RepEquity® Blog: Digital Brand Management Distilled

The 2015 RepEquity Year-in-Review

We are full swing into the new year here at RepEquity. While we charge ahead on our new projects, we would be remiss not to share the great victories you helped us achieve in 2015 and the sincere appreciation we have for your continued support. Last year was a banner year, growing over 65% and expanding our team across four cities: DC, New York, San Francisco, and Boston.

Check out our year-in-review infographic highlighting our amazing growth and client work. Growth that brought many new clients from around the world and many new employees from best-in-class companies. Here’s to another year full of exciting opportunities.

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Think That Super Bowl Ad Was A Touchdown? Think Again

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This year, brands vying for a featured spot in the Super Bowl paid a historic $5 million dollars for a placement. With 111.9 million viewers, that dollar figure makes sense for the brands that have the money to spend and the creative powerhouses to deliver ads that have become a beloved tradition for viewers.

But is it enough?

As Google puts it, “Commercials during the Super Bowl don’t just make us laugh or cry — they also make us search.” Google reports that with more than 7.5 million incremental searches for brands advertised during the game, this year search volume increased 40% compared with last year.

In other words, if a brand’s Super Bowl ad wasn’t paired with a winning search strategy, they may have done more than missed an opportunity; they may have hurt their bottom line.

Bearing this in mind, our team held a company-wide Ads vs. SEO game during the Super Bowl to see how featured brands did on their search strategy. As search results can vary by location, it is important to note that our team was constrained to results in the DC-MD-VA area which may have played a role in our findings. However, given that these brands are national in scale and DC is a huge metropolitan area, we think our comments still stand. Here’s what we thought.

The Brands That Did It Well

The brands listed below aced it. For sure, there were other brands that had well-branded search results, but these three went above and beyond in anticipating the unique challenges of their brand, as well as unique opportunities.

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Snickers | A+ | Search term: “Monroe Snickers”

Willem Dafoe in drag? Check! But we’re here for more than just the ad. When our team Googled Snickers, all the stars were aligned.

“Everything was raves — all 10 rankings. They were on Twitter exactly as the ad aired, and they had a branded ad.”

Way to go, Snickers. We especially loved that Snickers was among the brands tweeting as soon as their ad aired. We’ve all seen what can happen if a brand waits too long to respond after a Super Bowl shout out. Snickers is definitely a brand to emulate.

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Deathwish Coffee  | A+ | Search term: “Deathwish coffee”

This was an interesting category. I have to admit to being baffled when I first saw the commercial – how can a coffee company afford a super bowl ad and why? But it all made sense at the end when the Quickbooks logo popped up. Sponsoring a small business is a great content move by Quickbooks, and we give kudos to them for their authenticity and dedication to their community. However, they’ve got a lesson or two to learn from Deathwish when it comes to search. According to our team,

“Deathwish Coffee nailed it with shopping listings, paid ads, and all organic listings.”

Meanwhile, a search for “Quickbooks Coffee” didn’t do so well. There were some organic rankings that were solid, including “5 Reasons Why Coffee Shop Owners Should Use Quickbooks” but they had a competitor ad show up in one of the top three ads. Not great, Quickbooks.

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PayPal | A | Search term: “Paypal Diversity”

Full disclosure: PayPal’s a client, but we did not produce their Super Bowl commercial.

As a Silicon Valley tech company, Paypal made a pretty gutsy move by running an ad about diversity. This could have been a disaster for them, but the good news is that their search rankings support their ad’s claims. Well done.  

The Brands That Missed Out

But what about the flip side — who didn’t do so well?

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T-Mobile | D- | Search term: “T-Mobile”

I guess they were banking on people searching for the celebrities instead of the brand? Not sure that was a smart strategy, but it sort of worked. Searches for “Drake T-Mobile” and “Steve Harvey T-Mobile” brought up branded ads and positive to lukewarm buzz, as well as emphatic tweets.

So why do they get a D-? Because during the game, searching for T-Mobile brought up this headline, “T-Mobile is writing the manual on how to f*ck up the internet,” swiftly followed by “T-Mobile’s Unlimited Video Raises Net Neutrality Concerns.”

Ouch, guys.

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Quicken Loans’ Rocket Mortgage | F | Search term: “Rocket Mortgage”

I really don’t know who thought it was a good idea to write an ad about mortgages helping the economy. Did they miss the bubble? Or, better question, did the Internet users miss the connection?No such luck for Rocket Mortgage. Our team reports,

“Search page is littered with anti-tweets about the bubble, featured prominently next to a Marketwatch article, ‘A mortgage in 8 minutes? Super Bowl ad says yes, but reality is more complex.’”

Looking at search results today, it’s just gotten worse for Rocket Mortgage. PR nightmare.

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Astrazeneca, OIC is Different | F | Search term: “OIC” , “How do I know I have OIC”

At the very bottom of our list is Astrazeneca, the company that manages the OICisdifferent.com website, though you’d never know it from the ad. Our team rants,

“AstraZeneca is behind the website, but didn’t run a PPC ad or have an organic result. Fail!”

Okay, we get that this was created in collaboration with nonprofits for a good cause. But if you’re going to shell out for a Super Bowl ad, do it right; OIDisDifferent.com didn’t rank very well, either. We used two search terms that were pretty straightforward. For “OIC” there was not a single related search ranking or paid advertisement on the first page for the group’s site during the game. For “How do I know I have OIC,” OICisdifferent does rank on the first page at #4, but still no paid ads. Seems like a wasted opportunity. [Note: As of today 2/10, it looks like creakyjoints.org is taking advantage of the OIC keyword for paid search. Good on them!]

So, there you have it guys! The best and the worst when it comes to brand-aligned PPC and SEO rankings. Want to share your thoughts on the Super Bowl ads with us? Drop us a line on Twitter.

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Searching for Solutions: How to Choose the Right Search Engine for Your Blog

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So you built your website. Congratulations. It was a labor of love, and the Internet thanks you for your contribution.

Time flies. One night you snap awake to terrors that your website is filled with content, but nobody has any way to find it. It was just a nightmare, you tell yourself, but the thought bugs you like a mosquito. You can’t get back to sleep.

Little-by-little, you realize your nightmare is slowly becoming reality. You know that your website’s information architecture is impeccable, but your inbox is still piling up with emails from coworkers asking where to find this document or that blog post or some brilliant tweet about “American Progress” by your CEO. Where did you go wrong?

After a bit of introspection, you realize the answer: your website needs a search function.

The Internet is rife with stories about search woes. By some accounts, almost 60% of interested visitors will use your internal website search. If search is unavailable, we can assume that these visitors will either flail through internal links until they happen upon their query, or they will simply depart and drop a nasty tweet about your website on their way to a competitor’s site. Nobody likes to be on the butt end of a nasty tweet.

The good news is that your content management system (CMS) might have a search function you can deploy within a few clicks. The bad news is that these search engines often leave much to be desired, and a mediocre search experience can be just as frustrating as none at all. Worse, it can leave visitors with the impression that the content they seek is no longer available.

Never fear: you have other options.

Good Enough: Google Custom Search

If you have limited resources or technical know-how, it may be worth taking a look at Google Custom Search. Google allows you to configure and drop a search box anywhere on your site.

The downside here is that the search results will take a user back to Google’s search results page. Even though all links will point back to your site, we’ve found that this approach may jar or confuse some users. However, it’s an easy solution to a complex problem.

Our Top Choices: Solr or Elasticsearch

Intermediate users should consider Solr or Elasticsearch. Many CMSs provide some level of support for these tools (including Drupal and WordPress). However, unless you have a server available to deploy the software manually, you will need to subscribe to a cloud hosting service. After that, the level of effort varies from platform to platform.

You can likely integrate Solr or Elasticsearch into your application even if your CMS or framework lacks native support, but it will take some programming. These tools provide an easy-to-understand query language along with responses in JSON (or XML). However, you will have to build both front-end and back-end functionality, including a mechanism for submitting content to your search engine of choice.

A major plus to using this approach is that you aren’t limited to indexing your website’s content. If you want your CEO’s tweets to appear in search results, all you need to do is write a bit of code to toss them in Solr or Elasticsearch. The same goes for other content like PDFs or Word documents.

Other Runner Ups

If you’ve already explored these options and are still on the lookout, there are other solutions to be had. Microsoft provides access to Bing’s public index via an API and allows up to 5,000 queries each month free of charge. Amazon’s solution, CloudSearch, also provides a robust API in a managed infrastructure. If you would like to have a fully integrated search without needing to maintain a Solr or Elasticsearch instance, Bing or CloudSearch may be viable options.

A solid information architecture can mitigate the need for a search function, but if you are putting out fresh content on a regular basis, things will get buried. Think long term. It is better to add search at the beginning of a project than to fix the problem only after you’ve frustrated your stakeholders.

Need more tips on search? Feel free to drop us a line.

SEO Attacks: How They Work and How to Protect Your Rankings

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Earlier this month, Akamai Technologies’ Threat Research Division released a Threat Advisory as a part of its State of the Internet report. The report detailed SEO attacks witnessed in Q3 of last year. This global, highly sophisticated SEO attack campaign was designed to promote a highly ranked web application, dubbed “Cheating Stories” – a platform to recount and share experiences of infidelity. Lurid tales aside, what’s actually interesting here is how the attacks were carried out and what that means for your SEO presence online.

How It Worked

In a nutshell, the attackers targeted some 3,500 Windows Server Web applications and attempted to inject content that contained HTML links. The goal, as Or Katz of Akamai explains, was to point links and potentially drive traffic to the “Cheating Stories” application and, in doing so, mimic organic Internet behavior.

As we’ve described in our posts, search engine rankings are determined by a variety of factors, with the intention being to reward great content (tons of traffic, referrals from quality sites, relevant context) and punish bad content. This attack, based on an outdated understanding of SEO, banked on cheating the algorithm by artificially inserting look-a-like links to work in the Cheating Stories app’s favor.

Why It Matters

First and foremost, the biggest concern here is that if your site is victimized by this type of SEO injection attack, you may suffer some consequences. A rapid influx of shady links either staged from or pointing to your site can affect your rankings and the rankings of other websites referenced in the attack. As Katz rightly points out, and as our clients are all well aware, your search engine ranking often ties directly to revenue.

So, when sites are vulnerable to attacks from “black hat” SEO shops, the entire search engine economy is undermined. This means less revenue for businesses that are putting out quality content and, most importantly, as Internet users it undermines our ability to get the best information and services for our needs.

How to Mitigate Attacks

As of now, here are some ways we know to find out whether or not you’ve been attacked and/or hacked:

One manual and affordable way to do it is checking your backlinks with Moz and Ahrefs to see if there are any that look like they don’t belong. Do this on a regular basis and be prepared to “disavow” any links that look suspect using Google’s Search Console tool.

We also recommend keeping a whitelist of external links on your site so that every time you do a crawl you’ll immediately know if something is awry. For this you can use crawling tools like Screaming Frog or Deep Crawl; the latter has the benefit of allowing you to schedule automatic crawls. For their part, Akamai recommends also setting up a Web Application Firewall (WAF) to protect against SQL injection attacks.

If you’ve found out your site’s been compromised, don’t panic. There are steps you can take to secure your site and your SEO rankings. As always, you can feel free to drop us a line..

Top 3 Ways Content Recommendation Services Can Help You

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There you are. Reading an article on The Huffington Post, Rolling Stone, or CNN, and as you scroll to the bottom of the page, you see a collection of articles recommended just for you. You click on one of them, and all of a sudden you’re on a new website, but how did you get there?

These articles are actually sponsored links powered by content recommendation services like Outbrain and Taboola, the leaders in the industry. They usually appear at the bottom of news or content-heavy websites and they are grouped together under a header such as “Around the Web,” “You May Like,” or “Related Content.” These native ads feel more natural and less intrusive than other forms of online advertising. In fact, they are hand-picked for users based on a set of thorough algorithms related to:

  • What’s on the webpage
  • Previous user behavior
  • Context of the user’s visit
  • Trending topics

For instance, if you’re reading an article on ESPN, the recommended content might be sports-related, but a heavy dose of pop culture, politics, or tech news might appear instead if you regularly visit those types of sites.

Content recommendation services aren’t a new trend – Outbrain was founded in 2006, and Taboola was founded one year later – but their usefulness in digital marketing is growing rapidly. At RepEquity, we utilize these tools in a variety of ways for our clients, promoting content and engaging new audiences. Below are the Top 3 ways we use content recommendation services.

1. Attracting new readers

The overarching goal of employing content recommendation services is to attract a wider audience. Simply by appearing in the “Related Content” section of a webpage, an article is already reaching a larger group of people, but getting them to click through to a landing page takes something special. That’s why headlines are so important.

In these types of articles, it takes a captivating headline to generate a click-through. Headlines that include a question, a phrase such as “You won’t believe…,” or a list are much more likely to capture a reader’s attention. And yes, we kept that in mind when writing this blog’s title.

2. Promoting the brand

Sometimes, when we launch a new brand or a new website, it can be hard to generate momentum right away. Blog posts and articles that amplify what the brand or website does are key, and if they are promoted through a content recommendation service, the word will get out quicker and more efficiently. Once a new audience of readers begins to access this content, more traffic is inevitable.

3. Reaching the right audience

Services like Outbrain and Taboola are so effective because they allow you to make changes on the fly based on their analytics. We typically run articles with multiple titles or pictures at first, track the results, and then focus on the title and picture that performed best. Likewise, we can track the demographics of users, and gear content or headlines toward either the people who ARE landing on the site, or the people who we want to land on the site but AREN’T. Optimizing content for the correct audience segment will only lead to higher conversion rates, including purchases, sign-ups, downloads, and leads.

Content recommendation can make all the difference

Understanding how these services work is essential to digital marketing. It’s an easy, and relatively cheap way to reach a new audience, promote content, and analyze how effective your current content is for generating leads..

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