In today’s special edition, we are breaking our normal schedule to inform you about recent ransomware attacks known as WannaCry and Petya, and what you can do to protect yourself. Please listen and be informed. The worst is, unfortunately, probably yet to come. Don’t get caught…
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Today on the Edge of Innovation, we are talking with Brian Gravel about Media Technology.
Paul: Today I’m meeting with Brian Gravel.
Brian: Hey, Paul. Thank you for having me here today.
“Media Technology with Brian Gravel”
Paul: Now you work at GraVoc?
Paul: You’re one of the family members there from what I understand.
Brian: That’s true.
Paul: And it’s not like a mafia family, is it?
Brian: No. No, more of a technology family.
Paul: Alright. So GraVoc, you’re located in Peabody, Massachusetts. And you’re the vice president of creative tech. Now, what other vice presidents do you have, so we can just get a sort of holistic picture of what GraVoc is?
Brian: Yeah. So we’re a technology consulting company at heart. We have a traditional IT practice. We have the creative technology practice, which I head up. My brother heads up the information security practice, and then we have a software solutions practice, which is more like software customization, ERP system implementation, that type of thing. So it’s like a 360-degree technology approach to business consulting.
Paul: Okay. And, are all of those divisions the same age? Or are they different ages?
Brian: As far as when they started in the company? Yeah, so the creative technology group started in 2006 as a separate company that my business partner Matt and I founded. And in 2010, we merged into GraVoc.
Paul: Oh, okay. Cool.
Brian: So we’re the baby on the block as far as the longevity of each practice. The company really started kind of as a hybrid of the software solutions and IT group, by my dad back in 1993. And then information security practice, that came around kind of during the y2k time and the hysteria that came with that.
Paul: Well you’re dating yourself here. You know, you’re saying… A lot of people listening won’t have been alive during y2k, so what’s the big deal, you know? It all worked? But it was a crisis, unprecedented crisis of potential. There was all these doom and gloom stories. You know, New Year’s Day wasn’t going to happen.
Brian: That’s right. That’s right.
Paul: So you started the creative technology back in 2006?
Brian: Yeah. Correct.
Paul: Wow. So 11 years into this. This is pretty cool.
Brian: Yeah, the foundation of the company at that time, which was called Diverging Soul Media Production was film and music. And we quickly found out that there was a lot of film and music companies out there, and we really needed to expand our services. So we did. We were trying to do innovative things at the time. So we did stuff with digital signage and a whole slew of, of video-related technology products, and that eventually lead us into web development and Matt, my business partner, really took the reigns of that side of things. And then we saw the synergy, with YouTube budding and around that time as well, with video and, and web, and how we could kind of use that as a niche. And then our services have just really evolved from there.
Paul: Okay. So we’re here to talk with you about drones, but I love getting this backstory and sort of the context of what you brought you to drones. And we’ll get more into that. So, you guys must have done ColdFusion. Were you a ColdFusion shop or were you just HTML? Or what did you do? MicroSoft shop?
Brian: I’ll tell you our dirty secret. At first, it was iWeb. I don’t know if you remember that. Yeah. And then just HTML and to Dreamweaver. And then eventually, custom builds, WordPress development and all that stuff.
Paul: So that’s what you’re doing now is…? For the web segment of the creative, is it mostly WordPress stuff or custom or…?
Brian: It really depends on the situation, you know. We do have a lot of WordPress clients, great content management system, in my opinion. But we also do a lot of custom builds, depending on the situation. So Matt specifically likes to describe them as progressive web applications and products that are functioning like web, websites but really are applications as a whole.
Paul: Oh, cool. Excellent. Yeah, we’ve seen a lot of growth in that area, and you know, people wanting more functionality than just a blog, really. You know, our brochureware. And that’s really cool see.
Uh, okay. You know, I noticed at the North Shore Chamber of Commerce — so we’re here in Massachusetts, and we’re on the North Shore, north of Boston — We went to the business expo. And you guys offered to do videos of everybody, so you were going around. So that seems like that’s right in your wheelhouse, is going out and making corporate videos and all the creative that goes with that. Is that one of the things that people would call you for?
Brian: Yeah. We do a real, real mix with our video production. We do a lot of training videos, a lot of corporate video. We’ve done a lot with nonprofits in regards to kind of profile pieces and things like that. Once in a while, we get fun, kind of, Comcast 30-second spots where we’ve done some stuff with animation and just try to, when we get those opportunities, do stuff that’s a little bit outside the box.
Paul: Cool. So now can you give — I’m not asking for specifics — but can you give us an example of a project that you’ve done and how that worked out, what the client was trying to do and how you solved it? So that, you know, as people are listening, they can get an idea of both what you do and how to apply video, because everybody says video is critical for the web right now. I tend to agree with that. But I’d love to hear what you have to think.
Brian: Yeah, I mean, a lot of times when we have a customer come to us, they have a vision in mind, and we’re more on the execution side. So, but you’re right. Most of the stuff is going to web, and it’s really… It could be a delivery mechanism for their message and branding. It could be for training purposes. A significant part of what we do is we’ve essentially built a training portal for a large company on the North Shore and then are producing the videos that go alongside that.
Paul: Okay. Is this for employee training or customer training?
Brian: Yeah. It’s for insurance, safety training essentially.
Paul: Oh, okay. Yeah, that’s critical because it’s compliance.
Brian: So it’s for, for policyholders of theirs. So they’ve built kind of this conduit for people to login train. Eventually they’re bringing it to an e-learning level but really just a resource library of, of safety-style videos. Yeah.
Paul: Cool. That’s cool. And then do you track like who’s completed what and they get some benefit for having done that?
Brian: Yeah. There are components of that built into the system for sure. Yeah. So that’s a good example of kind of how we hit all sides of the project. You know, we built the portal. We built the brochureware, if you will. We built in the content.
Paul: Oh, that’s awesome. So a one-stop shop in a lot of ways.
Brian: Yeah. A lot of times. And, our services kind of talk to one another, and so there’s legacy database systems that know need frontend. So, you know, our software solutions team, which may handle and maintain that legacy system, helps us write API calls to talk to a web frontend.
Paul: Very cool. Yeah, it’s hard to find people that can take all pieces of it, or all facets of something. It’s, so that might, must be nice because you can’t point the finger at anybody. And that’s a benefit to the customer is that there’s no finger pointing. “Well, it was their fault.” “Well, yeah. That’s you.” So…
Brian: No, and it’s good because we… There’s a deep understanding of the different components of it. I think what we’ve run into a lot of times and where we, we see how the value of our company shines through is that you may get someone who is heavily into one side or the other, and they don’t understand how those pieces connect. And you know, based on various projects and hurdles, we don’t work with one particular market segment either. So, you know, the challenge of a manufacturer could be applied to the challenge of an insurance company in some weird way that you would never think. But, you know, we run into these situations where it’s like, “Oh, yeah, we did that on this, and you know, we can connect the dots here.” And so, that’s the part that, for me, that’s fun. And I think that also encapsulates the company as a whole.
Paul: Cool. Now you, as far as the creative side, I think you guys have a studio. Don’t you?
Brian: We do.
Paul: So, now like these training videos, were they done in studio or were they done on location or a mix?
Brian: You know, a lot of have been done on location. A lot of OSHA style, so you need the warehouse or a, or a ladder or something along those lines. But we do have a green screen room where we do a lot of our kind of talking-head profile pieces. The stuff that the studio space, what we moved into a new space in October. And that space, ultimately, gave us the opportunity to bring clients in at lower cost for a project, more or less because we had the space for it, which was all pre-rigged, ready to go versus dragging all the gear out, location to location, you know. So, for, for us, it’s been one of those things where we’re trying to take advantage of giving customers a little bit more flexibility on their budget to get a quality, studio-quality piece.
Paul: So now, just for our listeners who may not know, a green screen is basically a wall that’s painted with a bright lime-green almost?
Brian: Yeah, it’s like it’s…
Paul: It’s an unnatural green.
Brian: That’s right. That’s a good way to describe it. Yeah.
Paul: And what you do is you, you stand in front of it, and you shoot a camera with that and, uh, so you take a video of it. It’s like, what? If you watched the weather on the news, it’s the same way. And afterwards, you can use something called Chroma Key to put a new picture behind that. And you know, it’s not always perfect. It’s getting better and better. But you can see it when maybe somebody moves and you’ll notice that they don’t wear anything green. But that allows you to, you know, effectively have somebody standing on the shore of the Atlantic without having to be at the Atlantic. And so that’s cool. So you’ve got one that’s actually built out and lit. See, the biggest things with green screen is you have to uniformally — uniformally, is that a word?
Brian: I don’t know, but it sounded right.
Paul: You have to uniformally light the green because it has to be the same color all the way throughout.
Brian: Yeah. Shadows are the biggest trip-up in that process. And then when you get to more advanced stages of it, you know, like you look at like maybe an ESPN piece where they do like the 30 for 30s or something along those lines where they have that, really like one side of the face is dark and the other is lit. Uh, that’s where, you know, skillsets really shine through is that, if you know what you’re doing or not. And yeah, that’s the tough part.
And with the studio, for us, it gives us a lot more variables over— a lot more control over those variables. Yeah, so we’ve got a lot of lighting pre-rigged, and then we have flexible lighting on the floor that we can move around and kind of get the look and feel that we want.
Paul: And this is all, you know, you, our listeners… Having been a professional photographer myself, all of these things sound like labor and laborious and like, “Oh, man, that’s, that’s such a hassle.” But it makes the difference between things looking okay and things looking fantastic. Good lighting, good cameras, angles, lenses, all of these stuff adds up to just, you know, knock your socks off. And that’s why you can tell… This is why you go to the movies and you pay all this money — you know, $15 to sit in a sit and watch a movies — because they took all of this into account.
So, what kind of cameras do you guys use?
Brian: We use an array of cameras. I mean, I like to call them small form factor cameras. But it depends on the situation. But I’m, we’re shooting entirely 4k now, so…
Paul: Okay. All 4k. So high, high resolution. That’s four times the normal HiDef of Blue-ray. So that’s a lot of data. So, okay. So…
Brian: So I mean, the trick for us has been to find, 4k cameras that shoot at a bit rate and compress the video enough to where we’re not losing the quality but we’re not having these massive file sizes, because as a photography professional, you probably know, you get into those raw files, and all of a sudden, you know, it became…
Paul: Where do you store them?
Brian: Yeah. Exactly. Where do you store them? How do you back them up and, and that whole process? So yeah. I mean, we’ve been very cautious of that and selective in our decision making when it comes to purchases as far as new technology is concerned. And we also have to work quickly with a lot of files. You know, most of the time, we don’t have a cinematic film-like timeline and budget where you have, you can have these media bays and things like that. And you know, you have to make sure that a project size, the files are, are easy enough to work with quickly and turn out a final product.
And a lot of times, you know, we’re shooting high quality, but eventually, it’s getting down res-ed too, something that’s going to be able to play smoothly on a, on a website. So…
Paul: So you, but you still… So, I mean, that’s a great point. So you’re shooting hundreds of times better quality then is going to be rendered on the web.
Brian: Most likely.
Paul: But you’re doing it. And, and so if you were… Somebody were to come in and say, “Gee, I want a project done — X, Y, and Z,” just on average, how long does it take, start to finish? So, you know, I come in and I say, “This is what I want. I want a talking head video for my company so people can get to know me.” Is that a week? Is that 10 weeks. I know it varies by how busy you are, but let’s say you didn’t have anything else to do. Come in. How much does that take?
Brian: Yeah. No, I mean, it’s a good question. It depends, really, on a number of factors. Obviously like what’s involved with the shooting, how their location shoots… Is it in studio? How much editing is involved. If it’s a quick talking head, those can get knocked out pretty quick, but if you have a lot of B-roll that has to go along with it, the project might be staggered out, depending on when you’re doing pickups or aggregating media.
Paul: Let me interrupt you. What’s B-roll. I mean, let’s educate some of the people. So, is it rolls of bees?
Brian: Yeah, so if someone was filming our conversation right now and we were talking about cameras for example, they might show a picture of the cameras we were talking about.
Paul:: Cut away to that.
Brian: Yeah. Exactly. That cutaway footage and that footage on top of your main dialog or interview is what’s called B-roll.
Paul: Okay. And so you have to shoot that.
Brian: Shoot that, acquire it. You can purchase stock clips. You can use motion kind of effects on pictures sometimes works. We use 2.5D effect a lot of time, which I don’t know if you’re familiar with.
Paul: Well, tell me.
Brian: It kind of looks like you take a still photo and you isolate layers of it and kind of to make it… A lot of PBS-like.
Paul: Yeah. Ken Burns — did he do any of that?
Brian: It’s a little— it’s almost like Ken Burns on steroids a little bit. So it’s that motion of the Ken Burns effect of it panning into a picture or zooming into a picture. But you’re isolating different layers of, of the photo in Photoshop so you have more depth to it.
Paul: I see. So that must be a picture that you’re creating. You couldn’t take that from a…
Brian: Yeah. I mean, sometimes, sometimes media is, you know, only available in picture format, you know. Or a customer may not have a budget to go out and shoot specific things. So with that being said, I mean, every project’s a little different. And I think there’s also a degree of, you know, how much the client knows they want upfront versus, you know, how much are they involved in the creative process, and that, that can draw out a timeline too.
Paul: Cool. Well, I just want to tell our listeners, we, in the show notes, we’ll have some links to examples of the 2.5D effect. Hopefully you can give us one and, and show us that. And links to all the things we talk about as we’re going through this. And, and of course, to GraVoc.
Today on the Edge of Innovation, we are talking with Ed Alexander, founder of Fan Foundry, about developing your Website Content as well as content segmentation and publishing.
Paul: Hello, and welcome to the Edge of Innovation. I’m Paul Parisi, your host, and today I have Ed Alexander, founder of Fan Foundry.
Ed: How are you doing? Nice to be here.
Paul: Great to have you.
Content Development and Cross Pollination
Paul: So now, we moved into the area of content development and what it is and the cross-linking and things like that. What are the other steps? Those are certainly not simple. But is it really those two steps? Make sure you have good content and then make sure you cross-pollinate that. Is there something else?
Ed: I think that making sure that whatever structurally you do with SEO on any given page of content is congruent, it resonates with the actual content on the page so that people don’t get false positives, get led someplace they don’t deserve to be or look for something and find something else that’s less relevant or not always as satisfying. That’s a mutually supported proposition.
But we know you hear and anybody can read Google’s and Alphabet, their parent company’s, intention was never to build an ad network. When Sergey Brin and Larry Page first founded Google, one of their first statements was, “No, we’re not trying to build an ad empire, although that’s going to be a byproduct, and it will help fund our operations. What we really want to build is an artificial intelligence machine.” In the year 2000 when Google was founded, the words in their mission statement were, “Don’t be evil but we’re going to build an artificial intelligence machine.” What does that mean? They meant something different then than it does now, but they’re eyes were on the prize.
So we’re now living in the world of natural language processing, artificial intelligence, where computing power enables computers and machines to interpret our podcast, for example, turn it into an article, for gosh sakes, pass it by an editorial filter, and one final pair of eyeballs later, you’ve got a printed article that transcribes our podcast. This is the world we live in today. If that’s feasible, then think again about the value of the content. You can only be so manipulative about your content before it begins to deteriorate in terms of the value it’s giving to the customer. Start first about delivering value to your customer, to your buyer, to the family or the other people who are constituents to the buying decision.
I’ll give you an example. My yacht charter client realizes a lot of people who take yacht charters are families. They’re bringing the kids along. It’s a legacy. It’s a, you know, it’s a bucket-list opportunity. Never had a webpage before devoted to kids. Why is yachting cool for kids? Well, you’ve got to be reminded about that and when you think about it, if a family travels to a hotel, the first people to complain are the kids because the Wi-Fi is not good. You know, when they’re coming back again, no matter how lavish the treatment might be, there’s no Wi-Fi. This is going to miserable for everyone. Let’s fix the Wi-Fi.
So guess what? Hotels now know they have to have the best Wi-Fi coverage and the best cellular coverage. They have to have repeaters everywhere. And that becomes the competitive differentiation. Your customer is not just the buyer. It’s everybody in the buyer’s entourage. Have content for them.
Ed: So if you’re the doula, you want to have content not just for the mom but for the father.
Paul: That’s true. That’s a great idea.
Ed: But for the family.
Paul: Yeah. What’s a doula? You know, because somebody tangential to the, to this is not going to understand what that is.
“I Drink Your Milkshake.” How Synonymous Bridge Words Seed Markets.
Ed: That’s right. And analogy for it, that’s not exactly accurate but people think of it often in the same sentence, is midwife.
Paul: Right. Yeah, so would you suggest that a doula do deliberate content things to get the searching from midwives?
Ed: Sure. Why not?
Paul: How would you go about that? So, I mean, you’re not a midwife. And I honestly don’t know the difference.
Ed: Me either. Let’s assume they’re so different that you really can’t say one is the other. I guess you would say one good piece of content to put in your website is, “We’re a doula. We’re not a midwife. How do we differ?” Explain that.
Paul: What if they are similar?
Ed: It might still require some explanation. There’s enough nuance there that a person making the decision would like to know the difference.
Paul: So probably, if I went up to this doula and said, “What’d the difference between you and a midwife?” That’s a great blog post.
Ed: Exactly right. Think about the questions the customer would be asking.
Paul: Ask the answer, the obvious questions.
Ed: Yeah. As they say in the law business, never ask a question to which you don’t already know the answer. And blog accordingly.
Paul: So now, do you just do this once? Set it and forget it?
Frequency of Blog Post Publication with a Yacht Example.
Ed: I’m frankly, the last, the worst offender of my own pontification about how frequently and how regularly to schedule your content publishing. Frankly, blog articles appear on my site approximately whenever I feel like it. And that’s my schedule, and I stick to it. But in the case of a paying customer, by all means, we make sure they have the appetite, the infrastructure, and can carry on the job of routine, regular publishing of content.
Paul: What is, what is that routine?
Ed: The cadence has to do with the appetite of the viewer. If you have a restaurant and you want to publish weekly specials, you better publish something every week. If you are a charter business, and you’re taking, you’re dealing all over the world, then you have segmented content based on regions of the world, at least once a week.
Paul: So, okay. That’s a great concept to talk about — segmented. So is it different pages on their website, the segmentation?
Ed: Great question. In this particular case, the client’s name, if you don’t mind me mentioning it—
Paul: Yeah, Please.
Ed: Her name is Carol Kent. Carol Kent Yacht Charters has been in business for 30 some odd years. And in her case, since she… Since one of the conditions, one of the trappings, if you will, of a yacht charter experience is that you’re typically working with an executive chef, a good chef, which is no small feat to be able to run a five-star [inaudible 00:34:07] rated kitchen out of a galley of a, of a ship at sea. Think about the planning, you know, the design, and all the features that go into turning out a sumptuous experience for your client.
Paul: A lot of frozen food you got to order. Huh?
Ed: The frankly, it can’t be frozen. It has to be refrigerated. So all the shopping, all the provisioning, all that has to be really, thoroughly carefully planned. That’s quite a ballet to pull off. And it gets done. It gets done. So now, imagine pulling that off. Imagine being that yacht chef. You probably have all kinds of stories. She interviews top-yacht chefs and blogs about them on her top-yacht chefs blog. And she has owed the url topyachtchefs.com, and she points it at that particular site, the blog posts about top-yacht chefs. But she still only has one website, carolkentyachtcharters.com, or carolkent.com.
So you can segment your audiences based on their interests.
Paul: Now, does she have duplicate content? Does she have that blog post on Carol Kent and on yacht chefs?
Ed: It’s actually only in one place. The url points at the same page. It’s promoted differently, but it all looks to the same piece of content.
Paul: So is the idea that, on Carol Kent or… On the yacht chef’s site she says, “Hey, there’s a great new blog post over at CarolKent.com. Go and visit that. Here’s the link.
Ed: It’s a little more transparent than that. It just talks about top yacht chefs, period. It happens to be at Carol Kent’s yacht charters business. But she doesn’t say that the blog post is on Carol Kent’s yacht charters site. It’s on the top yacht chef’s blog. It’s all that the yacht chef cares to know about or the epicurean enthusiasts needs to know about. It may be irrelevant whether it ever occurs on her chef. The point is, it’s great culinary technique, it’s being executed in extreme circumstances.
Paul: So on Carol’s website, does she point back to the yacht chef? Say, hey, there’s a new review over there?
Inbound Links and How They Help
Paul: Okay. Because I’m thinking, if this doula wanted to do this, would she say “Let me give you the best hospitals to birth in Massachusetts.” Starts a new website, .com or something like that and does reviews of that. And she would be the person doing the writing. She would refer back to her site. But on her site, would she say something about this site or not?
Ed: I can’t imagine why not. Rather than that, it would make a lot more sense and be a little less confusing to have one page of content, but have it be referred to from a number of different conduits, your referral sources, your landing pages, your links, your posts.
Paul: Okay. So the idea isn’t necessarily to start another website, it’s to get more inbound links.
Ed: Exactly. Right. What it does is it enriches the value of your main business site by having other content channels link to your relevant content.
A Microwave Example: Have Interesting Events and Content.
Paul: So on the microwave idea, I just made the better, best microwave in the world, you know. And it’s really great. Would I go and… Obviously, I’d try to get Consumer Reports to cover it and all the different consumer magazines. But I might want to go to who knows what, Appliance daily, and get them to cover it. Is that what I want to do? Or do I want to say, “Let’s do a comparison of that on my own?”
Ed: Yeah, let’s do a bake off on the expression. Right? Or a nuke off, and talk about the different kinds of microwaves and what the results are. Maybe do some actual technical challenges, replicate them, and then blog about them.
Paul: And blog about them on that, on the company’s website.
Ed: Absolutely. Or ask people who, ask a top yacht chef who uses that microwave to blog about why they like that microwave better. Maybe it’s less, you know, tippy at sea. Maybe there’s something electromechanically about the microwave that makes it superior, and you can taste it.
Paul: So let me ask you, with the, with the doula. Would it be reasonable for the doula to say to a mom, “Would you be willing to do a blog post on your experience?”
Ed: Satisfied customer.
Paul: And would that go of the doula’s site or would it go on her, the, the mom’s blogging site?
Ed: Why not both? Or why not just link to the mom’s site if the mom is looking for attention as well, for whatever the righteous reason might be. Maybe that mom has got a home-based business but talks about parenting and raising kids and so forth. Likewise, Stephanie Arnold who I mentioned earlier, the AFE survivor, does exactly that. There are plenty of great stories to be told — frankly some tragic ones as well that are deserving of attention because they point out the need for more research and funding toward AFE, solving the issue. She’s happy to link to people whose stories deserve to be told. She doesn’t have to re-tell them, and she doesn’t have to acquire the traffic. That’s not the point. The point is the stories need to be told.
So you really look at the, frankly, the altruistic, best outcome scenario and say, “How does, how do more people benefit from this?”
Let’s bring it back to your microwave manufacturer. Dynamite microwave oven. Is it that the chrome is shinier? What is it? Why is a superior microwave? Have people tell the story about what they learned. Maybe the microwave oven saved my life. I should tell the world, “That microwave oven saved my life.”
Paul: It’s a bulletproof microwave.
Ed: Exactly. Right. Bulletproof microwave. That’s right. Yeah. It even missed Obama’s head.
Paul: Well the cameras. This one doesn’t have any cameras in it, so…
Ed: Oh, it’s one of those. Yeah.
How Do You Measure Content Marketing?
Paul: So we’ve talked about some really innovative ideas here of how to actually think through SEO and your pages, your whole marketing, really, in the way your posture out in the world as it’s represented on the internet. How do you measure this stuff?
Ed: That’s a great question. The most low common denominator, which is available to anybody with a website is Google Analytics. You can look at the extent to which a blog post sends traffic to your website or if that page on your website caused the person to bounce, if you’ll pardon the expression, and instead leave your site to go read the real factual story about the person who is the subject of the story. If your intention is to help that person benefit as well, then the bounce from your page to another page is a benefit you intended, and that’s a successful result.
So when we think about these websites as being acquisition targets, I think of them as more as being conduits for learning. If my intention is to help that rising tide lifts all boats and help other people in this lives, then it’s okay to me that someone left my site to go someplace else. I was directing them there Paul: Right. So you helped them find the answer.
Ed: Exactly right. When someone, as a habit, for example, on my own blog on the Fan Foundry blog, I typically include a link or two to either foundational or supplemental or supportive articles, content that either was the basis or the reason for my writing or it was additional reading if the person wanted to look into it more. Since I, you know, none of us wants to be discovered for the frauds that we are. I always, I always like to refer to other people who think like me because in that echo chamber, we seem to support each other’s theories. So why not link to further reading if a person is curious about the subject? I do that. And so to the extent that person clicks that link in the bottom of a blog article, I know I’ve found a reader who is really enthusiastic about the subject. Guess what happens? I get more blog subscribers because people go to my blog article to find the jumping off point to get everything else.
Paul: Interesting. So now how does Twitter, Facebook, all that stuff go into here? Because it sounds like a way to announce something is really what Twitter and Facebook are. Or is that a destination in itself?
Ed: Yeah, well we’ve heard quite often that Twitter is really turning into the headlines, the up-to-the-minute headlines. And that’s sort of a byproduct of where people seem to find the most value, which broadcasting or announcing or, if you will, pardon the expression, bull horning, your content. If you use Twitter for both that purpose and its original intended purpose which was to support chat among people who are like-minded at a point in time.
Case in point, today, I just came to this meeting with you, Paul, from a North Shore Technology Council event where part of the digital ventriloquism I do for them on a pro bono basis is I’ll go to an event — in this case it was a sustainability forum — to take a photographs with the presenters and the host and a few other dignitaries, luminaries, funnel those photos over to my Twitter account that I manage for the North Shore Technology Council, @NSTechCouncil. NS Tech Council. And then initiate the tweet/chat process. Now, my job is done. I could leave and other people in the room are carrying on the conversation. I had to jump over here to meet with you, so it’s almost like touching a match to the tinder and letting it burn away based on however people want to carry it forward.
Likewise, social channels to me, can be extremely effective for helping pollinate your message but also support like-minded messages. I have an equal number of people I follow as follow me. Frankly, Twitter actually has limits. You can’t just do nothing but follow other people and not acquire any followers of your own. After a certain point in time, you trip over a wire. Then Twitter says, “Sorry, you can’t follow anybody else until you’ve acquired some followers,” or word that to effect. If you’ve ever seen that message, you know you’re doing a lot more following, and you’re not contributing content. Where’s the balance in that conversation? They’re there to enforce chat, conversation, and the idea exchange.
Wrapping It Up
Paul: Discussion, hopefully. Alright. So, we’re talking with Ed Alexander. Are you the founder of Fan Foundry? What’s your title?
Ed: Chief digital ventriloquist. Yes.
Paul: Chief digital ventriloquist. Well, we’re going to cover that in our next podcast. This digital ventriloquist guy and kind of thing. So we won’t get into that too much. But anyway, we’re today talking with Ed Alexander.
Well, it’s been a fascinating discussion about SEO and understanding, really, marketing in the web world. We’re going to be talking with him over several podcasts and I think you’ll find some very interesting things. So, Ed, I want to thank you for being here for this first podcast.
Ed: It’s been fun, Paul. I’m looking forward to what comes next. Thanks for having me.
Today on the Edge of Innovation, we are talking with Ed Alexander, founder of Fan Foundry, about Search Engine Results and getting on page one of search results.
Paul: Hello, and welcome to the Edge of Innovation. I’m Paul Parisi, your host, and today I have Ed Alexander, founder of Fan Foundry.
Ed: How are you doing? Nice to be here.
Paul: Great to have you.
Search Engine Results: Getting on Page One
Ed: Being on page two of the search engine results page is, is maybe not necessarily a bad thing.
Paul: Sure. But it’s not a good thing.
Ed: Sure. Think about it.
Paul: I mean, we’re lazy. Web consumers are lazy. So I dig a lot into the web and find things, and people are always surprised. “How did you find that?” Well, I go to page two and page three and page four and page five, and I tweak the query and I, I change the order of words and I…and all sorts of things. And they’ll say, “That’s how I should have asked the question,” because now I got the answer.
Ed: Bingo. Exactly right.
Paul: But a lot of people don’t do that. They don’t have the patience for that. So how do we, in a real world scenario, I’m, I’m an attorney. Uh, I do elder law, and I want to get more clients. And I’m coming to you for SEO and, and all the things that follow along. So if I get somebody there, you gotta worry about getting somebody there, is what do we do after that? We’ll talk about that in a minute. But really, I’m trying to understand SEO. So we do everything right, uh, and we get on page two.
Ed: Yeah. Are you talking about a real world example?
Paul: No, I’m not. I’m just making it up.
The Blessings and Curses of Page Two
Ed: So hypothetically. Alright. Dealing in hypotheticals is a tough one for me only because it’s entirely possible that if you were an elder law attorney in Beverly, Massachusetts, there may not be that many, and there may be so few that you’ll end up on page one of the search engine results. So this is hypothetical. However, even if it were page two, I would have to think if I was a visitor trying to find that elder lawyer, I’d be looking at a few red herrings, ads and mismatches on page one. So even if the SEO isn’t tweaked or isn’t tuned so that I’m looking at a result on page one, I’ll probably have to go to page two to search anyway. I may not be happy with that result, and maybe I’ll think that Google is failing me somehow because they’re not giving me a page one result, but it is incumbent on me, if I really need to find an elder lawyer in Beverly, Massachusetts, that page two isn’t so bad.
If I’m the elder law attorney, and I have a certain, uh, volume that I can entertain of business, being on page one could be a blessing and a curse.
Paul: Be careful what you wish for.
Ed: Exactly right. You just might get it. So I’m not saying you necessarily need to be satisfied but you have to think in the broader terms of what are you hoping to accomplish and what can you reasonably take on.
Paul: Certainly. That’s good business meeting to sit there and say, you know, I can, I can get 10 new clients or I can get a hundred. I don’t want to put up billboards everywhere and get too many clients and have to turn them away.
Ed: Sure. And you have to think about the type of business persona you’re portraying to the world. If you are a very loquacious lawyer, and you’re happy to speak to the public, and you have a public persona that’s more or less prominent compared to your competitors out there, then that’s an opportunity for you to do something like a podcast or to write articles or to even use something as — dare we say it? — Yelp, a review site, even though people think of that as for restaurants and hotels, nonetheless, Google respects Yelp positioning, and that can help your search engine results.
What is the weighted importance of SEO? Article Titles Matters.
Paul: If you had to draw a pie chart, how much is the SEO? Forget about content. Well, it has good content, we’ll assume. But the reason people are coming is because of SEO and the content that comes with SEO. That is one segment of the pie. And then the other stuff is all the other stuff. And we’ll… I’d like to dig into that a little bit of how you would direct that. But what? Is it 50/50? Is it 25% SEO and 75%?
Ed: To me, it’s increasingly become a concern, uh, to, once you be increasingly concerned with the value that you’re delivering, the value you’re conveying. I can use myself as an example. Let’s go back to the Fan Foundry blog. I’ll tell you a genesis story. It will take a minute.
When I begin writing my first few blog articles back in 2008, I had a, you know, more or less, successful career in marketing and sales leadership, and I thought to myself, “Well, there’s probably enough people out there who are on a different phase of the journey than I am who could stand to benefit from the thimble-full that I know. So let me turn this into a few articles and send it out there, and see how people consume it,” doing my experiments with my content.
One thing I learned early on — frankly, by accident — was using Google’s type-ahead search. You know how it fills the answer in as you’re typing? It’s kind of cool. It shows you other ways other people have asked the same question or similar questions and the results they’ve gotten. I used that. And I thought, “Ooh, you know, the best way to title this particular article on virtual trade shows is, ‘Are Virtual Trade Shows Worth It?'” Specifically that sentence, those words, in that order with a question mark on the end. I used that as the title for a blog article I had written the month earlier about trade, virtual trade shows. I didn’t title it that way. I changed the title, and boom. Suddenly the traffic just… It was an embarrassment of riches, frankly. For a one-month-old blog, I would say I was pleased and embarrassed, and I realized, “Ah-ha. The article title matters.”
Paul: So that’s an ah-ha moment. That’s a very important thing for our listeners. Google, what you’re going to be talking about, try and figure out what the questions are by what Google is going to suggest, and then use that in your titling.
Ed: Exactly right. Use Google’s own machine learning on how people ask similar questions and decide based on the results you’ll see in your type-ahead search which of those is the most effective title for you to use and write your title accordingly.
Paul: Is that search history queryable? I know you can type it in yourself, but I’m wondering is there somebody out there that says, “Here’s everything that’s being searched.” I know on Bing, you can get like the past 10 searches or there’s a catalog of the past searches for the past couple of hours or something like that. I’m wondering. That would be a really interesting vector to look into to see if that’s available.
Ed: Yeah. Well, I’m not a genius; if I’ve imagined it, someone else is out there either working on it or maybe it’s about to be delivered to us all anyway. What I’m speaking of is the notion that all those different variants on the question that you’re typing ahead then get presented to you in a graph that says the searches that got the best results are this particular one. I’m also a little concerned about that because if you, everyone stops us—, starts using the trodden path, it kind of levels the field, and now you’re in a watershed mark, and it’s table stakes and not a differentiator.
Paul: We’ll have to cut that part out. We’ll edit that part so nobody will know about it.
Ed: Okay. Yeah. I was never here.
Doula Search Ranking by Location Query
Paul: Were never here. I don’t even know who you are. So, okay. Let me give you a real world example. We have a client who is a doula. They help moms that are giving birth.
Ed: I get it. Yeah.
Paul: And she works all over the North Shore, southern New Hampshire, all that kind of stuff. And we want to do SEO for her. So we’ll use her as an example. How would you approach it? Because some people say, “I want a doula in Beverly.” Some people, “I want one in Danvers.” So what is the actual real work that we have to do? Do we make landing pages for Beverly, for Topsfield, for Danvers?
Ed: That would help matters, however I’m not sure you need a separate landing page for each one. But I think equally important work for that doula to be doing is to represent him or herself — likely herself, let’s just assume — to represent herself in such a way that anybody who is looking for a doula in the North Shore of Massachusetts lands on a landing page that says, “Oh, by the way, as a doula, I have working relationships and customer stories from people just like you who have used these facilities.”
Paul: Yeah. They’re doing that. They’re doing very good at that, actually.
Ed: Excellent. That’s great to hear.
Paul: But, if you go, “doula in Saugus,” she doesn’t come up. If you do, “a doula in Danvers,” she comes up. So there’s something in her content that is making her relevant to Danvers and not to Saugus.
Ed: Why do you suppose that is? I get that… Well, I’m going to draw an inference since I know the region. There are more robust healthcare facilities and delivery facilities in Danvers. There’s a hospital in Danvers. There isn’t a hospital in Saugus. So my thinking is if I were the tail wagging the dog, meaning the person doing the searching, I probably wouldn’t look for a doula in Saugus. I’d look for a doula near a healthcare facility. And so, just by dint of volume of searches…
Paul: So how would you test that? Because that’s what you’re saying, do experiments. How would that be an experiment? So Beverly, Linn, Danvers has a hospital… Lawrence…
The Difficulty with Words
Ed: Lawrence Memorial is in Bedford, in Medford, rather. There is a hospital in Lawrence, but it’s not called Lawrence Memorial.
Paul: Yes. Of course not. Yes, of course not. Just… It’s New England.
Ed: That’s why you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway, I guess. One of the tools that I’ve found is particularly helpful, and it may not work in granular case, but it has worked in the past, is to use Google Trends and look at the trends over time of people using search terms and phrases to find results.
I’ll draw a parallel example. I have a client who is in the luxury travel business. Specifically in luxury yachting, big boats, million-dollar boats that you could charter for a week or a month or a sabbatical.
Paul: Where do they launch out of? Anywhere?
Ed: Well, this particular client does not own a single boat. They are the go-between, the intermediary that helps. They’re worldwide.
Paul: Okay. So I can get a boat anywhere.
Ed: Right. So this is a client who, to use the phrase I used earlier in another podcast episode, was punching above your weight. She’s able to represent her business with a handful of staff all over the world because they make it a business to travel all over the world to actually, physically, personally, inspect the boats, the captains, the crew, the—
Paul: Okay. That’s part of their value.
Ed: It’s traveling all the time. So they delivered that value with the intimate acquaintance with not just the yachts and the crews and the charters and the marinas but the onshore excursion experiences and the amenities and everything there is to do about enjoying that yacht charter.
Punching above her weight in this case means she could be searched on and found anywhere in the world, even though her offices are in Marblehead, Massachusetts, Newport, Rhode Island, or other cities. It’s not as big a concern for the customer where they’re located as it is do they represent the type of business and the satisfaction because of all the great customer stories of Facebook, on Twitter, on LinkedIn, and on their website.
Paul: And is her SEO effective?
Ed: It’s okay. She’s not showing up always on page one of the search engine results for every single search query a person could do about luxury yachting. It’s just so rich and varied. For the New England region, however, she’s it. She’s all over it.
Paul: Why do you think that is? Because her address is in New England?
Ed: Entirely possible. If you look Boston yachting, there is a handful of Boston yachting, and she’s going to…been in the business for over 30 years. So there’s something to be said for being, just having longevity and having driven traffic over that many years.
Reputation: “How do we crack that nut?”
Paul: Sure. Do you think Google takes that into account?
Ed: I can’t imagine they would want to leave it out.
Paul: Yeah. I would agree. Okay. So for a newcomer, let’s say you had a client, you know, another company does exactly the same thing. How are they going to crack that nut? That’s really difficult.
Ed: That’s a great question. You really can’t make up history.
Paul: Right. I guess what I mean is how do they get good SEO or search engine rankings, I guess, is what we should call it.
Ed: Compelling content. Customer stories. It’s a gradual relationship-building process. Frankly, everything old is new again, when you think about it. How do people build a reputation? Over time. One grain at a time. There’s no shortcut to friends. There’s no shortcut to love, fame, fortune, reputation. When you’re naked in your grave, the only thing you have left is your reputation, what people think about you and what they tell about you, no matter how they want to tell it. The only way to build that is over time, one relationship at a time.
Paul: So let’s talk about that. So you’ve got either a new yachting company. We’ve got this doula. The doula has great stories, great testimonials. Is there anything to super-charge that? I mean, there has to be, I would imagine, a deliberateness of posting them, and posting new ones. Is that the bottom line is just keep it fresh?
Ed: Keep it fresh, but I think that prominent posting and judiciously but publicly promoting the customer stories is helpful too.
Paul: Give me an example of that.
More Help for the Doula – A Similar Success Story.
Ed: Alright. Let’s say that a North Shore healthcare facility has a good working relationship with this doula. Their blogs get, their articles get read. This doula could have a byline on one of their articles mentioned and with a link back to her website. So there’s somewhat…certain layer of the SEO. There’s the link from her byline. There’s the fact that she’s the representative on the content. One would hope there would be some photographs, right, group photos of herself with practitioners, enjoying each other’s reputation together, all the things that build credibility.
Paul: Okay. So cross-pollination, really working between organizations or websites and, uh, “I say something good about you,” and people see that and then go off and link it in your site.
Ed: Sure. Funny that you mentioned doula because I can bring to earth an experience for you. A few years back, through another business, a business colleague of mine, I was referred to a woman who lives in the Chicago area who herself had suffered from an amniotic fluid embolism, or AFE, which is until recently was, essentially, a death sentence. It happens that somehow or other, fecal material or material from the fetus travels across the placenta, causes poison reaction in the mom, and both the mom and the baby usually don’t make it, or one or the other doesn’t make it. So there’s a very, very high level mortality, very little understood. Her name is Stephanie Arnold. She had one in May of 2000 and, I want to say, 13. It turns out, both she and her son Jacob were born and are alive and fine only because she took certain precautionary steps in collaboration with the delivery facility. Her doctors made sure certain, unusual equipment was present during the case of the need for resuscitation, extra units of blood and on and on and on, extra precautionary steps that they took that they realize now, now ought to be pretty much what you should do in the case where there’s a high risk. It wasn’t an ordinary procedure at the time. Now it’s becoming pretty standard. So in Chicago land, all medical facilities are expected to do certain things differently than they did before, more than they did before in the case of a mother at risk.
But she started out by telling this story and also of her own survival and used that as a, if you will, an opportunity to help with the drive, the, the impetus to improve funding and research into amniotic fluid embolisms, how they occur and how to prevent them, how to warn, how to mitigate them. She also became a spokesperson for the Amniotic Fluid Embolism foundation, the AFE Foundation, headquartered on the west coast, became very close friends and good acquaintances with their leadership people. And so there, in your community, in the business and world in which your information is related or relevant, if you could forge relationships where you’re supporting one another’s business, that rising tide lifts all boats.
Paul: Yeah. Absolutely.
Ed: And if you can make that happen online, that helps people understand why you deserve the credibility and the reputation you have. And that builds confidence. Most people don’t buy unless they’re happy that they feel, feel confident that they’re making a purchase from a sound, reputable business.
Summary of Discussion on SEO
Paul: Yeah. That’s true. I think that’s absolutely true. So let me just rehash this a little bit. So we’re talking about SEO a little bit, and SEO is, I guess let’s define it. It’s the means by which we get a search engine to show us more quickly, sooner, at the top of the list, as opposed to at the bottom of the list.
Ed: That’s a good definition.
Paul: And that gives people, customers, users, visitors, whatever you want to call them, the opportunity to discover us, click on us. So we manipulate this ranking by optimizing our website so that the search engine will display us at a high level. Okay. So that’s fair. And you’re primarily saying you do that by writing good content, say something. Say something good and interesting. And in the area of local businesses, share that information with local businesses and have them say something or let them have you say something on their website. Build that relationship so that now the people that are out there — customers, potential customers — will see you sooner than later. “I never knew you existed.” You want to answer that thing, that question, so that people don’t have that excuse anymore. They can say, “Oh, yeah. I saw you on the web. I’m interested in talking.”
It’s been a fascinating discussion about SEO and understanding, really, marketing in the web world. And we’re going to be talking with him over several podcasts and I think you’ll find some very interesting things. So, Ed, I want to thank you for being here for this first podcast.
Ed: It’s been fun, Paul. I’m looking forward to what comes next. Thanks for having me.