Are You in the Organic Search Game?

Successful organic SEO programs are in many ways like winning basketball teams. The players must know how to execute the fundamentals. They must be willing to make rapid changes of direction and evaluate the risk accompanying every shot taken.

the search game is like basketballSuccessful organic SEO programs are in many ways like winning basketball teams. The players must know how to execute the fundamentals. They must be willing to make rapid changes of direction and evaluate the risk accompanying every shot taken.

I refereed high school basketball for about 15 years and can assure you that the very best teams, even those with tremendous talent on the floor, don’t just roll the ball out and play. That type of game is reserved for playground pick-up games. The best teams protect the ball as they move it down the court, work the ball on the offensive end, and look for the open shot. They have scripted offenses and clear defensive schemes. Today’s game has placed a lot of emphasis on the three-point shot, but even the best three-point shooters are more likely to miss at that range than the player making an at-the-rim slam dunk.

SEOs don’t get many open rim shots, so we must constantly look for the best shot.

Game Plan

The best search teams focus on the making sure that the fundamental elements of organic search are properly executed.

  • Are all key pages optimized?
  • Is there a consistent formula for stress-free optimization?
  • Can new pages be added seamlessly?
  • Is there a clearly articulated content creation scheme?

That is the equivalent of good ball-handling. Nimble SEO teams have in place the processes that let them move the SEO ball, their site optimization, down the court without dribbling it off of their foot.

With the complexity of today’s sites, making sure that the procedures are in place to ensure consistent high-quality initial optimization is an essential and complex task. As an SEO consultant, I have encountered a number of organizations where the essential routines for optimization are not codified and the processes are ad hoc. These organizations are playing the equivalent of pick-up ball with their SEO.

Execution

Just like today’s basketball defenses, search engines have evolved from easy-to-manipulate to very complex multi-layered technologies. Every successful search marketer has to be able to evaluate the impact each new change will have on their site and then adjust.

  • Is it worth the cost and effort to make the site secure?
  • How deep should the commitment be to mobile optimization?
  • What about making improvements to site speed?

Making the decisions that go into these are analogous to working the ball on offense. Not every team can run-and-gun. Each must work to their own strengths. It is easy to be driven off-track by the newest shiny object and lose sight of the overall goal: more qualified traffic.

Post-Game Review

College basketball uses a shot clock, and teams on offense sometimes let valuable seconds on the clock tick away while they seem to aimlessly move the ball around. With no time left, they either turn the ball over or put up a bad shot. They either had no real plan or could not adjust to the defense.

Google, in particular, usually signals major changes with enough time to allow site owners to react. The search marketing team must read the defense and adjust. When a major change is hinted, you and your search team are on the clock. Plan your offense early and know that the clock is ticking. If you do, then you will get your shot off with plenty of time left on the clock.

Evaluating, revisiting and tweaking your optimization will ensure more open shots and slam dunks. Your evaluation should be holistic, the site audit process is broadly used. This will uncover weaknesses and areas that may need immediate attention. Highly specific actions should focus on areas where minimal effort will yield large gains.

Creation of optimized content and re-optimization of individual pages can be very specific and result in almost immediate traffic boosts. These are your slam dunks. They only come from using your analytical tools in concert with a well thought-out game plan.

Just like basketball, search is competitive. Don’t just roll the ball out. Build a team and a plan that makes your search team a winner.

Scrappy Soccer Girls Teach a Critical Loyalty Lesson

More than anything, we marketers must learn the power of creating a team with our customers, and executing on every level — sales, service and customer support.

Jeanette blog, team pic: COPA Girls #1 2016 hugThe girls on the sideline were pacing, biting their nails and glancing at the competition warming up on the field. It had been their dream soccer season, and now it was all on the line. A handful of scrappy girls with little experience had formed a team in a local community league and had surprised all who knew them, even themselves. They were playing championship finals for two different age groups on this hot Colorado day.

With barely enough girls to field a team, they had invited three girls from the local travel soccer club to join their roster. Most spectators expected those three club girls, all starters on the top team in their community, to run circles around their less experienced teammates and dominate all of the games. But instead, they did just the opposite. They didn’t constantly hog the ball to see how many goals they could rack up, only pass to each other, or get frustrated when a teammate lost the ball or missed her mark. Instead, they cheered for their teammates, passed to the open player no matter who it was and encouraged the other girls with little focus in life to shoot, take risks and see what they could do. They celebrated every effort.

Off of the field, they chatted together about their goals, dreams and challenges. They became friends. On the field, they beat every team, except last year’s champions who had recruited three of the best players from another club team to help them win again. Now they would face them twice in one day for the two championships. They were nervous and intimidated as the reigning champions lined up. These girls wanted the title for themselves and their coach, a young minority mother who was struggling like their own parents did.

In Game 1, they started off timid, falling behind 0–1. Just after half time, they scored. Confidence came back and they played like never before. They ran, rushed, headed, blocked, stayed on their marks, talked and passed to each other, cheered each other on and won, holding the other team to only penalty points.

Game 2 was an hour later. Hot and tired but fired up from their surprise victory, they took the field, trusting and believing in each other. They were up 2–0, again holding off some of the community’s top scorers who didn’t get the power of “team.” Those other recruited girls refused to pass to their less experienced teammates, blamed them when they themselves lost the ball or got a shot blocked. When they couldn’t score, they suddenly kept falling down by the goal, “injured,” getting free kicks just to recover miraculously after the easy goals, which enabled them to tie up the game and take it to penalty kicks.

The pressure was intense. Winning this second game was just as important to this team who were also fighting for their coach’s chance to shine and get her dream job with the local club. The goalie took her spot, feeling the heat and the heart for her team. She bounced up and down with the shrewd focus of a pro. And she did it. She blocked penalty kicks with a single fist, lunging, stretching and reaching heights she never knew she could in order to give her team that second victory.

Stunned, these girls kept asking themselves if they were dreaming. They weren’t. They just learned and taught all of those who watched them some of life’s greatest lessons that apply to both our personal and business achievements. They learned what happens when groups come together — sports teams or customers and brands — and get behind common goals, treat each other with dignity and patience, celebrate each effort and, most importantly, become trusted friends.

Beyond Data: Why ‘Grit’ May Matter More

This past month, I was reminded how vital it is to have grit to achieve success, that is “true grit.” The sports world gave us an improbable U.S. Men’s College Basketball champion in the UConn (University of Connecticut) Huskies. Only one lower-seeded team in the history of the NCAA men’s tournament—Villanova in 1985—has reached the March Madness pinnacle. UConn achieved this success against all odds

This past month, I was reminded how vital it is to have grit to achieve success, that is “true grit.”

The sports world gave us an improbable U.S. Men’s College Basketball champion in the UConn (University of Connecticut) Huskies. Only one lower-seeded team in the history of the NCAA men’s tournament—Villanova in 1985—has reached the March Madness pinnacle. (Ironically, UConn also produced a most probable champion, too, in women’s college basketball this year.)

UConn achieved this success against all odds—well 100:1 odds anyway.

Statistically, UConn didn’t have a chance … the team was 144th in the country in points scored, 146th in offensive rebounds, 179th in assists and 142nd in field goal percentage. Defensively, they fared better—31st in points allowed, 75th in defensive rebounds, 8th in blocks and 80th in steals. Of the six games it played in the tourney, it was an underdog in the last five. Collectively, the data revealed a team that was hardly top-tier basketball.

After two years of tumult, its Hall of Fame coach was gone, its big stars had bolted under a one-year tournament ban issued by the NCAA—and nearly every power conference in the country said “no, we’ll pass” on UConn membership. The team was stuck in a conference no one wants or respects (well, maybe, now they do). Its last game of the regular season, UConn was beaten by more than 30 points.

No wonder only 0.3 percent of the tournament brackets filled out by fans picked UConn to win it all—and you have to wonder if any of the UConn picks were from outside the state of Connecticut.

But the data lied.

Or, more accurately, the data—the available data—could not tell the whole story or even produce insight that would predict success.

Something magical and intangible—something that cannot be measured in data—”caused” the Huskies to prevail. I call it grit. A young coach, a senior-led team, capable basketball play, a sense for the game and a steadfast faith that they would achieve the summit against all expectations (except their own)—all these intangibles willed UConn to the height of success. It wasn’t fundamentally pretty basketball, but it was a beautiful result—leveraging the “madness” of March Madness.

So perhaps Denny Hatch has a point in his beef with the term data-driven marketing, which deserves amplification, even as I embrace that term.

Yes, today’s integrated marketing is increasingly data- and analytics-driven, but it also needs the coaches, mentors, teamwork, vision and creative execution that makes for marketing genius—and breakthrough results. Data and analytics can’t do it alone—and sometimes the data tell stories that just aren’t true. Beyond the marketing dashboards and analytics prowess, you also have to have believers who know how to prepare for the game, no matter who or what the competition, or the daunting circumstances. In fact, having the latter (grit) may mean more than the former (data and insight).

Just look at the Huskies, the reigning national champions.

P.S. Speaking of marketing genius and championships, it’s that time of year where each brand, each agency, gets to put forward its own measure of success—its reach for the ultimate team award, showcasing innovative strategy, brilliant creative and the measurable results that exemplifies delight in clients and customers. The Direct Marketing Association International ECHO Awards has announced its call for entries—and the deadline is May 23. Win one, two, three or more, and show us your grit!

Signed,

Chet Dalzell
Alumnus
University of Connecticut
College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Journalism

Are You Mad About Your Internal Culture?

Sometimes we forget that great brands start inside. Before companies can show and tell the outside world about their awesome products and services, they must pay important and mindful attention to the team members who create and are responsible for engineering those amazing brand experiences. Internal branding can sometimes be overlooked or lower on a corporation’s list of active priorities than it should be.

And by mad I mean actually passionate about your work in a good way, in a can’t-wait-to-build-the-brand-in-some-new-way-today kind of way?

Sometimes we forget that great brands start inside. Before companies can show and tell the outside world about their awesome products and services, they must pay important and mindful attention to the team members who create and are responsible for engineering those amazing brand experiences. Internal branding can sometimes be overlooked or lower on a corporation’s list of active priorities than it should be.

As I lead interdepartmental meetings these days with my clients, I often hear comments like these from our face time “group genius” gatherings:

  • “We really should connect as a group more often.”
  • “I now understand your department better.”
  • To a co-worker: “I never knew what you did!”
  • “Oh, that’s why we do that! That makes sense now.”
  • “How come I never heard this before?”
  • “We need to tell the rest of the team this!”

Building passionate brand ambassadors and an engaging culture should be high on every brand leader’s “must do” list. Companies like Southwest Airlines and Zappos.com consider these internal branding strategies core to their successful business models. Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines, says, “our people are our single greatest strength and most enduring long-term competitive advantage.”

And these Zappos’ core values lay the groundwork for its notable and enviable culture:

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I’m blessed to work with clients like these who are positively mad about what they do! I recently had three experiences of working again with long-term clients. I hadn’t been on-site to their respective offices for almost a year. I smiled as I saw reconfigured offices to allow for more collaboration, customer comments boldly displayed on walls, brand storytelling by happy customers sprinkled throughout the entire office and profiles of customer segments/personas highlighted throughout the company. These brand leaders were so thrilled to show me how they’ve elevated the importance of internal branding and what it’s meant to their employees. Internal branding matters.

Sara Florin, senior director of creative services for SmartPak, the Zappos of the equestrian industry, was delighted to share one recent event she led to help the rest of this fast-paced entrepreneurial organization learn more about all that her talented department handles. Here’s how she describes it: “Our energetic, passionate creative department is constantly working on bigger and better ways to market our products, but not everyone in the company understands the scope or details of what we do. We wanted to take time to celebrate our accomplishments and show off our capabilities in a fun and formal way. Inspired by the hit show “Mad Men,” we hosted an open house and cocktail hour so we could show off our “mad style.”

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“We dressed up to fit the era, served 60s-inspired food and cocktails to encourage attendance, and set up displays of our recent work. With over 50 people from other departments attending throughout the hour, we were able to demystify the creative process and present ourselves as a polished, professional in-house creative team that could rival any external agency. And we got to have a lot of fun doing it!”

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Activities like hosting a “Mad Men”-themed party may not fit your brand personality, but why not brandstorm some ideas that might help your team members empathize more with all the various roles and responsibilities needed to create your brand experience. Identify activities that engage co-workers from cross-functional areas, inspire collaboration, and just plain add fun and playfulness to all the hard work in building remarkable customer experiences.

So go ahead, get mad … in a good way!