Link thinking

A common assumption made in the SEO world is that links are a key ranking factor (and they are). But Jon Cooper thinks through the assumption, with some useful thought-bytes from industry luminaries. (And BTW good to be reading a blog post from Jon again – it’s been a while.)

From his conclusion:

Tomorrow is not a guarantee. As we’ve seen, Google can move very quickly. With that said, even if Google decided this very morning to move away from links as a significant factor, I highly doubt they could make a major change within a ~12-18 month timeframe, just because links are so foundational to their search engine.


The real threat is more foundational than links. Justin Briggs explained it best in his response earlier. The aspect of ranking a page organically in Google’s results has slowly declined in value, both because of other SERP features & search ads. There’s still a ton of money to be made, but we should work like we’re living on borrowed time.

Organic is just one channel in your inbound marketing – don’t rely on it too much… borrowed time indeed.

When a Team Member Dies

The technology world lost a wonderful writer and highly respected thought leader recently – Kerry Butters.

Kerry Butters passed away on 23 February 2016 after a short battle with cancer.

I had the pleasure of working with Kerry since early 2013 – she was a pivotal member of the XEN team and a wonderful guide to me personally. I’ve written a post over on the XEN blog covering her achievements and amazing contributions. In this post I wanted to mention a few personal items that probably wouldn’t have been relevant in that post.

At XEN we have a core team of 6, plus a number of other freelance and casual team members all working together on a ton of different projects with our customers.

XEN is a remote company – that is, we rarely (if ever) meet each other in person – most of our communication is via email, Skype, Slack and a bunch of other collaboration tools. This might seem strange to you if you’ve not worked in that situation, but if you investigate a little you’ll find it is reasonably common, especially in technology companies, and becoming much more the norm.

Being a remote company has its advantages and disadvantages. This post isn’t about exploring those, but I will highlight one key advantage: the chance to work with world-class people that you wouldn’t otherwise get the opportunity to.

Kerry is a perfect example. I worked with her closely over the last 3 years, all remotely. I never actually met her in person. She was based in the UK and everything we did was via email, Skype and other tools.

It’s thanks to our remote setup (and these tools) that we could meet and work together. And what a privilege it has been for me (and for XEN).

As a general rule I’m very slow to process my feelings. Michele often jokes that it takes me a day to decide if I want anything from the fridge (when she asks while she has the door open). But it’s true. I often don’t know how I feel about something until a week or two later.

When Martin (Kerry’s husband) emailed me to tell me the devastating news about Kerry passing, I was shocked. Although we knew she wasn’t well (Martin had been keeping us updated regularly on her treatment) the speed at which she went was a complete shock. In the space of a few short months she had gone from healthy to peaceful passing. But even now, 3 weeks later, I think it is only just starting to register. The notion that I won’t talk with her again. That we won’t discuss technology ideas again. That we won’t be able to help solve a customer problem together again.

There’s always a big hole left when someone dies, but when you’ve only ever corresponded with them online, and never actually met them in person, there’s a different kind of void. It’s as if it is only temporary… as if they’re offline for a bit and they’ll be back any day now…

Which makes dealing with it delayed, and difficult to process. I think perhaps I’ve avoided thinking about it. As if denial will make it easier. As I write this post Kerry’s photo and bio still sits on the XEN About page. What should I do about that? What is the protocol – should I remove her, should I add a note that she is no longer with us, should I just leave it as-is for now… I don’t know.

Death brings other things as well – sadly, it is only now that I’ve learnt of some of Kerry’s personal challenges and some of her quietly downplayed yet amazing achievements. Martin covers them beautifully in his tribute to Kerry. It’s only now that I have a fuller picture of just how much she achieved in so short a space of time. And, perhaps most strikingly it is only now that I learnt that she was younger than me. In all our discussions over the last 3+ years I just assumed she was older than me – she had a wisdom and worldly understanding that belied her age.

Kerry was incredibly smart, hard working, thoughtful and caring. She had initiative, drive and attention to detail. She was taken from us far too soon, and we are much the poorer because of it. I miss her more each day.

HubShots – Aussie HubSpot Podcast

Lately I’ve been working on a new project with my friend Ian Jacob. Together we co-host a new HubSpot focussed podcast called HubShots.

There’s 6 episodes available so far (and two more recorded and currently being edited).

If you’re interested in inbound marketing, content marketing and HubSpot, then I think you’ll really like the podcast. We’re aiming for 30 minutes or less for each episode, and include a bunch of action items in each as well – so there’s something useful you can try right away.

Have a listen here. We’re also on iTunes, Stitcher and Soundcloud.

Would love to know what you think.

Telstra Pricing

I’ve been in the US for the last two weeks. Before I left I purchased a Telstra 14 Day Travel Pass. It worked out well, because it ran out when I was at the airport about to head home.

Here’s the text message I got (the second message is the item of interest):

Telstra notification

Basically, since I was a Travel Pass customer I was going to now pay 3c per MB. At this price I’m assuming Telstra still makes some profit.

Which means that if you are a Data Pack customer, and thus forced to pay $3 per MB (ie 100 times as much as a Travel Pass customer) then Telstra is well and truly fucking you over.


Sitting in Judgement

Imagine you are a passenger in a plane that is starting its takeoff approach. You are accelerating down the runway when the left engine catches on fire. The pilot heroically brings the plane to a rapid halt and commences the emergency evacuation procedures. There is heat, and fire, and smoke. People are panicking.

You are in the plane, perhaps in a middle row, with an exit 10 rows ahead, and 10 rows behind. For the moment you are trapped in the rush to the exits.

What do you do?

The answer: unless you’ve been in that situation before, you have absolutely no idea what you would do.

  • Perhaps you are incredibly calm, clearly recalling the safety demonstration from a few minutes earlier.
  • Or perhaps you are stressing out.
  • Perhaps you are choking.
  • Perhaps you are convinced you are going to die.
  • Perhaps you see that the people ahead are starting to move out of the plane and perhaps you think you may make it out after all.
  • Perhaps you take your shoes off.
  • Perhaps you even grab your luggage.
  • Perhaps you get out and have no idea what you even did, or how you made it out.

Thankfully the emergency that happened in Las Vegas a day ago was contained, and apart from some minor injuries to 14 passengers, no one was hurt. It was a good outcome.

But that hasn’t prevented some quick judgements from the Twitter doucherati, watching from the safety of their arm chairs.

Whilst most observers were praising the pilot’s responsive actions, and celebrating the safe evacuation of all passengers, here’s some comments from others:

Click through to those tweets and read the reply threads too – they get worse. And some even have follow up tweets where they ‘helpfully’ give ‘advice’ about the proper way to conduct oneself when in a plane that has an exploding engine. Thanks! I’ll bet those passengers are so thankful for the free advice they’re receiving.

I can imagine their conversations with loved ones later when asked how they are feeling:

‘well, the day started pretty badly, I was in a plane that caught on fire and had an emergency landing. I made it out safely in the end, but it was harrowing, and I thought for a minute there I was going to die…’

‘…but it’s OK, just after that some people on Twitter who had no idea whatsoever of what happened in the plane very helpfully provided me with an analysis of my evacuation process, and went the extra mile to generously prepare some advice for me to take on board for the next time it happens. So all in all it wasn’t such a bad day…’

The kindness of strangers.

HubSpot is the Starbucks of Marketing

I had a realisation last night about HubSpot, my agency, and my mindset.

I’m in Boston at the moment, attending Inbound 2015. The conference kicked off yesterday, and I spent most of it in agency training courses (my company is a HubSpot partner agency). We’ve been a HubSpot partner for approximately 2 years now, and although we love HubSpot, most of our clients are still non-HubSpot users. I was prompted to consider why this might be…

HubSpot: The Inbound Marketing Franchise

The realisation I had is that HubSpot is a franchise model of being a marketing agency, and I haven’t embraced that model as yet.

Although from an outside perspective HubSpot is just a software company, in reality their company is much more. They are predominantly a framework for online marketing (branded by them as ‘inbound marketing’) and the software is the glue that beautifully enables that framework.

Franchises are inherently good things. And they are extremely successful in almost every industry, whether it’s food, lawn mowing, legal services, accounting, etc.

For the purposes of this posts I’m going to use a food analogy, and consider marketing agencies to be cafes.

There’s essentially two types of cafes: there’s the owner run boutique cafe, and there’s the chain cafes such as Starbucks.

If you’ve been running a marketing agency (or digital agency, or online agency, or however you want to refer to it) for a while, then you’re the cafe owner.

  • You probably started with a specific skill (mine was SEO, yours might have been web design) which made you the head barista of the cafe. You make a great coffee.
  • You have staff that help with other areas (eg Facebook) who are helping to grow the light snack side of your cafe.
  • You work very hard in the business and you get a bunch of referral customers.
  • You love your cafe, and look forward to getting there each morning
  • You have plans to grow your cafe operations – perhaps opening new stores one day
  • Your cafe probably has one cash register…

None of this is bad. In fact it’s wonderful. It gives you purpose, and your customers love your custom coffee blends.

But there’s a tension building. Because you’ve seen the chain coffee shops popping up and you’ve been impressed by the software they use to run their POS terminals, inventory tracking, and customer reward programs.

In fact, you’ve been so impressed with their software that you’ve actually started using it in your own cafe.

And it’s started to make a difference to things. You can see what customers are ordering the most, how they interact, and you’ve even started ‘engaging’ with them further and increasing repeat business. You can see a lot of potential here.

In fact you even attend the annual conference of this big coffee chain and sign up to be a partner.

As part of being a partner you learn that the coffee chain has a comprehensive framework for seamlessly running their chain stores. It’s an entire framework for running every single little part of the business. And it is very successful.

Getting stuck

But back at your own cafe you still want to keep most things the way they’ve already been. Sure, you’ll add a few of the learnings from the coffee chain partner conference, and perhaps you’ll start promoting some of their coffee ideas to your customers. But overall you’re keeping things mostly the same.

And that’s why you are stuck.

In many ways, if you were starting from scratch today, it would be much easier. Just embrace the whole Starbucks franchise and you are on your way. You’d likely be more successful in a short space of time than the artisan cafe owner will ever be.

But if you’ve been a cafe owner for a while, its a big step to take. There’s going to be lots of changes. Your daily activities will change. Staff may need to be changed. Your customer base will definitely change. And that’s scary. It’s uncomfortable. And easy to avoid for now.

Time to decide

You can’t be both a custom cafe and a Starbucks at the same time. You need to decide and pick one. And if you decide to be a Starbucks then you need to embrace the inevitable changes. You’ll lose some of your customers – the ones who had specially tailored, unique coffees that no one else had. And you’ll miss them.

So, where to next?

This post is a note to myself. Just writing this down is getting it clear in my mind.

At the moment I’m thinking through the next steps for my agency. Where we want to go, who we want as clients, how we want to grow.

And this tension is key for me. On one hand I want to be the head barista, but on the other I want to be the franchise owner. There are difficult decisions ahead as I work through this. What’s best for me, my staff, my clients.

But there’s also a huge amount of relief just writing this – I finally understand the tension. And the clear positive out of all this, is that I realise the choice is totally mine.


Epilogue: What is Quality Anyway?

There’s tons of problems with the analogy above of course, especially for Australians like me.

1: The obvious problem is that Australians are coffee snobs and consider Starbucks coffee to be (using the technical term): shit. But for the sake of this post you need to ignore that personal taste bit – otherwise it’s going to totally distract you from the main point I was trying to make above.

Aside: But is it really shit coffee?

Seth Godin reminded us last night that quality is defined as ‘meeting specification’. So, if you think a particular coffee is low quality (to put it kindly), then you really need to ask what the specification was. Because your specification might be different to other people’s. This has to be the case – how else could you explain why Starbucks has been so successful everywhere except Australia?

The key would be to get the specification right for Australia.

2: The other main problem with the analogy is that it might make it sound like all marketing agencies are the same.

But that’s not the case at all. In fact, HubSpot stress the need to differentiate and position your agency. If I were to labour the Starbucks analogy it would be like saying you need to work out if you are the niche Starbucks for lawyers, or B2B businesses, or mid-size companies, etc. The framework and process is all the same, but the strategy and targeting is tailored.

But at this point I think I’ll stop – I’ve flogged this analogy to death, and I need to sleep now.

HubSpot APAC Tour NYC

I’ve just arrived in Boston for the HubSpot Inbound 2015 conference after spending the last 4 days in New York.

Conferences can be funny things for me. My usual experience is it takes me a few days to warm up (ie for the introvert in me to thaw) and by then the conference is almost over. Just as I’m starting to get friendly, and positive, and motivated, it’s time to go.

Which is why the pre-Boston ‘tour’ of New York organised by the HubSpot Asia-Pac team has been soooo good.

I arrived in New York last Thursday night, and had almost two days to myself to recover from the flight (I was really sick with a cold in the lead up to flying so I was pretty wasted and grumpy by the time I finally got here). Then on Saturday night things kicked off with drinks organised by Niti, Ryan and the rest of the Australian office team. Here’s a few of us at SkyBar:

I met a bunch of new people from Sydney, Melbourne & Brisbane as well as India and New Zealand.

It seems strange in some ways to come all the way to NY in order to meet fellow Australian HubSpot users, but this in many ways is the genius of the HubSpot ‘tour’ idea. Not that I attend tons of conferences, but of the ones I’ve attended over the last 20-25 years, there’s always been a slight disconnect – a feeling of being a stranger or outsider. Even attending Inbound last year I had to work really hard in order to make any connections. I’m never a fan of networking, and I find the effort of meeting new people exhausting.

This time it is different. Following drinks, the next day (Sunday) involved sessions on marketing (with an APAC focus), as well as a fantastic dinner at a restaurant in Times Square. There were 50 or so of us there. And then additional sessions on Monday. (I left early to catch the Amtrak over to Boston – highly recommended btw.)

The HubSpot team have done really well with this pre-conference tour. The small group, personal touch approach has worked very effectively. By the end of it yesterday I felt really ‘warm‘. I was experiencing that ‘glow’ that normally comes at the end of a conference. But I was experiencing it now, right at the start of the main Inbound conference. It starts today! (I’m writing this on the morning of the 8th September).

A big shout out to Niti Shah, Ryan Bonnici, Lauren and Madison from HubSpot for organising and running the event, as well as Matt Kesby and Christy Tan in particular for their sessions.

First World Reflections

I was waiting in line to talk to the concierge in the hotel yesterday (I’m currently in New York as I write this).

I was third in line, and the line was starting to grow behind me.

Up ahead in first place, hijacking the concierge was a father and his daughter. I’d guess she was 11 or 12, but I was behind them so couldn’t really tell.

I couldn’t hear the conversation with the concierge but from what I could make out it involved discussing some activities they wanted to plan in the city during their stay.

The father was explaining the options to his daughter and then conferring with the concierge, and then again with his daughter.

And it was taking ages. And by ages I mean well past 10 minutes, perhaps even heading towards 15. You know, ludicrous.

What the hell is he doing? In my mind I was getting pretty angry with this guy, starting to frown, roll my eyes, staring daggers, that kind of thing. I mean, it’s just so inconsiderate. Right?

Finally they were finishing up and had sorted out their agenda. A last quick confirmation with his daughter, the father thanked the concierge, they turned to leave, and started heading off, walking back down the queue and past me.

And then we all noticed that the daughter was severely handicapped. As she trudged past us dragging her left leg and tightly holding her father’s hand, her eyes enormous as they peered through the huge corrective lenses in her glasses, her face was beaming with a massive smile that couldn’t wait to start the day’s now planned adventures…

I felt the hot flush of shame and the angel of self realisation cupped his hands around my right ear and gently whispered ‘you’re an asshole – you know that right?’

But then the arch-angel of self reflection perched on my left shoulder and whispered in my other ear ‘but it’s even worse that you only felt that shame because she’s like that‘.

15 minutes of waiting. In a luxury hotel. On a business junket. Such a first world problem.

Twitter: The poster child of technology inefficiency

You should read this post from Eugene Wei (no really, go read it) and consider it in terms of inefficiency.

Think back to when Twitter first started. By the time you and I were getting involved, it’s likely the need for the SMS limited character limitation was long gone. Only the earliest of early adopters would have actually been around when it was in fact needed.

But the character limitation was there, which was why a whole bunch of work-arounds started appearing. The first was the url shortener movement.

Result: Twitter was imposing unnecessary barriers that other companies (eg then created tools (and entire businesses) to overcome. Here’s what I said about it in 2009. So inefficient. And costly.

Url shorteners went on to make up for some of the inefficiency by enabling click analysis and reporting, so it wasn’t all bad of course. But it doesn’t necessarily mean it was the right path (since reporting could have been implemented in other ways, and much more efficiently).

And that brings us back to Eugene’s article where he so beautifully paints[1] the picture of an inefficient product going from bad to worse.

The inefficiency highlights so far:

  • impose length limitation and keep it (for no good reason)
  • URL shorteners become popular to allow long links to be included in tweets
  • tweet storms used as a way to write longer updates
  • messy reply threading not understood by most people
  • screenshorts now becoming common as another way of writing longer updates

Soooo inefficient.

[1] Note: Eugene’s post, whilst certainly discussing the merits of potentially removing the character limit, isn’t necessarily focussed on that – he has other key points around the larger picture of Twitter’s strategy that he covers really well.

HubSpot Shenanigans

I’m in New York at the moment, for a HubSpot Asia Pacific meetup, before heading to Boston on Monday to attend Inbound 2015. It’s going to fun.

But I can’t help wondering how many distractions there are going to be at the conference. Take for example the latest news on the Mike Volpe saga, now looking to be a federal investigation (yes, always good to FBI into the headline). The news broke a month or two ago, but the timing of this latest update (3 days before the conference begins) is likely not happy news for the HubSpot team.

But that’s not going to be the main distraction. What’s going to be really interesting is the timing of the HubSpot keynote on Wednesday. The conference agenda has HubSpot founders Brian Halligan and Darmesh Shah take the stage at 2:45pm Boston time on Wed 9th. Which will be 11:45am in San Francisco. Where the Apple iPhone 6s event will be in full swing, and probably just getting to the part where Tim Cook and Craig Federighi (hopefully) are revealing the latest specs (or at least confirming what Mark Gurman has noted).

Should be interesting. I’m predicting that the wifi being provided at the HubSpot event is 90% bogged down with Apple related viewing.