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JC Penney Feels the Marketing Power of Link Love

Retailer Aggregates Content From Blogs and Lets Readers Talk Among Themselves; Google Results Soar

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Classically trained digital marketers know what to look for when it comes to measuring the impact of a campaign: number of impressions, click-through rate, cost per acquisition and maybe a study from Dynamic Logic or Insight Express to gauge lift in consumer perceptions. But sometimes there is another, unexpected outcomes to content-focused campaigns: organic search equity.
It's not the JC Penney blog, but the company's aggregation of content led readers to start referring to it that way.
It's not the JC Penney blog, but the company's aggregation of content led readers to start referring to it that way.

Yes, search equity is all about link love. Creating -- or aggregating -- compelling content online and letting readers use social-media tools to share the content can goose Google results for brand or related terms. It's something bloggers have known for years, but marketers are really just beginning to employ.

One case study: Federated Media and JC Penney teamed up to launch the Fall Shopping Guide, a collection of content from popular woman-focused blogs prominently sponsored by the retailer's Chris Madden Collection.

Earning subscribers
The site aggregated content from blogs such as Heather Armstrong's Dooce, The Mommy Blog and Confessions of a Pioneer Woman. JC Penney didn't have rights to review or influence content. The site launched mid-September; a few of the contributing bloggers mentioned it on their blogs, some did not. But traffic started to grow. Federated execs started to notice traffic coming from places such as StumbleUpon, a social-bookmarking site, and RSS readers, which meant people were beginning to subscribe to the content.

"Once people start engaging in that, they feel part of the experience. And when they feel part of the experience, they share it with friends and upload it to social-bookmark sites," said Chas Edwards, publisher and chief revenue officer at Federated Media. "And then Google starts to take notice of this. ... A month after the campaign, this site was showing up."

Today, it shows up as No. 5 of 13 million results for the search term "fall shopping" and second out of more than 4 million results for "fall shopping guide."

Licensing the chatter
At time when many marketers are looking to become content creators themselves, JC Penney instead partnered with several existing bloggers who already had significant user bases. Mr. Edwards talked a lot about the conversation going on among the bloggers in his company's network. "We said, 'Let's build a site that licenses the conversation.'"

In the end, the campaign so closely linked JC Penney to the content that many of the site's comments referred to it as JC Penney's blog or content. Yet in this case, the marketer was the content aggregator -- something brands are increasingly exploring. For example: As part of its HDNA campaign, Sony partnered with Digg to launch a site devoted to news about high definition.

"From a marketer's perspective, it's hard to write good stuff all the time and have a diversity of voices. When you can find like-minded folks who create a rich conversation, you get a much more appealing product," said Andy Sernovitz, CEO of Blog Council, a coalition of Fortune 500 bloggers.

JC Penney's interactive agency, Avenue A/ Razorfish, didn't address the Federated Media campaign, but talked generally about research it had done that documented an authority shift among media sources.

'Trusted sources'
"Bloggers, even if they have small audiences, are seen as trusted sources," said Jeff Lanctot, senior VP-global media. "They can pique our interest about products."

Mr. Lanctot said marketers are becoming more comfortable with campaigns that involve things such as blogs, even if that means giving up some control.

"What we've seen to date online is this explosion of content because everyone can be author or writer or producer -- and now we're getting a need to filter that content," he said. "The question is, who will be that filter? You will see brands that have authority and trust to act as a filter."
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