SHIFT Agency PR Blog and PR News

08 Oct 2015

Conducting an SEO Audit Pt. 4: Competitor Research

Get your SEO audit on

This series walks through the components of an SEO audit. In the first post, we walked through the questions you should ask to find out whether or not you need an audit; in the second post, we covered on-site components. The third focused on search-specific aspects. For today’s fourth and final installment, we’ll dive into the world of competitor research.

When it comes to sales and marketing (or anything really), a lot can be learned from our enemies – err, competitors. An examination of what your top competitors are doing can clue you in on what to do to step up your game — or heck, even what not to do.  The same holds true for SEO. There are several ways to take competitor research into account as you conduct your audit. We recommend starting with keyword and content research.

Keyword Research
In the previous post, we discussed how to take a deeper look at your own keywords. Checking out your competitors can be also beneficial. There are tools out there that allow you to easily get keyword info for other domains. It can be as simple as typing in a competitor website, and you’ll get a look at what organic keywords they perform well for as well as what keywords they’re paying to appear for.

Why should you care about what keywords your competitors are in on? Well for one thing, you can check out which specific terms they’re outperforming you on. If you’re in the video conferencing business, and your competitor is performing better than you for the phrase ‘video conference’ – you may want to take a look at how their site is set up and how they present their content. You can also look at what words they’re showing for that you maybe hadn’t thought of.

This data can point to what topics you should consider creating content for that competitors are currently using for their sites and PPC efforts. Some keywords may only be helpful from an advertising perspective – but others can certainly offer new ideas that can drive visitors away from competitors to your site.

Content Research
Content research is pretty straightforward: scope out competitor content! Do your competitors have blogs? eBooks? Is this content updated frequently or rarely? What topics do their most popular and widely shared posts cover?

This can almost be a mini audit itself. You’ll get a sense for what topics they regularly discuss and how it contributes to their overall SEO efforts. For example, say you discover Competitor A is seriously outperforming you; you check out their website and realize they have a blog that covers trending industry topics and is updated daily. Compared to your company – which has a blog that posts once in a blue moon. While it may not be the only factor in their ranking over you, it certainly could be a big one. That’s something you can take as a recommendation to your team and say, “hey – we need to create some more consistent content here!”

Bear in mind not all content has to map back to your specific SEO keywords. Include keywords when you can, but don’t stuff a post full of them. It will be painfully obvious, and you’ll lose visitors as fast as you gained them. Focus on creating content that your audience wants, and the SEO will follow.

That completes our short and sweet series on SEO audits. Use the series as a foundation to build on as you embark on your own audit.

Amanda Grinavich
Account Manager

07 Oct 2015

The plural of anecdote is not data

Have you ever had an opinion? Of course you have. As marketers, we reply on people having opinions to do our jobs.

Have you ever heard the same story from five different people, leaving you not knowing which version was correct? This phenomenon is called Post hoc ergo propter hoc (Latin: “after this, therefore because of this”). For example: “The rooster crows immediately before sunrise, therefore the rooster causes the sun to rise.” If this statement is repeated enough, people may start believing it. Scientific data tells us that a rooster crowing does not, in fact, cause the sun to rise. While this may be a silly example it demonstrates the point that the plural of anecdote is not data.

When trying to understand what the market needs, you can’t just assume that if one or two people feel a certain way that the majority feel the same as well or even have the same information. This is what gets us into trouble and where we create strategies that will struggle.  We need to be diligent and disciplined about data collection.

Data is all around us. Almost everything we interact with is collecting some kind of data. Our phones, our computers, our watches, even our cars collect data about us. There is no excuse for not having a data-driven strategy.

As marketing and communication professionals we should not be staring a sentence with “I think” or “I feel.” Instead, lead with what the data is telling you.

Katie Lioy
Account Manager, Marketing Technology

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06 Oct 2015

Tips for Email Marketing

Email Marketing

How often do you check out of a store and get asked for your email address? Pretty often, I’d wager. Email marketing is a great way to stay in touch with your customers, but there are several things you want to keep in mind when crafting your plan.

How Often They’re Sent

Consistency is a good thing when it comes to content generation, but that doesn’t mean you want to be constantly emailing your customers. I’m guilty of signing up for too many email lists, but there are some companies who email me every day, and some email more than once a day! Those almost always get ignored and eventually deleted. Ad fatigue is when a customer becomes so used to seeing your ad that they no longer see it. Email fatigue is the same.

Less Is More

You may be keen to pack as much information into an email as possible. Here’s your chance to reach your customer, you’ve got their attention! But don’t overdo things. Ever open a link to an article, see that it is six pages long, and immediately decide you don’t feel like reading the whole thing? The same can be true with marketing emails. Time is a rare commodity. Be succinct, say enough to pique their interest, and allow them to seek further information from your website.

Keep It Simple

Just as you don’t want to overload your customers’ eyes with excessive information, you don’t want to overload them visually, either. Don’t go crazy with multiple fonts or crazy colors. This email is an extension of your brand, and you want it properly represented.

Email marketing is a great way to keep in touch with your customer. With some extra thought you can go from inbox clutter to an inbox star!

Angie Goldman
Marketing Analyst, Marketing Technology

05 Oct 2015

Convenience and mobility power the collaborative company

In Jeremiah Owyang’s newest report, The New Rules of the Collaborative Economy, you’ll find many different statistics about how consumers choose between traditional and collaborative companies, but one fact stands out:

Source: The New Rules of the Collaborative Economy

Consumers choose convenience above all else.

When you stop to consider this for a moment, it makes total sense. Consumers, especially in major metro areas, have become accustomed to instant access for so many services in life. Think about how digital integration changed even something as simple as a date night:

  • Press a button and swipe right a few times for a date. (Tinder)
  • Press a button for a car. (Uber, Lyft)
  • Press a button to find a restaurant. (Yelp, OpenTable)
  • Rest your phone near the register to pay. (NFC/Apple Pay)
  • Press a button for a place to stay. (AirBnB, Hotel Tonight)
  • Press a button for popcorn. (Instacart)
  • Press a button for movie night. (Netflix)

Is it any wonder that consumers choose convenience as the defining factor not only of the collaborative economy, but of nearly any consumer experience?

How at risk is your industry or business? The answer to that question will be driven by mobile adoption of your audience. In Google’s recent Connected Consumer survey, the smartphone has achieved 60% penetration in the United States:


If your industry’s consumers are interacting with you using mobile devices, then you are at risk of disruption from one-touch companies that are more collaborative, more scalable, and more agile than you. Disruption from the collaborative economy almost always comes from mobility.

How much risk are you exposed to? Here’s a test to try with your Google Analytics. Go into your Analytics, select Audience > Mobile > Overview. Plot the rows of desktop, mobile, and tablet, then export the data to a spreadsheet and make a stacked bar chart by device type. What you should see is how much of your audience has come to your site on a mobile device, weighted and normalized to 100%. Here’s an example from my personal website for the last 4 years:


Ask yourself this question:

Audience is at the top of the funnel, so a 5% decline in audience becomes a 5% decline in leads, and eventually a 5% decline in sales. What percentage of your audience could you afford to lose to a more agile, more scalable, more collaborative competitor? 5%? 10%? 25%? I would argue that your company would be at risk as a marketer and communicator if 10% of your sales vanished in a year. Depending on the company you work for, even flat sales could put your company at risk.

Based on that knowledge, make a similar chart as the one above and see how mobile your audience is now. Fully 30% of my audience is mobile now. If I can’t afford to lose 30% of my audience, leads, and sales, then I’d better have a plan for disrupting myself before a competitor does.

For some companies, disruption may come from simply switching vendors and distribution partners. For other companies, disruption may mean a complete product line revamp and new partners. Be sure to grab Jeremiah Owyang’s new report (free, registration required) to learn the three strategic ways you can disrupt your competitors before they disrupt you.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

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02 Oct 2015

5 Reasons Why You Should Use Pinterest as a Marketing Tool


Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are typically the “big three” social channels a marketer has to look for when crafting a social media strategy. But as the social media landscape changes and evolves, these may no longer be enough. Here’s the case for why you, a savvy marketer/social media manager, should add Pinterest to your company’s online presence.

  1. Pinterest = Plenty of People with Purchasing Power

Pinterest just surpassed 100 million users, Pinterest reports, which is a major milestone for the company. According to a study conducted by a Pinterest Marketing Developer Partner, 45% of active Pinners have household incomes of at least $60,000 – some of which they could be influenced to spend on Pinterest.  Another source reports that the average Pinterest user is 25-45 years old, with a household income of $100,000.  This adds up to mean major views and traction for your brand.

  1. Bounteous Buyable Pins

Pinterest just recently introduced the new Buyable Pins feature. This allows users to directly make purchases from companies that include “Buy It” buttons on their Pins. These facilitate the purchase of the content of Pins directly within the app. This is great, because a study showed 87% of the Pinterest users surveyed indicated that Pinterest influenced what they bought. This Buyable Pin feature makes it even easier for customers to follow the purchase path and can contribute to the bottom line for your brand.

  1. The Power of Promoted Pins

Promoted Pins allow companies to develop Pins that showcase their products, and then Pinterest puts those Pins into users’ feeds, based on targeting a category related to the item. The companies then pay Pinterest per engagement or per site visit generated by the Promoted Pins. The awareness of Promoted Pins among a sample of surveyed Pinterest users is at 47%. If Pinterest continues to grow this feature, this is an amazing way to get content in front of those who have a chance at being receptive to it.

  1. Awesome APIs

As of May 2015, Pinterest introduced a Pinterest Developers Program, and along with it, a suite of APIs.  An API (application programming interface) lets coders build apps on top of Pinterest’s data. So, for example, as SHIFT did recently, you could build a program that sorts through Pinterest URLs and scans them to find the boards that got the most pins for different interests. This kind of data that can pinpoint influencers, as well as other APIs that can be developed, position Pinterest as a new frontier for social media marketing.

  1. Community is Key

Last but not least, Pinterest is about community. Whether it means following boards and users, or contributing to shared boards, Pinterest offers both a creative outlet and a way for people to interact with what they want to do, make, and buy, along with other users similar to them. Pinterest boards aren’t always just lists – they’re people’s dreams and aspirations. Having your brand engage in a meaningful way with this spirit that drives Pinterest is what you want to get behind.

Have any other reasons why marketers should use Pinterest to the fullest? Or are you not a fan? Leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!

Amanda Loewy
Marketing Coordinator

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01 Oct 2015

Beets, Tomatoes…Big Data?

When contestants begin a Food Network’s Chopped challenge, they are given a basket of random ingredients and asked to make an entrée. No recipe books, no Pinterest, no “phone my mom” option. The concoctions created with seemingly unrelated ingredients must flow directly from the minds of the chefs.

Did they get a guidebook to follow? Nope. Did they have a handy how-to guide that walked them through step-by-step what they had to do with the ingredients at their fingertips? Negative. The chefs are faced with only the data the ingredients provide and their own intuition.

As I sat watching these chefs whip up their treats, it got me thinking – this is exactly what we as marketers and communicators do every day. First, we observe and take data and insights we find from our “ingredients,” and then we make something cohesive out of seemingly unrelated odds and ends – our finished meal, so to speak.

The chefs grab their beets and lamb; we collect our data. Where the challenge lies is with the analyzing and figuring out what comes next. As marketers, we are bombarded with information and data from all directions. Social media data, web analytics, email marketing metrics, oh my! It’s our job to take bits and pieces from one tool, a few tidbits from another, and with it tell a story that ends with actionable takeaways.

So what comes next after the data collections? Insights – the storytelling. For chefs, it’s the cooking. With no recipes to follow, turning the data into insights comes from intuition. Using your gut instinct to combine pieces of information you may not have otherwise connected to create new insights and stories. This skill comes with experience.

Data can only get you so far – what tactic works for one company may be unsuccessful for another. You don’t wake up one day and decide to go on Chopped and whip up a fantastic meal using just a tomato, a few mushrooms, scallops and a beet. So, what can Chopped teach us about marketing? It takes trial and error, experiments with flavor and a whole lot of bad eggs to realize what works and what doesn’t. And what worked in one dish won’t necessarily work in another. The same can be said for marketing.

As an industry, it is important to stop trying to solve problems with cookie-cutter responses. Trust your gut. Glue the pieces together and see what you get – you may just be surprised with what you come up with.

Tori Sabourin
Marketing Analyst

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30 Sep 2015

The Two Sides of Events (and how to rock them both)


From networking mixers to industry trade shows, SHIFT understands the power of offline engagement (no really, we do). Just as there are two sides to every story, there are also two sides to every event. As PR people, we often get to experience them both – from an attendee/exhibitor-perspective and a conference-perspective. In the past six months, I’ve worked both sides of two very large events and am here to share my tips and tricks for how to not only survive but actually rock whatever role you’re in/event you’re at.


  • Be nice. Sure, this one seems pretty straight forward but it’s an easy one to forget with the long hours that accompany most events. Whether you’re representing a client at an event or you’re doing PR for an event, remember that everyone is under a lot of pressure to get the most out of their time (and money). Smile, be courteous and take potentially unpleasant interactions with a grain of salt.

 “Remember, it’s just a job – nothing personal.” – Famous quote from a famous movie that is R-rated, so I won’t link it. (Okay, it’s Roadhouse. YouTube the ‘be nice’ scene for more.)

  • Be prepared. This one might seem like another obvious pointer but it’s more-so rooted in what to do when you’re not prepared (stay with me). Sometimes you’re so hyper focused on your responsibilities that you might not know the answer to a question that’s outside of our wheelhouse. And that’s okay! If you don’t know an answer, be honest – just be prepared to point the inquisitor in the right direction.
  • Keep notes. What worked? What didn’t? Did you receive any kudos you’d like to bring back to your manger? Pick up on any messaging you think would make a great proactive pitch? A lot goes down at events, so it’s important to keep track of the little interactions that happen along the way.


  • Feel like you’re all alone. You may be the only one from your team at the event, but that doesn’t mean you’re not supported. Tap your team if (read: when) you’re feeling overwhelmed or could use additional input/backing.
  • Be glued to your phone. This can be tricky if you’re helping run your client’s social accounts while at an event, but keep the personal texting/Snapchatting/Facebooking to a minimum. Instead, take a look around. Really listen to what people are saying. How can you use what you’re taking in to make your client’s experience, or the event itself, better?
  • Gossip/get drunk/take long lunches, etc.: When attending an event, especially one in a different city than you live/work, it can sometimes feel like you’re on a mini-vacation. You’re not. While it’s important to decompress after hours and enjoy your time, you must always be your best representative. After all, you never know who may be around you or listening.

Representing an event, or a client at an event, is a big responsibility. You’ll have lots of opportunities to either make or break the experience, but as long as you’re keeping tabs on some of the major do’s and don’ts you’ll do great. Any other event do’s/don’ts you recommend? Let us know in the comments!

Emily Mong
Senior Account Executive

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29 Sep 2015

What is the open rate of SMS text messaging?

Friend of SHIFT and professional marketing BS detector Scott Stratten asked recently:

Doing some talk research, and I just saw a post that said “SMS (text messages) have an open rate of 95%.
WTF, how do you come up with that?
Someone please back me up or prove me wrong. Either way I’m happy.

I don’t know where the original citation came from, but as data-driven PR professionals, we’d like the data too. Fortunately, getting the data is easier than ever. We commissioned a survey of US smartphone owners and asked them if they read every SMS text message sent to them:


82%, or 4 out of 5, said yes. When broken down, the only significant difference was by gender:


Above, women read fewer text messages from anyone than men.

Is the open rate 95%? No. Is it still high? Yes; 4 out of 5 of anything is a significant majority. Does this mean you should switch your marketing and communications strategy to immediately begin texting your audience? Of course not. Like any other marketing channel, don’t abuse the privilege and trust that your audience has given you.

There’s also a significantly higher cost-per-message fee with SMS messaging compared to email, so use it judiciously for the activities that generate the highest return on investment.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Disclosure Statement

SHIFT commissioned Google Consumer Surveys to collect responses from a representative sample of 1,000 respondents who answered the question “Do you read every SMS text message sent to you?”. This survey collected 1,907 impressions and 1,030 responses for a 54% response rate with an RMSE score of 1.8%. SHIFT Communications was the sole investor in the study. The survey population was the adult Internet user population of the United States who are active smartphone owners, ascertained by survey deployment in in-app advertising. The date of the survey period was 9/26/15 – 9/28/15. Raw data is available upon request.

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28 Sep 2015

Facebook Notes and the Lazappalinari Cocktail: An SEO Test

On Friday, September 24, Facebook rebooted its Notes feature. Formerly the domain of silly forwards and “25 things you didn’t know about me but will doom my political career if anyone finds out” content, Notes’ reboot appears sharply aimed at sites like Quartz and Medium. Everything from style to layout to font choices shouts the cloning of these other, more popular content sites.

Should you immediately leap to Facebook Notes? As with all things marketing, it depends on your goals. We set up a few tests on Friday as soon as the feature became available to determine if there was any SEO benefit.

The short answer: no SEO benefit yet.

Here’s how. On Friday afternoon, we set up two public posts. The first post had a compendium of made up words:


Google indexes new content on a fairly regular basis, sometimes as quickly as within an hour. No luck for words like Bioyinoti, even 72 hours later:


The second test was to leverage three distinct uses of a made-up keyword, Lazappalinari:


I incorporated it into the URL, the title, and the body copy, a general best practice.

After publishing, I shared on my brand page and had a colleague share on their personal profile as well. Still no luck even being indexed, also 72 hours later:


Even after Tweeting it:


The conclusion thus far is inescapable: if your goal is improved inbound links and SEO, Facebook’s new Notes reboot won’t help one bit. If your posts aren’t even being indexed, there’s no way for them to be counted for links generated to your regular web properties.

If your strategy is to leverage personal profiles to share brand content (as some folks do with employee advocacy/activation programs), then Notes may be one additional tool to add, but know that it will only potentially help within the Facebook ecosystem, and even then only with personal profiles. As of this writing, brand Pages are unable to create Notes.

That said, as Facebook has done with other features they want to draw attention to (such as video), there may be a short-lived extra bit of favor given to Notes posted in the News Feed algorithm until its usage is on firm ground.

Ultimately, Facebook Notes’ value to marketers and communicators is still unclear, unless you have highly engaged, well connected employees and advocates on Facebook. If you do, you’ll enjoy even more reach with your content (though Notes do not currently have their own analytics); otherwise, stick with the content hubs and communities that are currently working well for you.

Update: within 15 minutes of publishing this blog post, Google indexed the term Lazappalinari:


Clearly, Google is expressly not indexing Facebook Notes.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

25 Sep 2015

Conducting an SEO Audit Pt. 3: Search Components

SEO Audit

This series walks through the components of an SEO audit. In the first post, we walked through the questions you should ask to find out whether or not you need an audit; in the second post, we covered on-site components. Today, we discuss search aspects.

One of the first things we think of when we hear the term ‘SEO’ is, well, search. After all, it all leads back to that. So it’s no surprise that a key part of an SEO audit is taking a deeper look at search aspects – including your traffic and how people are finding you. Your goal should be to be appearing in all results tied to search terms relevant to your business.

Here are some of the major search components you should take a look at when undergoing an SEO audit:

Current Traffic Sources
Let’s talk traffic, shall we? By looking at where your search traffic is coming from, you can get a better sense of what areas need improvement. Fortunately, Google Analytics makes this extremely easy and will provide a breakdown that looks just like this:

Organic search traffic

If the focus of your audit is to look at organic SEO, the main area you want to pay attention to is Organic Search. This tells you what percentage of your traffic is composed of people who are searching organically via keywords and phrases relevant to your business. In other words, they’re not coming to your site via paid ads or from a social media site, etc.

(Note: It’s also not a bad idea to take a look at direct traffic, which sometimes includes organic search. Mobile devices often obscure their search data which can cause it to appear as a direct search.)

If a large amount of your website visitors are finding you organically, that means your SEO is in pretty good shape. If your organic search volume is low, it’s an indicator that you should think about optimizing your site a bit better so that you’re appearing in results for relevant terms.

Search Queries & Keywords
The next question you should explore is, ‘What are people searching to find us?’ Google Analytics and Google Search Console make this very easy to answer by providing the top queries and terms people searched for when they found your site.

It’s a no brainer why this is useful in your SEO audit. If your site is in good shape, these queries and keywords should reflect that. They should be relevant to your business and what you want to be known for.  As an example, here’s a look at SHIFT’s top queries:

search queries

Examining search queries and keywords not only is a great way to find out where your site content is successful but also as an indicator of what people are interested in learning more about. (Hint: This is where the content marketers come in. Time for a blog post or eBook!)

On the flip side, if you’re finding that major keywords you want to be known for aren’t among your top queries, it’s time to start building more copy and content around that topic.

Branded vs. Unbranded Search
As you take a deep dive into queries and keywords, you should also analyze how many terms are branded vs. unbranded. “Branded” means they include some form of your brand name (“SHIFT Pr firm”) vs. unbranded which is more general (“public relations firm”). A blend of both branded and unbranded is ideal. Branded terms indicate people have heard of you and are interested enough to explore what you have to offer. Unbranded helps gauge whether or not your site content is aligned well with general industry terms people are searching for.

If 80% of your organic search is branded, it may mean it’s time to place more focus on improving your website to appear more regularly in general industry searches. If the opposite is true, it could mean it’s time for a PR push.

These are just some of the core search aspects you should take into account within your audit. Stay tuned for our final installment of this series where we examine how competitor research can boost your SEO efforts.

 Amanda Grinavich
Account Manager

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