included:

  • DON’T duplicate content
  • The value of text above and below the fold
  • The importance of a blog – is it good enough to engage users?
  • How to check your link profile – using Majestic SEO
  • If you can create great content the links will come
  • How Google’s Penguin checks good and bad links
  • Look for pages on your website that add NO value (old, out dated information)

The Value of Creating Great Content Julia Ogden, Zazzle Head of Content As a former newspaper journalist and editor, Julia spoke with authority on applying journalistic principles to online marketing, and how those skills still hold true and have a place in today’s fast moving job environment: the top 10 in-demand jobs in 2013 didn’t even exist in 2014! She also stressed the importance of building a really strong online reputation, with content relevant and up to date and went over the basics of the importance of having a blog. Julia then moved onto onpage and nailed the main failing of a site – driving your visitor and potential customer away and to another site because yours didn’t have the correct information!

  • Other takeaway tips included:
  • Encourage people to sign up and receive your newsletter
  • People get people – personalise your copy, introduce a human element
  • When writing copy, some golden rules: – Go for an attention-grabbing intro – Include the when, what, how, why, where – vital details – Avoid jargon and acronyms – Don’t lie! Or make things up, such as ‘fake’ reviews – Don’t overcomplicate copy – READ EVERYTHING before you post

The Basics of PPC and why its an Essential Part of Your Marketing Mix Dylan Wanigasekera, Periscopix Commercical Manager  Dylan Wanigasekera, of Periscopix, took the floor to run through Pay Per Click advertising; like Zazzle, Periscopix is another company which has experienced impressive growth – since being founded in 2004, it now has Dylan went over the importance of PPC and why its key to your marketing mix, his key takeaways included:

  • Be specific with your terms
  • If your business is locally focused, advertise locally
  • Use the data – understand the time of day, day of the week, month or year which works best for you. It may not be the obvious.
  • Track EVERYTHING – let data show the results and then draw conclusions
  • Make sure your website converts well – don’t waste money by drawing the customer to your website only to see them leave if links don’t work or contact details are hidden. THEY WON’T COME BACK AGAIN!

Ten Reasons Why Social Media Is A Must For Your Business Kyle Kirkland, Zazzle Social Media Consultant If anyone was in any doubt about the importance of social media, Kyle dispelled those doubts by highlighting:

  • There is something for everyone
  • You can show yourself off – share all the great things your company is doing and become an authority
  • Build a Community
  • Build a Digital Presence
  • Improve Customer Service
  • Data Collection
  • Increase Sales
  • Drive Traffic
  • Paid Strategy Capabilities
  • Potential Search Benefits
  • Kyle’s takeaways included an ominous warning for companies who buried their heads in the sand regarding negative feedback – 79% of negative comments on social are ignored! Companies should always – ALWAYS – take the time to respond to criticism quickly and politely, as it creates a positive image of a caring company.

If you would like to see a copy of the presentations then please contact our Business Development Manager Richard Marriott on Planning now starts for the next event… what would you like to see covered? DSC_0055-1024x682

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