Tag Archives: CONTENT

How to plan and create evergreen content for SEO

Understanding evergreen content is important for search engine marketers and jobbing professional writers alike.

In a previous piece for Search Engine Watch, my colleague Graham Charlton covered the power of evergreen content for SEO with some comprehensive Google Analytics stats to back up his claims. This post, however, seeks to explore evergreen articles from the content creation perspective.

  • How can I ensure this piece I am writing is evergreen?
  • And how can I ensure it will help with SEO?

Nailing down your evergreen subject

Deciding on what your new piece of evergreen content is going to be about is not an exact science.

In simple terms, such articles (of course, other types of content are also available) are expected to have enduring appeal on into the future. You want your subject to be relevant in the weeks, months, and potentially years to come.

With that in mind, I think it’s important not to view evergreen content as separate from things like pure news. Rather, it’s better to view how potentially evergreen a piece of content is on a scale – with things like news releases at one end, and informative pieces about the most universally enduring subjects at the other.

How-to guides and beginner’s guides

How-to guides and beginner’s guides are great examples of evergreen content. These are valuable educational resources, providing authority and giving the reader information to assist them in a task.

They are evergreen because people are always coming online to search for such resources – whether they are beginners, intermediates, or professionals.

Certain how-to or beginner’s pieces will have more evergreen potential than others as the need for people to have different types of skills come and go.

For example, baking bread is a very enduring skill, especially in comparison to something like using Microsoft Excel 2016 – but a how-to or beginner’s guide about Excel 2016 would certainly still be towards the evergreen end of the scale.

Other subjects have evergreen potential too

Even if the subject might appear time sensitive, a piece can still be written in such a way that it will have value down the line.

Trends pieces might on the surface seem quite short-term, but can have evergreen potential if they are looking at data over a long period of time, or if updates to the data are not expected soon. Case studies and more in-depth reflections on news events can be approached in the same way.

Curatorial pieces (such as examples of good or bad practice) might reflect on timely moments but can be given more longevity if written in regards to the wider historical context. They may also be easy to add-to down the line. The same can be said for listicles – despite their throwaway nature.

Even seasonal pieces can come back around.

Like I said, it’s not an exact science. Just because a piece of content discusses news doesn’t mean it isn’t evergreen. And just because something is a how-to guide doesn’t mean it definitely is.

Audience comes first, even when writing evergreen content for SEO

To quote Graham Charlton:

‘If done properly, content that works for your audience can also be the content that works for search engines.’

Titles and introductions should be descriptive, rather than clickbait-y and/or stuffed with keywords.

They should be true to the content that follows.

It is typical for evergreen articles to be more in-depth and informative to your audience than things at the other end of the scale such as quick news stories or press releases which provide little more than the bottom line.

Remember, if presenting a reader with a longer piece, make use of plenty of whitespace and sub-headings to break up large pieces of text.

Evergreen pieces may take more time to write. But in the long run they are likely to give more value to a wider audience and will provide more returns to your site.

So is it SEO-friendly?

Of course, evergreen content is great for appealing to future readers, but also good for building authority on search engines.

Best practice with title tags, URLs and image alt text should all reflect your keywords.

Internal links to other relevant pages on the same domain also point search engines to other bits of content relating to your piece – giving weight to the page you are linking out to, but also showing your piece to be part of the conversation. Of course, readers appreciate further reading too.

As we touched upon earlier, some of the best examples of enduring subjects to write about have no doubt been of interest to readers for a long time and will likely to continue to be.

Baking bread is a good example – but of course, an article titled simply: ‘How to bake bread’ is not likely to do your website any favours with search engines. The competition for that topic would be immense.

More visibility is possible, though. Exploring a niche aspect of a bigger subject is a good option for a new piece of evergreen content. For example, ‘How to bake bread without an oven’ has just as much evergreen potential as ‘How to bake bread’ and although it has a smaller potential audience, it would be far easier to rank for in the SERPs.

Exploring alternative approaches to the way a question might be posed is another way to potentially stand out on Google.

For example, ‘A beginner’s guide to mixing flour, kneading dough, and making great bread’ might be a worthwhile alternative to ‘A beginner’s guide to baking bread.’ This type of headline, though wordy, will potentially appear for a greater range of search queries such as ‘How to knead dough’ and ‘How to make great bread’.

A checklist for creating evergreen content

In the interest of ensuring that the points raised in this piece are actionable, I thought I’d sum up with a checklist:

  1. Does the subject have evergreen potential?
  2. Does it seek to answer a question and establish authority?
  3. If it relates to news or trends, can it be written in a more evergreen way?
  4. Is the title and introduction descriptive and informative for the audience?
  5. If the piece is long, is it separated with white space, sub-headings, bullets and pictures?
  6. Are keywords reflected in title tags, URLs, alt. text etc.?
  7. Are there internal links to other articles on the same domain and do articles from the domain link back?
  8. Should the piece explore a niche or does it need alternative wording in the title to stand out?

Evergreen content can require more effort than other types of content, but will ultimately pay off in the long run. The key is to take time in choosing your subject, planning your angle and potentially spending a little longer writing or creating it.

The resulting piece will not necessarily produce immediate traffic spikes and quick authority, but will be invaluable for your readers and your SEO visibility over time. Understanding how to produce evergreen content is a great additional tool in your search and content marketing kit.

How to master copywriting for SEO

In 2018, you need to understand copywriting and SEO – and a whole lot more – to write content that will rank well and return a great ROI.

If you have a head for marketing, UX and research, too, you’ll be in a commanding position. As our discipline evolves in response to a changing search engine landscape, demarcation lines become blurred, and it’s been difficult not to venture into featured snippets, schema and other on-page aspects of SEO.

Instead, with proper focus, you’ll need to know about your audience and how they’ll read your content, what they will be looking for, the continuing role of high quality, in-depth content, where offline historic copywriting skills still live on today, why you should still be using key phrases, and why structure is important.

How will your audience read your content in 2018?

Google’s recent announcement of the first set of sites being migrated to mobile-first indexing reflects the fact that the majority of searches worldwide are carried out on mobile devices. My direct experience is that the move to mobile is very much in the B2C space; less so in B2B, where people are still at their desks with their laptops or desktops.

And then, we see the start of an explosion in voice search and devices – our smartphones and home devices from Google, Amazon and Apple – reading content to us.

Of course, we’re still seeing how voice pans out, and its implications for SEO copywriting, but I’d say if you stick to simple language and shorter sentences within a well-structured piece (think about making the main points right up front in case the listener’s attention wanders).

High-quality, in-depth content

However your audience interacts with your work, it needs to be excellent. Make your content unique, high quality and written to professional standards. Google will reward you. Buying 300-500 spun monstrosities, while never being a great thing, had better not even pass through your mind today. They’ll kill your SEO and content marketing ambitions stone dead.

While we’re thinking about copy lengths, one popular strategy recently has been to write a longer piece than those above you in the rankings. Theirs is 2,000 words? Then leapfrog them by writing 2,500!

Of course, it’s not as simple as that. Take a look at the webpages above you in the SERPs. How good are they? Are they well-written? Do they answer the questions customers are asking? Do they understand searcher intent and how to respond to it?

If the 2,000-worder in your sights fails on any or all of these factors, you may be able to kick the ball out of the park with a shorter, tighter, laser-targeted 1,500-worder.

Writing shorter pieces for mobile’s smaller screens may be tempting. Don’t, though. You’ll lose out to those more extensive pieces, written without such an artificial restriction. Instead, leave it to your UX people, designers and developers to get the presentation right.

Write for people

Now that Google can understand the words on a page, you have to raise your writing game. Get your grammar and stylistic chops up with the best and Google should reward you for it. But don’t forget your audience. Deliver them precisely what they’re looking for.

Before you start writing, ask yourself:

  • Who is your audience?
  • Where is their pain?

Put yourself in their mind; imagine how they will react to your content.

You may want to go the whole hog and spend time developing Personas. Personally, I’m happy to use them if there’s the budget and someone else to do most of the donkey work. Otherwise, I find I can usually visualize the target group more easily than the series of sometimes-unconvincing individuals that can come out of the Persona-building exercise.

Bridging the offline past with the online present

Let’s see how the long-established rules of copywriting work in today’s SEO copywriting environment.

  • Do your research: Advertising industry king, David Ogilvy, stressed the fundamental importance of research in producing great copy some 50 years ago – decades before the age of keyword research or the internet. Don’t you forget the keyword research, though – more on that later .
  • Write an attention-grabbing headline based on related key phrases from your research.
  • Involve the reader further with subheads – don’t skimp on them, either.
  • Make it easy for the reader: In addition to inserting subheads, write in short paragraphs and short sentences. And ensure you put spaces between paragraphs.
  • Calls to action: No matter how good your copy, you’ll need a CTA to see the full return on your investment, through sign-ups, purchases or other goal fulfilments.
  • Treat editing as separate from writing: Get some time between the two processes and see your work with new eyes. If you’re writing more than a couple of screens of copy, consider printing out your work. You’ll see it entirely differently.
  • Get someone else to read your work: They’ll notice your mistakes and pick out where you’re unclear.

The key phrase is alive and well and living in the best copy

Don’t listen to people who say ‘Key phrases are dead’. They are very much alive. And they will remain so all the time we use the paradigm of typing or speaking language into a search engine. But their use in digital marketing today has changed.

While you’re doing your research, think audience and marketing. How big is the online audience (market)? Where are they? What can we find out about their demographics? What should my content be about?

If you’ve got it right, and have used the right tools (at the core of my toolset are SEMrush and Keywordtool.io), you should have the most important answers you need to write the copy.

With my main key phrases selected, I look for questions and semantically related key phrases to flavour and shape what I’m writing. I find Answer the Public invaluable here.

  • Talk to your client and/or customers: Find out about problems, solutions, products and services
  • Build a list of seed key phrases
  • Do your research
  • Select your key phrases: Be sure why they’re relevant to your audience
  • Assemble your questions and semantically connected key phrases
  • Write for your audience

You can’t sidestep key phrase research. It’s still at the core of copywriting for SEO and the framework for everything you write.

Don’t let key phrase density hang on

Back in the day, before Google understood semantics and had AI, copywriting for SEO was many times more difficult than it is today. The trick was to use the key phrases precisely as they appear in the research (give or take a stop word or two), the requisite number of times or density to help the search engine understand your content. And it all somehow had to read as if a human had written it for another human!

But why am I talking about key phrase density in 2018? It’s nothing to do with my greying beard and pathological need to relate stories about the past (honest). It’s about WordPress.

The WordPress CMS powers more than 28% of the sites on the Internet. And its most popular SEO plugin, Yoast SEO is getting millions of content producers, both site owners and professional writers to adjust their key phrase densities via Yoast’s traffic light system.

If you’re making this mistake, for everyone’s sake turn off the traffic lights and write according to the rules and advice here. You should start seeing better results.

Structure and <h> tags

Another area that people say has passed into history. I say otherwise. We’re recognizing the growing importance of UX (user experience). As a writer, UX isn’t something you can ignore, thinking it’s the domain of designers and developers. An enjoyable, involving read will be a better experience than a dry academic paper in a learned journal.

If natural, professional writing is a prerequisite for success, so is having a page that’s easy to read and understand. Think about the reader again. A big headline is the most important (use h1 tags), and a hierarchy from next biggest down to smallest (h2 to h6). So use them to make content’s structure clear and easy to navigate.

I’ve got through this entire piece without saying ‘Content is King’. To be honest, I’m not sure it is.

SEO is a much more wide-ranging game in 2018 than it was even a year or two ago. Just writing copy is unlikely to bring all the results you’re looking for. So you must consider SEO copywriting as a part of your digital marketing armory. A fundamental part, of course, but remember the lines are increasingly blurred.

ranker-voting.png

Ranker: How to make a Google algorithm-proof website

Any SEO or webmaster who has ever had a website affected by a Google algorithm change – or feared being affected by one – has probably wished that they could find a way to make their website “algorithm-proof”.

Still, surely there’s no such thing as a website that’s never impacted by Google algorithms, right? As long as your site is indexed by Google, it’s at the mercy of the algorithms that Google uses to determine website ranking, all the more so if you happen to rely heavily on organic search traffic for your business.

The art – or science – of search engine optimization is about determining as best you can what those algorithms are looking for, and giving it to them.

Yet one website believes it has found the formula for making its content “Google algorithm-proof”. Ranker is a website made up of dynamic, crowdsourced lists that users can vote on, about everything from pop culture to geography, history to sports, celebrities to science.

And according to its CEO, Clark Benson, Ranker has never suffered a negative effect from a Google algorithm change, growing its traffic steadily without interruption over the course of eight and a half years.

Search Engine Watch caught up with Benson to find out Ranker’s secret to success, and whether there is a formula for creating an algorithm-proof website.

Rankings, not review sites

So what is Ranker, exactly?

“Ranker’s primary reason for being is to crowdsource anything that makes sense to rank,” says Benson. “Any topic that people are really interested in.

“The unique angle that we’ve pursued is that instead of having this being one 23-year-old blogger’s opinion of the best new TV shows of the year, or whatever it happens to be, we would have a dynamic list that visitors could vote on, potentially add items to, and re-rank.

“The end result is a very wisdom-of-crowds-based answer which is always changing and dynamically moving along as tastes change, and as more people vote on things.”

Voting on a list of ‘Historical events you most want to go back and see’ on Ranker

Lists have been a time-honored draw for magazines and other print media over the years, but it was when the internet came along that they really exploded – spawning dozens of list-oriented viral websites and the much-mocked listicle, which became a staple of online journalism. However, Benson – a self-described “lifelong list nerd” – was frustrated by the fact that these lists only ever represented one person’s opinion.

In a similar vein, he found review websites unhelpful, as user-generated reviews represented a single person’s subjective opinion in a format that wasn’t conducive to making a decision.

“Part of the reason to build Ranker was my frustration with review sites, because when I’m looking for an answer to something, like which TV show to watch, I don’t want to read a lot of text reviews.

“I also feel that in typical five-star rating systems, everything tends to be clustered around three and a half to four stars, so you don’t get any true granularity on what is best.”

In a world increasingly “cluttered with choices”, therefore, Benson was convinced that rankings were “the simplest way to dissect a choice in a category, without losing the credibility of the answer”. And so he built Ranker as a website where the wisdom of the crowd could determine the ultimate ranking for any list of items, on any topic.

The secret to Ranker’s SEO success: Content freshness

Since Ranker’s launch in 2009, the site has amassed more than 100,000 rankings across dozens of broad categories, encompassing almost any topic that people could have a passion for.

When the website first launched, however, it had very few resources, and Benson explains that he had to learn SEO from scratch in order to give the website a strong foundation.

Luckily, earning traffic was never a problem for the site, because the type of content published on Ranker was uniquely suited to catering to Google’s algorithms.

“We’ve never been hit by any algorithm changes – we’ve always grown our organic search traffic year over year over year, steadily, for the eight and a half years we’ve been live.

“You never exactly know what works in SEO, because Google doesn’t tell you what works, but I’ve always believed that the best intelligence on what to do comes from the public statements Google makes – their best practices.

“And one of the key factors that Google says is in their index is freshness of content. Content has a lifespan. In our case, because our rankings are dynamic and always changing – people are adding things to them, voting things up and down – this makes for perpetually fresh content.

“We have a lot of content that is six, seven, even eight years old that is still doing as well as it was years ago, and in some cases it’s even growing in traffic.”

Ranker: How to make a Google algorithm-proof website

One of Ranker’s most evergreen pieces of content is a list ranking the ‘Best Movies of All Time’ – which is more than 5,000 items long.

“Obviously that’s a topic that there’s a lot of passion and a lot of competition for [in search rankings]. And in the last few years, we’ve been on the top three or so results on Google for that term.

“We’ve watched that page just grow in rankings over the span of seven or eight years. I can only guess it’s because the page is always changing.”

User-curated content

At the time of writing this article, Ranker’s front page is currently spotlighting a list of best-dressed celebs at the 2018 Oscars, a best TV episode names ranking, and a list of possible game-changing deep space observations to be made by the Webb Telescope.

Anyone can add an item to a list on Ranker, although Ranker’s content is not purely user-generated. Ranker has an editorial team which is made up of people who, in Benson’s words, “have a mind for cataloging things” rather than people who specialize in writing a lot of prose.

Lists are typically started off by one of Ranker’s editors, and when a user wants to add a new item to a list, it’s cross-referenced with Ranker’s database, a huge data set made up of more than 28 million people, places and things. If the item isn’t found in the database, it’s added to a moderation queue.

Rather than UGC (user-generated content), therefore, Benson thinks of Ranker’s lists as something he terms UCC – user-curated content.

Ranker: How to make a Google algorithm-proof website

How did Ranker build such a huge data set? Beginning in 2007, a company called Metaweb ran an open source, collaborative knowledge base called Freebase, which contained data harvested from sources such as Wikipedia, the Notable Names Database, Fashion Model Directory and MusicBrainz, along with user-submitted wiki contributions.

This knowledge base made up a large part of Ranker’s data set. What’s interesting is that Freebase was later acquired by none other than Google – and is the foundation of Google’s Knowledge Graph.

Additionally, not every list on Ranker is crowdsourced or voted on. Some lists, such as Everyone Who Has Been Fired Or Resigned From The Trump Administration So Far, don’t make sense to have users voting on them, but are kept fresh with the addition of new items whenever the topic is in the news.

Can other websites do ‘Ranker SEO’?

Benson acknowledges that Ranker’s setup is fairly unique, and so it isn’t necessarily possible to emulate its success with SEO by trying to do the same thing – unless you just happen to have your own crowdsourced, user-curated list website, of course.

With that said, there are still some practical lessons that website owners, particularly publishers, can take away from Ranker’s success and apply to their own SEO strategy.

First and foremost: content freshness is king

As you’ve no doubt gathered by now, the freshness of Ranker’s content is probably the biggest contributing factor to its success in search. “We’re convinced that the dynamism of our content is what really lets it just grow and grow and grow in search traffic,” says Benson.

“While our approach is somewhat unique to the way Ranker works – we have a bespoke CMS that makes lists out of datasets – I’m positive that there are other ways to apply this kind of thinking.”

To put content freshness front and center of your content marketing efforts, make sure that your publication or blog is well-stocked with evergreen content. For those articles or posts that are more time-sensitive, you can still publish a refreshed version, or look for an up-to-date spin to put on the old content, for example linking it in with current events.

According to research by Moz, other factors which can contribute to a positive “freshness” score for your website as a whole include:

  • Changes made to the core content of your website (as opposed to peripheral elements like JavaScript, comments, ads and navigation)
  • Frequency of new page creation
  • Rate of new link growth (an increase in links pointing back to your site or page)
  • Links from other fresh websites, which have the ability to transfer their “fresh value” (Justin Briggs dubbed this quality “FreshRank” in 2011)

Internal links trump external links

Other than content freshness, Benson attributes Ranker’s SEO success to one other big factor: its intricate network of internal links, which Benson believes are far more valuable to SEO than an impressive backlink profile.

“I think a lot of people who are new to SEO focus too much on trying to get outside links, versus optimizing their own internal infrastructure,” he says.

“We have a very broad site with millions of pages – not just lists, but a page for every item that’s included in a list on Ranker, showing you where it ranks on all of our different lists.”

Ranker: How to make a Google algorithm-proof website

The Ranker page for Leonardo da Vinci

“We made the mistake early on of leaving all of those pages open to Google’s index, and we learned over time that some of them are very thin, content-wise. New links are added to them, but they’re thin pages. So we quickly adopted a strategy of noindexing the thinner pages on our site – so they have utility, but they don’t necessarily have search utility.

“We’ve really focused a lot on internal link structure and on interlinking our content in a very intelligent and vertical-driven, page-optimized way. We’ve put a lot of engineering and product resources towards building a robust internal link structure that can also change as pages become more valuable in search.

“Outside links are very important, but they’re increasingly difficult to get. If you have good, unique content, and a strong internal link structure, I think you can get by with far fewer backlinks. Ranker has a lot of backlinks – we’re a big site – but we’ve never tactically gone out to build backlinks. And we get more than 30 million organic search visits per month.”

Ranker: How to make a Google algorithm-proof website

Think about how your content will appear to searchers

Benson emphasizes the importance of paying attention to basic on-site optimization like crafting good title tags and meta descriptions. These elements dictate how your website appears in the SERP to users when they search, and so will form the first impressions of your content.

“When it comes to creating new content, our editorial team definitely focuses on best practice with regards to title tags and meta descriptions – the basic stuff still applies,” says Benson. “Anyone doing editorial still needs to think about your content from the lens of the searcher.”

Optimizing for Google’s rich results and using Schema.org markup are additional ways that website owners can make sure that their website listing appears as attractive as possible to a searcher encountering it on the SERP.

The future is psychographic

What plans does Benson have for the future of Ranker? Up to now, the site has been concentrating mostly on search and social distribution (Facebook is another big source of organic traffic), but are now beginning to focus more on ad sales, media tie-ins and getting the brand name out there.

“We’re always focused on growing traffic, and we’re certainly investing a lot more into our brand,” says Benson.

However, the most exciting future project for Ranker is something called Ranker Insights – a psychographic interests platform which makes use of Ranker’s thousands of data points on what people are interested in and like to vote on.

Ranker: How to make a Google algorithm-proof website

Drawing connections between people’s interests on Ranker Insights

Big data on anything is extremely valuable in marketing, but big data on the things that people like is near enough invaluable – particularly in a world where psychographics (classifying people according to their attitudes, aspirations, and other aspects of their psychology) are increasingly more important than demographics (classifying people according to things like age, gender, race and nationality).

“The marketing world in general is steering a lot more towards psychographics rather than demographics,” says Benson. “Netflix doesn’t care what country you live in – when it comes to marketing or even recommendations, all they care about is your tastes. They stopped using demographics entirely years ago – and clearly they’re doing something right.

“We feel that in an interconnected world, what you like says at least as much about you as your age or your gender.

“And in a world where what you like tells people how to market to you and how to reach you, we have very, very granular, deep data on that front. There’s a lot of different applications for insights like this in a very data-driven world.”

30 ways to market your online business for free

For many people and businesses, the word ‘marketing’ conjures up visions of pricey marketing strategies and excessive expenditure.

With a high number of businesses all vying for exposure among the vast digital landscape, it can sometimes feel like fighting a losing battle, especially for those just starting out.

However, it doesn’t have to be expensive: there are plenty of free ways to market a business. In this post, we share our top tips for how to market your online business for free – 30 different ways in fact. Here goes…

1.   Capture email data

Ensure that you have a method of capturing email data from website visitors. Integrate an email sign up option onto your site and begin building a database of customer data.

You can then use this data for a range of marketing incentives, such as email marketing or creating custom audiences on Facebook for targeted advertising. (Just make sure you’re GDPR compliant…)

2.   Email marketing

You’ve got the data, now you need to do something useful with it. Start by setting up a free account with Mailchimp, and start distributing those emails.

Avoid being overly promotional and always offer something genuinely useful to the recipients. Keep the emails regular but never bombard, otherwise people will hit unsubscribe quicker than you can say ‘digital marketing’.

3.   Video marketing

You’d be mad to ignore the proliferation of video over the past few years. Jump on the bandwagon and start engaging in some video marketing.

Begin by setting up a YouTube channel. You don’t have to create Hollywood-esque movies – just a simple video blog will do. If you’ve got something useful to say, then say it on video. It also makes for highly shareable, marketable content – plonk it on your website, push it out on social, and include in your emails.

4.   Post to Facebook

It goes without saying that social media is one of the most valuable marketing tools out there. And it’s free. FREE. It’s best not to go signing up for every social media platform under the sun, just focus on those most suitable to your business.

Facebook is a viable option for almost all businesses. Unfortunately, the latest algorithm updates have made it harder than ever for businesses to gain visibility in the news feed without paying. But, you’ve got nothing to lose. Post regular updates – be engaging and exciting, don’t be too promotional, and be genuinely interesting.

5.   Interact with industry experts on Twitter

Twitter isn’t for everyone, but it does carry a whole array of benefits. It’s a great platform for engaging with industry experts and customers, as it’s a place where anyone can talk to anyone.

Respond to customer feedback, retweet the best user-generated content, and offer genuine input to industry discussions.

6.   Create an Instagram

A popular contender among social media platforms, Instagram has an ever-increasing user base.

If your business would benefit from a visual presence, then make sure you are dedicating time to building a strong Instagram account. Remember that it’s a visual platform, so carefully curated content that looks amazing is key.

7.   Generate website traffic with Pinterest

Pinterest isn’t suitable for a lot of businesses, but can work really well for some. The platform has one of the highest conversion rates in terms of converting browsers into buyers.

You can also generate significant website traffic and find out more about what your target users love.

8.   Build your network on LinkedIn

If your business is a B2B company, be sure to have a strong presence on LinkedIn. It’s also a great place for building your network. The same rules apply to LinkedIn as other social platforms – engage with relevant people and offer genuine insight.

9.   Publish to Google Plus – yes, really!

Google Plus, that strange little platform that never quite hit the big time. Yet it’s still plodding along hoping that one day, something, anything will happen that propels it into social media stardom (not likely).

Still, despite the failings of Google Plus, it is still worth getting into the habit of pushing out any new content via Google Plus. After all, it’s a product of Google and if you want to climb those rankings, we suggest keeping Google sweet.

10.   Start using Google Posts

Aim to publish regular updates via Google Posts for greater visibility in the search engine results pages. Posting to Google allows businesses to share content with people that is relevant to the search queries being inputted. It’s a great way of gaining a little extra exposure.

11.   Encourage UGC

User-generated content (UGC) is content that has been created and published by unpaid fans of your business. It’s when someone loves your product or service so much that they take it upon themselves to share their experience with friends and family, usually via social media.

UGC typically occurs naturally, but there is no harm in encouraging it – if you don’t ask you don’t get! You can highlight the best posts every week on your social media channels, and even offer prizes to customers who get featured.

And speaking of prizes…

12.   Run social media giveaways

Running social media giveaways is a sure-fire way of increasing engagement and generating new followers. Not only can it be a nice way of saying thank you to existing customers and fans, it’s also a handy way of reaching potential new customers.

Okay, so it’s not entirely cost free, as you’ll need to give away a product, but there’s no need to spend any money on top of that. Just be sure to follow all the best practices of running a giveaway.

13.   Engage with social influencers

Influencer marketing is a huge industry. For those unfamiliar with how it all works, a business pays or offers free products to a blogger or influencer who has a high following on social media. In return, the influencer shares your product on their social media channels. It’s extremely effective.

The more popular influencers can charge astronomical rates, but those with smaller followings (sometimes called “micro-influencers”) have high engagement rates and are often willing to post something in return for a free product or trial.

14.   Set up Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools

If you haven’t already, then make sure you set up Google Search Console (and also Bing Webmaster Tools). Using these tools, you can view valuable information about the search terms people are using to find your website.

You can also index new pages, meaning they will show up in the search engine results pages quicker. Plus, be sure to submit an XML sitemap – it helps the search engines crawl your site.

15.   Update your Google My Business listing

Update your Google My Business listing and check that all information is accurate. Reorganize the images to ensure that only your best side is showing.

Do the same with your local listings for Bing and Yahoo. It’s also worth working on building your Google reviews, as they will help boost your rankings.

16.   Ask your customers for testimonials

On the topic of reviews, be sure to generate as many testimonials and (positive) reviews as possible.

Whether it’s via Google, TrustPilot or for a dedicated testimonials section on your website, people trust other people. You’ll have to ask your customers for these, as people don’t very often give them naturally. Just a gentle prompt will do the trick.

17.   Google Analytics

Make sure that you have Google Analytics linked up to your site. It’s a treasure trove of handy data and be sure to spend some time getting your head around it all.

See how people interact with your site, identify the pain points and discover the most popular pages. With this information you can make considered and informed changes and improvements to your site.

18.   Review Google AdWords

Google AdWords is not free. In fact, it’s incredibly expensive. But if you are already running a PPC campaign then it’s worth taking some time to review your strategy. Try rewriting some of the ads and improving your quality score to generate better results.

Sparing a little time reviewing your campaign could save you lots of money. For most of us AdWords will cost, but if you are a charity you can apply for a Google Grant of up to £10,000 to spend on AdWords!

19.   Use PR

PR is still a very powerful weapon in a marketer’s arsenal. Without hiring a dedicated PR agency, there are some steps you can take to implement a bit of PR. Following any substantial news or updates, it’s worth distributing a press release as you never know who may pick it up.

Sign up to platforms like HARO (help a reporter out) and look out for hashtags like #journorequest on Twitter, as you may be able to wrangle a mention. PR, of course, goes hand-in-hand with link-building for SEO.

20.   Contribute to forums, blogs and discussions

Part of marketing your business online is to establish yourself as a reliable industry expert and a voice of authority. In order to build this authority, take the time to contribute to relevant forums, blogs and social media discussions.

Offer genuinely helpful insight and answer questions that are being asked. People will appreciate your input and, with any luck, will convert into a customer.

21.   Speak at industry conferences

Another excellent way of building your authority and reputation as an expert within your industry, is to volunteer to speak at relevant industry conferences. It’s a great way of getting your personal and business name out there. If you’re trusted to speak at conferences, then you’ll be trusted to offer a good product or service.

22.   Content creation

It goes without saying that content creation should be central to any digital marketing strategy. If you haven’t already got a blog on your website then don’t wait a second longer. Do it. Right now.

You’ll probably have noticed that there are a disconcerting amount of blogs on the web. So don’t do what everyone else is doing; be different, be helpful and be relevant.

23.   Guest post

As well as creating content for your own site, be sure to integrate guest blogging into your marketing strategy. Only aim for relevant and high quality sites, preferably with a high domain authority and nonexistent spam score.

It’s a great way of ramping up brand exposure, but also securing links back to your website (hello better SEO rankings).

24.   Use blogging platforms

As beautiful as your website’s blog might be, it can be frustrating if your lovingly crafted content is not getting the exposure you think it deserves. Especially if you are only just starting out, it can be crushing to spend hours working on a stellar article, only for two people to read it (probably your mum and your best mate).

This is where blogging platforms, like Medium, can help increase your exposure. Just make sure that you follow the best practices for republishing content on these platforms.

25.   Carry out keyword research

If you are undertaking a full blown SEO campaign, the chances are that you are paying someone to do it, or you are already an SEO whiz, in which case you’ll (hopefully) know what you’re doing.

For the newbies, keyword research is the initial stage of any SEO campaign and can help you identify user intent and figure out what your target audience is searching for. It would take several blog posts to cover this in enough detail, but a good place to start is with this complete guide to keyword research for SEO.

26.   Optimize your metadata

Get into the habit of writing an SEO title and meta description for every page and post you publish. This is the information that will be displayed in the search engine results pages, so you need to make it as enticing and relevant as possible.

27.   Mark up your website with Schema.org structured data

In a nutshell, schema markup allows you to label the content on your site for the benefit of the search engine. It helps the search engines provide more detailed search engine results pages.

Although there is no evidence that schema markup directly improves your rankings, it will make your listing more attractive, therefore encouraging more click-throughs. And that can only be a good thing!

28.   List your business in online directories

Ensure that your business is listed in relevant online directories. There are the most popular ones, such as Yell, Yelp and Thomson Local, but there are a whole host of other industry or location-specific directories.

Make sure you add your business listing to only the directories which are relevant to your business, and ensure they aren’t spammy.

29.   Make sure your NAP are consistent

That sounds complicated but it’s really very simple. NAP stands for name, address and phone number. NAP consistency refers to the process of ensuring that all mentions of your business feature the correct information.

Do a quick search and make sure that the name, address, phone number, and any other information about your business listed online are all completely accurate and formatted consistently.

30.   Test your website with Google’s PageSpeed Insights and Mobile-Friendly Test

Finally, if you want your website to rank well and offer a fantastic user experience then it needs to be fast and mobile-friendly. Utilize Google’s free tools to check the speed of your website and whether or not it is mobile-friendly. Any red flags should be resolved as quickly as possible.

So there you have it. There’s definitely enough information here to keep you occupied for quite some time. It always helps to have a marketing budget, but these free steps are the best place to start. Good luck!

If you enjoyed this article, check out our other roundups of marketing tools and techniques you can use completely free of charge:

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The rise of personal searches: How can content marketers take advantage?

As marketers in the ever-changing world of digital, success depends on knowing what consumers want and expect from us. After all, it’s the only way we can deliver.

So, it’s interesting to see that a recent data release from Google tells us that personalized search is becoming more and more prominent among internet users.

No longer are they turning to friends and family for personal advice and recommendations, but search engines too.

Of course, we already knew that… that’s why we work so hard at getting to know our audience and understanding their micro-moments and pain points, delivering the right content at the right time, in the right way.

But what Google is telling us is that rather than searching, “How often should you wash your hair?”, we are now searching “How often should I wash my hair?”. Changing those two little words is making the way that we use search engines far more personal than ever before.

And the data suggests that consumers now truly trust that their most specific needs can be answered by content on the web. In fact, in the last two years Google has reported that mobile searches using “…for me” has grown by a huge 60% over the last two years.

On top of this, they have also seen an 80% increase in mobile searches including “…should I?”. As a result, we really are treating search as one of our best, most trusted friends.

And that’s great news for content marketers.

For those of us working in motor, beauty, finance, fitness and pet care, it seems that this new insight is especially relevant – these are the industries in which users are most frequently turning to Google to solve their personal pain points.

How can we prepare and optimize our content for these types of search?

Tools

Creating calculators and tools is a brilliant way of targeting personal search terms and providing our users with the personalized response they are looking for. Let’s use a fitness example to demonstrate this:

This recent data circulation from Google suggests that users are starting to search for something like, “how much water should I drink each day?” in higher volumes than something like, “how much water should you drink per day?”.

Now, most of us know that the answer to this question will depend on a number of different factors including gender, body composition, activity level and so on.

What our audience is expecting from this search is a personalized answer that takes all of these things into consideration and tells them exactly how much water they should personally be drinking each day.

A water consumption calculator would do this well, and if the user wants the specificity of an individual result, they will be willing to fill in the necessary personal details to retrieve it. A blog post that simply states the average recommended fluid intake for a man or a woman as recommended by the NHS is no longer user focused enough.

Case studies and testimonials

Providing personalized content will not always be easy, and at times users may need encouragement to spend a little longer on a page to find the personalized answer they are looking for. In this instance, case studies and testimonials are a great way to push users further through their journey in the right direction.

For example, “How much money do I need to retire?” is a more complex question than our fitness example. There are so many variants that could alter the accurate and personalized response to this question, so it’s difficult to answer it quickly in a personalized way.

However, if we provide users with a testimonial or case study at the right stage in their journey – one that was created after a lot of persona research and uses someone or a situation that will resonate with them – they are likely to engage with the content.

Creating engagement via a case study will increase the likelihood that they’ll enquire with your brand for a more personalized answer, continuing their journey on their way to the personalized answer they are looking for.

Hygiene content

Informational content (something we refer to here at Zazzle as ‘hygiene content’) is absolutely essential in light of this evolution of search.

It’s critical that all the informational content and resources on your website are up to date, and as specific to the different types of users you’re expecting to visit your site as possible. Not only this, but ensuring that on-page content is optimised for longtail search (tying back to your personas) is a must.

Moreover, having a clear call to action that points the user in the direction of personalized answers to their questions is also important. It isn’t always possible to answer their query in an individualized way using written content, but pointing the user towards a ‘contact us here’ call to action could make all the difference in their user journey, and ultimately, whether they end up with you or your competitor.   

Thought leadership and expert content

Finally, with consumers turning to search like a trusted friend or family member more than ever before, you need to ensure that the content you’re putting out there is seen as being the most reliable. Therefore, it’s never been more important to be viewed as a thought leader within your field.

Expert content will naturally help to strengthen the consumer-brand relationship. It also means that when you are appearing in SERPs, your expert reputation will stand you in good stead when it comes to users choosing which ‘friend’ they want to seek advice from.

We can’t wait to see how the evolution of search changes the way that Google is rewarding and penalizing brands’ content. The above is just a start, but we are certain we will be kept on our toes as time goes on!

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Looking through the artificial intelligence mirror: insights and automation

We have entered a new era of search where SEO and content marketing have converged.

AI technologies are providing a whole new world of insights so marketers can make impactful – data-informed – decisions. The AI revolution is here and now, and early adopters in SEO and content marketing are already one step ahead of the competition.

Artificial intelligence

While Artificial Intelligence has slowly become a part of everyday lives, growing all around us. It was only when Google introduced RankBrain in 2015 when search marketers started to see the potential use cases for AI and machine learning. As Albert Gouyet wrote in his recent piece, ‘Artificial intelligence and machine learning: What are the opportunities for search marketers?‘:

  • Artificial intelligence is the science of making machines do things requiring human intelligence. It is human intelligence in machine format where computer programs develop data-based decisions and perform tasks normally performed by humans.
  • Machine learning takes artificial intelligence a step further in the sense that algorithms are programmed to learn and improve without the need for human data input and reprogramming.

Machine learning is all around us and has been part of people’s everyday lives for many years now. The most relevant examples for SEOs are based around voice-enabled technologies that are used in more than 20% of mobile queries.

When people are on their way to work, they use voice search to send messages and navigate via their in-car system. When people are at work, they use voice search on their laptops to manage diaries and schedules. At home, people may use Amazon Echo or Google Home and watch films on Netflix.

The two key AI and machine learning benefits I want to focus today on are centered around:

Insights that are accurate, actionable, and impact revenue

Automation of labour-intensive tasks and programmatic scale.

I: Data-driven insights

Marketing today is very labor-intensive, often requiring marketers to dig through too much data that may not even be giving them the bigger picture they need to make impactful business decisions. More than 80 percent of the world’s data is unstructured–for example, data from text, video, images, and user-generated social and blog content–and marketers need to break this down into structured formats that they can act on.

To do this effectively and in a manner that produces impactful business results, requires planning, process discipline, and advanced technology. By leveraging AI and machine learning systems that leverage both historical and real-time data, SEO and content marketers can map out in advance what types of content will perform best.

Marketers can use these insights in so many ways to blend the best of search marketing and content marketing practices in two key ways.

1. Targeting demand: Discovering new data patterns and industry and competitive trends

Targeting demand requires a deep understanding of your audience and AI-based insights help marketers decide which channels and types of content consumers are searching for. Data-driven insights into consumer demand set marketers up for success with a content marketing strategy built specifically for their target audience.

Intent data offers in-the-moment context on where customers want to go and what they want to know, do, or buy. Organic search data is the critical raw material that helps you discover consumer patterns, new market opportunities, and competitive threats.

2. Personalizing the customer experience: Producing content that resonates, engages and delights customers

This is one of the areas where AI and machine learning can have the biggest impact. Rich (deep) data-led insights can help incorporate content and present people with choices and promotions at the right time based on their past preferences. This is where deep learning can have a massive impact.

Deep learning is the next generation of machine learning where massive data sets are combined with pattern recognition capabilities to automatically make decisions, find patterns, and provide accurate insights that help drive SEO and content marketing strategies.

Deep learning is particularly important in search, where data sets are large and shifts are dynamic. Deep learning allows you to identify patterns and trends in real-time. SEO and content marketers can immediately turn these insights into a plan to win.

A: Machine Learning and Automation

Being armed with smart insights to uncover potential topics that are hyper-relevant to their target audience and automation allows SEO and content marketers to scale their programs and maximize working efficiency.

Speed will be a critical part of getting ahead of others within your market space, and automation will be the foundation of achieving this goal.

Automation allows marketers to:

  • Act on recommendations faster
  • Get content in front of their audience before the competition
  • Ensure that content is optimized from the moment it goes live.

For example, Kraft used a combination of machine learning and insights to optimize their content creation process. Kraft tracked more than 22,000 different audience characteristics then used these insights to inform their content creation process. The result was a 4x increase in ROI from content, when compared to targeted ads.

Automation is helping marketers do more with less and execute more quickly. Routine SEO and content tasks can be implemented with little effort, allowing SEO and content marketers to focus on high-impact activities and accomplish their personal and professional objectives at scale.

Conclusion

AI, machine learning and deep learning is going to transform how SEO and content marketers operate via the utilization of data-driven insights and give marketers the competitive edge to formulate impactful content marketing strategies.

Source: Marketing in the Machine Age

Marketers will use AI to respond to complexity and rapid change that is beyond the normal human capabilities, like the search algorithm changes and evolution of the layout of the SERPs.

AI will improve marketers’ agility–having the flexibility to adapt quickly to changes in the market and change content strategy in line with competitive market trends. This includes having the ability to scale content marketing efforts effectively through entire organizations.

In addition, AI will help marketer capture and satisfy customers by optimizing customer experience and content personalization, issues that present dozens to hundreds to thousands of combinations to satisfy  a range of customer personas at different points on the lifecycle.

Providing users with highly relevant, optimized, and engaging content tailored to the customers’ expectations, needs and goals will improve all marketing metrics.

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Three tips for a content marketing plan that makes your customers the central focus

In an era of constant digital distractions, how do we compete long enough to convert? The trick is to make your content as customer focused as possible.

Content marketing is a constant struggle for any brand. It is probably the most important element to their overall promotional strategy and the greatest tool at their disposal.

It can also be the most fickle, as it relies heavily on keeping and maintaining the interest of the ones consuming it.

You need to focus on your customer! This allows what you produce to immediately connect with your audience and provides something of value to them. Not only does this give you benefits in the moment by offering the information they want/need, it also gives you long-term benefits by establishing the authority of your brand.

Here are three tips and tools to help you create a customer-focused content marketing strategy.

1. Be clear on content objectives

Try to figure out just what the aims of your content will be. If there are no objectives to work from, the results will end up aimless and meandering, not really benefiting anyone, even if it manages to drive a bit of traffic. It is like throwing spaghetti at a wall… sure, some of it is going to stick, but most of it is going to end up on the floor.

So, what is it you want to achieve with each piece of content? How can you create a cohesive strategy that matches each of those objectives? How will you measure success towards those goals?

First things first: Do some keyword research and see what it is your customers want to know about. What are they struggling with? What is upsetting/confusing/angering/interesting them? How can you make their life easier through your content?

Just looking at your keyword lists won’t tell you much though. You need to work on organizing your keywords. This will help you lay out a clear content strategy.

I use spreadsheets to organize and label my keywords so that it becomes clear how to better serve the people behind using them to search.

Break keywords into groups by relevancy

This will allow you to better understand your niche and target one page to the whole group of keywords, versus each of them individually.

Keyword clustering is an effective tactic to use here. Serpstat does it pretty well by determining how many URLs overlap for different search queries and thus identifying closely related phrases. (Read more about the tactic in our dedicated guide to keyword clustering).

From there, determine intent behind each group

Keyword intent reflects the users’ aim behind searching. It helps you to better serve your audience needs and thus improve your conversion rate. I usually label my keyword groups with four types of user intent:

  • Commercial: No need trying to serve them content here: These people are ready to buy!
  • Transitional: These people are likely to still be in the research phase but they may be willing to buy after you give them some actionable content. Product reviews and gift ideas are perfect content assets for this group
  • Navigational: Those keywords that content the brand name. Firstly, we want to make sure our brand ranks #1 for these. Secondly, we want to use these keywords to better understand possible problems with the site or the product
  • Informational: These people are searching for information only. The perfect CTA for this content is an invite to subscribe.

Label seasonal content

Last but not least, you want to make sure you publish that content when you audience needs it most. If it looks like certain content is likely to solve a seasonal problem or catch seasonal interest peak – or more often than not, both – keep it scheduled for that season.

Three tips for a content marketing plan that makes your customers the central focus

2. Go straight to the source

You need to know what is important to the people who you are targeting. Knowing your audience is always going to be the leading step before you do anything else. Yet, an astonishing number of brands fail in this regard and create not what customers really want or need, but what they assume they want or need. The difference between those two things is not so much as gap as it is a cavern.

My personal preference for doing this is through customer feedback surveys. You have to be careful using these helpful little info gathering tools because if they are too long, hard to complete or just biased it is going to annoy the customer.

I use Wyzzer to put together 60 second surveys of up to 25 questions that are fast and easy to click. They even present it a little game, so the surveys are more engaging.

It’s a nice little way to achieve several goals at a time:

  • Let your customers tell you more about themselves (What do they like? What are their life choices? What are their hobbies?)
  • Entertain your readers and engage more of them by gamifying the surveying process
  • Diversify your content by adding something new.

Three tips for a content marketing plan that makes your customers the central focus

There are also several polling plugins that integrate into your WordPress blog easily. You can use these to quickly poll your customers on important matters, learn if they need a follow-up to a certain article or ask them which direction to take with your upcoming content series.

3. Map out the customer journey

Every customer goes through a journey from the moment they learn of your brand. It starts with the first lead, making them aware of your product. It ends not with the sale (as some believe), but with the experience afterward and how they feel about your brand. By the time they reach that stage they have completed the journey that you are responsible for guiding them through.

Having a clearly mapped journey with stages is one of the best things you can do. You can create content for every step, from the first landing on your website to the social reviews at the very end.

Research brand-focused keywords

I have already mentioned navigational queries and how they also should be used to better understand where your brand is lacking. Looking at how customers are searching for your brand may be eye opening?

Do they have problem finding how to log in? To they think your product is too expensive? Are they looking for alternative ways to get in touch with you?

Three tips for a content marketing plan that makes your customers the central focus

All of these signal of one common problem: Those people must have already visited your site but they are now searching Google instead of interacting with you directly.

Monitor social media reputation

You are likely to already be monitoring where your brand is being discussed on social media and then acting upon those mentions.

But this is usually viewed in the perspective of social media engagement and customer service. You need to add another objective to this task: Analyzing your site or product issues and solving them using all kinds of methods, including content.

I use Cyfe for monitoring social media mentions and scheduling social media updates. It’s very affordable and you can use multiple users to see selected dashboards, so you can delegate tasks quite efficiently with it:

Three tips for a content marketing plan that makes your customers the central focus

Record your sales/customer teams interactions with clients

If you aren’t yet using a customer relationships management platform, get one now. I use Salesmate and it’s eye-opening: You can see exactly which struggles each customer had while using your site and buying your product.

Encourage your team to record as much of the customer journey as they can. Sync your social media monitoring software with Salesmate to record more of the questions and interactions with each customer.

Three tips for a content marketing plan that makes your customers the central focus

Add experience surveys in your “Thank you for the order” emails

Consider integrating your customer research process with your sales process by implementing surveys as part of your order status emails. This will give you a good impression as to what can be done to make the process smoother and what content needs to created to cover other needs.

You customers are your concern, so show them!

The most important person for any brand is the customer. Unfortunately our content doesn’t always reflect that.

Making a content marketing plan more customer-centric is one of the best ways we can improve our results and help turn those leads into conversions.

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Get 2018 started with an updated multi-channel digital marketing strategy

Did you know that 15 years ago the average consumer used two touch-points when buying an item, while consumers today run through an average of almost six touch-points?

This means that reaching new customers has become significantly more complex. With new platforms and channels still emerging, consumers have more and more choices and are demanding greater attention from brands trying to reach them.

The concept of multi-channel digital marketing has gained popularity among digital marketers over the last few years as brands and agencies have realized that one-off campaigns targeting potential customers on only one channel at a time no longer cut it.

In this article, we will examine updated multi-channel digital marketing tools and effective strategies; but before we do, let’s clarify what multi-channel marketing actually means.

What is multi-channel digital marketing?

“Multi-channel marketing is the implementation of a single strategy across multiple channels or platforms, thus maximizing opportunities to interact with prospective customers,” according to digital marketing agency Emarsys.

While as marketers we try to best predict how and where our customers might interact with us, giving them a choice — a say in the matter — leads to higher conversions. This requires casting a wide net of orchestrated touch-points and repeating your brand message across various channels, but ultimately improves your chance to raise customer awareness and let the message sink in to actually have an effect.

Let’s take a look at a handful of channels that effectively support a multitude of touch points and provide your customers with choice in selecting their preferred channel.

Social media

The advantage of social media is that it can be utilized as both introductory (initial interest) as well as retargeting channel leading a new customer further down the sales funnel.

Eyeballs through content

Facebook is a fantastic method to fill the top of your funnel with visitors.  Whether you amplify content or gain people’s attention through Facebook live or other multimedia ads, it’s crucial to think about what your target customer might be interested in and then tailor content to their desires.

This doesn’t mean that you should advertise for your product right in the article or video, but rather cover topics that might interest potential customers and ultimately lead to your product page. At the top of the funnel, the goal is to create that first touchpoint which will enable you to start marketing to them through other channels, particularly email and remarketing.

Get 2018 started with an updated multi-channel digital marketing strategy

Generating leads

Another helpful Facebook tool comes in handy at this stage of the sales funnel, especially if you run an ecommerce business — it’s called Dynamic Product Ads. These ads “automatically promote products to people who have expressed interest on your website, in your app or elsewhere on the internet,” according to Facebook.

You can even upload your product catalog to Facebook and after setting up the campaign, the social network will handle the rest (such as matching people with the right product).

Email

While social media is very effective as both introductory and retargeting channel, emails are most effective when retargeting potential customers.

Chances are that by the time someone has provided their e-mail address, you have some idea of what they are interested in and looking for, thanks to your “eyeballs through content” campaign as discussed above. So crafting effective e-mails addressing their potential pain points should be a little easier now.

Crucial to making e-mail marketing successful is to make sure its content aligns with your overall campaign message. A recent case study confirmed that “Coordinating messaging across channels resulted in reaching customers who were 22% more likely to purchase than those only reached by email.”

AdWords

You can craft AdWords campaigns to function at the top, middle, and bottom of the funnel.  At the top, you can create broad match modified campaigns focusing on identifying exactly what keywords people search for in your space.

As part of your exploratory campaigns, you can also look for lateral keywords of interest that can help you understand exactly what your audience is looking for.

At the middle of the funnel, you have people who are interested in the products or services you are offering so you serve them the most targeted ads.  Traditional AdWords campaigns tend to belong to this stage of the funnel.  At the bottom of the funnel, you can use AdWords remarketing to continue creating additional touchpoints after consumers have visited your site.

Smart marketers use AdWords Ad Extensions to include interactive and clickable information right on top of the ad, such as coupons, phone numbers, and text message extensions. Making these marketing tools available right inside the ad can cut down significantly on the number of steps in your sales funnel.

By clicking on the coupon, for example, customers could be enticed to walk right into a physical location to pick up the product they are getting a discount on. Clicking on the phone number or text extension, on the other hand, could connect them directly to customer service, who in turn can answer any remaining questions and, thus, increase purchase intent.

SMS/Text messaging

Speaking of text messages: retargeting potential customers is not restricted to e-mails and Google AdWords. Text messaging (SMS) is another way — and an increasingly popular one — to lead consumers further down the sales funnel.

Let’s say your Facebook or Twitter ad asked potential new customers to “opt-in,” which they did using their social media accounts. Most social networks now require mobile phone numbers when users first sign up. This information will be available to you as well if you are setting up ads through these social networks.

You now have the opportunity to text your lead and interact with them on a channel that has so far not been saturated by marketers. It also provides a much more intimate environment, which could help build trust.

Get 2018 started with an updated multi-channel digital marketing strategy

You can easily set up text message campaigns with tools like Autopilot and TextMagic; and you should, too, because text message opens are as high as 99% among mobile users. Key is to let potential leads opt in voluntarily as opposed to being contacted via text out of the blue. Also, a good next step might be asking for permission to set up a phone call to continue the conversation.

Text messages can also be useful when sending out reminders for live events or webinars, which some of your new customers might have signed up for, but are about to miss because they forgot putting it in their calendars.

Putting it all together

As you can see, none of the marketing tools listed above are particularly effective in this day and age if you keep them isolated. Google AdWords can lead to customer service conversions; social media can lead to email and text message opt-ins; email in turn can be reinforced by text messages, which could lead back to customer service.

That’s why a consistent brand message as well as consistent quality of content, service, and customer experience across all channels is essential. Future customers should get a sense of familiarity at every turn of the sales funnel if you are to build a trustworthy relationship with them.

Coordinating this rather significant number of communication channels seems like a daunting and expensive task; but don’t worry, even with a low budget you can implement these multi-channel marketing strategies.

One final thought: all the marketing in the world is for naught if you do not measure and analyze key data. This includes customer profile characteristics (like demographics and psychographics) and customer behavior to narrow down your target audience.

In addition to this data, keeping track of conversion rates between the various platforms will help you measure success and create a continuously more effective multi-channel digital marketing strategy.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning: What are the opportunities for search marketers?

Did you know that by 2020 the digital universe will consist of 44 zettabytes of data (source: IDC), but that the human brain can only process the equivalent of 1 million gigabytes of memory?

The explosion of big data has meant that humans simply have too much data to understand and handle daily.

For search, content and digital marketers to make the most out the valuable insights that data can provide, it is essential to utilize artificial intelligence (AI) applications, machine learning algorithms and deep learning to move the needle of marketing performance in 2018.

In this article, I will explain the advancements and differences between artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and deep learning while sharing some tips on how SEO, content and digital marketers can make the most of the insights – especially from deep learning – that these technologies bring to the search marketing table.

I studied artificial intelligence in college and after graduating took a job in the field. It was an exciting time, but our programming capabilities, when looking back now, were rudimentary. More than intelligence, it was algorithms and rules that did their best to mimic how intelligence solves problems with best-guess recommendations.

Fast forward to today and things have evolved significantly.

The Big Bang: The big data explosion and the birth of AI

Since 1956, AI pioneers have been dreaming of a world where complex machines possess the same characteristics as human intelligence.

In 1996, the industry reached a major milestone when the IBM’s Deep Blue computer defeated a chess grandmaster by considering 200,000,000 chessboard patterns a second to make optimal moves.

Between 2000 and 2017, there were many developments that enabled great leaps forward. Most important were the geometric increases in the amount data collected, stored, and made retrievable. That mountain of data, which came to be known as big data, ushered in the advent of AI.

And it keeps growing exponentially: in 2016 IBM estimated that 90% of the world’s data had been generated over the last few years.

When thinking about AI, machine learning and deep learning, I find it helps to simplify and visualize how the 3 categories work and relate to each other –  this framework also works from a chronological, sub-set development and size perspective.

Artificial intelligence is the science of making machines do things requiring human intelligence. It is human intelligence in machine format where computer programs develop data-based decisions and perform tasks normally performed by  humans.

Machine learning takes artificial intelligence a step further in the sense that algorithms are programmed to learn and improve without the need for human data input and reprogramming.

Machine learning can be applied to many different problems and data sets. Google’s RankBrain algorithm is a great example of machine learning that evaluates the intent and context of each search query, rather than just delivering results based on programmed rules about keyword matching and other factors.

Deep learning is a more detailed algorithmic approach, taken from machine learning, that uses techniques based on logic and exposing data to neural networks (think human brain) so that the technology trains itself to perform tasks such as speech and image recognition.

Massive data sets are combined with pattern recognition capabilities to automatically make decisions, find patterns, emulate previous decisions, etc. Self-learning comes from here as the machine gets better from the more data that it is supplied.

Driverless cars, Netflix movie recommendations and IBMs Watson are all great examples of deep learning applications that break down tasks to make machine actions and assists possible.

Organic search, content and digital performance: Challenge and opportunity

Organic search (SEO) drives 51% of all website traffic and hence in this section it is only natural to explain the key benefits that deep-learning brings to SEO and digital marketers.

Organic search is a data-intensive business. Companies value and want their content to be visible on thousands or even millions of keywords in one to dozens of languages. Search best practices involve about 20 elements of on-page and off-page tactics. The SERPs themselves now come in more than 15 layout varieties.

Organic search is your market-wide voice of the customer, telling you what customers want at scale. However, marketers are faced with the challenge of making sense of so much data, having limited resources to mine insights and then actually act on the right and relevant insight for their business.

To succeed in highly demanding markets against your competitors’ many brands now requires the expertise of an experienced data analyst, and this is where machine learning and deep learning layers help recommend optimizations to content.

Connecting the dots with deep learning: Data and machine learning

The size of the organic data and the number of potential patterns that exist on that data make it a perfect candidate for deep learning applications. Unlike simple machine learning, deep-learning works better when it can analyse a massive amount of relevant data over long periods of time.

Deep learning and its ability to identify or prioritize material changes in interests and consumption behavior allows organic search marketers to gain a competitive advantage, be at the forefront of their industry, and produce the material that people need before their competitors, boosting their reputation.

In this way, marketers can begin to understand the strategies put forth by their competitors. They will see how well they perform compared to others in their industry and can then adjust their strategies to address the strengths or weaknesses that they find.

  • The insights derived from deep learning technologies blend the best of search marketing and content marketing practices to power the development, activation, and automated optimization of smart content, content that is self-aware and self-adjusting, improving content discovery and engagement across all digital marketing channels.
  • Intent data offers in-the-moment context on where customers want to go and what they want to know, do, or buy. Organic search data is the critical raw material that helps you discover consumer patterns, new market opportunities, and competitive threats.
  • Deep learning is particularly important in search, where data is copious and incredibly dynamic. Identifying patterns in data in real-time makes deep learning your best first defense in understanding customer, competitor, or market changes – so that you can immediately turn these insights into a plan to win.

To propel content and organic search success in 2018 marketers should let the machines does more of the leg work to provide the insights and recommendations that allow marketers to focus on the creation of smart content.

Below are a just a few examples of the benefits for the organic search marketer:

Site analysis

Pinpoint and fix critical site errors that drive the greatest benefits to a brand’s bottom line. Deep learning technology can be used to incorporate website data, detect anomalies tying site errors to estimated marketing impact so that marketers can prioritize fixes for maximum results.

Without a deep learning application to help you, you might be staring at a long list of potential fixes which typically get postponed to later.

Competitive strategy

Identifying patterns in real-time makes deep learning a brands’ best first defense in understanding customer, competitor, or market changes– so that marketers can immediately turn these insights into a plan to win.

Content discovery

Surface high-value topics that target different content strategies, such as stopping competitive threats or capitalizing on local demand.

Deep learning technology can be used to assess the ROI of new content items and prioritize their development by unveiling insights such as topic opportunity, consumer intent, characteristics of top competing content, and recommendations for improving content performance.

Content development

Score the quality and relevance of each piece of content produced. Deep learning technology can help save time with automated tasks of content production, such as header tags, cross-linking, copy optimization, image editing, highly optimized CTAs that drive performance, and embedded performance tracking of website traffic and conversion.

Content activation

Deep learning technology can help ensure that each piece of content is optimized for organic performance and customer experience—such as schema for structure, AMP for better mobile experiences, and Open Graph for Facebook. Technology can help marketers can amplify their content in social networks for greater visibility.

Automation

Automation helps marketers do more with less and execute more quickly. It allows marketers to manage routine tasks with little effort, so that they can focus on high-impact activities and accomplish organic business goals at scale.

Note: To make the most of the insights and recommendations from deep learning marketers need to take action and make the relevant changes to web page content to keep website visitors engaged and ultimately converting.

Additionally, because the search landscape changes so frequently, deep learning fuels the development of smart content and can be used to automatically adjust to changes in content formats and standards.

Deep learning in action

An example of deep learning in organic search is DataMind. BrightEdge (disclosure, my employer) Data Mind is like a virtual team of data scientists built into the platform, that combines massive volumes of data with immediate, actionable insights to inform marketing decisions.

In this case the deep learning engine analyzes huge, complex, and dynamic data sets (from multiple sources that include 1st and 3rd party data) to determine patterns and derive the insights marketers need. Deep learning is used to detect anomalies in a site’s performance and interpret the reasons, such as industry trends, while making recommendations about how to proceed.

Conclusion

Think of deep learning applications as your own personal data scientist – here to help and assist and not to replace. The adoption of AI, machine learning and now deep learning technologies allows faster decisions, more accurate and smarter insights.

Brands compete in the content battleground to ensure their content is optimized and found, engages audiences and ultimately drives conversions and digital revenue. When armed with these insights from deep learning, marketers get a new competitive weapon and a massive competitive edge.

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How to amplify your content marketing with influencer-driven writing contests

The purpose of a content marketing campaign is almost never a boost in sales: People who want to consume and share information rarely intend to buy. Content marketing is mostly about influencing the influencer, i.e. those people who can impact your customers’ buying decisions.

Hence the most effective content marketing strategy is the one that involves influencers, especially influencer-driven content.

According to the ANA survey from Linqia, 57 per cent of marketers report that influencer-driven content outperforms brand-created content:

  • Influencers are people who have already earned your consumers’ trust, hence influencer-created content is more trustable than brand-created content
  • Naturally, people prefer to engage with people rather than brands, hence influencer-created content triggers more audience engagement than brand-created content
  • With the above in mind, it’s obvious that influencer-driven content results in higher ROI – and also thanks to the fact that it spreads easier using the power of participating influencers.

But how to engage influencers into creating content for your company blog? One of the most effective ways is to set up a writing contest: Have them contribute content to your blog for a chance to win a prize or a set of prizes.

Benefits of holding a content marketing contest

There so many marketing opportunities behind this idea that it will make your head spin:

  • Free editorial content from notable names in your niche published on your blog will attract more clicks, grow your email list and diversify your rankings
  • Social media shares that content will bring will build your brand awareness
  • Partnering with other businesses in your industry for them to provide prizes for your winners will build important connections
  • Involving niche influencers and popular media outlets to judge and announce your winners will bring more connections and exposure.

Furthermore, think about the customers you will be able to engage when announcing the contest in your newsletter and on your social media channels.

There are so many reasons to try this tactic that you may be wondering why you haven’t done it before. Well, it’s tough and time-consuming, but the steps below, together with some handy tools, will make it possible.

1. Brainstorm and research topic areas

Obviously, hosting a content marketing contest starts with what any content marketing tactic should start: Brainstorming and keyword research. There are mainly two approaches you can take here:

  • Focus all entries around your brand: Invite your current customers to submit content that talks about your product. How are they using it? Which problem did it solve? This way you’ll enrich your blog with a variety of user-generated content that will bring many more users who will be encouraged to give it a try too. Of course, that will engage your userbase but it will limit your contest entries to your current customers.
  • Focus all entries around your general niche. This can be timed out to upcoming holidays (e.g. “Submit your Christmas recipes”, etc.) In order to keep the topics relevant to what your product does, you may want to come with a set list of topics which is where keyword research comes into play.

When I plan any content marketing campaign, I always start with keyword clustering, which is something I’ve explained how to do in a previous article for SEW. Playing with keyword groups always gives me a nice perspective and helps me brainstorm.

Here’s an example from Serpstat breaking down a very cluttered topic into nice categories to pick one to go with:

How to amplify your content marketing with influencer-driven writing contests

Read more on how keyword clustering works on Serpstat and how to group your keyword lists.

2. Reach out to participants

Now that you know the topics you want to focus your content marketing contest around, it’s time that you reach out to prominent writers and bloggers in your industry who you think will want to participate.

If you are focusing on your product-related content, it’s as simple as reaching out to your customers. For general how-to content contest, you’ll need to create a list of influencers who:

  1. Will want to participate
  2. Are probably to busy to participate, but will agree to help you spread the word and collect more entries.

I use Buzzsumo to find active content writers in my niche. They have handy filters that allow me to find bloggers who have hosted or participated in similar ventures, or don’t mind contributing to others.

How to amplify your content marketing with influencer-driven writing contests

3. Get organized!

You’ll be dealing with lots of new contacts: hopefully influencers participating and coming on board to spread the word, press contacts, media partners, sponsors, etc. Unless you get organized, you’ll be lost and miss a lot of opportunities.

You can use your current customer management platform to organize all the new contacts and leads you’ll be building throughout the contest. Otherwise, give Hubspot’s CRM a try: it’s free, and it will give you all the required features to record, organize and follow up with all the new contacts you’ll be building along the way.

How to amplify your content marketing with influencer-driven writing contests

I also use Cyfe to keep everything relating to a current campaign I am running within one dashboard. You can use the dashboard to keep an eye on brand mentions, create quick links to other tools you should be keeping an eye on a daily basis, import your Gmail messages, and so much more.

How to amplify your content marketing with influencer-driven writing contests

4. Keep your content quality standards high

  • You want your participants to disclaim any relationship or bias when they mention other sites
  • You want your participants to stay away from mentioning your direct competitors
  • You want your participants to only provide exclusive content and never publish it anywhere else
  • You want your participants to adhere to particular quality guidelines (a certain length, format, using images, etc.)
  • You want your participants to clearly understand the judging process (I recommend against using easy-to-game metrics like “The most shared article wins”. It’s much better to come up with something more complicated, for example, winners will be determined by a panel of unbiased judges based on certain criteria. However keep the process very transparent: Those judges should be publicly listed and their voting should be publicized too)
  • You may want your participants to support a certain payment method (in case you offer a cash prize)

All of that should be listed in a formal agreement all the participants should review and sign to avoid any misunderstandings later. Try using KeepSolid Sign app which is currently free to make sure every participant is well-informed.

How to amplify your content marketing with influencer-driven writing contests

5. Collect in and present your entries

There are plenty of ways to easily collect entries for your contest. You can use Google Forms or set up advanced Contact Us Forms that will force entries to comply with your guidelines (e.g. set the required minimum word count, include extra mandatory fields like links to the author’s social media profiles and previous articles). Here are great WordPress plugins for that.

There’s also a tool that is specifically designed to collect entries for content marketing contests, called Easy Promos. They have additional features that may make your job easier like integrated voting features, photo and video uploads, etc.

With the platform, you can pick a winner via public voting, a jury or by random choice with certificate of validity.

How to amplify your content marketing with influencer-driven writing contests

When it comes to collecting and displaying entries and participants, you can go as creative as your imagination takes you. For example, Gleam allows you to create and embed blog widgets with the contest leaderboard (which naturally attracts more entries).

You can also collect your contest entries and turn them into a beautiful Slideshow using Haikudeck and/or a nice flipbook using Flipsnack. You can embed both to your blog when announcing winners.

How to amplify your content marketing with influencer-driven writing contests

6. Scale up your content promotion

Obviously, you want that content from your contestants to do well on social media because it’s your site that will generate additional traffic and exposure from those shares. I use Drumup for all my social media campaigns, because it makes it so easy to organize content that needs promotion.

Use Drumup Content Library feature to keep all the entries in one category to easily go back and see all of them. Furthermore, set up each article to go live throughout your social media channels several times in the future to reach more of your followers:

How to amplify your content marketing with influencer-driven writing contests

You also want that content to spread beyond your immediate social media circles! To achieve this, you can submit every entry to a tool called ViralContentBee [Disclaimer: This is a project I co-founded].

ViralContentBee allows you to tag each contributor in the “RT” field to encourage your participants to engage with every tweet:

How to amplify your content marketing with influencer-driven writing contests

I hope these tools will encourage you to give hosting an influencer-driven writing contest a try. Good luck!