Optimizing Zemanta Image Campaign by Thinking Like a Blogger: A Case Study

zemanta image campaign For the last six months, SmartSign has been using Zemanta to promote our images and build deep links to many of our websites. Our images have been recommended 181,643 times and 137 of those have yielded links. When it’s good, it’s good: one of our most successful images caused a 464% increase in traffic to its page. But other tactics flopped; whole categories of images we submitted failed to garner links and recommendations.

In the spirit of the New Year, we’re looking back over our efforts and recalibrating. What we’ve learned has been both nuanced and surprising. Ultimately, appraising images for a successful campaign is radically different from optimizing our written content.

Lessons Learned

Images are harder to sell to bloggers than content. The evidence is in our numbers; over the same amount of time, with identical budgets, we yielded 185 more links from our written content campaign. But that makes sense — as a blogger, more is at stake when you’re picking an image. Unlike a related article situated at the bottom of a page, images are often the first thing a reader will see, and are instrumental in an almost instantaneous calculation of relevance and interest in the post. In other words, if they don’t like the picture, they may not read the article.

Of all our promoted images, bloggers keep choosing the same ones again and again. Two, in particular, have soared above the rest (and we’ve indexed over a hundred) in terms of yielding links; in fact, over 50% of our total campaign links come from them. At first glance, these two images seemed bafflingly random. What about them generated recommendations, attracted bloggers, and scored links?

The first sign, “Reserved Parking for Employee of the Month,” has a Link Conversion Rate (LCR) of .13%, while the “Smile You’re Losing Weight” sign has an LCR of .14%. Both are nearly twice the average of our other images.

One catalyst for their success is what they are not: photographs. Of the 26 images that yielded links, only two were photographs. This realization put a wrench in our original strategy.We had initially submitted an array of antique 3M photographs that depict old signs, traffic, and American life. The images are interesting, original, unusual—and completely ignored.

Ultimately, we were approaching the campaign the wrong way. We had to think like bloggers, and (conveniently!) as the director of SmartSign.com’s and MyParkingSign's blogs, I am one.

The Use of Images

When I blog, I use an image for one of two purposes (this is reductive, of course): as evidence, or as an illustration. Chances are, if I need to prove a point by providing a corresponding image — what I’m calling evidence — I won’t take up Zemanta on its recommendation. I’ll have something more specific in mind. (Here is a picture of the bridge that I say needs repairs. Here is a portrait of my subject, King Tut.) However, I’m far more likely to use a Zemanta recommendation if I’m looking for an image after the fact. I didn’t have an image in mind, but the post is ready to publish, and I know I need one.

When I’m trying to illustrate, I have a few goals in mind:

  • providing a visual summary of my topic
  • making the post more attractive and engaging
  • slowing down a potential viewer
  • enriching the SEO content of my page

Essentially, “illustrative” images work like stock images, with the added benefit of a link. They summarize, decorate, and add SEO value.

Why Images Do Well

We believe that this is the reason our two images are doing so well: they’re perfectly illustrative. Take a look at them in action.

Nexercise is a site that champions exercise with an emphasis on achieving results through a healthy mentality. They use our “Smile You’re Losing Weight” sign to headline a post on safe weight loss. It’s the illustrative effect in action. Fitness and weight loss are popular blog genres, but the specific concept of the post isn’t easily captured by a visual. Our sign helps summarize this popular abstraction: weight loss motivation and reward.

Similarly, our “Reserved Parking” sign was featured on a post on a blog that follows the graduate job market, Career Geek. Here, the image illustrates its abstract subject: career development. This image is also used on Progressive Radio Network’s site. Interestingly, the post has no text — it houses only a podcast (about jobs for veterans) and our sign. Again, our images are working in an illustrative capacity: providing visual summary of an abstract concept in this popular blogosphere.

This realization stands in stark contrast to what we learned from our content campaign. When a blogger chooses to link to our content, it’s because we’re a trusted, authoritative, and relevant source for topics in our industry, such as OSHA, biking, signs, and distracted driving. On the other hand, when a blogger chooses one of our images, our trustworthiness or authority on their topic is moot. They just want an image that enhances their own post.

Optimizing our Zemanta Image Campaign

With all this in mind, we’re changing our strategy. First, we are cleaning out our indexed images, and deleting the ineffectual ones, like our 3M and antique photographs. And now, rather than offering bloggers images that are relevant to our industry niche, we’re looking at how we can help visually supplement globally popular blogging trends. Since an “employee” sign was effective, why not tap more into career bloggers with a sign that mentions “workers”? What about surveillance signs, for tapping into technology blogs? Moreover, we’re considering new signs just for our image campaign: perhaps “Breastfeeding Allowed” for parenting blogs, or, “Caution: Google Is Collecting Your Data” for privacy blogs. Until the recent Congressional deal, “Beware of the Fiscal Cliff” might be a useful play on words for trendy political writers.

Promoted images aren’t like related articles which help bloggers open up their writing space to a larger conversation. They’re core elements that help a blogger define and identify their space. An image on a blog is part of the fabric of that post. It makes sense, then, that to successfully promote our images, we need to consider a blogger’s psychology.

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