Sunday, April 17, 2011

Social Media, SEO, Starbucks, and the Breakfast Sandwich

In January of 2008, I was gainfully employed with one of the many technology corporations based in Redmond, WA (No it wasn't Microsoft). It was Concur Technologies, an expense management software company (you've probably used them while booking your business trip and/or filed your expenses). As you know, while working at companies such as this, meetings are scheduled throughout the day (if not back-to-back) and in order for me to get a decent breakfast (well, almost decent) I would stop by my favorite Starbucks drive through and grab my Venti quad Vanilla Latte with 10 pumps of vanilla and a sausage breakfast sandwich. When I would get into work I would bring my coffee and breakfast sandwich into my first meeting of the day and eat happily as the meeting leads would hash out whatever it was they needed to hash out for the moment. My boss and my team got very used to seeing me every morning with my routine breakfast and they had all heard the story about how I had been grabbing my Starbucks coffee every morning since I could drive to school. As soon as the breakfast sandwiches were introduced I added them to my morning routine.

Starbucks announced it was discontinuing the breakfast sandwiches in the January 30, 2008 earnings call. Shortly after my Boss said casually as I opened up my white sack with "Jen" handwritten on it, "You know they're going to discontinue the breakfast sandwich, right?" My mouth dropped open and my heart skipped a couple of beats as a moment of panic struck me. The scream of "nooooo" was heard throughout the land and everyone in the room looked on in horror. I proceeded from meeting room to meeting room telling everyone how horrible it was that the breakfast sandwich was going to be discontinued. My Boss finally said, "With all the websites you have created, why not create one to save the breakfast sandwich?"
I headed home that evening and checked Network Solutions (the registrar and hosting company I have been using since my first website in 1999) to see if "savethebreakfastsandwich.com" or something similar was available for registration. Since it was available, I grabbed it, and set-up hosting for the website I was going to create. The marketing person in me began questioning "Why am I doing this?", "What is the sole purpose of the website?", "What is the ultimate goal?", and "What is the target market for the website?". Once I determined my marketing persona and strategy and my $0.00 budget, little effort marketing began.

Blog Comment

I posted a comment to the Starbucks Gossip Blog post titled "Starbucks to get rid of warm breakfast sandwiches" when the site was completed which resulted in a blog post dedicated to the 7 members we had in February 21, 2008. As a result of the comment and then blog post the site began generating a plethora of buzz around it.

Press and Buzz

February 29, 2008 - Seattle Time NWSource Blogger Amy Martinez wrote in Tidbits
"As of Thursday morning, 60 people had joined a Web site dedicated to saving Starbucks' warmed breakfast sandwiches, which the company plans to phase out this year.
One member of the newly launched http://www.savethebreakfastsandwich.com wrote "My homage to the Breakfast Sadwich (sic): Don't push me cuz I'm close to the edge, I'm tryin' not to lose my head, but it (sic) you take my sandwich away uh huh uh huh... " — MA"
May 15, 2008 - National Post "Starbucks Does Breakfast"
July 31, 2008 - Fresno Beehive Blog post "Starbucks introduces less stinky sandwiches"
"Starbucks recently announced it will begin making less smelly breakfast sandwiches.
First, some back story: In an effort to get back to its roots, the Starbucks CEO announced in January that the chain would stop carrying its hot breakfast sandwiches. Apparently the smell of baking (reheating?) bread, cheese and eggs overpowered the smell of coffee.
It was part of an effort to stay strong in a tough economy, with changes like closing local stores and laying off employees.
The folks at www.savethebreakfastsandwich.com mounted a mini rebellion, complete with posts like, "You can pry my peppered bacon, aged cheddar and egg from my cold, dead hands."
For whatever reason -- perhaps to fend off competitors like Dunkin' Donuts offering coffee and breakfast -- Starbucks reversed course. The breakfast sandwiches would stay. Only now, they'll be made with a new type of cheese (oh, I'm dying to know how they tested the smelliness of cheese) and less butter in the eggs to help control the smell."
September 5, 2008 - New York Times Executive Blogs post by Joe Nocera "The Starbucks Egg Sandwich Double-Cross"
"A few days later, I received an e-mail message from one of Mr. Varma’s (friend of writer and new employee of Starbucks) new colleagues, informing me that it wasn’t ineptitude that was keeping the sandwiches on the shelf — Mr. Schultz had decided to reverse his decision and keep them! "As you recall, Howard made a point that we would address the issues of quality and store experience as it related to breakfast sandwiches," she wrote. "We took a look at the sandwiches here in our Starbucks kitchens and were able to make improvements to the recipe to address the aroma and quality concerns. Bottom line — warm breakfast is an important complement to the daily coffee ritual of a significant portion of our customers and we think we have a win-win solution here."
The Starbucks woman also pointed me to a Web site called “Save The Breakfast Sandwich,” claiming that it showed there was a groundswell of customer support for them. But when I checked the Web site, I couldn’t help notice that it had all of 195 members."

We Got Traffic


Within the first month of the website launching the site received over 4,000 visits. I knew I couldn't rely on social media and the buzz of blogs to keep the traffic going at this rate, so I began optimizing for search engines creating a page for every city and state in the United States and optimizing for the key phrase "Starbucks in ...". 3 years to the date the site receives roughly 1200 visits in one month's time with 91% of the traffic coming from search engines.

Social Media

Now when this site was developed 3 years ago, Twitter was only a couple of years old, Facebook had opened it's doors to everyone just 2 years prior (September 26, 2006). What marketers used for "Social Media Marketing" back then was primarily MySpace, Linkedin, blogs, chat rooms, bookmarking sites, commenting on products, forums, list-serves, and the like. Not to mention that SEO was a "do some work and wait" type of job as Google's updates were happening every few months rather than every day as they are today. My social media marketing efforts were solely reliant upon bookmarking sites (adding the quick bookmarking links to each page of the website), blogs, press, and the general groundswell that online buzz marketing produced.

The Site Gets me a Job?


In November of 2009, I was working as VP of Interactive Marketing at Obvio.us.com and was looking to get back in-house with an established corporation again, when a Starbucks HR person posted to the Seattle Digital Eve list that they were looking for a Manager in Social Media. She specifically requested that all applicants put "digitaleve - manager - social media" in the subject line and send to her email address directly. I proceeded to update my resume to reflect the latest work I had done with clients, Concur, Classmates.com, Smartsheet, and mentioned the savethebreakfastsandwich.com website, the Facebook fan page, and talked about my checkins on Foursquare. Hoping to show how I not only support Starbucks, but also know the latest social media trends. Unfortunately I did not hear word back from her regarding the position. I have been told by numerous HR professionals that the market is (and was) flooded with individuals looking for work and resume's were being submitted by the hundreds of thousands making it extremely difficult for them to see every resume that crossed the system, email, or desk. Go figure...

It just goes to show you that creating a website that gets the attention of press, blogs, and all sorts of online sources will get you traffic, but unfortunately won't get you a job.

STBS Gets a Mention


On March 28, 2011 CEO of Starbucks Howard Schultz spoke at a kick-off event for his new book "Onward" that shares the story of the company's turnaround revealing how Starbucks achieved profitability without "sacrificing humanity."

It was brought to my attention by one of Wappow's Search and Social Hawaii 2010 attendees Linda Sherman as she shared a link to the book on her Facebook wall. With the link she commented "I got so excited when Howard Schultz declared the importance of social media for any enterprise that I pulled out the only recording device I had with me at the moment - my iPhone 4." Naturally I had to respond with a plug for the savethebreakfastsandwich.com who's sole source of traffic is through social media and SEO. After she pointed out that the website is mentioned in his book, I quickly headed to Amazon.com and purchased both the Kindle and Hard Copy versions. Sure enough, on Page 231 it says "After I’d announced the end of the breakfast sandwich on the earnings call back in January 2008, we had immediately pulled the sandwiches out of stores’ display cases, although customers could still order them by request. And, as predicted, we saw an immediate decline in stores that had carried the product, but we also saw impassioned customer comments posted at MyStarbucksIdea.com and got them at our customer call center. A website even sprang up: Savethebreakfastsandwich.com.” Now here's where I point out that oddly the MyStarbucksIdea.com website was launched in March of 2008 and the only real comment that was made asking that Starbucks keeps the Breakfast Sandwich is my post by STBS (Save The Breakfast Sandwich) in June of 2008. Is this enough to warrant calling it an "impassioned customer comment"? or a plug to help boost a bad idea?

So?


So in the end, the website had caught the attention of some bloggers, press, breakfast sandwich fans, and even the CEO himself Howard Schultz all from social media marketing and SEO. Did the website truly save the breakfast sandwich at Starbucks? A question I will never truly be able to answer as no one from Starbucks has ever spoken with me (not about the site or for a position I directly applied for) - so it will forever remain a mystery.

Even after the website mention in the book and the traffic that the website is still getting from the individual city and state pages, I still pay every month to Network Solutions to host the website. I have now since revamped the site to reflect the saving of the sandwich and providing social interactivity that Facebook and Twitter allow us website developers to provide. I also set the Google maps to show all the Starbucks within each city and state on the according page so that the analytics stop showing a 99.8% bounce rate and a time of less than 1 minute spent on each page. Since the book mention and the changes that have been made, the site has seen a boost from 5% Direct Traffic referrals to 15% and from 3% referring websites to 8% with Facebook bringing in 3.5% of that traffic - though Google Organic is still bringing in a large amount of traffic all going to the individual location pages (roughly 60 keywords per day referring traffic from SEO to the individual pages).

I'm sure at some point Google will probably shut me down (or algorithm me out) as they punished JCPenney for buying links - according to the NY Times article "The Dirty Little Secrets of Search". Though I am hoping my "doorway pages" are user friendly enough that they will let them stay (especially since Starbucks doesn't offer maps with store locations for searchers).

The site is and has been used as a lesson in the effectiveness in social media and search engine optimization to the Wappow workshop attendees. I also do occasionally have an interviewer pull it up on their computer to show them what I am capable of when it comes to fooling around with silly little websites.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Facebook Like and Facebook Share

As you may have noticed Facebook is popping up on sites all over the web. You can like, share, login, or even comment on blog posts, news articles, or any other page of a website.  In typical Facebook fashion, developers used to be able to add either a "share" button or a "like" button to their website pages. The difference was that the like button was a simple click and notification that you "like" the page. There was no other effort on your part to write a comment, or anything else. The "share" allowed you to not only write a comment, but to edit the information (title, description, image) that was to be shared – giving the user a bit more control.Both would show up in the news stream, and on their wall, but the like was a simple line saying "Bob likes the blah page". The "share" showed up with a graphic, the comment, and the title and description of the page.


This allowed for more noticeability in the very busy news feed of the user’s friends. In most cases I would personally choose (and recommend) the "share" button.
And so did Facebook...
In recent developments Facebook has changed how the "like" button behaves making it more like the "share" button – allowing the user to "like" something, giving them the option to make a statement about it, and showing up more prominently in the news feed. So now when you setup your "like" button there are a couple of different options you can choose. 1) choose the word "recommend" or "like" in the button itself. 2) choose the layout style of Standard, Button Count, or Box Count.
So now when you "recommend" or "like" a page it gives you the option to say "what's on your mind?" adding a comment to the item in the news feed.

And instead of showing up in the news feed as "Bob like the Blah page" it now shows up more prominently with a graphic, title, and description.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Google is Finding more high-quality sites in search

It's official - Google is focusing more on high quality websites and less on the fodder.

As Matt Cutts himself stated "This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on."Official Google Blog: Finding more high-quality sites in search

Does this mean that us SEO's need to focus more on social media?
It's a trend I have been boasting about for several years now. With the indoncination of twitter several years back - while they may have added "nofollow" tage to all their links, I was still noticing a trend in rankings with our tweet blasts.

It was social media that has been driving the traffic to Wappow.com, and while search traffic has been picking up considerably the past few months as we reach our 1 year anniversary, I truly believe that social media is leading the way to those rankings.