Monthly Archives: April 2015

We Tried All the Best Pinterest Marketing Tips. Here’s What Worked.

Is your brand—personal or professional—on Pinterest?

Seventy million people are, with a large number of those being bloggers, companies, brands, and businesses. The opportunities to expand your reach and meet your audience are many on Pinterest, and they come in many unique ways. Though falling under the umbrella of social media marketing, Pinterest has its own special notes and best practices that help make it an extremely fun, exciting place to test, iterate, and add value to those on the network.

We’re quite new into …

The post We Tried All the Best Pinterest Marketing Tips. Here’s What Worked. appeared first on Social.

An Introduction to Markup for Emails

Posted by kristihines

If you are a Gmail user, you have likely received some emails that stand out from the rest with a call to action button within the subject line.

If you’ve booked a flight recently, your airline may have sent you an email that includes an interactive way to view your travel plans.

Similarly, Google Inbox app users might have seen emails that look like this.

These calls to action are courtesy of markup for email. Just like markup for web pages helps web pages stand out in search results, markup for emails helps certain emails stand out from the rest in your inbox.

The goal of email markup is to allow people to take action on emails as quickly and simply as possible. For marketers, there are both pros and cons of this feature. In this post, we’re going to look at the email markup options currently available, who can use it, and if it’s worth it.

Should you use email markup?

Email markup is currently available for Gmail email recipients only. The number of Gmail users was over 350 million in 2012. To determine whether you should use it, you shouldn’t go off a three-year-old statistic, but rather a survey of your own email list or customer database.

Most email service providers (like GetResponse, shown in the example below) allow you to search your subscriber list for specific criteria. Search yours for emails containing Gmail to determine the number of Gmail addresses your emails reach.

Of course, this isn’t the whole picture. There are likely more people that use Gmail for business with their own domains. So although their emails do not say Gmail, they open their emails in the Gmail web browser or app.

Another consideration for using email markup is tracking. If you rely heavily on the ability to track email opens and clicks to trigger autoresponders and other marketing automation actions, you may not want to give your subscribers the option to bypass opening your email and clicking on your link.

Once you’ve determined the approximate number of Gmail users you reach and whether you need the ability to track email actions, your next job is to see if you qualify to use email markup.

Register for email markup with Google

Before you can use email markup, you must register with Google. Google will check to make sure you meet email sender quality guidelines, bulk sender guidelines, and action / schema quality guidelines.

Here are some of the key guidelines you need to know. Emails must be authenticated via DKIM or SPF. The domain of your from email must match the signed-by or mailed-by header.

You must send a minimum of a hundred emails per day to Gmail users for a few weeks before applying. Google will want to see that you have a very, very low rate of spam complaints from Gmail recipients.

Bulk email guidelines include using the same IP address to send bulk mail, using the same from email address, only adding subscribers to your list that have opted in (preferably with a double opt-in or confirmation), and allowing list members to unsubscribe easily. These guidelines will not only help you get approved for use of email markup, but will also help your emails get delivered to more Gmail users without being marked as spam.

Action / schema guidelines boil down to making sure you use the appropriate action markup when possible. When an action markup is not available, or the process is more complex than can be handled inside Gmail, a go-to action should be used. Go-to actions should link directly to a page where the email recipient can complete the action as labeled on the call to action button.

An introduction to email markup actions

Actions created by email markup allow email recipients to interact with your business, product, or service within Gmail. There are currently four types of actions to choose from using email markup.

One-click actions

One-click actions are those where a task can be completed with one click within Gmail or Inbox. For example, when someone signs up for an email list, they need to confirm their subscription.

One-click actions are broken into two categories: confirm actions and save actions. The above example is a confirm action. Save actions can include adding an item to a queue or saving a coupon. Both confirm and save actions can only be interacted with once.

RSVP actions

RSVP actions allow email recipients to confirm whether they will attend an event using an invite from Google Calendar. Your email will include the event card you usually see in emails from meeting invites.

Having people confirm their attendance to your event will help ensure that they don’t forget by getting it on their calendar.

Review actions

Review actions allow email recipients to add a star and comment review for your business, products, and services right from the subject line of their email in Gmail.

You can see an end-to-end example of the scripting necessary to create a review action for a restaurant to get reviews from a Gmail user’s inbox to the Datastore using Python.

Go-to actions

Actions that do not fall under the above types are considered go-to actions. These are used when you need to take an email recipient to your website to complete an action that is too complex to be handled within the recipient’s Gmail or Inbox app.

All of the following are examples of go-to actions that take email recipients to do things on another website.

The call to action on these can be customized, so you are not limited to just viewing orders, tracking packages, and opening discussions. You can tailor them for specific uses, such as resetting a password, reviewing questionable transactions on your credit cards, and updating payment information.

An introduction to email markup Highlights

Another use for email markup is Highlights. Highlights summarize key information from specific types of email for users of the Inbox app. For example, Highlights are used for these order confirmations to show the products ordered.

Another example is this flight reservation using Highlights to show the round-trip flights purchased.

Specifically, there are six Highlights that businesses can use. They are as follows:

  • Flight reservations – Includes options for displaying basic flight confirmation information, boarding pass, check-in, update a flight, cancel a flight, and additional options. This Highlight is also supported in Google Now.
  • Orders – Includes options for displaying basic order information, view order action, and order with billing details.
  • Parcel deliveries – Includes options for displaying basic parcel delivery information and detailed shipping information.
  • Hotel reservations – Includes options for displaying basic hotel reservation information, updating a reservation, and canceling a reservation. This Highlight is also supported in Google Now.
  • Restaurant reservations – Includes options for displaying basic restaurant reservation information, updating a reservation, and canceling a reservation. This Highlight is also supported in Google Now.
  • Event reservation – Includes options for basic event reminders without a ticket, event with ticket & no reserved seating, sports or music event with ticket, event with ticket & reserved seating, multiple tickets, updating an event, and canceling an event. This Highlight is also supported in Google Now.

Note that while Highlights are a great feature, they only work for Gmail Inbox users. If Google continues to push Gmail users to using Inbox, this user base will grow exponentially.

Test email markup before sending

While you are waiting to be registered with Google, or prior to sending out emails with markup, you should run some initial tests to ensure that your markup is correct. You can start by copying and pasting your code into the Email Markup Tester to check for basic errors.

You can also add email markup to emails you send from and to yourself on Gmail. It’s important to test as one of the action / schema guidelines is a low failure rate and fast response for action handling. You can learn how to send test emails to yourself in this tutorial using

The tutorial gives you some simple code you can copy and paste as directed.

When you save and run the project as directed, you will immediately get the following result:

You can then begin to experiment with the code for the email markup you want to use.

Run your script again and again to produce new emails.

Any approved business can use the go-to actions to link the subject line of their email to any portion of their website. As you continue to experiment, think of new ways to engage your audience with email markup.

Final questions to answer

Here are some final questions you need to answer before you invest in email markup are the following.

  1. Will you get more of your desired results by adding actions to your emails? For example, if you use the review action, will you actually get more reviews for your business?
  2. How much time will it take to revise your emails if / when Google standardizes email markup with It might pay to wait until email markup has been standardized and make the time and coding investment all at once.
  3. Will email actions be supported by other email platforms in the future? is a collaboration between Google, Bing, Microsoft, Yandex, and Yahoo. So while not guaranteed, it can be assumed that all of the major email platforms on the web could embrace email markup in the future.

If, after answering these questions, you can see a real need for email markup, then find out if you meet the guidelines set by Google to use it and register.

If your business uses email markup, be sure to share your experiences and results in the comments!

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Search Trends: Are Compound Queries the Start of the Shift to Data-Driven Search?

Posted by Tom-Anthony

The Web is an ever-diminishing aspect of our online lives. We increasingly use apps, wearables, smart assistants (Google Now, Siri, Cortana), smart watches, and smart TVs for searches, and none of these are returning 10 blue links. In fact, we usually don’t end up on a website at all.

Apps are the natural successor, and an increasing amount of time spent optimising search is going to be spent focusing on apps. However, whilst app search is going to be very important, I don’t think it is where the trend stops.

This post is about where I think the trends take us—towards what I am calling “Data-Driven Search”. Along the way I am going to highlight another phenomenon: “Compound Queries”. I believe these changes will dramatically alter the way search and SEO work over the next 1-3 years, and it is important we begin now to think about how that future could look.

App indexing is just the beginning

App Indexing Google is moving beyond the bounds of the web-search paradigm which made them famous. On Android, we are now seeing blue links which are not to web pages but are deep links to open specific pages within apps:

This is interesting in and of itself, but it is also part of a larger pattern which began with things like the answer box and knowledge graph. With these, we saw that Google was shifting away from sending you somewhere else but was starting to provide the answer you were looking for right there in the SERPs. App Indexing is the next step, which moves Google from simply providing answers to enabling actions—allow you to
do things.

App Indexing is going to be around for a while—but here I want to focus on this trend towards providing answers and enabling actions.

Notable technology trends

Google’s mission is to build the “ultimate assistant”—something that anticipates your needs and facilitates fulfilling them. Google Now is just the beginning of what they are dreaming of.

So many of the projects and technologies that Google, and their competitors, are working on are converging with the trend towards “answers and actions”, and I think this is going to lead to a really interesting evolution in searches—namely what I am calling “Data-Driven Search”.

Let’s look at some of the contributing technologies.

Compound queries: query revisions & chained queries

There is a lot of talk about conversational search at the moment, and it is fascinating for many reasons, but in this instance I am mostly interested in two specific facets:

  • Query revision
  • Chained queries

The current model for multiple queries looks like this:

You do one query (e.g. “recipe books”) and then, after looking at the results of that search, you have a better sense of exactly what it is you are looking for and so you refine your query and run another search (e.g. “vegetarian recipe books”). Notice that you do two distinct searches—with the second one mostly completely separate from the first.

Conversational search is moving us towards a new model which looks more like this, which I’m calling the
Compound Query model:

In this instance, after evaluating the results I got, I don’t make a new query but instead a
Query Revision which relates back to that initial query. After searching “recipe books”, I might follow up with “just show me the vegetarian ones”. You can already do this with conversational search:

Example of a “Query Revision”—one type of Compound Query

Currently, we only see this intent revision model working in conversational search, but I expect we will see it migrate into desktop search as well. There will be a new generation of searchers who won’t have been “trained” to search in the unnatural and stilted keyword-oriented that we have. They’ll be used to conversational search on their phones and will apply the same patterns on desktop machines. I suspect we’ll also see other changes to desktop-based search which will merge in other aspects of how conversational search results are presented. There are also other companies working on radical new interfaces, such as
Scinet by Etsimo (their interface is quite radical, but the problems it solves and addresses are ones Google will likely also be working on).

So many SEO paradigms don’t begin to apply in this scenario; things like keyword research and rankings are not compatible with a query model that has multiple phases.

This new query model has a second application, namely
Chained Queries, where you perform an initial query, and then on receiving a response you perform a second query on the same topic (the classic example is “How tall is Justin Bieber?” followed by “How old is he?”—the second query is dependent upon the first):

Example of a Chained Query—the second type of Compound Query

It might be that in the case of chained queries, the latter queries could be converted to be standalone queries, such that they don’t muddy the SEO waters quite as much as as queries that have revisions. However, I’m not sure that this necessarily stands true, because every query in a chain adds context that makes it much easier for Google to accurately determine your intent in later queries.

If you are not convinced, consider that in the example above, as is often the case in examples (such as the Justin Bieber example), it is usually clear from the formulation that this is explicitly a chained query. However—there are chained queries where it is not necessarily clear that the current query is chained to the previous. To illustrate this, I’ve borrowed an example which Behshad Behzadi, Director of Conversational Search at Google, showed at SMX Munich last month:

Example of a “hidden” Chained Query—it is not explicit that the last search refers to the previous one.

If you didn’t see the first search for “pictures of mario” before the second and third examples, it might not be immediately obvious that the second “pictures of mario” query has taken into account the previous search. There are bound to be far more subtle examples than this.

New interfaces

The days of all Google searches coming solely via a desktop-based web browser are already long since dead, but mobile users using voice search are just the start of the change—there is an ongoing divergence of interfaces. I’m focusing here on the
output interfaces—i.e., how we consume the results from a search on a specific device.

The primary device category that springs to mind is that of wearables and smart watches, which have a variety of ways in which they communicate with their users:

  • Compact screens—devices like the Apple Watch and Microsoft Band have compact form factor screens, which allow for visual results, but not in the same format as days gone by—a list of web links won’t be helpful.
  • Audio—with Siri, Google Now, and Cortana all becoming available via wearable interfaces (that pair to smart phones) users can also consume results as voice.
  • Vibrations—the Apple Watch can give users directions using vibrations to signal left and right turns without needing to look or listen to the device. Getting directions already covers a number of searches, but you could imagine this also being useful for various yes/no queries (e.g. “is my train on time?”).

Each of these methods is incompatible with the old “title & snippet” method that made up the 10 blue links, but furthermore they are also all different from one another.

What is clear is that there is going to need to be an increase in the forms in which search engines can respond to an identical query, with responses being adaptive to the way in which the user will consume their result.

We will also see queries where the query may be “handed off” to another device: imagine me doing a search for a location on my phone and then using my watch to give me direction. Apple already has “Handover”which does this in various contexts, and I expect we’ll see the concept taken further.

This is related to Google increasingly providing us with encapsulated answers, rather than links to websites—especially true on wearables and smart devices. The interesting phenomenon here is that these answers don’t specify a specific layout, like a webpage does.
The data and the layout are separated.

Which leads us to…


Made popular by Google Now, cards are prevalent in both iOS and Android, as well as on social platforms. They are a
growing facet of the mobile experience:

Cards provide small units of information in an accessible chunk, often with a link to dig deeper by flipping a card over or by linking through to an app.

Cards exactly fit into the paradigm above—they are more concerned with the data you will see and less so about the way in which you will see it. The same cards look different in different places.

Furthermore, we are entering a point where you can now
do more and more from a card, rather than it leading you into an app to do more. You can response to messages, reply to tweets, like and re-share, and all sorts of things all from cards, without opening an app; I highly recommend this blog post which explores this phenomenon.

It seems likely we’ll see Google Now (and mobile search as it
becomes more like Google Now) allowing you to do more and more right from cards themselves—many of these things will be actions facilitated by other parties (by way of APIs of actions). In this way Google will become a “junction box” sitting between us and third parties who provide services; they’ll find an API/service provider and return us a snippet of data showing us options and then enable us to pass back data representing our response to the relevant API.

Shared screens

The next piece of the puzzle is “shared screens”, which covers several things. This starts with Google Chromecast, which has popularised the ability to “throw” things from one screen to another. At home, any guests I have over who join my wifi are able to “throw” a YouTube video from their mobile phone to my TV via the Chromecast. The same is true for people in the meeting rooms at Distilled offices and in a variety of other public spaces.

I can natively throw a variety of things: photos, YouTube videos, movies on Netflix etc., etc. How long until that includes searches? How long until I can throw the results of a search on an iPad on to the TV to show my wife the holiday options I’m looking at? Sure we can do that by sharing the whole screen now, but how long until, like photos of YouTube videos, the search results I throw to the TV take on a new layout that is suitable for that larger screen?

You can immediately see how this links back to the concept of cards and interfaces outlined above;
I’m moving data from screen to screen, and between devices that provide different interfaces.

These concepts are all very related to the concept of “fluid mobility” that Microsoft recently presented in their Productivity Future Vision released in February this year.

An evolution of this is if we reach the point that some people have envisioned, whereby many offices workers, who don’t require huge computational power, no longer have computers at their desks. Instead their desks just house dumb terminals: a display, keyboard and mouse which connect to the phone in their pockets which provides the processing power.

In this scenario, it becomes even more usual for people to be switching interfaces “mid task” (including searches)—you do a search at your desk at work (powered by your phone), then continue to review the results on the train home on the phone itself before browsing further on your TV at home.

Email structured markup

This deserves a quick mention—it is another data point in the trend of “enabling action”. It doesn’t seem to be common knowledge that you can use
structured markup and markup in emails, which works in both Gmail and Google Inbox.

Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more on this in tomorrow’s post!

The main concepts they introduce are “highlights” and “actions”—sound familiar? You can define actions that become buttons in emails allowing people to confirm, save, review, RSVP, etc. with a single click right in the email.

Currently, you have to apply to Google for them to whitelist emails you send out in order for them to mark the emails up, but I expect we’ll see this rolling out more and more. It may not seem directly search-related but if you’re building the “ultimate personal assistant”, then merging products like Google Now and Google Inbox would be a good place to start.

The rise of data-driven search

There is a common theme running through all of the above technologies and trends, namely data:

  • We are increasingly requesting from Search Engines snippets of data, rather than links to strictly formatted web content
  • We are increasingly being provided the option for direct action without going to an app/website/whatever by providing a snippet of data with our response/request

I think in the next 2 years small payloads of data will be the new currency of Google. Web search won’t go away anytime soon, but large parts of it will be subsumed into the data driven paradigm. Projects like Knowledge Vault, which aims to dislodge the Freebase/Wikipedia (i.e. manually curated) powered Knowledge Graph by
pulling facts directly from the text of all pages on the web, will mean mining the web for parcels of data become feasible at scale. This will mean that Google knows where to look for specific bits of data and can extract and return this data directly to the user.

How all this might change the way users and search engines interact:

  1. The move towards compound queries will mean it becomes more natural for people to use Google to “interact” with data in an iterative process; Google won’t just send us to a set of data somewhere else but will help us sift through it all.
  2. Shared screens will mean that search results will need to be increasingly device agnostic. The next generation of technologies such as Apple Handover and Google Chromecast will mean we increasingly pass results between devices where they may take on a new layout.
  3. Cards will be one part of making that possible by ensuring that results can rendered in various formats. Users will become more and more accustomed to interacting with sets of cards.
  4. The focus on actions will mean that Google plugs directly into APIs such that they can connect users with third party backends and enable that right there in their interface.

What we should be doing

I don’t have a good answer to this—which is exactly why we need to talk about it more.

Firstly, what is obvious is that lots of the old facets of technical SEO are already breaking down. For example, as I mentioned above, things like keyword research and rankings don’t fit well with the conversational search model where compound queries are prevalent. This will only become more and more the case as we go further down the rabbit hole. We need to educate clients and work out what new metrics help us establish how Google perceive us.

Secondly, I can’t escape the feeling that APIs are not only going to increase further in importance, but also become more “mainstream”. Think how over the years ownership of company websites started in the technical departments and migrated to marketing teams—I think we could see a similar pattern with more core teams being involved in APIs. If Google wants to connect to APIs to retrieve data and help users do things, then more teams within a business are going to want to weigh in on what it can do.

APIs might seem out of the reach and unnecessary for many businesses (exactly as websites used to…), but structured markup and are like a “lite API”—enabling programmatic access to your data and even now to actions available via your website. This will provide a nice stepping stone where needed (and might even be sufficient).

Lastly, if this vision of things does play out, then much of our search behaviour could be imagined to be a sophisticated take on faceted navigation—we do an initial search and then sift through and refine the data we get back to drill down to the exact morsels we were looking for. I could envision “Query Revision” queries where the initial search happens within Google’s index (“science fiction books”) but subsequent searches happen in someone else’s, for example Amazon’s, “index” (‘show me just those with 5 stars and more than 10 reviews that were released in the last 5 years’).

If that is the case, then what I will be doing is ensuring that Distilled’s clients have a thorough and accurate “indexes” with plenty of supplementary information that users could find useful. A few years ago we started worrying about ensuring our clients’ websites have plenty of unique content, and this would see us worrying about ensuring they have a thorough “index” for their product/service. We should be doing that already, but suddenly it isn’t going to be just a conversion factor, but a ranking factor too (following the same trend as many other signals, in that regard)


Please jump in the comments, or tweet me at @TomAnthonySEO, with your thoughts. I am sure many of the details for how I have envisioned this may not be perfectly accurate, but directionally I’m confident and I want to hear from others with their ideas.

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Find Your Strategy: 6 Actionable Social Media Strategies from Successful Brands

Being great on social media isn’t always intuitive. Sometimes the best way to learn is to get inspired by the what others are doing.

Late last year, Kapost compiled a list of 2014’s top brands in content. Much of what has made many of these brands successful is their social media strategies.

Let’s learn from six of them here. Whether they’re inspiring their audience through a shared philosophy or learning with their fans and followers by sharing data and studies, these brands—both small and large—have found the winning …

The post Find Your Strategy: 6 Actionable Social Media Strategies from Successful Brands appeared first on Social.