John Maher, John McDougall, and Pavel Khaykin discuss the good and bad aspects of digital marketing in 2016. From tactics to tools, they cover lots of ground as they look toward a new year in 2017.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher and this is Digital Marketing Madness. This broadcast is brought to you by McDougall Interactive, a digital marketing agency in Danvers, Massachusetts. Today I’m here with the president of McDougall Interactive, John McDougall. Hi, John.
John McDougall: Hey, how’s it going on John.
Maher: Good. I’m also here with the VP of digital marketing, Pavel Khaykin. Hi, Pavel.
Pavel Khaykin: Hi John, how are you?
Maher: Great. Today, we’re going to be talking about digital marketing winners and losers of 2016. What kind of tactics or aspects of digital marketing that were good or bad in the year 2016 as we wrap up the year. John McDougall, why don’t you start it off with — why don’t you give us a winner?
Digital Marketing Winner #1 – The Need for Developers
McDougall: Today at Trump Tower, they had a whole bunch of tech CEOs coming in, Eric Schmidt and Larry Page of Google, Tim Cook of Apple, people from IBM, etc. They were all talking about things like jobs and tech jobs because of the immigration issue to some degree where Trump will probably be restricting immigration more. Tech companies that really desperately need more developers [will sometimes] get people from India and different countries to come in which can be a great thing, but there is controversy over that and [it can be] a struggle. The bottom line is there is a huge need for developers, programmers, and technical people of all shapes and sizes with things like the Amazon Alexa. You just talk to this little device, the, “Okay, Google.” A Google Home device. Everything is going to be connected. There is so much technical stuff happening. It creates a massive need for people to be able to work on those types of technical things and a shortage of people. So winners are developers right now, in my opinion, and technical people.
Maher: Right. I think that education is going to be really important in this country in terms of getting people to go to school and learn these skills. Come out of college and be able to get these types of jobs. It’s going to be an important aspect to them.
McDougall: Yes. Hopefully we can do better with training, certainly bring in people from other countries, [which is] great. Bring them in legally and have a system for that, that’s great, but also why do we have such a shortage? I think it’s something like [there are] 1.5 million less developers than are needed and the projection of people studying computer science over X amount of years basically shows that [there’s just] hundreds of thousands studying computer science when there’s one to two million people needed. It’s just way off.
Digital Marketing Loser #1 – Saying SEO is Dead
Maher: All right. What’s one of your losers?
McDougall: Well, this is more of a large scale issue. Sometimes people say, “Oh, SEO is dead. Now you just do content marketing, do blogging and just pump out content.” I think [that’s] not [true] for every website. Some smaller sites it may be less critical, but there are a lot of scenarios where you do have technical issues that you need to sort out. Sometimes you can sort them out and then they’re fixed and you can get back to business with content marketing. Other times, bigger, larger sites have a continual need. We had an experience today, Pavel and I were working on a new customer just coming on board for a consult, and it’s essentially like a stock photo site. They launched their new website fairly recently and their traffic tanked. They’ve had major issues from Google Panda, duplicate content issues, [and] Google Penguin with bad backlinks. We basically, just in doing the analysis today, uncovered that they have essentially a footer link on their home page to these tiny little alphabet letters like A and AA and B and BB, type of thing, that go to these categories of like animal stock photos and business stock photos type of thing. Now, those pages when you hover over the footer links – when you click A and you go into one of the categories, you see a long list of alphabetized concepts.
Maher: Keywords basically.
McDougall: Essentially keywords. A little overdone, it looks spammy. Although, if you look at some of the large stock-photo sites, you’ll see they do something somewhat similar. But in this case, they haven’t done it correctly, they haven’t “spammed” correctly, I guess, you could say. What they’ve done is they have these large, interlinking structures of photo links and sitemaps for each of the alphabetized categories. When you hover over each of the links, it looks like it’s going to go to, what we call a clean, hyphenated URL like Stockphotosite123.com/animal/cats or whatever, but what it really does when you click the link, it doesn’t take you there. It goes to a search parameter, like a query URL with a question mark in it. We don’t usually see that because you don’t really want to drive people so much to the query page that you can’t really optimize and control. You’d rather drive them to a clean, authority page around a topic, like a category page and keep that consistent. They have a category page, in fact, they actually have two versions of the category page, so like animals-stock-photography/cats and cats/stock-photography or something.
Maher: Right, that’s another issue.
McDougall: The first issue is that there is a technical issue where they’ve lost a massive amount of traffic costing potentially hundreds of thousands [of dollars] in revenue and they have three versions of the category page. Two clean hyphenated URLs, and a search query string. Then the main one that they’re promoting is the search query string and then when we look in analytics, we can see that there’s a lot of content indexing in Google now and their traffic is actually starting to go up a little bit but they’re sending Google to these query strings, which isn’t always the best thing. The bottom line is there are three versions of the page and the page itself has very little content. It has like a little sentence and then that sentence is the same on tens of thousands of pages except for the word cat or dog or whatever. That’s a massive technical issue.
On top of that, it’s hard to navigate the site. It’s a brand new site but the usability isn’t quite where we think it should be. Some of the top sites have a clean left navigation where you can easily click and go to cats, dogs, animals, business, whatever. They don’t quite have that down, so user experience is going to suffer. Even if they get through pissing Google off with three versions of the same crappy page that gives them a Panda penalty for thin content, then when you get to the page, it’s kind of hard to navigate. On top of that, we found a lot of bad backlinks to this site, tons. Blog networks, stuff that we’re sure in talking to them that it was someone, their old SEO who apparently got out of the business because they threw their hands up after Penguin and gave up, but left this company with this horrible bad link scenario. We looked in webmaster tools and there’s no disavow. They haven’t attempted to clean up the bad backlinks. I could go on and on. The last thing I will mention is mobile — there were tons of mobile errors and broken links, okay. All right, I’ve got to stop. Oh, SEO is dead, right?
McDougall: The loser is people who think that you can just go blasting out content, especially thin content to fill a quota, like 500-word blog post.
Maher: And the technical aspects of SEO don’t matter.
McDougall: Right, right.
Maher: Because clearly, they do.
McDougall: Clearly they do in a lot of cases. Now good WordPress theme-based sites are often pretty clean and friendly and it’s all good, maybe there is no problem. But when there is a problem, you may have just devastating problems because those are things that have to get cleaned up.
Digital Marketing Winner #2 – Podcasting
Maher: Okay, yes, great. For me, a winner in 2016 is podcasting. A couple of statistics came out of the Pew Research Center. One is that the percentage of Americans who have listened to a podcast in the past month is now over 20%. More than one in five people have listened to a podcast just in the last month and that’s gone up hugely in the last couple of years. Lots and lots of people are now listening to podcasts and, in fact, over one third of Americans say that they have listened to a podcast. Again, up greatly over the last couple of years. We use podcasting with our clients to generate content for our client’s website. Now is a great time to get into podcasting, not just as a content generation idea but as another social media way to get the word out about your company or you as an authority, to get out there. When you podcast, there’s so much less competition for podcasts than there is with say a blog.
McDougall: Or even video. There’s so many YouTube videos.
Maher: Or even video that — you could still be at this point in 2016, coming up into 2017, you could still be the only podcast out there in your niche area if you start a podcast now, so now is a great time to get into podcasting.
McDougall: Yes. Just to follow up on that with video, Brian Halligan at the HubSpot Inbound Conference recently said that 50% or better of your content this coming year should be video, and they mentioned podcasting as well, so podcasting absolutely and especially because of the lack of competition in comparison, but also video. It ties into mobile harder than ever, and people have an easier time listening and watching on mobile than they do on a small screen reading long-form content. With that said, long-form content still helps you to rank really well in Google, so they’re all important.
Maher: Another advantage of podcasting is like you said, with a mobile device you can listen to it in your car, you can listen to it while you’re running or at the gym, places where you’re not going to be able to read a blog post [or] you’re not going to be able to watch a video. There’s another reason, where you’re hitting people at a place where they’re not really able to consume other types of content.
McDougall: Like Anthony Robbins says, “No extra time” or NET. It doesn’t take any extra time to listen while you’re working out or driving.
Digital Marketing Winner #3
Pavel: Exactly, especially with Alexa.
McDougall: You got Alexa, you said, too?
Pavel: Yes I did. It’s wonderful, but my wife is afraid of it, she refuses to use it. I’m the only one, so I feel like I’m speaking to myself.
McDougall: What are some of the things you ask Alexa?
Pavel: The common one for me is, “Alexa, what is the weather tomorrow?” or, “Alexa play one of my favorite artists.” I find it so helpful, in connection with podcasting, I can say, “Hey, Alexa, listen to whatever podcast.” And you don’t even have to do anything, it just makes it so easy.
Maher: We apologize to all the listeners who are listening on their computer with their speakers on, who Pavel just set off their Amazon Echo.
Pavel: Sorry about that.
McDougall: You need an app to turn off the app.
Digital Marketing Loser #2 – Google Adwords Keyword Tool
Maher: The loser for me is the the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, which has been a really great way to do keyword research and it still is, but Google just made it so that you now have to not only be logged into a Google AdWords account, but you actually have to have an active paid campaign running in Google AdWords in order to see the full specific data of how many searches per month there are for each one of the keywords. If you don’t have an active campaign running all you get is just some search ranges and the ranges are pretty, pretty broad like 500 to 1500 searches a month.
McDougall: A hundred to a thousand I was getting and when I first saw that, I was so pissed.
Maher: Is it a hundred or is it a thousand? I need to know. It’s not that big of a deal, it doesn’t cost that much to, say, run a campaign with just your branded terms (which is a good idea anyway), to have that running. So you can do that, and if you’re going to pay for another keyword tool, you might as well be paying for some Google Ads and maybe get some traffic and conversions out of it at the same time. It’s not too big of a deal, but it does make it harder for people to use that keyword tool. Winner related to that — other keyword tools. Of course, tools like Keywordtool.io, Wordstream, SEMRush, Long Tail Pro, things like that. They might benefit from this because it’s harder now for people to get that keyword data and they might go searching for that data through some other tools. Pavel, what’s one of your winners for 2016?
Digital Marketing Winner #4 – Penguin Real-Time
Pavel: Definitely the Penguin real-time update which rolled out not too long ago. We’re finally starting to see some of our clients recover, and in some cases, John, I know you’re working on one client where we’re seeing like — what was like?
McDougall: Six times the keywords that they had before.
Pavel: Incredible. Seeing results like that from those clients who’ve suffered from the Penguin algorithm over bad links that we’ve helped address over the years, it has been really great to see. I think it’s going to be even [more] important than ever now because we have to actively monitor links to make sure we’re not seeing any more spammy links come through, and if we do see them we address them properly to make sure that traffic keeps stable and we keep rising over time. It’s definitely nice to see.
McDougall: Yes, and the one we were just talking about, the stock photo type of site. They didn’t do a disavow and they are going down. We’re seeing because we did disavows for all of our clients and some past customers that are coming back or are in talks with us again, we’re looking back [and…]
Maher: They’re almost all going up. Everyone that had quality disavows done.
Pavel: Yes, absolutely. Very exciting to see that. In terms of the loser, I would say developers who are launching websites and leaving the robot.txt file blocking search engine access. That’s probably, I would say, the loser just from a recent experience. In this case, the Robot.txt, we launched the website and one of the developers we work with, they were the ones launching it, and they left the robot.txt file clean, but they added a no-index tag in the actual source code. Luckily, we were there working with them to address it right away so it wasn’t an issue, but it’s just another reason why SEO always needs to be involved as part of web dev, because if you don’t have that, you can launch a site and all your rankings and traffic will just go down the tubes. Then you’ll be wondering where your traffic went.
McDougall: All right. Web developers who are not paying attention to search engine optimization issues, especially during the all-important launch of a site, making sure that you have 301 redirects set up from your old URLs to your new URLs. Making sure you’re not blocking the search engines or there’s not code on your site that Google can’t read or something like that. You really have to be on top of it. A lot of web developers don’t understand all these issues.
Pavel: They don’t, yes. Oftentimes, some clients will go to developers and they’ll say, “Yes, we do SEO.” And then you’ll have things like that happen. Then they end up coming to us and we have to fix it. It’s critical that SEO is involved part of that process.
Maher: Right. All right, John McDougall, any final thoughts as we wrap up 2016 and we look forward to the future?
McDougall: Well, there is a bit of content shock going on. I think there is so much content happening that unless you have all your ducks in a row, you’re positioned as an expert, you have authoritative content as Pavel said, don’t do even simple, stupid things like putting a no-index-no-follow. You can’t do that anymore. There’s just way too much competition. Everybody has jumped on, every ad agency, every printing shop, every PR firm that we know of, everybody is jumping on the content marketing bandwagon and that’s been going on for quite a while. It’s a pretty noisy space right now. Maybe people are even developing too much content because it’s to fill a quota.
I think focusing on quality is good, aligning your ducks in a row with SEO. Looking into 2017, who knows? I mean, are we even going to be getting blue links anymore in Google or are we just talking to Alexa or to a Chatbot like Dharmesh Shah, The HubSpot conference was saying? Are websites going to be driven by your voice within a year, within three years, within five years? What does that mean to SEO? Does that mean that there’s only one result popping up? I mean, there’s just all kinds of crazy stuff happening.
Again, I think the Trump Tower thing today shows that there’s definitely a need for technical people and it’s the same with marketing. It’s certainly a lot about content, but there are ways to streamline that, get it done properly and you can’t assume it’s as simple as just pop up more block posts. There’s more to it.
Maher: All right. Well, it’s been great to talk to you guys. Thanks, John McDougall.
Maher: Thank you, Pavel Khaykin.
Pavel: Thanks, John.
Maher: For more information about digital marketing visit mcdougallinteractive.com and please subscribe, rate and review this podcast on iTunes. Thanks for listening, I’m John Maher. See you next time on Digital Marketing Madness.