Are Tech Companies Better Digital Marketers?

[Author Note: This post was originally written to be published simultaneous with and in support of the April update for the GeekWire 200.  The folks at GeekWire liked it enough that they wound up publishing virtually the entire post on their site.  My intention isn’t to duplicate the post but I wanted to post it on the Rival IQ blog as well since the concepts I cover are valid for any marketer to consider and I want to make sure our full audience at the Rival IQ blog got a chance to see the post as well.  Enjoy — John Clark]

In our last few posts we’ve explored a couple of key SEO techniques by comparing key players in specific markets and drawing competitive insights from what we saw.

And that got me wondering…are tech companies more savvy when it comes to digital marketing?

Lucky for me, through our partnership with Geekwire, Rival IQ monitors and benchmarks the digital activities of approximately 297 Seattle-area tech companies that move in and out of the GeekWire 200 ranked index every month. So it didn’t take long to find answers…

Drumroll please…

I decided to compare these high-growth tech companies to the thousands of companies Rival IQ tracks regularly.  Specifically, I looked at the quality of their meta descriptions and whether or not they were exposing their keywords to the world.

Top-Notch Meta Description? No better than the average bear.

Even though homepage meta descriptions play an important role in getting people to your website, Rival IQ determined that 56% of the companies in our database had left their meta descriptions blank or had descriptions that were too long to be effective. (Read more at – Is Your Meta Description Working As Hard As Your Tagline?)

How did the tech companies compare?

Meta Description Comparison

Companies in the GeekWire 200 fare no better than the typical company on meta description quality

Turns out 36% of the GeekWire 200 had missing meta descriptions and another 19% had written descriptions that were too long and therefore getting cut-off mid sentence in the search results. So 55% of the tech companies rated a fail.

Score:  TIE

Keyword Savvy? Not so much.

Even though the search engines no longer leverage meta keywords in their algorithms, quite a few companies, over 50% in our database, are still populating these fields on their website and 27% of those are optimizing their content. As a result, they’re exposing their keyword strategy to the world. (Read more at – Are you accidentally exposing your keyword strategy?!)

Are tech companies on the ball?

Meta keyword quality

Slightly fewer GeekWire 200 companies are not exposing their meta keywords

I’ll give this a qualified yes. Only 35% of the GeekWire 200 is sharing their keywords with the world and fewer are actively optimizing them. Better, but that’s still a lot of opportunity for market-watchers to gain valuable insight on how to compete against these market-leading tech companies.

Score: Point to the Tech Companies.

Conclusion? Technology DNA Doesn’t Necessarily Raise Your Digital IQ

Running With The Social Media Big Dogs

Many of the GeekWire 200 leverage social media in their marketing mix. Analyzing their activity on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn gave me a great opportunity to explore the strategic insights available to marketers, including:

  • Channel choice
  • Market movers
  • Audience engagement

Let’s take a look. It’s time to get off the porch and run with the big dogs!

Twitter Standing, Movement & Engagement.

I always recommend having a baseline understanding of how your following on social media compares to others in your market. Here’s an example:

Top GeekWire 200 Companies based on twitter followers

Cheezburger is the big dog in the GeekWire 200 based on twitter followers

In terms of a raw following on Twitter, the humor site Cheezburger is the big dog in the GeekWire 200.  Lockerz, the social commerce and sharing site, comes in second with less than half as many followers.

We also have two video game developers in this analysis⎯Bungie and Runic Games⎯with Bungie being the big dog with over 130,000 more followers.

Insight: As a marketer at Runic Games, I’d be looking more closely at Twitter. Assuming the companies have similar target audiences, Twitter could be a powerful channel to engage Runic’s customers and prospects.

Who’s Making a Play?

Benchmarking alone doesn’t provide insight on who’s achieving success via a specific channel. If we look at who gained followers in the last 30 days, we discover that RootMetrics, a company specializing in wireless coverage mapping, made the big play⎯increasing their followers by 200%.

RootMetrics Tops Percentage Change in Twitter Followers in the Last Month

RootMetrics Tops Percentage Change in Twitter Followers Over the Last 30 Days

If you’re looking at percentage increases, it’s important to confirm you’re beginning with a respectable base. Adding 20 new followers to a base of 10 is a 200% increase, but isn’t worth getting  fired up over.

GeekWire 200 Absolute Change In Twitter Followers

RootMetrics had a reasonable base for their 200% increase to be considered significant

In the case of RootMetrics, they’ve grown from a base of 744 followers to 2,226 in 30 days. That’s 1,482 new followers. Movement worth watching and understanding.

Insight: A deeper look reveals that RootMetrics has upped their tweet volume and the number of audience retweets has also increased significantly.

As a marketer in the same industry, I’d be looking closely the level of my Twitter volume and investigating the RootMetric’s tweet topics that resonating enough to merit retweeting.

Insights from the Facebook Big Dogs.

Again beginning with the benchmark view, we discover that among the GeekWire 200, free online photo editor PicMonkey is the biggest dog on Facebook. But there are several other big dogs nipping at their heels. It’s also interesting to note that the Facebook big dogs are all chasing consumers.

Top GeekWire 200 Companies based on twitter followers

PicMonkey is the big dog in the GeekWire 200 based on Facebook likes

Z2 is making a Facebook play.

A look at the percentage change growth in Facebook Likes indicates mobile online game developer, Z2, is making a move.

Z2 had the biggest percentage change in Facebook likes amongst the GeekWire 200

Z2 had the biggest percentage change in Facebook likes amongst the GeekWire 200

Z2 chalked up a 9x growth spurt in Facebook followers, growing from 1,619 to 16,835 in the last 30 days. Definitely something to know if you’re competing for mobile gaming mind share.

But wait… there’s movement from the back of the pack.

A check of posting activity for the month reveals that DreamBox Learning, creators of math learning games for kids K-5, has drastically increased their Facebook activity in March.

Changes in Facebook posting activity

Dreambox Learning stands out in increase in posting activity with their recent concerted engagement on Facebook

Insight: Big changes in posting volume can highlight a shift in market strategy. If I were competing against DreamBox, I’d be watching their growth in engagement via Likes and Talking About numbers to determine if Facebook is a channel I should leverage more.

Tableau Dominates LinkedIn.

Unlike Facebook, there’s only one big dog in the GeekWire 200 when it comes leveraging LinkedIn. Tableau Software, developers of data visualization products for business intelligence, dominates this channel.

Tableau Dominates LinkedIn in the GeekWire 200

Tableau is the leader by far in the GeekWire 200 in LinkedIn followers

Domination requires dedication.

Tableau posted to LinkedIn twenty one times in March – approximately once every business day in the month. That’s nearly twice as often as the next tier of companies the pack.

Tableau leads GeekWire 200 in LinkedIn Updates

Tableau also leads GeekWire 200 in LinkedIn updates

Tableau’s is hitting their target audience.

The content of Tableau’s posts on LinkedIn is resonating with their followers. In March, they received 44 LinkedIn Likes. That number may not seem significant, but it turns out only 16 companies in GeekWire 200 received Update Likes in March. Context is everything.

Tableau has significant LinkedIn engagement

Tableau has significant LinkedIn engagement amongst the GeekWire 200

Insight: Tableau’s domination of LinkedIn stems from both the frequency and quality of their posts. If I were competing against them, I’d closely review Tableau’s LinkedIn content for insights on topics that are top of mind with my audience and use their post frequency to set my activity objectives.

Have we learned from Seattle’s Tech Community?

So while the GeekWire 200 failed to make the case that technology companies are better digital marketers, I think taking a closer look at their efforts yielded some important learning:

  • Check Your Meta Description. Given that 50% of the companies in Rival IQs database are failing to optimize their homepage meta descriptions, you should probably confirm that yours is encouraging searchers to click-through to your site. Leverage our free meta description comparison tool to explore how yours compares.
  • Don’t Broadcast Your Keywords. It’s also worth checking that you aren’t one of the 35% – 50% sharing your keyword strategy with the world.
  • Monitoring Social Networks Informs Strategy. Knowing how your use of social media compares to others in your market sheds light on whether you should be leveraging a specific channel. It also provides insight on topics that resonate and the level of activity that will help you gain engagement with your audience.  It also shines a light on activity that merits your attention⎯competitors who are upping their game or adopting new strategies for reaching your audience.

Want to Dig Deeper Into the GeekWire 200?

If you want to do your own deeper analysis, Rival IQ is happy to give you access to the data and our analysis tools.  Click here to add the GeekWire 200 profile to your existing account or to signup and we will populate a profile with information on the 297 Seattle Tech companies monitored in this index.

Is Rival IQ Right For You?

[begin shameless plug] If you’re looking for an easy way to benchmark and monitor your market landscape, Rival IQ may be the tool for you. We put the insights outlined in this post and more at your fingertips. Set up is easy and the first 30 days are on us! [end shameless plug]

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Reverse Engineering a Website Redesign for Competitor Research

Most marketers will agree that competitor research is key when establishing a marketing strategy. The question is, how many marketers continue to monitor their competitors after the initial research is done? You don’t want your business to start losing customers because your competitor has upped their game. In this post, we’re going to show what you can learn from analyzing your competitor’s website redesign.

Overall Look & Feel

If your business doesn’t have the time or the budget to invest in a web design that might not do the job, you can relax. Chances are, your larger competitors do have the ability to invest in the research it takes to find the perfect design for maximum conversions. All you have to do is monitor their moves and the best design is likely to be revealed.

Let’s take Sprout Social, the robust social CRM tool for business. Rival IQ picked up changes to their web design in early 2013.

Analyzing a Website Redesign

Viewing website design changes in Rival IQ.

These changes were not minor – and any social media tool for business would be wise to note the key updates they have made. Just by browsing the thumbnails, you can see that the new look and feel is much cleaner with less text and larger images. Now, let’s dig deeper.

New Products, Services, and Features

The first thing you may want to find out when a competitor updates their website is whether they are offering new products or services, or if they have made significant changes to their existing products and services.

One of the things you will notice immediately about the opening of the features page is the difference in text. Before, there was a lot to read. The main tagline on the product focused on design and user experience.

Product Features Page Before

Sprout Social’s features page header before the redesign.

In the new design, most of the opening text has gone away, and the main tagline focus on the power of their product.

Product Features Page After

Sprout Social’s features page header after the redesign.

Before, there was again a heavy emphasis on text on the page, particularly bullet point lists. The top three features they focused on were the dashboard, monitoring, and analytics.

Product Features Page Highlights Before

Sprout Social’s feature highlights before the redesign.

After, the text has gone away and the top features highlighted are the ones that most people will be interested in: engagement, publishing, monitoring, and analytics. They also specify that all plans include the main features listed.

Product Features Page Highlights After

Sprout Social’s feature highlights after the redesign.

You can click through to each to learn more, just as you could on the previous design. Even the individual features pages now have a more streamlined look with less text and a larger image emphasis at the top.

Individual Features Page Before

Sprout Social’s individual features page after the redesign.

Pricing

Since the pricing page is where your main conversions happen, it’s especially important to anazlye the changes to it. In Sprout Social’s case, the before look included a darker theme and the pricing order was from highest to lowest.

Individual Features Page After

Sprout Social’s pricing page before the redesign.

In the new look, the pricing goes from lowest to highest and the text about the features in each level changed slightly. They also changed the wording of downgrade to change.

Pricing Page Before

Sprout Social’s pricing page after the redesign.

Beneath the pricing table, they previously listed the social networks they work with. In the new look, they instead note the fact that all plans include free personal accounts for paid team members and mobile apps.

Pricing Page After

Sprout Social’s pricing page additional info after the redesign.

They also modified the look of their FAQ below the pricing options. Before, the section felt a little more cluttered with the questions on the left, logos of brands they worked with on the right.

Pricing Page FAQ Before

Sprout Social’s FAQ before the redesign.

After, the look is cleaner and the testimonials are in place of the logos.

Pricing Page FAQ After

Sprout Social’s FAQ after the redesign.

Conversion Testing & Strategy

Chances are, Sprout Social did some heavy A/B testing to determine the best ways to design their call to action buttons to increase free trial signups. Overall, the reduced amount of text on the main pages make it easier to recognize the call to action buttons without the need to make them boldly colored, something you may have noticed on the homepage and throughout the site. Here is the homepage before.

Homepage Before

Sprout Social’s homepage before the redesign.

And here it is after with a more mute, yet still obvious call to action.

Homepage After

Sprout Social’s homepage after the redesign.

Another area you may note changes to are the navigation bar. Before, there was a steady log in and sign up button at the top right. After, the navigation bar changes from just showing to the log in button to showing a bold free trial button as you scroll down the page.

Navigation Bar with Call to Action

Sprout Social’s navigational bar after the redesign.

It’s a perfect change as people are more likely to want to sign up for a free trial as they scroll down the pages on the site to learn more. Having the button appear while the page is moving makes it more eye-catching.

Trust Factors

Trust factors are the elements that help a potential customer feel more confident in their decision to buy from your business. Before on the Sprout Social site, they were only found on the homepage.

Trust Factors on Homepage Onlin

Sprout Social’s certifications before the redesign.

It was missing on other key pages such as the pricing page and the product features page. In the new look, however, they implemented them into the footer to be displayed on all pages throughout the site.

Trust Factors on Footer Throughout Website

Sprout Social’s certifications after the redesign.

They also lessened the chance that people would click on the links to the Twitter and Facebook development centers in this change. While the links are still there in the new footer design, they are less obvious to click on than the badges in the previous design. This will prevent people from leaving the Sprout Social site and potentially discovering one of their competitor’s in the developers directories, especially on Twitter’s page where you are greeted with Adobe Social, HootSuite, and other products before you get to Sprout Social’s listing.

They also added more video testimonials from the brands they work with on their customer’s page. Before, you could only see the main video, followed by a call to action. After brand logos, you would then find additional testimonial videos.

Customers Page Before

Sprout Social’s customer page before the redesign.

After, you can see three videos, directly followed by logos of brands using their product.

Customers Page After

Sprout Social’s customer page after the redesign.

The testimonials also stand out more in the new look.

Customers Testimonials After

Sprout Social’s testimonials after the redesign.

Copy

The above points are just the things you can notice at a glance while going through a competitor’s website redesign. When you’re going through website changes manually, it can be difficult to note the more minute copy changes that have happened beyond headers and call to action buttons. This is where Rival IQ can make your life simpler by highlighting these changes.

Comparing Changes in Website Copy

Seeing copy changes on a page in Rival IQ.

With our tool, you can find out if your competitors are just making over their layout or if their copy has been modified as well. You can also find out if your competitors have made any changes under the hood. For example, Sprout Social did not change any of their search optimization tags like the page titles or meta descriptions. Another popular internet marketing tool, Raven Tools, did.

Comparing Changes in Meta Description Text

Seeing meta description changes in Rival IQ.

Considering the importance of the copy used on a homepage’s key on-site search optimization tags in relation to how a website appears in search, being able to see these changes when they happen can be vital in on-going competitor research.

Key Takeaways

So what have you learned from taking a walk through of this social media tool’s website change?

  • Less text can make your calls to action stand out.
  • Allow people to quickly see your product top features without having to read too many details.
  • Trust factors should be on every page you have a call to action.
  • Small changes in copy can make a large difference.
  • Remove options for people to leave your site as much as possible to increase conversions.

What did you learn about the redesign, and how can you see Rival IQ’s tool helping you monitor competitor’s website design changes? Please share in the comments! Also, be sure to sign up for Rival IQ to research your competitors – the first 30 days are free !

Is Your Meta Description Working As Hard As Your Tagline?

A well-crafted Meta Description can be as important to your brand as your tagline. Companies spend thousands of dollars developing phrases that help customers understand the essence of their brand. Nike’s “Just Do It” or General Electric’s “Imagination at Work” are excellent examples. For consumers using a search engine, your Meta Description helps them quickly grasp what you have to offer and invites them to enter your virtual front door.

Here’s a great example from Exact Target:

Their well-written Meta Description is:

ExactTarget is the preferred targeted email marketing provider for Fortune 500 enterprises and Small Businesses alike. Find out why.

And results in a SERP display like this:

The SERP pages for Exact Target in Google

A well-written Meta Description achieves its objective if the reviewers next step is to click and learn more

Google has pulled Exact Target’s Meta Description to display along with their search result. Although it no longer has any influence on SEO rankings, the thoughtfully-written Meta Description is still playing a valuable role in driving traffic to Exact Target’s website.

Today we’re going to delve deeper into Meta Descriptions – exploring what makes a good one, looking at usage, and discovering what competitive intelligence you can glean from a side-by-side comparison. Read on!

Is your Meta Description a friendly doorman or an angry bouncer?

doorman_combo

A thoughtfully-written Meta Description will crisply articulate what sets you apart from your competitors in a warm tone that welcomes visitors to come explore your website. Just like the doorman who offers a friendly greeting and holds open the door – your Meta Description can create a great first impression.

And if you aren’t proactive, the search engines will create a first impression for you, displaying seemingly random and definitely generic text to explain what their users might expect to find on your site. Like being greeted by an unfriendly bouncer, many visitors are moved along – clicking through to a competitor’s site instead.

Here’s a real-world example:

Unbounce, a leading landing page optimization company, has spent time perfecting a Meta Description that delivers results.

Unbounce's well written meta description prior to an accidental change

Unbounce’s well-written Meta Description prior to an accidental change

A few weeks ago, Rival IQ identified that Unbounce had released a beautiful new home page but had inadvertently wiped out their Meta Description.

Unbounce Changes scaled

Rival IQ tracks the change to the new Unbounce homepage and accidental deletion of their Meta Description

The impact on their SERP was immediate. Gone was any mention of who uses Unbounce and what makes their offer different from the competition. Instead, Google had put a bland face on their welcome.

Unbounce SERP no meta

The impact of a missing Meta Description is obvious on Unbounce’s new SERP

It didn’t take the on-the-ball marketers at Unbounce long to get their proven Meta Description restored, and in no-time, they were again starting the conversation with potential prospects with their best foot forward.

Writing Meta Descriptions that deliver clicks.

I find distilling a company’s value proposition down to 155’ish characters of goodness (the length SEOmoz recommends) a real challenge. Thankfully, there are some great resources to out there to help. Here are a few I found helpful:

You can’t win if you don’t play.

“80 percent of success is
just showing up”

Woody Allen

At Rival IQ, we track thousands of websites for our customers, and would you believe that 28% of the homepages don’t have a Meta Description? Another 30% have Meta Descriptions that are too long, abruptly cutting off after 155 characters. This means that a mere 41% of companies have a Meta Description that is the right length.  The result is that with just a little effort, you can be out-performing 50% of the market!

Meta Desc Usage Chart

Over 50% of companies do not have a Meta Description or have one that is too long

Positioning. Positioning. Positioning.

You can gain valuable insight into how your competitors are positioning themselves by doing a side-by-side comparison of their Meta Descriptions. (Assuming, of course, that they have them!)

This might sound daunting, but it’s easy to do with a spreadsheet and a tool that extracts the Meta Description, like the SEOmoz SEO Toolbar. [Begin Brief Product Plug] Our product, Rival IQ, makes it easy to build up a collection of companies and analyze their Meta Descriptions and many other examples of positioning language. If you are looking to quickly analyze Meta Descriptions for a set of companies, try our free Competitive Meta Description micro-app. [End Product Plug]

Learning from two example meta description comparisons

To demonstrate what we can learn from a side-by-side comparison of Meta Descriptions, I’m going to explore examples from two different industries. First, I’ll examine the dynamic, technology-oriented landing page optimization market, and then follow it with a look at the much more mature auto insurance market. In both cases, it is amazing to see the insights you gain from studying how companies describe themselves in relatively few words.

First, the landing page optimization market . . .

Meta description comparison for landing page optimization market

Key learning:

Missing Descriptions. Two companies have blank Meta Descriptions, including Visual Website Optimizer (another leader in this space).  Just to drive home my earlier point about random text getting displayed, here’s a look at their search result – it’s definitely in the “bouncer” camp:

Visualwebsiteoptimizer no meta

The impact of a missing Meta Description is clear in the SERP for VisualWebsiteOptimzer

Minimal Differentiation. Most of the landing optimization companies tout the same benefits – making more money, increasing conversions, and being easy to use. Only Unbounce gets specific about what they do and why it’s easy. Perhaps that’s enough to let them stand out.

Social Proof Stands Out. Ion Interactive is the only competitor to leverage social proof in their Meta Description, calling out Dell, DHL, and Western Union as customers.

As a marketer, I’d walk away from this analysis determined to get more specific about what I’m offering prospects (like Unbounce) and to possibly incorporate recognizable customer names (like Ion) into my Meta Description.

Let’s take a look at what we can learn from the auto insurance industry . . .

Meta description comparison for the auto insurance industry

Key learning:

It’s a mature market. There are no missing Meta Descriptions, and most of them are tightly honed.

Key messages. Some companies are building credibility and differentiation by emphasizing their longevity in the market. Others are specifying the type of insurance they offer. Very few of them tout benefits beyond price. (This might be a positioning opportunity.)

Free offer. Six of the eleven companies promote the offer of a free quote to discover how prospects can save. This is a great example of leveraging a Meta Description to perform advertising in organic search results. Clever.

As a marketer in this industry, I’d be weighing whether the offer of a free quote was differentiating and wondering if I should be emphasizing benefits other than price. (Allstate including their tag line, “You’re in Good Hands…” comes closest to doing this). And if I were GEICO, I’d be weighing whether the 35 characters I’m using spell out the acronym that is my known name (Government Employees Insurance Company) is worth the real estate.

Remember these three easy steps

  1. Spend the time to craft a Meta Description that welcomes customers with a concise articulation of your value proposition.
  2. More than 50% of businesses either don’t have a Meta Description or have one that is too long. Your first step to winning is to get in the game and follow the basic rules.
  3. You can gain key market-positioning insights by doing a side-by-side comparison with your competitors’ Meta Descriptions.

What is the best Meta Description that you’ve seen? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

One last time: Try Our Free Competitive Meta Description Report

Would like to see how your Meta Description stacks up against those of your competition? If so, we’ve created a Free Competitive Meta Description Report that will perform a side-by-side analysis similar to the examples in this post. To get started, click here, or look in the “Free Reports” section of our homepage, www.RivalIQ.com.

Easy sharing of landscapes with clients and colleagues

Welcome to another Rival IQ Update! During this last sprint, we cooked up a couple of new features to help you share the love, and we have started making time for documenting our last year’s learnings into blog posts we hope you’ll enjoy. If you haven’t yet, go read John’s most recent post about Meta Descriptions. Then, come back to learn about how to share profiles with clients and colleagues.

Share a Profile, Make a Friend

Often, we’re asked by our customers, “how can I let someone else see the great information captured in this Rival IQ competitive profile?” Until now, we haven’t had a great answer. Being a team of folks that doesn’t like not having the answer, we have a first step ready for you to try with your clients and colleagues: profile sharing. With this feature, you’ll be able to share a copy of a profile in your account with someone else.

As always, read on to learn about the other additions and fixes that are available for you now in Rival IQ :

  • Profile Sharing Starting today, the ability to share a copy of any profile in your account is available in your profile manager. On any profile, you’ll see a button that creates a link you can share with a client or colleague. This link will give the recipient the ability to add a copy of your shared profile to their Rival IQ account. If the person (or people) with whom you share this profile do not have a Rival IQ account, this link will enable them to create a new Rival IQ account that is pre-populated with your shared profile. It is important to note that this shared copy is just that, a copy. No future changes you make to your profile will be seen by folks who have added it to their accounts and vice versa. Please contact us if you have questions or would like more specific details about how this feature works.
  • Competitive Meta Description Report In support of our blog post about Meta Descriptions this week, we created a free micro-app that creates a quick head-to-head view of your competitors Meta Descriptions. The functionality of this tool is very similar to that of our Analyze page within Rival IQ, where you can get a head-to-head- view of your competitors’ positioning language from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and their website meta tags. Go have a try at the new app, and share it with a friend. Also, if you don’t know about the competitive comparisons of positioning language in our Analyze page, go try out “Power Mode” right now (see screenshot below).

A look at profile sharing, the new Competitive Meta Description Report, and Power Mode in Analyze:

share

Share a copy of your profile within your Profile Manager

report

A look at our new Competitive Meta Description micro-app

power

Power mode in Analyze.

Still rolling…

We continue to make progress against a number of initiatives we’ve discussed in the past, including adding more data sources, working on data export options, and improving the usability of our web change detection capabilities. The next couple of sprints will yield good things for you, really. We’re excited. Can you feel my emotion?

We love the help you give us. Thanks!

We continue to grow and evolve our vision of how Rival IQ can help you market more effectively. Your feedback and input really does make a difference, so please don’t hesitate to email us or use our in-app messaging to let us know how to improve things for you.

Look who gave us love. This round’s thank-yous go to: TimR, RonL, MitchL, NickS, IanS, RickP, MattH, DavidC, WillM, ScottA, GregM, KrisitH, MilesA, JamieO, and StevenG. We truly appreciate all of your input and guidance.

Thank you for your continued support.

The Rival IQ Team: John, SethP, Doc, Keith, and Danielle

Are you accidentally exposing your keyword strategy?!

Search engines stopped considering the contents of your meta-keywords tag at least 4 years ago (and probably much longer than that).  If you are spending time populating your meta-keywords tag, you are wasting time (at best) and enunciating your keyword strategy to the interwebs (much worse).  In this modern time of SEO consultants and marketing automation tools, you might imagine that there are relatively few people who still follow the now 10-or-more-year-old advice to populate the meta-keywords tag in their web pages, but a quick look into our data reveals that more than 50% of companies populate their meta keywords.

What, you’re still updating your meta keywords and need the quick fix? Go remove your website meta-keywords tag from your site now!  Then come back here and read about how to gain insights about your less savvy competitors.

Google and Bing don’t use meta keywords as an input to their ranking algorithms

Few, if any, SEO experts advocate the use of meta keywords for SEO purposes.  Matt Cutts (from Google) explains Google’s take on the matter,  and many others point out that Bing uses it only as a negative signal that decreases your page relevance.  If that weren’t enough evidence for you, go read the consensus of opinion on SEOmoz’s community forum.

In addition to pointing out the lack of relevance to search, most bloggers on the topic go one step further and actively advocate that research your competitors’ sites to gain insight into their keyword strategy.  I couldn’t agree more, so let’s look at how to quickly gain that insight.

Explore your competitors’ meta-keywords tag for insights into their keyword strategy

Despite my rant about meta-keywords being a waste of time,  researching your competitors’ use of them can be a quick and fruitful exercise.  A few minutes of time invested may provide valuable inspiration for keywords you may want to optimize for during your own SEO or PPC activities, or clue you in to shifts your competitors may be planning.

To quickly examine meta tags as you browse the web, find one of the many browser add-ons that surface many of the non-visible details the page you’re viewing contains.  My favorite add-on at the moment is the SEOmoz SEO Toolbar, and it is definitely worth checking out.

For longer term monitoring or for a broader survey of many websites simultaneously, you can use a tool such as Rival IQ (our app) to assemble your competitors and track a variety of information including meta-keywords tags.  As an example, I used Rival IQ to review the meta keywords for an insurance industry competitive profile I am monitoring.  This is a mature industry with large marketing and IT budgets, and nearly all of the companies had meta-keywords but have not been actively modifying them.  Have a look:

Meta-keywords usage in the auto insurance industry

In the mature insurance industry most companies still have populated meta-keywords

Another competitive landscape I reviewed while writing this post was the gamification market, a technology-driven space where you might expect complete adherence to modern SEO best practices.  Yet, even in this tech-heavy marketplace, 5 out of 11 companies still populate their meta-keywords tag, and at least two of them have spent time changing them during the last 3 months.  And no, I’m not going to say who! You could go sign up for Rival IQ and figure it out though ;-).  Again, have a look at who’s doing what:

Meta-keywords usage in the gamification industry

Multiple companies in the tech-savvy gamification industry also still populate meta-keywords

Believe it: 50% of companies still populate their meta-keywords tag

At Rival IQ, our systems peruse thousands of websites every day on behalf of our customers.  Among the things we examine are meta-tag contents (including keywords) and how they change over time.  Looking at some recent data from our system, I realized that more than half of the companies we monitor still populate their meta-keywords tag (surprising, yes!).  You could potentially write off many of these instances as yet-to-be-discarded relics of a different time.  But seeing indications that, at least for many companies, meta-keyword editing is a commonplace activity makes me cringe.  Not only have you wasted your time, but you’ve given your competitors an insight as to your awareness of best practices (and your thoughts on important keywords, too).

Over 50% of companies still populate their meta-keywords tag

51% of companies populate their meta-keywords tag

Perhaps a more shocking  statistic is that 27% of companies with a keywords tag made changes in the last 90 days!  In other words, that’s about 1 in 8 companies we track.  Clearly, there is still plenty of room for improvement in the world of digital and online marketing.

Bar Chart showing that 27% of Companies still modify their meta-keywords

27% of meta-keywords tags changed in last 90 days

Now, to repeat my earlier call: if you still have a populated meta-keyword tag, go make it so that you don’t!

Think I’ve got it wrong?  Do you still use a meta-keywords tag at your company?  Tell me why?  I’d love to hear from you.

Notable Activity & A Bigger Team!

We’re on a roll, and picking up steam.

During the last couple of weeks, we’ve had two new team members come on board here at Rival IQ. As you might imagine, this is exciting for us both because of what it says about our journey (trending up) and because we’ll be able to get more done for you, our customers! We also shipped a couple of new features while we were at it. More details on both topics await you below. Just keep reading.

Hey Notable Activity…We’re Calling You Out!

After delivering our new activity matrix in the profile manager last sprint, we couldn’t resist including the feature in your dashboard, too. Now, when you log into Rival IQ, you’ll see a new “Notable Activity” section in your dashboard that includes a summary of companies that have made notable moves during the last week, month, or quarter. And just like everything else on your dashboard, you can filter your view using tags and time period selections to find just what you need.

Of course, we made other additions and improvements to the product as well, so here are the complete details of what we shipped this week. Everything is available for you now in Rival IQ :

  • Notable Activity in Dashboard “Notable Activity” is now the topmost section of your Rival IQ Dashboard and contains a summarization of notable moves, both up and down, that your competitors have made during the time period you select. Holding your mouse over each activity indicator (red/green globes) will reveal the details about the change. Additionally, we touched up the linking on each of the activity indicators to take you to the relevant section of that company’s profile page.
  • Data Feedback Tool As many of you know, our application is quite good at automatically finding all of the relevant details about companies that you add. Still, there are times when our system fails, or there is some ambiguity as to the best Twitter handle, Facebook page, etc to associate with companies in our system. To make it simple for you to tell us when channels are missing or incorrect, we added a simple, inline feedback widget that lets you tell us that something is wrong with the data for any particular company. We hope that you’ll find it an easy way to say, “Hey Rival IQ, fix this up already!”

Here’s a look at the new Notable Activity section of our Dashboard (both closed and open):

closed open

The Team is Growing!

No no, we didn’t have any more babies (technically, our wives had the babies, anyway). We have all we can handle for the moment, thank you very much.

Instead, we’re growing the part of the team that actually does work, and we are very pleased to welcome Keith Moore and Danielle Prager to the Rival IQ family. Keith is a super-duper software developer, avid bicyclist, and coffee aficionado who has done stints at a variety of local software shops from big to small (Microsoft, V2Green/Gridpoint). You can follow him on Twitter, @keithmo.

Danielle joins the Rival IQ team as a recent Seattle transplant and University of Central Florida Psychology grad (side note: my Pittsburgh Panthers last played UCF in 2006, delivering a 52-7 walloping to the Knights. Danielle claims that a 2013 rematch would yield a crushing defeat for Pitt. I guess we’ll never know.). A good match for Rival IQ with her interest in social media, she’ll be working to bolster our product marketing efforts as well as bringing customer feedback and her own experience back to our product. You can follow Danielle on Twitter, @Danielle_Prager.

We’re all very excited to have both Keith and Danielle with us. Go team!

What’s next at Rival IQ?

More product, more product, more product. We are cooking up more product changes, improvements, and polish. You want details?

On deck for the next few sprints, we’re still looking to improve the ease with which you can find valuable information from our web page history information. As much as we think that there is good data in there, it is still too hard to find the gems. Second, many of you have been asking for more efficient ways to get reports out of Rival IQ. We’ve heard you and are evaluating how best to make this happen. Also, we’re looking to add Google+ to our data channels that we track to give you a more complete picture of your competitive landscape. Last but not least, we’re very excited about planning out how to give you deeper information and insights on the content that your competitors produce every day. It will be a little while longer, but this will be worth waiting for, we promise.

Help?! And thanks!

We continue to grow and evolve our vision of how Rival IQ can help you market more effectively. Your feedback and input really does make a difference, so please don’t hesitate to email us or use our in-app messaging to let us know how to improve things for you.

Hey, hey, looking good feedback crew. Thanks for your input. This round’s thank yous go to: MattH, WillF, ZachB, LaurentB, ChrisM, MattL, TimR, GregM, CarlosS, IanS, LynnR, ScottA, ToddB, RonL, ChrisD, DavidC, and WillM.

Thank you for your continued support.

The Rival IQ Team: John, SethP, Doc, Keith, and Danielle

More Details in Dashboards and Charts

Hi again! Another sprint is over, and with the team firing on all cylinders (minus the brain cycles lost to newborn-induced sleep deprevation), we have yet another release with new features to show you more about your competitive landscape.

Making Use of Data and Paying Down Debt

During this sprint, we decided to fight the development war on two fronts: displaying more data to users and technical infrastructure. On the data front, we’ve been unhappy with how our dashboards (don’t) convey much information for customers who aren’t present on any particular marketing channel. We’re happy to report that we’ve made good progress for customers in this position (details below).

Additionally, to avoid the recent fate of the U.K. (and the less recent fate of the U.S., France, and others) by having our future outlook diminished, we decided to put cycles against our technical debt during this sprint. As we’ve added more users to Rival IQ, we have seen a dramatic increase in the amount of work our systems do on a nightly basis to ingest data, screenshot websites, and summarize this information for your consumption. Many parts of these systems date to the original Rival IQ days (March 2012), and needed some attention to keep their operation from being a distraction.

Here are the full details of what we came up with for the newest version of Rival IQ :

  • Landscape summary in dashboards. Until now, if your focus company in Rival IQ did not have a presence on a particular marketing channel, your dashboard information for that channel was completely devoid of information. You could get to the information if you knew the magical Rival IQ dance, but since we’re aiming to save you time, it is safe to say that there was room for improvement. Now, if you are focusing on a company that isn’t present on a channel, your dashboard will summarize the presence and activity of your competitors on that channel, enabling you to quickly ascertain if your competitors are gaining an edge on you by marketing in channels you’re not. See screenshots below.
  • More complete information in Analyze. In a similar situation to your dashboard, if a competitor was not present on a channel, the charts you viewed in Analyze would simply exclude that company. This led to confusion, at best, and prevented you from getting a true picture about the true activity of your competitors. Now, you’ll find that we include and clearly label missing channels and data for all of your competitors in our Analyze charts.
  • Infrastructure and paying down technical debt. Geek out alert, you can skip this next paragraph if you don’t get down on the engineering details. This sprint, we worked to increase our screenshotting capacity by upgrading to phantomjs 1.8.1, trying out AWS’s new second-generation instances in EC2, and getting up to date on our nodejs installation. Additionally, we upgraded our work queue infrastructure to be simpler to operate and more resilient to failures (man, the internets fail in strange ways). Three cheers for SethP on this one. Cheer. Cheer. Cheer!

Here is what our new dashboard tiles look like for companies that are not present on any given channel:

dashboard

What’s next at Rival IQ?

As we’ve said before, there is certainly a lot that we could be working on over the next couple of months. We continue to look toward adding additional channels to Rival IQ, and we keep growing our list with all the ideas you folks are putting out there. Top among them include improvements to how we display, filter, and track changes to web pages in your account; the addition of aggregate statisics and insights about the content production of your competitors; and access to more summarized information that will save you from that magical Rival IQ dance I mentioned previously.

Help?! And thanks!

We continue to grow and evolve our vision of how Rival IQ can help you market better. Your feedback and input really does make a difference, so please don’t hesitate to email us or use our in-app messaging to let us know how to improve things for you.

And last but not least, thanks to the folks that gave us some feedback love during the last couple of weeks. We love you: MattH, AdamS, JasonH, PaulineR, JasonK, MattL, RussellB, ToddS, BenW, DavidC, CarlosS, WilM, DavidZ, DavidN, EricC, and AdamL. Now we just have to get to getting your suggestions parsed and injected (in some way) into Rival IQ.

Thank you for your continued support.

The Rival IQ Team: John, SethP, and Doc