What My Paper Route Taught Me about Content Marketing

May 3, 2012

Note: This is a guest post by Brad Shorr. See his bio at the end.

My career in content marketing started at age 12. Every day I’d load up my red Schwinn Varsity bicycle with The Aurora Beacon News and head out to make deliveries, learning valuable lessons about digital content marketing that just starting to sink in lately. Here are a few of these lessons, which I’m sure you will pick up a lot faster than I did!

Old man using a laptop with his grand son reading a newspaper1.     Content Marketing Is Hard Work

Delivering content may not be as physically demanding as it once was, but today it is a combination of strategic planning, thorough execution, meticulous review and continual improvement. There are no shortcuts, either. Back in the day, if I cut across a neighbor’s yard to get to the next house … I’d get yelled at. Today, if you try to skip steps or gloss over them, you’ll similarly be punished. Shortcuts to avoid include things such as –

  • Trying to pass off lame, rehashed content as something new and relevant
  • Relying on automated feeds to push content rather than building genuine social media connections
  • Putting content marketing processes on autopilot in order to shift attention to shiny new marketing toys

2.     Reader Convenience Is Everything

In the print era, there was nothing more convenient than having the latest news delivered literally to your doorstep. Newspapers thrived in part because of their efficient and ultra-convenient delivery system. The principle still applies in the age of digital content. Making content easy for the reader to obtain and consume makes all the difference:

  • Site loading speed. A big consideration, one that is so important that Google now uses loading speed as a ranking factor. If I showed up at a subscriber’s house an hour late … I’d get yelled at. Today, if readers have to wait five seconds for a page to load, they will click off.
  • On-page usability factors. Facilitating easy content consumption means adhering to best practices for typography, navigation, page layout and design. Tripping up in any one of these areas invites readers to make a hasty exit and leave with a bad taste in their mouths.
  •  Multiple search options.It should be as easy as possible for readers to find relevant content on a business site or blog. Among the techniques to accomplish this:
    • Internal search engines
    • “Most Popular” blog posts listed on the sidebar
    • “Most Commented” blog posts listed on the sidebar
    • “Recent” blog posts listed on the sidebar
    • User-friendly archiving
    • Meaningful blog categories
  • Multiple delivery options.  In the past, there weren’t many ways to deliver news. Today, content marketers must support readers who find content via RSS, email subscriptions, bookmarking sites, social media, and organic search. This necessitates optimizing content for search and social sharing, and engaging with multiple communities on multiple social networks.

3.     Consistent Delivery Matters

My paper route taught me how much we humans are creatures of habit. If I showed up 15 minutes behind schedule … I’d get yelled at. Some people would even freak out if I showed up early. Well, even though content marketing technology has changed enormously, human nature remains the same. This means content marketers must bring a certain degree of consistency to their execution, including –

  • Theming. Is the big-picture, underlying message consistent, or does it change from one day to the next? Inconsistencies dilute brand identity and put obstacles in front of prospects that are trying to figure out what a company does and why they should care.
  • Publishing. Are blog posts and e-newsletters delivered on a consistent, predictable schedule, or haphazardly? Digital marketers can learn a LOT from the newspaper industry on this score: when people know when to expect information, they have a greater appetite for it.
  • Social Sharing. Because people are habitual, they hang out on Facebook, Twitter and other networks at fairly regular times throughout the day. By testing and analyzing re-shares and mentions, content marketers can develop intelligent timetables for both scheduled posting and active engagement.

About the Author

Brad Shorr is Director of Content & Social Media for Straight North, a search engine marketing firm in Chicago. They work with middle market B2Bs in industries as diverse as restaurant merchant processing and bulk gloves. Brad is an experienced content strategist, SEO copywriter and blogger. He still rides a bicycle. 

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Ten Tips On How To Promote Your Website Through Content

May 1, 2012

Note: This is a guest post by David Tully. See his bio at the end.

Image by mdurwin2 via Flickr

The emphasis on creating quality content has increased markedly since Google put the hammer down on many old tried and tested SEO tactics. Below I have listed 10 tips on how you can promote your website through content.

1. Offer How to Guides/Whitepapers/Analysis – Good first hand analysis or guides in relation to the niche you are in can really help boost visitor numbers to your website. You are giving valuable, relevant information which they will appreciate.

2. Utilizing personas – Always write content from the perspective of the intended reader. Questions that a reader may have such as “why is this information useful?” and “what benefits are there to me?” should be in your mind when writing content so as to hook the reader in.

3. Understand what works and what doesn’t – Get a form of site analytics set up on your site to assess what type of content works. You may find that a particular type of blog post does a lot better than others.  Optimizing content in this way can help rank better as more of your content is shared and read by web users.

4. Incorporate user feedback – The more interactivity you have with readers the better. If someone asks you a question of Facebook, Twitter or in blog comments, it is a good idea to create some content about it as it is more likely than that others within your niche market have the same question.

5. Regular posting – Many websites fall down on this last point. People will come to your site often for fresh content, if you don’t provide it, your audience will cease visiting. Google will also see the lack of fresh content and rank your far lower.

6. Repurpose content into different forms – If you have had a very popular blog post, there is every possibility that the content will do well if you repurpose it as a video, podcast or infographic. Each form may reach a slightly different audience helping to boost your website.

7. Social media promotion – The most important aspect for promoting your site through content. Google ranks websites depending on indicators from social media. In addition, the more something is shared on Facebook or retweeted on Twitter, the more site visitors you will have. Creating content which is more likely to be shared is therefore crucial.

8. Share your content on PDF sharing websites – PDF sharing websites such as DocStoc and SlideShare always rank highly in Google. If you have a great piece of content and want it spread as widely as possible, create a PDF file and share it on these websites.

9. Content Curation – Curating content is becoming ever more popular in marketing online. Basically, you are sharing quality content and adding your own take on stories or issues within your market. As long as you link back to your original source, this is an excellent way of using content to help improve site numbers.

10. Use of video – Some niches are not very interesting and when marketing your website, getting the message across in an inventive video can really make a difference. It has a greater possibility of going viral and helping your site.

 

About the Author:

David Tully has written many articles on content marketing and is currently a regular contributor to content marketing strategy website Bright Authority.


Why Seeding Your Content is Key to Making it Viral

April 26, 2012

First Seeds Planted by Pictoscribe - Home again @FlickrIs great to see scientific research being done on social media, viral videos, and marketing in general (see previous post on the New Science of Viral Ads). Problem is, many research papers contradict each other. A recent study published on Marketing Journal titled “Seeding Strategies for Viral Marketing: An Empirical Comparison” (requires registration), by Oliver Hinz, Bernd Skiera, Christian Barrot, & Jan U. Becker, tries to get some of the contradictions resolved when it comes to what makes something “go viral“.

4 Critical Factors for Viral Success

According to the authors, there are four critical factors for viral marketing success:

1: Content, or the attractiveness of a message makes it memorable

2: The structure of the social network 

3: The behavioral characteristics of the recipients and their incentives for sharing the message

4: The seeding strategy, which determines the initial set of targeted consumers chosen by the initiator of the viral marketing campaign

The authors attribute the fourth component, Seeding Strategy, the higher weight. It’s all about who you are sending your video to, they say.

“Seeding the “right” consumers yields up to eight times more referrals than seeding the “wrong” ones” – Hinz, Skiera, Barrot, Becker

So how do you go about “seeding” it right? Here’s where many researchers disagree. There are typically three types of people you can target:

  • Hubs:  well-connected people with a high number of connections to others
  • Fringes: poorly connected people
  • Bridges: those who can connect two otherwise unconnected parts of the network

Network

Hubs tend to be better informed because of their social links and they can also influence their networks (hey, if I got this from Bob it must be good!). However, Hubs may not be optimal channels because if the person that acts as a hub doesn’t like or doesn’t agree with the content, they will not pass it on to their network. As big targets for new content, hubs are constantly bombarded with information and therefore may ignore or not see your new content which will prevent it from being spread.

Adoption of a new idea can then start at the “fringes” and make its way through the network. It has also been argued that fringes are more easily influenced than hubs and therefore may be good targets for spreading content. Bridges, for their ability to connect different areas of a network have also been targets because they can influence a portion of the network otherwise immune to the ‘viral’ content you have created.

The Optimal Seeding Strategy

In their research, the authors encountered four studies that recommend seeding hubs, three recommend fringes, and one recommends bridges. No wonder there is so much confusion when it comes to social media and viral videos! They then conducted experiments to prove those theories to the test to see which one would emerge as the winning seeding strategy.

The result was that “Marketers can achieve the highest number of referrals, across various settings, if they seed the message to hubs or bridges“. They also go on to say that “companies should use social network information about mutual relationships to determine their viral marketing strategy”.

Check out a summary of the study and results published by the authors on SlideShare (link below):

The Social Network

Understanding the social structure of potential networks is an important part when planning your social strategy. It pays off then for companies to mine the data they already have about their customers in order to determine the best people to seed your campaign. If high-connected people are picked to seed the campaign, the probability that it will spread is greatly increased.

Finally, it remains to be seen whether Facebook and other social networks will start playing a very active role in providing companies with detailed network information in order to help with their seeding efforts. Companies already have access to demographics, is just a matter of expanding the data set and, of course, avoiding potential privacy concerns.


How to Build a Content Development Plan for Your Site

March 13, 2012

Note: this is another great guest post by Brad Shorr. See his bio at the end.

Have you ever visited a website that looked like a teenager’s bedroom – content strewn about everywhere, overflowing with information yet impossible to find what you’re looking for? This often happens when a firm fails to make a long-term content development plan a component of its new site launch.

The consequences of haphazard content development are quite serious:

  • Interested prospects can’t find what they are looking for, so they click off the site.
  • Prospects who are ready to buy get confused, frustrated, or lost on the site – and fail to convert.
  • All visitors leave with an impression that the firm is as disorganized as its site.

Here are ways to prevent these things from happening.

1. Long-term Focus

Most Web development projects are obsessed with the immediate future: We have to get the site launched on time; we have to get it done within budget.

In terms of content, avoid the very strong temptation to cram everything you want to say into the initial launch. You won’t have enough time, and you won’t have enough money. Instead, identify the content you must have for launch, and then schedule the content you want to have for future phases of the project.

2. Go from General to Specific over Time

The most important content to present on the initial launch of a business site is the overview. Give prospects and customers the big picture: what you do, what problems you solve, what benefits you offer, and why people should buy from you.

If you do nothing more than get those simple points across, you’ll have a manageable number of pages to produce for the launch, and you won’t obscure the message with distracting details. And as a consequence of that, you’ll have a site with content that effectively supports lead generation.

3. Logically Layer On the Details

Develop a more detailed picture of your firm over time by adding new layers of content. For instance, consider a restaurant supply business. A simple, long-term content plan for its products could look something like this:

  1. Launch Phase: One Products Overview page with a brief summary of all product groups.
  2. Second Phase: Build out Product Group pages with more detail on Furniture, Bar Supplies, Kitchen Supplies, etc.
  3. Third Phase: Build out detailed Item pages for the 10 most popular items in each Product Group.
  4. Fourth Phase: Build out detailed Item pages for the next 25 most popular items in each Product Group.

4. Content Categories and Subcategories

The above tip refers to content depth, but let’s take a minute to consider content breadth. For a launch phase, these content categories are generally indispensible:

  • Products
  • Services
  • About
  • Contact

From here, much can be added in future project phases. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking about the possibilities.

  • Category: Testimonials
  • Category: Case Studies
  • Category: Careers
  • Subcategory of Products: FAQs
  • Subcategory of Services: Important Resources
  • Subcategory of About: Charitable Giving

Creating these additional content sections requires a lot of time and creativity. If information is thrown together at the launch phase to meet a tight deadline or budget, entire sections may well come off looking extremely lame. Again, it’s preferable to think long-term and patiently roll out new content based on a plan.

Key Takeaways

By mapping all this out in advance, not only will content be delivered to visitors in logically organized and digestible chunks, designers and programmers will be able to build proper layouts and navigation into the site from the beginning.  Over the long-term, your site will be as clean as the bedroom you see to the right.

This point cannot be overemphasized. Content should drive any web development project! If designers and programmers don’t know where the content is heading, they can only guess at how much room to allocate for future navigational links, where those links should go, and what they should look like.

Quite often, this is why a mature site has navigation that appears haphazard and cramped, that has crucial call to action blocks hidden in obscure corners of the page. The firm boxed itself into a corner as it added content and did not have the resources to rebuild the site from the ground up. Not a good situation to be in, but one that is all too common.

About the Author

Brad Shorr is Director of Content & Social Media for Straight North, a Chicago Internet marketing firm. They specialize in niche, middle market B2B industries such as video broadcast equipment and gloves for electrical work. Brad is an experienced content strategist, SEO copywriter and blogger.

(Image Credits: Image 1, © Iriana Shiyan #39382212; Image 2, © Joseph Helfenberger #1106456 – Fotolia.)


The Blogger’s Guide to Online Marketing

January 17, 2012

Note: This is a guest post by Lior Levin. See Lior’s bio at the end.

The Blogger’s Guide to Online Marketing is one of ProBlogger’s newest ebooks, written by the Web Marketing Ninja. ProbBlogger was started by Darren Rowse, who wrote the most popular of the ProBlogger products, 31 Days to Build a Better Blog.
Written specifically for bloggers, this online marketing guide features yet another set of 31 steps intended to help bloggers start making money with their blogs. Many bloggers go years and years without seeing readership increase or any revenue at all. This practical guide is intended to change all of that.For Those Who Want the Next Level

For me, one of the things that separates this guide from the (seemingly) thousands of others is that it’s advanced, while still maintaining the tried and true step-by-step style Problogger is known for. So many products, selling from a dollar to over $100, seem to focus on just one thing: starting a blog. Well, if you’re anything like me, you’re well past the point of starting a blog. Now you want to see it actually DO something for you.

My biggest takeaway is that there is so much more to blogging for profit than great content. Yep, content is King, but even kings have armies, a staff, and a whole bunch of other things in place to make sure everything works out. We spend so much time creating great content that sits and earns nothing because we do not understand basic, but still largely misunderstood business practices. Something that occurred to me was that even SEO and design seem quite small when you take a step back and really look at what you are trying to accomplish – a real money-making business.

Blogging well is a feat all on its own. But once that is mastered, there is the bigger task of turning a blog into a viable business – which it can be.

But trying to figure out exactly how to make money blogging isn’t easy, unfortunately. And there is a lot of trial and error – without some sort of navigational guide. You could end up spinning your wheels, getting burned out, and giving it up altogether. I have personally been down that road more than once with blogging.

Advertising revenue has always been a money-making vehicle, but all too often, only pennies are generated even when a blog has thousands and thousands of visitors per month.Along came the idea of products – and selling them via blogs. Monetizing a blog with products that are developed and sold by the blogger is becoming more and more popular, and one of the best ways to make money blogging. But there is still a lot of confusion around developing products that people want, selling them the right way, for the right price, and to the right group of people.

So in true ProBlogger style, The Blogger’s Guide to Online Marketing includes practical, step-by-step tips. Rather than just an overview of things you’ve heard before, this guide is based in theory and logic and then followed up by simple things to do to start to see the steps work.

As so many successful bloggers will admit, making money from blogging truly is like building a house, and there are foundational elements and then others that you build on top of them. It’s important to get things in order.

Features and Freebies

The Blogger’s Guide to Online Marketing includes 31 chapters of blog and business building insight, including chapters such as

  • Understand the competition
  • Conduct the “three second” test
  • Understand your monetization options (how you make money)
  • Organize and plan products
  • Survey your customers
  • Know when to stop marketing

The guide also includes “more than 21 documents, templates, worksheets, and examples to help you put the Ninja’s advice into practice immediately.” These include the all-important things like examples of good, effective sales pages, and email templates. They are huge time savers and also put the steps into perspective.

Read more about The Blogger’s Guide to Online Marketing here, including a complete list of chapters and information about the authors.

This guest post is written by Lior Levin, a marketing advisor for a shipment company that offers Pre shipment inspections, and who also advises for the Tel Aviv University’s department of ma in security.


Inbound Marketing Analytics 101

December 14, 2011

HubSpot does it again, taking content that is not necessarily new or revolutionary and putting it in a nicely formatted eBook that makes reading it a pleasure.

With “An Introduction to Inbound Marketing Analytics“, you get an overview of what to measure and why. Especially useful for small companies and those who are just starting out with their marketing programs and need some help identifying key metrics, the eBook is packed with good advice.

HubSpot Inbound Marketing Analytics eBook

Inbound Marketing Analytics Overview

In the eBook you will see metrics for the following marketing tactics:

  • Social Media
  • Email Marketing
  • Lead Nurturing & Marketing Automation
  • Your Website & Landing Pages
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Paid Search
  • Business Blogging

The benefits of analyzing your marketing performance according to HubSpot are:

1. Identify what’s working.
2. Identify what’s not working.
3. Identify ways to improve.
4. Implement more of the tactics that work to improve marketing performance

Agreed!

Get your free copy of the “An Introduction to Inbound Marketing Analytics” eBook.

Introduction to Marketing Analytics eBook


Effective Content is Clear and Direct

November 28, 2011

Edit: It has been pointed out to me that the Gobbledygook Grader I was linking to in the original post is no longer active. Try instead the “Jargon Grader” by the nice folks at Instructional Solutions.

A recent post by David Meerman Scott touched on a big pet peeve of mine… creating content that is easy to understand. Big organizations suffer from this problem more than others, but it also permeates small and medium businesses. Gobbledygook is spread everywhere, from press releases to website content, to the latest whitepaper or eBook. I think that in larger organizations it probably starts with someone trying to sound smarter than the rest, showing off his or her extensive vocabulary of arcane terms. Or, the person just doesn’t know what exactly to write about and decides to mask the lack of subject matter knowledge. Or a combination of both.

Smaller organizations sometimes fall into the trap of trying to appear bigger than they are and think that if they use the same terms the bigger guys are using, they will sound just like them and will be seen as another big player. Oh, boy. Big mistake.

Clear and Direct Content Wins All the time

When helping others with content, I usually start by asking what the goal is. What do you want the reader to know? What should they walk away with? How are you different? Often times the answers do not reflect what is actually written. Website copy is notorious for that… and you get excuses like “oh, we added all these words for SEO!”, or “that’s exactly what we said! Can’t you read”?

If you are reviewing or creating content, there’s a key component to making it effective. First, be clear. This means taking the content and understanding what it is actually trying to say. Then, just plainly saying it! It’s not rocket science, right?

Also, make it concise. The key to making it concise is to be direct. Instead of beating around the bush, just jump out and say it (or, write it). Here’s a quick example (actual text from a company’s website, I did not create it):

Original: ABC Company’s  training services are created with the primary objective of making our customers successful in using our products.

Modified: With our training services you will become productive in no time.

So, this is my first pass and you could make it even better, but you get the idea.

What is your score?

Want to test how well you are doing in creating content that is actually effective? Try out the free Gobbledygook Grader for starters. Then, give your content to someone that is not even remotely associated with what you write about and ask them to tell you what they understand after reading it. You will find the results surprising.

Happy content creation!


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