British adman Rory Sutherland gets to the heart of why brand voices matter... they can add value to a product or service. Proper positioning can disrupt how people perceive a brand, bring awareness and customer support.

I love Rory Sutherland. He is an original through and through. So I thought I would assemble some of his best videos for you. Enjoy his novel perceptions and unique perspective.

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Once upon a time, there were thousands of newspapers and magazines. Now, most of those periodicals have vanished. Digital news has taken over.

Likewise, marketers have shifted ad dollars from print to digital channels, including social media. Paid search (Google AdWords) is the leading form of digital advertising.

Does this mean print is dead? Not at all.

It means there is a lot of misinformation and confusion when it comes to using different marketing channels. Digital is not the best option for all clients and situations. And small clients simply cannot afford television, no matter how great the benefits.

Let's look at how print marketing stacks up against other traditional channels and digital.

Digital ads win for accountability

Today's marketers are expected to tie spending to ROI. This is difficult to do with print advertising but easy to do with most digital channels. Internet users can be tracked across a website. Cookies can be used to re-market to them with search ads. We can measure when a user clicks on an ad and, most of the time, we can determine whether that click results in a sale.

But data can be overwhelming

The problem with accountability is that many marketers fail to implement it. Tracking can be complex and the amount of data can be staggering, rendering it useless.

Further, multiple channels can interact with the same customer, making it impossible to isolate responsibility for a sale. Marketers have not figured out how to move beyond a linear silo, which depends upon a direct relationship between a search ad and a sale. In reality, customers are exposed to multiple messages, all of which influence the outcome.

A study for IBM by Econsultancy found the majority of digital marketers rate their ability to use customer analytics as "poor" or "very poor;" only 3% said the insights provided were "excellent." B2B research for the Content Marketing Institute found that while 86% of large organizations use content marketing, only 21% are successful at tracking its ROI.

The challenge is that while new technologies and the data that underpins them have the potential to create a truly omni-channel customer experience, marketers’ methodologies are still forcing everything through the same outdated, siloed processes.

Marketing Week

Social media wins for affordability

Recent statistics show that less than two-thirds of small businesses have a website, but 96% use social media. In other words, many small businesses find it easier and more affordable to have a free Facebook page than a website.

Other forms of free social media include Yelp listings, Google My Business, and directory listings.

Digital ads (Google AdWords) can be difficult to manage and require a strong website. Many small businesses do not have the needed expertise to run a successful digital advertising campaign.

Traditional media wins for branding

According to an analysis on spending by Samuel Scott, television and print advertising remain the strongest brand-building tools.

Television far outstrips any other medium used for branding. Largest brands continue to spend the lion's share of their budgets on television.

My personal opinion is that digital is not necessarily good at getting mass reach and frequency fast. Television still performs very well. For all the stories about TV being dead a good television campaign can get you lot of awareness. What it can’t get you is any sort of engagement.

Darren Woolley

Luxury brands rely on print

Although luxury travel is increasing its digital ad spending, other luxury categories – fashion, jewelry, cars – continue to rely mainly on print advertising. High-end global brands spend about 72% of their budgets on print and only 16% on digital.

Why? Because luxury consumers continue to read print. Tess MacLeod Smith of Porter states:

Eighty-five percent of them said print was the No. 1 influence in helping them decide what to buy, and we realized we need to give our readers their fashion fix in print as well as in digital.

Tess MacLeod Smith

The many virtues of print

One reason prints ads are such a powerful branding tool is their contextual content is of much higher quality and relevance than free digital content. In fact, traditional publishers have been able to double the cost of subscriptions without losing subscribers.

Condé Nast has also had success with price hikes on some of its magazines, including—notably—The New Yorker. The cost of a print subscription to the magazine has increased from $59.99 in 2015 to $109.99 this year (after an introductory offer of $12). The increases have apparently not slowed subscriptions, which have grown at double-digit rates every year for the past five years.


Print provides deeper reader engagement

Ziming Liu is one of many researchers who has concluded that while digital provides a better search experience, print is superior for the actual consumption of information.

People spend more time reading print content. The average person spends 40 minutes reading a magazine, according to the 2014 Media Factbook. In contrast, the average person leaves a website in less than a minute.

Likewise, print is written to be read, but digital content is formatted to be scanned. People go to print to relax. They go to digital sources for news and information. The differences in intent show up in the way users read web pages; 80% scan instead of read digital content.

A study by Millward Brown conducted by the UK Royal Mail shows that greater emotional processing occurs with print media, making print information more memorable.

Although technological advances keep improving the functionality of digital media, that format still lacks the physical intimacy of paper—a shortcoming that explains, in part, why print is still a major player in the communications field.

Mamu Media LLC

Print cuts through the clutter

Print ads are especially useful for startups and local small businesses because (a) the cost is much lower than television, and (b) print publications can target niche markets.

Print direct mail can be targeted and effective. In highly competitive local industries (such as hurricane windows in South Florida), a print mailing to zip code sorted neighborhoods might be a better and faster option than the slow burn of SEO.

The average response rate for standard direct mail is 3.4% vs 0.12% for email.... and email is the strongest converter in the digital funnel. Many digital marketers fail to realize the role print can play in driving traffic to a website.

Printed materials are also useful in B2B. Brandon Ortiz of Salesforce has said:

The ubiquity of digital media has given print media a strange new power. Think of how special it is to get a written letter as opposed to an email. If you're trying to target a C-level audience, forget email -- their assistant will just hit delete. But if you take your e-book, print it as a nice brochure and mail it to the exec's office, it might get to their desk and leave a lasting impression. 

Brandon Ortiz

Print revenues are rising

Commercial printers produce brochures, direct mail pieces, etc. Some printers offer related services, like mail fulfillment and list management, but 75% focus only on printing services.

The printing industry has been hard hit, but revenues are beginning to climb.

Print enters 2018 with sales of approximately $84.0 billion, 9.1% above the 2011 low, but still 14.6% below the 2007 pre-Great Recession level.

Printing Impressions

Of course, the printing industry covers a lot of ground, from labels and packaging to signage. So it's not always clear how fast digital printing, web offset, thermal printing, or other technologies are growing or slowing relative to each other.

Nonetheless, Smithers Pira, the largest publisher of printing industry studies, has released a report predicting digital printing will grow by 20% in 2018, while offset printing will continue to fall.

Digital printing is used mostly for short runs (the kind of printing done by local businesses) and the quality has improved dramatically over the last decade, making it the technology of choice for most commercial printing.

Integrated channels work best

It really isn't an either-or world. Print and digital work best when they work together. The user insights gained from a website can be used to develop the branded voice and approach for print materials.

Newer technologies also allow the seamless insertion of customized messages into print pages (sort of like dynamic web pages served up based on a visitor's interests).

The problem is that many digital marketers do not understand the strengths of traditional media or when to employ them.

In the marketing industry, there is a lot of unintentional misinformation because many people – especially those in the digital space – do not have a traditional marketing education and rarely look at total media spends to see what is truly going on in the proper context.

Samuel Scott

So when marketers sit down to figure out a strategy, they need to think about what works best as a whole – not what works better than something else.

Typically, app developers (or their clients) have a great idea... something no one else done that will solve a problem or make life better.

Armed with a clear picture of what the solution is supposed to do, they then get down to the business of creating an app along these lines:

  1. Sketch the features and interface
  2. Find out if another app does something similar
  3. Figure out how to monetize the app
  4. Create a wireframe and storyboard
  5. Define the back end (databases and APIs)
  6. Test wireframe prototype
  7. Build the back end
  8. Design the app skins (individual screens) in hi-res
  9. Test again with clickable prototype in Android/iOs environment
  10. Release on Apple and Google Play and invite friends for beer

Whoa, you're headed for failure

The number one reason startups fail is not technology or lack of funding. It is a market fail, namely not really understanding the market and consumers. Too often, entrepreneurs make big assumptions about what people want or what the market will respond to. No wonder between 80 and 90 percent of startups fail within 18 months.

Successful apps solve real problems

So, what is a problem? A problem is defined by a pain touchpoint. It is painful to wait in uncertainty for taxis (which only take cash); Uber solves that problem. It is painful to spend money on international calls: WhatsApp solves that problem. It is painful (irritating) not to know what you are listening to; Shazam solves that problem. It is boring to sit around in a meeting/class/waiting room with nothing to do; Candy Crush solves that problem. It's difficult to connect with people in today's fast-moving world; Facebook solves that problem.

Case in point:

I recently worked on an app that was attempting to solve the wrong pain altogether. It made assumptions that pain was felt by people who in fact felt very little pain. So, I provided research on why similar apps in the industry (heavily funded ones like Foodzie) went belly up.

Those food apps failed to recognize the dynamics of the food industry and how connections are made. Ultimately, the artisanal food industry is more of a demand push business, meaning consumers are not likely invest much time or effort in searching out artisanal breads, etc. Food producers are more motivated (feel more pain) to sell their products. Once this bit of information is known, you can map out the features that will make an app of value firstly to food producers, and then in tun to consumers.

The solution needs to work

Buggy software will not destroy you as long as your app really solves an important problem. Even though you (the non-developer) and your investors are chomping at the bit, you still have to build an application with features that do the actual pain-killing.

This is not easy because a lot of fuzzy thinking creeps in. Referring to the food app, one feature was "beautiful pictures." Yes, the prototype had pretty stock pictures... but in production, they would need to hire a photographer to travel and take photos of artisanal foods created by hundreds or thousands of makers. That feature now becomes a stumbling block. Oh, and you can't use photos taken on an iPhone by an amateur. Food is really, really hard to photograph well. This is just a teeny tiny example of the vast chasm between understanding the problem you need to solve and actually solving it.

The last reason apps fail: money

Infinite Monkeys provides a low-end price list for app development, which is handy if you have a very clear idea of how your app functions and can communicate it to a development team. And, if you are thinking big, Savvy Apps wrote a great post on the real cost of app development.

Neither includes the cost of marketing, which will be necessary because there are more than one million apps for iOS. You can estimate your marketing budget at roughly 10 percent of your development budget. Somewhere in there, factor in living expenses.

Most people bank on being funded at some point by angel investors. Very few people have $750,000 in loose cash to fund a big idea startup. But then again, very few people really have a breakthrough idea. Here's a list of venture capital firms to drool over: Top US Venture Capital Firms.

Have you ever had this nightmare? You are at an important office meeting and all of a sudden you realize you are buck naked. I got called out by a client on a really bad piece of copy. It felt like that nightmare.

True story.

From 2002-2010, I worked at the agency that handles Sandals, a chain of all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean. I was paid well, but it was the kind of job where you wake up with your stomach churning and Friday means you have two days to dread Monday. I finally quit.

Fast forward to this week. A client emailed me a YouTube link with the comment:

I have to share this video w/someone. I'm just speechless how horribly cheesy this is. It reminds me of a bad romance novel.

Anonymous Client

Ummmm, hate to admit it... I wrote the legend of Giselle and Ricardo in 2007 to relaunch Sandals Grande Antigua following a $775 million expansion.

Beyond that, the story is mine. Although, it was originally written for a 32-page print brochure and was a lot less cheesy in print.

I was told, "write a romantic legend that includes a bell, because a bell is rung to call guests at the new restaurant, 'Ricardo and Giselle's.'" (I don't remember the stones).

I don't have the print brochure, or I would include a download of it here. An Emily Bronte-like character works best in print. Poetic language softens her edges and provides the context of history.

Cheesy or not, I had to work my ass off.

Why it is great cheese

The owner of Sandals has a very clear idea of what he wants. And he wants cheesy... because he is dealing with guests who are in a very cheesy frame of mind. They are (for the most part) young lower middle-class honeymooners from the U.S. and Britain. They want an over-the-top experience, not subtlety.

As a professional writer, I am not hired to write in my voice. I write according to the client's brand. My stomach churned for eight years of employment because, among other reasons, I was going against my own beliefs. I tried to make the best of it and inject class into the storytelling. But it was rough.

And the fact remains: over the last eight years, using the same cheesy marketing, Sandals has continued to grow and open resorts.

Why it is bad cheese

Sandals is in your face and obvious. It gets downright tacky. I have almost nothing from eight years of work that I can include in my portfolio, because prospective clients would assume I chose the creative direction.

In video, she is scary crazy. I wind up thinking, "This woman needs professional help." The length of the video made it even more painful.

More important, the stones and bell were included without explaining them. They are superfluous and distracting in video. In print, there was running room to explain them and tie them to the restaurant.

To date, the video has 11,000 YouTube views. Stinky results, given the cost. Which may have something to do with cheese after all.

Here's recent research about blogging, excluding local SEO. If you're a newbie, read all of it and Google terms any unfamiliar terms like "alt tag." If you're an experienced blogger, the takeaway for 2019 is: focus more on brand building and creating a good user experience than on SEO hacks.

1. Blogging facts

As of December 2018, according to InternetLiveStats, there were nearly 2 billion website and blogs. This includes 75 million WordPress sites.

So, there is a ton of clutter. It is really hard to get on page one of Google's search results, especially if you are going up against established competitors.

Blogging and the big picture

If you understand what each party in a search wants, you can do a better job of fulfilling their intent (search purpose).

What Google wants

Google wants to sell ads. To do that, it needs to have lots of users.

What Google users want

People use Google for four reasons:

Why Google is popular

Google is the dominant search engine because it consistently provides a better user experience. This means:

Sites that are search engines

Although 99% of the Internet is made up of non-dynamic websites, a Google search can hand you off to a site that is itself a search engine:

What bloggers want

Pro blogs are used mainly as a search engine optimization (SEO) tactic to:

If the website is an e-commerce site or a consultancy site (like this one), the goal is to attract the kind of visitors who are likely to convert into paying customers.

Otherwise, blog are monetized by running ads or affiliate links.

Personal blogs that are written for self-expression, not business reasons, are a different kettle of fish.

Google is always changing

Google is constantly refining its algorithm to deliver better results. Minor updates occur around 600 times a year. Major updates occur less frequently but have an impact on SEO and website revenues.

Google also continually changes how results are displayed based on user behavior.

For example, now teasers make it easier for mobile users to see the answer to a query without opening a webpage.

Fending off SEO hacks

SEO is good to a point, but Google does not want sites to focus on SEO hacks instead of quality content.

Nor does Google want it to be so easy to get traffic organically (through search) there is no need to buy paid ads.

So, when a Google tool becomes abused or problematic, it usually gets shut down.

PageRank, which ranks domain authority, was hidden from webmasters in 2013. The same year, Google implemented its nefarious "keyword not provided" – which hid organic traffic sources.

When it comes to whether businesses should hire an SEO consultant, Google admits they can be useful – but then writes a lot of scary stuff about how unethical SEOs can permanently damage your site.

Using AI to be more human

RankBrain, introduced by Google in 2015, used machine-learning to help Google's search algorithm deliver better results. By "better," I mean the results were more relevant to the intent of searchers.

Google is getting to be very good at semantic search, or understanding the intent behind natural language. Its desire to move beyond keywords is one of the reasons for costly investments in artificial intelligence (AI), voice search, and devices like Google Assistant.

Google is now using an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm in a third of searches. AI does a much better job of understanding and matching a searcher's intent to an author's intent. When Google gets sophisticated enough, things like links won't matter.

Google has a way to go, yes. Google's AI has an IQ of ~47, which is smarter than Siri and Bing, but lower than that of a six-year old child.

Keywords are losing ground

Why would I ignore the advice of SEO experts (like Tylor Hermanson) who advocate building content around keywords?

Because Google itself is trending away from keywords toward semantic (natural) language.

This is controversial, I know.

It is still important to signal the purpose of your content with keywords.

But this really isn't a matter of keywords. It is commonsense communication when writing an article for an audience.

I still check Google Keyword Planner to be sure my topic has sufficient interest (traffic). But beyond that, I just write naturally.

2. Blogging and SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a matter of giving users what they want in such a way that it also appeals to Google.

Text written mainly for Google (i.e., to do well in search engine results) is usually of low quality from a human perspective.

How bloggers can please Google

In a nutshell, Google wants bloggers to provide content that satisfies the search intent of Google users.

Google itself says it best:

These algorithms analyze hundreds of different factors to try to surface the best information the web can offer, from the freshness of the content, to the number of times your search terms appear and whether the page has a good user experience. In order to assess trustworthiness and authority on its subject matter, we look for sites that many users seem to value for similar queries. If other prominent websites on the subject link to the page, that’s a good sign the information is high quality.

For a typical query, there are thousands, even millions, of webpages with potentially relevant information. So to help rank the best pages first, we also write algorithms to evaluate how useful these webpages are.

How Google's algorithm works

There are more than 200 factors that go into the algorithm Google uses to identify quality content.

An algorithm is simply a software program, similar to a mathematical formula.

Google crawls your site using your site's links, including your navigation. In the process, it applies its algorithm to index your content and determine whether a specific article deserves to be on the first page of its search results.

Right away, we know that:

Digging into the algorithm

Google's Panda algorithm update in February 2011 was intended to prevent sites with low-quality content from making it into top search results. In 2018, Google further defined what it meant by low-quality content in its updated Quality Rater Guidelines.

The Quality Rate Guidelines are a set of instructions for Google employees to help them look at search results and evaluate how well the algorithm is doing. These benchmarks are used to refine the algorithm, not to manually downgrade specific sites.

Google sums up what it means by "low quality" content:

(Even if their purpose is beneficial) low quality pages do not achieve their purpose well because they are lacking in an important dimension, such as having an unsatisfying amount of main content, or because the creator of the main content lacks expertise for the purpose of the page.”

Low quality information

Google states that low quality content has "an unsatisfying amount of information" and the information itself lacks expertise. Articles that are "demonstrably inaccurate" will be ranked lowest.

Google specifically calls out click bait, which are articles with "exaggerated or shocking" titles. This means articles with titles like "Why your blog article sucks" are no longer going to work, even if they are attention-grabbing.

"Your Money Your Life" (YMYL) pages that give advice on finances, health, safety, etc. are held to a higher standard. This means the information must be created by named creators of expertise and authority, any transactions must be secure, privacy policies must be in place, and the entire site must have a consistent purpose. Anonymous articles on YMYL sites "should be rated lowest."

Finally, the purpose of the article must be crystal clear. A page with no clear purpose will be ranked at "the lowest quality." So, your content has to ultimately line up with your site goal and every article has to be part of a larger content strategy.

Low author reputation

Content creators can no longer be anonymous. Nor can they use pseudonyms, unless they happen to be working under a long-standing alias that is well-known on the Internet.

Google also seems to be saying it will evaluate your content within the context of your broader reputation, i.e. social media profiles and general authority and fame on the Internet. This means it will only get harder for newcomers to rank well in search results.

Low site quality

Failing to maintain your site can penalize your content. This means site owners have to:

Malicious sites, including hate sites and those with detrimental downloads, will be ranked lowest

3. Blogging and content relevance

Google relies on search queries to determine what Internet users are interested in. Relevance is how well an article or page answers a user's search query.

As long as Google can match search queries with the most relevant results, it will remain the top search engine.

If an article doesn't relate to a search query, it's not going to show up in search results. Ultimately, your content has to reflect the search interests of your desired audience.

Typically, relevance is strongly correlated to an article's keywords.

How Google evaluates relevance

Properly targeted keywords alone aren't enough to establish content relevance. Google looks at other factors on your page, like:

Further, Google evaluates your content against other web pages and historical web searches. Some factors they look at include:

Engagement signals relevance

A really important metric is the length of time people spend on your page. This suggests the level of user engagement, which is directly correlated to the relevance of your content.

Also related to length of time on the page, or "dwell time," is the bounce rate.

The bounce rate is the percentage of people who leave a page without going deeper. It may mean people got what they wanted, like a phone number to call you for a consult, or bookmarked the page to read later.

But a high bounce rate usually indicates people did not like your site, for whatever reason. Or it means your tracking tags are implemented incorrectly.

If a visitor clicks on an outbound link in your content, it can register as a bounce unless your developer has set up events.

What is a good bounce rate?

In general, a good bounce rate is somewhere between 30%-45%.

This will vary with the type of site, the type of visitor, the type of page, and whether your site is being viewed on desktop or mobile.

Average bounce rates also vary by industry.

Videos increase engagement

Most visitors leave a webpage in 15 seconds. Zowie.

Videos are one way to boost user time on page (engagement). They also appear in search results.

Some people, like Rand Fishkin, have been using video for years as a SEO tactic. He includes a text transcript of his videos for Google (for keywords and indexing) and for people like myself who prefer the written word.

Neil Patel has been using prerecorded "webinars." These audio presentations draw about 1000 people per session because Neil is well known as an SEO expert. While most people will watch no more than 4 minutes of video in one sitting, his users stick for 60 minutes. This signals tremendous engagement to Google and is more valuable than keywords. Neil does not include a transcript so you have to watch for the full hour, not scan text quickly.

Video has other advantages

According to a reading software firm, the average adult reads 200 words per minute with a comprehension rate of 60%.

A 3,000-word article requires 15 minutes of reading time, but works out to 20 minutes or more of video.

Researchers have found video comprehension is significantly higher than reading.

Video also allows content creators to forge a stronger emotional bond with their audiences.

Google wants originality

If the Internet sinks into a sea of sameness, Google won't be able to serve up meaningful results. So unique (original) content is critically important.

Google explicitly tries to filter out duplicate articles from search results. You can't syndicate the same article in several places on the web and expect to do well. Nor can you (heaven forbid) plagiarize someone else's content.

But you can quote an article (that's what quote marks are for) and use content from other sources, like YouTube, as long as you add some sort of unique value.

Originality is having unique value

Rand Fishkin, who left Moz to found SparkToro, covers the subject of original content really well in one of his wonderful Whiteboard Fridays. He sums up the meaning of unique value as follows:

What I mean when I say 'unique value' and what the search engines would like you to do and are building algorithms around is providing value that no other sources, no other sites on the web are specifically providing. That could mean that you take a look at the visitor's intent, the searcher's intent or your customer's intent and you say, 'Hey, I'm going to answer each of these things that this person is trying to achieve.'

How to have unique value

It's no longer enough to have good content. You have to have the very best content out there. This requires that you:

Is this article original?

I Googled "The Science of Blogging," and got only five results. All of them, except the top-ranking article, are based more on personal opinion than objective evidence. The top article, written in 2014, outperforms fresher content published in 2018. This tells me that, while there are thousands of articles on how to blog. there is room for a brawnier article on this particular topic.

4. Blogging and content length

Orbit Media's survey of 1000 bloggers provides some insights into content length and search engine results.

First and foremost, 42% of bloggers who produce really long articles (2000 words or more) report "strong results." Yet, only 18% of bloggers write long content. Why? Well, longer pieces take 6 or more hours to write. The average blog post (about 1000 words) takes 3.5 hours to produce. Given the pressure to publish frequently and quickly, pro bloggers are far more likely to write shorter pieces with around 1000 words.

Length signal depth

Copy length is a simple signal that the article could be in-depth. Combine that with the bounce rate plus time on the page, and you get a pretty good idea of whether an article is truly informative and relevant to its audience.

Want proof that longer content does better in Google?

Glad you asked.

SERPIQ ran a 2018 study on the top 10 results in search queries. Articles with 2,350-2,450+ words placed in the top 4 results. Articles with around 2000 words ranked in 10th position. And articles with fewer than 2000 words did not appear in the top 10 results.

Two years earlier, in 2016, it was enough to write 1,890 words to get on page one according to a Backlinko study of one million search results

Clearly, the trend is toward longer, not shorter, content.

Why length matters

Google users are not goldfish, meaning the facts contradict oft-cited statistics stating the average Internet user has a lower attention span than your favorite aquarium pet. People are perfectly happy to consume long-form information as long as it is truly useful to them.

Long-form content has an advantage over shorter content because it is more likely to tell the whole story. Brian Dean noticed, and by inference so has Google, that:

People hate searching around for bits of information. Putting it all in one place saves them time and energy.

But Brian Dean's real point was that long, comprehensive articles are more shareable and get more natural backlinks – and both are huge SEO boosters.

5. Blogging and authority

Google uses the concept of domain (site) authority to determine which sites are most valuable and should rank highest in its results. Many many factors go into authority, including backlinks and sharing.

Google's idea of authority is broader than the page ranking metric called "Page Authority," which was developed by SEO software company Moz.

Authority and PageRank

A number of years ago, a metric called "PageRank" was extremely important. It was based almost entirely on the number of backlinks ti a page.

Now PageRank (number of backlinks) is not the only measure of quality; it is simply one factor.

How to get authority

There are two ways to get authority: sharing and backlinks. Backlinks are links to your content from external sites. If those sites are of good quality, it suggests your site has credibility and deserve to be at the top of search results.. Likewise, links from spammy or low-quality sites will hurt your site.

Social shares not only provide backlinks, they signal that your content is worth noticing. Comments are also form of social signaling that your site is interesting and relevant to users.

Sharing signals authority

Google knows how much and where your content is shared and uses that information to help determine your article's value.

Sadly, the majority of new content doesn't get shared at all. Most readers simply do not consider hitting those juicy share buttons.

But – here's the good news – long new content is most likely to get shared.

In fact, Buffer found super-long articles with 3,000-10,000 words get about twice as many shares as articles with 1,000 words or less.

Backlinks also signal authority

Backlinks (links from another site) have been the backbone of search since Google was invented in 1998.

In 2014, Matt Cutts, Google's head of spam search at the time, said that backlinks will lose their importance over time. But, he conceded, it would be some years before Google could come up with a better shortcut for evaluating a page's authority.

Authority is a form of respect. When sites link to you, they are signaling they trust your site and view it as having expertise.

Backlinks per se are not enough.

Google is looking for high quality backlinks from sites that (a) retain editorial control, and (b) are themselves quality sites.

This means that automatic backlinks from blog comments and directory submissions are no longer helpful.

How to get high quality backlinks

If you are an average Joe (i.e., non-influencer) you can't just publish fantastic content and hope the Internet sits up and takes notice.

Most content writers have to implement some sort of linking strategy. In the post-Penguin algorithm world, there are three fundamental ways to get high quality backlinks::

  1. Create awesome content and then manually request backlinks from relevant high-authority websites. Part of this strategy might be to begin by including an outgoing link to the authority site and then contacting the site owner to say how much of a fan you are.
  2. Provide content (such as guest blogs) to high-authority sites that includes a link back to your site.
  3. Create links yourself in the course of promoting your content on social media and sites such as SlideShare to get referral traffic.

In reality, these steps have been overplayed and it is d*mn hard to get them to work. That's why most successful bloggers and online marketers use personal networking to expand their influence. Yes, some of this occurs in online forums.

It requires that you emerge out of your dark cave and attend industry conferences, WordCamps, and face-to-face gatherings.

Good backlinks take time

Quality backlinks are always "natural backlinks."

In Google's eyes, natural backlinks are quality backlinks built up over time.

So, it would be more "natural" in Google's algorithm for your article to accumulate one backlink a week over a period of months than to accumulate the same number of backlinks in one day.

Bad backlinks backfire

You can try to spoof Google with SEO tricks but the odds of winning against 88,110 full-time geniuses are pretty slim in the long run.

If you violate the intent behind Google's Webmaster rules – for example, you spin (repurpose) a guest post for dozens of mediocre sites so you can backlinks from them – your strategy is likely to result in a Google penalty.

If your site has been penalized, you will get a notice from Google or you will see your traffic nosedive in your Google Analytics account.

6. Blogging and frequency

Bloggers must publish lots of quality content to appear in search results

How often is enough?

Lifewire suggests:

Send links to subscribers

Don't send your blog posts by email to subscribers. Send your subscribers to your blog post.

6. Blogging and subject matter

Most people leave a webpage within 15 seconds so you have to rope users into your content quickly.

In other words, your content has to be interesting to your audience.

How to have more interesting content

Remember earlier in this article, when I stated why people use Google? Well, those are your cues for how to have more interesting content. Choosing the right subject matter and approach can help make your articles more relevant.

Your subject must be searchable

If you are a startup selling something brand new, you can't use search terms to attract traffic simply because no one is looking for your solution.

Uber didn't use online marketing when it launched in 2009. It relied on a combination of early adopter advocacy, referral marketing, customer loyalty programs, and buzz-worthy stunts to get its brand on the road.

When Lyft started three years later, the concept of ride-sharing had already become embedded in the market. Lyft could draw on a new lexicon to use in its digital advertising.

Niche topics are easier

Narrowly focused blogs (niche sites) win traffic more quickly and easily than more generalized sites. You stand an excellent chance of gaining fast traction as long as:

Harsh Agrawal wrote a step-by-step post about how to create a micro-niche blog site with just 29 articles that earned 2 million views. The key, aside from perfect content optimization, was to find a niche (subject) with strong audience potential that no one else had exploited. His traffic was entirely organic, meaning it came from search words, not social media or extensive link building. Even though the Panda update has made the tactic less profitable, it is still possible.

Wow, right?

General topics have broader audiences

Overall, broad authority sites do better in Google than niche sites. There are two reasons why:

7. Blogging and user experience

User experience is not really separate from SEO because a bad user experience will produce a high bounce rate. A high bounce rate will negatively impact your SEO.

In fact, modern SEO experts believe that user experience is the ultimate factor used by Google to determine search engine page results (SERPs).

User sastisfaction is the ultimate decider of what site gets to rank number one not which site has the most links or which site is the most spam free or any combination of those kinds of metrics.

Search Engine Land

User experience is a matter of having good content, high readability, and good design.

Format for readability

Aside from following typographical rules, format your articles so they can be easily scanned. That means breaking up copy into headlines, subheads, and bulleted lists.

Many blog writers begin long articles with a table of contents that links to each section in the article. Readers can skip to the section that interests them.

Chris Brogan advocates beginning your article with a summary of what you will say, then drilling down to the details.

Use images

There are many reasons to use images in your blog articles:

How many images are enough?

At the very least, you should use a featured image.

Beyond that, there are no hard and fast rules about the number of images you should include. Some bloggers suggest using one image per 150 to 300 words to break up the content.

Many pro bloggers use custom-designed images. The average stock photo is not going to help your brand.

Always add images the right way:

Use legible typography

Usability expert Jakob Nielsen discovered small or difficult to read fonts are one of the biggest complaints about website.

Follow these rules when it comes to your blog's typography:

Design with a purpose

Blog owners often do their own website development and design.

Design should always be done to satisfy the needs of users, not the tastes of website owners. According to Blue Corona, site design has a big impact on how long people stay on your site and whether they trust your brand.

The number one mistake is putting too much on a page; clean design is more engaging.

Load quickly

Page load has been a factor in desktop search results for some time. People are frustrated by slow sites and tend to bounce off them.

This is especially true of mobile devices; 40% of mobile users leave if a page takes more than 2 seconds to load. Google introduced an algorithm change in 2018 that negatively impacts slow mobile pages.

How fast is fast enough?

2 seconds is the threshold for e-commerce website acceptability. At Google, we aim for under a half second.

Maile Ohye, Google

Use an engaging style

Style always matters. This means:

Use social media to test headlines

This is a clever idea that comes from Buffer. Test how well topics and headlines resonate with your audience by using social media.

Your headline has to be short and amazing or no one will click on it and read your post. In fact, according to Copyblogger, only 20% of people who read a headline go deeper and read the article.

P.S. Headlines with powerful verbs and adverbs do better than those with lots of adjectives and nouns.

You need great headlines not just for blog articles but also for emails, press releases, marcomm materials, etc.

8. Blogging and brand building

Your website or blog is part of your brand; it is a brand asset. Your brand is your business personality. Being a brand can help you avoid being dependent on Google search because people will look for you by name; this traffic is direct search, not organic, and alway ranks first.

In fact, the top 100 Google search terms are mainly brand names.

How to build a brand

Being different from other brands can help you stand out, create an online reputation, and develop a following that exists beyond your SEO efforts.

SEO guru Neil Patel advocates being bold when creating an online brand and suggests that marketers do the following:

He is no stranger to using controversy as a marketing strategy and has positioned himself as someone who will go to any lengths to test an idea. For example, he published numerous "lifestyle marketing" articles that showcased his purchases of a $1.7 million condo in Vegas and over-the-top watches. His articles assert that, while he "is not a materialistic guy," these purchases allowed him to win more high-profile business. (I think the campaign was insincere and simply turned luxuries into tax write-offs.)

Personal brands like Seth Godin are thought leaders. Seth Godin can safely ignore SEO because his tribe follows him religiously. He has been publishing pithy blog posts every day for years. He emails back anyone who contacts him (I know; like an ass, I did this in 2010 just to test him).

Seth Godin also publishes traditional print books, which is a proven technique to establish thought leadership.

Create a community

Building a brand these days is about creating a community. Even companies are trending toward having a personal face (think Elon Musk); if they don't have a charismatic leader of their own, they hire influencers.

Fast Company wrote an article about this trend, stating the best companies are cashing in on their ability to create "belonging." There is a vacuum of loneliness, with people being socially connected online yet isolated in reality. Brands, including small businesses, are cashing in by creating connections between their customers.

The best bloggers can't be personally connected to their followers in real life, but they attempt to be accessible, transparent, and personable. A point of view and a distinctive persona are requirements for this.

Email builds relationships

The majority of pro bloggers (Neil Patel, Jeff Bullas, Kristi Hines, and many others) use email to nurture their community.

At some point, they each want to monetize their blog by selling services or lessons. But this doesn't happen during the first or even second visit to a site. Instead, the community has to be nurtured using old-fashioned drip campaigns.

The digital world is saturated and so is email. Sharon Hurley Hall wrote a very good article for Optinmonster with the full picture. Here are some top notes:

The bottom line: Forget sending boring newsletters and tired offers; emails today must be brilliant.

Be yourself

The Internet is full of copycat bloggers following the same advice. T'o gain a tribe, you need to be different.

Often, the best way to do that is to be completely yourself. There are always haters and trolls. Grow a thick skin.

Don't be afraid to swim upstream. You may fail, but failure is just success that has gotten rained on. Be persistent and find your voice; eventually, you should make it.

Did I leave something out? Let me know in the comments and I'll get back to you quickly.

It's easy to get caught up in writing in a voice suited for aspirational luxury, but the true luxury brand has a very different message. For one thing, a real luxury brand won't use the word "luxury." Instead, luxury brands use language that gets to the heart of how their customers define luxury.

The 4 dimensions of luxury brands

Brand authority Jean-Noël Kapferer has explored the concept of the "luxury brand compass" and how elite brands can grow yet retain associations with rarity. He has identified four components of luxury brands:

  1. Limited accessibility that supports brand awareness
  2. A sense of prestige that defines the social status of its core market
  3. Creativity that modernizes the brand and keeps it relevant
  4. Brand roots and heritage

These elements are manipulated by the brand's creative director and become part of the brand's story.

1. Luxury brands have limited accessibility

Once upon a time, Coach and Burberry were true luxury brands, but over-exposure in the market knocked them down a few pegs. They became too accessible. Quickly, they were demoted to being aspirational brands – meaning they appeal to status-seekers – people who aspire to belong to a certain class.

Burberry men's lambskin bomber jacket $1990

Burberry was so desperate to regain its luxury profile, in 2018 it burned $33 million of its own merchandise rather than sell it at a discount. The move resulted in a backlash, of course. Burberry still managed to be named the leading luxury brand in the 2018 Dow Jones Sustainability Index.

Coach has also undertaken extensive efforts to revitalize its brand, including buying Kate Spade, a favorite high-end brand among millennials.

Brands that become too accessible are less appealing to superrich buyers. Louis Vuitton, for instance, is considered  a 'brand for secretaries' by many wealthy Chinese.


Price makes luxury inaccessible

Lanvin sells a striped tee-shirt for $1,520 that is almost identical to a $50 Madewell tee. Jimmy Choo suede sneakers sell for more than $1,000, when you can buy a similar pair of Pumas for $65. The price tag is part of what separates a luxury brand from a lesser brand.

Part of the appeal of a £40,000 watch is that it doesn’t tell the time any better than one you could have bought for £40. The owner didn’t need to spend the extra £39,960, but is so successful that they were able to anyway.


It isn't just a matter of superior materials, craftsmanship, and logos. The ability to make high-end purchases provides ego gratification.

The price tag––and the fact that the majority of the world can’t afford said item, has the inverse effect of imbuing the purchaser with power. That’s why just because there are note-perfect copies of high end bags available all up and down Manhattan’s Canal St., women still choose to purchase authentic Prada, Gucci and Burberry bags instead. 

The Frisky

Exclusivity and brand awareness

Why does Chanel spend $100 million on advertising if its clothes and handbags are beyond the reach of ordinary consumers?

Chanel, like other luxury brands, uses brand awareness in two ways:

In the first instance, brand image is a tool to market the brand's more lucrative and plentiful licensed goods, such as handbags, makeup, skincare, etc. Unlike ready-to-wear, which is sold only in stores, Chanel markets licensed products online. Chanel's former digital director explains:

It's a diffusion business model, so the percentage of revenue that ready-to-wear actually represents is very, very small...if clothes were put for sale online, brands risk in-store traffic (their best customers).

Katalina Sharkey de Solis

In the second instance, social envy is a powerful motivator which gives status to brands and their owners.

Not surprisingly, 91% of luxury brands are using social media influencers to gain digital visibility and generate envy, even though the direct ROI of social influencers can't be measured. The top luxury brand influencers tend to be brand owners like José Neves of Farfetch and brand consultants like Chris Donnelly of Verb Brands.

2. Luxury brands express social status

Back in 1993, John C. Groth and Stephen W. McDanial explored the relationship between "prestige pricing" and brand exclusivity. Prestige pricing implies greater desirability and quality.

But high prices do more than convey a brand image. High prices wall the wrong people out (make a brand inaccessible) while including the right people (make a brand exclusive). In fact, there is an entire psychology of pricing and price anchoring.

Exclusivity is tied to the idea of belonging – like passing the initiation into a private club.

Mass brands define who their customers are and push products towards them. For luxury brands, the roles are reversed. Consumers must be pulled towards the brand with the promise of belonging to an exclusive community.

Sell Up

All luxury brands depend on exclusivity. Dolce and Gabbana, Farfetch, Hermès and Chanel have very different fashion styles, but all of them are calling cards to the highest echelons of society.

Brands are visas, which demonstrate their social ascent and membership in a worldwide community of affluent consumers.

Jean-Noël Kapferer

Luxury marketing is counterintuitive

Vincent Bastien, author of The Luxury Strategy, states that luxury marketing establishes exclusivity by operating according to 24 counterintuitive rules. Among these, he includes:

In line with "making it difficult to buy," Hermès makes it impossible for unknowns to buy its iconic Birkin and Kelly bags. But it has aggressively opened new stores in China, cashing in on the fastest growing market of superrich customers. Hermès is in business to sell – but only to the right type of person.

Other brands avoid traditional channels. For example, Tom Ford skipped Fashion Week and hosted a show by personal invitation only with runway models that included friends such as Beyoncé.

Luxury brands are a form of self-expression

Luxury buyers choose brands as a personal statement; they want to express their own uniqueness and values. This is especially true of millennials, who see do not define luxury as owning status objects. Instead, according to a Deloitte study, they value brands that:

A study published in 2018 found brands that "whisper instead of shout" are preferred overall. Subtle visual cues reinforce the idea of being in the right club, rather than purchasing a logo.

3. Luxury brands are creative

Brand author Jean-Noël Kapferer has described the artification of brands from non-art into art. The term "artification" was coined in Finnish aesthetic theory by Ossi Naukkarinen. Artification aligns luxury brands with art, thereby enhancing their perceived rarity and value.

Luxury brands align with art in two ways:

According to a 2018 study by Julia-Sophie Jelinek, when artification is properly used, it leads to higher brand equity (perceived brand value).

Artification is not limited to luxury brands.

The premium (not luxury) Swedish vodka brand Absolut has sponsored 800 collaborations with artists. Crystal Head vodka (a collaboration between the makers, actor Dan Aykroyd, and artist John Alexander) is less well-known and modestly priced at $99 for 1.75 ML. In contrast, Ciroc Ten vodka costs $250. In the world of clear spirits, there is no correlation between price and quality; it all comes down to brand image.

Creativity helps brands stay viable

Luxury brands strive to stand out and be singular. Creativity is one way to shock, amuse, and be different. Fashion brand Viktor & Rolf built an upside-down store in Milan. Chanel's jewelry boutique in Place Vendȏme has been designed like a time capsule to resemble the founder's Art Deco apartment. Portugal's Soundwich relies on a gimmick; gourmet sandwiches are packed in lunch tins that play music when opened. As the saying goes, "God is in the details."

Creativity also helps luxury brands remain relevant to the times. Gucci fell out of favor but has been reinvented by Alessandro Michele. Prada appeals to a younger luxury buyer with its whimsical Miu Miu line. As new definitions of luxury emerge, creativity enables brands to respond in meaningful ways.

Luxury brands are artisanal

Many luxury brands began as artisanal products made in small workshops. In Italy, you had leather makers. In Britain, the handcrafted quality of a Savile Row suit has been the hallmark of a gentleman since the 1800s.

Bespoke – completely custom – brands rank at the top of luxury. Made-on-demand apparel by Raymond, Kiton, Rathore, Quoddy, Gorgeous, Rye, Sumissura, Black Label, Left Shoe, Brioni – these brands and more appeal to the posh consumer's desire for the unique and one-of-kind.

In fact, the word "bespoke" comes from Savile Row, where it meant a bolt of cloth was spoken for.

Among the world's most expensive cars, Rolls-Royce produced a single Sweptail specifically for an unnamed collected at a price of $13 million.

4. Luxury brands have a history

Heritage has traditionally been one of the strongest signals of luxury. Millennials care less about security than previous generations, but continue to prefer established brands "with roots."

By 2025, millennials worldwide will represent 45% of luxury spending. This includes China, which tends to have a more conservative, ownership-oriented mindset. The huge purchasing power of China has pushed Gucci and Louis Vuitton to the top of favorite millennial brands.

In the U.S., female millennials also choose historical brands – namely, jewelry by Tiffany, Cartier, and Gucci. According to a 2018 BBC study, affluent millennials are more like to be brand-conscious and to purchase luxury brands than any other generation.

Anyone who believes millennials are nonmaterialistic needs to watch the Netflix video The American Meme, which explores how millennials create and consume social media.

Social values are also important

The BBC study also found that, regardless of income, millennials want to own the best quality possible.

Affluent millennials are more concerned than their peers with how luxury brands reflect their success and define them in social media.

Status goes beyond success. It includes social values such as sustainability and animal welfare. Brands that endorse these values allow millennials to project the right image of themselves.

You can't judge a book by its cover

British adman Rory Sutherland cautions that truly high status individuals, mainly men, can rebel against status signaling by dressing down, driving an old car, and living in a modest home. Warren Buffett, the third richest man in the world, still lives in the house he bought for $31,000 and uses a flip-top phone.

Millennials are prone to embrace customization and companies that align with their beliefs. This opens the doors to new luxury brands.

Le Labo creates hand-made perfumes with personalized labels. Designed for millennial consumers, Le Labo sells a small (15 ml) of its eau de parfum for $80. The same size bottle of Chanel 5 appeals to an older demographic and sells for $210.

In an interview with Forbes, the marketing vice president of leather goods-maker Perrin Paris stated:

Historically, luxury brands were promoting a so-called culture of “exclusion.” Not only they were limiting access to the product, they were also deliberately detached from the final customer and reserved in their communications. What we are observing today is a new paradigm...brands have to act in an inclusive, engaging and open manner. This requires a great deal of flexibility in communications, tone of voice, social media behavior...brands should try and become “friends” with those new generations of consumers, participate in their lives through relevant channels and speak their language.

Olga Pancenko, Perrin Paris

The key concepts are social envy and FOMO (fear of missing out). Millennials want to be envied by their peers and they are desperately afraid of being left out of anything – travel, parties, concerts, lifestyle moments – that would enhance their self-worth.

Sharing these experiences signals status in much the same way that ownership does.

5. Luxury brand storytelling

All of the above come together in the brand's story. What a brand chooses to say – and not say – about itself determines whether the brand will resonate in the market.

The 5 elements of a luxury brand story

Brand can work with five elements to craft a brand story. The right elements depend upon the brand and its audience. A strong heritage brand can no longer get by based on tradition; it must add creativity or social values to the mix. Quality is an expected part of every luxury brand story, although it does not have to be explicitly stated as such.


Aspirational brands sell status. But the luxury brand knows a status-based message is likely to turn off the person who already has money, power, and social prestige.

Luxury brands talk about being handcrafted, meticulously designed, and impeccably finished. People with money understand – everyone understands – that exceptional quality is expensive and therefore reserved for a certain class.

Dior talks about craftsmanship. BMW talks about German-engineered performance.

When a brand is expressing its quality, you may hear it talk about performance, craftsmanship, and similar attributes.


Heritage is a dimension of quality. Heritage brands are luxury brands that have become traditions among the elite. Surprisingly, heritage resonates across age groups.

Although most U.S. millennials do not crave luxury products, millennials with incomes above $150,000 are the exception to the rule. These affluent millennials are keenly interested in Rolex, Jimmy Choo, and Tiffany (the leaders in their categories).

When a brand is expressing its heritage, you may hear it talk about tradition, its past, its cultural roots, or where it is made.


Great design (creativity) is a foundation for luxury brands. Kartell relies upon the work of distinctive designers, such as Philippe Starck (Ghost Chair) and Ron Arad (Popworm). Pandora (a more accessible brand) is noted for its collectible, self-expressive jewelry charms. Christian Louboutin's $1000-a-pair stilettos have a distinctive red underside that is the brand's visual bookmark.

When a brand is telling a design story, you may hear it talk about creativity, aesthetics, innovation, and vision.


Wealthy consumers do not mind spending more for quality products that have a reputation for doing good. The consumer shares in the goodness of the product.

Tesla tells a story of environmental consciousness that is worth the price tag. It is blunt, calling the Model S "the best car on the road." And the entry level Model 3 simply touts a high safety rating. Tesla's story doesn't happen on its website so much as in the news and social media. Which is fine, because Tesla is unique in the market.

Wealthy millennials like to be seen as being concerned with ethics. For example, Prince Harry bought Meghan Markle an ethically sourced engagement diamond from Botswana.

When a brand is expressing its ethics, you may hear it talk about transparency, fair-trade, the environment, social responsibility, and charitable donations.


In the past, buying Chanel No. 5 was enough for a woman to feel that she belonged to a specific echelon of society. There was relatively little clutter; the brand stood for something without much effort. Now, the brand has to expand upon its story; the Chanel website is filled with movie-stories.

The individual stories may be fictionalized, but they add up to a greater truth. Call it a point of view or a stance. Luxury consumers buy brands they believe in. And they buy brands that express something they want to say about themselves.

Shinola and Rolex are both luxury brand watches, but they appeal to different mindsets, so they have very different stories. Both brands are true to their audience and to themselves.

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