TWIO-38: What are Google’s Plans Where the Right-Hand Ads Used to Be?

This is the thirty-eighth episode of ‘This Week In Organic’, the weekly show that debates the ramifications of the latest SEO and content marketing news.

In this episode we discuss what Google’s plans for the white space in the SERPs to the right-hand side might be, whether our guests practice second-tier link building, and how social customer service impacts content marketing.

Our host, @DavidBain is joined by @badams from Polemic Digital, @LisaDMyers from Verve Search and @emcgillivray from Moz.

Sign up to watch the next show live over at and share your thoughts on what’s discussed using the hashtag #TWiO on Twitter.

Topics discussed:

=== Topic #1: Google’s plans for the white space in the SERP

What are Google’s plans for the white space in the SERPs, to the right-hand side, where the ads used to be? A couple of weeks ago, Google completely revamped its desktop SERP, removing ads to the right; and adding 4 ads to the top for many competitive queries. But for most queries now there’s a big white space to the right. So what are Google’s plans for this?

=== Topic 2: The importance of second-tier links

Julie Joyce recently published an article on Search Engine Land on the importance of second-tier links. And this subject matter isn’t something that I’ve seen massively talked about in mainstream SEO publications. Do you use second-tier link building as part of your SEO strategy? What are the benefits and potential pitfalls of second-tier link building and should most SEOs be practicing this strategy? Can second tier link building be used to improve reputation management?

=== Topic 3: Facebook’s Messenger chat service

Facebook look as if they are going to open up its Messenger chat service to outside businesses, potentially as early as April. And this could significantly impact customer service, social-sharing and ultimately content marketing. It looks as if it’s going to be difficult to work in customer service in the future without embracing social media – is that fair? How can customer service help with content marketing?

=== Topic 4: Twitter customer support

Apple have just opened their Apple Support Twitter handle. But is this a good move? And should most businesses be using Twitter as a customer service platform? Is Twitter best left to individuals and networking? How can Twitter customer support be integrated into a content marketing strategy?


DAVID BAIN: What are Google’s plans for the white space in the SERPs to the right-hand side where the ads used to be? Do you practice second-tier link building? And how does social customer service impact content marketing? All that and more in This Week in Organic, Episode Number 38.

Hello, and welcome. I’m David Bain, and each week I’ll be joined by some knowledgeable, opinionated folks to discuss the latest happenings in anything that impacts organic traffic. And as for you in the live audience, get involved – tweet about the show to your own followers, and tell us what you think of what’s being discussed in the comments section to the right-hand side, and I’ll try to read out as many thoughts as I can. But let’s find out more about today’s guests, where they’re from, and what’s caught their attention this week. So starting off with Lisa.

LISA MYERS: Great, okay. I’m Lisa Myers. I’m the CEO of Verve Search, and this week has been a very, very busy week in the office. So we have just launched a lot of new campaigns, so it is a lot of the same. In terms of what has really caught my eye, I haven’t really even had time to read up on anything this week, but I think I would be delighted to talk about whatever you guys want to talk about.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah, whatever’s happened I’m sure you can apply it to everyday business, and how they can take advantage of it.

LISA MYERS: I’m sure.

DAVID BAIN: And also with us today is Erica.

ERICA MCGILLIVRAY: Hi, I’m Erica McGillivray, and I am with Moz, and as far as my week this week, we are just wrapping up one of our conferences, and kicking off Mozcon, our big conference. So I’ve been really diving in to find great experts in our industry to help us out there. But what I’ve seen a lot of– so, I do a lot of social media for Moz, and there have been a lot of crazy things happening on social media, especially around the US elections, and Yelp’s tweet about their employees’ performance over Twitter. And yeah, it’s a mess – a hot mess.

DAVID BAIN: I think I missed Yelp’s tweet actually, so I’ll look forward to hearing more about that from you certainly as well, and also I’m sure your opinion in terms of what’s going on with the election. We’re certainly hearing a lot over here, but I’m sure you’re hearing more.


DAVID BAIN: It’s interesting; it’s an interesting show. And finally, last but not least, also with us today is Barry.

BARRY ADAMS: Hello, I am Barry Adams. I am the founder of Polemic Digital, an SEO consultancy based right here in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I specialise in technical SEO, SEO owners, and on-going SEO as well. What’s caught my eye this week? Well I have been neck deep in a rather substantial SEO audit, so a bit like Lisa, I haven’t really had much time to poke my head up, and see what’s out and about. Just the usual firefighting; never a dull moment in SEO.

I saw the topics for today. I think the tiered link building is an interesting one which I definitely have a few opinions on, so looking forward to discussing that. And then after that digging into this particular beauty, because it is the weekend after all.

DAVID BAIN: Can you not share it virtually as well Barry?

BARRY ADAMS: Now that would be cool – next generation. That’s a start-up idea right there. Who can build that?

DAVID BAIN: Well first topic is what are Google’s plans for the white space in the SERPs? That’s the right-hand side where the answer used to be. So a couple of weeks ago of course, Google completely revamped its desktop SERP, removing ads to the right, adding four ads to the top from any competitive queries. But for most queries now we’re seeing a big white space to the right-hand side, and to many people that maybe seems a bit well, okay, what are their plans for this? So I hear you go, ‘Mmm,’ Erica, so have you any initial thoughts there in terms of what they might be planning?

ERICA MCGILLIVRAY: I really think it has to do with mobile. Google has been showing that they want mobile first, and those ads on that right-hand side just disappear in mobile, which makes sense, because it doesn’t make sense for the mobile format. So I think it has to mostly do with their dedication towards mobile. Now when does that executive who gets that report on how much money they’ve lost because those ads aren’t there freaks out and wants them back in, it may be another conversation for another day.

LISA MYERS: I’ve got a feeling that me and Barry are going to be more conspiracy-like on this.

BARRY ADAMS: Never, me?

LISA MYERS: So I suppose slowly Google had been doing this already. They had been making the blur between the paid and organic gradually, overtime, to such a degree that a lot of people didn’t even know what was the paid search and what was the organic. And so I suppose what I find really interesting with this trend, and what they’re doing, which totally makes sense from a profit point of view, and them being a business, but then from the other point of view of them needing to– They almost have a duty to be the ones that give the information that is relevant to the user as well. It kind of has changed things a bit.

What I find is really interesting with this thought is how all this new structure of what is displayed on the first page of the results has changed click through rates. And I have done a lot of research, a lot of details within this, and I’m really delighted to see that more and more people will go to page two because they would like to see the organic. And being a true SEO, it’s important to me that this doesn’t become just a Google platform, a Google homepage, and then on the second page you get the actual results.

DAVID BAIN: Interesting, and can you actually see in the future Google perhaps moving into continuous grow, and not having a second page? Or is that going to be too problematic when it comes to revenue generation and display of ads?

LISA MYERS: Interesting. I don’t know whether there’s much difference. So I suppose in scroll and second page, it still will have the same deference of dropout of click through rates to a degree, but yes, it probably makes sense for them to go over not having the page than to have a continuous scroll. But I still think you would have the same relevant issue of CTR at the top, and probably likely to be the same because that won’t change; our fingers won’t for faster unless they develop some actual product or mouses or stuff that will have some intuition of how you’re wanting to search or use that.

BARRY ADAMS: I think it will be eye tracking. Maybe it’s eye tracking that when you look downstairs, the screen would scroll up. That would be an interesting technology.

LISA MYERS: That’d be very cool.

BARRY ADAMS: I don’t think the actual side ever got that many clicks to begin with. I mean, I don’t know about you, but you become banner blindness to an extent. You can’t really ignore the ones at the top because they’re in your face, but the ones at the side part, when you’re there you might as well not be visible at all. So I think commercially it would have had a huge impact for Google to move the sidebar ads, but to throw an extra fourth ad in the main block at the top, I think is actually a commercially smart move. You have less ads to bid on, so the bids go up, and more people with click on them because now you’ve got 4 slots there.

LISA MYERS: How long will it be for, though?

BARRY ADAMS: Yes. Five, or ten, or fifteen, or a hundred. You know, why draw the limit at four?

LISA MYERS: No, let’s make a paid search.

DAVID BAIN: You talk about blindness there, Barry. Perhaps it’s blindness to text links and text results, but perhaps Google are actually preparing the way for more of a visual experience towards the right-hand side there. I did a random search for tyres earlier on today, and they had six shopping results to the right-hand side for tyres on Google Shopping, and then four ads to the top – the local ads, and of course the first real organic results was way down the page. But I thought it was quite interesting that it was just graphics, just images, to the right-hand side. And I thought well, does this mean that Google are actually going to maybe reintroduce ads to the right as well, but maybe make them graphic based? And perhaps they’re trying to do it step by step so that no one’s going to complain that actually suddenly there are so many ads being introduced, they’re just doing it step by step.

LISA MYERS: That would make sense. That totally would make sense, and it would lend itself to have a visual part of a search and a textual part of search.

BARRY ADAMS: I’ve gone very hesitant to try and guess what Google is going to do next because invariably what I think they’re going to do ends up being the exact opposite of what they’re actually going to do. So I’m sort of in a hold mode, like I’m just waiting to see what’s going to happen, and how we act after that. I’m not particularly proactive in that regard, if I’m being honest here.

DAVID BAIN: So do you feel that there are big changes coming, if that’s the case?

BARRY ADAMS: There have been big changes for the last fifteen years in SEO. I mean, this is one of the beauties of the industry; it’s never a boring moment. Some of the biggest changes we’ve experienced this last decade and a half have been the ones we’ve just had no signals at all about. They just landed on us overnight. They moved to four main ads with no sidebar ads; we saw that coming because they had a few early tests that showed that sort of thing, but at that stage, when we see a test like that, you can never be sure that it’s going to be ruled out as a default. But the search page behaviour, in this case, it did, but we’ve seen some other fairly outrageous tests over the years, like pages with seven ads, and three organic results, for example. I remember seeing screenshots from that not too long ago. I hope that would actually come to pass, but you never know with Google. I mean, they do have an on-going pressure from their shareholders to increase profits, so just a business like any other business.

The only hope I really have in that regard is that they realise the quality of their organic results is the main driver that people keep using Google, and keep coming back. But if they could find a magic formula to make sure the ads are at least as good as the organic results, then the users wouldn’t necessarily mind, which I think is one of the things they’re slowly heading towards. And if the users don’t mind, then they’re going to start.

DAVID BAIN: I mean one other thing that we might see is an increased use of the Knowledge Graph – maybe expanded even more to the right-hand side, because you don’t see that with all queries. But I guess the challenge with that is by and large it’s not very commercially worthwhile for Google to do that, and the kind of queries that Knowledge Graph displays for isn’t going to make Google much money. Can anyone see Knowledge Graph type queries expanding into more of a commercial revenue stream for Google?

LISA MYERS: Oh, yeah.

ERICA MCGILLIVRAY: They could sell that at a really high premium.

BARRY ADAMS: I’m going to put my conspiracy theorist hat on for a second because it’s a good hat.

LISA MYERS: I was waiting for this.

BARRY ADAMS: If you look at how Google have changed how they show ads in search results, they used to have a different kind of background, and the horizontal bar, and all that sort of stuff. And then at some stage they started showing review stars in normal search results with a light yellowish orange colour. Now those have been slowly decreasing, and followed that increasing, and now the ads have become almost identical to normal text results, but there is an ad icon, which is the exact the same colour as the review stars.

And the conspiracy theorist in me thinks that Google has been training its users to an extent to accept that sort of colour icon as part of the ad text, now ad text, previously just normal text results, so that they often click on them without realising they’re doing that. Extrapolate that to the right-hand side of a search result, the Knowledge Graph would be trained to look at that, to take that seriously because it’s a good source of information for what we’re looking for, and provides added value. So it makes sense for Google to populate that more and more over time, and then to start commercialising it when we’re already used to clicking on it, and not necessarily realising we might be clicking on an ad.

DAVID BAIN: I think that’s more of a logical progression rather than a conspiracy theory.

BARRY ADAMS: I think the ad icon and the review stars is definitely a conspiracy theory; I’m sceptical about it myself even though I think that’s actually what they did, but you know. And don’t think I’m schizophrenic.

DAVID BAIN: Great thoughts there, appreciate that. Let’s move on to the second topic actually, and that’s Julie Joyce recently published an article in Search Engine Land on the importance of second-tier links. And this subject matter isn’t something I’ve seen massively talked about in mainstream SEO publications. Barry, I think you indicated that this is a topic that was quite of interest to you. Is that something that you think the majority of the SEOs should be using more often than they actually are?

LISA MYERS: Who are you asking? Oh, you’re asking Barry.

BARRY ADAMS: Well Lisa, go ahead if you want to.

LISA MYERS: Yeah, I have quite a big thought about it. I think everyone should consider this, that content marketing and specifically link development, it’s quite a logic structure that you need to have as much authority as possible from the page that you get links from. And if you are doing content marketing and link development where your strategy is to use a piece of content or a creative campaign that gets a whole new page on a big authority website, that’s obviously great that it’s a big authority domain, but the real value is if this page also generates links because that’s when that becomes a real valuable link to get.

So for example, this is the exact reason why our main link development strategy is targeting high authority domains that are also likely to pick up secondary links to those pages. So, for example, Mashable, or a lot of newspapers, etc. they are more likely to pick up those secondary links going to that page. And if you didn’t get those, I think it would be very wise to try do to secondary link development – not rubbish links, though, to go to those pages where you have been featured.

DAVID BAIN: And would you go down the route of actually trying to get bloggers to produce those links, or is there any particular link strategy that works more effectively for second-degree links like that?

LISA MYERS: So I am not a big fan of targeting bloggers really at all, mostly because I think that’s a whole Pandora’s Box right there. Bloggers literally are the riskiest link development now, I think, because what happens with bloggers, and this I would really like to say, is that you target a blogger, and they might not charge you anything, they might not want anything, but if they at any point in the future charge anything, you kind of add for trying negotiate to get something for a link or for coverage, then that is a very risky link. So I completely avoid bloggers in general unless it’s an actual authority blog within a huge site. So we target only high authority sites that are specifically through creative campaigns, actually. But I would stay away from bloggers.

DAVID BAIN: Okay, and high authority sites relevant to that niche as well.

LISA MYERS: Yeah, so I think specifically, on topic, to get the secondary links, I think there are sites that are more likely to organically get secondary links to the page that you’ve got links from. So lifestyle sites like Mashable, or even lifestyle business, like Business Insider, or even Buzzfeed, and Huffington Post, and all of those, they have a huge audience, a huge social audience as well, which could really benefit.

In fact, last year we had a campaign where I think we won five awards for this one campaign where our main target was targeting a big site like Mashable, and then getting secondary links to that page as well as getting other thinks of course. But it would be great if it was within that niche that you’re working in, so within that content silo. So some are kind of easier to do that within silos. Like travel, I think there are loads of papers that have travel sections, but it might be harder to do if you’re doing something very specific. But lifestyle will always be relevant for all, I think – even B2B.

DAVID BAIN: Erica, from a social perspective, have you actually focused on campaigns to try and drive visits to and sharing of pages which are secondary links into a main client site?

ERICA MCGILLIVRAY: So I haven’t done anything necessarily on purpose, though I would say if someone writes a great article about the brand that you’re working with, you’re going to want to share it out. So you do want to drive traffic to those sources, and it also can be a great way to get back, and kind of give back in the ecosystem. Especially if you’re promoting, you know, give them some love that they wrote this article about you. Give them some love that they mentioned you. And social sharing can be really great for that. Like I said, I haven’t done it purposely to get secondary links, or to get necessarily more attention, but more in that we’re trying to build those relationships, and make them even stronger.

DAVID BAIN: Barry, is secondary link building something that most SEOs aren’t really thinking of actively, and they should be thinking more of?

BARRY ADAMS: Yes, I think because of its historical connotations with these spammy building practices that SEOs are nowadays more focused on getting links directly to their own websites, and getting them to be as high authority and quality as possible. And I think everybody who’s been in SEO long enough, you have to admit yes, we used to do crap like that. We used to just spam the hell out of websites. Not even secondary links, tertiary links. I mean, I used to have three pyramids of link schemes going on. You know, who didn’t? I mean, you build massive of spam links to insert here, they then go and do the secondary, and then hopefully you get some value out of pointing it all to your money website.

That is not necessarily something I’d advise anymore. Let’s be honest there; they get found out and burnt unless you start spreading the link value to other websites in such a way that makes it look natural, in which case you’re putting in an awful lot of effort to help other websites rank well rather than your own website, so it becomes self-defeating.

The secondary link building that I think Lisa is very good at describing is exactly we already do whenever we blog for another blog, or we guest blog somewhere, or when I work for State of Digital, whatever it is, we want those articles to become as popular as possible so that they build up a bit of link value, and then a link in the author bio, like Julie Joyce’s article adds a little bit of value back to us.

When it comes to reaching out to bloggers for that secondary link building, I share some of Lisa’s scepticism, I’ll be honest with you, but I do think it adds value if you have a small network of bloggers you have really good relationships with, and who you can rely on to talk about a certain topic if you give them some material to work with, if it’s sufficiently high quality. You know, if one of my clients gets a great link placement on a high authority website, I would let my favourite blogger, as it were, work with that client, know about them. Some of them at the very least it’s some social sharing about it; it’s not actually re-blog it, or give it some other promotion. Because it reflects well on them if they seem to be collaborating with the brand that gets us all the high exposure, it reflects well on them as bloggers that oh yeah, we work with a brand as well, and you’re awesome, as seen here in Mashable today.

But it is something that a lot of us usually ignore a bit too much because they only look at that last link in the chain, and not necessarily in building SEO up over several tiers of links.


DAVID BAIN: One thing that I was thinking secondary link building can also help with is reputation management, and trying to make sure that obviously at least the first page of results for your brand name are either positive results or relevant results. Is that something, Lisa, that you work on? Reputation management, and does secondary link building help with that?

LISA MYERS: We don’t particularly specialise in that, but we have done those before, specifically using that strategy. In fact, I think it’s quite a classic strategy to link develop to other sites. Like we had a client a couple of years ago which had a big reputation as a problem. Obviously, I can’t tell you who that was. And they had about three results on the first page that mentioned the brand that was reviews, etc. And one of the things that we did to push that down was build links and authority to other sites that did mention them in a more positive light. Is that called manipulative SEO?

BARRY ADAMS: But we have Google’s Right to be forgotten now. We don’t really need reputation management anymore, do we? We just get the stuff we need it for.

LISA MYERS: Well, it doesn’t mean it can’t be used, though. Like, companies can’t really get to that bit, so I don’t know if people can.

DAVID BAIN: So does the need to build links to third party directory sites that feature user brands not exist anymore because of reviews, and other things like that?

BARRY ADAMS: I think social media platforms should be your target for reputation management rather than directory listings.


BARRY ADAMS: I mean, if you search for a person name or a brand name, the goal for a space like Google should only be that person’s footprint or that brand’s footprint in terms of their own website or websites, and their search in media presence. And if there is some negative material in there – a post, or a news article, or whatever it is – we need to capitalise on the inherent strength of social media platforms to try and get them in there instead.

DAVID BAIN: And Erica, is the ranking of social profiles something that you’ve been thinking about or involved with at all?

ERICA MCGILLIVRAY: A little bit, yeah. It can be definitely very powerful for brands who are trying to get their voice out there, who may not have as powerful domains, who if they have a reputation problem, definitely trying to clean it up. But I do always caution that if you’re going to invest in trying to get those links to your social profiles, make sure you’re actually active in those social profiles.

LISA MYERS: Good point.

ERICA MCGILLIVRAY: I’ve noticed so many brands, especially on Facebook, I feel, and you go to the wall, and it’s just covered with customer service-y inquiries, or I was there, or you know, ‘I went to your store, I loved it!’ That’s good, you should respond to those people too, and they’re just dead. Completely dead. You’re like why do you even have this? I mean I understand why they have it from local perspective, and all those sorts of things, but if you’re going to put that as an authoritative or in the SERP, if you want it in your SERP, you should be dealing with it, and you should actually be active on that page. Don’t just be a dead page. It’s sad.

DAVID BAIN: And I guess it depends on what social platform Google wants to rank as well, because obviously with a partnership with Twitter it’s more likely, whether or not you want your Twitter profile ranked, for it to bring up the results in relation to your brand fairly highly at the moment. But if something happens to that partnership, perhaps that might not happen in the future.

ERICA MCGILLIVRAY: Yeah, a lot of people are very much capitalising on the whole Twitter, Google partnership. And if your brand is involved in those conversations, or your brand’s trending on Twitter, or something about it is trending, you really need to make sure that you’re on top of that. I thought that the Star Wars people did a great job with this when the new movie came out. They were all over it, and when you search for Star Wars, it wasn’t just the conversation and the trending hashtag that came up on Google, but it was Star Wars’ official Twitter account, which historically, they’ve been doing a great job at running that Twitter account for a long time – long before the movie came out, so it wasn’t just something they were doing because they had now a new product.

DAVID BAIN: What were these tweets you were telling us about beforehand again, Erica?

ERICA MCGILLIVRAY: So Yelp had some disgruntled employees write some blog posts on Medium just talking about how the customer service aspect of Yelp, they don’t pay very well, and it’s in San Francisco, so it’s very hard for people to live, and there was lots of controversy, oh you know, whether or not. There was also talk about entitled millennials, and the kind of things you would expect to see. So they had two employees who wrote blog posts on Medium, and then of course they went viral on social media. And the second woman in particular, she didn’t write a post until she had actually been let go, and Yelp tweeted out this image of a statement about her performance, and that she had been let go because she had missed too many days of work, which that’s bad social media and that’s just bad HR and possibly illegal.

DAVID BAIN: So how can a company recover from something like that? What would be the steps to try and backtrack a little bit?

ERICA MCGILLIVRAY: I mean, first of all delete your tweet, which last time I looked, I screen-shotted it just in case because I’m like I’m going to use this in a presentation one of these days. But last I looked, it was still up. And obviously this is the kind of tweet you can’t say oh, an employee did that. That was their fault. They went rogue and did it. Like we saw that with the whole airline thing with the inappropriate picture of the airplane. You guys can all Google that – if you’re at work, maybe not at work. Do it later.

But anyway, they definitely should issue an apology, if nothing else. It would be great to see them try to reconcile some of the labour complaints, and actually address what’s going on. You know, Yelp is a big company down in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, and there’s a whole bunch of conversations going on around housing prices, and are workers actually making enough money? How minority communities have been driven out of San Francisco because they can’t afford the rent, all those types of conversations that Yelp could really dive into, and they could dive in from a proactive perspective. And they could get a lot of love from that community if they dedicated themselves – whether it’s raising the wages of their employees, or helping out in many other ways with the big homeless problem there. They could really dive into the community. And I think that for this particular problem, that’s what they need to do if they really care enough.

I mean, on the other hand, they may just have so many users, and people who need their product for listing their business that they don’t care; that it’s not that big hit to the reputation because they are giant in this space.

DAVID BAIN: Do you think it’s a danger that certain senior executives and big blue chip companies may look at this, and think, look, it’s too dangerous interacting on Twitter, or maybe other social networks like this, and actually take away the ability for employees to post fairly freely on these networks? And we may even go back a step a little bit with regards to how we can communicate on the social sphere?

ERICA MCGILLIVRAY: I do think that there are companies out there that do that now. Like I definitely think a lot of employees are blocked from social media, or monitored to make sure they’re not on social media at work, especially the more corporate they are, and the more worried people are about their brands. I mean, the first time I actually built a social media account for a brand, an executive ran over to my cubicle, and told me to turn it off because I was going to ruin their brand. And then that executive left, and then I started up social media, and now they have a successful social media presence.

But it’s kind of that give and take. I think a lot of people for social media, it has become so normal, I mean think about how many people use Facebook. You know, everyone’s grandparents are on Facebook it seems these days. So it’s become more of a normal thing than it was perhaps when that executive came over to my cubicle, and was like you can’t do this Twitter thing.

BARRY ADAMS: I mean it is absolutely terrifying for businesses that have been around for so long that the customers suddenly start talking back at them. This is something that, especially in businesses where the upper management is still a bit of an older generation, they’re just so not accustomed to that sort of direct interaction with their customers in such a public sphere. It would feel very comfortable talking to a customer in a store, for example. The customer has a complaint, having a one on one with them in their stores, but to do that on social media, on Facebook, on Twitter, where the whole world can see them, I think there’s an inherent fright in there that they want to protect their brand, and don’t want to expose themselves to that possible negative feedback, not realising that the conversations are going to happen anyway, whether or not they’re part of it.

DAVID BAIN: And we had Erica jump out there, actually. I’m not sure if you’re having technical problems there as well. There was someone else trying to get in; I’m not sure if that was Erica using another profile name, or Erica at all, so if we don’t see Erica coming back in in the next few minutes, maybe someone else can join. But we’ll certainly leave it open for a while for Erica to hopefully come back in. But we might as well actually continue with the last topic that I was going to cover, and that was the fact that Apple have introduced their own Twitter account – Apple Support. And it maybe seems like they’re a little bit late with this, but maybe Apple are late but best with most things, so we’ll see how they go about it. Barry, do you think Twitter in general – Erica’s back – is a medium for individuals to network, or is there still an opportunity for brands to be successful on Twitter with things like customer service as well?

BARRY ADAMS: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I’m a rather rant-y person on Twitter, as anybody who follows me will confirm.

LISA MYERS: Sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh there.

BARRY ADAMS: Open door, right there. But I do like it when I can rant on Twitter, and tag in the company’s customer support account, and get a response straight away. For example, my broadband subscription is good for instant media. I mean, if I didn’t have that immediate contact channel with them on Twitter, I probably would have switched providers years ago. But at the time, something was wrong, which is not very often, I can rant on it on Twitter, and they will get in touch with me within minutes, whereas if I have to phone them up you have to go through these auto menus, and it’s an excruciating experience. It’s much easier just to vent on Twitter, throw some swear words at them, and there’s some panicked person somewhere in some big office building managing their Twitter accounts like, oh let’s get this person offline as soon as possible. That’s what those support channels are for. So yeah, by all means, I think Apple is doing a good job doing that. I think they will get inundated with it, and they might not realise what they’re getting themselves in for. It’s going to be quite an overwhelming experience for them. But if they manage it properly, it should benefit for them because every time a company does it right, and you do need to do it right, but if you turn your customers into your fans.

And it’s not just Twitter that allows you to do that. Facebook has the same effect. If you take your customers seriously on Facebook, or Twitter, or any social channel that they choose to engage with you, you can turn a negative experience into a positive experience very, very quickly.

DAVID BAIN: So what’s an example of doing it right? Is it just getting back to them very, very quickly, maybe apologising, empathising with them, and then taking it offline in general? Or are there other positive lessons that you would add to that?

BARRY ADAMS: I’ll give you an example from my own personal experience, where a relative of mine had quite a bit of health issues, but for some reason a certain treatment wasn’t going to be covered because the health issuer company said it was a prior condition, which it wasn’t. I got so angry with that, this happened a few years ago, that I ranted on Twitter, and tagged that insurance company in my tweet of course. They got in touch with me within minutes, and a few hours later they changed that evaluation, and suddenly the treatment was covered. And as a result we’ve stuck with that private insurance company ever since.

LISA MYERS: It’s about building a relationship, right? That was what it was supposed to be for, for being able to communicate. But, like Erica was saying there, there are still so many that are just broadcasting, and shouting crap, and are all confused that they’re not getting anything from it. That’s because you’re behaving like an asshole or shouting. Can I say asshole? That’s not swearing, is it?

DAVID BAIN: I’ll leave it for the Blab crowd to give reviews. So Twitter in regards to customers service, so that’s a good way to do it. In terms of a bad way to do it, I suppose it’s ignore people completely, perhaps belittle.

BARRY ADAMS: Never argue with your customers online.

DAVID BAIN: But there are examples all the time of that happening, and perhaps employees trying to be funny, or smart, or right.

BARRY ADAMS: It’s risky, but if you could pull it off, if you for example have a customer who is obviously being outrageous in whatever they demand or as in, they can give it a bit of a funny angle. But even then you had to tread carefully that you don’t end up insulting them too much, or painting them in too much of a bad light. You have to be able to make light of the situation rather than the person. So it is a risky one.

ERICA MCGILLIVRAY: I also think it’s really important to have your employees trained. You know, anyone doing your customer service should know how to do escalation. They should know how to at first empathise with the problem, apologise, and have some training on how to actually take care with it. So with Moz, we are very active on our social channels, we have a whole big team, we’re all trained, but there are certain things that we have to escalate, and we have to take offline, or in email, I should say, in a person conversation, so things like a billing problem. So if someone has a billing problem, and they come to us, our team actually doesn’t have access to the billing information because, you know, businesses, we want to make sure people’s billing information stays private, that credit card numbers aren’t floating around out there, or anything like that, for the privacy and protection of our customers. So we have to take it into email, and we have to involve our support team because they’re the ones that can actually deal with this billing issue.
So it’s good too to have boundaries, and I do wonder about Apple. Is there a boundary there or can they do everything? Do they have to at some point escalate it to another team? But you have to be prepared, you have to have people trained, and you have to figure out what you’re going to be doing on there, and make sure you’re ready because, like Barry already mentioned, Apple may have bitten off more than they can chew, but they may also be ready for it, and have seen what other brands similarly have done. So it could work.

DAVID BAIN: It’s good to see the active guests also participating in the chat – mainly between themselves, but that’s always good.

LISA MYERS: That’s me and Barry. Sorry.

BARRY ADAMS: Because Lisa and I both have a reputation for using a lot of profanity in our conference talks.

LISA MYERS: You know, that would be an interesting conversation. Like I have a multilingual agency, so we speak like twelve different languages. What I have really realised in the seven years running Verve is how the cultural differences on people that you think are closer within the cultural rim of what – like Norwegians and English, how actually far away they are, and what is socially acceptable, and how people perceive people as speakers, for example, by where they’re from. And whether swearing is really meant as much for a Northern Norwegian as it would be from an English. That’s one of my issues, and obviously Barry’s. So I think people consider me as swearing a little bit too brash, but for any Northern Norwegian, they wouldn’t even notice.

BARRY ADAMS: Let’s be honest here, Lisa. I’ve just done a tally on your f-bombs in a recent talk you gave in Dublin, and you put me to shame. I’ll be honest with you that was impressive.

LISA MYERS: But that was in Dublin; you can get away with it in Dublin.

BARRY ADAMS: That’s true.

ERICA MCGILLIVRAY: Know your audience.

LISA MYERS: Yeah, I couldn’t do it in the US. I think US is just slightly stricter, or they see it very differently so you have to really watch out, right?

ERICA MCGILLIVRAY: We get conference feedback all the time in the US if we have a speaker who swears.

LISA MYERS: About swearing?

ERICA MCGILLIVRAY: Oh yeah, people get very, very offended. I mean, it’s a very certain, specific segment of the conference attendees, but if a speaker goes up there and swears, you know, if you drop more than one or two f-bombs, we’re going to hear about it.

LISA MYERS: Yeah, yeah. Right.

BARRY ADAMS: Even if you put a disclaimer at the start, which I tend to do, I tend to say to start, ‘Sorry, I’ve been doing this for so long. I’m halfway mad. There will be swear words.’

LISA MYERS:             That’s a good disclaimer.

BARRY ADAMS: I think that helps a little bit you know, build a bit of expectation.

DAVID BAIN: We’ve got Garett sitting in the chat: ‘Really? Even in the Trump era?’ Okay.

ERICA MCGILLIVRAY: We won’t talk about that guy.

BARRY ADAMS: Let’s not even go there. It just makes me heavy thinking about it.

DAVID BAIN: Let’s move on to the last topic, which is Facebook look as if they’re going to open up its messenger chat service to outside businesses, potentially as early as April. And this could significantly impact customer service, social sharing, and ultimately content marketing. So it looks as if it’s going to be difficult to work in customer service in the future without embracing social media. Is that fair? You’re nodding slightly, Erica. Is it going to be possible to work in customer service without being comfortable with Facebook and Twitter?

ERICA MCGILLIVRAY: It’s definitely that’s going to become more standard now. You can structure your team lots of ways; your social media team doesn’t have to live in your customer service, but they definitely have to be closely aligned, and talk with each other all the time to make sure things work out. So Facebook already does – you can already message people who are fans of your Facebook, or like it, or whatever they’re calling it now. They always change it, like every week. And they can already send you messages, so at Moz we get a tonne of messages already from our fans of people asking everything from help on their SEO to questions about our products or services, or customer service type complaints. So I kind of see this whole messaging thing as the final frontier where Facebook currently has no ads, so it’s the one more place where they could put an ad, or pay to promote your messages. And they’ve been doing a lot of things to change their algorithm over the last couple years – the algorithm has changed about every four months pretty dramatically. And for a long time Facebook was a huge driver of traffic, and then it dropped off when they started discounted brands, saying that content wasn’t interesting enough for audiences. And Facebook’s now changed their newsfeed even more to try to be more serving you content so you don’t need to go anywhere for your news except Facebook.

And now, at least for those of us who are publishing lots of high authority content, we’re seeing more traffic, again from Facebook, so the traffic has gone back up. And I think that the whole opening messenger is going to be for ads, or it’s going to be another place where you can promote your content in a paid way. So broadcast this to your fans, maybe you have to segment out who your fans are who you’re sending these messages to, but it’s definitely more money making for Facebook in the long run.

DAVID BAIN: Can you see it at some point in the future being the main stay for customer service for certain brands? Or do you think there’s always going to be a place for independent, specialist customer service type software?

ERICA MCGILLIVRAY: I think it really depends on the kind of trust that goes out in the future. I think there are still a lot of people who would never want to send any personal information over Facebook because they don’t trust it at the end of the day. Right, if you’re trying to deal with an issue, I wouldn’t send my personal information over a Facebook message. Who knows? And then they store it, and keep it. So it really depends how much you trust it, and email is still really trustworthy, but even at Moz for a while we tried not to do phone support at all, and even though we deal with internet marketers who are very used to doing things over the internet, it’s very serve yourself is kind of our style, and our customer service is really prompt with email, which is the primary communication way with our customers that they use, people still want those phone calls. And people will still call and be like, okay, I need your extra help, but I don’t want to give you this personal information. Can we do it over the phone?

DAVID BAIN: But it’s partly a trust thing, having a number on there as well. I mean, some people might not even necessarily use the phone number, but the fact that you’ve got the phone number up there makes you seem more legitimate and acceptable, and like a real company, so they’re more likely to feel comfortable. Have you tried to measure conversion rates based on having phone numbers or not having phone numbers on the website?

ERICA MCGILLIVRAY: We haven’t done anything like that. I mean we always had a phone number you could find somewhere because we of course have an office number because we have our local listings in places. So you could find something if you dug around, it was just not prominently on the customer support page.

DAVID BAIN: One slant that I was looking to take on this was content marketing, and having one on one communication with customers like this perhaps gives you an opportunity to build up relationships with them a bit more, and perhaps actually get them more active on their social media, and perhaps even producing content on your behalf. Lisa, I was going to ask you, do you think there’s an opportunity with this?

LISA MYERS: Can I do one thing first? Can we please define what we think content marketing is? Because I have a big bug barrier with this, and in fact I nearly changed again how we define what we do at Verve Search. Because I think what most people think content marketing is might not be what I think it is, and I think content marketing, for me, isn’t about written content or communicating with people. Content marketing for me is about ideas. In fact, when I started Verve, it was about SEO and social media, because back then social media was about coming up with ideas, and communicating things, and then using social media as a tool to spread that. And I think for me I would just like to say that content marketing for me is very much about concepts and ideas, and we use specifically content marketing to benefit SEO. So I don’t do publishing of content. In fact, I closed my content team last year. That’s boring to me. I do SEO, and I create campaigns that generate really big, good authority links, but I do that from a conceptual point of view. So I don’t really do content marketing, which I think now, unfortunately, 80% of people call content marketing, which could be publishing – just random publishing.

DAVID BAIN: I agree with you. I think that a lot of agencies, businesses, still think that content marketing is publishing 500 word posts, and then trying to promote them, and they’re not leveraging quality one on one relationships with people. And that by building one on one relationships with people, and through your customer service team, you have an opportunity to drive raving fans, who are more likely to share what you do in a meaningful way, in a passionate way. So by having your customer service team active on these social networks and interacting with people using things like Facebook and Messenger, perhaps because they’re already interacting with them on the Messenger, then it’s just that one little step further to getting the customer sharing what you do a little bit more on Facebook, and getting that real, believable content from your customers shared online. So it’s an opportunity to market surely from that.

LISA MYERS: Sure. I just don’t see it from that point of view. I mean, maybe I’m too one tracked. I see and measure things from an SEO point of view, which is related to the traffic and the engagement, but it’s quite likely not really on our client’s website; it’s very likely on someone else’s website. A lot of the stuff that I’ve done in the last six months is collaborative work, which is content marketing that’s about the idea, and I don’t give a shit about the type of audience, and the brand, and whatever that is doing. It’s about creating something truly valuable that is shareable and interesting for people online, but is not necessarily related or trying to sell anything. So it’s not brand or PR, and it’s not trying to get 50,000 people to socialise there, but what it’s trying to do is trying to get enough of that to also generate the authority from a link point of view.

BARRY ADAMS: If I can add a little bit, I think Lisa is way ahead of where everybody else is when it comes to content marketing, and absolutely leading the way in what she does with Verve Search.

LISA MYERS: I love you.

BARRY ADAMS: I’m your biggest fan, Lisa. But for most SEOs in the day in the day to context, content marketing is really just 500 word blog posts, off you go. And I’m allergic now to the term now to a degree; I almost come out in a brain rash whenever someone talks about content marketing. That’s when the swear words start coming out. And I think you need to be very careful when you start casting your interactions with your customers in the light of that latest hybrid of content marketing. You know, and that’s going to change into something else two years down the line.

What has never changed when it comes to success in business, online and offline, is doing right by your customers. And as long as you keep doing that, be it in your blind context of social media and Twitter, and using the right tools to give your customers support, or whether you’re flying the old fashioned way with forum support, or just having too many products, don’t try to over commercialise everything that you do. I think that we as digital marketers are always trying to find that little angle of things – that little, you know, something we can exploit to an extent. And it’s something that I really dislike about our industry – that we are so focused on those sorts of ideas, and those sorts of gains that we lose track of the bigger picture. And part this is a response to what our clients demand of us. Our clients demand of us to deliver results, and we’re always trying to find out if we can sneak our way through there to exploit something that the client has done, to make them look cool or make them stand out.

But you know this as well as I – you see this coming a mile away. When someone writes a self-promotional blog post about how awesome their customer support is, nobody wants to read that crap. Nobody cares. It’s just a pat on your shoulder. Hey, you’re awesome, yes. Move on from that. Do something worth bragging about. Do that next level thing that Lisa is so good at doing. Yeah, sorry, that was my rant. Keep the marketers away from content marketing is what I’m saying.

LISA MYERS: Yes, I totally agree.

DAVID BAIN: Erica, anything to add to that as well?

ERICA MCGILLIVRAY: I mean, Barry said it pretty well. Every time I think about content, like we have a lot of conversations in Moz, have a lot of conversations with other marketers about the whole phenomenon of content marketing, and what it means. And it’s like everything you do on the internet is content. Whether it’s a tweet, or a big content project that you’re doing interactive design for, it’s all content. And when someone comes in and says, ‘How does your brand do content?’ You’re like it’s everything we do. That’s what we put on the internet, and so for me it’s more important to do it well, and make it impactful for that customers. That’s what you’ve got to do.

LISA MYERS: Exactly. Anyone can do content, but it has to be good content to have any impact on social, on SEO, on anything else. If not it’s just words.

DAVID BAIN: Absolutely. Just words. I think that’s a great point to finish up on. A lot of wonderful thoughts today, so thank you all for that. So I reckon it’s just about time for a single takeaway, and some sharing of find us details. Those are some strange noises coming in the background there.

BARRY ADAMS: Never mind, David. Never mind.

DAVID BAIN: Okay, starting off with Lisa then. Lisa, what’s your contact details, and single takeaway to leave people with from our discussion?

LISA MYERS: Contact details is @LisaDMyers on Twitter, and email. My single main takeaway would be if you want to do well in SEO, you have to think, you have to be creative in whatever it’s called – content, or social, or whatever it is. You have to something differently. If everyone is drawing crosses, draw a f*****g circle.

DAVID BAIN: And also with us today was Erica.

ERICA MCGILLIVRAY: I’m Eric McGillivray again, and you can find me on Twitter @emcgillivray. You can also email me. I’m just And I would say the big thing for me is if you are going to do customer support on your social media, or if you’re going to promote social media in your SERPs or whatever, make sure you’re actually doing it. Make sure you’re actually responding to people in a genuine way, and make sure that the people who are working those channels for you are fully trained in your brand voice and how to deal with your customers.

DAVID BAIN: Great advice. And also with us today was Barry.

BARRY ADAMS: Yes, Barry Adams, @badams on Twitter, if you want to send an email, but I’m very likely to ignore it anyway, so Twitter’s probably your best channel. I think my key takeaway is if your business sucks, no matter what you do online, you’re going to suck there too. Have a business worth bragging about, a business worth shouting about before you start doing anything online, because if your business is bad, you’re going to be bad online. Whether you want to or not, people are going to say bad things about you. So be awesome, and then the rest will hopefully follow.

DAVID BAIN: Great advice. Good marketing will probably kill a bad product quicker than anything. And I’m David Bain, Head of Growth at, actionable big data for an enterprise content marketing. And you can also find me interviewing online marketing gurus over at Now if you’re watching this show as a recording, remember to watch the next show live. Head over to and be part of the live audience for the next show.

LISA MYERS: I can’t believe he’s recorded us.

DAVID BAIN: For those of you watching live, we’re also having an audio podcast of course of previous shows, so check that out at as well. But until we see you again, have a fantabulous weekend, and thank you all for joining us. Cheers everyone. Thanks for being a part of it.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.