RW: I’m pleased to welcome Greg Jarboe to AnswerStage. Greg is president co-founder of SEO-PR. He’s also an author of YouTube and Video Marketing has been featured as one of the people interviewed in the Online Marketing Heroes book and he teaches at Rutgers University and blogs at Reel SEO. Welcome.
GJ: Thank you Rusty.
RW: We’re going to cover quite a few things today but it all the wraps around your work in the areas of SEO and PR. I’ve noticed recently — especially on your tweets — that you’ve been experimenting with Pinterest and that seems like an odd combination to me. Can you explain quickly what led you down that path?
GJ: Well, first of all, congratulations. I thought I was being discreet and that nobody would notice. I think you were the first person to say “hey, you’re doing some weird stuff here.” So congratulations for discovering that. Now I have to shoot you or something! Yes, we have been doing some interesting experiments on Pinterest. And part of those experiments — but I have to confess only part — are being done on my own Pinterest account and part of the reason for that is that I don’t complain if something doesn’t work. If you do those kinds of experiments with a client, many times they’re not as open to trying something different to see what happens. But nevertheless, doing experiments is a way of learning things so when you do sit down with clients you can bring something unique or insightful to the table. It’s our secret sauce.
One of the interesting things that we’ve discovered is something that we discovered — I’m going to say 13 years ago — when we were experimenting with optimizing for Google News and then we learned again a year later when we were optimizing for Yahoo News and then we learned a couple of years after that when we started optimizing for YouTube — is that everybody and their cousin is focused on how the Google algorithm works but what they rarely focus on is how other algorithms work. We learned early on that Google News had a different algorithm than Google. And YouTube had a different algorithm than Google does even though they’re all owned by the same company. Pinterest has a different situation, where obviously it’s a different company, but it too has an algorithm. The name of its algorithm is the Guided Search. It works quite differently too, and to the extent that we understand that, we can take advantage of it in a variety of ways. One of the things that we’ve tried to figure out is how to get a good ranking when someone does a search in Pinterest. Then there’s a second one — the one that’s always out there — the 600 pound gorilla is still Google. If I do a search in Google what kind of universal search results are likely to come up that may or may not show images from Pinterest? We’ve looked at both those parameters and concluded that part of the way you get found in Pinterest is to make sure that you focus on what your description says. But it turns out the other thing that Pinterest is factoring in is how many people repinned your photo. And so Google has more than one element to its algorithm. It looks at how many inbound links you get, and oh by the way, weighs those links differently. Pinterest has that other element to its algorithm too so it turns out repins is one of the key elements of the Pinterest algorithm. Part of the experiments we’ve been doing is figuring out what happens if I write different things about a image. But the other hidden part that may be harder to ferret out is figuring out what kind of images tend to get repinned. And is there ever a situation where some of those images turn up in Google results. So you want me to spill the secret sauce?
RW: Sure. Secret sauce is always tasty.
GJ: Okay so here’s how it works: repins are huge. You and anybody else writing captions on their photos will get you into the game but that’s like saying me and 10,000 other people have also turned up for the game. What separates me from everyone else is going to be that my photo got more repins and yours did so it’s the differentiator. In terms of what contents gets repinned — let me give you just a couple of examples. I’m going to pick Walmart. Let’s do this is sort of a sequence. One of the things that you’ll find is that Pinterest is beating Facebook and Linkedin and YouTube and Twitter when it comes to metric that we call amplification rate which is how many times did something get repinned verses how many times did a video get shared or that LinkedIn post get shared or that Facebook post gets shared or that Twitter tweet get retweeted. We put all of that under the amplification rate metric and we find that Pinterest is beating the others when it comes to, let’s say, Walmart. Secondly, and this is probably more interesting to Walmart, they’re beating Target. They’re getting their content repinned far more frequently than Target does and the kind of content that is getting repinned more frequently than any others are when they put together a visual step-by-step guide which is not the kind of content that most people think about creating.
RW: You mean as one image or a series of images sequenced together?
GJ: Multiple images as step-by-step instruction. If you want to do X, start here. Photo 1. Go here photo 2. Go here photo 3. Go here photo 4. And last but not least — and this blew me away — the best time to upload a new photo to Pinterest particularly for Walmart turned out to be one o’clock in the morning. It was like time out, that’s not just counter-intuitive that’s like Bizarro. When we dug into it I ended up getting the explanation from my daughter-in-law who has two young children. One of them is still breastfeeding and guess when mothers get up in the middle of the night to breastfeed? [RW: 1 o’clock in the morning] And guess what they’re doing? They’ve got their smartphone cruising around and among other things they’re doing some shopping. If they see something they like, they will pin it and they may come back to it later and then make a purchase. But the point is that one in the morning is their prime time for shopping (mind-blowing)… and wait wait wait here’s the punchline…. So all that can help you get found in Pinterest but if you then go do a Google search for photos of Walmart shoppers you’re going to see a bunch of photos at the top of the page. That’s standard. People have been seeing universal search results since 2007. The fact that there are photos in Google search results isn’t something people make note of. What I make note of is the first two photos out of the bunch that are shown are from Pinterest. And it used to be in the old days the most likely source of photos were from blogs or those you could find on Flickr. When we see that the photos are coming from Pinterest then all of the sudden you package that together for the client and say “Ok, everybody and their cousin knows about Google. A small army of people are trying to figure out Facebook. We’re one of the few people around the country who can give you a Pinterest strategy.”
RW: Wow. I didn’t realize that we’d end up in such a different place after asking that question. Let’s move to a related topic. You’ve also done a lot of work with video for SEO. Do you think that video is an essential part of and SEO strategy now or has that changed as more services have emerged?
GJ: If it is not the center part of your strategy then you don’t have a viable strategy these days. As a way of illustrating that, even people who I consider to be relatively neutral on the topic like Cisco are basically saying that ¾ of the internet traffic that they predict over the next several years is going to be video content. And one of the hottest things — whether you’re Google doing your earnings report and talking about YouTube or you’re Facebook doing your earnings report and talking about Facebook video, they’re all talking about mobile video trends. So, yes, it’s another one of those big elephants in the room. If you do not have a mobile video strategy — what century are you working in?
RW: Here’s a little known fact: you and I crossed paths when we were working in Concord and I was working for a video-oriented company. And a question I’ve asked myself (and still haven’t answered) is does your video quality strategy matter? Can do your self-recorded cell phone video and call that a strategy or do you need to have a commitment to higher production values?
GJ: It depends. If you’re going to compete in the music video category, for example, if you do not have high production values you just not in the game because everyone has high production values. If you are in the breaking news end of the spectrum. Guess what? I want to see it now and if you have something that you’ve shot on your cell phone, that’s exclusive, I don’t care what it was shot on. I’m interested in the content. There is a spectrum of answers. And what we have also seen — particularly as we get to the iPhone 6 and Galaxy 6 — is the quality of the video is now, in the case of Samsung, 4K video. The old argument that you need to have a big camera that’s heavy and crew looking around and setting up lighting — all that was true once upon a time. But these days, depending on what you’re doing, 4 times out of 5, your smartphone may be the best answer.
RW: Let’s use that as a jumping off point for going back in time to talk about the more traditional press release. There have been some who have proclaimed its death and others who believe it still matters. Where do you come out on that debate and how do you approach press releases.
GJ: I have to confess that I treat all of this with a level of skepticism. Is the press release going to die someday? Probably. Is it dead yet? No. How do I know? We just did a test for a client, and the good news for this particular client is that instead of feeling proprietary about what they learned is actually Rutgers University where I’m an instructor. They were delighted to make this one public. We just released these results recently. We did a test with a traditional press release written by a PR person who’s a PR professional distributed on one of the major news wires like she would do 5, 10, 15 years ago. I took the same topic and did what we call an optimized release and released it at the same day and time but two weeks later and because we use a variety of different tracking techniques we were able to discover that not only were we able to get more people to read the release in the first two hours compared with the other release, we got more tweets about our release by a factor of 19. 19 to 1. All of that is sort of, well, that’s fine. But the people who were tweeting had 65,000 followers, 45,000 followers, 111,000 followers as opposed to the one tweet for the first one by one person who had 924 followers. So, again, a qualitative as well as quantitative difference. But here’s the punchline because it’s what matters. At the end of the day, the second release got six prospective students to sign up for a class that cost about $5K to register. The first did bupkis. The $30K generated in incremental revenue that could be tracked to the second release. We did this pro bono, but if we had been charging for this campaign it might have cost $2500 but the net net was that we were giving the client a return on their marketing budget that was measurable. So, if the press release is dead, pardon me, we just made money for a client using this old “dead” technique.
RW: Let me take a second to press you on that. You call it an optimized press release but in my mind I am imagining keywords and other things that you thought through deeply, but it probably also came out through your twitter account or other account and there may have been a network effect that the other release didn’t have.
GJ: If I had tweeted about it, then I’d say yes, but that’s not what happened. I’m interested in these tests myself. Let’s go back to the key here: the headline for the unoptimized release was “Rutgers offers next generation supply chain strategy program”. Now, I don’t know about you but if I read the headline, I fall asleep about halfway through. But that’s OK. It’s straight-forward. We did some keyword research and we used keyword research as market research — in other works “what are people interested in?” and , yes, you need to put the keywords in the right places, but it really helps to know ahead of time what lights up people’s scoreboards. We found that one of the biggest keywords was “internet of things” and that wasn’t even in the headline of the first release. It wasn’t until the second paragraph that you discovered that’s what this course was going to focus on. The optimized press release starts off with “Internet of Things, impact on supply chain, explored by Rutgers Business School, executive education mini MBA program.” So, we started off with the most powerful search term first and we actually end up writing a longer headline which, wait wait, why’d you do that? It turns out that your headline can be very long. When you write a short headline you’re leaving keywords out of the headline which don’t help you in the ranking. So, we’re not just competing on the number one term we’re also competing for absolutely relevant terms later on like Rutgers Business School. When you only say Rutgers in a headline and someone searches for Rutgers Business School — you don’t get found.
Here’s Greg’s presentation of the results of this test on Slideshare:
RW: I’m glad I asked the follow-up question. That’s a great illustration of the use of keywords.
Let’s wrap up with something that almost reflects back to the first question and that is taking what you’re creating and publishing it in many different places and measuring how that affects the impact of your content. There are services such as Medium, Linkedin, your own blog, Twitter and other places. Do you take an approach where you try to post content in as many places as possible or do you try to thread a few together in a logical way and recommend to focus on two or three?
GJ: We do try to focus, but it’s not generally on two or three. We usually try to focus on six or seven. There is an element of focus in what we do, but it’s a slightly larger number. The reason we choose six or seven is because no client has an infinite budget to go forth and be like a daisy and go crazy and try everything. You do need to focus on what works, but it turns out what works is not a small number. What works tends to be a medium size number.
RW: Do you have a quick guideline for which services work for which types of companies? I meant to ask you this about Pinterest. Is there quick kind of company that makes it easy to say “this is where you have to be?”
GJ: Yes. Pinterest is still far more of a b2c company than it is b2b. We’ve done some experimentation with Pinterest for b2b and it just doesn’t quite work yet. Part of that is the demographics of Pinterest users and their interests. And part of it is photos of GE engines don’t seem to be quite as compelling as fashion photos. So, yes, different things work for different kinds of clients. LinkedIn is our top performing social media platform for b2b. YouTube is our best overall — working in b2b and b2c. When we put together a strategy for a client we start with “who’s your customer first” and then start recommending platforms rather than start with a template of five social media platforms that we’re going to use every time.
RW: Great to spend time with you. I appreciate thee insights you’ve shared — especially the “special sauce.” I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us on AnswerStage and hope to see you again soon.
Here’s the full AnswerCast, interview on Soundcloud.