Cyrus Shepard

In this video, Cyrus shows us what SEO, brilliant marketing, and brand have in common.

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Cyrus: I’d like to thank Content Harmony for hosting this meetup. I don’t do a lot of public presentations, so this is a little unusual for me, but lots of fun. And along those lines, I realize I never actually timed my presentation, so I have no idea how long it is. It might be five minutes. It might be 20. If I talk slow, it’ll be longer.

I used to be the lead SEO for a company called SEOmoz. Most of you, some of you are probably familiar with that company. When people hear that, the assumption that I worry about is that they think that because I because I used to be the SEO for SEOmoz, that I am a good SEO. I’m looking around in this room, I am probably not even in the top five. Even in this room. Justin is a far superior SEO than I am. Mike is better SEO. Kane is probably a better SEO than I am.

I kind of lucked into that job, but I was good at some other things that sort of allowed me to fake my way through it. One of the things I do now, working in the content department at Moz, is trying to find content to drive traffic to the site. To find qualified visitors, increase our numbers. A lot of the same stuff that SEO’s do, but more of a general marketing sense.

So, I thought it’d be fun tonight if I talked about SEO, brilliant marketing, and brand. My boss, Rand Fishkin, in an interview he did, said, and it stuck with me. And this is during a time when he was known as one of the most brilliant SEO’s online. And he said “It’s great to be a good SEO, but I think it’s much more important to be a brilliant marketer than an SEO.” And he said this back in 2007, he said this five or six years ago. And that served him well.

When we have this big debate nowadays about whether it’s better to be a purely technical SEO or whether it’s part of something broader; I don’t want to get into that debate. But what I do want to talk about is since, my job is so much more than SEO and a little bit of this and that, I wanted to talk about SEO, brilliant marketing and brand.

And I was inspired by Steve Jobs during his speech. Has anyone ever seen his speech where he introduces the iPhone? And he stands up there and says “We’re going to release three products today. We’re going to release a Web browser, a telephone, and a new iPod.” A Web browser, a telephone and a new iPod. And then he reveals “It’s all the same thing.” So, we’re going to talk about SEO, brilliant marketing, and brand.

SEO, do my Steve Jobs. Brilliant marketing. Brand. All in 20 minutes. You’re going to learn everything you need to know. So, we launched this new thing recently. And that kind of goes into that debate. We stopped being a pure SEO company. Now, we’re an inbound marketing company. But we still mostly do SEO. And it kind of leads into this debate about SEO and brilliant marketing. And like I said, my main primary focus right now is to find content that resonates with our audience, is shared, becomes popular, and attracts new customers to our site.

My speech is not linear. This is the method of a pure SEO. There are a few technical SEOs out there. There are very few, though, that aren’t involved in any form of marketing. And the reason I say this is that if you do any sort of link-building through content, you are doing a form of marketing. Because you have to get people to link to that content. Even if it’s a simple act of writing a pitch letter, that’s a type of marketing. And as long as you’re going to be doing that marketing, it might as well be brilliant.

I was looking up content strategies, and I see a lot of slides like this online, sometimes. Your typical content strategy is like a mind map, and it has different diagrams. And I had to come to work every day and do something like this, I would be bored silly. This is another one I like, the content. And don’t get me wrong. Spreadsheets and keyword research, it’s all very important. But this isn’t going to resonate with your audience. This is not going to make them jump up and down.

These strategies and the content strategies on some of the books that are out there, they’re missing one, huge, really important thing, the most amazing s*** ever. If you work for a better agency, a better SEO agency, a better marketing agency. Or if you’ve ever watched “Mad Men,” this is the most important conversation you’re ever going to have about your campaign. That conversation when you’re all sitting around in a room trying to figure out “What is the most amazing s*** we can ever put out for this campaign? For this idea, this product, this brand.”

And it can take hours, it can days, it can take weeks. And you’re not going to find that in the spreadsheet and you’re not going to find it on a flowchart. And this is the part that a lot of people miss. And I see so many people go straight from, you can tell the really bad content out there. Because it goes straight from spreadsheet to content. Straight into WordPress. And it just looks horrible and it doesn’t resonate. It doesn’t earn links and it doesn’t attract the kind of customer you want.

So, this is where I spend all of my time. In fact, I probably am negligent not doing enough keyword research, not doing some of the other stuff that I should be doing because I just want to do stuff that’s fun. So, I ignore everything else and sometimes, they pay me to do it. Sometimes, I get in trouble.

So, we talk about characteristics of linkable content in SEO a lot. I try not to think about linkable content. I try to expand a little bit and think about marketable content and brandable content. Because to me, they’re all interrelated, and if I think about just linkable content, I’m sort of only seeing half the picture. And I’m not really looking at the whole thing.

This is my favorite book of the week. Some of you are probably familiar with this author, Jonah Berger, “Why Things Catch On.” He studies the science of contagion, as he calls it. And you can get this book on Amazon, it’s a bestseller. It’s got a million reviews. And I learned about this through some of the [Distilled] folks. He did a study of the New York Times most e-mailed list. And he took thousands of stories that went on the New York Times most e-mailed list, and he classified them into different buckets. And he studied what stories rose to the top.

And I’ve read a few different studies online on what goes viral, what’s contagious. And his is, in my opinion, one of the best that’s out there. There’s different ways that the deck will be available afterwards. You can go to that link and get a copy of the PDF. It’s free. Fortunately, I hate it when scientific research is behind the pay wall, but this one is actually available.

And there’s different ways that you can slice and dice up this data. But there’s four takeaways that I sort of get out of it. And those are the ones that I want to share and sort of talk about tonight. The first one is visibility. Can anybody tell me where Waldo is?

Mike: “Found him.”

Cyrus: “Yes, Mike?”

Mike: “I’m lying.”

Cyrus: When you have great content and you’re trying to make it, there’s a lot of things that you can control when you’re trying to make your content more popular. And the first that we can control when we are SEOs or we have control of our platform, is visibility. One of the things that this study found was that time on top of the homepage was one of the most correlated factors to a piece of content going viral. And so many times, we have this problem at SEOmoz or Moz, a lot. Sorry, I need to put a dollar in the swear jar. We changed our name. Every time we say “SEOmoz” we have to put a dollar in.

We have this problem at Moz a lot, because we have a blog. And we publish a lot of content. And it goes from the top down. And so, every time we publish a new post, boom, the next post gets pushed down, the next post gets pushed down. If we posts two posts in a day, there is a much less chance, and we know this from years of experience. There’s a much less chance that that second post is going to get spread, it’s going to earn fewer links. So, we’re very careful.

If we have a hot piece of content that we know is popular, we will let it what we call “Cook.” And we’ll just it cook up there as long as we can. If we have a bummer piece of content, we won’t let it cook very long, and we’ll get it out of there as soon as we can. But even then, it’s hard to manage, especially when you have a blog. If you can make the advance to a more magazine-style content management system like Wired Magazine where you can have sticky posts stay at the top, it’s a much better system.

And I see people release all these great content pieces all the time, this great piece of link bait. And you’re looking for it online, and you go to the homepage and it’s nowhere to be found. Because they’re not making it visible. I really like what TechCrunch does on the side, these trending stories that are visible. A lot of people don’t highlight their top content. Something as easy as a WordPress widget will do this for you and it’s something everybody struggles with. It’s a common content architecture problem that almost no one ever gets right. Highlighting the top content that’s most relevant to your user, but also wanting it to get the most shares.

We did something really interesting at Moz that had very unintended consequences. This top post here is our old navigation. And you can see we had a lot of drop-down menus. The new design that we worked on for two years, we got rid of the drop-downs. There’s still a few, you can still find a few on the site. And we did two layers of navigation. And we did that pretty much throughout the site. And it’s a two-tiered navigation system.

By getting rid of that drop-down and the date is really early, because we’ve only been live for about a week, we’re getting about 25 percent more page views per qualified visitor. Because they’re seeing these other sections; they don’t have to click down. They can see these other sections when they’re on the site and we did similar things on the sidebar. And we’ve surfaced our content through navigation and we’re getting much more visits. Not more visits, more page views.

In our experience, when you get more page views, more people are looking at your best stuff and you get more links and it’s a circular effect. You get more links, you get higher search engine visibility and more people are coming. So, we’ll probably be publishing some data on this because it’s really interesting. Because if you work with clients, if you work with websites, everybody wants the drop-downs. And they want to put 8 million things in the drop-downs. And sometimes, it’s justified but it’s not always best. And it’s good to test. But this really fascinated me

Emotional engagement. An element of virality. Those are rocks. I don’t know why you’re giggling. Someone on Twitter sent me this today when I was asking for a photo of arousal. One of the things that this New York Times study found was emotions play a huge factor in whether a piece of content is popular enough. But not just any type of emotion, high-arousal emotions. The three main high-arousal buckets are all a**holes and anger. And a**holes fitting into the anxiety bucket. It’s just a simple way of classifying them, I guess.

When I think of awe, I think of Susan Boyle, that’s cheesy. But, man, I cried the first time I watched that video. I was in awe. But awe doesn’t have to be this human thing. Just, sometimes, massive amounts of data can make you go awe. This is from one of those, I’m sorry, I didn’t capture the name of the site. But you look at that and go “Holy crap. That’s a lot of planes in the air at one time.”

You can do that, pretty much, any piece of content that I do that I’m trying to resonate with an audience, I try to go over the top. I try to give 150 percent, so that you get that “wow” factor. I didn’t even have to title this one because you know what he’s saying: “Whoa.” The anxiety emotion, 11 health foods that can kill you, it’s also very popular and it’s something that gets shared a lot. This is the kind of thing that people like to tweet and add on Facebook.

Anger is also a very popular emotion. The “United Breaks Guitars,” I don’t know if you guys are familiar with this. This guy had his guitar broken by United and he made a song about it and it went viral because it was angry.

Abundance. Abundance is indicative of a positive emotion. Positive emotions are more viral than negative emotions all the time. And abundance is probably one of the best emotions that you can advocate. That there’s plenty for everybody. That you’re coming from a place of giving. Low-arousal emotions are sadness and whining. No one is linking to this little boy and he is very sad. No one wants to spread this. No one wants to spread sadness or whining or these low sort of “Eh” emotions that people try to do. Funny, Andy Rooney made a whole career out of it and I love Andy Rooney. That’s funny.

Third is, there’s four of these, by the way. I should have previewed that. Practical utility, we do a lot of this at Moz. I would say 90 percent of our posts at Moz have some sort of practical utility. How to do SEO, how to do [inaudible 14:42], we have a lot of contributors in this room who contributors to this block. But the mistake I see a lot of people make is practical utility, you can combine it with your other elements. You can combine it with emotion, you can combine it with awe. By making your practical posts absolutely the most fantastic thing you’ve ever seen by including all kinds of data, all sorts of things like that.

And, probably, if you work with clients and if you’re a SEO or you work with content in one form or another, this is probably the area we probably have the most control over is perceived value. And I put Don Draper up there because that’s his area of specialty; perceived value. He will tell you what you’re going to fall in love with.

The New York Times study that I referred to earlier found that author fame was a huge correlating factor for virality. That’s a perceived value. Warren Buffett, he has two tweets. He’s tweeted twice. And he has 400,000 followers and trust me, those tweets were re-tweeted thousands of times. There’s nothing special about those tweets. I can tweet probably better than that. But he’s Warren Buffett. So, he has a perceived value that just earns all sorts of attention.

Length. One thing I’m always harping, length of content. It’s the simplest trick in the book. Longer content generally gets shared longer. Not necessarily because it’s more valuable, sometimes it is, but it has a perception of being more valuable because there’s more words. Sites like “The Verge” are doing great things with long-form content, long-form reads right now. And I have to admit, I’ve shared some of these reads and only read about half of them. But they seem valuable and I’m sure somebody else will find them very valuable. And so, they get all sorts of attention.

Design is another element. Design is both a practical utility and a perceived value, but oftentimes, you can use it to your advantage for perceived value. My wife is a graphic designer and I’m very fortunate in that if you’re ever an SEO, marry a graphic designer. Because the jobs go perfectly with each other. And so, I’m a huge advocate of adding design to all your projects. And if you think you are a good designer, hire one to find out because I get yelled at all the time when I think I’m doing it.

And another easy thing for SEOs is simply social-proof. This is another perceived value sort of thing. This story was shared 1,200 times. It must be good, it must be popular. I don’t know if it is, but I’m perceiving that it is. So, all these things that we’re talking about, they’re all part of what I would call “brilliant marketing.” Visibility, emotional engagement, practical utility, perceived value. But we also want to tie in SEO and we also want to tie in brand.

And the secret is, they’re actually all the same thing. I mean, it’s like, when I made this connection a while ago, it’s kind of like my mind was blown. Because I always wanted to learn “How do I become a brilliant marketer? How do I become a brand person”? And I realized that it’s all tied together. And you can make your job so much easier if you’re doing your SEO, if you start thinking about it in those terms.

If you think about brand. Brand is simply the way that you define your stories through this thing. I think of Tide detergent. Tide detergent has all these elements of their brand in their commercials. They’re a practical utility, they will clean your clothes, their commercials contain emotional engagement with the moms and the kids. Visibility, they’re very careful about where they put things in their stores. And their perceived value, they price it in a certain way. Generally, more expensive than other detergents, so that you perceive the value in it.

And brand has a million different definitions, but telling that story consistently, you start to build your brand. If you start with that from your SEO and tie it all together, it makes every job so much easier along the way. It makes SEO easier, it makes your marketing easier, and it makes your brand identity easier.

Data. I love spreadsheets, I love keyword research, I love doing this thing, but it will only get you so far. Incorporating brilliant marketing allows you to rise to awesomeness and that’s it. Thanks everybody.

Q&A Section:

Participant: All right. Well, I’ll start it off. How did you guys measure the engagement on the sub-tabs that you put in?

Cyrus: So, that’s really tricky because we’re getting different audiences right now. We’re getting a lot of social media visits. We bought a lot of advertisements. So, you can’t just go into Google Analytics and look. So, you have to go into Google Analytics and try to find all the customers that are probably not there because they heard about this re-brand or something like that.

So, you’re searching for non-branded, organic search terms. New visitors. Things like that, things that look like they’re just searching the Internet to find out something about SEO or landing on these pages. And then, you’re measuring the engagement from there. It’s still a little wonky, but we’re getting a pretty good idea. Yes, Lauren?

Lauren: Mr. Cyrus, what’s your take on, you were talking a bit about emotion and anger and being an a**hole and all these things that give you arousal?

Cyrus: I’m actually a pretty boring person.

Lauren: So, what’s your opinion on this trend of people using extreme titles? You know, just these very…

Cyrus: Like content astronaut?

Lauren: Not that kind of title, but blog posts. Like, using very aggressive or the ultimate, can you speak a little bit on that?

Cyrus: Yeah. And I’ve been guilty of that, too. Anything that works eventually becomes a cliche. And then it becomes tiresome. So, I think and things like that, the ultimate guide to ninja marketing. We’re starting to see a little backlash. So, you have to push the envelope and come up with the next, authentic thing that also gains attention.

I think our copywriters in the room sometimes deal with this, too. The better you get at it, I think you would agree, you can learn to turn those phrases that grab attention. And it’s a process I’m learning. Yes?

Participant: You made a comment about length and perceived value? That’s actually counter to what I’ve always thought because I believe that people don’t read. And so, I think that less words is more and image is better, but you’ve got to kind of figure out how to say your message, but in the shortest number of words possible. So, what did you mean by that?

Cyrus: So, there’s a lot of correlation data out there. And if you’re not familiar with it, it’s where they take a lot of things that rank really high and have a lot of links to them and a lot of authority metrics. And they dissect them. And they dissect the ones that are ranking really well and the ones that aren’t ranking really well. And they do that tens of thousands of times across all sorts of data.

And they find that longer content, just in general, correlates better with these metrics. And correlation is not causation. But that’s where we’re getting the data from.

Participant: But as a marketer, what do you think?

Cyrus: As a marketer, I’ve seen my boss publish posts that are very short and just too awesome. As long as you’re hitting those emotional triggers, there’s probably better ways to do it than just pure length. But pure length is sometimes a good hammer if you don’t have any other tools. But, as a marketer, it’s probably not a necessary tool if you want to hit those emotional triggers and really resonate. So, better marketing does not mean longer marketing. Yes?

Participant: Well, just to respond as well to what you’re saying, I would say from a marketing standpoint you want to make sure that whatever is valuable to you or to your client comes at the beginning of the post. Just for good will, but also because they’re not going to read it. But also, if it’s longer, some people that matter will read it. But most people won’t. But they’ll decide instantly whether they’re going to share it or not.

Participant: Or they’ll save it, right? They’ll save, they’ll favorite it. And you get three to five seconds. You get three to five seconds. So, they’ll decide within the three to five seconds if they’re going to favorite it and share it for later or re-share whatever. They may scan or they may not read it.

Participant: And second four through five are them scrolling. They’re like “Holy s***, this is long.”

Cyrus: I would actually never advocate making something long for the sake of making something long. Our friend, Mike, has a guide to Excel that is a monster. You can scroll all day on it.

Mike: It took me a long time to write it.

Cyrus: Yeah, but it’s justified. It’s justified. Because it’s a great resource. Sometimes, what I’m liking to do now, we have this thing called “The Beginner’s Guide to SEO,” is break up that content into different chapters. I think you can also, that has an SEO benefit to it, too because you have more landing pages and things like that.

Participant: I think it depends on the industry, too. Like if it’s a heavily educational industry like SEO, maybe they’re more interested in the long stuff.

Cyrus: Perez Hilton is never going to work on that site.

Participant: Like they resonate more with me with visuals. I write for a video game blog and it seems like images work better. Where I wrote this beautifully-researched stuff and it hardly gets shared. But then, my pictures of hot pinup girls get shared a million times.

Cyrus: Forget the length. It was just an example of perceived value.

Participant: You partially answered my question because I write for one of my music websites is Pop Dose. And we’ll do album rankings or some kind of topic like, “10 Essential Jazz Albums That You Need to Have.” So, does it make sense then to break that up? Because I just did one that has so many videos and embeds that it takes forever to load. I’m like “Should I have done that one page per album? And if I did that, should I have my number one be the last slide or the first slide”?

Cyrus: I don’t know. Whatever’s best for your audience. There are some sites that try to manipulate things by having you scroll through and every page loads a new ad. And that’s just horrible for user experience. So, whatever you would like to most see as a user works for you. Participant: I don’t know if I’m going to shoot myself in the foot SEO- wise. Or do people not click through to the third, fourth, fifth page?

Cyrus: Another thing my boss says is “Empathy is your greatest skill as a marketer.” If you think about what your visitor wants and needs and can understand that and put that on the page, you win every time. Justin?

Justin: Just curious, I would like the idea of brand and all the different types of holistic marketing coming together and I agree with that. And SEOmoz has kind of doubled, tripled in the last one to three years. So, I’m curious. What problems have you run into and how have you solved them? Has your marketing become more verticalized in terms of channels? When your brand people are sitting somewhere else than your social people or your content people? What kind of challenges have you run into finding a bridge between all of those? And how have you solved that?

Cyrus: Well, I want to qualify that as saying I don’t think we’ve done a very good job. So, we’ve always tried to be all things to all people. And it’s hard because we’re not. And we’ve done a pretty bad job. And as we step into Moz, I think we’re starting to figure that out. But, truthfully, I think it’s going to reorganize everything we do.

Justin: I’m just curious because I’ve had the same struggle on [inaudible 27:16] when the content team was wanting to make a drive that might be different than the product team or the branding team.

Cyrus: How did you handle it?

Justin: Not very well. To be honest, most of the time was spent trying to evangelize and trying to get everyone on board. But I don’t think that we got to the place where we were actually moving in step before I left.

Cyrus: This is something I was sort of talking with Michael earlier about the idea of getting things done and achieving your goals
and him saying, it’s all in the art of saying “I think what you really want is ‘X.’ I understand you want ‘A,’ but I think to achieve our goals, you really want ‘X.’ And doing that in a way that doesn’t make you the a-hole.” I haven’t figured that out yet. Sorry for using the word a-hole so many times tonight.

Participant: At least you didn’t say “butthole.”

Cyrus: Butthole. We have really strict branding requirements at Moz and I was a little worried. I didn’t mind using the word “a**hole” or have big phallic rocks, but I didn’t want to put Roger on any of those slides because that dilutes the brand.

Well, thank you, everyone!