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Audience (It's Not About Sites, It's About People)

With the recent release of our new comscore numbers, I’ve found myself reflecting upon the digital waters our company has sailed into since I was brought aboard two years ago. With 5.7 million unique visitors and 92 million page views, I’ve been particularly intrigued by our ongoing print story and how it’s morphed into our current and ongoing digital adventure. Often the conversation is split into a print product pitch, followed by a digital product introduction, with this unyielding line down the middle to ensure the two worlds don’t spill over into each other.
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But why? A glass of water and a bowl of water both house the same resource, yet the format is the focus of conversation. What is the unifying theme that breaks down these silos so it’s no longer about old way versus new way, just the one new awesome way? For the truth, I advanced my journey deep down into the molecular level of the newspaper world.
My investigation was launched into motion while researching an array of marketing companies, especially ones that share a product suite with parallels to our own. As I continued working the case, a pivotal clue begin to uncover itself and shine brighter and brighter until I could see not only the newspaper’s leap into the digital age, but also much, much further back into the days the nineteenth century where we first began.

Any excuse to break out my magnifying glass.

DNA. It all begins with the DNA.

Where we’ve been and our history is an important indicator of where our ship can sail in the future. Our DNA tells the story of what we were built to achieve.

I’ve plundered through an abundance of articles about Microsoft and their company’s DNA (this is how I first became cognizant of the term), mainly illustrating the reason for Steve Ballmer’s departure is that he tried (unsuccessfully) to rebuild or alter the DNA of the company and charted a course into dangerous markets (like hardware and mobile). In contrast, Apple has stayed true to it’s genesis, with a mix of hardware and software for a target market with slightly higher price points. The treasure for Apple isn’t market share, it’s profit margins.
Know who you are and where you came from, this information can tell the story of your company’s future. ‘Wait, so you don’t care about innovation? Trying new ventures and concepts?’
These are different conversations. Innovating inside your DNA is evolution. Cisco jumping into the fresh produce business would be outside of their genetic makeup. Not to say they couldn’t, it would just be a taxing process. And when we are talking about a $7.2 billion acquisition of Nokia by Microsoft, that’s a lot to splice into a legacy organization used to sailing the software seas.
(insert research montage here) So what did I find locked away in the newspaper industry’s DNA? Audience.

We just celebrated our 200th year anniversary as a news and information center. The Press-Register (then known as The Mobile Gazette) was founded in 1813, and continues serving the community valiantly into 2014. The Birmingham News boasts a launch date as early as March 14, 1888. These impressive stats ring bells of honor throughout the chambers of my heart while also bringing into scope how important our product is to the local communities. Through the Civil War all the way to WWI and the Great Depression, we have continued to provide our audience with information, knowledge, insight into their lives and the ever-changing world around them. Even the long town hall meetings no one wants to stay at for six hours. Especially those.


We are a staple of our community, and we’ve earned a treasured place in people’s everyday routines. With technology reshaping how these routines look, our company has also taken the opportunity to become evolved as well. We are providing our audience with the information they need to better navigate the open seas.

While it appears SEO and SEM may be outside the scope of the newspaper business, we have never just been about breaking news and community stories. We are offering a business the path to find an audience. With our ever-growing array of tools like our extended reach and first party data, everyone with a computer can be included and found in that audience. The process of people discovering the world through traditional print advertising has evolved into search, social, content, display, and so much more. The best part is we still offer one of the same products as we did in 1905. The ability to trace back our legacy is an encouraging thought for the newspaper business.
We were never just a newspaper; we connected an audience to the world.
As my wife was leisurely surfing the web one evening she discovered some vintage coffee mugs almost identical to the design used by her family when she was a little girl. She was thrilled and immediately pulled out her card to purchase these sentimental mugs that sang of yesteryear. But when she reached the purchase page of Shop’s website, something wasn’t right. She didn’t feel comfortable making the payment. Something stirred up feelings of unease, and her gut feeling about this checkout was right. This ecommerce site wasn’t secure.

Would you walk into this store?

How did she know the website wasn’t secure? A few subtle design details tipped her off, so it even felt like the site was a bad neighborhood. And in that moment, she moved on to browse other locations and the Shop lost her sale forever.

How do we know when our own shopfront is secure and can be trusted with our potential customer’s bank information?

First, there’s the infrastructure security to build. This includes working with the host provider to ensure the site has it’s own server for processing credit cards that doesn’t store info and that no other parties can access for the brief second it exists. Once all the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed, you are able to advertise these fulfilled parameters on your website.
In most cases, you will see three visual cues in the browser’s very own interface while at the merchant’s website that will let you know the information being sent over the internet highways is indeed secure.
1. The https in the website address advertises this is a Secure http site.

One letter goes a long way to calm anxiety

2. A clickable seal containing the merchants Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate. Most companies proudly advertise some variant of this seal in the footer of their homepage.

SSL is the most widely used technology for providing secure communication between a consumer’s computer and a shopkeeper’s server.

3. A closed padlock symbol in your browser window.

SSL is the most widely used technology for providing secure communication between a consumer’s computer and a shopkeeper’s server.

When you see all three of these important visual cues populating the merchant’s website, the site should be secure. If you want to learn a little more about how SSL Certificates work, this video is the best, quickest explanation on the web.

The second requirement in fulfilling your identity as a secure, trustworthy shopfront is to have a clean, simple design that flows seamlessly as the customer sails through the checkout. The more elegant and refined your checkout experience, the greater your chance at converting a visit into a sale and securing repeat business.


You don’t want to show up at the party like this »


Apple knows how to build the shopfront experience beautifully.

No one understands the importance of masterful user-experience design more than the current kings of industry, Apple and Amazon. If I see a product I want, the first thing I do is check Amazon for the same product. Why? Because I trust them and they already have all my purchasing information saved under my account along with my confidence in their checkout. All I have to do is click a button and my product is either downloading or en route to my front doorstep. Now that is everything a wonderful customer/company exchange can be.
E-commerce is a fascinating experience that highlights just how important building a solid foundation with an elegantly designed shopfront is to the success of a company. The desired end result can’t be faked. And if attempted, the marketplace doesn’t take long to dig up every single weakness and flow money elsewhere. Look no further than the recent Target story for the cost of not investing enough cash in secure infrastructure.
Businesses need to employ design thinking more than ever when it comes to the intricate dance of e-commerce. Luckily, tons of content have been created on the topic. Smashing Magazine offers a helpful collection of guidelines. If you ever doubt the importance of investing in your shopfront, just recall the amount of money on the line if it’s ignored, and even more importantly, maintaining your reputation as a trusted shopkeep. So let’s work to build better experiences when customers visit our shopfronts.
And remember, come back and see us soon!

Users often turn to Google to answer a quick question, but research suggests that up to 10% of users’ daily information needs involve learning about a broad topic.  These users are looking for detailed information.  That is why on August 6, 2013 Google introduced new search results to help users find these “in-depth articles”.

When you’re searching on Google for a person or organization name, or other broad topic, you’ll now start to find a block of search results labeled “In-depth articles”.  The listings for these “In-depth articles” are typically on the bottom of the first page of Google results.  These results provide high-quality content to help you learn about or explore a subject.  While the feature is based on algorithmic signals, there are steps you can take as a webmaster to help Google find your high-quality, in-depth content and best present it to users in the search results.
InDepth2Your Content Strategy

If you are an online  newspaper who publishes content, or you are a re-publisher of syndicated content, then you should utilize the new Google “In-depth article” feature.   Articles between 2000 and 5000 words seem to be best for inclusion in these results.  The idea is that these articles should be the sort of content that will remain relevant for months after publication.  Make sure that your content touches on every angle of the article’s topic.

These results are ranked algorithmically based on many signals that look for high-quality, in-depth content.  You can help their algorithms understand your pages better by using schema article markup.  Following these practices along with Google’s webmaster guidelines helps Google to better understand your website’s content, and improves the chances of it appearing in this new set of search results.

In-depth article Inclusion

The best way to be included in the Google “in-depth article” feature is to useSchema.org Article markup.  In general, Google will do their best to understand the metadata you provide for your pages to better present search results to users.  For this feature, it’s particularly helpful if you can implement certain aspects of the schema.org Article markup, notably the following attributes:

  • headline
  • alternativeHeadline
  • SEO title tag
  • image (note: the image must be crawlable and indexable)
  • description
  • datePublished
  • articleBody

Authorship markup helps Google’s algorithms find and present relevant authors and experts in Google search results.  For multi-part content, proper pagination markup using rel=next and rel=prev can help Google’s algorithms correctly identify the extent of those articles.  In addition, it’s important that canonicalization is done correctly, with a rel=canonical pointing at either each individual page, or a “view-all” page (and not to page 1 of a multi-part series).

A logo is also a great way help users recognize the source of an article with a quick glance.  As a webmaster, there are two ways you can give Google a hint about which logo to use for your website:

  1. Create a Google+ Page and link it to your website.  Choose an official logo or icon as the default image.
  2. Use organization markup to specify your logo.  For example:

<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/Organization”>

<a itemprop=”url” href=”http://www.example.com/”>Home Advance</a>

<img itemprop=”logo” src=”http://www.example.com/logo.png” />


See Google Webmaster Tools for more detailed information on how to possibly appear in the” In-depth article” results.

In Closing

Make sure that you create meaningful, original, well-researched and thorough content in your articles.  You also need to make sure that your article has keyword relevance.  This should put you on the road for inclusion in Google’s “in-depth articles”.

Shortly after Google+ was launched back in 2011, Google introduced two tags to be used to help form a verified link between websites and Google+: Rel=Author and Rel=Publisher. The first, Rel=Author, has garnered increasing attention and adoption over the past two years. This tag allows content creators to form a connection between their individual articles and their personal Google+ profile which has been dubbed Authorship by Google. If you are a writer and haven’t set up your rel=author tag yet, Google has provided an easy walkthrough on how to do this.

For webmasters that want to form a verified connection overall between their website and Google+ the second tag, Rel=Publisher, is the avenue to provide just that. This tag has seen a much smaller adoption rate when compared against Rel=Author, and its name may have something to do with that. The “Publisher” terminology is a misnomer and while one might think the tag is relevant only to publishing-focused websites that produce a lot of content, the truth is that the tag can be used by any business or brand website that has a corresponding Google+ page.

Implementing the Rel=Publisher Tag

The tag is relatively easy to setup, and only requires a few links added to both your website and Google+ Page. First and foremost, if your website doesn’t have a corresponding Google+ page supporting it, you’ll need to create a page. Next, you’ll need to add a link from the page to the website. This is completed through the following actions: go to your Google+ page, click “Manage Your Page” and then “Add Your Website”. When completed the About section of your page should have a Links area that look like this:

google-rel-publisher-1Next, you’ll need to edit your site to complete the connection. This can be done one of two ways. First, you can add a link tag in the Head section of your website with the following setup:

<link href=”[Your Google+ Page URL]” rel=publisher />

The second, and arguably easier setup, is to modify the link you should have on your website pointing to your Google+ page. Whether that link is a text link or an icon link, the basic link setup remains the same:

<a href=”[Your Google+ Page URL]” rel=”publisher”>Google+</a>

Once you’ve completed this update on the site, you can verify that the connection has been completed by checking your website against Google’s Rich Snippet Tool and you should see the Publisher markup has been verified. When you see the verification (which should be instantaneous) there is nothing else you need to do, but sit back and wait for Google to officially recrawl your page and index this connection

google-rel-publisher-2The Benefits of Rel=Publisher

At the moment, there is limited perceived value that Rel=Publisher provides a website. Currently, its biggest contribution to a website is that when branded search queries are made in Google, the Knowledge Graph for that query should display a widget for that brand’s corresponding Google+ page which includes:

  • The name of the Google+ Page
  • How many followers the page has
  • The last update from the page and when
  • Option to start following the page, if the user is logged in

For businesses that have a physical location and have that data properly filled out on their corresponding Google+ page, having the Rel=Publisher tag implemented may also help to ensure that this data is correctly displayed in the Knowledge Graph.

Other than this benefit, there remains only speculation as to what the Rel=Publisher tag can or will do for a website. Google has been increasing the value they put behind the Rel=Author tag as part of their algorithm for ranking content, and there is speculation that the Rel=Publisher tag will eventually be used to further refine Google’s SERPs. The Rel=Publisher tag may also be used as a unifying factor between multiple Rel=Author tagged profiles on a single domain, meaning that the more high value authors are associated with a website, the better that site may do on a whole in search.

For now, remember that your website should be correctly using both Rel=Publisher and Rel=Author tags if applicable. Think of the Rel=Publisher tag as a yellow pages listing for a business, and the Rel=Author tag as business cards for individuals. Both serve different purposes but are both important for the business to succeed.