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By Graham Jones on 27th January 2015

Are big SEO events any use these days?

SEO ConferenceYou are never short of events to attend on search engine optimisation. For instance, Eventbrite lists 347 SEO events taking place in the UK in the next six months. Of course, there will be many others which do not use Eventbrite. You are spoiled for choice.

The problem with most events on search engine marketing and optimisation, however, is that they are either training courses or they are conferences. The training courses are run by people who have a good understanding, but who are not usually the leading experts. Indeed, the leading experts are too busy speaking at global conferences to run local training events.

So you could attend a local event to understand more about SEO, or you could attend a conference. But here’s the problem. If you attend a local training course the person you meet is not necessarily an expert. They are probably a great trainer, who makes SEO understandable, but that’s not the same as being an expert.

If, though, you attend a typical SEO conference there is another problem. These events usually attract hundreds, sometimes thousands of people. And that means you can’t get to speak with the expert; you may as well have watched them on YouTube.

Worse than this, some conferences like this are nothing more than “pitch fests”, where the speakers are merely trying to get you to sign up to one of their online programmes, providing all kinds of incentives and inducements to “sign up today”.

And it is not just SEO meetings that are like this. Any number of Internet Marketing or digital events are so big that getting to speak with the people who matter is next to impossible.

A blogger’s tale

A few years ago I heard from a blogger who was 19 years old, lived in Yorkshire and had earned $1m from his blog inside a year. It was how he had achieved this success which struck me. He had emailed other successful bloggers, without response. He had attended blogging conferences, without them helping him. It was only when he got on a plane, went to America and met – face-to-face – some of the world’s biggest and most successful Internet marketers that his blog took off. Why? Because of two things. Firstly, he was able to learn directly from the people “in the know” – something he hadn’t been able to do at “pitch fest” conferences. Secondly, they got to know him and they promoted his work to their millions of followers.

What this story tells me is that even in these digital years, face-to-face contact is still at the heart of success.

So, if you want to massively succeed at SEO it is probably better to meet the real experts in small groups, or even if possible, one-to-one, than go to a massive conference or attend a local training event. If you go to a “pitch fest” conference you’ll either spend a lot of money or you’ll be unsuccessful in trying to get to speak in a meaningful way with the experts.

It just makes me think – are big events really worth it?

I notice that in London in March there is a “Search Bootcamp” where some of the top experts in search marketing will be speaking. But here is the important thing – the audience will be limited to just 40 people. And the event will include small group sessions allowing you to get up close and personal with the experts. If you book before the end of the month you save 27% on the ticket price.

 

Search

By Graham Jones on 23rd January 2015

Being “on” a social network is not the same as using it

It is highly likely that you have a profile on at least one social network. You probably have a profile on at least one of Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+. You may also have a Twitter account and maybe an account with Instagram. Indeed, most people have more than one social network profile.

But there is a world of difference between having a social network profile and using that social network.

Whenever I run a workshop for business leaders I ask “are you on LinkedIn?” These days, everyone raises their hand. “Excellent news,” I say, “that means everyone here is on the main business network. So how many of you have used LinkedIn during the past seven days?”

Most of the hands go down; often, nobody in the room has actually “used” LinkedIn. They are there just as passengers on the network, not taking any kind of active part – and wondering at the same time what the point of their LinkedIn profile is.

Google+_screenshot

Now, a new study of the usage of Google+ has found similar – shocking – results.

According to the research, there are 2.2bn Google+ accounts but only around 5m of these are active, posting information that isn’t just a comment on a YouTube video.

In other words 99.8% of people on Google+ are NOT using it.

That tallies with my ad-hoc measurement of people using LinkedIn – the vast majority of people simply have a profile and do nothing with it.

The social networks themselves can point to billions of people who have an account. But having an account and using it are not the same thing.

Businesses are still trying to understand how they can use social networks to increase sales and profits. The problem would appear to be that these businesses seem to think that all you have to do is create a profile and customers will come running to you.

Like most other things in business you get as much out of something as you put in. If all you put in to your social network is your profile, that’s all you will get out.

If you want to make the most of Google+ or LinkedIn you have to put more in. It means adding to the network on a regular basis, taking part in conversations and engaging with people. If you do that, you will get sales and new business leads. If you don’t do that you may as well go down to the corner of your street and whistle into the wind. It will do you as much good as simply having a profile on a social network.

Social

By Graham Jones on 21st January 2015

Is SEO a myth?

Jigsaw puzzle with word "evidence"There is an old man in Woking, Surrey, who carefully places a bowl of custard outside his front door every night before he goes to bed. For years, people were curious about this until a couple of school children knocked on his door and asked “why do you put a bowl of custard outside your door each night?”. He smiled and said: “It is because of the elephants.” The children looked at him rather puzzled and said “But there are no elephants in Woking.” “So,” the old man said, “it must be working then.”

Of course, this is not a true story, but it shows that we often have unshakable belief in something. The old man puts his bowl of custard out, no elephants arrive, therefore the bowl of custard must be warding off the animals. At least that’s his belief.

We can see unshakable beliefs all around us – indeed, we often have them ourselves. You may be a Christian with the unshakable belief  that Jesus was the son of God. Or you may be Jewish, regarding Jesus as a kind man, but not the son of God. Alternatively, you may be an Atheist, unmoved by the concept of a deity.

Similarly, you might believe that the medicine you take for your illness provides you with a power of good. Yet many people with the same condition get better without that medicine. At the same time, doctors give people placebos – sugar pills that have no impact on a disease – yet people get better because they believe the “drug” is working.

Beliefs are powerful and are part of our everyday lives, helping us to operate in the world according to our “rules”.

Like it or not, SEO is a belief system. There are many people convinced by its power, whereas other people manage to thrive online without giving it a second thought. It is sometimes like the man with the bowl of custard, if you do lots of SEO and you get results, you prove to yourself that it must have been the SEO that achieved those results. It is impossible to think that your belief might be wrong. After all you have the “evidence” that it works. Equally, there are people with the “evidence” that it does not work.

This whole arena of what we believe in has been brought into focus with new psychological research conducted in Toronto, Canada. This looked at what happens when people get evidence that counters their belief system. What would happen, for instance, if there were evidence that businesses achieved online greatness without paying attention to SEO? What would the devoted fans of SEO say?

This research gives us a clue. When people have their beliefs challenged by the evidence, they start to adopt a viewpoint which presents something that cannot be falsified. For instance, the research showed that when people were presented with factual evidence about the positive life outcomes of children from same sex couples the people opposed to same sex marriage decided that the matter should not be decided by evidence, but by opinion. Similarly, when politically motivated people were presented with facts on an issue, they effectively changed their stance to say that the facts were not as relevant as opinions. Of course, you cannot prove an opinion to be untrue – only facts can be verified.

So, when you think about search engine optimisation, the fans will be likely to adopt a position that whether or not it works is down to experience and opinion, when the facts go against them.

For business owners this is important. There are facts on both sides of SEO. There is considerable evidence that SEO works and brings in business. Equally there is evidence that companies do rather well without SEO. Indeed, Google itself produced its own “report card” showing that its own SEO was, frankly, poor. They are not doing too badly in spite of some pretty shabby search engine optimisation of their own. Perhaps what the Google report card demonstrates is that branding is more important than SEO. It’s a thought.

Of course, SEO fans will be unshakable in their belief – the evidence against them from Google’s own SEO report will make them retreat into a viewpoint that is something no-one can say is true or untrue. They will counter any evidence against SEO with opinion, rather than fact.

And therein lies the problem for business owners. When is an SEO company giving you fact and evidence that will show you how your online business can improve and when will the company be providing mere opinion that you cannot verify?

SEO is not a myth; it works and there is plenty of evidence to support it. But equally some of what we are told is mythical and we have to be careful to sort out the truth from the opinion so that we can be sure we are getting the right advice. Thankfully, Google has some advice to help us. But in the meantime, be careful. Not everything SEO firms tell you will be true. Some of it will be unshakable belief, flying in the face of evidence.

Search

By Graham Jones on 20th January 2015

America leads the way on email marketing

American companies are using email marketing techniques much more effectively than companies in Europe. According to a Mailjet study of brands in American and Europe, there were several areas in which firms based in the USA were ahead of their European counterparts.

The study found, for instance, that nine out of ten businesses in the USA were linking email marketing with social media activity, yet this was being done by only a little more than three quarters of European companies. Similarly, in America 93% of companies use split testing of emails, but in Europe that falls to 80%.

America was generally ahead of Europe except in a couple of key areas. In particular, in Germany the inclusion of past customer information in emails to personalise them more was much more prevalent.

Overall, though, it appears that American companies have the edge on those in Europe, adopting email marketing techniques and methods more frequently. These issues, though, are important because they affect email deliverability.

Chart showing email deliverability

The study also found that the email marketers believed that the most important factor in ensuring their emails were delivered was personalisation. Nothing new in that. But second on the list was having a clean email list.

That begs the question how often do you clean out your mailing lists? Ideally that should be a regular task – the more people on your mailing list the more frequently you need to do this.

Interestingly, some of the most frequently asked questions about email marketing – such as how often should you send out email marketing messages and which email company should you use were amongst the least important factors in ensuring deliverability of emails.

The study implies that the most important things to concentrate on are having a clean list of people who you contact in deep, personal ways.

That is by far the best way of getting emails opened – and it is the kind of thing concentrated on by the leading email marketers in this study.

Email

By Graham Jones on 19th January 2015

Social networking means you can “catch” stress

There is increasing evidence that as we use more and more online technology we are becoming more and more obsessed by it. The proportion of people who constantly check their mobile phones for messages or posts from friends is increasing at an alarming rate. Indeed, people are so keen to think they are being communicated with that the majority of phone users receive “phantom buzzes“. This is where they think their phone has vibrated, but it hasn’t; their mind is so geared up to wanting a message it is inventing them all on its own.

Theoretically, this could be linked to stress. The less we feel in control and the more that technology controls us, the more likely we are to be stressed.

There is some evidence that increasing technology use is indeed linked to stress. However, a recent study has revealed an interesting connection between our use of social media technology and our likelihood of having stress.

The research conduced by Pew Internet found that on the whole social networking did not lead to any particular degree of stress. We appear to be taking all the interruptions “in our stride”.

Problems do appear to arise, however, when we see other people online exhibiting stress. We can detect stress in their comments, the images they post and so on.

It turns out that when we see other people showing signs of stress online, we are much more likely to become stressed ourselves.

In other words you can exhibit stress simply because you read something from someone else who is stressed.

Stress is contagious – you can catch it from social networking.

Indeed, for years it has been thought that stress is passed on. In a variety of social settings where anxiety is shown by a small number of people, the surrounding people can increasingly show anxiety. You can witness this in crowd situations where a potential danger is noticed by one or two people, with the anxiety spreading throughout the group. The notion that mood can be passed on from one person to another is nothing new.

However, what this new study shows is that the stress can be passed on through an intermediary – a social network. You no longer need to be present with another person to “catch” their stress or anxiety – you can get it from what they post online.

So what does this mean for us, as users of social networks? It suggests that they are increasing our vulnerability to stress. We are exposing ourselves to a greater likelihood of some kind of stress trigger from the negative emotions of others we engage with online.

Given that stress is linked to fatal conditions such as heart disease and cancer it means that preventing and dealing with stress in our lives is probably more important now than it has ever been in our history.

What does this mean from a practical sense? It means that perhaps we need to set a routine for social media in our lives – looking at it just a few times a day, but not being obsessed by it and checking the networks every five minutes or allowing “notifications” of messages. In other words, we need to manage social networks more, before they manage us.

Internet Psychology

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