Guest Appearance on Search with Candour Podcast (2022)

Listen to my appearance on the Search with Candor Podcast on how to turn brands into digital publishers. Thank you to host Jack Chambers-Ward for an engaging discussion on our company Brainchild, and how we turn content developed at scale into a competitive advantage and an ever-green source of site visitors and leads. It’s an honor to be a guest on my go to search Podcast that I listen to at the start of every week.



Marketing Through the Coronavirus Pandemic

Is it just me, but do marketing messages feel out of step with our current reality?

United States Secretary of the Treasury Steven Menuhin is projecting up to 20% unemployment. Stocks are falling along with interest rates. Experts project several months of sheltering in place with a possible rebound in the fall. Average Americans are worried about their jobs and extended family.

But on TV last night I saw that my bank is open late and filled with happy people.... not practicing social distancing. A major Italian restaurant chain has new entrees and unlimited breadsticks.... if you dare go in to pick them up.  There is a new shampoo that locks in essential oils...if you don't mind picking up a virus on your way to the store.  And this pandemic is entirely under control....despite all news reports. I'm being a bit melodramatic and extreme, but you get the point. Marketing messages that were persuasive yesterday will no longer be effective when the context within which those messages are interpreted changes.

So how do marketers adjust our messaging to help people through the pandemic?

First, we need to reconsider the role our product or service plays in the lives of the consumer. What is the prevailing relationship structure between you and the consumer? Is your company acting in a way that is consistent with that relationship? Generic messages regarding we are "here for you in this time of uncertainty" is very reassuring from my primary care physician, but seem way out of place from a retailer or vacation destination. If you are the friend/expert where I turn for advice when buying insurance, there was never a better time than now to provide that advice.

Next, we need to understand the personal paradoxes our customers are trying to negotiate, and how products and services act as a solution or compromise to those opposing forces. In this environment, two paradoxes that rise to the top of my list are:

  • The fight against mortality while we try and achieve immortality
  •  The quest for security in an insecure world

Most of what we purchase and do are part of the battle to attain lasting immortality. We spend a tremendous amount of time and energy on staying healthy and looking younger. Now we shelter in place and as parents suppress the instinct to wrap our children in bubble wrap so that they are protected from any rogue virus vapor.

We negotiate security and insecurity by buying insurance, keeping our money in a bank, and protecting our family with doorbells that video strangers.  Today we do that by hoarding toilet paper, Advil, and any other supplies that may disappear from store shelves.

So what do you do as a marketer? An excellent place to start is to review messages and related images in the context of the current environment. Look at search data to see what consumers are searching for as it relates to your business. For example, in the insurance industry, trending searches include coronavirus and disability insurance, life insurance, and business interruption insurance. (as an aside don't be surprised by a drop in organic search activity in general as shown in the table below).



Review all messages for consistency with the current environment. Pull TV commercials that show people dancing, eating at a restaurant, or shaking hands. Look for opportunities to tastefully replace these messages with communications that reduce anxiety, improve personal security, and promote the struggle for immortality.

Insurance companies and financial services companies, in particular, have an unprecedented opportunity to change how they market. Is your life insurance company not only solvent but willing to help you achieve even higher levels of security by reviewing your financial plan in light of a potential recession or depression? Can your bank step in and provide some mortgage relief? Is your veterinarian providing the latest information on the possibility that pets can contract Covid-19?

Look for opportunities to be heroic. How great would it be for a cable company to open up all blocked channels, so people have something to watch this weekend? Should cell phone providers give students unlimited data as they attempt to connect to schools? 

To be clear, I'm not advocating that companies exploit a terrible circumstance. What I am suggesting is that those companies that step up and help the consumer manage through these times but will be building their brand and customer relationships.




Click Bait Headlines You Don't Want To Miss

I was recently asked to write some quick headlines designed to attract interest in a tech development company. It was an interesting challenge since you are immediately faced with the desire to attract clicks vs. the need to communicate the value proposition of the company. We have all seen click-bait headlines that look like this:




The fear is that if you lean on "click bait" where the main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page with little regard to the content on that web page, you will ultimately not deliver on the KPIs associated with that program (engagement, video views, PDF  downloads, form fills, lead referrals etc.).

 My small revelation is that the best banner ads do both and that the art of doing so is as old as the advertising industry.

Most banners get to the point and hope they catch your attention:



Nothing wrong with this approach, particularly when retargeting an interested audience or if you have a well optimized AI profile driving audience selection.

I find that the banners that do best tend to blend being clear with some level of intrigue or click bait.



Which led to the revelation that all of this is nothing new. Take these classic headlines:

“How does a snowplow driver get to work? The answer will surprise you.”

“Bet you can’t guess what the one thing you’ll hear inside a Rolls-Royce is.”

“Six people that achieved international fame from thinking differently.”

“How these hipster dudes greet each other is hilarious and contagious.”

Source: Adweek

So I guess in the end, what is old is new again. Now read the next post for some insight into "how your brand budget is in danger and the metrics to defend it." :)







Using Search to Measure The Impact of Above the Line Brand Advertising Campaigns

At Brainchild we are commonly part of a larger team tasked with launching brand advertising campaigns using channels such as television, print, radio or outdoor. The challenge is demonstrating the impact of these campaigns on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) such as leads and revenue.
One approach is to attack the problem from multiple angles using search.
To do this consider the following tactics:
1) Benchmark overall organic search traffic for the 90 days prior to the brand campaign launch.  If the  campaign is running in distinct DMAs or geographies, further segment by the areas where the campaign will air. Since advertising would probably generate searches for a particular brand, the home page of the brand's website can serve as a proxy for a landing page. Using the home page is also necessary since 99% of organic search keywords are not available in Google Analytics data. 
2) Benchmark total organic clicks, impressions, CTR (click through rate) and position for a "market basket" of the top branded queries (e.g.; brand name + model car) for 90 days before the campaign launch. This data can be pulled from the Google Search Console, one of the few places where you can get keyword level data. This data cannot be segmented by geography but will be indicative of any pre/post changes. 
3)  Benchmark the full list of landing pages from organic search traffic for the 90 days before the campaign launch. Further segment by any geographies as indicated above. 
4) Consider running a paid search campaign in test markets one week before the launch of the brand campaign. Include at a minimum, the five most popular branded queries set to exact match.  This would provide a data set to compare to the data coming out Search Console, and would allow you to be sure you could accurately measure a lift in branded queries post brand launch.  Also put that same branded campaign live in a non-test market as a control over the same time periods.  Paid search also is immune to any algorithm changes that could affect organic search data.
Data would be analyzed for all of the above pre and post brand launch in order to measure any corresponding lift in traffic, click through rates and revenue. If available, data from the same time period can be used for any required seasonality adjustments.

2018 SEO, One of the Best Years or Challenging Years Ever?

What is needed to execute a successful 2018 organic search program is not a mystery.  The best practices are widely known with many outlined below. The challenge is the ability to execute against these best practices while keeping an eye toward the accelerating rate of change in the Google search algorithm and in how people search. 

As a white hat practitioner, my goal is always to produce high-quality keyword or thematically targeted content that is coded, formatted and executed in a way that exceeds the quality offered by the competition. Here are some quick thoughts on how to execute a winning organic search plan followed by some of the emerging challenges in the way Google is presenting content and advertising in the search results.

What is Working in 2018

Rank Brain, Googles AI Algorithm, Is About As Smart As a Third Grade Student

Google is getting very specific about the types of content that should appear for a particular keyword search. For example, someone looking for car insurance wants the names of local insurance agents. Another person that queries "car insurance plans" is interested in comparing features and benefits across companies. Google is getting really good at matching search intent to content delivery.

Carefully research the types of content Google is showcasing before executing any content plan.

Organize content into Google Snacks

Search results are often organized around blocks of content called snippets or the knowledge graph. These are a short question and answer blocks that feed sections of the search results. The goal is to appear in the "position 0" snippet which is above the organic search results. 

Use tools such as to discern the top queries or snacks for any search.


Content Must Be Semantically Relevant

  • Longer is better with no less than 895 words.
  • Make good use of headlines, sub-heads, internal links and external links
  • Add a table of content to boost engagement
  • Check content vs. the top 10 results with tools such as

Links Count

While Google keeps on stating that these are of declining importance, I do not believe it. Links count if they are from high-quality sites AND if there is traffic moving through those links.

Social Has Influence

Social shares are less important than the quality of the profiles where the shares occur.  If an Influencer shares your content it counts.


Speed Matters

53% of consumers will abandon a site if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load (source: Google, 2018)

Write Longer Descriptions

Most organic search descriptions are now around 330 characters. Use the space to reinforce why a visitor should click on the result while including the semantically related keywords that speak to the search engine.

The net takeaway is simple. Produce great content that exceeds the expectations of visitors and that is better (quality, engagement, length) than the competition.

2018 Organic Search Challenges

While the rules of engagement for organic ranking are clear, search ranking is becoming more challenging for those topics where Google is reducing the amount of real estate dedicated to organic search. Topics such as travel and any search with a clear shopping intent are slowly being reduced in favor of Google produced content.

Mobile Results Do Not Look Like Desktop Results

Take the search for flu on mobile.

First Screen (all advertising)


 2nd Screen (via scroll)

3rd Screen


4th Screen:

IMG_0527 (1)


Organic results do not appear until the searcher scrolls to the 4th screen. Since Google has determined that the content above the organic results have higher relevance, the number of people seeking an organic result is significantly lower. Every search term has a different dynamic. In this case, if targeting the word "flu" a paid approach would probably make more sense.

Voice Search is Rocketing Higher

Voice search is being integrated into devices across the Internet of Things. Amazon Echo, Google Assistant, and other devices are influencing how to think about search. According to ComScore, 50% of all searches will be by voice by 2020. Other estimates show that 40% of adults use voice search at least 1x a day (Location World).

Google Content Replacing Publisher Content

Google is replacing organic search results with content developed by Google. Just type a city name into Google and select travel guide.


Or a job search:



The good news is that Google is better at discerning the meaning of content and why it should rank. The bad news is that the amount of real estate dedicated to organic search is shrinking and promises to get even smaller. Factors like voice make organic even more challenging for marketing teams to succeed in this channel.

Regardless, every marketer should be identifying and tracking the bundle of keywords that align with the KPIs of the business. When executing a search plan, a portfolio of paid and organic can be used to optimize a company's search presence.




How to Post on Instagram from Mac Desktop

Instagram wasn't designed to post from the Mac desktop to Instagram. However, there is a way to get it done without too much effort.

How to Post on Instagram from Mac

  1. Go to using the Safari browser and Login to your account

  2. Open Safari and click Safari (upper left corner of screen) > Preferences > Advanced


  3. Check  "Show Develop Menu in bar"


  4. Close this and go to:  Develop (in the top nav) > User Agent > Safari - IOS 10 - iPhone


  5. The Instagram site will reload or manually refresh the site. 

  6. Click the camera icon on the bottom and a window should open asking you to select the picture you would like to upload to Instagram.  

  7. Review the preview of the image, edit, add a caption and then click Share.

Can You Embed Video in Email?

Every month I get a question from clients regarding the ability to embed video in email HTML templates. Unfortunately, the answer is that you cannot when using most email clients.

For the vast majority of desktop, tablet and mobile email clients, the answer is no, even with HTML 5. 


I found this chart from Email on Acid (they also supply all of the HTML code) that does a good job laying out the state of video support in email. From a market share perspective, about half of emails sent can support playback within the email client and a half cannot. Developers should code html so that the default image displays in any client that does not support video, particularly since some clients will display the video player, but the video is unplayable, creating confusion.

Net, the idea to embed video in email is still a bad idea unless targeting Apple Mail and Samsung Galaxy customers specifically that use the native mail applications of those platforms.



Cutting Edge Website Visitor Analytics

These web analytics platforms are leading the industry in helping marketers understand user behavior. They are all geared toward quickly providing actionable insights without advanced knowledge of how to set up an analytics platform.

Full Story - Cutting edge platforms for tracking user visits to web sites. Perfect session replay tells you everything you want to know about your customer’s online experience. Capture every click, swipe, and scroll.

Heap Analytics - Heap automates away the annoying parts of user analytics. No manual event tracking. No messy tracking plans. No custom ETL pipelines.

Mix Panel - Deeply understand every user's journey with instant insights for everyone on mobile and the web. Makes it easier to get actionable answers quickly.

GoogleBot Crawl Strategy for SEO

One important facet of Search Engine Optimization is understanding the depth and frequency of the GoogleBot crawl. Said another way, there are strategies for maximizing the number of pages indexed or crawled by the search engines. This is particularly important for sites that are not frequently updated, that do not focus on recent news or those that are 1,000 pages or more.

While at it, it would also be a good idea to review your server log files to ensure that campaigns are being crawled correctly, that traffic sources are being attributed to the right place and that any acquisition data is being properly tracked.

What is a server log file?

A server log file is a file that contains every request for a file from a server. It includes the requested URL, IP address, date and time of the request.

What do we care about server log files?

The log files indicate when a site has been crawled, access problems and any errors to name a few.  The log files contain the response codes such as 200, which means that there was a problem with page access.


 Here are some helpful resources to understand how to address both the crawl and server log issue:

Heat Map Software Alternatives to Google Analytics

I wanted to share some thoughts on Google's in-page analytics feature via email. In my experience, in-page analytics has always been super buggy, and I've never been able to get a lot of value out of it. That said, I'm definitely a fan of heat map analysis, and even more so, session recording services. 
There are two very affordable alternatives that are recommended over Google's in-page analytics. They're significantly more stable, and provide way more value.
FullStory (, which has a free 14-day trial, lets you easily record, replay, search, and analyze each user's actual experience with your website. They accurately sell it as a "super-searchable DVR for all customer interactions." Since it records every single interaction that happens on every page without having to add any additional event tracking code (similar to how Heap Analytics and Mixpanel's new Autotrack features work), you can search through every user recording and isolate specific recordings based on a user's action. For example...  you could say you only wanted to review session recordings where someone downloaded a specific PDF file, played a specific video, or filled out a specific form. Then you could watch those recordings and see how those people came to your site to begin with (from search, email, referral, direct, etc.) and watch how they eventually performed the event you're interested in. When it comes to answering questions about user experience, it's super helpful to be able to watch people's actual sessions vs. looking at aggregate data in Google Analytics and then attempting to infer behavior.
HotJar ( is another super affordable service that provides user session recording in addition to heat maps, form analytics, funnel reporting, etc. Its session recording features aren't quite as powerful as FullStory (not as easy to search through the recordings based on specific events), but it gives you the other features mentioned above that FullStory does not. They offer a 15-day free trial, and have a plan that costs $89/mo for up to 2,000,000 pageviews per day, more than enough for most marketers.
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