Erik Deckers - writer at ProBlogService, co-author with Jason Falls of No Bullshit Social Media, and co-author with Kyle Lacy of Branding Yourself - joins the Social Pros Podcast this week to discuss ghost blogging, the ongoing value of words, and the weight of a blog comment versus a tweeted link.
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Social Pros Highlights For Your Reading Enjoyment, Thanks to Speechpad for the Transcription
An Educational Process
Jay: Let’s talk a little bit about the kind of work that you do at the company and for whom you do it, and how it fits into the pantheon of social media services.
Erik: We are primarily content marketers. We’re ghost bloggers. We write blog posts for other companies, and we do SEO through content for these other companies so they basically win search for their chosen keywords. We’ve got clients all over the country,and a lot of them are seeing different levels of success – and even great success – strictly because of the kind of content marketing we’ve been doing for them.
Jay: There are people out there who would say you shouldn’t use a ghost blogger. That everything that is created under your name should be “authentic” and written by your own hand. I suspect that you have a difference of opinion on that. You are going to say that it’s better to have some content, even if it’s written by you than no content at all.
Erik: Social media and blogging seems to be the last bastion where people question whether you should have ghost bloggers. We don’t do it in politics. We don’t do it in the rest of the business world. We don’t do it in the literary world when we have ghost writers and ghost authors who are writing books for other people, and getting paid basically to not put their name on the cover. I can never understand why this one thing, this one last bastion of naivete, people insist that we can’t have ghost writers. “You have to have your own voice.” People who think that don’t work in the real business world quite that much.
Jay: It’s interesting. I’ve never really thought about it that way, but you raise a good point, that we have gladly embraced having somebody else create other forms of content in a lot of different areas, but there are still people who are resistant to the same in blogging in particular. I’ve never really thought of it that way, which is pretty interesting.
Erik: What I do is an ongoing interview process where we talk to the client once a month about whatever topics they want to write about. For five minutes they give us one answer that turns into a 300 word blog post. It really is their work and their ideas and their words that we’ve just transcribed. In some ways we’re just a glorified transcriptionist, and when we do that, that helps us get up and running for what the client is looking for in a matter of a few months.
Jay: Do you find your clients are digging into Google Analytics and thinking about keywords for which they want to optimize, or is it more off the top of the head, “Here’s this stuff that we want to write about”?
Erik: It varies. Some clients are really hip to Google Analytics and they use it, and they know as much as we do before we ever get there. Other clients have no idea about Google Analytics. They just know that they need content marketing, and they’re hoping that we can give them the content that will bring people in. We educate them on what those keywords need to be and what are the topics that people are looking for so we can talk about that. It’s really an educational process, not just us producing content, but us teaching our clients how to do our jobs.
The Value of Words
Jay: You talked about search being a big part of the rationale for this kind of program. Is that how you recommend that people measure the success of this kind of initiative – is visits from search, or visits from desired keywords, versus the benchmark before you get started?
Erik: That’s one of the things we look at. That’s how we know if we’re having any effect. We look at page visits, unique visits, time on site, and bounce rate. We look at those metrics, but we also look at where they rank on Google and other search engines. We use a couple of different tools that let us see what are the objective rankings.
This is a common mistake a lot of people make. They log into Google. They go to Google. They do a search, and they find that their pages are ranking at the top and what they don’t realize is that Google knows you’re looking.
Jay: It gives you a version for you that is not the same version I will see.
Erik: A lot of people think, “We’re ranking at the top.” In reality they’re still 220th.
Jay: Last week we had Ekaterina Walter from Intel on the show, and she’s written as a guest post on my blog about the rising tide of visuals in blogging, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, other forms of multimedia. Do you see that in your business? Do you feel a need or a pressure to start to move at some level toward more visual forms of ghosting as opposed to the more traditional 400 word blog post?
Erik: I’m starting to see the need for a visual accompaniment, even if it’s something as simple as just a Creative Commons photo that I got from Flickr or from iStock photo. That always brings in more readers. I do some work with the Indiana Office of Tourism Development as a travel writer, and their social media manager and I have talked quite a bit about how photos in blog posts always perform better than blog posts that don’t have photos. Blog posts that have videos in them perform better than blog posts that have photos.
We’re starting to see that growing demand for a visual aspect of content marketing, but still, for me as a writer, it all still comes back down to the words. Google and the other search engines look at the words. Even the video transcription that people offer when they put up, like Rand Fishkin on SEOmoz putting up his Whiteboard Friday, he has a transcript for the entire video because Google still wants the words.
Jay: We transcribe this whole show for that same reason.
Erik: Writing for two audiences basically. We were writing for the reader, and that’s the most important one, but we still also have to write for those search engine spiders who come along and they can’t look at photos and understand what they are, and they don’t quite get videos, but they get words. We need to be able to do both. It’s really not an either/or anymore.
Eric: That’s an interesting balance, actually. Sometimes I’ve seen content that seemed likely to be outsourced on certain websites and you can tell that it was a ham-fisted attempt at keyword stuffing and search ranking magic. There’s this balance of jamming all the right keywords in all the right places, yet still writing something that reads like a human wrote it. Do you run into that friction often, or is that something that you moved beyond since you’ve been doing this professionally for so long?
Erik: That’s something we’ve had to learn how to do. You still have a couple of clients that get some juice out of the keywords, and so we need to use them a certain percentage of the time. We have to strike that balance, and we have to do it to make it sound as natural as possible. Those things are what Google has been fighting against with the Google Panda update. They are eliminating low value content from their index.
Jay: It seems like they’ve done a relatively good job at that overall; search engine results, pages, quality has gone up for most things, and their advice has been pretty clear on that topic which is, “If it’s content that people like, it’s content Google will like.” That’s good advice and also is good for your business. It’s like, “Just create good content. Don’t worry so much about beating the system.” The system is: Is it good? Is it quality? Do people care? Especially when you start to incorporate things like social signal into search rankings, the number of tweets and +1s. The resonance of that individual piece of content with the reader takes on added importance.
Spread the Wealth Out a Little
Jay: You’ve written some really excellent blog posts about blogging and blogging advice. One thing that I have seen you talk about in the past is this, “Don’t put everything you know into a single blog post,” which I think is a real tendency for new bloggers to do. They start to create content for their first time. It’s like, “I’m an expert on X,” and they create the omnibus blog post, the 18,000 word, “Here’s half of a book,” which is not the most consumable form of content. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
Erik: I look at it from two approaches. One is you need to constantly feed the pig. You need to constantly give Google new content. When you write that single blog post that exhausts that one topic, you’ve got to do something tomorrow. If you can break up your blog posts into several posts, you’ve got content for a few weeks.
The other reason goes back to the reader. Readers don’t want to read a few thousand words on a single topic. They would rather read a few hundred words. Three to five hundred words is a good length for a blog post. It’s just enough to get into the meat of a discussion but still leaves you enough wiggle room that you can go over a little bit, you can break it off and go into part two for the next ones. It gives you enough time to discuss an idea but still stay within that zone of patience that readers have for reading new ideas.
Tweets and Comments Aren’t Going to Feed my Family
Eric: When you sell your services, do you do that as a package of pieces of content or number of keywords addressed or time it takes to create materials? How does that process work?
Erik: We all focus on a package and a process. It’ll be eight blog posts and the time it takes to write, interview, edit, post and promote for our clients. We do all of them.
Jay: It’s interesting you talk about promote.You’ve got a particular experience that would shed some light on this question. As a professional blogger, which would you prefer if you had to pick one, a comment on your blog post or a tweet of the blog post?
Erik: I would rather have a tweet because I’m reaching a bigger audience. That person says, “I read this by Erik Decker. This is awesome.” They share it with their people, and that brings in more readers. If their network is interested in what that person tweeted and they come to my blog post and read it, then I would rather have that kind of traffic because it’s exposure to new people. A comment shows that somebody engaged but I don’t get more exposure because of the comment.
Jay: What I find is that many times companies who are starting to blog, or are working with you in a blogging content creation effort say, “We’re not getting enough comments,” as if comments are a key performance indicator or a key measure of blogging success. Everybody would like to have comments because, as you said, it indicates a level of engagement and a level of community building that is desirable at some level. I always see it as a secondary goal, not a primary goal.
Erik: Even page views ultimately isn’t my goal. I don’t want to see the needle go up and say, “My job is done.” My goal is, “Do I get sales? Do we get new clients? Do I get speaking gigs?” It’s nice to see the needle move on the Google Analytics page and see the numbers go up and not go down, but ultimately I’m looking for a financial engagement and comments aren’t going to feed my family.
Social Media Stat of the Week: 41% tablet owners, 38% smartphone owners use their devices in front of the TV
Eric: Recently, Nielsen released its annual social media report, and there are enough data points for probably a couple of hundred Social Media Stats of the Week. The report is incredibly meaty and certainly worth a read. One of the more fascinating data sets that I pulled out of the report to discuss on the show today relates to social TV – or in layman’s terms, tweeting while watching “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.”
Some of the highlights from the report are that 41% of tablet owners and 38% of smartphone owners use their devices daily while in front of their TV. I thought those numbers were striking. I also thought the phrase “while in front of their TV” was striking as opposed to “while watching TV.” It’s a subtle designation but fairly meaningful.
Another nugget that’s related to that is that social TV is without a doubt on the rise. In June 2012, 33% of active Twitter users tweeted about TV-related content, which was a 27% increase from 26% of active users in January. I think about things like presidential debates, basketball games, my wife watching Gossip Girl. It seems that tweeting and watching the boob tube are becoming two peas in a pod. I’d be curious to hear from your experience, Jay and Erik, and what you think this means for advertisers, both social and on mainstream media.
Jay: I’m in that category. I almost never watch television without an iPad. Almost never. Not necessarily because I’m trying to keep up a commentary stream on what I’m watching, although I have done that on occasion, it’s more that I’m at the point now where I must have at least two streams of information at all times. In fact, I’m actually making cookies right now doing the podcast. I am definitely in that group, although it’s funny. We say social TV, but don’t we really mean Twitter TV? Is there another social outpost that we’re using habitually while watching television, beyond Twitter? Are people posting to Facebook, “That Boo Boo. She done it again.” Maybe they are. But I don’t see it in my stream.
I got into a debate about this with Jeffrey Hayzlett on the BeanCast Podcast a couple of months ago about this. I get why social TV is good for broadcasters and show producers. I get why the people who are running the Honey Boo Boo show are all about social TV. I get why one of our networks that is on is interested in it. What I don’t get is why advertisers are interested in it because people are not saying, at least I’ve never seen it in any concentration, “Thanks so much, this company, for sponsoring the Honey Boo Boo show. We really appreciate you inserting your 30 second spot into this show.” There’s no conversation. There’s no social chatter about the advertiser or the sponsor, so other than people saying, “Honey Boo Boo, Honey Boo Boo,” I don’t see how that ties to sponsor value. Maybe I’m missing something.
Erik: I’m starting to see. We’ve got a client that builds mobile apps, and they build mobile apps among other things for TV stations. Let’s say a news station wants to have an app and they can sync it up with the show, they sync the app up so whatever they’re talking about on screen you’ve got this link where you can watch the extended interview, or you can watch the running commentary about the news in a little side window that’s the Twitter stream, and you can respond to that.
Then they break to commercial and they use the same technology that Shazam uses when they break for the commercial, the commercial that is on the TV triggers the commercial within the app. It could be a commercial for Ford trucks, but then it triggers this little game about Ford trucks where you enter some of your data, and you can spin the wheel and win a t-shirt. What they’re able to do then is create a second layer of this advertisement. They can actually measure if people are interacting with it or not, and they can gather data about the user, that the user’s voluntarily giving them. “I’m giving you my name and address and telling you whether I’m going to buy a Ford truck in the next six months or not because I want to win a t-shirt.” They’re able to gather all of this marketing information about us that we give them willingly.
Jay: Nice. That makes sense. It’s funny. It’s almost like the DVD commentary track where we have this back channel, other way of accessing information. There’s a real trend toward that not just on social television but think about the new, the Wii U version of the Wii where you have the game on the screen and then your controller has a second screen. I don’t know how well that system’s doing yet, but I think it’s a really interesting concept and very much on trend with the two screen experience.
Erik: Even TNT Network has an iPad app that when I watch Leverage, it’s following along. This works on that same Shazam synchronization technology because I don’t watch it live. I watch it on DVR, and this is the interesting thing. When I’m watching and they go to commercial, in order to keep me from flipping around or fast forwarding, they occupy my time by having this little game pop up. It could be they take a picture of Parker swinging down from the ceiling to bust open a safe and I have to unscramble the picture to make it whole. I have 30 seconds to do it.
Or it’s a trivia question about what I saw in the last ten minute segment, but the thing is I didn’t fast forward through the commercials because I have the game to play and partly because it’s a pain in the butt if I do fast forward. To get it to catch up I have to exit out and come in just to get it to operate. I might as well leave the commercial on, which is brilliant from the advertiser’s point of view because they’re getting people to stop skipping over everything.
Jay: We started off in television with sponsorships. “This show brought to you by Lucky Strike.” A lot of it was inserted product placement and things of that nature. Then we went to the decentralized series of 30 second commercials throughout the entire broadcast. Now it feels like the pendulum is swinging back the other way, that we’re going to have much more underwriting sponsorship opportunities in broadcast where you can do things like games and second screen experiences and that the hegemony of the 30 second version of interruption marketing is going to fade away. It’s great because it makes advertising agencies and companies more creative. It forces you to be creative and, as you said, Erik, it provides theoretically real value for the viewer. I would much rather play a game than watch a commercial in almost every case.
Social Pros Shoutout
Jay: Mr. Deckers. Are you writing another book right now? What are you doing?
Erik: I’m working on something with Taulbee Jackson. Taulbee owns a content marketing company here in town called Raidious Communication. Anybody who was following along the social media command center at the Super Bowl, that was Taulbee’s company.
Jay: Fun fact. Taulbee was the very first guest ever on the Social Pros Podcast.
Eric: Indeed. We talked about the Super Bowl command center.
Erik: We wrote a book about the paid/earned/owned media doctrine, submitted it to my publisher Pearson/Que BizTech and are waiting to hear back from them. If all goes well, it should be coming out in early half of 2013.
Jay: Fantastic. I’m looking forward to seeing that. That sounds like an interesting premise. Taulbee’s a smart guy. In fact, I was just meeting with him last week too, while I was in Indianapolis. They’re doing some great stuff at Raidious. No question. Mr. Deckers, hopefully Taulbee is not one of your Social Pros Shoutouts. If so, we have completely blown format. Who do you have for us? Who out there deserves to have the spotlight shined upon them? Who is not getting that spotlight today?
Erik: One group I want to give a shoutout to is Ryan Brock at Metonymy Media. They are another content provider here in Indianapolis, and although they’re officially competitors, we’re actually better friends because Ryan and I are both writers who share our love of the written word, and we’ve got certain authors we both enjoy.
My next shoutout is Sal Pane, he’s an assistant professor of Creative Writing at the University of Indianapolis and the author of the new novel Last Call in the City of Bridges. Sal’s book is about a group of 20-somethings and how they are going about living their lives, and he talks about social media and how it impacts his characters. He based the novel on his own use of social media and keeping up with friends that he’d gone to college and high school with. We were chatting recently about how he’s starting to use social media to promote his book. He’s doing some interesting things about social media without making the book about social media. It’s about this coming of age story for a bunch of 20-somethings.
Jay: Interesting. As we start to have some sort of social TVs, social books.
Erik: I’d like to see us swing back to more book reading.
Jay: Me too, brother. With a book coming out myself, I’m all for it. Let’s hope that happens. When you talk about writing blog posts shorter and tweets and social TV and people have ADD and second screen and all that, it concerns me that people are seemingly less eager to consume things in book form. I read fewer books now and read a lot more shorter form media just because I’m surrounded, enveloped by it. As an author, it concerns me a little bit. Especially as a non-fiction author. I don’t write escapist fiction, and so you have to make a case of, “This is a better use of your time than reading a series of blog posts.”
Erik: I tried to make myself read more fiction. I’m a big fan of my local library, and I will visit at least once a week and pick up two or three new books, and return the one I read and my pile continues to grow without me getting through all of them. I’m even trying to get back into the world of fiction where I first dabbled a few years ago, and that’s one of the reasons I joined the Indy Word Lab with Ryan is so I could flex my fiction muscles again.
Jay: Next week on the show we have C. C. Chapman who, speaking of authors, is out with a new book, Amazing Things Will Happen. We’re going to deviate a little bit from the Social Pros format and talk less about social media and more about how social media professionals who are consistently stressed out and pushed to the brink by the relentless pace of this industry, how they can enjoy themselves more and become better people. We’re going to get a little deep next week in honor of New Years and the holidays.
Mr. Deckers, thanks so much for joining the show. You were fantastic and wishing you and all the folks up there in Indy a very happy holiday.
See you next week!