Marketing as Earned Media Governance

Augie Ray posted a fantastic blog post the other day essentially stating that the marketing department needed to cede control of earned media if earned media is to move forward. While I agree with pretty much everything that Augie wrote, I felt one point in particular was missing.

The marketing department of the future must be a governance body, no different than the legal department is today. As Augie writes, “primary responsibility for social accounts, daily posting and organic content must shift out of marketing and to other departments, if this has not already occurred.” But someone must be watching. Someone must make sure that those daily posts and online engagement are on-brand and support a larger brand strategy, or at a minimum aren’t counter to a larger marketing strategy.

I’m not, for a moment, suggesting that marketing become a clearinghouse, like the legal department, where all messaging must pass through these gates before appearing in the wild, but more that it is the marketing department’s role and responsibility to provide the frameworks, tools and key messaging to those within the organization who are best positioned to provide this content and foster communities. Furthermore, it is the marketing department’s responsibility to monitor and adjust either their strategy or the frameworks, tools and messaging provided.

Did you catch that last part? It’s not just the organization’s responsibility to align their earned media efforts with marketing’s strategy, but also marketing’s responsibility to adjust their brand strategy with the output of the organization. There are two reasons fro this: authenticity and opportunity.

For example, say the marketing department believes that the organization’s brand is authoritative and decisive and the organization’s social media output is more collaborative, polling the community for knowledge and aggregating others’ insights. This is a signal to the marketing department that there is an authenticity problem with their brand. But there is also a potential opportunity to position the brand as a community hub. If the marketing department attempts to change the behavior of the organization, they ignore the opportunity. Furthermore, there is significantly more cost and risk any time you attempt to change an organization to align with a brand than if you align the brand with the organization.

Bringing the conversation back, full circle, what do you think the marketing department’s role is or should be in social media/earned media governance if Augie is right (and I think he is) and the day-to-day earned media activity is ceded to the organization? Tweet me at @steverobinson or post your comment below.


Paid Links & Native Marketing: A Head-On Collision

Head-On Collision

Image courtesy of Paul W. Locke

The SEO industry and Google have long agreed paid links are bad practice. Recently the search giant has expanded their definition of paid links to include links in advertorials, and has penalized Interflora and posting guidance to search marketers.

At the same time in the advertising industry, there is an ever-increasing amount of talk about native advertising as the next big thing. Native advertising is a term with many vague definitions, but most experts agree that it includes advertising that is more relevant and adds similar value to the content it is placed within.

So a well written advertorial, which provides value to its readers, would be considered native advertising and a good thing. That is, unless it includes a link. More specifically, a “link that passes PageRank,” per Google’s policy. In that case, it opens the advertiser for penalties in ranking in Google’s search results.

Even this would be all well and good, except for one more little catch: Who makes sure that links in native advertising do not pass PageRank? This is a technical implementation and the responsibility of the publisher. I’m not sure it’s fair to expect the advertiser to be savvy enough to know which links pass PageRank and to check every advertorial placement to maintain good standing with Google.

Furthermore, I’m not sure this is really in the spirit of Google’s guidelines. Frankly, I question if Google just isn’t behind the times. Native advertising sets itself apart from traditional advertising, both in approach and in results, because it is valuable content in and of itself. If that’s the case, then what relevance is it the content is paid-for? How is that any different from a publisher paying its web host to host their website?

As demonstrated by the recent Scientology debacle in The Atlantic, native advertising will only succeed if there is a degree of editorial control on the part of the publisher. Without this editorial oversight, the industry will destroy this “new” medium before it gets off the ground. From Google’s perspective, this editorial oversight should add a degree of credibility and make for a somewhat reliable signal for ranking results.

Contrast this with an irrelevant banner ad which ads no value to the reader and is simply paid to be placed on the page. Clearly, this link is of no value as a signal to Google.

So if native advertising is not the fad some in the industry see it as, something has to change. Either advertisers had better get smart about the inner-workings of SEO or Google needs to rethink their judgement of native advertising and advertorials.

Your Umbrella Terms Are Costing You Traffic

A recurring theme in my search engine optimization work is a struggle between how they describe their business and what consumers are looking for. The most common issue I run into is the use of umbrella terms.

What’s an umbrella term? An umbrella term is any word or phrase used in place of a list or group of other terms.

Let me give you an example. Say I own a car repair shop. We’ll call it Steve’s Auto Repair. One of my mechanics comes to me and says, “You know, I’m pretty good with motorcycles, too.” So now I get a new sign that says, “Steve’s Auto and Motorcycle Repair”.

The following week, a customer shows up with a truck and asks if we work on trucks. My response is, “Of course! What kind of mechanic can fix a motorcycle and a car, but can’t fix a truck?” But the fact that he questioned it worries me enough that I think I need to change my sign. Steve’s Auto, Truck and Motorcycle Repair is just a little too big to fit, and it’s a mouthful when answering the phone. So I reach for an umbrella term, and my sign now says, “Steve’s Vehicle Repair”. Now there’s no question. And while I’m at it, I’ve picked up work on dune buggies, ATVs, snowmobiles and zamboni machines. I can always turn away the light aircraft and boat work.

But suddenly, my business goes down instead of up. Why? I’ve expanded into new territory. I should have a whole range of business who thought that “Auto and Motorcycle” didn’t apply to them.

Let’s flip to the consumer’s mind for a moment.

I’m driving down the street looking for an auto repair shop. My brain is wired to recognize “Car Repair” “Mechanic” and “Auto Repair”. I’m likely going to drive right past the place that says “Vehicle Repair” because that’s not the terminology I expect. The umbrella term “Vehicle Repair” might contain what I need, but it’s not what I’m looking for.

Now let’s take a look at Steve’s Vehicle Repair’s website. The same thing holds true. If the home page discusses how Steve can repair vehicles of all types, regardless of make and model but makes little mention of cars trucks or motorcycles, how can it ever rank for someone looking for “car repair” in search?

The issue is compounded when you factor the impact on all visitors, regardless of their source. If I’m looking for someone to repair my car, and I hit Steve’s website, now I’m forced to think before I can know that I’m in the right place. “Wait, is a car a vehicle? Yes. Ok, I’m in the right place.” You, as a marketer, might wonder what kind of idiot doesn’t know a car is a vehicle, but you’re missing the point. The fact that I had to think introduces just a little bit of friction. It also significantly reduces the possibility that the site’s going to give me those warm fuzzy feelings of being in the right place. Logic is pliable. Feeling are very fickle and any friction can throw the game.

Whenever possible, I push clients to ditch the umbrella terms and list the services they do. Sometimes this might mean breaking their site into several websites, or at least very focused landing pages. Sometimes its a matter of prioritization. If 90% of your business comes from two segments of the umbrella term, plop those two words and and ampersand in place of the umbrella term.

Do you use umbrella terms in your marketing? If so, how do you address issues with search?

8 Must-Follow Rules for QR Code Use


QR Code linking back to this post (

Simple QR Code Linking to This Post

The following are my eight simple rules for QR code use. These are not guidelines. These are not rules to be bent or broken. QR code adoption is still low in the United States, so if you intend to use one, you better do all you can to maximize the return on the effort. Think of this as a checklist to be run through before that piece goes to print.

  1. The QR code must take the user to a mobile-optimized site. You, as the marketer, know the user is on a mobile device. So if you take them to a desktop website where they are forced to pinch and zoom to get anything done, you are purposely creating a poor user experience.
  2. The QR code must be used in a place where a traditional link will not work. QR codes in email signatures, on websites, e-newsletters, banner ads, or any other place where a link would suffice only confuse and frustrate your users. If you are thinking of placing a QR code in a medium that may be print or online (such as a pdf download), consider using both the QR code and a clickable link.
  3. The QR code must be as simple as possible. When you try and pack too much information into a QR code, it ends up with too small of squares to be read by a good number of lower-end smart phones. Good practices are to use URL shorteners such as and or a redirect on your website to shorten the length of the web address. If using a QR code to provide a vCard, whenever possible use a URL shortener to link to the vcf file on your website instead of embedding the information in the code.
    QR code not using URL shortener vs QR code using a URL shortener 
  4. QR codes should be big enough to used from a comfortable distance. This means that a QR Code on a billboard has to pretty much take up the whole billboard. The same is true for signage in crowded places. Test the QR code at actual size with a mediocre smart phone from a comfortable distance before you get those high priced graphics printed.
  5. Always use a vector-based file. Many QR code generators on the internet will produce QR codes in PNG file format. This format will not properly shrink and grow with your graphics. I recommend the free QR code generator at which will give you an SVG or EPS output you can scale to whatever size you need.
  6. Add tracking information to your URLs. If you are using a QR code to take a user to a web address, always put the appropriate tracking information for your analytics suite to capture the source of the visit. If you are using Google Analytics on your website, you will want to use the Google Analytics URL Builder. Don’t forget to shorten your links after you have added tracking information to them.
  7. Let the user know what they’re getting. Simply slapping a QR code on your full page advertisement doesn’t do anybody any favors. Users need to know why they should be scanning that code. What’s in it for them? The novelty of QR codes has worn off, and adoption still isn’t that great. If you don’t clearly indicate why a user should scan your code, you will be disappointed with the low number of scans you get.
  8. Most Importantly: Add value. Any time you take a user from one medium to another (in this case, an offline medium to an online one), you introduce friction. QR codes ease that friction slightly, but you still have an obligation to make the experience worth the user’s time and effort to pull their smart phone out of their pocket, launch a scanning app, and scan your code. If you don’t, you will leave the user with a worse brand experience than if you simply didn’t place the QR code on the piece in the first place.
Did I miss anything? If so, please sound off in the comments. 

I Could Have Walked Into The Ladies Room Today

Mens Room and Ladies Room Signs

Image courtesy of Michal Koralewski

I stopped of at a McDonalds today to grab a cup of coffee and use the restroom. Just after entering the restroom I had a brief freak-out moment when I realized I never bothered to check the sign before entering. I was quickly relieved when I spotted a urinal, a clear sign I was in the right place.

This got me thinking. I had walked into a McDonalds I had never been in, went to the right of the counter, toward the back of the restaurant, and entered the door on my left. I didn’t read, or even look for, a single sign during this process. I just assumed this McDonalds was laid out the same way countless others I had been in. How many users approach the websites and mobile apps we build in the same way?

I recall interviewing an entry-level candidate who had an excellent portfolio, full of examples of standards based designs that were absolutely beautiful. But in several, he had taken liberties with convention. One, in particular, placed an email sign-up in the upper-right corner of the site. I asked him, “How many sign-ups do they get for common search terms?” To the benefit of the user and the detriment of my curiosity, the site hadn’t launched yet.

Designers feel an inherent need to push convention, making each design unique. This is naturally a good thing. It keeps the industry moving forward as we find better ways to solve common problems. Amazon moved their search box underneath the main navigation and made it more prominent than any other control on the page. In doing so, they made a site that had become too big to browse more usable. E-commerce UI design hasn’t been the same since. Christian Holst redesigned the country selector we see on nearly every contact form we fill out. His design solves several usability issues. When bucking convention solves more problems than it creates confusion, it moves us forward.

But had the designer of that particular McDonalds placed the men’s room on the right, just to be different, I would have been awfully red-faced this afternoon.

Google Announces Native Microphone and Webcam in Chrome

Google integrates native webcam and microphone sharing into the current beta release of Google Chrome.

Imagine a world where your website is no longer just a brochure, but instead becomes a literal window into your business. Where your customers no longer have to communicate with you via a web form that asks for too much information, but can instead initiate a voice or video chat right there on your site without requiring some heavy Flash application or Skype?

Imagine if your customers could do this from their mobile device.

This is the world we are quickly headed towards. And Google’s announcement of support for the getUserMedia API in the new Google Chrome Beta is another step in the right direction.

Imagine being able to show your dentist the issue you are having with your tooth right there on the dentist’s website. Or any mobile ecommerce site doing price checks by scanning a barcode, without requiring you to download an app. Or dating sites that connect people in real-time from any device to any device.

The web is about to change again. The line between telecommunications and the web will continue to blur and your business can be on the cutting edge of this technology and capitalize on the tremendous opportunity it offers to provide a new level of accessibility, ingenious ways to connect to your consumer and innovative apps to help you serve your customers better and ultimately get the sale.

Why Google’s Advertising Offering Will Always Trump Facebook’s

Jon Mitchell of ReadWriteWeb recently published a post suggesting that Facebook’s signs of an ad network pose a threat to Google.  I have to disagree.

Yes, if Facebook were to introduce an ad network, it would bring a new age to digital advertising. This ad network would allow the targeting of ads across a wide variety of sites based on a more complete profile than is currently possible. That said, Google’s offerings will always produce better results because they are targeted not on a user’s interests, but rather on a user’s intent.

If I’m playing a game on Zynga’s network, my intent is to entertain myself. My intent is not to make a purchase or learn more about a product or service.

Contrast that with a Google search, where I am looking for something. If I happen to be looking for a product or service, and advertiser has an opportunity to target me directly. If I’m looking for information on a product or service, that’s still a well targeted ad.

Take hammers for example. If my Facebook profile says I have an interest in carpentry, then I’m probably a good target for an advertiser selling hammers. But if you catch me while I’m playing Farmville or browsing another random website, my intent is not to purchase a hammer or learn more about hammers. I may not even have a need for a hammer. Even if I click the ad, I may have interest in hammers, but I likely do not have intent. I probably won’t convert.

But if I’m searching for hammers on Google, my intent is to learn about hammers or make a purchase of a hammer. If your content offers the information I need or the product I need, I’ll likely convert. The difference is intent.

Even if you look at Google’s Adsense offering, in this context, I’d be reading an article about hand tools or maybe even hammers specifically. In this scenario, my intent is to learn more about hand tools or perhaps hammers. If the ad is well targeted contextually, the advertiser can more closely match the intent of the user, which will ultimately produce better conversions than interest.

One might argue that not every campaign is measured on conversions. This is true. But even still, intent will trump interest. Google has built a business around delivering ads based on a user’s intent. Facebook is not in a position to compete on that front.