Search Marketing – What’s New?

December 28, 2011 Filed under: Internet Marketing,Local Search,SEO — Tags: , ,

Much has been happening in the world of Internet Marketing lately, so here is a brief synopsis of what’s new, and what it means for small businesses looking to market themselves on the web.

Growth of online advertising.  Internet advertising will be 2nd only to TV advertising in revenues by 2014 and will surpass newspaper ad revenues by 2013.  While representing 14.4% of all advertising today, Internet advertising is projected to grow to 21% of all ad revenues by 2014, growing by roughly $10B a year for the next 3 years.  Read more.

Google ads everywhereGoogle puts online ads everywhere.    Online real estate is limited and growing more scarce.  So, Google is trying to squeeze ad real estate out of every corner they can.  Here are 6 new paid search products that Google has introduced to offer still more opportunities to advertise online.  Read more.

Google deals.    It appears that Google is planning to roll out a ‘check-in’ feature for its Google Place Pages so that companies can offer coupons & deals like they do with Groupon, Living Social and other deal competitors that are growing in popularity.  Can Google really compete in this space, even after earlier failed attempts?  Will sharing offers on Google+ make the difference for them?  Read more.

Onsite Review Stations…go for it!  We’ve advised many clients with walk-in businesses to put a computer in their lobby to encourage customers to post reviews, since it helps improve their local search ranking.  Some industry pundits have written that Google would frown on this and find a way to penalize such behavior, but Mike Blumenthal reports that Google is now publicly encouraging the practice.  If you’re not doing this already, why wait?  Read more.

Negative reviews – keep your cool.   While we’re talking about reviews, I always like to pass on good advice about how best to handle any negative online reviews posted about your business.  It’s always a delicate situation, and one to be handled carefully.  Here’s some good advice from industry veteran Andrew Shotland.  Read more.

Location targeting for mobile is hot.  Mobile internet use is exploding with the growth in smart phones, and Google last May announced that 40 percent of mobile searches are for local businesses.  Advertisers are jumping on this trend by targeting their ads by location.  BIA Kelsey blog estimates that 29 percent of mobile campaigns today are targeted locally, and that it’ll grow to 69 percent of mobile ad spending by 2015. Time for you to jump on the bandwagon?  Read more.

PPC ads drive offline sales, big-time.  New research shows that PPC ads drive 6 times more business in in-store sales than in ecommerce sales, with an average PPC click worth $15 in in-store sales.  Unfortunately, this good news is often difficult to track, so it goes unnoticed and unreported.  But retail marketing firm RevTrack has developed some clever methods for tracking and measuring offline results.  Read more.

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Step Outside Your Social Media Echo Chamber

I was struck recently by a tweet from a social media guru, commenting on how staid and outdated he found the presentations at a healthcare conference because social media was so undervalued and unappreciated as a marketing vehicle.  That tweet really got under my skin.  It seemed pretentious to me, calling healthcare marketing outdated because they aren’t using the latest social media tactics.  But then I realized this ‘guru’ probably spends much of his time on social media blogs, following other social media gurus on Facebook, Twitter & Google+, and using all the latest ideas himself.  I’m sure he talks with hundreds of clients, helping them make the best use of social media for their businesses.  Of course he would think that healthcare professionals ‘just don’t get it.’  He, after all, lives in the social media echo chamber.

social media perspectiveIf you’re active in Social Media – any kind of media, in fact — you’re probably familiar with the echo chamber.  The echo chamber is what happens when you follow online communities or media sources you agree with, and before long, you find you’re listening only to like-minded people, you hear your own opinions constantly echoed back to you, and you’re further reinforced in your own belief system.  It goes a long way to explaining our currently polarized political system, where neither side can even hear the opposing side anymore, much less appreciate their point of view.

For many of us, the echo chamber also frames our business and personal discussions.  Do you find yourself bored from reading ever- similar story themes in your daily Facebook stream?  Do the tweets from people you follow all start to sound the same after a while?  Do you find the sources you read tend to cluster around certain repetitive themes?  If so, you’re in an echo chamber that was most likely crafted for you by Google or Facebook.  It’s a dangerous place to live for very long, because you’ll find after a time that your opinions become hardened, you start to think your views are ‘the truth’, and you gradually lose your ability to see other points of view.   Or, if you’re naturally more open-minded, you’ll find yourself becoming bored by the lack of diversity and new ideas you find online.

Remember those long-ago days when most people got their news from mass media, when we had to trust news editors to decide what was newsworthy and fit to print?  In those days, editors had to print a diversity of topics in order to satisfy their diverse readership.  Today, Google serves up a smorgasboard of information, making us feel like we’re exposed to endless diversity.  But it’s deceiving because Google tailors the delivery of that information in search results based on what it knows of our interests and previous behavior.  Facebook does the same, by favoring posts from people we interact with most.  And Twitter has the same effect, as we follow people we find interesting and then get drawn further into their circles of similar people.  Google+ alleviates the echo chamber somewhat by allowing you to deliberately create separate – and ever-widening — Circles of connections.  But it doesn’t do away entirely with the echo chamber.

In the world of social media, it takes work to keep an open mind and a broad perspective.  We’ve offloaded that job from the mass media news editor to the online individual.  It’s a heavy burden but an important responsibility – to yourself and others.  If you leave it to Google and Facebook, they will, over time, cocoon you in a well-padded chamber of echoes of your own voice.  If that is scary to you (it is to me!), you’ll need to keep a vigilant hand in the management of your social media circles.  Prune the list of who you’re following, what blogs you’re subscribed to, and what perspectives you’re reading.  If you feel the chamber walls narrowing, go out and find opposing viewpoints and subscribe to those.  Get active in their comments.  Engage with other perspectives. The old adage “don’t judge a man till you’ve walked a mile in his boots” could be updated to say “don’t form your opinions till you’ve ventured outside your own echo chamber”.

I have this nightmare image that, if we don’t keep ourselves vigilantly openminded online, we could become an entire nation that’s a macrocosm of our current Congress.  Now that’s a scary thought.

Just to keep things interesting and open-minded, here are 3 articles with quite different perspectives on the theme of this blog post.

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PPC: The Perils of Set it & Forget It

November 15, 2011 Filed under: PPC — Tags: , ,
ppc-keyword-research-strategies

Image by Search Influence via Flickr

Managing and optimizing PPC campaigns can seem, at first glance, like a simple, straightforward process. Once you’ve done all the hard work –setting up a campaign, selecting keywords, creating ad groups, writing ad copy, establishing bid rates – shouldn’t it just run?  Clients sometimes ask us to do the setup, then expect to just sit back and let the leads flow in.  Why, they ask, do you need to keep tweaking it if you’ve set it up well in the first place?

The short answer can be summed up in 2 words: Google & Competitors. Neither one is standing still.  Google is continually updating its algorithm with new capabilities, and your competitors are constantly adjusting their PPC accounts to improve conversions. This means that your PPC ads and keywords are not being served to a static environment. It’s constantly changing. As a result, neglecting your account is like surrendering one of your most effective marketing tools to your competition.

So, what is likely to happen if you do just let your PPC campaign run, unmanaged?

Keywords Get Missed. Keywords are the foundation for a PPC campaign. When a campaign is neglected, then new search queries  - queries that turn into paying customers – will get missed. This makes your campaign less effective than the actively managed campaigns your competitors are running …and lets weed out the best new leads for themselves.

Ads Grow Stale. People get tired of seeing the same ads. After awhile they ignore them. When they ignore them, they don’t click on them, visit your website, and convert to paying customers. Active management of a PPC campaign allows you to keep fresh, engaging ad copy in front of your best prospects and potential leads.

Negative Keywords Aren’t Added. There are lots of queries that people type into search engines that use your keywords, but are out of context for your business (think ‘cheap’ in front of your product category – do you want this traffic?). Only when you actively add those bad phrases into your negative keyword list will you improve your traffic quality and eliminate the leads you don’t want. But typically it takes practice and tweaking to learn what people are searching for and which phrases are misfires.  If your campaign isn’t actively managed, you won’t find them and you’ll waste money on unwanted traffic.

Bad Placements Aren’t Removed. Not every placement on the Display Network is good. Many will waste all of your budget with nothing to show for it. It’s essential to remove those bad placements so ensure your budget is spent on more worthy websites. Again, active management is needed to do this.

Testing doesn’t happen.  The PPC engines allow you to have multiple ad copies in a single AdGroup. Each ad copy can also go to a different landing page. It’s important to test different ads and landing pages to see which ad copy or landing pages increase your primary search metrics, such as clickthrough rate and cost per conversion.  Metrics such as profit per click show which ad copy and landing page combination leads to the highest most profit for your different keywords and ad copies.  You need to run regular reports to see which ads, landing pages and keywords lead consumers to do business with your company.

So, if you’re thinking PPC is a great opportunity to set up ads and just let them run – you may want to think again.

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Small Biz Updates From Google

November 9, 2011 Filed under: Local Search,Social Media Marketing — Tags: ,

Google rolled out updates this week that will give searchers more direct access to your Place PageGoogle Local Search Update 2 in their search results — and a brand presence on their new social network, Google+.

Your Place Page Just Got Promoted

Instead of just a list of local businesses displayed next to a map, Google now brings your Place Page to the search surface, displaying your pictures and details right on the search results page.  When someone searches for your company name, your Place Page will display in the right column, giving them map, pictures, details and customer reviews, without requiring an additional click. When they search for your category (for example, ‘furniture’), you’ll see the traditional Map in the right column at first, but that changes to an abbreviated version of your Place Page as you mouse over the >> to the right of your listing (see picture).  Congratulations, Place Pages — you just got promoted to the search results page!

Google+ Pages Roll Out

The long-promised brand pages have now been rolled out on Google+.  Following Facebook’s lead,  Google+ has quickly evolved to a person-to-organization social network and now welcomes Google+ Pages to allow businesses to interact with followers through Circles, Hangouts, and other Google+ features.  There’s quite a lot of buzz in this first week and plenty of instruction available to help you create your Google+ Page (much easier than Facebook Pages).  See links below for some great tips for getting started.  Time will tell whether Google will be able to lure people and businesses away from Facebook.

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The Next Great Web Filter

Time to cry information overload – again!

how we've filtered the web

how we've filtered the web....what's next?

Way back, in the early days of the Internet, there was lots of excitement about all the information available online.  Organizations quickly learned that having a website was a requirement to operate a successful business, and people began turning to the Web for most of their information needs.  As websites  multiplied, people struggled with how to make sense of it all, sort through it, find what was most valuable to them.  An exciting new communication channel soon blossomed into information overload with no effective filters.

Enter search engines.  Google, Yahoo, AOL rose to fast prominence by giving people a way to navigate through the morass of websites and find what they wanted quickly.  Then SEO, blogging, and content marketing were born, and smart marketers started feeding the search engines to get them to point people their way.  It started with link buying and swapping, then moved to a content creation craze.  Now, instead of website overloading, we’re inundated with “7 Lessons Learned” “10 Best Ways to…”, “6 Tips for…” headlines intended to lure people and links.  An exciting new search marketing field soon blossomed into content overload with no effective filters.

Enter social media.  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ all rose to fast prominence by connecting people, establishing online relationships, and giving people a way to chat and share information.  Now, in addition to search engines navigating and giving meaning to web content, friend recommendations are helping people to filter and discern what’s worth paying attention to.  But what happens when you gather 500+ friends and you’re following their lives, their interests, their shared links?  An exciting new communication channel soon blossoms into information overload with no effective filters.  Hmmm…sound familiar?

Enter… what’s next?  I don’t know about you, but I’m now yearning for the next great filter that will save me from drowning in all my social media activity.  Too much information.  Too much wasted time.  What new technology is going to help me navigate through all the social clutter and find my way to meaning – and still leave me time to live my life?

What are your thoughts?

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Cool SEO Tool for Bloggers

October 25, 2011 Filed under: Blogging,SEO — Tags: ,

I just found a great tool I really like and thought I’d share it out.

If you’re a blogger, like me, you probably focus most of your blogging time on writing your posts, not worrying about how to optimize them for search.  If you don’t already have a quick and easy process for optimizing your posts, consider a subscription to Scribe, a great tool that makes SEO easy and fun.  It’s developed by Copyblogger, longtime blogging and copywriting experts. This is not going to achieve super SEO results for your entire website, but it will give you an easy SEO-as-you-go approach to blogging.  Check it out:SEO in-place coaching

How it Works.  SEO typically has 3 major steps, and Scribe provides coaching and helpful suggestions for each, integrated with your blogging platform. Welcome to your online SEO coach!

Keyword research – find search terms that your target audience uses.  Scribe has a click for that.  Just type the word that summarizes your blog post topic and Scribe will do some quick, on-the-fly keyword research, then suggest the best terms (most popular in searches) to pepper throughout your post.

SEO content coaching from ScribeContent optimization – weave keywords into your post.  Scribe will check the places where search engines look – Title tag, Meta Description tag, and page content – and give you a score for how well you’ve optimized these with your keywords.  Then it’ll perform a contextual analysis of your page, showing the top keyword combinations found on your page – in other words, what will the search engines think your page is about?  If that’s not your intent, Scribe will suggest how you can change things to more effectively optimize for your desired keywords.  

Link Building – create links to your post.  Since incoming links give your post (and your blog/website) more credibility, they count a lot in the search ranking algorithm.  Scribe helps here by suggesting blog posts with related topics that you can approach to ask for a link – either by leaving a comment, contributing a guest post or establishing a direct relationship.  It also gives you a list of influential people who talk about your topic on social media so you can hook up with them.

How to Get it.  You can download Scribe easily by signing up for a subscription here (prices start at $17/month), and they’ll take your through the smooth 3 step process of  downloading a zip file which you can then just one-click upload to WordPress or Joomla.  One of the easiest online tools purchases I’ve made.

So, if you’re looking for some SEO help with your blog, it doesn’t get any easier than this.

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How To Attract High Value Traffic to your Website

October 18, 2011 Filed under: Web Analytics — Tags: , ,

Lots of SEO experts  talk and write about the value of incoming links to your website, as links add to the ‘authority measure’ of your site and help you to rank higher in search results.  Most SEOs will also tell you that the higher the authority of the site linking to yours, the more value the link gives your site in the eyes of the search algorithm.  That advice is all good and all true.  But there’s more to an incoming link than just its search ranking value.

Even more important, a good incoming link can also bring high-value visitors directly to your site.  Just like referrals you get from your customers or partners – referral traffic is coming on the direct recommendation of someone your visitor already trusts.  That trusted source is called a referring site in Google Analytics.

Let’s look at what Google’s web analytics tells us about referral traffic for a sample website that sells subscriptions for a financial newsletter.

First, we’ve set up 3 Advanced Segments in Google Analytics to track website traffic from the various marketing promotions the company is running:

  1. Content referrals — traffic from sites that have published content with embedded links to the company’s site.
  2. Social media sources – traffic from tweets and Facebook posts with embedded links to site content
  3. PRweb – traffic from press releases the company has posted online, containing embedded links

The segment analysis makes it possible to get insight into how effective the different promotions have been in driving traffic, engaging visitors and – ultimately – getting them to take the desired actions on the company’s site.  Here’s what we find:

Market segment analysis of your website

Analyze your website traffic by source

Driving Qualified Traffic

The largest segment of traffic is search-generated, represented by the blue shaded area between “All Visits” and the 3 target segments in the graph.  However, the quality of the 3 segments shows they are sending traffic that is more highly qualified than the rest.
See the lines  on the graph for:

 

Content referrals (yellow).  This traffic is from sites we’ve cultivated by targeting influential bloggers and online publications in the financial sector and sending them high-quality articles and guest blog posts on financial topics, which then link to the company’s website.  Content referrals draw more visits than the other promotions, have significantly higher engagement by visitors as reflected by more pages/visit, more time on site, and lower bounce rate.  Because of the high quality of the referring sites, these are highly qualified prospects.

Social media referrals (orange).  The company posts on Facebook and Twitter, but doesn’t engage much with its followers.  Nevertheless, because it has an established brand, it does generate some traffic from shared tweets and Facebook posts.

PRWeb referrals (green).  The company releases news frequently on PRweb, which, because of its established reputation gets picked up and sends timely traffic to the website.  PRWeb traffic has the highest percentage of new visits, so it’s an effective means of targeting new leads.

 

Market segment analysis of website conversions

Analyze your website conversions by source

Driving Conversions

When we look even closer and see what traffic is converting, we see that the 3 targeted segments of marketing-driven traffic are more valuable to the company than the rest of its search traffic.

See the lines  on the graph for:

Content referrals (yellow).  Our cultivated content referrals drew the most visitors and therefore resulted in the highest number of transactions.  In addition, they maintain a strong, steady conversion rate over time and as a result are the most valuable traffic source for the company.

Social media referrals (orange)..  Social media traffic had an initial high conversion rate, but has dropped to almost zero.  Unless the company becomes more engaged, this will likely not turn into a valuable lead source.

PRWeb referrals (green).  When news is released on PRweb, the company benefits significantly, with a conversion rate approaching 8%.  News happens only periodically, however, and conversion rates on that news varies depending on conditions in the stock market (market volatility generates more sales).  So, this is a great source but can only be used sparingly.

Given the analysis of just a 3-month period, it is clear that the highest value online marketing campaign for this client is the ongoing generation of high-value content, with periodic release of newsworthy press releases on PRWeb (we will continue to experiment and analyze results as we further hone the online marketing strategy).

 

For anyone doing online marketing, Advanced Segments analysis in Google Analytics will give you the smarts to find and attract the high-value traffic to your website and business – and to track it with insight-giving metrics.

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Local Search – It All Starts With Address & Phone Number

October 11, 2011 Filed under: Local Search — Tags: ,
Google Appliance as shown at RSA Expo 2008 in ...

Image via Wikipedia

Google’s Local Search function can be both a boost and a pain to small business owners. On Google Place Pages, local businesses can post photos, videos, and descriptive text, while Google provides directions (via Google Maps), transit options, and customer reviews from around the web. If you optimize your Place Page listing, you can show up in the Google 7-Pack at the top of the search results page and draw valuable new traffic to your website. That’s the boost part.
But for many small businesses that don’t fit neatly into Google’s Place Page template, Local Search can be a royal pain. We’ve helped many clients to claim and fix their Place Page listing and to rank in the 7-Pack – but not without pain in many cases. Here are just a few of the problems to beware of:

  • Manage your citations.  To validate your Place Page for ranking, Google’s local search algorithm looks for citations of your business name, address & phone number across the web to certify your information and see how widely cited it is. The more places they find mention of your business – assuming an identical match of the business name, address, phone number with your website and Place Page – the better your chances for a good ranking. So, do some legwork and make sure citations are correct – and if not, change them. GetListed.org will give you a snapshot of your citations in the directories that matter most.
  •  Change your address in the right places. If you’ve moved your business or changed your address in any way, it can create havoc with your Google Place Page and local ranking, especially if your old address continues to be listed in multiple locations across the web. We discovered the hard way that even old articles about your business posted long-ago with your old address can confuse the search spiders. So, if you change your address, make sure you update it in core locations that get propagated widely. These include Acxiom’s Universal Business Listing, Infogroup’s InfoUSA, Localeze, and yellowpages.com.
  •  Forwarded phone workaround. To list a citation or change your information in some of the key directories, you need to verify your identity. This usually means clicking a ‘verify’ button, which triggers a phone call to your listed number and requires you to enter a PIN number (both Yelp and yellowpages.com require this). Unfortunately, they do not work if your phone is forwarded or accessed through an automated call center. A handy workaround is to verify using a different (direct) number, and then go in later and change the listed number to the correct one you want your customers to use.
  •  Beware old logins. If you’ve had someone else create an account for you in Google Places or local directories, make sure they give you the login information. We’ve seen several clients tear their hair out because some 3rd party created and verified their account, then moved on and took the logins with them. It’s not impossible to work around – but it’s not fun either. Make sure you own all your logins.
  •  Last resort – ask Google for help. You’d think, since they are the masters of search, that Google would have all the answers for any difficulties you experience with local search. But unfortunately they’re notoriously poor at sharing those answers. Some good news is that Google just yesterday added a new support feature for Google Places that includes a Fix a Problem section that gives customized instructions for specific problems. The options are still pretty limited, but it does appear to be a step in the right direction and at least provides some suggested steps you can try. You can also Report a problem with the footer link on your Place Page; this will often take a long time (and may never get answered) but it’s worth a try if you’re really stuck.

Perhaps the new Fix a Problem feature is an indicator that Google is getting the message that business owners need help navigating Place Pages and Local Search, and that the current process needs better support.

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Facebook’s F8 Announcements – Too Much Information!

September 23, 2011 Filed under: Internet Marketing,Social Media Marketing — Tags: ,

As always when major news happens in the online marketing arena, I’ve spent a fair amount of time today digesting the announcements Facebook made at its F8 Developer conference yesterday (see Facebook’s page on the event).  While I’ve never been much of a Facebook fan to begin with (I’m just not exhibitionist by nature), the new features seem over-the-top… even for people who do like to share.  How much do we really want to know about hundreds of other people, after all?  And how much more time do people really have to waste on daily trivia and minutiae?  I think it’s time to call TMI.

If you haven’t seen or read about the new Facebook updates, these were the key news highlights:

Timeline. The redesigned Facebook Profile includes a “Timeline” allowing users to go back as far as their birth date and fill in with pictures and important events, essentially creating & sharing their entire autobiographical photo history.

New Apps. With a new developer capability called Open Graph, Facebook apps will now allow users to share with their friends whatever they’re doing – automatically.  You’ll be notifying your friends about what you’re reading, what music you’re listening to, what you’re watching, and whatever else developers can think of for you to share.  The news of your activity will appear in a new Ticker stream. Then your friends can copy you or share the experience with a single click.

Facebook Partners. To illustrate what you can do with the new Open Graph apps, Facebook announced partnerships with a bunch of media and entertainment companies (see Why Netflix, Spotify and Others are Friending Facebook).   All of them referenced examples of how you can share and consume news & entertainment — without ever leaving  Facebook.

So, does this make you want to jump in and add, not just your recent photos like before, but your entire life history in pictures for the world to see?  Does it make you hungry to know everything that all your Facebook friends are reading, watching and listening to?  Does it tempt you to leave behind the onerous task of browsing all your favorite news & entertainment websites, so you can consume their content from inside Facebook?

Hmmm.  Not me.  Doesn’t make me want to jump aboard.  Maybe I’m a luddite or a hermit or just anti-social.  But what I’ve read elsewhere about the Facebook updates shows I’m not alone.  Here are some reactions from others that I happen to agree with.

New York TimesFacebook as Tastemaker.  Can Facebook become the primary channel for web users to determine where and how they spend their time & money?  Perhaps, but some think such big goals will eventually be their undoing, just as Microsoft and AOL stumbled by overreaching.

Biznology. The New Facebook: I Get it and I Don’t.  Facebook’s focus has now turned from acquiring new users (who doesn’t use it at this point?) to expanding what users do on the site.  But who can (or wants to) absorb and learn all these new things?  Not me, says author Frank Reed.

Mashable. Is Facebook Trying to Kill Privacy?  Good question, as the new features encourage users to put their entire life online.  If you don’t want your friends knowing or sharing all this information about you, Facebook provides inline privacy controls so you can manage how much you want shared (though given their acquired social habits, many users won’t bother).  But even if you don’t mind sharing your details with friends, you should still be concerned that Facebook will own all the data – and has yet to reveal how they’ll share and act upon that knowledge.

ReadWriteWeb. Reactions to Facebook’s F8 Keynote. Want to know what the audience thought at the F8 event?  This infographic will at least tell you how they tweeted about it.

GigaOm. Media Companies Revisit Their AOL Days with Facebook.  Among the news from Facebook’s F8 Conference yesterday was the partnerships with media companies such as The Washington Post, The Guardian newspaper, The Daily from News Corp. and Yahoo News that will allow users to consume their news from within Facebook.  Many news commentators are calling this approach a “walled garden” (e.g. users get everything they need inside FB and will never venture out), comparing it to the early days of the Internet when AOL offered users a single portal to make it easier to navigate the scary new online world.  But is anyone really still scared to explore the Web on their own?

What about you?  Do you like what Facebook announced at F8?  What have you read about the announcements that makes the new features sound enticing?  I’m open to being converted, after all.

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Content Marketing: What Should I Write About?

September 13, 2011 Filed under: Content Marketing,SEO — Tags: , ,

If you are actively pursuing an SEO strategy for your website, you are most likely aware of the need to create unique, compelling, and original content on a regular basis.  Any SEO practitioner will tell you how critical content publishing is if you want your website to get found by the search engines.  Content is King has become the mantra of SEO.

You probably also know that you need to think like your target audience in order to be found by them.  This means using words they’re likely to be searching for, and addressing needs they can relate to.  Nothing new for anyone in sales or marketing, right?

content marketingActually, it is new — especially for many small businesses.  Compelling online content needs to go beyond traditional sales & marketing speak; it needs to provide standalone value, not just sell your products.  It needs to speak like a journalist, not a sales person.  It needs to be educational, not promotional.  In short, it needs to be about your audience, not about you.   Sounds simple, right?

Making the Content Leap Easier

Creating online content can be a tough leap into new territory, even for experienced marketers.  Many business owners have plenty to say about their own products and plans, but are challenged when it comes to creating audience-focused topics.    “What else can I talk about besides the subject I know best?” a small business owner asked me recently, meaning, of course, his own products.  I asked him to think about what publications his customers read every week – and then become one of them.   He gave me a blank stare.

If you’ve been in business a long time, it’s tough to step outside the traditional selling mindset and begin thinking like a publisher.  But if you want to be found in organic search results, publishing – not selling – is the best approach.  Here are some steps to make the transition easier:

Keyword research. Every business knows what its customers’ needs are in some form, since they’re in business to satisfy a need.  But you might be surprised to find your customers don’t use the same words you do to talk about it.  Google’s Keyword Research Tool will help you find words and phrases your target visitors actually search for, and how many other websites are competing for those terms.  Use this tool to find the ‘sweet spot’ of popular phrases, relevant to your business, and least competed for as a starting point for your content topics.

Customer interviews. If you have trouble stepping out of your selling mentality, try interviewing a handful of your customers.  Take the conversation away from your product area and find out more about their business, what challenges they face, their current frustrations and needs, their longer-term plans and dreams.  This will help you think bigger-picture, write from a sympathetic perspective, and address topics they care about.

Freelance writers.  If you’re too busy to struggle through writer’s block, or find you can’t step out of your own perspective, hiring a freelance writer may be the best way to produce content.  If you’re selling to a consumer market, a freelance writer can master your content readily and bring some fresh creativity.  If you’re a B2B company, you may need to train a writer on your industry specifics, but you’ll find that many freelancers are former (or current) journalists and will come up to speed quickly.  If you’re busy running your business or writing fills you with dread, this is your best option.

Industry publications. Read your industry publications.  Notice the trends, tips, and general topics they cover.   This is probably your best research for what topics readers find interesting, since publishers are in the business of selling content to your target audience, and they know what sells.  Follow their example and you’ll be off to a good start.

The new age of content marketing is just beginning and most marketers are trying to find their way with limited guideposts and no experience.  Several websites – Hubspot and Copyblogger being my favorites — offer volumes of good advice on how to do it well.  But if you don’t want a full course on the topic and just need some pointers on creating good online content, try these approaches and learn for yourself.  Web analytics will give you real-time feedback on how well you’re doing and allow you to adjust as you go.

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