- Keeping track of your competitors’ marketing efforts can give you a strategic advantage (or at least keep you from being blindsided)
- Creating great content is key to successful web marketing
- Creating great content is reliant on having a constant stream of relevant, creative new ideas
- Finding the people who care about your subject is the first step toward building lasting relationships
Required Tools & Resources
- Google Reader (or another RSS feed reader)
- Google Alerts
Now that you have the (free!) tools in place for listening to the web, you’ll also need to know the following to maximize the value of your Google Reader feed:
- An actionable list of the keywords important to your industry that the content will be targeting
- A list of your industry’s leading news sites and your top competitors
- An actionable strategy that defines the purpose behind using this technique. In order to determine the feeds to monitor, you’re going to first need to know why you want to monitor them. Will you be monitoring your competitors? Looking for mentions of your brand? These are all important factors in determining the feeds to keep your eyes on.
Using Google Reader
We’ll use an example Google Reader feed we set up for a local photo lab to guide you through the process:
The Google reader layout is pretty simple (as you can see in the image above): the left-hand side of the screen includes all of your subscriptions (blog feeds, Twitter searches and Google Alerts) organized in folders of your choosing. The right portion of the screen displays all the latest posts from the subscription you’ve selected on the left. Now you can view all of your industry’s blog posts and keywords from one place!
To fully utilize Google Reader, you’re going to need to plug RSS feeds into it. There are a number of great ways to find these feeds in your industry, but first you’re going to need to find the sites these feeds are housed on. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Perform a Google search for the words “KEYWORD Blog” to find specific blogs about your keywords.
- Perform a Google search using the query “Best * INDUSTRY Blogs” – there will be more on the use of the * wildcard in search later, but this will help you find top blogs in your industry. Here’s an example of that search.
- Simply go to your competitors’ sites and find their blogs or news sections.
Now that you have a number of websites you want to track, you can find their RSS feeds by looking for an RSS icon or trying to zero in on the feed’s URL. The RSS icon will typically be orange and have a small circle with two waves coming off it to the right (examples below). If there isn’t an icon you can typically find the RSS feed by adding “/feed” to the blog’s main URL. For example on our blog, our feed is located at http://www.optimaworldwide.com/blog/feed.
Copy the feed’s URL and open back up Google Reader to subscribe to the feed. Simply click on the big “Subscribe” button and paste the URL for the feed you just copied into the little box that pops up. Click “Add” and you are now subscribed to that feed!
You’re not quite done though – you’ll want to organize the feeds better into logical folders to make interpreting them much easier. Hover over a feed that has been added to Reader and click the little black down arrow that appears to the right. Then, click “New Folder…” from the menu options that appear and name your folder. For subsequent feeds, you can follow the same process but select to place them in the folder(s) you just created so you’re not creating a new folder for each feed.
There is no right way to organize your feeds into folders, but here are a couple recommendations:
- Folders by Channel – create a separate folder for social channels, blog feeds, videos, Q&A sites, etc.
- Folders by Objective – create a separate folder for each keyword target, and separate feeds for monitoring customers and competitors.
How to Use Google Alerts
You can do so much more than just monitor blog and website RSS feeds with this tool. Using Google Alerts, we can monitor new mentions of your keywords in close to real-time. From Google Alerts, just enter a keyword and you can create an RSS feed of all the content Google finds for that keyword!
We recommend you begin by setting up alerts for your brand (company name, product names, etc), your people (owner, CEO, etc), and your competitors. Use the preview feature to make sure everything you’re seeing is relevant and have it deliver to “feed,” which can then be added to Google Reader. We also strongly recommend monitoring “video” as a result type for your top keywords, as video is a huge part of an effective content marketing strategy.
Tips for Finding the Right Keywords with Google
We’re about to get a little technical, but the value you get out of Google Alerts will be directly proportional to the quality of the keywords you put into it. Using the following advanced search techniques within Google, you can create highly relevant feeds (each example below is linked to a demonstration of the search on Google):
- Experiment with Google search queries with and without including quotation marks around the term. Sometimes doing broad searches without quotation marks can lead to some oddball, unrelated results:
- Using the * key produces a wildcard in your search query that will bring in any search queries including your query plus any word in place of the wildcard. For example, searching for “Top * photography blogs” will result in finding blog posts like “top 50 photography blogs” or “top 15 kansas city wedding photography blogs”.
- Using the ~ key will find all synonyms for your entered search query. Please not that this does not work for search queries inside quotation marks. For example, “~Professional travel ~photos” could replace “professional” with a term like “pro” and “photos” with a term like “pictures” or “photographs” in the results.
- Using the terms OR & AND along with parentheses as a grouping device will help zero in your search results. For example, “(“photo lab” OR “color lab” OR “photography lab”) AND (Chicago OR dallas)” will display results on any of the three variations of “photo lab” in the first grouping that also include the words “Chicago” or “Dallas”.
- Play around with all the combinations above using trial and error. This is ultimately the best way to find relevant feeds.
- Using the – key will help you disqualify certain terms from your feed. For example, ““photo printing” -desktop -inkjet -free” will display all mentions of the word “photo printing” but will also make sure none of the results will be about desktop or inkjet printing or free printing services. This is great for getting rid of other industries that may use your keywords in a different context. Use some caution when using this search tactic as in the search above you may actually want to know when a competitor releases a “free” service. You can also filter out certain sites from showing up in your feed by using “-site:examplewebsite.com”. This way if you notice a junk site show up occasionally, you can remove it.
How to Monitor Twitter
Don’t forget to monitor your competitors and customers on Twitter as well. While Tweetdeck and Hootsuite are also great tools for this type of monitoring, we can use our Google Reader account to keep everything in one place!
This is about to get a little technical again, but once you learn the basic URL structure involved in turning a twitter search into an RSS feed, it’s quite simple. Here’s the basic pattern for all Twitter search RSS feeds:
Just put your search term in the URL instead of “YOURKEYWORDS” as the above shows and them paste the URL into the Google Reader “subscribe” field just as you would any other RSS feed. Much like with advanced Google search techniques though, there’s much more you can do with Twitter searches to make them more focused:
- Find all tweets that mention a twitter account or were tweeted out by that account by using this URL structure: http://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q=from:hhcolorlab%20OR%20@hhcolorlab – take note that the browser adds “%20” to the URL in place of spaces and that this is completely normal.
- Narrow your search results so that they focus on a location using this URL structure (great for local businesses – use http://itouchmap.com/latlong.html to find longitude and latitude): http://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q=wedding+photos&geocode=38.966673,-94.6169012,70km
- Remove all Retweets and links from your results by adding “-rt” and “-filter:link “ to the end of your URLs
- Search Twitter by hashtag using the following URL structure (just replace “photog” with your hashtag): http://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q=%23photog
How to Monitor Facebook
Despite being far more limited than Google Alerts and Twitter searches, you can still monitor Facebook to build your web marketing campaigns. The main Facebook item you can monitor this way is any business’s branded page. Creating an RSS feed of the branded pages is simple to do as long as you can have the page’s Facebook ID and paste it into this URL structure: https://www.facebook.com/feeds/page.php?format=rss20&id=57676989295
Simply replace the ending of the above URL (57676989295) with the page’s Facebook ID by finding it one of two ways:
- Click the big profile image on the company’s Facebook page and zero in on the URL. In that big mess of characters, isolate the set of numbers that follow the last period in the URL.
- If you have any Facebook friends that Like the page, right-click on the link (example picture below) and select to open it in a new window. The URL of this new window will include the new parameter “page_id” with the page ID right after it like this: https://www.facebook.com/browse/friended_fans_of/?page_id=57676989295
Now just take that feed URL and pop it right into Google reader!
How to Monitor Q&A Sites
Before you begin monitoring Q&A sites, it’s a great idea to brainstorm the types of questions your potential customers may be asking. What types of questions and keywords are people going to use when they’re in need of your product to solve their problems? We can use all of the knowledge used in this article above to monitor popular Q&A sites for just these types of queries. Here’s an example search for questions about DSLR cameras:
DSLR (site:quora.com OR site:answers.yahoo.com OR site:linkedin.com/answers OR site:wiki.answers.com OR site:askville.amazon.com OR site:fluther.com OR site:answers.com OR site:trueknowledge.com OR site:answerbag.com)
Add and subtract websites from the query as you see fit. Your industry may have a Q&A site devoted to it that you’ll want to add, or maybe Yahoo Answers dominates your feed with too much unrelated junk that you need to remove.
Making Sense of All These Feeds
You’ve pretty much just taken the entire internet and distilled it down to only the parts that are relevant to your industry, so the options are pretty much limited, but we’re going to focus on how you can use it to generate popular (and successful) ideas for your web marketing campaigns.
Using an amazing process developed by Ian Lurie of Portent Interactive, we can take every word of the posts and tweets from your feeds and compile it to determine what all the content in your Google reader actually means, and how we can learn from it to aid our marketing efforts.
Once you have folders filled with feeds in Google Reader, mouse over a folder and click the little arrow that appears to the right. From the menu that pops up, select “Create a bundle” and save it with a name that sets it apart from your other bundles. We’ve essentially just created a master RSS feed of all the other feeds in that folder!
Next, click “Add a Link to your website or blog” on your bundle and then copy the URL of the “Atom feed” that it spits out.
Here’s where it starts to get fun: paste that Atom feed URL into the Portent-created N-Gramanator to pull out the terms that recur most in your bundle. Give the app a second to work its magic, and then you’ll be presented with the most common keyword and two-and-three-word phrases that are in your bundle!
By default, the Atom feed URL will only include the 20 most recent feed entries, so we recommend adding “?n=75” to the end of the Atom feed URL to bring in more sources of data. If you notice that there’s a lot of unrelated noise, you may also need to narrow your feeds’ queries a bit.
From this list of popular keywords and phrases floating around your industry at the moment, we can start to create an actionable strategy by…
- Spotting trending topics
- Planning blog posts, Tweets, videos and more around what’s hot
- Learning about new areas of your industry you may not be familiar with to remain an expert in your field
- Keeping up with your industry in general – conferences, speaking opportunities, new technology, scandals, legal issues, etc.
The keyword lists are especially great for coming up with blog posts. Here are a few we can make based on the list above:
- School Photography Posing Guide
- Wedding Close-up Photography Tips
- Photography Wall Displays
- Top 10 Photography Business Tips
- The Best SLR Cameras
- The Most Popular DSLR Camera Reviewed
All of this information can also be distilled visually for those of us that don’t just want to scour a boring list all day long. Copy all of that raw text below the list in the N-Gramanator results:
Paste it into a word cloud creator like Wordle or tagxedo:
Look at how much easier that is to decipher! This visual representation can quickly persuade a busy boss that you’re targeting the right trends in your industry with your content.
With Google reader and the processes mentioned above, you can become an expert at listening to the web in a relatively short amount of time. Everything is in one place and easy to scour daily to help inform your marketing efforts within your industry. At Optima, our folders of feeds each have a distinct focus (brand mentions, competitors, industry blogs, Q&A) and are checked two times a day to help with our clients’ web marketing needs. We’ve also created a few broad folders with basic keywords that help us with general brainstorming in the industry.
Harness Google Reader correctly and it can fuel a large part of your content marketing strategy! How do you plan on using all this newfound power to monitor the web?
Kyle Claypool is the founder of Optima Worldwide, a Kansas City web marketing agency. I saw him write on this topic elsewhere and nagged him until he agreed to contribute to the V3 blog. I do so have a way with people. Kyle writes and speaks on the subject of SEO and he also represented the United States as the US Technical Expert at the WorldSkills Website Design competition in London in October 2011–which is pretty wicked cool. You can stalk Kyle online on Twitter at @kyleclaypool and @optimaww or you can find them on Facebook. Seriously, after reading this article, surely I don’t have to tell you that that’s a smart idea.