Digital Marketing

Why I’ve Unfollowed You On Twitter

I enjoy Twitter. This is my umpteenth account, and I really like being able to finally be myself in the space. I’m writing this to “you”, an unspecified Twitter user who just figured out that I’ve unfollowed you for some reason.

I also enjoy teaching people. I want everyone to succeed, and grow and learn. To that end, I’ve created this post for you.  If you’re willing to reform and want me back as a follower, just comment, and I’ll come back. I promise.

What Did I Do?!

Twitter follower numbers turn me into an angsty 13 year old. I want to know what I did wrong. I’m going on the assumption that you might want to know that, too.

First, if you want to see the cardinal sins of Twitter that you’re committing, go run Twittcleaner, and then click the option “How do I look on Twitcleaner?” to have it look at your own feed. See what it has to say.

Even if you do nothing with the report, Twitcleaner catches all sorts of issues:

  • inactivity
  • tweeting the same link too often
  • never retweets
  • never at-replies
  • ONLY retweets
  • posts too many “follow all of my friends” posts with multiple @s
  • tweeting only links
  • repeating the same tweet too often
  • uses ad networks (paid tweets)
  • follow back fewer than 10% of their followers
  • “all talk, all the time”
  • self-obsessed

I use twit cleaner about once every 2 weeks or so (usually after a Follow-Friday binge) and check to see where I stand. I don’t unfollow everyone for breaking these rules, but I do take into account why each of them do so. (e.g. “He’s a celebrity, of course he doesn’t follow anyone back”, or “They are a magazine, of course they link the their own site a lot.” and “Her account is brand-new. Give her a chance to get started.”)

I’m going to caveat this, though. There are other things that drive me batty that are not caught by Twitcleaner’s impressive scans.

Here are additional reasons why I might unfollow someone:

  • Salesmen.  I taught a car dealership how to use Twitter without coming off like a car salesman. If they can do it, so can you. Stop selling and start interacting. I chase down the products and books of people I consider my Twitter friends. I don’t do that with people who only promote their wares.
  • Overly tweetative.  I myself might fall into this category when I’m in a particularly chatty mood. If people like my tweets regardless of that, they stick around.   I follow nearly a thousand people from all over the world.  Many of them are writers, and chatty. If your pre-scheduled push-tweets show up more often than the faces of the people I interact with, I get annoyed.  I might actually find value in your tweets, and keep you around for a while. But secretly, I’m seething. Eventually. I will unfollow just to save my teeth from further grinding.   There is no rule of thumb on how often is “too often”.  I personally feel that @replies – because they don’t get spewed out to everyone all of the time – are an exception, and that’s where I go tweet-happy.
  • The Gurus.  There are some very nice people in my Twitter feed that I like as human beings. I want to support their endeavors. But they are novices tweeting as experts. Writing Tips should come from editors, publishers, and writers with some books under their belt. Neil Gaiman can tell me how to edit. An unpublished novice who has no more experience than me? Um. No thanks. And if you do this all the time? I’m going to unfollow you.  Being inspiring, encouraging. These things will make me happy with you. Acting like a voice of authority when you have no authority? That makes you the bossy kid on the playground.
    • I want you to notice that I’m writing this from a subjective point of view. I’m stating, in this post why I, personally, unfollow people. What is true for me is often true for other people. I’ve run over 20 Twitter accounts, so I’m fairly aware of the way the tool works. But I’m not claiming to be an expert. I’m stating my opinion. You might consider using this as an example of how to give advice.
  • Hash-o-matics. Twitter hashtags have a variety of formal and informal uses. In my opinion, none of them are wrong, but some are misused.
    • One informal use is to smash a snarky comment or punchline into a hash and use it for comedy. I’m fine with this, honestly, as long as it’s not overused. I often think it’s funny. I use it occasionally (though I’m often not all that clever).
    • The formal purpose is discovery.  The reason Twitter created the function was for people who don’t know one another to connect. People will search on a hashtag, or click a tag to get an aggregation of all of the tweets including that tag. This is how chats work. The tag combines all of the tweets for everyone taking part in the chat.   This is also how people with similar interests discover one another. Popular tags like city names, team names, or activities like #amwriting are great for this.
    • Here’s the problem scenario:  I’m going to talk about the #book I #amwriting. It’s a #sci-fi #novel that is a #dystopia set in the #future.   Do you see how hard that was to read?  It’s even harder when your interface turns them all hyperlink blue.  When added to a tweet with a link, my brain screams SPAM!   When this is the only style of tweet you send? It’s a turnoff. Hashtags are for sprinkling on the 1-2 most important words in a tweet. They are the categories you want that one tweet to fall under in the massive index of tweets.
  • *YAWN* Twitcleaner can’t tell if you’re boring. I don’t unfollow people when they offend me. I’m a big girl, I can take it.  I’d rather be offended by you than bored by you, honestly.  If you are a one-topic, one-trick pony, SNORE. If you use twitter as your personal whine-stream and only that, I will unfollow. (I’m okay with bad days and complaints, we all have them. Just not exclusively bad days and complaints.)
  • Unresponsiveness.  I don’t mind the automatic DMs welcoming me. I don’t love them, but they don’t annoy me like they seem to do a lot of people. I do write back to you when you DM me, though.  And I judge you if you don’t reply. Harrumph. This is not an automatic unfollow, but it is noted in case you continue to rack up negative marks.  I will also attempt to engage you via @-reply. If both of these attempts fail to prove that you are a human being using a social media account, I’ll be seeing you later.
  • ALL CAPS. I get shouty when I get excited, and we often use CAPS for titles due to lack of italics. But if your whole feed has the caps lock on… no thanks.

Look, I originally followed you for some reason. I liked you enough to click “follow” to begin with, but after seeing you in my feed for a few weeks, it’s time for me to go.

If you have honest questions, if you’re interested in learning more, please comment or contact me.  I am happy to help people who want to learn.   Internet marketing is my day-job, after all.

PS: this post from Rascality about “Good reasons to follow and not follow” folks on Twitter is very useful about making that tricky decision from the get-go.

Data analysis and creative hunchwork

Last week someone asked me what SEO was in a tweet. 140 characters is almost short enough for me to use my cocktail party line: “It’s magic.”   I use this in a tongue in cheek way to avoid really technical conversations with drunk people. I’m quite capable of explaining SEO in simple terms.

( Here’s my real answer:  “My goal is to get targeted traffic to my website. I do that by aiming to get my website to the top of search results for certain keyword phrases. I have to know which phrases I’m going after to bring the right traffic to the site. I have to make sure my content answer the question.  The back end code needs to be honest and clear about the fact that we answer the question better than anyone else online.   It’s a combination of data analysis, understanding web architecture and design, content planning and quality content.”)

But because it was twitter – and that mouthful is no tweet  – I summed it up using the phrase “A combination of data analysis and creative hunchwork”.

Because I work in numbers and data, I understand how important it is to know which numbers are important.  Remember word problems in high school math class? Do you remember the ones that had insufficient information included to get to an answer?  How about the ones that had a whole lot of extra information to confuse you?  That’s what we’re working with in terms of metrics.

The Known

The things that I can measure – the things that I know about my nascent author platform – are all over the place. They are part of both sides of that word-problem coin.

  • How many people follow me on Twitter?
  • What’s my Klout score?
  • How many fans do I have on Facebook?
  • How many people visit my blog?
  • How many people click more pages in my blog?
  • What’s the most popular page on my blog
  • What search terms are people using to find me?
  • How many pinterest (google + etc) followers do I have?
  • What countries do my visitors come from?

Then there are the ways I measure myself and my own activities…..

  • Should I unfollow / follow people on Twitter?
  • How many blog posts have I written?
  • How often do I tweet / post on facebook / pin on pinterest?
  • How many words have I written today?
  • How many contests have I won
  • How many clips do I have
  • How many queries have I sent (rejections have I gotten)

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The list of online and offline metrics available is very, very long.

The Unknown

The next set of metrics are the things I can not measure. The things that float in the great unknown.

  • Why did those three people unfollow me on Twitter today? (WHAT DID I DO? COME BACK!)
  • How many queries will I have to send out to get a Yes?
  • How many drafts?
  • When is my “good enough” really “good enough”?
  • Why does Google show THAT photo of me when I search for my pen name?

This list, I’m afraid, is even longer than the mind-boggling list of the knowns.

Sifting the Wheat from the Chaff

I was inspired to write this post because of Jan O’Hara’s  Sexy Numbers blog post at Writers Unboxed.

Jan is 100% correct. I just want to expand upon and elucidate a few of her final points.

The fact of the matter is that you’re going to measure your progress.  If you are trying to improve or grow, you’re going to be watching numbers somewhere.  Embrace that fact, and then learn how to decode the word problem for only the information you need to solve the problem.

Here are the real tricks of the metrics trade:

  1. What is the real goal of your work? What are you actually seeking to improve?  In SEO terms, my goal is traffic, not search engine rankings. I don’t care if I rank 304, if people are clicking on my links.
  2. Determine which metrics are meaningful in obtaining that goal. Back to SEO: I track visits to see if people are finding my links, I track page views to see if they like the site when they get there. 
  3. Determine which metrics you can safely ignore.  I don’t track my rankings on search results pages, because they are clouded with personalization, diluted with lack of data due to keyword unavailable metrics and secure search, and because they don’t matter.
  4. Are there any measurements that are a means to an end? This is the tricky one, and the one that trips a lot of people up. I actually do look at ranking reports – not to track, but to focus my efforts. If I see that I’m ranking top of page 2 for a term, that term becomes a “quick win” that I can focus on for easy gains.  I don’t track these numbers – I use them.

I don’t target a real number of twitter followers. I target a ratio of who I follow against who’s following me.   This measure indicates a reach that extends beyond the immediate circle of influence. It indicates that I have something to offer.  Until I get there, I need to keep tweaking my strategy. That ratio falls in the fourth category.  In fact, because my platform project is so very new, almost all of my goals fall in the fourth category.

What do you track?  What can you stop caring about?

SEO ≠ Magic

I have a “keep calm and carry a wand” sign printed out and posted on my cubicle wall at work.   People laugh about it, and I joke back, saying “When I get tired of explaining my job, I just tell people that SEO is magic.”   One of my teammate’s mom describes her daughter’s job as “strange internet voodoo science” when her friends ask.

Unfortunately, it really does seem like magic to some people. This is a problem, because then they expect it to work like magic, too.

“If we SEO this article, then it will get traffic”

As if “SEO” is a magical dust I can sprinkle over a crappy article to mystically have it appear in the SERPs.

“How can we make SEO work better?”

By investing in quality, original content that answers the questions people are searching for online. I actually gave that answer on a call today, and the response was, “Oh. I don’t have that kind of budget.”

“We see SEO as the best source of sustainable, long-term growth.”

Um, please tell me you don’t want all of our website’s traffic to come from SEO. Because while that’s a good thing and all, we might not want to be at the mercy of the next big algo update. Perhaps we should invest a little time and effort into newletters? Visitor loyalty? Brand awareness?

“How do those things help SEO?”

:::HEADDESK:::

 

 

Brands, Links, Authority, Blah, Blah, Blahhhhh

I’ve started this post a number of times regarding brands, authority and links. I’ve started and then stopped it because I still don’t think I’ve got my mind wrapped around it completely.

History Lesson: Vince

Ever since the Vince update in 2009, SEO folks have been talking about the weight Google gives to brand names.  They notice that big brands rank higher for general terms than small sites do, and they conclude that this means that brand recognition is a ranking factor.

I work with a big-brand website. One you expect to see at the top of the SERPs. If you follow this blog, you know that I started working here in 2010, a year after the Vince update. It was one of the first things I asked my new boss. What was the impact?

His answer was that it helped drastically at first, but that the overall impact has blurred and diminished. That subsequent updates have undone most of the impact Vince had.

Bruce Clay published a summary of an SMX West session about big brands earlier this year that I would’ve loved to have attended.  But the messaging there appears to be the same, brand is only a tiny part of ranking signals.

Fast Forward: Authority

Panda demoted sites at the domain level for low-quality results. This is a brand-level assessment. Rel=Author is at a writer / contributor level assessment of authority – do you have experts contributing to your site? Are real writers paid real money to produce high-quality content?  This then lends to domain and brand-level authority.

Doesn’t an “authority” site have reasonable brand awareness? Does it have branded interaction? Brand-specific search, branded terms in keyword anchors?  Isn’t “authority” just a new buzzword for building an online brand?

 

Next Steps: Brand Management

One of the big takeaways from the SMX Advanced sessions – from Matt Cutts and from the SEO panel – was that sites need to make an effort to clean up their link profiles. Google is talking about allowing webmasters to disavow crappy links.

If last year was about establishing authority signals, then this year will be one of ensuring that we’re sending the right signals from all of the right places.

Online brand awareness cannot exist in a vacuum, it has to accompany real-world brand awareness.

 

Google’s May Updates: Alternate Titles in Results Pages

Three of the thirty-nine vague bullet points outlined in the latest Google Inside Search blog post with updates made in May 2012 have to do with alternate titles:

  • Trigger alt title when HTML title is truncated. [launch codename “tomwaits”, project codename “Snippets”] We have algorithms designed to present the best possible result titles. This change will show a more succinct title for results where the current title is so long that it gets truncated. We’ll only do this when the new, shorter title is just as accurate as the old one.
  • Efficiency improvements in alternative title generation. [launch codename “TopOfTheRock”, project codename “Snippets”] With this change we’ve improved the efficiency of title generation systems, leading to significant savings in cpu usage and a more focused set of titles actually shown in search results.
  • Better demotion of boilerplate anchors in alternate title generation. [launch codename “otisredding”, project codename “Snippets”] When presenting titles in search results, we want to avoid boilerplate copy that doesn’t describe the page accurately, such as “Go Back.” This change helps improve titles by avoiding these less useful bits of text.

This isn’t the first time they’ve mentioned alt titles. Buried amid April’s 50+ updates were these:

  • More efficient generation of alternative titles. [launch codename “HalfMarathon”] We use a variety of signals to generate titles in search results. This change makes the process more efficient, saving tremendous CPU resources without degrading quality.
  • More concise and/or informative titles. [launch codename “kebmo”] We look at a number of factors when deciding what to show for the title of a search result. This change means you’ll find more informative titles and/or more concise titles with the same information.

The Search Engine Land guys have noticed these, making remarks about how no one likes their titles messed with, but in yesterday’s summary, Matt McGee mentioned “This was for an e-commerce site that sells items which can be described in a few different ways; Google apparently didn’t like seeing several keyword phrases in its search results.”

This is not what I’m observing at all, at least not for my site.

I noticed branding information and descriptive (non-keyword) phrases being Google-matically added to my titles. I also noticed that my rankings dropped as did my CTR, while that stuff I didn’t write was appearing in the “alternative titles”.

Google noticed this too, after about a month. Changes that I spotted on May 8th have reverted to my Titles as of today, my rankings have lifted back into normal positions and traffic is beginning to normalize. Unfortunately, this is not happening across the board. Many are still there, and new ones appeared today.

This has happened on pages where the title tag was long (as Matt noted), but it also happened on a page where the title contained one word (something I’d rather remedy, but it’s a question of scale sometimes).   This happens on pages that are a huge part of my internal link structure and should be considered more important sections of the site. There is no rhyme or reason to which pages are being selected for this treatment that I can discern.

Alt titles are based on Anchor text

And it’s all based on anchor text, my friends. These alternate titles that my site has been supplied with have nothing to do with any of the content on the page, or with the brand positioning on the page.

You see, my site is technically a subdomain of another site, which is currently being redesigned. As a part of their redesign they are screwing with my anchor tags and brand positioning.  This is the only site that’s making these changes, but since it’s my root domain, it is the most important one.

These Google-matic alternative titles are neither more informative, nor more concise than my own titles. They are less clickable, less interesting and more repetitive than my titles.

What are you seeing?

Please leave a comment or catch me on Twitter to chat about your observations with this. I’d like to know whether anyone else is observing these changes, and experiencing negative impact like we are.