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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.




Restaurant Shares Shocking Results - Tale of the Tape

A recent rant on Craig's list by a popular New York City restaurant illustrates the dramatic way consumer's are changing. 

The story starts with a restaurant that noticed an increase in customer complaints on review sites related to slow service and long table wait times. A consulting group was called in that quickly blamed the wait and kitchen staff for slow service and inefficiency.

Luckily, the same restaurant had some video surveillance footage from July 2004. They then compared the footage to digital video taken in July 2014.  The date selected for comparison had roughly the same number of customers (45) to keep comparisons simple.

Behavior of Restaurant Customers in 2004:

Customers walk in and are seated with menus. 3 request a new table.

Customers order in 8 minutes.

Appetizers are served in 6 minutes.

Waiters are attentive and professional.

Customers leave 5 minutes after receiving check.

Time: 1 hour 5 minutes

Behavior of Restaurant Customers in 2014:

18 of 45 customers request new table.

Phones come out before menus are opened.

7 of 45 customers showed waiters something on phone waisting 5 minutes of waiters time (asked about WiFi service in restaurant)

Waiters visited table, but customers had not opened menu yet, busy with phones

Waiters return a second time asking for order, customers ask for more time.

Time to order: 21 minutes

Food starts to be delivered in 6 minutes, same as 2004

Customers spend 3 minutes taking pics of food

14 of 45 customers take pics of food and each other

9 of 45 customers need food reheated, since it gets cold during pic taking

Customers get busy with phones after eating

20 minutes pass before check is requested when compared to 2004

Once check is delivered it takes 15 minutes longer for them to pay and leave due to focus on phones

Start to Finish Times:

2004: 1 hour 5 minutes

2014: 1 hour 55 minutes

Link to original transcript of study.

Lessons Learned for Restaurant Marketers:

  1. Mobile is changing behavior in unexpected ways.
  2. While lingering customers are a problem, it can also be an opportunity.
  3. Longer customer occasions introduce opportunities for new menu food and drink items; before the order is placed, and after the check is presented
  4. Realities of customer behavior may have new solutions. The restaurant could provide menus before customers are seated, and ask for orders earlier.
  5. Picture taking opens up opportunities for "from table" social media. Are food items presented in a "picture worthy" way?






Consumer Adoption of mPayment Methods a Slow Go


Google Wallet LogoGoogle Wallet Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The mobile payments market place remains stuck on the wrong side of the chasm as consumers balk at mass adoption until the value proposition is clarified. The mobile payments arena continues to be characterized by a hodgepodge of players, each vying for the attention of merchants and consumers. In a classic chicken and egg scenario, consumers are vying away from payment options that can be used at a limited number of retailers while merchants are concerned with making an investment too early in the wrong technology.


According to a PwC study on mobile phone payments, only 5% of consumers have adopted the technology. For any "Crossing the Chasm" fans, 5% is at the edge of the chasm, with penetration into new markets needed before the technology can move forward. It will be interesting to see which platform prevails including the wireless carrier solution called ISIS, Google Wallet, Apple Passbook, Square, Paypal many others. Retailers are also getting into the act with a payment consortium of their own.


Image representing PayPal as depicted in Crunc...Image via CrunchBase

The key to all of this will be the ability of any of the players to develop a value proposition which emphasizes the ease and convenience of use, along with other potential benefits such as rewards or cash back. Other benefits will include a seamless integration of offers that enhance the buying experience at specific retailers such as incentives that are text messaged the moment a consumer walks into a store.


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Unprepared CMOs Last Longer


AccentureAccenture (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two pieces of news came out this month on the state of the Chief Marketing Officer. First the good news... according to Advertising Age and Spencer Stuart, CMO tenure has more than doubled from 23 months to 45 months. Now the bad news. A new Accenture study claims that 4 in 10 Chief Marketing Officers say they do not have the right people, tools, and resources to meet their marketing objectives. So, research shows that there is a strong correlation between being unprepared and keeping your job; a real turn of events for marketers that prided themselves on being prepared as they were summarily fired.


The Reality of the CMO

CMO's operate in a complex and accountable environment. Fortunately, all of this responsibility has contributed to a higher level of transparency and importance. Take Facebook as an example. The CEO can now touch the brand by visiting the Facebook page, by watching the Like counts grow and by reading posts that express the true relationship between consumers and the brand.  It also demonstrates how the brand and the customer relationship are the responsibility of the entire enterprise, not just the CMO. If that isn't enough, measured media can draw a straight line between revenue and marketing driven sales contribution.

The CMO Challenge

In terms of CMO's feeling unprepared, this is a direct result of the need to improve operational effectiveness and test new marketing channels. The role of the CMO in aggregate hasn't changed deliver and optimize workflows that make a measurable contribution to the business. What has changed dramatically is the number of marketing channels that require unique expertise and a technology investment, not to mention integration with existing systems. The challenge is to validate these channels within a time frame that doesn't test the patience of the Executive Team. With every new channel comes risk for the CMO due to required incremental resources on staff and technology.

Unfortunately, while most marketers see a new channel as the equivalent of giving birth to a baby that requires care and upbringing, the CFO views every channel as an adult that can be judged within the fiscal year.  The result of all this is a drop of 5% in the number of CMOs that feel prepared vs. the 2011 Accenture study.

The Case for Marketing Demand Systems

Luckily, there is a solution to the CMO paradox of longevity and being unprepared. Firms like MMB Marketing Demand Systems are offering CMO's fully optimized workflows that can be immediately used to test new marketing channels at a fraction of the cost associated with building internal capabilities. Marketing channels such as social, organic search (and content marketing), paid digital media and CRM can be tested using these types of solutions on a trial basis. Results can be used to justify an in-house investment, or to continue with an outsourced solution.

This type of approach benefits the CMO in several ways including the ability to minimize the size of the internal marketing staff and technology investment while aligning marketing expenses with clear outcomes. It also protects the CMO from being associated with high internal staffing costs during times of organizational change. Answering questions and internal probes become a conversation around where investments were deployed and the associated results.

The new world of the CMO is one where every new channel is tested and optimized outside of the enterprise. Without the burden of staff and technology, the CMO can be nimble in the way they turn on and off various initiatives. Internal costs never become an issue, while external investments are completely aligned with outcomes. This approach will not only help the CMO survive, but once again become prime candidates for CEO.



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What We Searched for in 2012


 According to Time Magazine students are more likely to remember where information is saved then to remember the information itself. Search is changing the nature of how we learn, how we think, and to all the organic search enthusiasts out there, how we write. Search is also a time capsule of our culture as depicted in this video on what we searched for in 2012.

From What we Searched for in 2012 to The Rogue Marketer Home Page
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Value Capture Marketing to Replace Views and Likes

Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase

Whether you are a B to B or Consumer marketer, understanding how the principles of value capture marketing can be used to your advantage can be the difference between a successful program and one that fails to deliver the required ROI.

 For brands, this often stops at collecting clicks, views, impressions or shares.  While these metrics have some value, they will constantly be challenged by those managers that will only buy into hard metrics such as revenue. The good news is that most marketing programs offer many opportunites to capture value. 

For example, when placing a video on YouTube, why not end the video with some type of incentive that will encourage the viewer to provide some identifiable information such as an email address. Why not go even further and offer a coupon that can measure purchase, then a reward for providing referrals, or anything else that provides a clear path for the consumer or prospect.  In the case of B to B, a simple white paper is all it takes to move someone from anonymity to known.

With each email collected, a brand is obtaining the name of a potential customer that at minimum showed interest in a particular product or service.  Now let's say you collect 100,000 or 1,000,000 of these names.  Would you rather have 1,000,000 "Likes" or 1,000,000 names.  

Even with "Likes" why not market to the "Likes" so that you can attach real value to each person that has expressed int

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...Image via CrunchBase

erest in the brand. As Gina Sverdlov notes in the Forrester research blog, their "Facebook Factor" research shows that individuals that "Like" a brand are significantly more likely to purchase. Now what if these "Likes" are incented to download a coupon, or take some other action that identifies them as brand interested.  Any incentive such as loyalty points, coupons, books, virtual currently etc. can work to engage with this self selected audience to yield greater value for the brand.

Determining how to capture and increase the yield from value captured from a succession of customer interactions  is sure to increase the batting average of any marketer. Value capture marketing promises to transform programs that traditionally rely on soft metrics such as Likes and Views to one that delivers real measurable value to marketers.

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The Irrationality of Choice when Thinking Fast and Slow

Think fastThink fast (Photo credit: freddie boy)

As marketers, we often rely more on instinct and perceptions of experience than rational thought. Marketers justify this type of decision making by convincing ourselves that when predicting the future, it's difficult to use the past or historical fact. Analysts on the other hand use historical fact and data as the only basis for decision making.  They introduce a bias that often causes organizations to not see what is happening around them.  This is how companies such as Folger's Coffee miss dramatic changes in a market, such as the coffee revolution sparked by a company like Starbucks.

In the book "Thinking Fast and Slow" , Daniel Kehneman demonstrates how bias influences decision making and how our minds are subject to systematic errors. As we all understand, but rarely consider, intuitive preferences consistently violate the rules of rationale choice. For example, if you like Ford cars, are you more likely to purchase Ford Stock, even if the stock isn't the best rational choice?  

The notion of "Thinking Fast and Slow" refers to two systems in the mind, system 1 and 2. System 1 operates quickly without voluntary control, while system 2 are subject to the amount of concentration and reasoning you apply to a problem.  For example, the author points our that system 2 applies to what we think of ourselves, while system 1 is the snap judgement we make when viewing others. Another example is the bias to act on an immediate emotional reaction, even when you are manipulated, instead of assuming or understanding that in fact you were manipulated into a decision, resulting in an error of judgement.

"We can  be blind to the obvious, and we can be also blind to our blindness"

The book also explores the two dimensions of ourselves, the experiencing self, and the remembering self, which as noted by the writer, "do not have the same interests." For example, "what makes the experiencing self happy, may not make the remembering self happy."  Another important point is that we are much better at recognizing mistakes in others, than spotting errors of judgement made by ourselves.

"Thinking Fast and Slow " is helpful in developing a higher degree of self awareness and promises to have a positive direct effect on your ability to formulate and execute marketing programs. 


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Affiliate Summit West Sends 2012 Off to a Fast Start

Company logoImage via Wikipedia

I've been a bit remiss in providing some thoughts and highlights coming out of Affilate Summit West 2012 (January 8 - 10 in Las Vegas). For those not familiar with the Summit, it's a biannual conference where performance marketers (translation: people that actually do the work to directly earn money that pays the mortgage) get together to share thoughts, ideas and to get a general sense of where we are all heading.  Everyone in attendance uses a different approach, but all are centered around new models for lead generation, conversion and retention.

As was the case at past Summits, we are at yet another inflection point in marketing where the tactics of the past are giving way to opportunities created by the communications channels of the next 12 months. Each channel alone and in combination offers an infinite number of possible communications and revenue models that can be leveraged via either a highly focused or broad based multi-channel approach.  As is always the case in marketing, those that take the time to learn faster, and then act with a test, read and role mentality can win, while those that cling to older models are destined to fail.  

Of course, the other benefit of going to Summit is to learn about new networks and tools that can be placed into your CPA, CPC, PPC, SEO, Social Media and any other toolbox.  This includes some innovative work being done by Sterkly, a company that is offering an interesting combination of software and affiliate offers that work alongside popular destination sites such as YouTube.  There were also great presentations by Vinny O'Hare on that state of SEO, Robert Adler on link building and the famous Jeremy Schoemaker who provided an insightful keynote on the potential of the performance industry.

Affiliate Summit West was a sellout for good reason and it's why the upcoming Affiliate Summit East conference scheduled for August 12-14, 2012 will be even bigger.

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AOL Patch A Hidden Gem

Image representing AOL as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase

I'm going to place a bet right here, right now that the breakout web content property of the year is going to be the AOL owned  Patch what might you ask. is comprised of local sites, edited by professional writers, who pull together local news on the town or village level (population size 15 - 100K)  For example, there was a traffic accident on the road in front of my house in the 36,000 resident village of Plainview,  N.Y..  The Plainview Patch had pictures, a well written description and details on what occurred.  In fact, only Patch covered the accident.  The same for the gas leak in the local Chinese restaurant and coverage of various events around town.  The coverage was high quality, appeared quickly after the event happened and provided just enough detail to keep you interested.

When my wife opens her AOL, the Patch screams the news of the neighborhood. Literally our neighborhood, as in down the block.

While I can't speak to the economics of this hyper local coverage, it's incredibly addictive.  After all, once you get past world news, national news etc, what you really care about is what's happening in your little corner of the world.  In an era where any writer can carry a quality camera, Patch reporters are defining the future of journalism.  It's local, it's next door and it's high quality. will be the content phenomenon of the next 12 months. With 50% of all advertising revenues considered to be local, the Patch is going to grow quickly.

Huffington Post and Yahoo move aside, the Patch is where the action is and it's the start of where AOL will rebuild their content franchise.







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How Not to Fail

Image representing Seth Godin as depicted in C...Image via CrunchBase

Seth Godin has a great list of questions/project goals that can be used by any successful person to define a project.  I'm going to use them for a presentation I'm giving tomorrow:

  1. Whenever possible, take on specific projects.
  2. Make detailed promises about what success looks like and when it will occur.
  3. Engage others in your projects. If you fail, they should be involved and know that they will fail with you.
  4. Be really clear about what the true risks are. Ignore the vivid, unlikely and ultimately non-fatal risks that take so much of our focus away.
  5. Concentrate your energy and will on the elements of the project that you have influence on, ignore external events that you can't avoid or change.
  6. When you fail (and you will) be clear about it, call it by name and outline specifically what you learned so you won't make the same mistake twice. People who blame others for failure will never be good at failing, because they've never done it.



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