Blurring the Line Between CDN and CMS

Cloudflare recently announced that they’re launching a new feature, called “Cloudflare Workers”. It provides the ability for anybody who’s using Cloudflare as a CDN to write arbitrary JavaScript (based on the standard Service Worker API), which runs on Cloudflare’s edge nodes.

In plain English, you’ll be able to write code which changes the content, headers, look, feel and behaviour of your pages via the Cloudflare CDN. You can do this without making development changes on your servers, and without having to integrate into existing site logic.

If you’re familiar with JavaScript, you can just log into Cloudflare, and start writing logic which runs on top of your server output.

Why is this helpful?

As SEOs, we frequently work with sites which need technical improvements or changes. But development queues are often slow, resources restricted, and website platforms complex to change. It’s hard to get things changed or added.

So many of us have grown comfortable with using workarounds like Google Tag Manager to implement SEO changes – like fixing broken canonical URL tags, or adding robots directives to pages – and hoping that Google respects or understand the conflicting signals we send when we mix on-page and JavaScript-based rules.

But whilst Google professes to be capable of crawling, indexing and understanding JavaScript content and websites, all of the research suggests that they get it wrong as often as they get it right.

Cloudflare’s announcement is significant because, unlike tag management platforms, the alterations are made server-side, before the page is sent to the user – Google only sees the final, altered code and content. There’s no messy JavaScript in the browser, no cloaking, and no conflicting logic.

Service workers on the edge

Cloudflare, like other CDNs, has servers all over the world. When users request a URL on your website, they’re automatically routed to the nearest geographic ‘edge node’, so that users access the site via a fast, local connection. This is pretty standard stuff.

What’s new, however, is that you can now write code which runs at those edge nodes, which allows fine-grained control over how the page is presented to the end user based on their location, or using any logic you care to specify.

With full control over the response from the CDN, it’s possible to write scripts which change title tags, alter canonical URLs, redirect the user, change HTTP headers, or which add completely new functionality; you can adapt, change, delete, build upon or build around anything in the content which is returned from the server.

It’s worth noting that other platforms, like AWS, already launched something like this in July 2017. The concept of making changes at the edge isn’t completely new, but AWS uses a different approach and technology stack.

Specifically, AWS requires users to write functions in Node.js (a common server-side JavaScript framework), using a specific and proprietary approach to how requests/responses are handled. This comes with some advantages (like being able to use some Node.js libraries) but locks you into a very specific approach.

Cloudflare’s solution is based on the Service Worker API (as opposed to Node.js), which might look like a more future-proof approach.

Service workers are the current framework of choice for progressive web apps (PWAs), managing structured markup, and playing with new/emerging formats as Google (and the wider web) moves from favouring traditional websites to embracing more app-like experiences. That makes it a good skill set to learn, to use, and potentially to recycle existing code and solutions from elsewhere in your ecosystem.

That PWAs look likely to be the next (arguably, the current) big thing means that service workers aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, but Node.js might just be the current flavour of the month.

Getting hands-on

Cloudflare provides a sandbox for you to test and visualise changes on any website, though it’s unclear whether this is part of their launch marketing or something which will be around for the long-term (or a component of the editor/deployment system itself).

That’s a lot of power to play with, and I was keen to explore what it looks like in practice.

It took me just a few minutes to modify one of the scripts on their announcement page to add the word ‘awesome’ (in a pleasing shade of orange) to Distilled’s homepage. You can check out the code here.

Whilst this is hugely powerful, it doesn’t come without risks and drawbacks. For a start, you’ll need to have some sharp JavaScript skills to write any rules, and you’re going to have to do it without any external supporting libraries of frameworks (like jQuery).

Service workers can be complex to work with, too. For example, all of your changes are asynchronous; they all run in parallel, at the same time. That makes things lightning fast, but it means that some complex logic which relies on specific ordering or dependencies might be challenging to write and maintain.

And with all of this, there’s also no nice WYSIWYG interface, guides or tutorials (other than general JS or service worker questions on StackOverflow). You’ll be flying by the seat of your pants, spending most of your time trying to work out why your code doesn’t work. And if you need to turn to your developers for help, you’re back at our initial problem – they’re busy, they have other priorities, and you’re fighting for resources.

A meta CMS is not a toy

As we increasingly find ourselves turning to workarounds for long development cycles, issues which “can’t be fixed”, and resolving technical challenges, it’s tempting to see solutions like Google Tag Manager and Cloudflare Workers as viable solutions.

If we can’t get the thing fixed, we can patch over it with a temporary solution which we can deploy ‘higher up the stack’ (a level ‘above’/before the CMS), and perhaps reprioritise and revisit the actual problem at a later date.

You can fix your broken redirects. You can migrate to HTTPS and HTTP/2. You can work through all those minor template errors which the development team will never get to.

But as this way of working becomes habit, it’s not unusual to find that the solutions we’re using (whether it’s Google Tag Manager, Cloudflare, or our own ODN) take on the characteristics of ‘Meta CMSs’; systems which increasingly override our templates, content and page logic, and which use CMS-like logic to determine what the end user sees.

Over time, we build up more and more rules and replacement, until we find that there’s a blurring of lines between which bits of our website and content we manage in each platform.

This creates a bunch of risks and challenges, such as:

  • What happens when the underlying code changes, or when rules conflict?
    If you’re using a tag manager or CDN to layer changes ‘on top’ of HTML code and pages, what happens when developers make changes to the underlying site logic?

    More often than not, the rules you’ve defined to layer your changes break, with potentially disastrous consequences. And when you’ve multiple rules with conflicting directives, how do you manage which ones win?

  • How do you know what does what?
    Writing rules in raw JavaScript doesn’t make for easily readable, at-a-glance understanding of what’s being altered.

    When you’ve got lots of rules or particularly complex scripts, you’ll need a logging or documentation process to provide human-friendly overviews of how all of the moving parts work and interact.

  • Who logs what’s where?
    If conflicts arise, or if you want to update or make new changes you’ll need to edit or build on top of your existing systems. But how do you know which systems – your CMS or your meta CMS – are controlling which bits of the templates, content and pages you want to modify?

    You’ve got rules and logic in multiple places, and it’s a headache keeping track.

    When the CEO asks why the page he’s looking at is broken, how do you begin to work out why, and where, things have gone wrong?

  • How do you do QA and testing?
    Unless your systems provide an easy way to preview changes, and allow you to expose testing URLs for the purposes of QA, browser testing and similar, you’ve got a system with a lot of power and very little quality control. At the moment, it doesn’t look like Cloudflare supports this.

  • How do you manage access and versioning?
    As your rules change, evolve and layer over time, you’ll need a way of managing version control, change logging, and access/permissions. It’s unclear if, or how Cloudflare will attack this at the moment, but the rest of their ecosystem is generally lacking in this regard.

  • How do you prevent accidental exposure/caching/PII etc?
    When you’ve full access to every piece of data flowing to or from the server, you can very easily do things which you probably shouldn’t – even accidentally. It doesn’t take much to accidentally store, save, or expose private user information, credit card transaction details, and other sensitive content.

    With great power comes great responsibility, and just writing-some-javascript can have unintended consequences.

In general then, relying overly on your CDN as a meta CMS feels like a risky solution. It’s good for patching over problems, but it’s going to cause operational and organisational headaches.

That’s not to say that it’s not a useful tool, though. If you’re already on Cloudflare, and you have complex challenges which you can resolve as a one-off fix using Cloudflare Workers, then it’s a great way to bypass the issue and get some easy wins.

Alternatively, if you need to execute geographically specific content, caching or redirect logic (at the closest local edge node to the user), then this is a really great tool – there are definitely use cases around geographically/legally restricted content where this is the perfect tool for the job.

Otherwise, it feels like trying to fix the problem is almost always going to be the better solution. Even if your developers are slow, you’re better off addressing the underlying issues at their source than patching on layers of (potentially unstable) fixes over the top.

Sometimes, Cloudflare Workers will be an elegant solution – more often than not, you should try to fix things the old-fashioned way.

ODN as a meta CMS

Except, there may be an exception to the rule.

If you could have all of the advantages of a meta CMS, but with provisions for avoiding all of the pitfalls I’ve identified – access and version control, intuitive interfaces, secure testing processes, and documentation – you could solve all of your technical SEO challenges overnight, and they’d stay solved.

And whilst I want to stress that I’m not a sales guy, we have a solution.

Our ‘Optimisation Delivery Network’ product (Distilled ODN for short) does all of this, with none of the disadvantages we’ve explored.

We built, and market our platform as an SEO split-testing solution (and it’s a uniquely awesome way to measure the effectiveness of on-page SEO changes at scale), but more interestingly for us, it’s essentially a grown-up meta CMS.

It works by making structured changes to pages, between the request to the server and the point where the page is delivered back to the user. It can do everything that Google Tag Manager or Cloudflare can do to your pages, headers, content and response behaviour.

And it has a friendly user interface. It’s enterprise-grade, it’s scalable, safe, and answers to all of the other challenges we’ve explored.

We have clients who rely on ODN for A/B testing their organic search traffic and pages, but many of these also use the platform to just fix stuff. Their marketing teams can log in, define rules and conditions, and fix issues which it’d typically take months (sometimes years) for development teams to address.

So whilst ODN still isn’t a perfect fix – if you’re in need of a meta CMS then something has already gone wrong upstream – it’s at least a viable, mature and sophisticated way of bypassing clunky development processes and delivering quick, tactical wins.

I expect we’ll see much more movement in the meta CMS market in the next year or so, especially as there are now multiple players in the space (including Amazon!); but how viable their products will be – if they don’t have usable interfaces and account for organisational/operational challenges – is yet to be seen.

In the meantime, you should have a play with Cloudflare’s sandbox, and if you want more firepower and a stronger safety net, get in touch with us for a Distilled ODN demo.

Blurring the Line Between CDN and CMS was posted via Internet Marketing


Everything You Need to Build a LinkedIn Marketing Tactical Plan

Over the last five years, we’ve seen an evolution in the way B2B marketers are talking about and using social media. We’ve evolved from asking “Should we be doing it?” to “Is what we are doing worth it?” to now “How do I make this really effective channel even more effective?”.

According to a recent study from Oktopost, 79% of B2B marketers believe social media is an effective marketing channel (Oktopost). And for many B2B marketers, LinkedIn is THE social media channel. In fact 43% of marketers say they’ve sourced a customer from LinkedIn (Hubspot).

But could we be doing better? Can we use LinkedIn more effectively?

To help answer that question, Alex Rynne, Content Marketing Manager at LinkedIn Marketing Solutions and Chris Wilson, Inbound Consultant from Hubspot, provided B2B marketers with an actionable, detailed plan to drive bigger, better performance from LinkedIn tools at last week’s B2B Marketing Forum in Boston.

Four LinkedIn Opportunities and How to Take Them

Linkedin Company & Showcase Pages

LinkedIn Company and Showcase pages are great opportunities to establish and build your company’s identity. It’s a completely free tool that allows your brand to connect professionals with your employees and your brand to share knowledge with your community.

LinkedIn Showcase pages allow you to create dedicated pages for individual brands and are another opportunity to build individual brand identity.


  • Brand awareness
  • Lead generation
  • Thought leader
  • Event Registrations


  • Page followers
  • Post clicks
  • Engagement
  • Comments
  • Inquiries
  • Event Registrations

What to Share:

  • Showcase your expertise with large assets like webinars and eBooks.
  • Engage with short digestible stats and quotes.
  • Illustrate industry savvy with 3rd party content. Alex shares that no one wants to talk to the person at the party that only talks about themselves. 3rd party content shows you’re on top of trends within the industry, creates opportunities for engagement with your audience and helps build influencer relationships.

LinkedIn Company and Showcase Page Action Items:

  • Post 3-4xs per day.
  • Engage with and respond to followers comments:  Don’t ignore your followers. If they take the time to engage with you, show them your appreciation and build strong engagement by responding.
  • Change your header image every 6 months: Chris compares the header image to the front door of your LinkedIn page. Make it attractive and people will want to come in.  Take advantage of the header real estate and switch it up periodically to promote to campaigns or messaging.

Publishing on LinkedIn

According to Alex, over 1 million  unique  publishers  publish  more than 130,000 posts a week on LinkedIn and 45% of LinkedIn readers are in the upper ranks of their industries (i.e. managers, VPs, CEOs, etc.). So publishing content is a great way to connect with key people in your industry and further establish your professional identity.


  • Thought Leadership

Key Metrics:

  • Post reviews & Profile views
  • Demographics of your readers
  • Likes, comments and shares

What to Share:

Although there is no silver bullet for exactly what and how often you should publish. Alex and Chris shares examples of what tends to work best.

  1. Publish when you feel passionate. If you post when you are creatively inspired, about something you care about, this is when your work will be most likely to resonate with your audience and inspire engagement. Content about lessons learned and your professional expertise will be most relevant to your audience.  
  2. Crowdsource content. Look at the questions your audience is asking and identify their pain points. This content will undoubtedly resonate.
  3. Share relevant, timely content about events or industry news. Tap into the conversations that are already happening by posting an opinion or tips related to something current in the news.

Action Items:

  • Publish when you feel passionate (this is listed twice because it is that important).
  • Recommended bi-weekly or once a month.

LinkedIn Sponsored Content

LinkedIn Sponsored content allow you to reach a target audience of people who are not already following you.


  • Brand awareness
  • Lead Generation
  • Thought Leadership

Key Metrics:

  • Engagement Rate
  • Inquires
  • Impressions

Best practices:

  1. Visual is the new headline. There is so much content in the feed, make sure your content is really eye catching. If you can, move beyond stock photos and do your own photoshoot.
  2. Keep it short & sweet. Be mindful of your mobile users and make content easy to consumer.
  3. Snackable stats work wonders. Provide your audience with 3rd party validation to backup your message.
  4. Variety is the spice of life. Variety allows you to avoid creative fatigue but also see what resonates the best with your audience.

What to Share:

  • Webinars
  • Content that asks readers to participate i.e. survey, nominations
  • Statistics
  • Repurposed, straightforward content

Always be Testing:

With the amount of content clutter, testing is a great way to find out what is most likely to work with your audience and make the most out of what you are publishing. Alex and Chris recommend testing anything from word choice (i.e. eBook versus guide), content (inclusion of a stat or benefit), and images (photo or graphic).

Action Items:

  • Select a compelling visual.
  • Run 2-4 posts per week.
  • Run the test for 3 weeks, to ensure you have an actionable result.
  • Add URL tracking codes to measure post click actions (site visits and conversions)
  • Setup campaigns by audience and make sure you tailor the content to the audience (i.e. managers versus c-suite).
  • Shift budget to the audience with the highest engagement rate. Spend your money where you are going to get the most impact.

LinkedIn Sponsored InMail

LinkedIn InMail allows you to send personalized messages to the people who matter most to your business. InMail can work even better than email at reaching certain audiences.


  • Brand awareness
  • Lead Generation
  • Program Certification
  • Enrollment

Key Metrics

  • Open rate
  • Inquiries and leads
  • Event registration
  • Program application and brochure downloads

What to Share:

  • Webinar an industry event invitations
  • eBook launches
  • Product one sheets
  • Program demos
  • Infographics
  • Blog subscription campaigns

Action Items

  • Keep copy under 1000 characters (but AB test).
  • Use a clear CTA in the top right banner.
  • Choose a sender that is credible to your audience. If audiences have never heard of your brand before, your open rates will be lower, than if it’s from a person they know.
  • Leverage personalization. InMail allows you to add the recipient’s name or other customized information.
  • Have a hyperlink early in the body of the message.
  • Select a concise subject link.
  • Set up A/B test to learn what resonates.

Bonus Opportunity: Linkedin Conversion Tracking:

Obviously, tracking is so critical to reporting the results of your campaigns, but also to optimize and iterate for the go forward.

Chris outlines the steps for setting up LinkedIn conversion tracking:

  1. Use a Google Analytics tracking code for easy set up.
  2. Assign a Conversion value: If you don’t know this, create an estimate based on product value and close rate .
  3. Tie it all together: This way you can show clear value, nice argument for executives that you need more value.

Don’t do Social Campaigns, Make Every Campaign Social

Using a tactical plan like the one Alex and Chris shared will allow you to really harness the power of LinkedIn. Once this happen, you can truly integrate social into all of your campaigns in order to engagement with your audience and accelerate the impact of your content.

Interested in other LinkedIn related tactics? Find out everything you need to know about LinkedIn’s new native video feature.

Disclosure: LinkedIn is a TopRank Marketing client.

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Everything You Need to Build a LinkedIn Marketing Tactical Plan |

Everything You Need to Build a LinkedIn Marketing Tactical Plan was posted via Internet Marketing

If You Only Had $1k to Invest in Content Marketing, How Would You Spend it?

Budget is always top of mind for content marketers, but especially this time of year. In order to get even close to the budget that you want or need, you have to justify the spend.

Unfortunately, we’ve been ineffective at content for a while. But the question is, can we change the narrative?

In his presentation last week at the MarketingProfs B2B Marketing Forum, GE Digital’s Chris Moody gave the audience insights into why we’re ineffective, and what we can do to improve, without having to spend a significant amount of money.

Where Are We Failing?

While approach and hurdles will vary from brand to brand, there are three key reasons that content marketing isn’t working today. Below are three stats that paint a very clear picture of where we’re going wrong:

  • Only 37% of marketers have a documented content strategy. (Content Marketing Institute & MarketingProfs)
  • Unfortunately, 82% of enterprise marketers have no centralized view of the customer. (Forrester)
  • 65% of CMO’s can’t measure ROI for digital marketing. (Forrester)

Why Are We Failing?

The problem with many content marketing teams today is that they are not obsessed with business performance. We’re focusing on KPIs instead of outcomes and often have a hard time tracking and mapping content success.

5 Quick Tips for Advancing Your Content Marketing

Change can be tricky and it’s important to make small incremental changes that set your team up to be successful. Below are a few quick tips that Chris offered in session. Instead of feeling like you need to make all of these changes right away, pick a couple and get started.

#1 – Define your mission. Your mission should be a guiding force for your approach to content and all other facets of your marketing strategy.

#2 – Institute the one word challenge. When you think of companies like Apple and Volvo, you immediately know what they stand for in one single word. Challenge your team to attempt the same with your brand.

#3 – Stop chasing the next big thing. One of marketer’s biggest challenges today is the fact that we are constantly distracted. Instead of focusing on content quantity, direct your attention to content impact.

#4 – Determine your top goal. While there may be a plethora of business objectives you’re trying to achieve through marketing, pick one goal and divert your attention to helping your team achieve whatever that is.

#5 – Use insights to drive approach. Too often, content teams put a significant amount of effort into planning for, creating and launching their content. Then it’s never touched again. Immediately after launching your content, begin monitoring the performance and start talking about what worked, what didn’t and what you’ll change going forward.

How Does GE’s Chris Moody Think You Should Spend Your $1,000?

Finally, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for; how should you spend your $1,000 budget?

While there are literally a thousand ways you could spend your budget, Chris recommended the following:

$300 on Video

It’s no surprise that video content is in high-demand from customers. However, venturing into a new medium can sometimes seem like a very overwhelming undertaking.

While you can invest a lot in equipment, there are some great low-cost options today (including your smartphone). A good place to start is by spending your budget on editing video. You’d be amazed at what some good editing can do to turn a basic video into a masterpiece.

$100 Each on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter

You’ll never know what works until you test it. By investing a small amount in social advertising and boosting posts on top social networks, you’ll be able to identify what does (and does not) resonate with your audience on each platform. When setting up your social advertising, be sure to:

  • Start measuring traffic
  • Narrow your target audience to under 10k (small as possible)
  • Copy your customers
  • Target news feeds
  • Set a low daily budget
  • Use a call to action and social proof
  • Measure and gather insights

$400 Repeating What Works

After you initial investment of $600, you should have a rough idea of what tactics are working. Based on that data, invest your remaining budget into the tactics that performed best.

View Your Constraints as Opportunities

There will always be brands with larger budgets and more resources. Instead of lamenting about what you don’t have, focus on what you do. A great idea doesn’t cost a dime and there is no replacement for testing. If you’re ready to call in the experts, see if our content marketing services might be a fit for your brand.

What do you see as your biggest opportunity for getting more from your content marketing budget?

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If You Only Had $1k to Invest in Content Marketing, How Would You Spend it? |

If You Only Had $1k to Invest in Content Marketing, How Would You Spend it? was posted via Internet Marketing

Why to ROI: Proving the Value of B2B Influencer Marketing with Lee Odden

Last week at Marketing Profs B2B Forum it was pretty clear B2B marketers are more interested in influencer marketing than ever before.

Lee Odden’s session – Why to ROI: B2B Marketing Case Studies for Success– promises to deliver not only why influencer marketing is something we should all be talking about, but also how to use ongoing influencer marketing to deliver ROI to your business.

Some of us may still be thinking about influencer marketing as a B2C tactic. A Kardashian on Instagram touting the newest vitamin.

This isn’t exactly relevant to those of us in the B2B space.

Except, what if we think about influence more holistically. Lee points that you don’t have to be a Kardashian to be influential. From singing the praises of the battery life on your new iPhone8 or telling your coworker about the new software you’re testing in your department, we’re all influencing each other.

This holistic view of influencer marketing, thinking beyond the brandividual, is what will help you drive ROI within your influencer marketing.

5 Steps to Driving ROI with B2B Influencer Marketing

Step 1: Determine Why or Why Not

Spoiler alert – Lee thinks you should be doing influencer marketing if you’re a B2B marketer. And a lot of you are. 43% of marketers are experimenting with B2B marketing. But we’re still in the early days. Only 11% of B2B companies are running ongoing programs, compared to 48% of B2C companies.

So why are so many B2B marketers experimenting with influencer marketing? Largely, we believe that influencer marketing can help us with lead gen. 67% of marketers cited lead gen as a goal for influencer marketing. In fact, influencers can help us at each stage of the buying cycle, from awareness to purchase to advocacy.

So even though we’re just getting started. You believe in the why, and are very optimistic. 57% of marketers say influencer marketing will be integrated in all marketing activities in the next 3 years.

In order to achieve true integration, and keep our budgets and resources growing for more influencer marketing, we need to drive ROI from those programs.

Step 2: Find ROI Opportunities

Lee shares several examples of B2B influencer campaigns generating major ROI. He highlights several opportunities to drive value for your brand and influencers.

  • Simple Content: Influencer co-created content doesn’t have to be complicated. Find 10 influencers, ask them one question and compile and their responses in an asset with 90% influencer contributed content. Gating the asset with an easy to fill out form, can drive big results in terms of MQLs.
  • Influencer Integrated Content: Influencer content can take multiple forms. In the previous example, it was 90% influencer created and gated. Influencer content can also be incorporated into an asset as seasoning, providing support or color for brand generated content.
  • Repurposing Content for ROI: You can drive more ROI by getting the most out of your influencer content with repurposing. Once you’ve done all the work of getting influencer contributions, use the full contributions in a guide, include preview snippets in a blog post, round up some key ideas with stats into an infographic, or leverage important topics for an influencer webinar. Content repurposing not only helps you get more mileage out of your content, it will help drive additional amplification to your core assets, creating opportunity for ROI.
  • Interactive Content: Interactive content is intrinsically more engaging. If the visitor has to act in order to consume the content, they are already activated to take the next steps to share, click or download.

Now that we talked about all the great opportunities for ROI, Lee shares sometimes when influencer marketing is not an opportunity, including:

  • Magic sales expectations: This is an outdated perception that mean treating influencer marketing like an ad buy, instead of an opportunity to create organic experience. This works for B2C, but not for B2B.
  • Lack of consensus on the strategy: In order to be successful, you must have agreement on who your influencers are and how you are leveraging them . If there is a disconnect between PR and marketing, it can dilute ROI and create a less than awesome experience for your influencers.
  • Lack of resources to commit: Influencer marketing isn’t something you want to throw an intern at. You need people and resources that can perform at a very high level.
  • Disregard for FTC compliance: Enough said.
  • Unable to measure inputs, outputs and performance: In order to show value and continue to grow budgets, you must be prepared to report on the results.

Step 3: Create profitable relationships & content

Once you have identified your opportunities, start putting together a plan to show ROI, including these critical considerations:

  • What will it cost to implement?
  • What will it cost you if you don’t secure relationships with the top influencers in your industry and the competition does?
  • What influencer engagement models should we start with?

Planning ahead for these considerations, will ensure your team is starting your influencer program with appropriate goals in order to show ROI.

Step 4: Leverage an Integrated Approach

We already know that influencer marketing doesn’t work when there is a lack of consensus on your influencer strategy. In order to truly maximize ROI, you should consider influencer programs across your organization. In a cross functional model you’ll be able to tap into all types of influencers, including journalists, affiliates and customers, illustrated in the model from Traackr below.

Step 5: Start with Best Practices for Measurement

For best practice measurement, first you need to align your goals with influencer specific measurement. You want to look beyond your typical content KPIs, like views and time on page, and include:

  1. Metrics for influencer performance, for example referral traffic, downloads, subscribers from a specific influencer
  2. Metrics for influencer community performance, for example number of conversations around your brand or campaign within the larger influencer community

Now Take it to the Next Level

Regardless if you are just starting to experiment with influencer marketing or  you already have an ongoing program, there is an opportunity to take it to the next level.

Think about where you might fit into the spectrum of influencer marketing maturity progression Lee shared.

Then consider how you can optimize your approach. Here are 3 ways to start moving:

Get Expert Help:

An expert may be an agency that specializes in influencer marketing or a consultant you bring in to help you get started. An expert may be able to help you with these things:

  • Research the market
  • Who are your influencers?
  • Develop a Strategy
  • Create a playbook and plan\

Invest in Tech:

The right technology can help you quickly and efficiently assess and improve your influencer marketing tactics, for example:

  • ID needs and specifications
  • Create a pilog
  • Identify, qualify and recruit
  • Measure & optimize


Accelerate your influencer marketing efforts by activating your existing community and focusing efforts on what works best.

  • Start with employees, client and community
  • Invite co-creation
  • Scale what works

What is one way you are planning to take your influencer marketing to the next level this year?

For more insights into enterprise influencer marketing, check out our interactive infographic showcasing key insights from the Influence 2.0 report.

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Why to ROI: Proving the Value of B2B Influencer Marketing with Lee Odden |

Why to ROI: Proving the Value of B2B Influencer Marketing with Lee Odden was posted via Internet Marketing

Digital Marketing News: The Perfect Sales Page, YouTube Changes & Instagram Polls

How to Write a Persuasive Sales Page (Even If You Hate Selling) [Infographic]
Selling doesn’t have to be ‘sleazy’ — it can be helpful, timely and informative. This infographic shows exactly how to perfect your website’s sales page to be informative, helpful, and not at all creepy to your intended buyers. MarketingProfs

YouTube Changes Rules Regarding Videos With External Links
YouTube is restricting which accounts are able to add external links at the end of videos. The new requirements are that the user is a member of the YouTube Partner Program and your channel must have 10,000 total public views (or more). Search Engine Journal

Instagram Adds Polls in Stories, New Creative Tools
Instagram is adding a new way for users to conduct polls using a sticker option that allows users to ask a question within their Instagram Stories and see results from followers as they engage with the polls. Social Media Today

Google releases a variety of Accelerated Mobile Pages Project (AMP) updates
This week, Google announced several AMP technical updates. Updates include scrolling animations, responsive sidebar, native video analytics and support, improved client ID information and fluid-ad support for publishers. Search Engine Land

YouTube Advertising: New Research and Insights for Marketers
Considering advertising on YouTube but unsure of best practices and next steps? This roundup of news and insights from Social Media Examiner shows four key insights and takeaways to help you get started or optimize your current program. Social Media Examiner

LinkedIn to launch Talent Insights, a new analytics tool, as it dives deeper into data
TechCrunch reports: “LinkedIn Talent Insights, a self-service, big data analytics product that will let recruiters make deeper queries into statistics for hiring and employment, based on LinkedIn data. Talent Insights is being announced in a closed beta today at the company’s Talent Connect event, with a full launch in 2018.” TechCrunch

Snapchat rolls out Sponsored 3D World Lenses, bringing its AR format to advertisers
Snapchat has released its latest AR ad format. Now advertisers can create their own versions of Snapchat’s 3D World Lenses. This will allow users to augment videos shot with their device’s rear facing cameras with animated 3D objects. Marketing Land

80% of Instagram Users Voluntarily Connect With a Brand on the Platform
According to Instagram’s COO, Marne Levine, 80% of users connect to a business voluntarily. She said: “Shrinking the distance between businesses and customers and bringing you closer to the things that matter to you is really something that we’re focused on.” AdWeek

What were your top digital marketing news stories this week?

We’ll be back next week with more news! Have something to share? Tweet to @toprank or @Tiffani_Allen, or shoot a message over to the newsroom.

Digital Marketing News: The Perfect Sales Page, YouTube Changes & Instagram Polls was posted via Internet Marketing

What We Learned in September 2017: The Digital Marketing Month in a Minute

While the main tech headlines have revolved around new hardware, with all the major players showing off their new products to the press and public, there has been plenty of updates all around the digital marketing and tech landscapes. Google is making changes to appease both publisher and the EU Commission and Instagram is becoming an advertising juggernaut…

Industry news

Google responds to EU competition commission woes

Google has responded to the EU Commission’s June ruling that it has breached EU antitrust rules by giving an illegal advantage to its comparison shopping engine (CSE). Google’s new plan involves allowing competing CSEs to bid in an auction to have their listings appear alongside Google Shopping’s in the “one-box” at the top of the search results. Google Shopping will also have to bid, and will be run as a separate entity in Europe in an apparent attempt at a level playing field. We are sceptical that the playing field will truly be all that level – it’s not clear what operating costs the new Google Shopping unit will have to bear – and this also feels like a step up in complexity for individual retailers who will now need to manage competitive listings on multiple platforms. We anticipate that it will be hard for retailers to get visibility into why an individual listing on a given CSE does or does not appear in the Google one-box.

Read the full story (Search Engine Land)

First Click Free is dead

Google has recently announced that it will abandon its ‘First Click Free’ policy, whereby users are allowed to read three free articles a day on otherwise paywalled publications, or the website in question wouldn’t appear prominently in search results. Publishers have hailed the change as a victory, but many (including Distilled CEO Will Critchlow) question whether the replacement is any better.

Read the full story (The Guardian)

Apple drops Bing in favour of Google for Siri web search

Apple has announced a switch to Google as its provider of web searches from within Siri (on iOS) and Spotlight (on mac). Google already powers web searches within Safari and pays Apple a lot (an estimated $3 billion in 2017) in so-called “Traffic Acquisition Costs” (TAC) for the privilege. It’s not yet clear whether more money will be changing hands as part of the updated deal, particularly as the integration will reportedly be API-only and show only organic results, with no ads. Is it possible Apple is even paying Google (or at least reducing the TAC Google pays for the Safari integration)?

Read the full story (Tech Crunch)

Google updates AdWords to tackle Apple ITP problem

Apple has recently signalled its intention to roll out ITP (Intelligent Tracking Prevention) as part of a Safari update, which is aimed at limiting the cross-browsing data that third-party trackers can capture. This poses a headache for Google AdWords. In short, Google’s solution involves a new analytics cookie that will be used to capture conversion data in a way that confirms to ITP.

Read the full story (Search Engine Land)

The super-aggregators

Facebook’s handling of news aggregation has become a highly sensitive and politicised topic over the last 12 months. It has been criticised for censoring too much, not censoring enough and having no real solution to the fake news problem. Ben Thompson of Stratechery argues that Facebook (and others) have become super aggregators, and breaks down potential ways to effectively regulate these massively-powerful companies.

Read the full story (Stratechery)

Apple and Amazon lead new hardware launches

It’s the season for the tech giants to launch their new wares, and Amazon feels like the brand with the most innovative and interesting products being released. The e-commerce company has been in the hardware business for some years now, but its new round of Echo hardware (including the Echo 2, Echo Spot, Echo Plus and more) shows it is still experimenting to see what resonates and drives widescale adoption. And the Apple event didn’t exactly slip under the radar either…

Read the full story (QZ)

Instagram hits huge 2-million monthly advertisers mark

In September, two million businesses bought ads on Instagram. This figure is double the amount bought in March and four times the amount bought in September 2016. Facebook regularly gets five million monthly ad buyers. The purchase and subsequent integration of Instagram by Facebook has, of course, accelerated the growth of advertising with a large overlap of advertisers promoting their products and services on both social platforms.

Read the full story (Marketing Land)

Ahrefs crawlers now executing JavaScript

Ahrefs has announced it will now crawl links found in JavaScript. According to the company, it “will only execute JavaScript if a page has more than 15 referring domains pointing at it”. This currently works out to be about 30 million of the ~6 billion pages it crawls every day and results in the discovery of an additional 250 million links in JS.

Read the full story (Ahrefs)

Google searchers using location modifiers less and less

Google has personalised search based on location for a number of years, and has consistently gotten better at it. However, there has been a question mark around the overall understanding and adoption of implicit aspects by searchers. Recent data would suggest that people are finally getting used to the idea. For example searches including the phrase “near me” is declining, while comparable searches without the location modifier have grown by 150% this year alone.

Read the full story (Think with Google)

Distilled news

SearchLove London 2017 is now just 11 days away. For any last-minute decision making, we’ve compiled the 8 biggest reasons to join us at this year’s conference. You can pick up your tickets here. Senior Designer Leonie Wharton has compiled the most interesting creative work we’ve produced this year, while Principal Consultant Ben Estes had updated his very popular technical audit checklist.

Over on the Moz blog, Robin Lord has written an epic post on how he built a chat bot from scratch (and how you can too), and Zee Hoffman Jones has been laying down the checklist for competitive analyses (protip: Zee will cover this in even more detail at SearchLove London).

What We Learned in September 2017: The Digital Marketing Month in a Minute was posted via Internet Marketing

The Netflix Experience: Create Binge-Worthy B2B Content with Ardath Albee #MPB2B

73% of Americans have binged on content. If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking of those rainy Sundays spent on a Netflix bender. Netflix, Hulu, HBOGo make it so easy to continue the binge. One more episode, you think, as the next installment automatically queues up. Finished Stranger Things in one weekend? Here are 6 new, easily clickable suggestions to start a new binge.

Now what if that same principle could apply to your content marketing?

In fact, 93% of B2B buyers want bundled, bingeable content (Content Preferences Survey, 2017) , but only 42% say it’s easy to find the next piece of relevant content (Why Your Website Fails Buyers, 2017).

As marketers, we put so much work into attracting the right buyers to our website. We get them there, but then we miss the opportunity to tell them what to do next.

Ardath Albee, in her session How to Create Binge-Worthy Content Experiences that Move Buyers to Buy at Marketing Profs B2B Forum 2017, challenges us to stop talking about our products or brand and start focusing on building meaningful, purposeful experiences. To focus on engagement, rather than attraction. Re-frame those KPIS from people per page to pages per person.

If we do this, we can really use content marketing to drive momentum into our pipeline and move our buyers along their buying journey via content binges.

Three Takeaways to Create Binge Worthy Content

Stop Building Siloed Websites

Traditionally, websites are built using tidy hierarchies based on type of content, i.e. products, blog posts, white papers. This structure puts the work on the visitor after they land to find the next piece of content relevant to them. And they probably won’t do it.

Instead of organizing by content type, consider using a content hub that organizes content by industry, business need or by role. You will orchestrate more engagement by putting all of the related content in one easy to access place. And then crosslinking between related items.

A content hub allows a visitor, no matter where they are in their journey, to find the content most relevant to them with less clicks.

Ardath points out, we also need to be thinking about other people who influence that buyer’s journey. A side bar, for example, can link to executive content, your visitor could leverage to make a case to their boss.

As you consider a content hub, for the most binge worthy experience, you should:

  • Create connected pathways: Answer the “What’s Next?” question to move your buyer through their journey, always point them the next logical piece of content in their journey.
  • Trigger follow up with relevant “see also” content: For example, if a buyer has viewed two pieces of content, automate a message that points them to a third piece or ask them to subscribe.
  • Personalize Content by Role: Instead of only thinking about industry, consider personalizing by role, as it is preferred by 67% of buyers (Content Preferences Survey, 2017).
  • Include Data and Research to back up assertions: Buyers want you to backup your claims with data.
  • Make it Easy  to Access: Think about how you can make it as easy as possible for your buyer to get to the next piece of content, whether it’s an easy cross link or removing a form in front of a eBook

Leverage a Nurturing Approach that Speeds Buying

If you are going to organize content for progression, you need to think through the questions the buyer is asking at each stage of the buying cycle. Use your brand’s expertise in order to answer these questions for them. If you are on point with your content and connected pathways, it will stimulate the buyer to ask “What’s Next”, inspiring a binge.

Here are some questions buyers might be asking at each stage of their journey:

  • Consider Change: Is The Problem Worth Solving (Why should i care? What happens if i do nothing? What are competitors doing? Can we fix it internally?)
  • Prepare for Change: How Should We Solve It (What do I need to know? What are best practices? What are my choices? What could go wrong? What else does it impact?)
  • Embrace Change: Gain Consensus (How do we get everyone to agree? What tradeoffs can we agree to? What will the future look like?)

Use Personas to Inform the Content Journey

A persona helps inform not only the perspective on the job that needs to be done, but also the obstacles that keep them from achieving objectives. Personas should also detail relationships with stakeholders, time in career, and motivations.

Each persona should have a set of nurturing questions specific to them. They will be different based on how they come at a problem, how risk averse they are, how they relate to stakeholders, etc.

Like with your Netflix home screen, the more customized the “What’s Next” recommendations, the more likely you are to press play.

Stop Talking About End Dates

Many of us are still thinking about content marketing as a series of campaigns. The thing about campaigns is they typically have a start date and an end date. In a B2B world, when the sales cycle may be 18 months, how many deals can you close during a 3 month campaign.

So in order to create truly binge worthy content marketing, start thinking always on and interconnected.

Check out our list of other must see sessions at MarketingProfs B2B Marketing Forum.

Also, follow along on Twitter by following @TopRank


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The Netflix Experience: Create Binge-Worthy B2B Content with Ardath Albee #MPB2B |

The Netflix Experience: Create Binge-Worthy B2B Content with Ardath Albee #MPB2B was posted via Internet Marketing

Must-See Sessions & Top Tips for Finding Your Squad at #MPB2B

For some people the happiest place on earth is Disneyland, for me, it’s the annual MarketingProfs B2B Marketing Forum in Boston.

Last week, I ran a poll on Twitter to see what people were looking forward to most at the B2B Marketing Forum, and while many are interested in learning new B2B tactics and meeting other smart marketers (smarketers?), the vast majority are excited to see what Ann Handley has in store for this year’s conference.

There are two things that make this conference one of my favorites:

  1. The content is amazing.
  2. The people are amazing.

This is my third year attending MPB2B and my first year speaking, so I’d like to think that I’ve gotten the lay of the land by now. So, to help you out, I’ve compiled a list of must-see sessions (so you’re not scrambling for the next three days) and some top tips for finding your squad at this great event.

Must-See Sessions at MPB2B

Ardath Albee
CEO & B2B Marketing Strategist, Marketing Interactions

How to Create Binge-Worthy Content Experiences that Move Buyers to Buy

We all know that more content is being created than ever and many of us struggle to keep our increase our content engagement. Ardath Albee’s session promises to deliver on the secret of getting yours buyers to binge on your content, by connecting the dots and showing them the value of swift immersion.

Jon Miller
CEO & Co-Founder, Engagio

The Secret Sauce for Account Based Marketing

If you’re wondering how industry leaders are practicing ABM, what works and what doesn’t, this is the session for you. Jon Miller’s session will give you the inside scoop of how ABM works at Engagio and how you can orchestrate programs that get results.

Lee Odden
CEO, TopRank Marketing

From Why to ROI: B2B Influencer Marketing Case Studies for Success

How can B2B brands put influence to work in their marketing? Through three case studies, Lee Odden will demonstrate influencer strategy best practices and how to measure performance to satisfy both the why and the ROI of working with B2B influencers.

What You Know About Content Marketing—FoGetAboutIT—This Is ABM

On this panel, Lee Odden, Joe Chernov, Meagan French and Justin Gray will discuss the role of content through the lens of ABM. The conversation will also explore how hyper-personalized, value-driven content and sales offers completely reframe your outbound strategies and tactics.

Chris Moody
Content Marketing Leader, GE Digital

Content Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

You must show the value of your content marketing, in order to gain more budget and grow the success of your program

If you can spare 45 minutes and $1,000 to spend on content marketing, walk away from Chris Moody’s session with documented content strategy and an action plan for content success that you can start today.

Alex Rynne
Content Marketing Manager, LinkedIn

Your LinkedIn Marketing Tactical Plan

If you are looking for an actionable plan for driving brand awareness and revenue on Linkedin, then don’t miss Alex Rynne’s Thursday session.  Based on the results of dozens of A/B tests, find out what type of content performs best across LinkedIn Company Pages, Sponsored Content and InMail and how to run your own A/B tests to ensure your content is as relevant as possible to your target audience.

And walk away with a one-page plan to outline key metrics and determine the success of your LinkedIn plan.

Dayna Rothman
VP Marketing & Sales Development, BrightFunnel

Connecting Your Customer Journey to See More Success

In her session, Dayna Rothman will explain how to use measurement to optimize each stage of the buyer’s journey, make informed marketing decisions, and better understand what’s working—and what’s not. You’ll learn how your marketing team can utilize existing campaign data to dig deeper into performance and make intelligent decisions that will positively impact future pipeline and revenue.

Tim Washer
Creative Director, Cisco

Stop Boring Content with Comedy Writing Secrets

Join Tim Washer Friday morning for a lively session to help you hack the secrets of comedy writers to create content which is never boring. You will learn how to identify the common causes of dull content and tap into tactics for generating tons of creative ideas quickly.

Avoid corporate creativity deathtraps and use this session to spark creativity within your corporate team.

Ashley Zeckman
Director of Agency Marketing, TopRank Marketing

Scrappy B2B Creativity Hacks

What kind of marketer would I be if I didn’t encourage you to attend my own session? I will be taking the stage with Nick Westergaard and Andy Hunt to engage in an eye-opening discussion that will show you how you can leverage the latest content marketing tools to build your brand and grow your business without breaking the bank. In short, you’ll learn how to be scrappy.

Top Tips for Finding Your Squad

MarketingProfs has done an amazing job of connecting attendees to each other. And how could they not with an amazing Chief Content Officer like Ann Handley at the helm?

Getting the most out of a conference isn’t always about the content (although that’s important), it’s about meeting other like-minded marketers that you can connect with and learn from.

Below are three of my tips for finding your squad at an event like MPB2B:

#1 – Attend Social Events

I will be the first to tell you that being super social isn’t always easy. So while it may be tempting to sit in your room and fire of emails, peel yourself away from the comfy bed and make your way to one of the many social events surrounding the conference. These events offer a great opportunity to make new friends in a relaxed setting and learn a little bit more about what they do and why they are here. To help you out, here are a couple ice breakers:

  • What are you looking forward to most at this conference?
  • Have you attended before or is this your first time? (the marketer’s equivalent of “do you come here often?”)

#2 – Make New Friends in Session & at Lunch

While it can be tempting to sit with people you already know during sessions and lunch, don’t.

Instead, sit in a random row or at a random table and start a conversation with someone you don’t know. I have met some great people by plopping myself down at a table where I didn’t know a soul.

#3 – See Who’s Interacting Online

It’s amazing to think about the number of people you meet virtually, but have not met in real life. Events like MPB2B are a great opportunity to take those online conversations offline. See who is interacting on platforms like Twitter (or the event app) and set a designated time and place to meet.

What Are You Looking Forward to Most at MPB2B?

So now that you have some insights into what I’m looking forward to most, I’d like to know: what do you consider must-see sessions at MPB2B?

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Must-See Sessions & Top Tips for Finding Your Squad at #MPB2B |

Must-See Sessions & Top Tips for Finding Your Squad at #MPB2B was posted via Internet Marketing

50 B2B Marketing Influencers Speaking at #mpb2b

B2B Marketing Influencers

It’s October and you know what that means? Its B2B Marketing influencer speaker list time again.

One of my all-time favorite conferences is MarketingProfs B2B Forum in Boston and for the past few years I’ve had some fun listing out a top list of speakers ranked by influence around the topic of “B2B marketing”.

As usual, I used the influencer marketing platform Traackr to import the list of speakers from #mpb2b 2017 and rank them according to a combination of topical resonance and relevance as well as network reach related to “b2b marketing”.  Of course, use of their platform in this way is like 1% of what Traackr can do. I imagine they cringe every time I use their robust tool for such a simple list – but hey, they provide me with access and I use the tool as I see fit.

To clarify, my agency TopRank Marketing is also a paying customer of the Traackr platform for clients, where it is used in support of B2B influencer marketing programs for brands like SAP, BMC Software, McKesson and others in ways that are more in line with the platform’s capabilities.

B2B Marketing influencers network

This is a legit list that recognizes people creating content around B2B marketing that resonates with their social following. At the same time, sometimes people take lists a little bit too seriously, so let’s have a little fun here and there with some special “awards”.

First, here are some “compelling” stats about the people on this year’s list:

  • 40% are women
  • 14 are CEOs
  • 4 are CMOs
  • 6 are named Chris
  • 12 have beards

And the “Khaleesi of Content” Award goes to:
(Yes, I had to explain to Ann what Khaleesi meant)

Ann "Queen of Content" Handley
Ann Handley @marketingprofs
Chief Content Officer

Here’s the 49 additional B2B marketing speakers that came up in the search for influencers:

Pam Didner @pamdidner
Senior Marketing Consultant, Author, Speaker
Relentless Pursuit

Michael Brenner @BrennerMichael
Marketing Insider Group
Winner of the “nicest guy you’ll ever meet in marketing” award

Lee Odden @leeodden
TopRank Marketing
Winner of the “Puts himself in his own list” award – actually, it’s legit

Ardath Albee @ardath421
CEO & B2B Marketing Strategist
Marketing Interactions

Katie Martell @KatieMartell
Marketing Consultant
Katie Martell, On-Demand Marketing
Winner of “I will always remember the marching band at B2B Forum” award

Christopher Penn @cspenn
Vice President of Marketing Technology
SHIFT Communications
Winner of the “You think you know AI? I AM AI!” award

Kerry O’Shea Gorgone @KerryGorgone
Director of Product Strategy, Training

Jon Miller @jonmiller
CEO and Co-Founder
Winner of rocket scientist marketer AND serial entrepreneur award

Doug Kessler @dougkessler
Creative Director & Co-Founder
Velocity Partners
Winner of the “I swear and people love me for it” award

Carlos Hidalgo @cahidalgo
Founder & CEO

Joe Pulizzi @JoePulizzi
Content Marketing Institute
Also Co-Founder & Board Member, The Orange Effect Foundation
Winner of “I’m doing whatever I want from now on” award

Mark Schaefer @markwschaefer
Keynote speaker
Schaefer Marketing Solutions

Pawan Deshpande @TweetsFromPawan

Ashley Zeckman @azeckman
Director of Agency Marketing
TopRank Marketing

Mary Ellen Slayter @RepCapital
Rep Cap

James Thomas @jthomas_44
Allocadia Software

Chris Chariton @cchariton
Senior Director, Marketing & Business Development

Samantha Stone @samanthastone
Founder & CMO
The Marketing Advisory Network

Stephan Hovnanian @stephanhov
Content Solutions Architect
Bambu by Sprout Social

Raviv Turner @ravivturner
Co-Founder & CEO

Heidi Cohen @heidicohen
Chief Content Officer
Actionable Marketing Guide

Tim Washer @timwasher
Creative Director, SP Marketing
Winner of “deadpan everyman funnyman” award

Justin Gray @Jgraymatter

Nancy Harhut @nharhut
Chief Creative Officer
Nancy Harhut & Associates

Andrea Fryrear @AndreaFryrear
President and Lead Trainer

Tamsen Webster @tamadear
Founder and CEO, Strategic Speaking
Winner of “I’m on the same list as Tom” award

You Mon Tsang @youmon
Founder and CEO

Bob Meindl @BobMeindl
Director, Marketing

Mitch Joel @mitchjoel
Mirum Agency
Winner of “best looking bald man dressed in black” award

Bill Sebald @billsebald
Founder / Partner / SEO
Greenlane Search Marketing

Dayna Rothman @dayroth
VP Marketing & Sales Development

Chris Arrendale @Arrendale
CEO & Principal Deliverability Consultant
Inbox Pros

Chris B Wilson @DrSocialMedia
Inbound Consultant

Chris Marr @chrismarr101
Founder & Director
Content Marketing Academy
Winner of “the best accent, ever” award

Ahava Leibtag @ahaval
Aha Media Group

Derreck Kayongo @DerreckKayongo
Center for Civil and Human Rights

Jessica LaHaie @JessieLaHaie
Influencer Relations Coordinator
TechSmith Corporation

Brian G. Peters @Brian_G_Peters
Digital Marketing Strategist

Michelle Huff @michelle_huff
Chief Marketing Officer
Act-On Software, Inc.

Meagan French @mkfrench
Founder and President
Lotus Growth

Tom Webster @webby2001
Vice President, Strategy and Marketing
Edison Research
Winner of “I’m on the same list as Tamsen and she’s kicking my butt” award

Scott Monty @ScottMonty
CEO & Co-Managing Partner
Brain+Trust Partners

Jason Hsiao @jason_hsiao
President & Co-Founder

David Berkowitz @dberkowitz
Chief Strategy Officer

Alison Levine @Levine_Alison
Executive Producer — The Glass Ceiling, Follow Your Dream

Chris Goward @chrisgoward
Founder & CEO
WiderFunnel Marketing Optimization

Matt Childs @MattyChilds
Director of Digital Marketing Sales, North America

Melissa Case @startabuzz
Corporate Blog Manager

Joe Chernov
Joe Chernov
Winner of “most epic beard on a CMO” award

If you’re a conference organizer looking for influential speakers on all topics around B2B marketing, then this list might be a good reference for your 2018 planning.

And if you’re attending MarketingProfs B2B Forum in Boston this week, there’s an entire schedule of talented marketers enlisted to share their B2B knowledge bombs on you including this fine group.

Why to ROI B2B Influencer Marketing
TopRank Marketing will be participating in the B2B Forum with Alexis Hall and Dan Rasmussen attending. Ashley Zeckman and I will also be involved with multiple presentations including:

We hope to see you there!  If not, be sure to follow us on the conference hashtag #mpb2b and @toprank.

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© Online Marketing Blog – TopRank®, 2017. |
50 B2B Marketing Influencers Speaking at #mpb2b |

50 B2B Marketing Influencers Speaking at #mpb2b was posted via Internet Marketing

First Click Free is Dead, but is its Replacement Really any Better for Publishers?

The publishing industry has been claiming victory recently in a long-running disagreement with Google over how subscription content (i.e. content that sits behind a paywall or registration wall) should appear in their search results:

There’s a lot of confusion around the new policy which Google has announced, and a lack of clarity in how the media, publishers, and Google itself is reporting and discussing the topic.

Google’s own announcement is typically obtuse in its framing (“Enabling more high-quality content for users”) but has plenty enough information for those of us who spend much of our professional lives interpreting the search engines’ moves to figure out what’s going on.

The short version is that what’s being reported as “ending” the first click free policy is really about extending it. There are some parts of the extension that publishers have asked for, but the key concession Google is demanding – that publishers label the paywalled content in a machine-readable way – will lead to further weakening of the publishers’ positions.

To run full the full analysis, I’m going to start with some background – but if you know all about the history, go ahead and jump ahead to my new analysis and conclusions.

The background – what was First Click Free (FCF)

In the early days of Google, they indexed only content that was publicly-available on the open web to all users and crawlers. They did this by visiting all pages on the web with their own crawler – named Googlebot. At various points, they encountered behaviour that they came to label cloaking: when websites showed different content to Googlebot than to everyone else. This was typically done to gain a ranking advantage – for example to stuff a load of text onto a page containing words and phrases that didn’t appear in the article users were shown with the objective of appearing in searches for those words and phrases.

Google disliked this practice both because it messed up their index, and – the official line – because it resulted in a poor user experience if someone clicked on one of these articles and then discovered content that was not relevant to their search. As a result, they declared cloaking to be against their guidelines.

In parallel, publishers were working to figure out their business models on the web – and while many went down the route of supporting their editorial business with advertising, many wished to charge a subscription fee and allow only paying customers to access their content.

The conundrum this presented was in acquisition of those customers – how would people find the paywalled content? If Googlebot was blocked at the paywall (like all other logged-out users) – which was the only legitimate publisher behaviour that wasn’t cloaking – then none of those pages would rank for anything significant, as Googlebot would find no real content on the page.

Google’s solution was a program they called First Click Free (FCF) which they rolled out first to news search and then to web search in 2008. This policy allowed publishers to cloak legitimately – to show Googlebot the full content of pages that would be behind the paywall for regular users by identifying the Google crawler and specifically treating it differently. It allowed this behaviour on the condition that the publishers allow any user who clicked on a Google search result to access the specific article they had clicked through to read whether they had a subscription or not. After this “first click” which had to be free, the publisher was welcome to enforce the paywall if the user chose to continue to request subsequent pages on the site.

Problems with First Click Free and the backlash

The biggest problem with FCF was that it  created obvious holes in publishers’ paywalls and led to the open secret that you could access any article you wanted on many major newspaper sites simply by googling the headline and clicking through. While complying with Google’s rules, there was little the publishers could do about this (they were allowed to implement a cap – but required to allow at least 3 articles per day which is beyond the average consumption of most paywalled sites by most users – and effectively constituted no cap).

Many publishers began to tighten their paywalls or registration walls – often showing interstitials, adverts, or enforcing a monthly quota of “first click” articles a given user was allowed – technically leaving them cloaking in breach of Google’s guidelines, and frequently providing a poor user experience.

Publishers also began to resent more generally that Google was effectively determining their business models. While I have always been concerned about exactly what will continue to pay for journalism, I always had little sympathy for the argument that Google was forcing publishers to do anything. Google was offering a way of cloaking legitimately if publishers were prepared to enable FCF. Publishers were always welcome to reject that offer, not enable FCF, and also keep Googlebot out of their paywalled content (this was the route that The Times took).

Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal pulled out of FCF, and reportedly saw a drop in traffic, but an increase in subscriptions.

The new deal is really an expansion of FCF

The coverage has been almost-exclusively describing what’s happening as Google ending the FCF program whereas it really sounds more like an expansion. Whereas before Google offered only one legitimate way of compensating for what would otherwise be cloaking, they are now offering two options:

  1. Meteringwhich includes the option previously called FCF – requires publishers to offer Google’s users some number of free clicks per month at their own discretion – but now also allowing publishers to limit how many times a single user gets free content after clicking through from Google

  2. Lead-in – which shows users some section or snippet of the full article before requiring registration or payment (this is how implements its paywall at the moment – so under the new rules they would now legitimately be able to allow Googlebot access to the full normally-paywalled content subject to my important notes below)

Google is imposing a critical new condition

However, both of these options come with a new limitation: in order to take part in the expanded scheme they now call Flexible Sampling, publishers must mark up content that will be hidden from non-subscribers using machine-readable structured markup called JSON-LD. Structured markup is a machine-readable way of providing more information and context about the content on a page – and in this case it enables Google to know exactly which bits of content Googlebot is getting to see only because it’s Googlebot (and the publisher is engaging in Flexible Sampling) and what will actually be visible to users when they click through.

And here’s the rub.

This new requirement is listed clearly in Google’s announcement but is getting little attention in the mainstream coverage – probably because it’s both a bit technical, and because it probably isn’t obvious what difference it makes to publishers beyond a bit of development work(*).

To me, though, this requirement screams that Google wants to do the same things they’ve done with other forms of structured markup – namely:

  1. Present them differently in the search results

  2. Aggregate and filter them

(*) Incidentally, the technical requirement that the JSON-LD markup declare the CSS selector for the paywalled content is one that we at Distilled predict is going to present maintenance nightmares for many publishers – it essentially means that any time a publisher makes a visual change to the user interface on any of their article pages, they’re going to need to check that they haven’t broken their compliance with the new Flexible Sampling program. These are often considerations of different teams, and it is very likely that many publishers will accidentally break this regularly in ways that are not obvious to them or their users. It remains to be seen how Google will treat such violations.

1. I’m convinced Google will label paywalls in the search results

My thinking here is that:

  1. Hard paywalls are already labelled in Google News

  2. Many other forms of structured markup are used to change the display in the search results (probably the most obvious to most users is the ratings stars that appear on many product searches – which come from structured markup on the retailers’ sites)

  3. Especially in the case of a hard paywall with only a snippet accessible to most users, it’s a pretty terrible user experience to land on a snippet of content and a signup box (much like you see here if you’re not a subscriber to The Times) in response to most simple searches. Occasionally a user might be interested in taking out a new subscription – but rarely to read the single article they’re searching for right now

Point 3 is the most critical (1 & 2 simply show that Google can do this). Given how many sites on the web have a paywall, and how even the most engaged user will have a subscription to a handful at most, Google knows that unlabelled hard paywalls (even with snippets) are a terrible user experience the majority of the time.

I fully expect therefore to see results that look something like this:

This will:

  • Allow them to offer a scheme (“flexible sampling”) that is consistent with what publishers have been demanding

  • Let publishers claim a “win” against big, bad Google

  • Enable the cloaking that lets Googlebot through even hard paywalls (all but the most stringent paywalls have at least a small snippet for non-logged-in users to entice subscriptions)

  • Avoid having to remove major media sites from the search results or demote them to lower rankings

  • And yet, by labelling them clearly, get to the point that pretty much only users who already have a subscription to a specific site ever click on the paywalled results (the number of subscriptions you already have is small enough that you are always going to remember whether you have access to any specific site or not)

My prediction is that the end result of this looks more like what happened when the WSJ pulled out of FCF – reportedly good for the WSJ, but likely very bad for less-differentiated publishers – which is something they could already do. In other words, publishers have gained very little in this deal, while Google is getting them to expend a load of energy and development resource carefully marking up all their paywalled content for Google to flag it clearly in the search results. (Note: Google VP for News, Richard Gingras, has already been hinting at some of the ways this could happen in the Google News onebox).

2. What does aggregation look like?

Once Google can identify paywall content at scale across the web (see the structured markup information above) they open up a number of interesting options:

  1. Filtering subscription content out of a specific search and seeing only freely-available content

  2. Filtering to see only subscription content – perhaps from user-selected publications (subscriptions you own)

    • Possible end-game: connecting programmatically to subscription APIs in order to show you free content and content you have already got a subscription for, automatically
  3. Offering a bundle (Chris Dixon on why bundles make economic sense for both buyers and sellers). What if you could pay some amount that was more than a single subscription, but less than two, that got you access to 5 or 6 major media sites. It’s very likely that everyone (except publishers outside the bundle!) would be better off. Very few players have the power to make such a bundle happen. It’s possible that Google is one of those players.

Under scenario #3, Google would know who had access to the bundle and could change the display in the search results to emphasise the “high quality, paid” content that a particular searcher had access to – in addition to the free content and other subscription sites outside the bundle. Are we going to see a Spotify for Publishers? We should all pay close attention to the “subscription support” tools that Google announced alongside the changes to FCF. Although these are starting with easy payment mechanisms, the paths to aggregation are clear.


Ben Thompson has been writing a lot recently about aggregators (that link is outside his paywall – a subscription I wholeheartedly recommend – I look forward to seeing his approach to the new flexible sampling options on his own site, as well as his opinions). Google is the prototypical super aggregator – making huge amounts of money by aggregating others’ work with effectively zero transaction costs on both the acquisition of their raw materials and their self-service sale of advertising. Are they about to aggregate paid subscription content as well?


Publishers are calling this a win. My view is that the new Google scheme offers:

  1. Something that looks very like what was in place before (“metering””)

  2. Something that looks very like what pulling out of FCF looked like (“lead-in”)

And demands in return a huge amount of structured data which will cement Google’s position, allow them to maintain an excellent user experience without sending more traffic to publishers, and start them down a path to even more aggregation.

If paywalls are to be labelled in the search results, publishers will definitely see a drop in traffic compared to what they received under FCF. The long-term possibility of a “Spotify for Publishers” bundle will likely be little solace in the interim.

Are you a publisher?

If you’re wondering what you have to do as a result of these changes, or what you should do as the landscape shifts, don’t hesitate to get in touch and we will be happy to discuss your specific situation.

First Click Free is Dead, but is its Replacement Really any Better for Publishers? was posted via Internet Marketing