People don’t change

(Unless they want to)

Humans are unique in their ability to willingly change. We can change our attitude, our appearance and our skillset.

But only when we want to.

The hard part, then, isn’t the changing it.

It’s the wanting it.

Sneaky surveys (and push polls)

First thing: All open access online surveys are essentially inaccurate, because the group that takes the time to answer the survey is usually different from the general public.

Second thing: Don’t confuse a survey with a census. A survey asks a randomized but representative group some questions and then seeks to extend the answers to the entire group as a whole. A census seeks to ask everyone in the group, so that no generalization is required.

In general, you don’t need a census. What you need is a correctly representational group, which can be dramatically smaller than the entire population. The huge mistake is believing that you need to survey more and more people. You don’t. And your work to reach more people actually makes your survey less accurate not more (see the first thing). And yes, this is true even if you’re a solo creator wondering if your novel is any good.

In the age of good stats, the best use of a census is to establish a 1:1 relationship between what someone feels and who that person is. Asking every single person at a restaurant what they want for dinner is a census, a useful one, because you can then serve each person exactly what they want for dinner.

Third: You might believe the survey someone just emailed you to fill out is anonymous. It probably isn’t. Check out this explanation from Survey Monkey. It turns out that tracking by IP and even email address/name is a built-in feature. If you get a survey link by email or even as you browse a site, it’s a safe guess to imagine that your answers are tied in some way to your other interactions with the organization that posted the survey. Respondent beware.

And fourth: Asking someone a question can change the way they feel. Done crudely, this is called a push poll (“Did you know that Bob was indicted last year?”) but even asking someone a thoughtful question about their satisfaction can increase it.

Okay, two more things:

At the conclusion of the endless surveys when they ask you if you have anything else to add, don’t bother. It’s not like the CEO is busy reading your comments.

The single best way to figure out how people feel isn’t to ask them with some focus-group survey. It’s to watch what they do when given the choice. “This or that?” is a great way to get to the truth of our preferences.

Protect All Your Hard Work With These Essential Insurance Policies

A small business owner reminds us of a juggler of sorts. To run your own business successfully, you have to have many balls in the air, in constant motion, making sure none of them drops. Whether you do it all yourself or outsource some of the tasks, there are many daily and operational tasks that you need to think about: accounting, budgeting, marketing, employee management, just to name a few. As it happens, research and purchase of appropriate insurance products are one of those critical matters you must deal with. 

The insurance market is flooded with many different insurance policy options. Sure, all the options make it possible to purchase the exact coverages to fit your unique business needs, but they also can make the process overwhelming. 

This policy is essential for businesses that provide a professional, specialized advice or service such as CPA’s, tax preparer, doctors, insurance salespeople etc. Because your customers rely on you, a professional in your field, to provide accurate and correct advice. If the advice is wrong and cause financial harm, you are on the hook for your mistake. 

A Professional Liability policy covers you and your business in the case of professional wrongdoing or negligence. The words “professional wrongdoing” are very significant as the policy will not cover a general claim. An example of professional wrongdoing is a fitness trainer not correcting his client’s exercise form, thus directly contributing to an injury.

Of course, this is not the only type of insurance policy that you should be considering. Below we compiled a list of the few most essential one insurance policies that a small business owner needs to have to protect their business. 


  • General Liability insurance – A policy that covers you for general wrongdoings (unlike a Professional Liability policy) that prompt a lawsuit by a third party. A general claim may include libel or slander, an injury claim such as slip and fall, a billing error, etc. 


  • Workers Compensation insurance – A policy that is mandated by law and provides compensation to your employees should they get injured or sick on the job. The policy covers their medical expenses, paid disability time, etc. This policy is only needed if you have employees of any kind. 


  • Property insurance – This policy covers your business assets such as your office equipment, contractor’s tools, and so on. If you own the office building, the policy will cover it as well. Often, you can bundle up the Property and General Liability policies into one package policy. 


  • Commercial Auto – Did you know that your personal auto policy excludes coverage for times when the vehicle is used for business? This policy is fundamental if you have vehicles that you use for business and are registered to the company. If your company doesn’t own any cars, this coverage still protects you in the event any of your employees drive their vehicles on company business or even borrow yours as they won’t be covered otherwise.  


  • Professional Liability insurance – As discussed above, this is an essential policy to protect you from the financial consequences of a lawsuit alleging professional errors made by your company. 


This list of insurance products is far from all the insurance policies available however, these are the core policies that you should carry.  


Too big to care

The marketing math is compelling. It’s obvious that the most highly-leveraged moment in every brand’s relationship with a customer is the moment when something goes wrong.

In that moment, when a promise was broken, the customer sees the true nature of the brand. We make up stories about the brands in our lives, but we believe that when the promise is broken we’re about to see the truth of that story.

As brands get bigger (and bigger might be as small as an organization with just two people in it), policies kick in. Policies and budgets and bureaucracy.

The brand has become too big to care. I mean, it might be big enough to pretend to care. To have policies that appear to set things right. But they don’t really care.

The only way to really care is to have human beings who care (and to give them the authority and resources to demonstrate that.)

Once you’ve got that, it’s pretty easy to show that you do.

Our Favorite MozCon 2019 Sessions

Caleb Cosper, Evan Hall, Zac Heinrichs, Amanda Putney, and I attended a full three days of sessions at MozCon 2019 in our hometown of Seattle. We not only got to meet a great group of fellow SEOs, but we also got to enjoy a fantastic lineup of speakers. There were sessions from Rand Fishkin, Christi Olson, Cindy Krum, Luke Carthy, Wil Reynolds, Andy Crestodina, Britney Muller, and so many more.

There was so much we learned, and we left with some awesome takeaways from the 26 sessions we attended. We’ve put together a list of our top five, and we want to share them with you!

Esse Quam Videri: When Faking it is Harder than Making it

Presented by Russ Jones, Principal Search Scientist at Moz

See Russ’s Presentation Deck

Russ Jones closed out day one with his session, which started by telling us he was a liar and then proving it by sharing very compelling stories and explaining that he was, yes, lying!

Russ conducted a poll on Twitter, and he found that 64% of SEOs state that they are willing to or have promoted content that was no doubt not the best answer to the query.

Screenshot of Twitter Poll from Russ JonesScreenshot of Twitter Poll from Russ Jones

As an industry, we are spending more effort deceiving users (and Google) to convince them that our site is the best answer for their query than we are actually working to be the best answer for the searched query. However, that ROI is diminishing, and those practices will not be sustainable with the way Google is improving.

“Be the best answer. Don’t fake it. Be it.” We can have ethical standards and not sacrifice being smart, resourceful, and cut-throat.

Understanding Human-Readable Quality Signals

Presented by Ruth Burr Reedy, Director of Strategy at UpBuild, LLC

See Ruth’s Presentation Deck

Machine learning has come a long way. Therefore, optimizing for users as opposed to search engines is an SEO challenge.

So, how can we create high quality in content that is both human- and machine-readable?

  • Site performance. A site that loads fast is an excellent experience for humans and crawlers.
  • Clearly, concisely, and accurately answering a question results in content that’s high quality for humans and machines.
  • Google’s Natural Language Processing tool can help you analyze what a piece of content is about like a robot does.
  • Google’s Quality Raters’ Guidelines are written by humans for humans. They’re not a part of the algorithm, but they likely help train the algorithm.
  • If you’re trying to create expert content on a topic, you need to have an expert create that content.

Screenshot of Tweet from Ruth Burr Reedy about human-readable quality signalsScreenshot of Tweet from Ruth Burr Reedy about human-readable quality signals

Running Your Own SEO Tests: Why it Matters & How to Do it Right

Presented by Rob Ousbey, VP at Distilled

See Rob’s Presentation Deck

We go around the web, read a bunch of SEO articles to tell us what we should be doing. We then go to conferences and hear what has worked for other people. Later, we take all the vast amounts of tips and tricks we receive and start implementing them on our websites. In return, you get an increase in rankings. However, you don’t know what the result of the increase in ranking is. What if something you implemented is actually hurting your website, and you’re still not reaching your full potential?

You should isolate every change you make to a website/webpage to determine if the change was, in fact, valuable. Start by benchmarking your visitors and compare the difference after the implementations. Don’t forget to consider industry seasonality or the fact that maybe Google has decided to take your industry over during that time.

  • Take a group of pages that serve the same purpose on your site (product pages, category pages, blog posts, etc.)
  • Split these similar pages into two groups (A & B)
  • Make the changes to your variant group and compare to your control group

Three things that might happen:

  1. The test is positive! If so, roll out these changes to the whole site
  2. The test is negative. Revert the pages to how they were originally
  3. Null test. Make an informed decision on how you will move forward

Redefining Technical SEO

Presented by Paul Shapiro, Head of SEO at Catalyst

See Paul’s Presentation Deck

The phrase “Technical SEO” has long been used to describe the practice of optimizing website infrastructure and search engine accessibility. But, like a lot of things in SEO, it has been oversimplified.

According to Paul Shapiro, Technical SEO can be split into four different and distinct types:

  1. Checklist Technical SEO: Does the site utilize canonical tags? Circle one: Yes / No
  2. General Technical SEO: Internal linking analysis, untangling spider traps, etc.
  3. Blurred Responsibility SEO: CRO, UX, structured data, etc.
  4. Advanced, Applied Technical SEO: Testing, NLP, automation, etc.

And, with (more than) a little bit of Python or JS expertise, Technical SEO can be applied to all SEO!

  • Link building
  • On-page optimization
  • Content ideation
  • Redirect mapping
  • Semi-automated writing of meta descriptions
  • Keyword research
  • Dashboard and reporting automation
  • A/B testing

Screenshot of slide from Paul Shapiro's presentation that says "all SEO can be technical SEO"Screenshot of slide from Paul Shapiro's presentation that says "all SEO can be technical SEO"

So, invest in and hire Technical SEOs (not just Technical SEO) because coding is a fundamental skill for advanced Technical SEO!

Content, Rankings, and Lead Generation: A Breakdown of the 1% Content Strategy

Presented by Andy Crestodina, Chief Marketing Officer at Orbit Media

See Andy’s Presentation Deck

Even if your blog content is driving a notable amount of traffic to your website, those users likely don’t have the intent to purchase. Look for yourself by viewing the conversion rates of your blog post landing pages.

If the user lands on a sales page, they’re 50 times more likely to become a lead. However, it is unlikely that people link to your sales pages; they are more likely to link to useful articles (your blog). In short, you should create valuable content to get people to link to those blog pages so that you can then interlink to a service page, which will gain a higher authority, rank higher, and generate qualified leads.

Create Original Research

  • 75% of articles don’t get organic traffic
  • Authoritative, well-researched, and evidenced content wins
  • Include strong opinions and original research
  • Original research crushes all other forms of content because that website becomes the primary source for that information


  • Get contributor quotes: Never write without a contributor quote
  • Expert roundup topics
  • Deep dive interviews
  • Want links and mentions? Give other people links and mentions

Publish Everywhere

  • Publish your articles on other sites
  • Put your articles in front of a new group of people
  • Write for other websites
  • If you’re not making friends, you’re doing it wrong

Update Older Content

  • When rankings start to decline for an older article, then update that content
  • If rankings are where they should be for all articles, then write something new
  • It takes 80% of the time to rewrite a blog than it does to write a brand new one
  • Do not change your URLs. Keep your URLs simple so that you can repurpose them later


  • Update content into visuals
  • Updated high performing content is better than new content
  • Creating videos, images, ad presentations is better than writing articles
  • Diagrams + Contributions = Links

Wrap Up

These were our team’s favorite takeaways from MozCon 2019. We’ve already geeked out over loads of information we received during the three days, talked about the latest trends, and discussed how we can apply what we’ve learned to drive results for our clients.

We look forward to learning more as we apply and test these new ideas and mindsets, and we can’t wait for next year’s MozCon. See you there!

The post Our Favorite MozCon 2019 Sessions appeared first on Portent.

Surrendering curation and promotion

Facebook, Linkedin, Google, Apple and Amazon have very little ability to promote a specific idea or creator.

That sounds crazy, but culturally and technically, it’s true.

In 1995, Oprah got to put just one person as the lead in an episode of her show. That choice was a commitment and a signal. It said to her viewers, “there were many people who could have been on the show today, but I chose this person.”

In 2000, Random House got to pick one book to be their big business title for November. Just one. Their curation sent a message to bookstores, who stocked more copies as a result.

They were curators and their curation led to promotion and attention. There was a cost to picking junk, and a benefit to earning trust.

The tech giants have surrendered that ability, with the costs and benefits that come with it. They end up disrespecting creations and their creators.

It doesn’t matter if you know someone at Google or if Amazon promises that they’re going to heavily promote your new Kindle book. The people who work at these companies don’t have a dial to turn. Amazon is good at selling everything, but they’re terrible at selling a thing.

Apple gets some zing for a recommended podcast now and then, or for a heavily promoted record, but the same rule is generally true with them–98% of all their content is driven by the algorithm, not a human with something at stake. They don’t care which record you pay for, as long as you pay for something.

The platforms are built on the idea that the audience plus the algorithm do all the deciding. No curation, no real promotion, simply the system, grinding away.

This inevitably leads to pandering, a race to the bottom.

Netflix is an exception because they have so much at stake in the investment of their own products that they insist on curating and promoting, bending the algorithm in the direction they wish it to go.

When a site tries to do both (like Buzzfeed), it’s a perilous journey. The metrics and the algorithm will swallow up the best intent of taste and culture making.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine Discusses Space Fandom With Me!

NASA is a rare government agency with a massive fan base! After a recent presentation at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC, I had the honor of discussing the amazing NASA fanocracy with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. We discussed the Apollo lunar program, robotic missions to Mars, how we might get back to the moon, and much more.

Why Customer Experience Transformations Stall

I originally wrote this post for It appeared on the Forbes site on November 14, 2018.

One More Journey Mapping Mistake

Are you making this mistake when journey mapping?
We already know that people are making mistakes when they’re journey mapping. I’ve outlined several of them in past posts:

5 Myths of Journey Mapping, in which I wrote about:

10 Ways to Socialize Customer Insights

With whom and how do you socialize customer insights?

You’re listening to customers. You’re combining their feedback with those bread crumbs of data that they leave with every transaction and interaction with your brand. You’ve developed customer personas to better understand who they are, what problems they are trying to solve, and what jobs they need to get done. You’ve mapped their journeys to understand their experience today and their expectations for a better experience tomorrow.