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Loren Baker: Hi, this is Loren Baker with Search & Deploy. Today, one of my special guests is Dennis. Dennis, I’m going to try to pronounce your last name, so please forgive me. Dennis Goedegebuure. Okay, I’ll just hand it over to you.
Dennis Goedegebuure: Goedegebuure.
Loren Baker: Okay, DennisG, a long-time friend and colleague in the world of SEO and content. Dennis, how about a nice introduction for the listeners?
Dennis Goedegebuure: Thank you for having me, Loren. It’s a pleasure to be on your show. I’ve listened to the previous ones, and it sounds like an interesting kick-off for the new project that you have here.
I spent around nine and a half years at eBay, the world’s largest marketplace for everything that you can buy and sell. I started in the Netherlands, where I’m from, and then I moved over to the US in 2006. I was the director of global SEO at eBay for a couple years. Then I moved over, with a short intermezzo, to Airbnb, also a two-sided marketplace that is now in the travel, lodging, and house rental space, where I spent around two and a half years running their global SEO program.
Now I’m at Fanatics. Fanatics is a very large e-commerce retailer of licensed sport merchandise. We power a lot of the large league shops — front-end, back-end, and fulfillment of NFL.com, NHL.com, and NBA.com — and a large number of media sites as well, and team sites.
Loren Baker: If you look at those three companies, it’s interesting, because you have eBay being auctioning and online sales, Airbnb being the sharing economy of space and monetization of rooms or apartments, and then Fanatics being e-commerce-driven merchandise. It’s seems like the common denominators of all three of those companies is community-driven marketplace.
Content for Communities and Content That Is User-Generated
Dennis Goedegebuure: Yeah, B2C, so to speak, or C2C even. EBay, at the end, was a lot of large-scale sellers, and Airbnb is still in the infancy where private persons are renting out their space. It’s very consumer-focused. As well, with Fanatics, where we sell directly to the consumer, everybody that buys something online for sports merchandise, there’s a very big chance that we touch that package.
Loren Baker: Before we get started discussing content and SEO — I just thought of this question now — I just wanted to dip into a little bit of, what are some of the benefits of working in a marketplace-style scenario? Because I’ve worked in marketplaces that do not have a sense of community before, maybe traditional real estate or online dating properties, where you’re really looking at a group of codes and different profile pages and listing pages, as opposed to working with something that has that base.
What are some of the advantages that you’ve had working with, I’d say, passionate communities, whether it’s the sellers on eBay, or with Airbnb, or the fan base that you’re working with now with Fanatics?
Dennis Goedegebuure: I would say that Airbnb and eBay are similar to the point that the actual description of the item for the listing where you’re going to stay in are not in the control of the company but are user-generated content. It’s a massive user-generated content machine, where you get a choice of words or keywords that people pick that you might not have thought about.
Building Sincere Localized Content That Is Not Solely SEO Driven
Dennis Goedegebuure: It could be a blessing in disguise, or it could be very, very difficult to optimize for certain keyword terms because some owner of a property might have called it “the great dream escape for your Valentine’s Day,” where it doesn’t say anything in the title about the number of rooms or the amenities or what kind of property it is. Still, you get a lot of the speech that the actual customer might be typing into the search box in the search engine.
We as SEOs are too keyword-focused, and “I want to have this keyword in there, and “I want to make sure that we’re ranking on that keyword.” Sometimes you’re too siloed in your thinking, and you forget how people actually search.
Guidelines That Help Users Generate Content That Helps the Base Site That They Are Listing Products On
Loren Baker: That’s really interesting, too, because over the years, we’ve all seen trends in SEO as we’ve gotten away from exact match links or exact match key terms, and more so going towards natural speech patterns, speech modifiers, natural queries. When you’re dealing with community-generated content, you can give them guidelines, so to speak. You can give, “Hey, maybe the best way to describe your place is a certain kind of house. What kind of house is it?” or something. It sounds like, by giving the power to the people, so to speak, to communicate what they’re bringing to the table, that may foreshadow changes in search altogether.
Dennis Goedegebuure: Yeah. You’re talking about a massive scale there. The growth at Airbnb is phenomenal, but eBay was already at a scale where at any time of day, there were a 100 million items listed on the US site. You have 100,000 pages that have content on there that is all user-generated, with some specific unique items in there. You can think about years ago, when we had the grilled cheese sandwich with the Holy Mary on it.
Loren Baker: I remember that one. Actually, I got a lot of traffic to that on SEJ. Because that was probably what, 2004, 2005? It seemed like it was in the heyday of blogging.
Dennis Goedegebuure: I think it was earlier.
Tapping into Your Audience from a Content and Sharing/Conversation Perspective
Loren Baker: Yeah, that was trending on Google News. I was writing about a story a day about that grilled cheese sandwich because my blog posts would show up in Google News, which was in its infancy at the time as well, and that would drive mad traffic. I would get people commenting on my blog about the grilled cheese sandwich, but I don’t even know if there was the ability to comment on eBay at the time.
Dennis Goedegebuure: No.
Loren Baker: They would comment their thoughts on the grilled cheese sandwich on my blog, when I was just basically a conduit passing the Google user through my site onto eBay just to arbitrage that traffic a little bit, so to speak.
Dennis Goedegebuure: You probably had a link there, right?
Loren Baker: Oh yeah, but it wasn’t an affiliate link.
Dennis Goedegebuure: That’s what I mean. Those unique items all drive a lot of links to the platform, which drives a lot of your domain authority. One of my big, black spots in SEO is link building, because I didn’t have to link build for eBay, nor did I have to do it really for Airbnb, because look at all the unique properties on Airbnb where you can stay. Obviously, I would like to get more links because it still works, but I wouldn’t go after the link building strategies. That was also a blessing in disguise because I knew that from a very early stage on that the search engine would go after the link building strategies.
Yeah, that was about the two marketplaces. It’s a big opportunity for those companies to harness the power of the community to make sure that you educate them. As you grow, all those unique listings are content on your site, which will generate an SEO footprint which can drive a lot of traffic.
Loren Baker: Absolutely.
Dennis Goedegebuure: On the Fanatics side, it’s the fanatics that love their sports teams, right?
Loren Baker: Absolutely.
Producing Content That Mobilizes Communities and Loyal Groups
Dennis Goedegebuure: You could see the battles going on Twitter and on Facebook when somebody is beating somebody else’s team, and you’re poking the other fans and saying, “Hey, we’re beating you.” That is passion that goes really deep. I’m trying to tap into that.
Loren Baker: How do you tap into that passion? I’ve seen some of the stuff you’ve done with the maps and jersey sales per state. Did you do one on the different neighborhoods of Manhattan? It was an NBA jersey one?
Dennis Goedegebuure: Yes. We did a small video on NBA jersey sales in New York for the All-Star game where we looked at the different jerseys that were being sold in the different boroughs in New York, because the All-Star game was held in New York. You saw changes as different teams did better over the course of the season. You actually saw Stephen Curry coming up as one of the high-sales jerseys in New York, which is interesting.
Those kinds of things, we’re scratching the surface right now. I think we can do even more creative things with content around sales numbers, search numbers, and all those things, because a map of the most sales jersey across the US becomes boring pretty fast if you milk that story for four or five times.
The Challenges and Limitations of E-commerce Sites and Marketplaces
Loren Baker: On the user-generated marketplace side of things, you had the challenges and opportunities of directing the flow of links, the natural flow of links you would get to the site — the grilled cheese example, because that product expires. What you’re tapping into right now with the fan base at Fanatics, you have that fan base that is really craving for something to have a discussion around. Anyone that reads comments on ESPN or CBS Sports or anything knows that those folks are very, very passionate about their teams.
One thing you also touched upon was not needing much of an SEO linking strategy previously. It was harnessing the links that you were obtaining.
The one thing that I’ve definitely learned and seen over the years — there’s always been a content component to SEO. But ever since Penguin rolled out, the link builders became content marketers.
Short Sighted Content and Linking by SEOs … For SEO Goals Only
Loren Baker: I still feel that with a lot of the SEO-driven content marketing campaigns that I see out there, there is still that emphasis on the amount of links, the link authority it’ll obtain, obtaining the amount of links over the next number of months or so. In the grand scheme of things, if you’re talking about content marketing, this can be a little bit shortsighted, say, compared to a content campaign that a large brand, like a Cola-Cola or Airbnb, is rolling out over the course of a year. I hear that you’ve been working on some different approaches to that.
Dennis Goedegebuure: Yeah. Over the years that I did SEO, I had to rely on frameworks to explain it to people who don’t live and breathe SEO on a day-to-day basis. When I was at eBay, we developed the framework that could be used to explain it to all the levels in the organization. I presented to a lot of the engineers, to content people, to PR people, and to the whole executive staff of eBay: the CEO, CFO, and all the big honchos, so to speak. You really have to — I don’t want to say dumb it down — make it consumable for them to understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
Loren Baker: Shapes and acronyms usually come in very well when you’re doing that.
Dennis Goedegebuure: Yes. My acronym for that frameworks is LUMPS. It stands for links, URLs, meta tags, page content, and site map and site speed. They drive the most important concepts of SEO, which is discovery, how your content is getting discovered, because if you aren’t getting discovered by the crawlers you won’t get indexed, you won’t get ranked, and you won’t get any traffic. Then it’s relevancy: how relevant are you to the query of the users typing in?
Then, if you have multiple relevant content pieces, like documents so to speak, in the formal W3.org terminology, it comes down to the authority of the website. A brand like eBay has already brought a lot of authority to the table. Then again, you still need to tap into new pieces of content to build your authority in different spaces. As an example, I worked very closely with their PR and communications team years ago to establish eBay as one of the e-commerce mobile players in the market space. We had a consistent strategy around content, PR, product announcements, and product refreshes around mobile e-commerce.
Loren Baker: Positioning eBay to be a leader in mobile e-commerce while it was emerging meant that it was always top-of-mind for whoever was writing about that subject matter. Got you.
Dennis Goedegebuure: Yeah, exactly. I see SEO as the outcome of a very well-designed product. That means that it’s not only looking pretty, but it actually works from a UX perspective.
The Content Pyramid System and the Importance of Producing Foundational Content
Dennis Goedegebuure: Epic content is part of a new framework that I’ve developed over the course the last eight months on top of my LUMPS framework. I saw there was an opportunity for, specifically SEOs, to understand that if you create content, as long as you’re not adding value or changing the behavior of your consumer, it’s actually not valuable content. As content is changing behavior and you can start to have people act on it, it actually becomes content marketing.
Loren Baker: Got you. Let’s go over this framework a little bit, Dennis. How will we visualize this?
Dennis Goedegebuure: It’s a pyramid. It’s actually based on a framework that WPP brought into their arsenal of tools years ago called the ‘brand pyramid.’ The brand pyramid is built on the notion of, if you want to build a brand, you start at the bottom — the base — of your pyramid. You need to lay down a very strong foundation for your brand for people to even do a trial of your product. If you have a new brand, you would need to build that presence in the marketplace for people to notice you and to start trying your products out.
Loren Baker: You build the strong foundation, which is long lasting, tangible, and people will interact around it. Then where do you go from there?
Dennis Goedegebuure: As people move up in liking your brand and your products and the affinity for your brand is starting to build in them, they move up to the higher levels of the brand pyramid up to the moment that they’re at the top of the pyramid and they’re totally fanboys of your brand. They’re your ambassadors, and they will tell everybody that they know, and their friends, and their neighbors, and family how awesome your products are, and they don’t even consider using a different brand.
Loren Baker: Got you.
Dennis Goedegebuure: One example of such a brand is Apple, for instance. There are so many people who don’t even consider buying a Windows machine or an Android phone or anything that is not Apple. The higher people are at the brand pyramid, the bigger share of wallet you can capture from them in terms of their disposable incomes. There are people that consider buying an Apple iWatch for $15,000, the gold one, and that’s a big share of your disposable income, unless you are a sheikh in the Middle East or something.
Loren Baker: It’s interesting about Apple, too, that you bring that up. Apple’s a great example of laying down that foundation. They had their trials and tribulations, but there’s the 1984 Macintosh commercial that was really the turning point for them beyond the Apple IIe. I don’t know off the top of my head — the iPod, I’m thinking, came out or became popular in maybe 2001, 2002. You’re talking about 20 years between the time they broke the mold and become more than a library or a school computer. The iPod, to me, was the beginning of them developing that brand loyalty. It took time. All of the different changes internally aside, that takes time. You cannot do that overnight. You cannot build the top of the pyramid first, so to speak.
Dennis Goedegebuure: The top of the pyramid will fall over because you don’t have a strong foundation and the other layers that need to support the top.
I’ve been thinking, how can you create more SEO value or more of an impact through SEO with content that also builds your brand? Thinking through how you build a brand through that brand pyramid, it started to dawn on me that if you do content to be findable in search engines, that’s actually the lower level, your foundation of your brand pyramid. I created what I call the content brand pyramid: how to create a brand through SEO using content marketing with different layers of your content that appeal to different stages of your brand evolution.
You start with building a presence online, or a presence through your content. It’s not necessarily online — you can also start thinking about how you can apply this offline. “What kind of content do I want to have offline that starts to build that presence of my brand in the marketplace that people start to notice?”
For instance, with Airbnb, we created a lot of neighborhood guides in different cities, and the team launched this a week before I joined. Luckily I already signed my contract and stuff so I was pulled in within three weeks, and I was able to shine my light a little bit about the structural SEO technicalities of the platform. It was really a way to tap into this presence content piece that Airbnb was pursuing. At the time, they were looking at it from a local lens and “How can we apply our local knowledge to incentivize people to travel to a certain city?”
The problem with those neighborhood guides is that they were very well-designed and very visual and were ranking really well in the neighborhood name, but because we didn’t have a lot of presence content on there, we were not findable on any kind of long tail queries around these neighborhood names. What I created as a test case were a number of long-form articles in a certain city — Berlin, in this case — where we were talking about the history of the U-Bahn, what kind of food you can find in Berlin, and other landmarks like the television tower in Berlin. Obviously, the wall was a big topic. That was the foundation for our presence content, for our content brand pyramid.
Loren Baker: Actually, I was using some of the neighborhood guides from Airbnb in a recent presentation, and those guides are a great example of brand-driven content marketing because the example I was using was Echo Park in Los Angeles, and the neighborhood guides rank for a ton of terms: Echo Park, Echo Park bars, things to do in Echo Park, Echo Park restaurants. They’re not transactional terms that were being targeted.
It’s a very different way to think about SEO because it’s introducing the brand to the searcher who does not have transaction at top of mind, but through the funnel, they can land there. I’m not sure if you guys are doing this, but you could re-target to them afterwards if they were on that page, because you know they were looking at the Echo Park area.
Also with Berlin, I’m sure if I was to get online right new and just start searching for restaurants in Berlin and things to do while visit Berlin, and things like that, I would see those types of articles. You’re talking about a business becoming the Fodor’s, or the travel guide to the user upon their journey, which is excellent branding and positioning.
Incorporating Video, Infographics, and Written Content
Dennis Goedegebuure: Yeah. At Airbnb there is the concept of storyboarding that they do with every project that’s being planned. It needs to make one of the frames in their storyboards easier for the customer. They pictured every important part of the journey for the guest and the host, and they built frames around this where the neighborhood guides are obviously to drive top-of-funnel traffic: “Where do I want to go, and how do I get there, and what to bring?”
Then later, when you come to your destination, you’re going to explore the area where you’re staying so you would like to know what you need to look out for: what landmarks, are there museums that you would like to visit? If there is some local knowledge that’s not displayed online, you would like to know that.
Those frameworks are very helpful in determining what you’re going to work on. In this particular example, we used the presence layer as a foundation for a bigger content brand pyramid for Airbnb in Berlin, where last year it was its 25-year anniversary of the wall coming down.
Airbnb is very smart in doing studies about what the economic impact of their users is in certain cities around the world. This helps with talking to government bodies, to special interest groups. They print a report of around 40 pages, but they don’t publish it online. What I did is I took all the information, distilled it in a very simple form, and built an interactive infographic online for the Berlin Economic Impact Study, which links to the long-form articles on the neighborhood pages.
This is your next layer in the content brand pyramid, where through studies or data-sharing, you build a certain trust and authority in a market. If you present it in a very visual and appealing way, people like to consume that content, and journalists like to link to it, and you would like to share it on social sites.
On top of that, you can do some paid social media content amplification targeting those editors that you would like to see write about those pieces of content. You can think about writers that write on Smashing magazine because it’s a beautiful piece of artwork. We commissioned, actually, a designer from Berlin for the design of the infographic. That’s your next layer of the content brand pyramid. You might do the presence layer ongoing and publish content year-round.
The next layer you might do once a quarter, or one every month. It really depends on your budget and your ability to execute on these.
The top of the pyramid you would do once a year or twice a year. Big brands would do it once a quarter or even every month. Coca-Cola might have a new campaign every quarter, but it costs $40 million to produce and to execute it. This is what I call the top of the pyramid: EPIC content. Again, with acronyms, EPIC stands for: it needs to be engaging, because people would love to share it; it needs to be profitable to drive your business; it needs to be informational, so you cannot fluff things together — you need to actually have sources to reference; and it needs to be culturally relevant. People love cultural relevant items.
Loren Baker: Engaging, profitable, informational, and culturally relevant.
Dennis Goedegebuure: Yes.
Loren Baker: Love it.
Dennis Goedegebuure: That’s what I say EPIC content stands for. For the 25-year anniversary of the wall last year, we had an epic story that brings goose bumps to my arms every time I speak about it.
Loren Baker: Funny enough, mine too. The last time I watched the video, I can just feel it. I’m not even from Europe.
Dennis Goedegebuure: Yeah. We had a story submitted to one of our senior staff members years ago. It has been told a lot of times, but because it was so culturally relevant, we decided to make an animated film about it. It’s a story about a former West Berlin wall guard who was psychologically damaged by walking the wall and being indoctrinated by the fact that the other side was bad. He moved away to Denmark, married, got a daughter, and was never able to shrug off the feeling that he had walking the wall. At one point, his daughter decided to bring him back to Berlin and show him what kind of place it had become.
She booked an Airbnb in East Berlin to showcase that it’s actually a really nice place, and people from East Berlin are people too, and we can all live together now. They come to the Airbnb, and the person who was bringing the key for the owner started talking about their purpose of the trip, and it actually happened that he used to be a guard at the wall as well but on the east side. They started talking, compared notes, dates, and places, and it was the exact time on the wall that they were both guards, similar routes that they walked, and they became through the conversation very friendly to each other. It opened up a whole new world for the former east wall guard.
Loren Baker: It’s amazing.
Dennis Goedegebuure: Because this is something that was not captured in the film, the East German guard actually travelled through Europe on his bicycle and stayed at people’s homes. How good is that for a company that tries to open everybody’s homes to stay in?
It was an amazing story, and I saw the potential while talking to Marcus Tandler in February. I had to shop this around within the company, and as soon as Airbnb hired a new CMO from Coca-Cola, Jonathan Mildenhall, and I pitched this to him, he said, “Yeah, we need to do something with this because it’s such a good piece of content, and executed well, you have the potential of earning a disproportional amount of media coverage in a very cultural moment, and be part of the conversation, while not forcing yourself into the conversation. People like to share this.”
As you see, there are similarities between the content brand pyramid and the brand pyramid. In the brand pyramid, at the top, you earn a disproportional amount of the share of the wallet. In the content brand pyramid, you earn a disproportional amount of media coverage and time and engagement of people online, which would result in better SEO through media coverage, links in that coverage, the conversation that is happening, etc.
Loren Baker: You came in during the neighborhood guide program three weeks before launch and had the ability to make sure things were sound from a technical SEO perspective to make sure there’s going to be benefit from all this. Great story. By the way — the Berlin wall video — what’s the proper name for that video short by the way?
Dennis Goedegebuure: Wall and Chain.
Loren Baker: Oh yes, Wall and Chain. The animation quality on that was amazing. When I first watched it I was thinking, “Wow, this is Oscar Short Animated Film quality material right here.” Not everyone can do this, but if you have a smaller budget, you still can make sure that you’re putting out something of quality. It only takes your time to be able to give a designer a direction or put together a storyboard or make sure it all really makes sense at the end of the day. Whether you’re a start-up or a mid-level sized business, or a larger company, it is quite possible to pull this off at different levels.
Dennis Goedegebuure: Yeah. I was privileged to work with a guy like Jonathan, who came from Coke and brought in his contacts, because we worked with a top-notch animation studio, Psyop, in New York and a very, very good advertising agency in Berlin. We wanted to work with a local agency, VCCP. He brought in his network, which we could rely on. Again, the animation is full with details that live and breathe our values and the brand. It was a very interesting project to work on.
Bundling It All Together to Make Sure That the Site Is Benefiting from an SEO, Marketing and Branding Perspective
Dennis Goedegebuure: You bring up a very good point. If you put out a piece of content that beautiful — and it’s like where you say almost an Oscar-winning short movie — you have the ability to submit it to awards as well, which would get you another round of media attention and possibilities of bringing it back to the audience and building your brand through this content.
As you connect the top of the pyramid to the lower levels of the pyramid, all that trust and authority that you gain with a piece of content like that, as it’s being talked about, written about, will flow to the lower levels of your pyramid and only strengthen the whole pyramid by itself and make those long-form articles on the neighborhood platform pop even more.
Loren Baker: It’s even amazing how that works, because one thing that I’ve always struggled with being an SEO consultant or a content marketing consultant or whatever you want to call it, is being able to bring all of the pieces to the table to make sure that, “Hey, SEO is in on this, but is social in on this too? And what about PR — do they know this is coming up? How about your email newsletter list?” When all of that comes together, when the SEO-driven content is communicated throughout the rest of the company, sometimes this takes more time, as well. It can take three, four months to get all this together.
One recent campaign that I was working on that comes to mind is for a retailer, and we basically did a piece on customizing your clothes, customizing your jeans, because we saw that that was extremely popular amongst their consumer market. What happened was there was that initial push from the site and outreach to influencers. Then social loved the concept so much when they shared it throughout their own social channels, they had some of the highest interaction that they’ve ever had on Facebook, even Instagram. What’s happened over time is that even almost a year after putting out that content, it’s ranking across the board in Google, and new people are finding it. New influencers are finding it. It’s getting new shares. It’s getting new inbound links. And it’s getting new traffic.
Really, at the end of the day, it’s a testament that taking the time to make sure all of that was put together and there was really plan and strategy behind it. That’s why, going back to what I was saying earlier about SEO and link building, is that sometimes it’s like, “Hey, we need to get this many links, what do we do?” But sometimes it’s, “Hey, let’s sit back and look at the big picture, and how can we all work together to make sure that you’re not only obtaining links that are possibly helping you from a SEO perspective, but more so, the traffic and storytelling that’s going to help you for the eternity of your brand and building upon that?”
Dennis Goedegebuure: I’m going to set up a new site that explains the whole concept around the content brand pyramid. It’s going to be onContentBrandPyramid.com. I will explain how I got to this framework based on the earlier-mentioned LUMPS framework. I’m going to collect examples where I see this happening in our industry, and I’m going to give the opportunity to readers as well to submit their own stories and see if we can collect a lot of content brand pyramids along the way. Maybe we can even develop additional frameworks on top of this.
What I’m really focused on is building a framework that works for additional people and see how this can help build brands online through search, through social, and through content marketing.
Loren Baker: Fabulous. Thanks so much, Dennis,for joining us here today on Search & Deploy. Be in touch soon.
Dennis Goedegebuure: Yeah, for sure.
Loren Baker: Thanks again. It’s always pleasure talking to you. I’m sure if we had the chance, we could talk all day, especially if it was in a gazebo over a couple of beers. Yeah, thanks again. Again, DennisG with Fanatics.
Dennis Goedegebuure: Thank you, Loren.