Digital PR: How to Define What ‘Good’ Looks Like & Drive Measurable Gains via @impressiontalk

Failure.

This concept comes up from time to time in digital PR.

And lockdown – with its many webinars, social media updates, and the inherent challenges of the media landscape right now – has brought the idea of expectations to the forefront once again.

There are various viewpoints around this.

Some webinars/events/content have spoken of unfair expectations and the notion that the campaigns we publicly celebrate could be setting false ideas of what’s possible.

At the same time, digital PR is a difficult job – and for good reason!

Link building and the more traditionally SEO-based techniques that underpin any good link acquisition strategy are relatively straightforward.

But the value of digital PR lies in its ability to earn links from highly targeted, high quality, important publications that drive equity and move the needle when it comes to rankings, traffic, and sales.

Rather than suggesting we be more open about failure, I believe we, as an industry and as individual practitioners, have an opportunity to improve the way we set expectations and to target success through our strategies.

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The purpose of this post is to explore that topic and hopefully inspire some more discussion on ensuring our craft continues to evolve in a positive way.

Redefining Failure

In the many webinars and social chats I’ve attended through lockdown, one of the common themes has been that of perceived failure in digital PR.

What is usually meant by failure is that the campaign has failed to live up to the expectations that, if we’re completely honest, we’ve put upon ourselves.

This notion that every single campaign will gain widespread national coverage is the one many of us seem to cling to when we commence our own outreach, and when it doesn’t happen, we feel bad.

But this isn’t about what other people/brands/agencies are shouting about on social media, nor is it about the highly linked campaigns celebrated at awards events.

It’s about us. As individuals.

Deciding that what we see external to ourselves is what we should strive for internally.

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Not achieving a million links every day is not a failure.

Not meeting client KPIs, however, is.

Setting Expectations

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned (in my decade, plus a bit, in this industry) is to always set clear expectations.

If you/your client don’t know what good looks like, it’s difficult to know when you get there, right?

It’s a simple premise, but one that holds true in digital PR more than (I’d argue) most professions.

That’s because the scope of what can be achieved is so vast but the reality still remains that if we want to celebrate, we need to know what we’re aiming for.

This means setting clear KPIs (key performance indicators) with your client/team. What are the metrics we need to address to understand how well a project is going?

Defining Our ‘Owned Goals’

One concept I’ve found works really well in setting expectations is to define the goals that we as digital PRs can genuinely affect.

Now, this doesn’t mean the goals set here are going to be easy.

It isn’t an easy job.

That’s why it’s full of such amazing people.

Celebrate the struggle.

What it does mean is taking ownership of those things that, bottom line, we’re paid to do.

That might mean we need to measure ourselves against KPIs relating to:

Number of Links

That’s the crux of it, right?

As link builders / link earners / PRs, much of the time our job exists with the purpose of gaining links to our/our client’s site.

Simple.

Did they include a hyperlink to our target website?

Yes?

Excellent – celebrate!

No?

Meh, try again.

The number of links needn’t be tens or hundreds or thousands.

In fact, on the basis that Google assesses how natural a link profile is as well as how good its links are, the benefit of a consistent though lower volume link acquisition is arguably greater than that of flash in the pan mega-wins that drive hundreds of links to one-off campaign pages.

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(In fact, I have a deep-down fear that one day Google could just say, “You know what, that’s your lot, we’re no longer valuing massive influxes of links into orphan pages” and boom – a whole bunch of PR campaign value would be lost. But, I digress…)

The number of links should be specified, either with actual numbers (we’re aiming for X links) or with, at the very least, articulation of the need – which usually comes down to whether the website will benefit most from more links or a higher quality of links.

How do you know?

Well, for me, I focus on what the data tells me.

So tools like Ahrefs will show quite clearly the quality and size of the existing link profile.

If the website has a lot of links already but they are not of great quality, it would benefit from (maybe a disavow and) high quality, relevant links to address that balance.

If the website doesn’t have many links at all, it’s likely they need more.

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And, coming from a starting point of having not many, it’s likely they’ll struggle to achieve super high DR links, so the focus is more on high DR/DA.

Some agencies/businesses also use link scores, which is a concept I’m really interested in and would love to know your thoughts on in the comments.

Quality of Links

On the whole, the links we achieve are the ones we seek.

OK, scratch that. In the early stages of a campaign, the links we achieve are the ones we seek.

What I mean here is that a campaign may snowball and pick up links organically, but in the outreach stage, we’re targeting specific publications.

So in this way, we take ownership of the quality of the links we aim to gain, which I would measure in terms of DR (or DA).

Of course, quality isn’t just about a score out of 100…

Relevance of Links

This is (I believe) more difficult to quantify (let me know if you have a way though!).

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The relevance of links is so important, especially in light of Google’s E-A-T focus, so ensuring the publications we target to give us links are relevant to our brand and topical focus is a really key part of what we should be doing as PRs.

One framework I like to use to help with this is that of circles of focus.

It encourages us to define the topics of greatest relevance to us/our clients at the core and then to agree on the topics we’re willing to explore one or two steps away from that.

The further away from the core topic we get, the higher up the marketing funnel the consumer is likely to be.

We also ensure the topic is relevant to some level of the funnel and never completely irrelevant to the brand.

Placement of Links

The placement of links refers to where on the site the publication linking to you targets its link(s) – whether it’s going to the homepage or to the campaign page or to the product page.

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If we think about how links pass value, perhaps comparing it to a champagne fountain (pour in the top and the champers runs down), we can visualize how the passage of equity will benefit our/our client’s site.

So if we’re trying to affect broader goals relating to the ranking position of a specific page, for example, we’ll want to:

  • Consider whether we’re trying to earn links to that page or whether it makes sense to drive links to an adjacent page.
  • Recognize the reduced value that will pass through, crafting strategies that drive as much value as possible so the internal link equity loss is not a problem.

Defining Our ‘Shared Goals’

The shared goals refer to those wider aspirations we’re trying to affect with our actions, that we as digital PRs might not directly control.

This might be:

Keyword Ranking Positions

The concept of building links to drive ranking improvements is the very basis of digital PR as a discipline, so it’s not uncommon to work on campaigns where the ultimate goal is to drive better keyword visibility.

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The important thing here then is to ensure that your PR team works closely with your SEO team to define the keywords you’re trying to improve.

This might be a specific keyword, or it might be a set of keywords, such as a category of products on an ecommerce site, or the topical focuses of a content hub.

Traffic

Traffic to a site is often part of the wider aspirations of a brand.

By focusing on increased rankings and visibility, the traffic to the site will likely be expected to improve.

It is possible to be more strategic in your thinking here than just more traffic.

I’d argue the PR team should be fully briefed on aspirations from SEO, wider marketing and the business in general around the type of traffic to be attracted.

For example, there might be a specific set of products that you/your client wants to sell more of, perhaps based on:

  • Profit margins.
  • Warehouse space availability.
  • Or maybe you’re looking to move into a new market.

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Similarly, it might be about attracting a type of person, using data to identify that the decision-makers around a purchase are typically of a certain demographic or job title, then targeting campaigns to those personas to reap greater rewards in terms of sales and revenue.

A technique you might use to support this is to review your data.

Utilizing audience insight from the likes of GA, reviewing CRM data, conducting audience profiling, investing in Mosaic data, and so on can inform you as to the audience types with the greatest propensity to buy and the greatest value when they do.

Sales

Similar to traffic, it’s likely you’re trying to drive more bottom line sales but again, let’s not stop there.

Rather than knowing we want to drive sales, let’s be more granular in our exploration of what that looks like; is it more sales, or more sales of something specific or higher value sales?

We had a client once who was running out of physical space in their warehouse due to having so many garden tables still in stock.

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A PR / PPC campaign was employed to focus on that specific product, this freeing up the space to fit more, new products. It’s not always just about ‘sales’.

A Note on ‘Shared Goals’

The reason these goals are shared is that they’re not solely influenced by PR.

You can build all the amazing links in the world but if the site isn’t technically sound or the content isn’t up to scratch, it won’t rank.

You can drive all the visitors to your campaign but if the product you are trying to sell goes out of stock or isn’t of good quality, or the conversion journey is too difficult, you can’t expect PR alone to drive sales.

Essentially, the shared goals make us more strategically aligned and help us to get the most possible value out of our activities.

Not Every Goal Is an End Goal

In the same way that savvy marketers recognize the value of contributions higher up the marketing funnel as well as the bottom line conversions, those investing and working in digital PR should recognize the contribution of actions that lead to their bottom line goals.

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What I mean by this is that we need to be great project managers.

We need to plan out our campaigns to allow us to give our clients/teams visibility over the roadmap to success as well as the destination.

This allows us then to make judgments according to things like our progress against that roadmap.

For example, if you are part of an agency/team that reports monthly, and you’re investing in a campaign that spans multiple months, it’s still important to have check-in points along the way such that you can report back monthly (or however frequently is appropriate to you) to say, “Yes, we’re on track.”

It’s also about bringing everyone along on that journey.

If all we ask our client/team to judge us on is the final destination, then we neglect to recognize the value in how we get there.

Specifically, we don’t sell links (not least because that’s against Google guidelines!)

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What we sell is the expertise and work that goes into earning those links.

For this reason, I’m an advocate for making and agreeing on annual plans with more granular quarterly tasks.

Using longer-term thinking allows us to be more strategic in terms of:

  • Where we put our campaigns in the calendar.
  • How we drive more value from them by revisiting them further down the line.

Gannt charts work well, project management systems like Teamwork or Jira work well, just having regular comms works well.

Whatever it is, ensure you’ve defined what success looks like even if you’re not expecting to build links that month.

Plan for Success by Avoiding Failure

The reason I am so passionate about our discipline is that I believe the real craft lies in strategies that drive success in the context of the challenges we face.

It’s not a fault of digital PR that not every campaign earns tons of links.

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It’s a characteristic of digital PR that not every campaign will earn tons of links.

And, in my opinion, that’s for good reason.

If earning links was easy, it wouldn’t be called earning and it wouldn’t hold value.

If every site gets every link how does Google know who should rank at the top?

In which case, it’s not a fair representation of PR to suggest that any campaign fails.

Rather, it’s important that we as PR practitioners account for the journey in reaching the destination.

Put simply, if we think that only 1 in 3 campaigns lands links, then:

  • We need to look at why that is.
  • We need to make sure we’re running plenty of campaigns so we hit that 1 in 3 as frequently as needed to reach our end goals.

Of course, one key way we avoid failure is by defining success and setting clear KPIs as discussed throughout this post.

Thinking too about how we can get more links for each campaign, here are a few practical steps you can take:

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Create Layered Strategies & Split Tests

Whether it’s running concurrent campaigns or campaigns with multiple angles, having a layered approach to your PR strategy can reap rewards in terms of perceptions of success and also the consistent link velocity that’s favored by the search engines.

For example, rather than putting all of your eggs in one basket, as it were, consider running various campaigns at one time such that you can target different niches/publications/audiences and then test the results.

Think of it as a split test for PR.

By framing it in this way for your team/client, you’re setting the expectation that not everything will achieve the same levels of success, but that for every apparently “fail”, you’re learning a vital lesson that improves your hit rate moving forward.

I recently ran a survey-based campaign (I love these!) where every one of the 17 questions asked was a news story, no matter which way the audience answered, and that gave me 17 different angles.

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I then created additional angles from a number of these by simply applying the survey insights to other existing datasets.

In total, I’ve got about 23 different angles I could take depending on the news agenda.

And I’ve allocated enough time to explore the majority of those (I’ll come back to this point).

Just having one story and hoping it flies just isn’t sensible, especially at a time when the news agenda can change so quickly.

Giving Enough Time to Each Campaign

When you’ve got lots of campaign ideas and there’s so much great inspiration to give you more, it’s easy to see how PRs might plan to do arguably too many campaigns each year.

Though admirable, this can lead to not giving enough time to each one.

Every stage of a PR campaign is vital.

  • The research is vital. Without it there’s no inspiration or data-driven insight, no owned or shared goals.
  • The ideation is vital. Without it, there’s no ideas, no analysis of ideas, no stress testing of ideas (and if your team is anything like mine, there are no Oreos and Sensations crisps without ideation sessions!).
  • The asset creation is vital. Without it, there’s nothing to link to.
  • The media list building is vital. Without it, there’s no one to sell the idea to, no one to write the article.
  • The outreach is vital. Without it, the message doesn’t get out.
  • The follow-ups are vital. Without it, there’s no link rec, no identification of the right person to pitch to.
  • The review process is vital. Without it, there are no lessons learned and no way to get better.

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But while every stage is vital, I’ve worked with enough digital marketers and PRs to know that it is daunting when you’re faced with a client/boss who’s asking you to do X, Y, and Z, and you know there’s barely enough time for X but you agree to it anyway.

We need to be fairer to ourselves.

Not because PR takes ages, but because good PR comes from the process, and every aspect of that process is vital.

Every aspect is also worthy of being paid for – speaking from an agency perspective, it’s important clients recognize that the expertise and knowledge that goes into those ideation sessions and so on – even the ones where we’re depicted chilling on bean bags with cans of fizzy drink and tennis balls – are The Value.

No one’s paying for links. They’re paying for the process.

This means that we need to be crafting roadmaps that allow us enough time to:

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  • Do our research.
  • Conduct our ideation.
  • Create our assets.
  • Build our media lists.
  • Do our outreach.
  • Follow up.
  • Review our work.

Think you can smash out some outreach in an hour?

You can’t!

But rather than panic and say we can deliver more than we know we can, we should instead be confident in pushing back and setting fair expectations that are fair for everyone.

Analyze the Granular Data

It’s great that we’re so open as an industry that we’re willing to share data with one another to inform and inspire.

But it’s also important to note that what’s true on an aggregated level for one agency won’t necessarily be true on a granular level for you/your client.

By setting our KPIs and defining our owned and shared goals, we’re articulating the context of our own success; as long as that’s agreed with our team/client, we’re in a good place.

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It might be, for example, that the average number of follow-ups that achieves success in a campaign is 3, or that outreaching on a Thursday morning at 8 a.m. works best, but those things can only be starting points for your activity.

Even if you’ve been in the PR game for many years, every client has their own unique journey to take, dictated by their own goals, aspirations, audience, marketplace, competitors, SERPs landscape, and so on.

So reviewing data on a client level and taking lessons from that is another thing that will drive better and better results as you continue to work together.

That data might be digital data like GA audience insights, keyword rankings, sales information, or CRM data.

Or it might be something less tangible.

We tend to avoid talking about fluffy metrics like how happy the client is.

But be brave enough to recognize that your client knows more about their industry and audience than you do and prepared to share in their celebration of a particular piece of coverage even if it’s DR:1 and you personally just don’t get it!

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Take insights from your data, learn lessons, and apply them to be better and better all the time.

Be Fair to Each Other & Fair to Yourself

There have been comments in some places lately that could be interpreted as a suggestion that PRs should reduce their public celebration of campaigns they’re proud of.

For me, the notion that PRs would not share their successes is sad.

The celebration of success is something I value hugely about our industry because it’s through seeing the successes of others that I can be inspired and energized.

Instead, let’s reframe those celebrations.

We work in PR, so we’re going to put a positive spin on our public comms.

But, as people within the industry, we can also note that there’s a lot behind those comms that we don’t know.

So a campaign got 10,000 links:

  • How much time went into it?
  • How much budget?
  • How many angles did they push to get to that point?

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Rather than thinking, “Crikey, that sets some unrealistic expectations!”, let’s take it as, “What great inspiration for my next campaign.”

Or, more simply, let’s celebrate the win with our peers, congratulate them on work they’re proud of, and move on if we don’t think it serves us. It’s all good!

It is only by defining what good looks like for ourselves and our clients that we can truly judge success or failure.

More Resources:

Google advanced search: Six powerful tips for better SEO

30-second summary:

  • Google advanced search helps you get granular with your searches and deliver hyper-focused searches with the help of search operators (or a combination of them).
  • For example, you can search for articles published in the last week by your competitors or discover internal linking opportunities you might’ve missed.
  • In this how-to guide, Venngage’s Aditya Sheth outlines six Google advanced search hacks you need to know to master Google search and become a better SEO.

I have to come clean on something: I’m lazy.

While being lazy may not be a virtue, it does come with an unseen advantage: It allows you to look for creative ways to get things done without necessarily spending more time.

And as an SEO, I’m always looking for ways to get more done without working longer hours. Essentially: aiming to accomplish more with less.

One way to do more with less is to look for tools, tactics or even hacks that help you cut down time wasted and get more done, faster. 

One of my favorite hacks ever? Google advanced search.

But what is it? In simple terms, the Google advanced search helps you fine-tune your searches to find exactly what you’re looking for. 

This is an especially useful skill if you want to quickly pull up small-bits of information without always having to rely on tools like Ahrefs, Moz, or SEMRush to do it for you.

In this how-to SEO guide, you’ll use advanced search operators to:

Before we dive into the meat of this guide, first things first:

A mini-crash course on advanced search operators

To keep things simple, we’re going to cover four operators I, as an SEO, use most often.

The first operator is the site search operator. What this allows you to do is retrieve results from a single website. All you have to do is type site:[any website] into Google.

For example, If I enter site:semrush.com, I will only see results pertaining to SEMrush:

You don’t need the http://, https://, or www prefixes when using the site operator.

That’s not all, you can even use a keyword in addition to the site operator to find if that site has written any content around that keyword.

Let’s say I want to find whether we’ve covered the keyword “infographic” on the site. I’ll enter “site:semrush.com infographic” and this is what comes up:

I personally use the site operator very frequently as it limits my search results to a single domain. Keep this operator in mind as we’re going to be relying on it later.

The next operator you’ll find useful is the quotes or exact-match (“”) operator. What the exact-match operator does is limit your searches to exact-match phrases only.

For example, here is a normal Google search (notice the number of results):

And now the same phrase wrapped in quotation marks: 

Notice something different? 

Compared to a normal Google search, exact-match queries will only show you results where your keyphrase has been mentioned exactly as it is (and not a variation). 

This operator is especially powerful to identify if your site has any duplicate content that could be sabotaging your rankings (more on this later).

Last but not the least, we’re going to learn the dash (-) and plus (+) operators to perform laser-targeted searches. 

What the dash (-) operator does is excludes certain keywords from appearing in the search results. So if I wanted to read about the topic of search engines but not search engine optimization, I’d use the following query: 

By using the “- optimization” in my search, I’ll only see results about search engines and not search engine optimization.

The plus (+) operator, you guessed it — does the exact opposite. You can use the plus operator to add words to your original search and show you a different set of results. 

For example, here’s a query I entered in Google search:

What did I do here? I used the site:, dash and plus operators in conjunction to show me articles that closely relate to search engine marketing but not SEO on the Search Engine Watch blog.

Venngage

There are many search operators out there (too many to list in fact). You can find a much more comprehensive list of search operators on the Moz blog.

But for simplicity’s sake, we’re going to stick to the site, exact match, dash, and plus operators in this guide.

Six Google advanced search tips for better SEO

Using the Google advanced search operators above, you can access exactly what you’re looking for and spend less time searching for it.

Advanced search can come really handy especially when you’re just starting out and don’t have the budget for expensive SEO tools.

Imagine all the endless possibilities that lie in wait for you as an SEO; if only you got better at googling. Well, it’s easier than you think. I’ll show it to you:

1. Conduct basic but insightful competitor research

Conducting competitor research on Google is really easy. All you have to do is use the “related:” search operator followed by a website URL. 

“Related:” allows you to find sites that are closely related to a specific URL. You can use related to identify not only direct competitors but also indirect peripheral competitors that you might’ve missed in your competitor research.

Not only that, the related: operator also helps you understand how Google is categorizing your competitors and your website.

Let’s look at what Google returns if we search for competitors related to Venngage

I already know the first three results are our direct competitors, but the last two are surprising because they seem to be indirectly competing with us (and I wasn’t even aware of them).

We’re an online infographic maker tool while both Column Five Media and InfoNewt appear to be done-for-you agencies. Google has identified and categorized them as sites related to Venngage which is an insightful find.

Don’t dismiss this advanced search hack because of its simplicity. Try it for yourself and see what Google comes up with. You might just come away with a better understanding of the competition as it pertains to SEO.

2. Stalk your competitor’s content strategy

Sticking to the topic of competitor research, here’s a cool way you can spy on your competitor’s content strategy: combining the site operator and Google’s date-range filter.

Let’s try this on one of our direct competitors: Piktochart.

To limit my search to only blog-related results, I’ll use Piktochart’s/blog subdomain instead of their website. And by the looks of it, they have 790 pages on their blog. 

I can use the date-range filter (click on tools and filter by date) to further drill down these results to identify what content they published in the last month only. Here’s what comes up: 

This not only tells me Pitkchart published four new articles last month but also gives me insight into Piktocharts’ content strategy and the keywords they’re targeting.

You can find even more data by filtering the results by days, months, or custom time periods. 

I can even include exact-match (“your keyword” in quotes) keywords to find out how much content Piktochart has published on any given topic, which is a clever way to uncover their topic cluster strategy. 

Let’s take content marketing as a topic for example

Using the site operator in conjunction with the date filters on Google search gives you information on: 

  • How much content your competition has published till date
  • How often they publish new content in a given time period
  • What kind of content they publish at a certain point in time
  • How often your competitor has written about a given topic

Pretty cool right? 

3. Unearth a gold mine of guest posting opportunities 

If your goal is to drive quality traffic back to your website, pick up high-quality backlinks, boost your website’s domain authority and even rank higher on Google — guest blogging will help you do all of the above.

Anybody that tells you guest blogging is dead is either lying or in on it. Guest blogging still works, even in 2020.

Now that we’ve briefly covered how important guest blogging really is, how do you uncover guest blogging opportunities in your niche or industry?

Here are a few advanced search queries you can copy and paste into Google

  • Your Keyword “guest post opportunities”
  • Your Keyword “guest post”
  • Your Keyword “submit guest post”
  • Your Keyword “submit blog post”
  • Your Keyword intitle:“write for us”
  • Your Keyword intitle:“guest post guidelines”

If I’m looking to guest post for sites in the design space, for example, I’d use the following query:

Sites bookmarked. Guest post pitches sent. Fingers crossed. 

Try out these search queries for yourself and you’ll be able to build a respectable list of sites to contribute for.

Brian Dean has the most exhaustive guide on guest blogging I’ve read (it includes a huge list of search operators that will help you find even more guest posting opportunities).

4. Discover hidden opportunities for internal linking

Internal linking plays a small but important role in the ranking factors that determine how well you rank on Google.

Irrespective of how well-designed and easy-to-navigate your site may be, a great internal linking structure can make all the difference when it comes to driving traffic from one post to another across your entire blog.

Internal linking also creates topical relevance by creating supporting content for the main topics of your website.

A few weeks ago, I published a mammoth webinar guide on the Venngage blog. I wanted it to start driving traffic to the post and rank for high-volume keywords immediately.

I got to work by finding out where I could link to our guide internally from as many relevant posts on our blog as possible. All I did was use the site operator and the keyword “webinar”: 

Boom! Barring the first result, I found 47 internal linking opportunities with a simple search. And all it took was a few seconds.

You can even use this search query: site:www.yourwebsite.com/blog intext:”your keyword” to pretty much do the same thing.

This advanced search hack won’t be as useful if you’ve recently started blogging, but it will come in handy if you manage a huge blog that already has a lot of existing content.

5. Find duplicate content on your website

Duplicate content is content that appears on more than one location on your website and can confuse search engines when it comes to deciding which page to rank higher. 

In short: Duplicate content can hurt your website rankings and it’s a technical SEO issue you cannot afford to ignore.

To show you an example of duplicate content, I’ll use this small piece of copy from the Apple Airpods product description on Walmart

Google advanced search tips: Duplicate Content

Using the site operator, I’ll paste the copy into Google using the exact-match operator. Here’s what I come up with: 

The same piece of copy shows up on six other pages on Walmart. Things could be a lot worse but still, not ideal.

But if I were to search for the same piece of copy across the web (not just Walmart) using the dash operator, this is what comes up:

The same piece of copy appears on ~19,000 other websites (excluding Walmart). That’s a lot of duplicate content. 

Duplicate content is especially a major issue for website blogs with 1,000s of pages or ecommerce sites with the same product descriptions. 

6. Find missed content opportunities

One of the last search operators I’ll cover is the “filetype” operator. 

Filetype can help you find non-HTML content on your site, such as Word Documents or PDF files. This content is often valuable, but not search optimized. And traffic to it doesn’t show up in your Analytics.

To use this search operator, simple type in “site:yourwebsite.com filetype:pdf” like so: 

Then look at that content. Have you published it as HTML content? Is it search optimized? Is there an opportunity to make it a valuable, rank-worthy and trackable webpage?

PDF files are often the rust of the internet, added to sites because the content manager doesn’t have an easy way to publish actual web pages.

They should always be an alternate (print-friendly, download-friendly) version of HTML content. They should almost never be the only version of a piece of content.  

Your turn to master Google search

Congratulations! You’ve officially made it to the end of this mammoth guide. 

Google is far more powerful and robust than we realize or give it credit for. 

Knowing what to search for and how to search for it with the help of Google advanced search operators will help you harness Google’s true power and in turn, grow your site.

As SEOs, our job comprises running SEO tests, tinkering with Google’s algorithms, and staying on top of the latest search trends.

Google advanced search is not only a fun skill that you can learn over the weekend. It can help you uncover opportunities hiding in plain sight and help you be more effective at your job.

The real kicker

Google is and always will be free. The know-how to fine-tune your searches will help you become a better SEO and pay dividends over the long term.

Has using Google advanced search in your day-to-day made you a better SEO? Which search operators do you use most frequently? Did I miss any advanced search tips? Drop them in the comments below.

Aditya Sheth does Content & SEO at Venngage. You can connect with him on Linkedin or find him on Twitter @iamadityashth.

July 2020 Google Webmaster Report

It is time for the monthly Google Webmaster Report where I sum up the more important organic Google topics for SEOs and webmasters. The big news is that Google had some unconfirmed algorithm updates and one was big that had a larger impact on government sites. Google is going to be removing counterfeit goods from organic search. Google Shopping is going free, even on Google.com. Oh, and Google has a new head of Google Search – Prabhakar Raghavan.

Google Search Console is testing something called Google Search Console Insights. It has a deeper level of integration with Google Analytics and gives you a perspective of your traffic that Search Console previously did not give you. Search Console also added search appearance filters for recipe results.

Google took a stronger stance on guest posts for links, paid or not, they should be nofollowed. Google updated its how search works help document. GoogleBot is able to add products to your shopping cart. Google fixed an issue, partially, with indexing comments powered by Disqus. And you can now get fact labels on images if you want to use ClaimReview schema there.

There is a lot more, both on the SEO front, local side and Google is testing a ton of user interfaces. But they did launch the featured snippet highlight feature after a lot of testing.

The ongoing WebmasterWorld thread is pretty new, not much there right now. And to catch up on last month, check out the June report.

Here are the topics below:

Google Algorithms & Ranking Updates:

Google Misc: Google Search Console: Google SEO: Google Local & Maps: Google User Interface Tests:

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld.

CCPA enforcement starts now and most companies aren’t ready

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) went into effect on January 1, 2020 with a six-month enforcement grace period. That end date is now here.

The basics. As a refresher, CCPA explicitly applies to companies that qualify under one or more of the following statutory criteria:  

  • Have gross annual revenues in excess of $25 million;
  • Possess the personal information of 50,000 or more consumers, households, or devices; or
  • Earn more than half of their annual revenue from selling consumers’ personal information

A number of categories of businesses are explicitly exempted from CCPA compliance, including certain industries covered by federal regulations. However, most publishers will need to be ready to enable U.S. consumers to opt-out of third-party data transfers and demonstrate compliance to regulators in the event of an investigation or complaint.

Attorney Aaron Tantleff, a partner at law firm Foley & Lardner, offers a sliver of hope that CCPA may not apply to everyone, while cautioning that the law has few geographic boundaries. “We have spoken with many clients that have called in a panic to discover that CCPA does not apply. The applicability of the CCPA, like the GDPR, is not limited to only those organizations based in California. It may apply to organizations that lack any physical presence in the State.”

Broad application to businesses globally. As a practical matter the statute will broadly apply to most commercial enterprises, whether or not they explicitly target California residents.  For example, an early analysis of the legislation by the IAPP says:

Companies may pass [the personal information of 50,000 consumers] threshold more quickly than anticipated because the scope of personal information is broad. Most companies operate websites and inevitably capture IP addresses. Notably, companies need to comply regardless of whether the website targeted businesses or individual customers in California given that the term “consumer” is defined to mean any “resident.” Even individual bloggers and relatively small businesses outside California may find it difficult to ensure that they do not receive personal information of more than 50,000 California resident visitors to their website annually, simply from having it be passively accessible from there, and, within California, most retailers, fitness studios, music venues and other businesses will meet this threshold.

Risks of non-compliance. The California Attorney general can impose financial penalties up to $2,500 for non-willful violations and $7,500 for intentional violations. But these numbers can multiple quickly if thousands or millions of users are implicated. In most cases there will be no liability where the violation is “cured” within 30 days of receiving notice. There is also a private or individual right of action when personal information is wrongfully disclosed under CCPA. (The first CCPA class action lawsuit [.pdf] was filed in February against Hanna Andersson and Salesforce.)

According a recent Ethyca survey of 218 general counsels of technology companies, 56% said they were “unprepared for new privacy regulations coming in around the globe,” which includes CCPA. During the months leading up to the enforcement deadline, 43% of respondents said they had deprioritized privacy preparedness because of COVID-19. The survey also found that lack of resources or cost was the greatest challenge in complying.

What to do now. “For businesses still looking to button up on compliance, the essential — and only — first step is to figure out the personal data you possess and where it lives,” says Cillian Kieran, CEO of Ethyca. “After you’ve built a data map that has a thorough and complete record of the data you hold, and where it lives, you can worry about putting the structures in place to address various compliance tasks. But it all starts with the map.”

Attorney Tantleff adds, “Document everything. By now, organizations should have a robust set of security measures in place. However, under the CCPA, an organization must demonstrate that it has implemented reasonable security measures designed to protect personal information based upon the nature and sensitivity of that information.”

According to Lisa Rapp, VP of Data Ethics at LiveRamp, “No company should try to do this on their own. The best thing to do is to obtain as much information as possible by reading what industry leaders are saying, staying up-to-date on the materials that groups like the IAPP and IAB are putting out, and reaching out to prominent law firms that deal with data privacy to gain their legal counsel and interpretations of the law.”

Julie Rubash, VP of Legal at Nativo, recommends that publishers read the Attorney General’s final regulations “to ensure that current [privacy] plans are in line with the Attorney General’s interpretation.” She adds that “Tools like the IAB CCPA Framework are a step in the right direction to prepare for an inquiry and limit revenue disruptions. Publishers that leverage the IAB CCPA Compliance Framework tool and sign the limited service provider agreement are unlikely to experience a significant impact to their business models.”

Abby Matchett, Enterprise Analytics Lead at Bounteous, says, “Because CCPA takes a much broader view of personal data than Europe’s GDPR guidelines, most companies must undertake a significant internal inventory of any data that may be linked, directly or indirectly, with a consumer or household. Conducting such an inventory places a heavy burden on IT organizations, legal departments, and data analysts who may already be dedicated to other internal priorities. Overcoming this obstacle is one of the first steps towards compliance but is often the most challenging to coordinate and fully document.”

Matchett further explains, “If you are concerned that you may not have time to build a home-grown digital solution for this purpose, consider reaching out to third-party Cookie Consent Manager software companies that specialize in maintaining CCPA & GDPR ready solutions. Some common Consent Managers include TrustArc, OneTrust, and Quantcast, among others.”

Here comes CPRA. Even as many companies are struggling to comply with CCPA, a new November California ballot initiative could impose even tougher privacy rules if passed. According to the Future of Privacy Forum’s Katelyn Ringrose, “While companies may have begun, and in some cases, finalized strong compliance programs and efforts addressing the CCPA—the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA), recently certified for the 2020 ballot, could have an enactment date as early as 2023, placing additional obligations on covered entities. The CPRA would create a sensitive data classification, place additional obligations on processors, and require the establishment of a California Privacy Protection Agency.”

Why we care. Large numbers of consumers have expressed concerns about how their data are being handled online. But there’s evidence that “privacy forward” companies are seeing both brand and financial benefits, in terms of greater consumer trust and even stronger revenue growth.

It’s foolish to delay taking the necessary steps to prioritize privacy and data security. As Tom O’Regan, CEO of Madison Logic put it, “Ultimately, complying with the CCPA controls will be far less expensive than penalties from non-compliance.”

Thursday’s Live with Search Engine Land will be a special CCPA and privacy discussion featuring Lisa Rapp, VP Data Ethics, LiveRamp, Abby Matchett, Enterprise Analytics Lead, Bounteous, Katelyn Ringrose, attorney, Future of Privacy Forum.

It starts at 1:00 p.m. EDT and will allow up to 100 people into the meeting to experience the discussion live and ask questions. If you’re a digital marketer you can’t afford to miss this. Sign up here.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land, a member of the programming team for SMX events and the VP, Market Insights at Uberall.

Why text messaging remains the top business communication tool

The reason why businesses are opting for text messages is because most customers, according to surveys, seem to prefer texting over any communication channel. For example, one survey discovered that nearly 80 percent of people expressed a primacy for text as the preferred communication link with a business. To add to this, messaging is also up to eight times more preferred than face to face communication across all generations. This preference is perhaps because telephone calls take too long, and emails too often go unread. Business can use the customer preference to engage in text message marketing, which refers to any marketing campaign that uses text messages to deliver advertisements or promotions to user. Despite the strong demand for text messaging, and acceptance by businesses that the ‘Short Message Service‘ (SMS) remains the leading option, it stands that just 48 percent of businesses in the U.S. are technologically equipped to send and receive text messages from customers. According to Numa, which is an artificial intelligence enabled virtual answering service, the company has recently developed a tool for businesses to help them with customer services in the text messaging space. Numan has integrated with Google’s Business Message to help brands connect with consumers through messaging. In addition to text messages, picture messages, Facebook Messenger and voicemail, Numa integrates a “message” button from within Google Maps and Search at no extra cost to businesses or their customers.

E-A-T & Link Building: A Guide to Evaluating Prospects via @_kevinrowe

E-A-T has been a hot topic when it comes to on-site content.

But why, how, and when should you consider concepts in E-A-T with link building efforts?

Your site cannot have E-A-T without a link and brand mention profile.

In the Search Quality Rater Guidelines, Google states that “sources of reputation” are “news articles, Wikipedia, articles, blog posts, magazine articles, forum discussions, and ratings” when establishing Page Rating.

And it’s easy to determine that E-A-T can, in certain niches and to varying degrees, be leveraged in evaluating a site’s fit to secure a link.

But, Google’s Ben Gomes said in a 2018 interview with CNBC that:

“You can view the rater guidelines as where we want the search algorithm to go.”

“They don’t tell you how the algorithm is ranking results, but they fundamentally show what the algorithm should do.”

Even though E-A-T doesn’t directly have an impact on ranking, it can result in creating signals that drive direct ranking improvement.

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Still, it’s important to use your own experience when understanding what works and doesn’t work in your niche.

If you follow Google’s recommendations or guidelines strictly, you’ll always be playing the long-game or even lack any results, when it comes to link building.

And it’s clear that Google cannot even implement an algorithmic interpretation that has the strictest interpretations of these guidelines.

A great example of this is under recipes.

My eight-year-old daughter and I were looking for banana bread recipes in Google.

We found the one in the screenshot below from Allrecipes.

I found that this recipe is actually way off on the bake when we baked it, by more than 30 minutes. But it had more than 15K reviews.

google search for recipes

google search for recipes

I can dig up a hundred similar examples fairly easily.

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So there is a major caveat when applying my interpretation of E-A-T to guide link acquisition.

Don’t use E-A-T guidelines to strictly evaluate prospective sites in every niche.

When to Use E-A-T Standards for Link Prospects?

There are three major considerations before even bothering to review a site against your guidelines, under a fair interpretation of Google’s search quality raters guidelines.

  • If the sites are completely useless, then no need to do an in-depth analysis.
  • Not every niche or scenario requires a strict analysis of a site to build a link.
  • A natural link profile doesn’t just have E-A-T sites.

Let’s start with a “useless site,” as there is no point in further review of a site if it is not designed to create value but is “made for SEO.”

Google’s page quality guidelines state that:

“Websites or pages without any beneficial purpose, including pages that are created with no attempt to help users, or pages that potentially spread hate, cause harm, or misinform or deceive users, should receive the Lowest rating. No further assessment is necessary.”

I do not believe in having a strict interpretation of the phrase “beneficial purpose.”

My interpretation is that if the site has no relevant content that helps users then it’s useless.

But it isn’t so clear.

For example, The Million Dollar Homepage had no value but to sell ads so a guy could make a million dollars by selling ads.

million dollar homepage seo page rank

million dollar homepage seo page rank

This site has over 94,000 backlinks (Ahrefs) but only ranks for 1,200 keywords.

This is an extreme example of a site I’d just avoid.

ahrefs link profile screenshot

ahrefs link profile screenshot

As for point 2, there are certain niches that require much stricter review than others.

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YMYL sites have much stricter standards than other niches.

In the guidelines, Google provides some guidance on what constitutes a completely useless site.

In the guidelines, Google explains that YMYL vs other sources will have different sources of reputation.

E-A-T & Link Building: A Guide to Evaluating Prospects

E-A-T & Link Building: A Guide to Evaluating Prospects

The last point is just a reality check for you people that review your link profile, or even build disavow lists with a strict interpretation of what is “high” or “low” quality.

If you’ve analyzed backlink profiles for competitive niches, then you’ve certainly seen a mix of links that you may consider verily degrees of quality and with a wide metric variation.

The screenshot from Ahrefs shows that bestcolleges.com’s page that ranks for “best online colleges for psychology” has a mix of link quality and domain rating (DR).

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There are certainly many lurking and confounding variables that also have an impact, but it’s so commonplace that you cannot ignore this fact.

ahrefs link profile data

ahrefs link profile data

What Are the Criteria for Evaluation?

My team and I have built a score with over 50 variables we delivered called PureGrade, to understand the likelihood of the site having a positive, negative, or neutral impact based on main content (MC) and supplemental content.

That said, Google uses an interesting scale that, in my opinion, provides way too much freedom to raters.

My team has used these criteria to rank sites that don’t necessarily qualify for YMYL content.

This has been built based on a manual review of over 60,000 sites and thousands of pages, across hundreds of enterprise-level projects.

And, Moz’s spam score has over “27 common features” that they claim correlates with a significant amount of banned or penalized sites.

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I don’t recommend using Moz’s spam score, PureGrade, or other single metrics as gospel for disavowing or prospecting new sites.

However, it helps to illustrate the point that we need to evaluate sites against a set of criteria and not only one or two.

Google guides its raters to use a scale of lowest, lowest+, high+, high, medium+, medium, low+, lowest +, and lowest.

google quality rater guidelines scale

google quality rater guidelines scale

It’s really important to note that this scale is used to rate the ranking site and not the linking site. This doesn’t mean you can’t use this scale to evaluate prospects.

For the purposes of this article, which is to make a connection between the quality rater guidelines and link-prospecting review criteria, I’ll only be listing out elements of a site based on E-A-T from ideally what Google’s, or search engines, “algorithm should do,” and not what I’ve seen work to drive ranking improvements.

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The rater guidelines only press on the idea of finding an expert in the niche and verifying that they are experts.

These core elements to review are:

  • About us, contact, or customer service info.
  • Outbound link profile.
  • A “positive reputation” of the main or supplemental content.

Beyond just finding the authorship, it’s important to evaluate the MC pages, and one key indicator is whether the site mentions “buy dofollow links” anywhere on the site.

If the site does say this, then it’s likely that most of the articles are not from reputable sources and you should avoid it.

This is not the case when the site mentions “paid guest posting.” This can mean they offer sponsored posts or affiliate links.

This is just how sites make money, and can be separate from the main content.

With an outbound link profile, search for overly commercial links.

These are typically links that surprise the user when clicked by funneling the user to the homepage or transactional pages.

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Finally, the “positive reputation,” is much harder to establish.

Use a mix of metrics from Ahrefs, Majestic, and Moz to understand the site reputation profile.

But you can also use tools like BuzzSumo to identify if the articles of the prospect get shared or have engagement.

A Final Note

It’s really important to note from the rater guidelines that:

“Frequently, you will find little or no information about the reputation of a website for a small organization. This is not indicative of positive or negative reputation. Many small, local businesses or community organizations have a small “web presence” and rely on word of mouth, not online reviews. For these smaller businesses and organizations, lack of reputation should not be considered an indication of low page quality.”

When evaluating micro-influencers or small blogs for prospects, you have to realize it’s not always critical to be strict.

More Resources:

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Image Credits

In-Post Image: Created by author, June 2020
All screenshots taken by author, June 2020

Porsche Design, matching bespoke capability for cars, to enable 1.5M design options for wristwatches

Porsche Design will let consumers customize their watches the way they customize Porsche cars, from trim to color and everything in between. Image courtesy of Porsche Design Porsche Design will let consumers customize their watches the way they customize Porsche cars, from trim to color and everything in between. Image courtesy of Porsche Design

Porsche Design is taking a page from sports car factories and letting consumers select from more than 1.5 million design configurations to create custom timepieces to match their vehicle.

How to build your brand authority through content marketing

30-second summary:

  • Brand authority can make a huge difference in whether someone decides to buy from you or not.
  • First you have to examine what your current brand recognition is like by seeing how you’re talked about online. This can help you identify opportunity areas.
  • Then you can dive in deeper and start researching typical questions your target audience has. Why? So you can answer them.
  • Finally, you’ll set out to answer the questions you collected in an authoritative way to start building trust.

Please forgive the fact that I’m tweaking a tired adage, but the message is true: Building your brand authority doesn’t happen overnight.

I was reminded of this fact very recently while scrolling through LinkedIn: 

Ongoing marketing efforts are needed to tell an authoritative story and build trust in potential customers. It can always make a difference when someone is deciding between two companies, and it’s even more important with B2B, since those products/services tend to involve a higher cost.

Here’s how you can go about utilizing digital marketing to increase your brand authority.

Note: I’m going to focus on the content itself, but earning backlinks — which is significantly easier to do with high-quality content — is a primary way to indicate to Google that other sites trust you, which signals that you’re more authoritative. Prioritizing your backlink portfolio will dramatically help you in all other authority-building efforts.

Gauge your brand authority level

Don’t assume you already understand how you’re viewed by your audience. Instead, before launching into any marketing strategies, check the data to get a sense of how you’re being perceived.

  • Have your branded searches increased or decreased? What search terms are people pairing with your brand? 
  • How are your customers or leads finding out about your brand? Was it from authoritative interviews or content you put out there or some other way?
  • Are you ever mentioned in the media? If you haven’t already, set up Google Alerts for your brand name and any prominent, public-facing employees. 

Another interesting consideration is: Who are the current authorities in your space? Are you aware of them all?

Brand authority through content marketing

The first way to identify this is to type into Google the phrases you wish you ranked for and see who is ranking for those terms. Sometimes it’s the competitors you knew about, but sometimes other sites have climbed up the authority ladder.

Additionally, you can use tools like SparkToro to search your topic area and see where your audience is going for information. 

Gauging brand authority through tools

If you search for your vertical, you can then see the most popular publications, podcasts, social channels, and more visited by the audience interested in your vertical.

Then the question becomes, are you on these lists? If not, who is and why? What are they doing well? You can aim to be featured on these different media outlets, as you know they appeal to your target audience.

Identify your audience’s questions

If you answer your audience’s questions, they’ll start to trust you and see you as an authority.

The concept sounds simple, and it is. But the execution is harder. First, how do you find out what their questions are?

Here are a few ways:

  • Tools like Answer the Public and BuzzSumo’s Questions will show you what people are asking based on different keywords you enter. 

Snapshot of BuzzSumo’s Questions tool

  • Keyword research can reveal the types of challenges people are facing. Don’t just look at keyword volume — look at “People also ask”. Get lost for a little while, clicking on various questions and related keywords. (Keywords Everywhere is a cool tool for search volume/competition, as is Keyword Surfer).
  • Talk to your sales team about what common questions are coming up. Have you answered these with content? Do they speak to the greater problems your audience faces?
  • Brush up on your audience personas. Different segments of your audience may have different problems. See if you’ve been accidentally neglecting a segment.

Once you have a solid list of the questions your audience has, you can work on effectively answering those questions.

Answer the questions with authoritative content

Once you know what you want to write about, how do you make it authoritative?

First of all, your methodology matters. Do your own original research whenever possible. Content backed by data is inherently more trustworthy than content based on opinion. If you’re featuring opinion, make sure it’s someone who can prove their expertise through their past experience.

Secondly, the content has to be created in a way that conveys authority:

  • It shouldn’t have any grammar or spelling errors
  • If it’s time-sensitive in any way, it needs a date on the article so people know exactly when it was written and thus the content can be put in its proper context
  • Sources should all be cited
  • The design should be clean and easy to read
  • The structure and navigation should be well-thought-out and provide insight into exactly what readers will learn
  • All information should be backed up with explanations and facts
  • If your piece was written by experts, provide their name and bio

Let’s take a look at some examples. I pulled the top organic text and video results for the query “how to choose a bike.” (I’m thinking about buying a bike, so I’m finding myself using a lot of bike-related examples as of late…)

REI’s article, “How to Choose a Bike,” ranks number one. I use REI examples a lot because I think they have a fantastic content strategy by using their expertise to answer all kinds of questions their customers could have.

But let’s focus specifically on what makes this article seem authoritative. 

First, it’s well organized and clearly outlined, even including a table where you can get the top-level information very quickly. Having a well-thought-out structure and design is a visual indication of knowledge and understanding of a topic.

They also have a section at the bottom labeled “Contributing Experts” so you know exactly who put the guide together and what experience they have.Contributing Experts

Finally, they responded to all of their comments, providing additional information to the people who had further questions.

Now let’s check out the top video result, which is from 2013, meaning people have found it useful for more than six years. What about it feels authoritative?

For one, look at how he outlines right at the beginning what the video will cover, setting proper expectations and indicating a solid knowledge of the subject.

Additionally, he doesn’t just list the features of the different types; he explains the usefulness of those features to help you make a more informed decision.

There are a few other techniques to display authority, as well. Andy Crestodina recommends including quotes and tips from other thought leaders in your piece. You can also get third-party validation for your content in the form of testimonials, reviews, or asking influencers to share what you created. The point here is to showcase that you associate with experts and that other people trust you.

Conclusion

It’ll take time and effort, but once you’re an authority, every other aspect of your marketing will gain more traction. Consider how to build authority into all of your digital marketing, and you’ll have the potential to amplify your results even further.

Amanda Milligan is the Marketing Director at Fractl, a prominent growth marketing agency that’s worked with Fortune 500 companies and boutique businesses.

Google Replaced The Sponsored Label With The Ads Label

Yesterday Google has removed the “Sponsored” label on the Google Shopping Ads and replaced it with the black “Ads” label you see on normal Google Search Ads. Ginny Marvin from Search Engine Land said this is “streamlining” the ads label.

Here are before and after screen shots that I saw myself on the desktop results.

Old “Sponsored” Google Ads Label (click to enlarge):

click to enlarge

New “Ads” Google Ads Label (click to enlarge):

click for full size

Ginny also produced an excellent history of Google Ads labels.

I prefer it read “Ads” versus “Sponsored” – so I am happy with this change.

Forum discussion at Twitter.

Replay: Addressing diversity recruitment and retainment in agencies and marketing teams

The lack of diversity in the advertising and marketing industry is not a new issue. Despite loads of research on the business benefits of diverse teams, there’s been talk but little action for years to increase Black and minority representation in the industry.

During this session of Live with Search Engine Land, which took place during SMX Next last week, I discussed how to accomplish change in your organization with:

  • CJ Bland, co-­founder, CEO and principal consultant of the Minority Professional Network, which specializes in DE&I recruiting and retention, marketing, training/speaking and consulting.
  • Zenia Johnson, an account lead at digital agency 3Q Digital who specializes in social media and is passionate about fostering inclusivity and diversity in the digital technology space.
  • Jackie Leung, director of talent acquisition at digital agency Wpromote. She oversees all hiring practices nationwide and leads the agency’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion Initiative.

We discussed why diversity is good business, what intentional commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives looks like, recruiting, hiring and retainment practices to achieve diversity goals and how employees can initiate change in their organizations. Watch the full session above.

For more on this topic, see the accompanying article: Actionable ways to drive diversity, equity and inclusion in your marketing organizations.

Live with Search Engine Land’s weekly meetups are about giving great marketers a platform to inform, support and convene our global community. If you have an idea for a session or would like to join a panel, email [email protected].

More from SMX Next

This story first appeared on Search Engine Land.


About The Author

Ginny Marvin is Third Door Media’s Editor-in-Chief, running the day to day editorial operations across all publications and overseeing paid media coverage. Ginny Marvin writes about paid digital advertising and analytics news and trends for Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today. With more than 15 years of marketing experience, Ginny has held both in-house and agency management positions. She can be found on Twitter as @ginnymarvin.