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Define: Context - the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.
If you haven’t heard by now, the future (actually the present) of digital marketing is in the context. No more are smart, cutting edge marketers simply pushing the mantra of “content is king.” Instead, context is the king and content is just another member of the king’s court, albeit an important one. Everything you do online has to be framed in the proper context or it will lose effectiveness. Customers are becoming more and more savvy, opinionated and demanding. Google is too.
Understanding your online presence in context isn’t an easy task - it requires an understanding of the humans, and an equal understanding of “the Google.” With that in mind, let’s look at the 3 Kings of Context - or - 3 contextual points of view.
Of course this one is the most important. We must consider the customer or potential customer when we approach any marketing initiative. Most of you are familiar with demographic modeling to some degree, especially if you’ve done any type of conquest email or direct mail. But that only scratches the surface when it comes to context.
If you were targeting me, for example, it’s useful to know that I am 40-years-old, live in NW Indiana, own my house, married, have two teenage sons, and work in digital marketing. But that’s not enough.
I have my own varying contexts. I am a dad, a son, a husband, a co-worker, a manager, a friend and a neighbor. In these contexts, I behave differently. I don’t act the same way when I am conducting client meetings at the office as I do at home sitting on my couch and watching the Blackhawks. I don’t act the same way when having early bird supper with my dad and mom as I do when having a romantic dinner at a nice restaurant with my wife.
My contexts also vary by day of the week and time of the day. No matter what day or time, I almost always have 2 or even 3 screens open unless I’m driving somewhere. But what’s on those screens changes by context. At the office, I have my MacBook open to work-related tabs - our company email, Basecamp, analytics, Dealer Inspire dashboard, and whatever Google Drive documents we are collaborating on. I also have Gmail chat open and 2-3 conversations going there with co-workers and clients. I often have my IPAD on the desk and streaming Pandora with a second tab open monitoring Twitter. I will periodically scroll through my phone and answer LinkedIn requests, check my Google Plus notifications as well as my other email accounts. I text a lot too.
On Friday nights however, those screens change dramatically. Of course, the TV is on with something playing from the DVR - Goldrush, Brew Dogs, Deadliest Catch, Kitchen Nightmares, TopGear (BBC version) just to name a few. My laptop is typically open to Google Plus and my craft beer lovers circle. I take pictures of the beers I am drinking (IPA, Porter, Stout, Saison) and post them to friends there :: interactions take place. I usually have a couple YouTube videos cued up as well - ones that I find on Google Plus or through email from friends. Lately I’ve been researching quad copters and camera drones - mostly on YouTube. I shoot a lot of video for my own YouTube lawn care channel, and I am thinking a flying camera drone would make for some sweet sweeping landscape shots. This means that I have Amazon open on one of my screens as well - just in case I decide to pull the trigger and actually buy one.
As you can see, my contexts aren’t always the same. Taking clues from above, how and when would you market to me? What message do you think would appeal to me in my varied contexts? If you want to appeal to me as a consumer, you have to show up in context, or I will instinctively overlook or ignore you.
Let me take a moment in this already long blog post (that ain’t even close to ending yet) and talk a bit about attitudes and context. It’s popular now days to look down on people like me who are consumed with screens and electronics.
I would be utterly useless without my IPhone - I truly would. And just for the record, I am “that guy” who posts pictures of food to FaceBook and checks in on Google Plus or Foursquare almost everywhere I go. I also leave reviews on Google via mobile and upload pictures to business pages - alot. I even have friends who I met on Twitter before I actually met them in person!
Many of you would snicker and make snide comments about me if you saw me doing these things in public settings. The reality is, I’m always on my phone (or another screen) and I’m very normal. Context is all about the customer and his/her wants and needs - not yours. You will never succeed if you subscribe to the “this generation is too addicted to their phones, they need to get outside and play in the mud like when I was kid” mentality. Keep in mind, I’m no 23-year-old Millennial either.
Note: Are you super interested in understanding your customers’ context? Look at Shopperception and see how important the human perception is as Walmart is starting to soon incorporate this into their stores. This isn't far off for the auto industry.
Your business has multiple contexts as well. For our purposes here, I want you to consider how your business looks in the “eyes of Google.” Google is very interested in context as well. The better they (their algorithm Hummingbird) understand context, the cleaner and more meaningful they can make their search results.
Here are some ways to put your business in context.
1) Content on your website. This is nothing new to most of you. You understand the need for fresh content on your site that targets relevant keyword phrases related to your business. If your dealership is in Naperville, IL and you want to let Google know that you are also a very good choice for customers in nearby Joliet, IL, you can utilize content on your site that mentions that geography. This is one very elementary strategy that still holds true - but it can no longer stand alone. Content needs help!
2) Links from other websites. Link building isn’t anything new either, but we need to look at link acquisition in context rather than the old school way of just trying to get a link on a page with the anchor text “Joliet Car Dealerships.” Let’s think about links as “signals and associations of context” and stop thinking of them in terms of “I now rank for this keyword.” In fact, let’s stop worrying about links at all - let’s just get our brands “mentioned” in context on other websites, do-follow, no-follow or otherwise.
With this in mind, how could you get mentioned in context for Joliet, IL? Do you sponsor a Little League team in Joliet, IL? Do they have a website? What about a FaceBook page for the team? Keep in mind, the kids and parents have personal social networks too (Pinterest, FaceBook, Vine-to-Twitter, etc), and chances are, they all live in and around Joliet, IL.
In this little scenario, one piece of well placed, properly targeted micro content from your business could be shared and potentially generate thousands of contextual links from Joliet, IL. This is not a difficult scenario to have play out - after all, you are the team sponsor. You get a sign in the outfield and your name on the shirts - but that is not where the real value lies. Be an active sponsor and get the max from your investment! Make no mistake, Google follows this context and flows it right back to your business - and now sees you as VERY relevant to Joliet, IL.
3) Mobile Review/Visit Signals. This is exciting to me. As you may or may not be aware, you can now leave Google reviews using the Google Maps App on your smartphone. This functionality was not available for quite sometime. You guys will all agree that Google reviews are super important - but they are even more important when it comes to context.
The actual rating, and the words someone leaves in the review have great meaning of course, but beyond that, if they leave the review on mobile, Google can literally validate the context of the review itself. It only makes sense that a review made from a mobile phone triangulated to the parking lot of your store is very relevant. On top of that, most Google Maps App users program in their home and work locations. If you are getting mobile reviews from people who have “home” programmed to an address in Joliet, IL can you see how the context now becomes clear?
Take a look at your Google Plus Local listing insights dashboard - there you will see that Google tells you where people came from when requesting driving directions to your business. You know why they do that? It’s because they are interested in knowing why, how and what those people do with your business. If Google tracks something, it’s because they want to use the info to improve their search results for that user and others -- the fact that they show us just a fraction of what they track is a bonus.
Since I’m having fun here, let’s play with a scenario.
Someone who drives in from 60 miles away and leaves a review on your Google Plus Local page will bring different contextual signals than someone who comes from 2 blocks away and leaves a review. Who is more authoritative? Who would you think could speak to your business better? What if the guy who came from 60 miles away also stopped at 4 other auto dealerships that day? How does that change the context?
Is your head spinning yet? There really is no “right” or “wrong” answer here - there’s just varied context. Your takeaway here is to understand that “the humans” will put the context in your business and have effects on how you will be shown in search.
Just in case you don’t believe me when I talk about context in this manner, you should realize that Google is taking major steps to use reviews as ranking signals in context already.
The Google City Experts “Contest” has been on the upswing for a couple months now. It’s being positioned as a fun perk for select individuals, but it signals to me that certain reviewers will have more clout/pull than others, especially in light of the way reviews are being filtered already.
In the screenshot below, you can see that I am already recognized as an expert in my local area and my reviews are being singled out as more important than others.
This is a hometown brewery where I left a review. Google knows that I was actually at the brewery (because of my smartphone) and also knows that I live nearby. Google also knows that I have visited this brewery several times and on what days and times, as well as the length of the visits. Google also knows that I have visited other NW Indiana breweries and what my interactions with those were. Finally, and very importantly, Google knows that I have tagged this brewery in Google Plus postings. See the context?
Since we are looking at my own reviews, and you can see that Google appreciates the fact that I live in Crown Point, Indiana and recognizes me as an authority there, let’s look at my reviews in areas where I have never before visited and how those reviews stack up.
You can see that I don’t carry quite the same juice in Huntington, West Virginia as I do in NW Indiana - but my reviews still mean something. Out of town guest reviews send different signals than in town resident reviews (more on this below).
NOTE: content is still important here and is used as part of the parsing. The more content, the more authoritative the review no matter where you are from.
Here’s one I left in Appleton, Wisconsin. I have never been near Appleton before, but Google likes what I wrote...
I know that most of you are just looking at the pictures and not reading this, but for the select few that have made it this far into the post, here are a couple other nuggets that I’ve been researching that further help us understand how Google wants to use mobile reviews as signals of context, authority and ranking. In other words, let me back up my assumptions from above.
Here are recent patents that Google has filed for in order to help them better understand context from the humans. Keep in mind that they often test things long before they file patent requests.
Experience Sharing Patent - http://goo.gl/tNjNR1 (experience cards) filed August 1, 2013
Summary from the filing:
“User commentary concerning a user experience is received and a user experience data card is generated for the user experience based, at least in part, upon the user commentary. The user experience data card is stored, wherein the stored user experience data card corresponds to a first view of the user experience data card and receiving a request for an experience data card from a second user. The user experience data card is provided to the second user at least in part based on the request received from the second user and receiving feedback from the second user concerning the user experience data card. A second view of the user experience data card is generated based, at least in part, upon the feedback from the second user, wherein the second view of the user experience data card is distinct form the first view of the experience data card.”
I’ve read the entire patent and could write a 10,000 word blog post about all the cool and exciting things I can see coming from this one, but for purposes of this post, let me pull out just this one quote that relates back to mobile and context: (emphasis mine)
“ For example, if the location-based details are GPS coordinates, comparing 2502 the one or more details may include comparing 2506 the GPS coordinates associated with the experience of user 36 with GPS coordinates associated with the experience data cards included within experience database 100 to determine if matching details exist. “
Also, in a related move not long ago, Google engineers made a site that I believe was/is used as a testing ground https://www.schemer.com/home
Note on Cards: have you noticed how everything in Google is starting to be displayed in “cards?” If not, do a search of your own business and look at the local “card” that shows up on the right. That card is a hub for a lot of what I am talking about here. We’ve seen many changes to these cards in just the last 2 months.
Directions-Based Ranking of Places - http://goo.gl/3iBByJ filed September 17, 2013
Summary from the filing:
“A system and a method for ranking search results of local search queries. A local search query and a current location of a user are received. Next, two or more places that satisfy the local search query are identified, and for each respective place a corresponding distance from the current location of the user to the respective place is also identified. The two or more places are then ranked in accordance with scores that are based, at least in part, on popularity of the two or more places and the corresponding distances from the current location of the user, to produce a set of ranked places. The ranked set of places is then provided to the user.”
And because I know you guys are just loving this super deep dive I’m doing, here is a quote from deep in the filing that brings home the point perfectly: (emphasis mine)
“In some embodiments, the popularity of a respective place comprises a historical popularity of the respective place in directions queries.
In some embodiments, the popularity of a respective place comprises a historical popularity of the respective place in directions queries received during a time frame corresponding to a time at which the search query is received.
In some embodiments, in the popularity of a respective place is based on the historical popularity of the respective place in directions queries received during a time frame corresponding to a time at which the search query is received and at least one additional factor selected from the group consisting of user ratings of the place, user reviews of the place, and a query independent page rank of a web page associated with the place.”
Parameterless Search - http://goo.gl/e5im6r filed July 2, 2013
Summary from the filing:
“In one implementation, a computer-implemented method includes receiving a parameterless search request, which was provided to a mobile computing device, for information that is relevant to a user of the mobile computing device. The method also includes, in response to the received parameterless search request, identifying with a digital computer system one or more results that are determined to be relevant to the user of the mobile computing device based upon a current context of the mobile computing device. The method further includes providing the results for display to a user of the mobile computing device.”
Basically, a parameterless search is one that does not include any type of keywords or phrases. It is essentially an algorithm generated “educated guess” on what I may be wanting at a particular moment. The two patents listed above, coupled with the user’s current location are what can make this possible.
Just to provide a quick example: Anyone who observes my morning drive would know the route I take to work, the Starbucks I stop at for coffee, the XM satellite radio station I listen to and what day and time I drop off dry cleaning each week.
A parameterless search would be able to let me know (or anticipate) if I passed my drycleaner because I was too busy focusing on something else and there is a very similar dry cleaner only 1 minute away that, based on other user’s experiences, may work for me today. It could also tell me that my coffee stop is only 5 minutes away but there is an accident on US Route 30 that may cause me a delay, but luckily, there is another Starbucks that won’t take me more than a few minutes out of the way and they also have Blonde Roast on tap - which is what I normally drink.
As you can see, these are all very useful and I didn’t type anything into the search bar.
Hummingbird, mentioned earlier in this post, is the backbone of all of it. And for your reading pleasure, here’s that patent - http://goo.gl/o104la
Want to try your luck at this technology right now? Get Google Now on our smartphone and be sure to start using Google Chrome as your phone browser (gotta login to it). You’ll get some pretty decent suggestions and it learns over time.
Have you heard of Google Glass? It’s happening now with a select few people and expanding in testing rapidly. You know what the nickname for Google Glass is? - WingMan.
It’s designed to be your wingman as you navigate through life. Notice that it is HIGHLY personalized to the user - it’s 100% user context based.
4) Micro Content and Hashtags in Google Plus. If your Google Local listing is completely upgraded, you have the ability to post content, I recommend you start doing this ASAP. But don’t look at it like Twitter or Facebook. Look at it more like an opportunity to extend your website’s long form, highly relevant and useful content strategy. Use contextual keywords in the postings, and use hashtags that associate you with geographies and entities that add even more context. Going back to our imaginary car dealership located in Naperville, IL that is trying to draw internet visits from Joliet, IL, could use the hashtag #joliet. Here is that hashtag https://plus.google.com/u/0/s/%23joliet
You will see other people and businesses using that hashtag, as well as suggestions on who to “circle” because those people are also relevant to #joliet
5) Google Local users of relevance to you. Anyone who leaves a positive review of your business should be responded to of course, but then you should also “circle” them on Google plus (while logged in and posting as the business). This cements your association and helps you keep up to interact with them in the future if their settings allow it. Google wants you to do this - look at the screenshot below - those are the default circles that all business listings start with. Google is basically spoon feeding you the contexts they want you to provide for them.
Note: Negative reviews should definitely be responded to in Google Plus Local, but I do not recommend you “circle” the detractors as that could be seen as an act of aggression by the human behind the review.
This is the third and final context we need to explore and it’s extremely important. You’ve heard of Google Authorship. It’s a great way to verify the content on your site as authentic to you. This is especially true if you are a recognized expert in the area you author. But there is so much more to it than just having that cool picture show up in search results and increase click-through rates.
An author with no meaningful context is not very useful. You need to take control of your own, personal reputation online and create context around it. If you are a Chevrolet dealer, then it makes sense that you are going to be connected to General Motors and Chevrolet on Google Plus. More than that, you should be connected to the people, pages and communities that are talking about Chevy. I recommend you become an active member and participant. Engage and share and others will reciprocate. Find people talking your brand or your area and share your unique knowledge and be a resource. This is context. It’s also pretty much the same recommendation I’d give you for any social network - but with Google’s social network, it’s even more important. Your authority and context will flow back to your Google Local listing (because you should be the ‘owner’ of that listing) as well as your linked and verified (rel=pub) website.
Important Chevy People
(3 active ones I found doing a quick search)
Corvette and Camaro Fans
Classic Chevy Trucks
Chevy Volt Owners
It’s also a good idea to get involved with general automotive people, pages and communities like these:
Other Related “stuff”
Finally, and most importantly, you as the author should connect with anyone and everyone in your local area. People, businesses and communities - anything and everything about your geography. Jump in and own it. Be the go-to resource for your area. But most importantly, be relevant, be engaging, be helpful and be a friend.
All of these associations with your author profile create context that flows right back to your business.
Next, get your employees and associates involved. Their interactions on Google Plus also send signals, especially if they are listing your dealership in their profile as their “work.”
Look above where I showed the default circles for a business listing. See how “team members” is one of the defaults? Yup, you guessed it, Google wants that context and that’s why they make that one your default circles. So give them what they want - circle all your employees.
Context is king, but there are 3 kings. Each one is important, and each one should be given his due attention. It’s time that everything we do online is governed by how it will affect our 3 context kings.
1) Customer/Consumer Context - put yourself in their shoes - imagine how they want to be approached and in what capacity - then get there!
2) Your Business Context - Master the 5 areas where you can create context for your business.
- Mobile Signals (super important)
- Hashtags and Micro Content
- Circle the relevant humans
3) Your Personal Context - be a true authority, not just a rel=author markup on your site.
What are your thoughts? What would you add to the kings of context that I may have missed? Anyone else like to read Google patents as much as I do? Are you excited?
Let’s look at this one last time:
Define: Context - the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.
See you at #DSES