Tag Archive | "Plan"

How Successful Marketing Writers Plan Their Content

I never realized just how important it was to connect content with business goals until I had a particular conversation with a client. The client, excited to get started on blog content together, had a running list of topics for me to cover. But then something strange happened. When I asked for background information on
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The Bot Plan: Your Guide to Making Conversations Convert

Posted by purna_v

Let’s start off with a quick “True or False?” game:

“By 2020, the average person will have more conversations with their bot than with their spouse.”

True, or false? You may be surprised to learn that speaking more with bots than our spouse is precisely what Gartner is predicting.

And when Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg says “messaging is one of the few things that people do more than social networking,” it requires no leap of faith to see that chatbots are an integral part of marketing’s future.

But you don’t need to stock up on canned peaches and head for the hills because “the robots are coming.” The truth is, the robots aren’t coming because they’re already here, and they love us from the bottom of their little AI-powered hearts.

Bots aren’t a new thing for many parts of the world such as China or India. As reported by Business Insider, sixty-seven percent of consumers worldwide have used a chatbot for customer support in the last year.

Within the United States, an impressive 60% of millennials have used chatbots with 70% of those reporting positive experiences, according to Forbes.

There’s no putting bots back in the box.

And it’s not just that brands have to jump on board to keep up with those pesky new generations, either. Bots are great for them, too.

Bots offer companies:

  1. A revolutionary way to reach consumers. For the first time in history, brands of any size can reach consumers on a personal level. Note my emphasis on “of any size.” You can be a company of one and your bot army can give your customers a highly personal experience. Bots are democratizing business!
  2. Snackable data. This “one-to-one” communication gives you personal insights and specificity, plus a whole feast of snackable data that is actionable.
  3. Non-robot-like interaction. An intelligent bot can keep up with back-and-forth customer messages in a natural, contextual, human way.
  4. Savings. According to Juniper Research, the average time saving per chatbot inquiry compared to traditional call centers is over four minutes, which has the potential to make a truly extraordinary impact on a company’s bottom line (not to mention the immeasurable impact it has on customers’ feelings about the company).
  5. Always on. It doesn’t matter what time zone your customer is in. Bots don’t need to sleep, or take breaks. Your company can always be accessible via your friendly bot.

Here in the West, we are still in the equivalent of the Jurassic Period for bots. What they can be used for is truly limited only by our imagination.

One of my most recent favorites is an innovation from the BBC News Labs and Visual Journalism teams, who have launched a bot-builder app designed to, per Nieman Lab, “make it as easy as possible for reporters to build chatbots and insert them in their stories.”

So, in a story about President Trump from earlier this year, you see this:

Source: BBC.com

It’s one of my favorites not just because it’s innovative and impressive, but because it neatly illustrates how bots can add to and improve our lives… not steal our jobs.

Don’t be a dinosaur

A staggering eighty percent of brands will use chatbots for customer interactions by 2020, according to research. That means that if you don’t want to get left behind, you need to join the bot arms race right now.

“But where do I start?” you wonder.

I’m happy you asked that. Building a bot may seem like an endeavor that requires lots of tech savvy, but it’s surprisingly low-risk to get started.

Many websites allow you to build bots for free, and then there’s QNAMaker.ai (created by Microsoft, my employer), which does a lot of the work for you.

You simply input your company’s FAQ section, and it builds the foundation for an easy chatbot that can be taken live via almost any platform, using natural language processing to parse your FAQ and develop a list of questions your customers are likely to ask.

This is just the beginning — the potential for bots is wow-tastic.

That’s what I’m going to show you today — how you can harness bot-power to build strong, lasting relationships with your customers.

Your 3-step plan to make conversations convert

Step 1: Find the right place to start

The first step isn’t to build a bot straightaway. After all, you can build the world’s most elaborate bot and it is worth exactly nothing to you or your customer if it does not address their needs.

That’s why the first step is figuring out the ways bots can be most helpful to your customers. You need to find their pain points.

You can do this by pretending you’re one of your customers, and navigating through your purchase funnel. Or better again, find data within your CRM system and analytics tools that can help you answer key questions about how your audience interacts with your business.

Here’s a handy checklist of questions you should get answers to during this research phase:

  • How do customers get information or seek help from your company? ☑
  • How do they make a purchase? ☑
  • Do pain points differ across channels and devices? ☑
  • How can we reduce the number of steps in each interaction? ☑

Next, you’ll want to build your hypothesis. And here’s a template to help you do just that:

I believe [type of person] needs to solve [problem] which happens while [situation], which will allow them to [get value].

For example, you’re the manager of a small spa, whose biggest time-suck is people calling to ask simple questions, meaning other customers are on hold for a long time. If those customers can ask a bot these simple questions, you get three important results:

  1. The hold time for customers overall will diminish
  2. The customer-facing staff in your spa will be able to pay more attention to clients who are physically in front of them
  3. Customers with lengthier questions will be helped sooner

Everybody wins.

Finally, now that you’ve identified and prioritized the situations where conversation can help, you’ll be ready to build a bot as well as a skill.

Wait a minute — what’s a skill in this context, and how do they relate to bots? Here’s a great explanation from Chris Messina:

  • A bot is an autonomous program on a network
  • A chatbot is a bot that uses human language to communicate
  • An AI assistant is a chatbot that performs tasks or services for an individual
  • A skill is a capability that an AI assistant can learn

Each of them can help look things up, place orders, solve problems, and make things happen easier, better, and faster.

A few handy resources to build a bot are:

Step 2: Add conversation across the entire customer journey

There are three distinct areas of the customer decision journey where bots and skills can make a big difference.

Bot as introducer

Bots can help your company by being present at the very first event in a purchase path.

Adidas did this wonderfully when they designed a chatbot for their female-focused community Studio LDN, to help create an interactive booking process for the free fitness sessions offered. To drive engagement further, as soon as a booking was made the user would receive reminders and messages from influencer fitness instructors.

The chatbot was the only way for people to book these sessions and it worked spectacularly well.

In the first two weeks, 2,000 people signed up to participate, with repeat use at 80%. Retention after week one was 60%, which the brand claims is far better compared to an app.

Adidas did something really clever. They advertised the bot across many of their other channels to help promote the bot and help with its discoverability.

You can do the same.

There are countless examples where bots can put their best suit on and act as the first introduction to your company:

  • Email marketing: According to MailChimp research, the average email open rates are between 15% to 26% with click rates being just a fraction of that at approximately 2%–5%. That’s pretty low when you compare that to Messenger messages, which can have an open rate of well over 90%. Why not make your call-to-action within your email be an incentive for people to engage with your chatbot? For example, something like “message us for 10% off” could be a compelling reason for people to engage with your chatbot.
  • Social media: How about instead of running Facebook ads which direct people to websites, you run an ad connecting people to bots instead? For example, in the ad, advise people to “chat to see the latest styles” or “chat now to get 20% off” and then have your bot start a conversation. Instant engagement! Plus, it’s a more gentle call-to-action as opposed to a hard sell such as “buy now.”
  • Video: How about creating instructional YouTube videos on how to use your bot? Especially helpful since one of the barriers to using this new technology is a lack of awareness about how to use it. A short, quick video that demonstrates what your skill can do could be very impactful. Check out this great example from FitBit and Cortana:

  • Search: As you’ve likely seen by now, Bing has been integrating chatbots within the SERPs itself. You can do a search for bots across different platforms and you’ll be able to add relevant bots directly to your preferred platform right from the search results themselves:

Travel Bots

  • You can engage with local businesses such as restaurants via the Bing Business bot that shows up as part of the local listings:

Monsoon Seattle search with chatbot

The key lesson here is that when your bot is acting as an introducer, give your audience plenty of ways and reasons to chat. Use conversation to tell people about new stuff, and get them to kick off that conversation.

Bot as influencer

To see a bot acting as an effective influencer, let’s turn to Chinese giant Alibaba. They developed a customizable chatbot store concierge that they offer free to brands and markets.

Cutely named dian xiao mi, or “little shop bee,” the concierge is designed to be the most helpful store assistant you could wish for.

For example, if a customer interacting with a clothing brand uploads a photograph of a t-shirt, the bot buzzes in with suggestions of pants to match. Or, if a customer provides his height and weight, the bot can offer suggested sizing. Anyone who has ever shopped online for clothing knows exactly how much pain the latter offering could eliminate.

This helpful style is essentially changing the conversation from “BUY NOW!” to “What do you need right now?”

We should no longer ask: “How should we sell to customers?” The gazillion-dollar question instead is: How can we connect with them?

An interesting thing about this change is that, when you think about it for a second, it seems like common sense. How much more trust would you have for a brand that was only trying to help you? If you bought a red dress, how much more helpful would it be if the brand showed you a pic of complementary heels and asked if you want to “complete the look”?

For the chatbot to be truly helpful as an influencer, it needs to learn from each conversation. It needs to remember what you shared from the last conversation, and use it to shape future conversations.

So, say a chatbot from my favorite shoe store knew all about my shoe addiction (is there a cure? Would I event want to be cured of it?), then it could be more helpful via its remarketing efforts.

Imagine how much more effective it would be if we could have an interaction like this:

Shoestore Chatbot: Hi Purna! We’re launching a new collection of boots. Would you like a sneak peek?

Me: YES please!!!

Shoestore Chatbot: Great! I’ll email pics to you. You can also save 15% off your next order with code “MozBlog”. Hurry, code expires in 24 hours.

Me: *buys all the shoes, obvs*

This is Bot-topia. Your brand is being helpful, not pushy. Your bot is cultivating relationships with your customers, not throwing ads at them.

The key lesson here? For your bot to be a successful influencer, you must always consider how they can be helpful and how they can add value.

Bot as closer

Bot: “A, B, C. Always be closing.”

Imagine you want to buy flowers for Mother’s Day, but you have very little interest in flowers, and when you scroll through the endless options on the website, and then a long checkout form, you just feel overwhelmed.

1-800-Flowers found your pain point, and acted on it by creating a bot for Facebook Messenger.

It asks you whether you want to select a bunch from one of their curated collections, instantly eliminating the choice paralysis that could see consumers leave the website without purchasing anything.

And once you’ve chosen, you can easily complete the checkout process using your phone’s payment system (e.g. Apple Pay) to make checkout a cinch. So easy, and so friction-free.

The result? According to Digiday, within two months of launch the company saw 70% of the orders through the bot came from brand-new customers. By building a bot, 1-800 Flowers slam-dunked their way into the hearts of a whole new, young demographic.

Can you think of a better, more inexpensive way to unlock a big demographic? I can’t.

To quote Mr. Zuckerberg again: “It’s pretty ironic. To order from 1-800-Flowers, you never have to call 1-800-Flowers again.”

Think back to that handy checklist of questions from Step 1, especially this one: “How can we reduce the number of steps in each interaction?”

Your goal is to make every step easy and empathetic.

Think of what people would want/need to know to as they complete their tasks. For example, if you’re looking to transfer money from your bank account, the banking chatbot could save you from overdraft fees if it warns you that your account could be overdrawn before you make the transfer.

The key lesson here: Leverage your bots to remove any friction and make the experience super relevant and empathetic.

Step 3: Measure the conversation with the right metrics

One of my favorite quotes around how we view metrics versus how we should view metrics comes from Automat CEO Andy Mauro, who says:

“Rather than tracking users with pixels and cookies, why not actually engage them, learn about them, and provide value that actually meets their needs?”

Again, this is common sense once you’ve read it. Of course it makes sense to engage our users and provide value that meets their needs!

We can do this because the bots and skills give us information in our customers’ own words.

Here’s a short list of KPIs that you should look at (let’s call it “bot-alytics”):

  • Delivery and open rates: If the bot starts a conversation, did your customer open it?
  • Click rates: If your bot delivered a link in a chat, did your customer click on it?
  • Retention: How often do they come back and chat with you?
  • Top messages: What messages are resonating with your customers more than others?
  • Conversion rates: Do they buy?
  • Sentiment analysis: Do your customers express happiness and enthusiasm in their conversation with the bot, or frustration and anger?

Using bot-alytics, you can easily build up a clear picture of what is working for you, and more importantly, what is working for your customer.

And don’t forget to ask: What can you learn from bot-alytics that can help other channels?

The future’s bright, the future’s bots

What were once dumb machines are now smart enough that we can engage with them in a very human way. It presents the opportunity of a generation for businesses of all shapes and sizes.

Our customers are beginning to trust bots and digital personal assistants for recommendations, needs, and more. They are the friendly neighborhood machines that the utopian vision of a robotic future presents. They should be available to people anywhere: from any device, in any way.

And if that hasn’t made you pencil in a “we need to talk about bots” meeting with your company, here’s a startling prediction from Accenture. They believe that in five years, more than half of your customers will select your services based on your AI instead of your traditional brand.

In three steps, you can start your journey toward bot-topia and having your conversations convert. What are you waiting for?

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Use as Directed: A Content Marketing Plan for Robust Business Performance

Posted by Alex-T

The chances that your company invests in a content marketing strategy are very high. Content Marketing Institute revealed that 89% of B2B and 86% of B2C marketers use content marketing, while the money spent on this activity ranges between 26% to 30% of an entire marketing budget.

I believe that spending up to 50% of your overall budget on content marketing needs isn’t too much, if you know how to take advantage of it. Not only will it benefit your brand’s awareness, but it will also help you generate traffic, leads, and sales. My personal experience working with digital businesses has shown that only a few are successful in finding a strategic approach to their content plan. Sadly, most companies practice throwing spaghetti on the wall to see if a piece of content gets any readers.

In this post, you’ll learn how to ensure that every piece of content you create drives traffic, attracts leads, and generates sales. I’ll give you ready-to-use solutions on how you can plan, execute, and measure your content promotion, so that content starts earning your business money.

Disclaimer: If you decide to follow any of my recommendations, make sure to adjust these techniques in accordance to your audience’s interests and your business needs, and test, test, and test again. As we all know, every business is unique, and what’s good for one brand may not be as helpful for another. Remember that blindly following any suggestions and mimicking other brands’ activities may not deliver desirable results.

Numbers don’t lie: Measure how your current content is performing

It’s important to start off your new content marketing campaign by analyzing your current situation. You may discover old content that hasn’t performed well yet, but that has the potential to benefit you with a few changes and a second chance. Working with old content is always a good idea, as the copywriting is already taken care of.

Many marketers don’t understand what’s absolutely required when it comes to measuring a content marketing campaign. Data measurement and analysis can be quite intimidating, especially if you’re just starting out.

Here are two steps to take in order to get some meaningful insights:

1. Figure out how your content ranks in Google and whether it brings you traffic and conversions

To get ahold of this data, you’re going to need a combination of tools.

Start with Google Analytics

The “Landing Pages” report in Google Analytics will show how your pages perform according to the number of impressions, clicks, conversions, and the average position of each page in the search results. To view this report in Google Analytics, your Google Search Console needs to be connected with your Google Analytics account. If you haven’t connected it yet, this data can be viewed directly in Google Search Console via the “Search Traffic” > “Search Analytics” report.

The problem with Google, though, is that it doesn’t give you a page’s exact ranking; it only shows your site’s average position. It also requires you to check each page manually, so you can’t see a bigger picture all at once. Using tools — like SEMrush, SpyFu, Searchmetrics, Ahrefs, SERPstat, etc. — will allow you to see more precise data about your content’s rankings. For example, here’s a screenshot of a Google Analytics report showing a list of keywords for which a specific page appears in the SERPs:

And here’s the same data from SEMrush that allows you to filter pages, export the data, and work with it in a spreadsheet:

2. Find content that can be easily improved/edited to begin bringing value

After completing step #1, you’ll have an all-encompassing picture of your content’s past performance. Geared up with the information you’ve uncovered, find those pages that are showing up in the search results and bringing you clicks and conversions, but that aren’t listed among the top five or ten search results. These pages have a lot of potential to make it to the top of Google. I would recommend checking whether these pieces:

  • Are supported by internal links. The higher the referring article is in the search results, the better it is for you.
  • Are easily discoverable. How long will it take a user to find your article? And I’m not talking only about the number of internal links in your content piece, but also whether it’s featured in a similar content feed on blog posts.
  • Have enough external links. If there are none, then you should definitely consider mentioning your article in one of your next guest posts, or ask your colleagues in the PR department to help spread the word.
  • Have a well-written title and meta descriptions. Sometimes, this is what really affects your click-through rate and, as a result, your traffic.
  • Make a user stay on your page reading longer. If the answer is no, you need to brainstorm what kind of triggers you can add to your page so that your users spend some time browsing around your content. It could be a catchy GIF, educational videos, or product slide presentations.

The needs and wants of your business: Define the right metrics to track your progress

From an early age, we’re taught that there’s a difference between a need and a want, that we only have a few true basic needs, and myriad wants. The same logic can be applied to the business world, but it’s a lot harder to discern and comprehend.

During this stage, you need to select highly meaningful and relevant metrics that align perfectly with your business needs. Please don’t try to use generic metrics — your business may have its own kind of struggles and goals. For some businesses, for instance, a conversion does not equal money. I run a free online conference called Digital Olympus that does not intend to sell anything. For me, a conversion is a registration, and I’ve come to learn that the best conversion for my situation is when a registered user attends my online event. Keep such things in mind at all times!

Another great example of a non-monetary conversion comes from one of my clients. They are a completely free SaaS software for specialists in the agricultural industry. They realized that their conversions aren’t registrations alone, and the reason is quite simple. After carefully analyzing their users’ behavior, they discovered that after a user registers, they aren’t taking advantage of their tool at all. For them, the best conversion is a registered user that is actively involved with their product. Coincidentally, that’s where content marketing can come into play to solve their problems. Their users need help to understand how they can take advantage of the software; adding relevant content to the company’s site will surely add clarity and improve users’ understanding of their product.

When it comes to creating and managing content, it’s always a good idea to see exactly how users interact with it. Do they click on your call-to-action buttons? How many of them read your article in its entirety? All of these metrics are very easy to track if you use Google Tag Manager. It’s a must-have tool, allowing you to track whatever you want without going through the excruciating process of dealing with your dev team. Here’s an excellent post by Simo Ahava that explains which metrics you can track and analyze with the help of GTM.

Have your Google Analytics reports ever shown you something like this?:

img_560d3e8dd6eff.png

If the answer is yes, you must know that elevating feeling of joy and excitement, seeing all these visitors checking out your page. But unless you’re a deliberate YouTuber with a fame complex, you’re not interested in traffic, per se. You want to witness conversions.

The goals of pages that attract traffic but don’t convert, in the majority of cases, don’t match up to the goals of your web visitors. If you haven’t added lead magnets on those pages yet, it should be your top priority, because currently those content pieces aren’t converting your traffic into something tangible.

Don’t neglect the importance of SEO

Yes, it’s definitely important to write meaningful content that will perfectly resonate with your audience — but that’s not all. If you want to bring a steady flow of new visitors with the help of that content, you must optimize each of your posts to make sure that it has a fighting chance to rank on Google.

I highly recommend spending some time researching topics that will increase your chances to rank well. Below are a few ways you can identify them:

1. Find related keywords

Imagine you discovered that keywords related to “content marketing strategy” are the keywords driving the most conversions. Those keywords should be analyzed in order to find other keywords related to that subject. These keywords have proven to mirror your audience’s search behavior the most, and they’re very promising in terms of earning you more paying clients.

One of the easiest ways to find related keywords is to simply check Google’s Autocomplete. You can look for autocomplete suggestions manually or by using tools like AnswerThePublic.com and Keywordtool.io. The latter scans Google Autosuggest and gives you the search volume for each keyword entered. It’s a time-saver.

Another tool worth trying is SEMrush’s Keyword Magic tool. It automatically gives you the most necessary information about a keyword, factoring in metrics such as CPC and volume (basic, but much-needed), keyword difficulty, competition level, SERP features, and exact and broad keyword matches. This tool gathers the data you need and offers a wide range of analysis for both single keywords and groups of keywords.

2. Check the competition level in the SERPs

After you’ve compiled a list of related keywords, it’s time to choose the keywords (e.g., topics for your future articles) that will help you rank higher in Google.

To save time, use a tool like SEMrush’s Keyword Difficulty. It tells you how difficult it will be for you to promote your piece of content based on the domain’s visibility in organic search results. However, the Keyword Difficulty tool doesn’t consider the number of referring domains for the website or page URL you’re trying to look up. Here’s what you can do to make the process of gathering this missing data hassle-free:

  • Begin by collecting the list of domains and pages (URLs) that currently rank in Google for the list of keywords you’ve selected during the previous step. To speed things up, use a tool that allows you to easily export lists of domains and pages.
  • After you collect all the domains and URLs, you’ll need to check the number of referring domains for each of them. Tools like Ahrefs or the Majestic Bulk Backlink Checker will allow you to analyze multiple links at once.
  • Finally, you can get a good understanding of what kinds of keywords have more or less competition based not only on the number of searchers they have, but also on their actual situation in the SERPs.

After these steps are completed, you’ll see how many referring domains each of your content pieces ought to have in order to rank higher. You’ll also be able to identify the number of referring domains by looking at how many links have been acquired by the other pages that currently rank well.

Content promotion that gives short-term results

As I’ve mentioned previously, you need to remember that ranking in Google and attracting organic visitors are among the top goals of any content piece. Ideally, every article you publish on your website should eventually rank well, but you need to give your new SEO campaign some time before it bears fruit. While you’re waiting, you can take advantage of the promotional activities that allow for almost instantaneous results. Depending on your budget and your current rankings, choose one of the following promotional activities that seem most relevant for you.

A. Promote your posts on social media channels

Some people say the world will never be same again thanks to social media. Not sure how to interpret that exactly, but not taking advantage of this powerful channel is reckless! This is a basic and very common way to promote content, and it’s not rocket science to figure out how things work. But let me give you a couple of really actionable tips that will help you to maximize the output:

  1. Create a short video to promote your content. They tend to perform really well on Facebook.
  2. Use GIFs that prove to be very effective. Tools like Canva will help you create them without needing to hire a designer, unless you really want your GIFs to win you an award.
  3. On Twitter, tag users that have recently shared something similar to your content. Search for a term that is related to your article, and you’ll see a list of users who you can tag.
  4. Facebook groups are always a great idea — especially private groups. I recommend researching such groups in advance. Be sure to think of a catchy, unique intro you’ll be able to post to each group. This article explains the benefits of building a Facebook group. Get inspired and get out there to network!
  5. If you want to promote your post on Facebook, make sure that your preview image meets the Facebook Ads Guidelines.
  6. Set up a small ad campaign on Twitter targeting users that have recently shared related content. Use BuzzSumo to find like-minded users.

B. Collect leads

If you choose this way of promotion, then you are going to put in some work. A dull page with “meh”-looking content won’t cut it. You’ll need to prepare something beforehand, something that will look attractive enough to convince a visitor to give you their email. A user is more likely to give you their contact information when they are offered one (or all) of the following options:

  • Exclusive content
  • Content with quotes from or provided by well-known industry experts
  • A webinar with a popular industry expert
  • Useful tools and templates. For instance, it’d be very helpful if a post offered to download a free and ready-to-use content — a promotional plan with a detailed description of all stages and resources one may need to implement a marketing strategy.

In case you don’t have a staff developer to help you with designing and adding a form to your website, there are different online services (like wisepops.com, wishpond.com, popupmonkey.com, or sumo.com) that you can use to create any kind of forms you want.

C. Use remarketing

Typically, only about 30% of visitors are willing to give you their contact details. The remaining 70% read or skim your content, close the tab, and get back to their routine. But you still have a second chance with them. How? The answer is remarketing:

  1. Prepare banners and landing pages that are relevant to your content. These can invite your users to join a webinar or offer an exclusive content. Basically, you can use the same lead magnets that you’ve already integrated into your content page.
  2. Prepare a script to automatically exclude your existing clients and leads from your remarketing campaign. There’s no need to bother them… yet.

D. Use email marketing automation to turn leads into paying clients

If you are somehow collecting leads and aren’t putting them through email marketing funnels, then you might as well just burn the rest of your money. HubSpot will really come in handy here because you can create email marketing funnels based not only on how users interact with your emails, but also on the type of pages your leads have visited. I’ve tried several HubSpot features while working on a few projects in the past, and I couldn’t have asked for a more powerful functionality.

In case you aren’t a Hubspot user, there are other marketing tools that allow you to create email funnels. I’d also suggest involving your leads in as many activities as you possibly can, because every interaction matters and is making them warmer. Ask them to follow you on social media channels. You can also offer some case studies or success stories another client shared about your brand. Real-life cases with your actual clients are very powerful, and the open and click rates of these emails can be a lot higher.

Before you start pushing your products or services to your leads, it’s important to research what brought them to your website in the first place. This is absolutely essential, but sadly, a lot of companies tend to forget to do this research and fail; open rates plummet and users unsubscribe. Don’t let this happen to you.

In conclusion

It’s obvious why some blogs only post a couple of articles a year. What’s the point in creating tons of content that won’t bring any value to the business?

Always keep your SEO goals in mind, and remember that you have to do some preparation in order for them to be delivered accurately and on time. Even short-term results require some leg work. No doubt that, once you’ve adjusted your routine, practiced some of the tactics mentioned above, and are consistent with them, every time you create a piece of meaningful and purposeful content, it will take you less time to manage and promote it.

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The Voice Playbook – Building a Marketing Plan for the Next Era in Computing

Posted by SimonPenson

Preface

This post serves a dual purpose: it’s a practical guide to the realities of preparing for voice right now, but equally it’s a rallying call to ensure our industry has a full understanding of just how big, disruptive, and transformational it will be — and that, as a result, we need to stand ready.

My view is that voice is not just an add-on, but an entirely new way of interacting with the machines that add value to our lives. It is the next big era of computing.

Brands and agencies alike need to be at the forefront of that revolution. For my part, that begins with investing in the creation of a voice team.

Let me explain just how we plan to do that, and why it’s being actioned earlier than many will think necessary….

Jump to a section:

Why is voice so important?
When is it coming in a big way?
Who are the big players?
Where do voice assistants get their data from?
How do I shape my strategy and tactics to get involved?
What skill sets do I need in a “voice team?”

Introduction

“The times, they are a-changing.”
– Bob Dylan

Back in 1964, that revered folk-and-blues singer could never have imagined just what that would mean in the 21st century.

As we head into 2018, we’re nearing a voice interface-inspired inflection point the likes of which we haven’t seen before. And if the world’s most respected futurist is to be believed, it’s only just beginning.

Talk to Ray Kurzweil, Google’s Chief Engineer and the man Bill Gates says is the “best person to predict the future,” and he’ll tell you that we are entering a period of huge technological change.

For those working across search and many other areas of digital marketing, change is not uncommon. Seismic events, such as the initial roll out of Panda and Penguin, reminded those inside it just how painful it is to be unprepared for the future.

At best, it tips everything upside down. At worst, it kills those agencies or businesses stuck behind the curve.

It’s for exactly this reason that I felt compelled to write a post all about why I’m building a voice team at Zazzle Media, the agency I founded here in the UK, as stats from BrightEdge reveal that 62% of marketers still have no plans whatsoever to prepare for the coming age of voice.

I’m also here to argue that while the growth traditional search agencies saw through the early 2000s is over, similar levels of expansion are up for grabs again for those able to seamlessly integrate voice strategies into an offering focused on the client or customer.

Winter is coming!

Based on our current understanding of technological progress, it’s easy to rest on our laurels. Voice interface adoption is still in its very early stages. Moore’s Law draws a (relatively) linear line through technological advancement, giving us time to take our positions — but that era is now behind us.

According to Kurzweil’s thesis on the growth of technology (the Law of Accelerating Returns),

“we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years.”

Put another way, he explains that technology does not progress in a linear way. Instead, it progresses exponentially.

“30 steps linearly get you to 30. One, two, three, four, step 30 you’re at 30. With exponential growth, it’s one, two, four, eight. Step 30, you’re at a billion,” he explained in a recent Financial Times interview.

In other words, we’re going to see new tech landing and gaining traction faster than we ever realized it possible, as this chart proves:

Above, Kurzweil illustrates how we’ll be able to produce computational power as powerful as a human brain by 2023. By 2037 we’ll be able to do it for less than a one-cent cost. Just 15 years later computers will be more powerful than the entire human race as a whole. Powerful stuff — and proof of the need for action as voice and the wider AI paradigm takes hold.

Voice

So, what does that mean right now? While many believe voice is still a long ways off, one point of view says it’s already here — and those fast enough to grab the opportunity will grow exponentially with it. Indeed, Google itself says more than 20% of all searches are already voice-led, and will reach 50% by 2020.

Let’s first deal with understanding the processes required before then moving onto the expertise to make it happen.

What do we need to know?

We’ll start with some assumptions. If you are reading this post, you already have a good understanding of the basics of voice technology. Competitors are joining the race every day, but right now the key players are:

  • Microsoft Cortana – Available on Windows, iOS, and Android.
  • Amazon AlexaVoice-activated assistant that lives on Amazon audio gear (Echo, Echo Dot, Tap) and Fire TV.
  • Google Assistant – Google’s voice assistant powers Google Home as well as sitting across its mobile and voice search capabilities.
  • Apple Siri – Native voice assistant for all Apple products.

And (major assistants) coming soon:

All of these exist to allow consumers the ability to retrieve information without having to touch a screen or type anything.

That has major ramifications for those who rely on traditional typed search and a plethora of other arenas, such as the fast-growing Internet of Things (IoT).

In short, voice allows us to access everything from our personal diaries and shopping lists to answers to our latest questions and even to switch our lights off.

Why now?

Apart from the tidal wave of tech now supporting voice, there is another key reason for investing in voice now — and it’s all to do with the pace at which voice is actually improving.

In a recent Internet usage study by KPCB, Andrew NG, chief scientist at Chinese search engine Baidu, was asked what it was going to take to push voice out of the shadows and into its place as the primary interface for computing.

His point was that at present, voice is “only 90% accurate” and therefore the results are sometimes a little disappointing. This slows uptake.

But he sees that changing soon, explaining that “As speech recognition accuracy goes from, say, 95% to 99%, all of us in the room will go from barely using it today to using it all the time. Most people underestimate the difference between 95% and 99% accuracy — 99% is a game changer… “

When will that happen? In the chart below we see Google’s view on this question, predicting we will be there in 2018!

Is this the end for search?

It is also important to point out that voice is an additional interface and will not replace any of those that have gone before it. We only need to look back at history to see how print, radio, and TV continue to play a part in our lives alongside the latest information interfaces.

Moz founder Rand Fishkin made this point in a recent WBF, explaining that while voice search volumes may well overtake typed terms, the demand for traditional SERP results and typed results will continue to grow also, simply because of the growing use of search.

The key will be creating a channel strategy as well as a method for researching both voice and typed opportunity as part of your overall process.

What’s different?

The key difference when considering voice opportunity is to think about the conversational nature that the interface allows. For years we’ve been used to having to type more succinctly in order to get answers quickly, but voice does away with that requirement.

Instead, we are presented with an opportunity to ask, find, and discover the things we want and need using natural language.

This means that we will naturally lengthen the phrases we use to find the stuff we want — and early studies support this assumption.

In a study by Microsoft and covered by the brilliant Purna Virji in this Moz post from last year, we can see a clear distinction between typed and voice search phrase length, even at this early stage of conversational search. Expect this to grow as we get used to interacting with voice.

The evidence suggests that will happen fast too. Google’s own data shows us that 55% of teens and 40% of adults use voice search daily. Below is what they use it for:

While it is easy to believe that voice only extends to search, it’s important to remember that the opportunity is actually much wider. Below we can see results from a major 2016 Internet usage study into how voice is being used:

Clearly, the lion’s share is related to search and information retrieval, with more than 50% of actions relating to finding something local to go/see/do (usually on mobile) or using voice as an interface to search.

But an area sure to grow is the leisure/entertainment sector. More on that later.

The key question remains: How exactly do you tap into this growing demand? How do you become the choice answer above all those you compete with?

With such a vast array of devices, the answer is a multi-faceted one.

Where is the data coming from?

To answer the questions above, we must first understand where the information is being accessed from and the answer, predictably, is not a simple one. Understanding it, however, is critical if you are to build a world-class voice marketing strategy.

To make life a little easier, I’ve created an at-a-glance cheat sheet to guide you through the process. You can download it by clicking on the banner below.

In it, you’ll find an easy-to-follow table explaining where each of the major voice assistants (Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant, and Alexa) retrieve their data from so you can devise a plan to cover them all.

The key take away from that research? Interestingly, Bing has every opportunity to steal a big chunk of market share from Google and, at least at present, is the key search engine to optimize for if voice “visibility” is the objective.

Bing is more important now.

Of all the Big Four in voice, three (Cortana, Siri, and Alexa) default to Bing search for general information retrieval. Given that Facebook (also a former Bing search partner) is also joining the fray, Google could soon find itself in a place it’s not entirely used to being: alone.

Now, the search giant usually finds a way to pull back market share, but for now a marketers’ focus should be on Microsoft’s search engine and Google as a secondary player.

Irrespective of which engine you prioritize there are two key areas to focus on: featured snippets and local listings.

Featured snippets

The search world has been awash with posts and talks on this area of optimization over recent months as Google continues to push ahead with the roll out of the feature-rich SERP real estate.

For those that don’t know what a “snippet” is, there’s an example below, shown for a search for “how do I get to sleep”:

Not only is this incredibly valuable traditional search real estate (as I’ve discussed in an earlier blog post), but it’s a huge asset in the fight for voice visibility.

Initial research by experts such as Dr. Pete Myers tells us, clearly, that Google assistant is pulling its answers from snippet content for anything with any level of complexity.

Simple answers — such as those for searches about sports results, the weather, and so forth — are answered directly. But for those that require expertise it defaults to site content, explaining where that information came from.

At present, it’s unclear how Google plans to help us understand and attribute these kinds of visits. But according to insider Gary Illyes, it is imminent within Search Console.

Measurement will clearly be an important step in selling any voice strategy proposal upwards and to provide individual site or brand evidence that the medium is growing and deserving of investment.

User intent and purchase

Such data will also help us understand how voice alters such things as the traditional conversion funnel and the propensity to purchase.

We know how important content is in the traditional user journey, but how will it differ in the voice world? There’s sure to be a rewrite of many rules we’ve come to know well from the “typed Internet.”

Applying some level of logic to the challenge, it’s clear that there’s a greater degree of value in searches showing some level of immediacy, i.e. people searching through home assistants or mobiles for the location of something or time and/or date of the same thing.

Whereas with typed search we see greater value in simple phrases that we call “head terms,” the world is much more complex in voice. Below we see a breakdown of words that will trigger searches in voice:

To better understand this, let’s examine a potential search “conversation.”

If we take a product search example for, let’s say, buying a new lawn mower, the conversation could go a little like this:

[me] What’s the best rotary lawn mower for under £500?

[voice assistant] According to Lawn Mower Hut there are six choices [reads out choices]

Initially, voice will struggle to understand how to move to the next logical question, such as:

[voice assistant] Would you like a rotary or cylinder lawn mower?


Or, better still…

[voice assistant] Is your lawn perfectly flat?


[me] No.


[voice assistant] OK, may I suggest a rotary mower? If so then you have two choices, the McCulloch M46-125WR or the BMC Lawn Racer.

In this scenario, our voice assistant has connected the dots and asks the next relevant question to help narrow the search in a natural way.

Natural language processing

To do this, however, requires a step up in computer processing, a challenge being worked on as we speak in a bid to provide the next level of voice search.

To solve the challenge requires the use of so-called Deep Neural Networks (DNNs), interconnected layers of processing units designed to mimic the neural networks in the brain.

DNNs can work across everything from speech, images, sequences of words, and even location before then classifying them into categories.

It relies on the input of truckloads of data so it can learn how best to bucket those things. That data pile will grow exponentially as the adoption of voice accelerates.

What that will mean is that voice assistants can converse with us in the same way as a clued-up shop assistant, further negating the need for in-store visits in the future and a much more streamlined research process.

In this world, we start to paint a very different view of the “keywords” we should be targeting, with deeper and more exacting phrases winning the battle for eyeballs.

As a result, the long tail’s rise in prominence continues at pace, and data-driven content strategies really do move to the center of the marketing plan as the reward for creating really specific content increases.

We also see a greater emphasis placed on keywords that may not be on top of the priority list currently. If we continue to work through our examples, we can start to paint a picture of how this plays out…

In our lawnmower purchase example, we’re at a stage where two options have been presented to us (the McCulloch and the BMC Racer). In a voice 1.0 scenario, where we have yet to see DNNs develop enough to know the next relevant question and answer, we might ask:

[me] Which has the best reviews?

And the answer may be tied to a 3rd party review conclusion, such as…

[voice assistant] According to Trustpilot, the McCulloch has a 4.5-star rating versus a 3.5-star rating for the BMC lawn mower.

Suddenly, 3rd party reviews become more valuable than ever as a conversion optimization opportunity, or a strategy that includes creating content to own the SERP for a keyword phrase that includes “review” or “top rated.”

And where would we naturally go from here? The options are either directly to conversion, via some kind of value-led search (think “cheapest McCulloch M46-125W”), or to a location-based one (“nearest shop with a McCulloch M46-125WR”) to allow me to give it a “test drive.”

Keyword prioritization

This single journey gives us some insight into how the interface could shape our thinking on keyword prioritization and content creation.

Pieces that help a user either make a decision or perform an action around the following trigger words and phrases will attract greater interest and traffic from voice. Examples could include:

  • buy
  • get
  • find
  • top rated
  • closest
  • nearest
  • cheapest
  • best deal

Many are not dissimilar to typed search, but clearly intent priorities change. The aforementioned Microsoft study also looked at how this may work, suggesting the following order of question types and their association with purchase/action:

Local opportunity

This also pushes the requirement for serious location-based marketing investment much higher up the pecking order.

We can clearly see how important such searches become from a “propensity to buy/take action” perspective.

It pays to invest more in ensuring the basics are covered, for which the Moz Local Search Ranking Factors study can be a huge help, but also in putting some weight behind efforts across Bing Places. If you are not yet set up fully over there, this simple guide can help.

Local doesn’t start and end with set up, of course. To maximize visibility there must be an ongoing local marketing plan that covers not just the technical elements of search but also wider marketing actions that will be picked up by voice assistants.

We already know, for instance, that engagement factors are playing a larger part of the algorithmic mix for local, but our understanding of what that really means may be limited.

Engagement is not just a social metric but a real world one. Google, for instance, knows not just what you search for but where you go (via location tracking and beacon data), what you watch (via YouTube), the things you are interested in, and where you go (via things such as Flight search and Map data). We need to leverage each of these data points to maximize effect.

As a good example of this in action, we mentioned review importance earlier. Here it plays a significant part of the local plan. A proactive review acquisition strategy is really important, so look to build this into your everyday activity by proactively incentivizing visitors to leave them. This involves actively monitoring on all the key review sites, not just your favorite!

Use your email strategy to drive this behavior as well by ensuring that newsletters and offer emails support the overall local plan.

And a local social strategy is also important. Get to know your best customers and most local visitors and turn them into evangelists.

Doing it is easier than you might think; you can use Twitter mention monitoring not only to search for key terms, but also mentions within specific latitude/longitude settings or radius.

Advanced search also allows you to discover tweets by location or mentioning location. This can be helpful as research to discover the local questions being asked.

The awesome team at Zapier covered this topic in lots of detail recently, so for those who want to action this particular point I highly recommend reading this post.

Let’s go deeper

There is new thinking needed if the opportunity is to be maximized. To understand this, we need to go back to our user journey thought process.

For starters, there’s the Yelp/Alexa integration. While the initial reaction may be simply to optimize listings for the site, the point is actually a wider one.

Knowing that many of the key vertical search engines (think Skyscanner [travel], Yelp [local], etc.) will spend big to ensure they have the lion’s share of voice market, it will pay to spend time improving your content on these sites.

Which is most important will be entirely dependent upon what niche you are working in. Many will only offer limited opportunity for optimization, but being there and spending time ensuring your profile is 110% will be key. It may even pay to take sponsored opportunities within them for the added visibility it may give you in the future.

There’s also the really interesting intellectual challenge of attempting to map out as many potential user journeys as possible to and from your business.

Let’s take our lawnmower analogy again, but this time from the perspective of a retailer situated within 20 miles of the searcher. In this scenario, we need to think about how we might be able to get front and center before anyone else if we stock the McCulloch model they are looking for.

If we take it as a given that we’ve covered the essentials, then we need to think more laterally.

It’s natural to not only look for a local outlet that stocks the right model, but when it may be open. We might also ask more specific questions like whether they have parking, or even if they are busy at specific times or offer appointments.

The latter would be a logical step, especially for businesses that work in this way; think dentists, doctors, beauty salons, and even trades. The opportunity to book a plumber at a specific time via voice would be a game changer for those set up to offer it.

Know your locality

As a local business, it is also imperative that you know the surrounding areas well and to be able to prove you’ve thought about it. This includes looking at how people talk about key landmarks from a voice perspective.

We often use slang or shortened versions of landmark naming conventions, for instance. In a natural, conversational setting, you may find that you miss out if you don’t use those idiosyncrasies within the content you produce and feature on your site or within your app.

Fun and entertainment

Then, of course, comes the “fun.” Think of it as the games section of the App Store — it makes little logical sense, but in it lies a whole industry of epic proportions.

Voice will give birth to the next era in entertainment. While some of you may be thinking about how to profit from such an active audience, the majority of brands would be smart to see it as an engagement and brand awareness world.

Game makers will clamber to create hit mind games and quizzes, but those that play around the edges may well be the monarchs of this opportunity. Think about how voice could change the dynamic for educators, play the part of unbiased referees in games, or teach birdsong and the birds to which they relate. The opportunity is endless — and it will claim 25% of the overall pie, according to current usage research.

The monetization methods are yet to be uncovered, but the advertising opportunity is significant, as well as how clever technology like Blockchain may enable frictionless payments and more.

User journey mapping

So how do you tie all of this together into a seamless plan, given the complexity and number of touch points available? The answer starts and ends with user journey mapping.

This is something I find myself doing more and more now as part of the wider marketing challenge. Fragmented audiences and a plethora of devices and technology mean it’s more difficult than ever to build an integrated strategy. Taking a user-centric approach is the only way to make sense of the chaos.

Voice is no different, and the key differentiator here is the fact that in this new world a journey is actually a conversation (or a series of them).

Conversation journey mapping

While the tech may not yet be there to support conversations in voice, given the point at the beginning of this piece around the law of Accelerating Returns, it’s clear that it’s coming — and faster than we realize.

In some respects, the timing of that advancement is irrelevant, however, as the process of working through a series of conversations that a potential client or customer may have around your product or service is invaluable as research for your plan.

To go back to our lawnmower example, a conversation mapping exercise may look a little like this:

[me] What’s the best lawnmower for under £500?

[voice assistant] How large is your lawn?

[me] It’s not very big. I don’t need a ride-on.
[voice assistant] OK so would you prefer a cylinder or rotary version?

[me] I don’t know. How do I choose?

[voice assistant] If you want stripes and your lawn is very flat, a cylinder gives a better finish. If not, a rotary is better.

[me] OK, definitely a rotary then!

[voice assistant] Good choice. In that case, your best options are either the McCulloch M46-125WR or the BMC Lawn Racer.

[me] Which is best?

[voice assistant] According to Trustpilot, the McCulloch has 4.5 stars from 36 reviews versus 3.5 stars for the BMC. The McCulloch is also cheaper. Do you want me to find the best deal or somewhere nearby that stocks it?

[me] I’d like to see it before buying if possible.

[voice assistant] OK, ABC Lawn Products is 12 miles away and has an appointment at 11am. Do you want to book it?

[me] Perfect.

Where are the content or optimization opportunities?

Look carefully above and you’ll see that there are huge swathes of the conversation that lend themselves to opportunity, either through content creation or some other kind of optimization.

To spell that out, here’s a possible list:

  • Guide – Best lawnmower for £500
  • Guide – Rotary versus cylinder lawnmowers
  • Review strategy – Create a plan to collect more reviews
  • Optimization – Evergreen guide optimization strategy to enhance featured snippet opportunities
  • Local search – Optimize business listing to include reviews, opening times, and more
  • Appointments – Open up an online appointment system and optimize for voice

In developing such a roadmap, it’s also important to consider the context within which the conversation is happening.

Few of us will ever feel entirely comfortable using voice in a crowded, public setting, for instance. We’re not going to try using voice on a bus, train, or at a festival anytime soon.

Instead, voice interfaces will be used in private, most likely in places such as homes and cars and places where it’s useful to be able to do multiple things at once.

Setting the scene in this way will help as you define your conversation possibilities and the optimization opportunities from it.

What people do we need to create all this?

The one missing piece of the jigsaw as we prepare for the shift to voice? People.

All of the above require a great deal of work to perfect and implement, and while the dust still needs to clear on the specifics of voice marketing, there are certain skill sets that will need to pull together to deliver a cohesive strategy.

For the majority, this will simply mean creating project groups from existing team members. But for those with the biggest opportunities (think recipe sites, large vertical search plays, and so on), it may be that a standalone team is necessary.

Here’s my take on what that team will require:

  • Developer – with specific skill in creating Google Home Actions, Alexa Skills, and so on.
  • Researcher – to work with customer groups to understand how voice is being used and capture further opportunities for development.
  • SEO – to help prioritize content creation and how it’s structured and optimized.
  • Writer – to build out the long-tail content and guides necessary.
  • Voice UX expert – A specialist in running conversation mapping sessions and turning them into brilliant user journeys for the different content and platforms your brand utilizes.

Conclusion

If you’ve read to this point, you at least have an active interest in this fast-moving area of tech. We know from the minds of the most informed experts that voice is developing quickly and that it clearly offers significant benefits to its users.

When those two key things combine, alongside a lowering cost to the technology needed to access it, it creates a tipping point that only ends one way: in the birth of a new era for computing.

Such a thing has massive connotations for both digital and wider marketing, and it will pay to have first-mover advantage.

That means educating upwards and beginning the conversation around how voice interfaces may change your own industry in the future. Once you have that running, who knows where it might lead you?

For some, it changes little, for others everything, and the good news for search marketers is that there are a lot of existing tactics and skill sets that will have an even bigger part to play.

Existing skills

  • The ability to claim featured snippets and answer boxes becomes even more rewarding as they trigger millions of voice searches.
  • Keyword research has a wider role in forming strategies to reach into voice and outside traditional search, as marketers become more interested in the natural language their audiences are using.
  • Local SEO wins become wider than simply appearing in a search engine.
  • Micro-moments become more numerous and even more specific than ever before. Research to uncover these becomes even more pivotal.

New opportunities to consider

  • Increases in content consumption through further integration in daily life — so think about what other kinds of content you can deliver to capture them.
  • Think Internet of Things integration and how your brand may be able to provide content for those devices or to help people use connected home.
  • Look at what Skills/Actions you can create to play in the “leisure and entertainment” sector of voice. This may be as much about an engagement/awareness play than pure conversion or sales, but it’s going to be a huge market. Think quick games, amazing facts, jokes, and more…
  • Conversation journey mapping is a powerful new skill to be learned and implemented to tie all content together.

Here’s to the next 50 years of voice interface progress!

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A Simple Plan for Managing and Completing a Content Project

"Think about where you could be one year from now if you start today." – Stefanie Flaxman

On June 20, 2009, I was reading Copyblogger and I got a new idea: I should write an ebook.

At that point, my writing and editing business was less than a year old, and I had never written anything that resembled a book.

Could I actually do it?

I knew I wanted to try, so I established a plan on July 1 that would help me write, design, and self-publish an ebook on my website by September 15.

I’m going to share that plan with you today, so you can adapt it to any type of content project you’d like to finish by the fall. You’ll also learn some habits I like to avoid when there is a specific goal I want to accomplish.

Select the right topic

Writing an ebook could easily take a year or two … or five.

But launching it as soon as possible was an important step for my business. The ebook would help:

The last bullet point above was especially critical because I didn’t have my own blog yet. I’ll explain that in a bit.

In order to complete the project by the end of the summer, I decided to create a short guide to avoiding common writing mistakes.

If I had chosen a more complex topic, either the quality would have suffered or I wouldn’t have been able to release it on September 15.

Carefully select a project you have the time and resources to finish.

Set final deadlines

On July 1, I set these deadlines …

  • August 1: complete draft
  • August 15: complete editing
  • September 1: complete design
  • September 8: complete guest posts for promotion
  • September 15: launch ebook

As you can see, I had a pretty weak promotion strategy. It made me nervous, but since my goal was to produce an ebook, I didn’t worry about it too much.

The project taught me countless lessons about writing, content creation, and marketing that I could apply in the future.

If you don’t try something new because you don’t feel confident about every aspect of it, you’ll never learn those lessons.

Work on weekly goals

After I marked my calendar with my final deadlines, I outlined weekly goals for how I was going to meet them.

Even though I made daily to-do lists to keep me on track, I preferred to measure my progress at the end of a week. Daily goals are often too strict for my creative process.

Sonia recommends forming a support group with other entrepreneurs to help manage your stress and keep yourself accountable. If you’re more of a lone wolf, adopt a no-excuses attitude.

Don’t treat your deadlines as options. Meet them like your job depends on it.

But also recognize that no project goes perfectly. If you have a week that doesn’t quite go as planned, simply reschedule the tasks you didn’t work on.

It’s possible to have a flexible attitude each week and still finish everything by your final deadlines. Find the space where hard work and fun co-exist.

My website didn’t have a blog

How embarrassing is this?

Although I don’t regret spending a lot of energy in the summer of 2009 on that ebook, it would have also been wise to set up my own blog.

I had already been guest posting on other websites, but my online home was a basic “brochure” site that described my services.

I missed out on a lot of opportunities to build my audience (and business) but came to my senses about a year later when I was ready to blog regularly. :-)

What’s your next project?

It could be:

Think about where you could be one year from now if you start today, and let us know in the comments about a new goal you’re ready to focus on this summer.

The post A Simple Plan for Managing and Completing a Content Project appeared first on Copyblogger.


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How to Write a High-Value Lesson Plan that Makes Your Course Easy to Sell

a step-by-step guide to organizing and delivering your course

The demand for online education is exploding.

The global market for online courses is estimated around $ 107 billion. A mind-boggling figure, right?

Imagine stuffing one-dollar bills into a 53-foot truck. Depending on how crumpled your bills are, you’d need around 1,000 trucks stuffed up to the roof to transport those 107-billion dollar bills.

Would you like one of those trucks to deliver a heap of money to you?

Then you must create a lesson plan so valuable that students get excited about buying your online course.

A high-value lesson plan motivates people to both study and implement your advice. It makes students so happy about their newly acquired skills that they tell all of their friends about your course. That’s how your course starts selling like hot cakes.

Ready to get started?

Step #1: Carefully assess your students’ needs

When developing a course on your own platform, the most logical starting point often seems to be your expertise.

How can you teach your skills to others?

This common approach is asking for trouble. Big trouble.

Because it’s hard to create a valuable learning experience when you think from your own perspective rather than from the student’s perspective.

Think about your course buyers first:

  • Who will buy your course?
  • How will the course transform them?
  • Why are they interested in this transformation?

Imagine, for instance, that you’re a social media expert, and you want to create a course to share your Twitter knowledge. You could answer the three questions above in widely different ways:

  • You might want to target Twitter novices who are hoping to build a Twitter following because they want more traffic to their websites.
  • You might want to target freelance writers who want to connect with publishers and influencers because they want to write for well-known publications that pay higher fees.
  • You might want to target small business marketers who find Twitter a time suck; they want to promote their brands in less time.

Each of these audiences requires a different lesson plan because they have different learning objectives and different levels of experience.

So before you create your lesson plan, define who your audience is and how you’ll help them.

If you’re unsure, read questions in relevant forums and check out the comment sections of popular blogs. Or, even better, ask your own email subscribers what they’re struggling with and how you can help.

Once you understand your audience and the overall aim of your course, you can start creating your lesson plan — the foundation of a popular course.

Step #2: Assign learning objectives to each part of your course

Courses often fail to deliver a smooth learning experience because participants lose track of their objectives.

Students become demotivated when they don’t understand the value of each lesson. They don’t see how your information contributes to their goals. They might even forget why they’re taking your course.

To keep your participants motivated, break the overall objective of your course down into mini-targets for each lesson.

You can fill in the blanks of this magical sentence for each target:

Learn [how this works], so you can [achieve so-and-so].

Each module, each lesson, and each assignment in your course should have a purpose. When participants understand the value of the information and how they’ll benefit from it, they’re more likely to engage with your course and implement your advice.

And what’s more, your valuable lesson plan makes crafting a sales page a breeze, too.

You already know who’s going to buy your course and why (for the transformation). You’ve already listed features (what people learn) and benefits (why they care about learning the information you teach). So, your lesson plan is the ideal selling tool for your course.

But how do you define the purpose of each lesson? And how do you make sure all of the lessons help students achieve their overall goal — their transformation?

Step #3: Create simple, digestible lessons

Ever felt overwhelmed when taking a course?

Or perhaps you’ve studied a course diligently, but were left wondering: “Now, what?”

Ensuring your course meets or exceeds your buyer’s expectations is a tough job. You can’t leave any gaps, but you also can’t overwhelm students by inundating them with too much information.

To avoid any gaps in your lesson plan, start with listing the steps you take to complete a specific task.

Let’s look at an easy example first.

Imagine creating a mini-course for cycling enthusiasts about packing a bicycle for transportation on a plane. You can create this course by making notes of the steps you take when packing your bike.

In this case, it’s even easier to record a video of yourself and provide a running commentary. But when you’re teaching an abstract topic, like leadership or digital marketing skills, it’s more difficult.

For abstract topics, reverse-engineer your processes

As an expert, you often accomplish tasks effortlessly. You don’t think about how you create a presentation; you simply put the slides together. You don’t think about how to write an email or give a client a quote. You simply perform the tasks.

To break down your processes, start by asking yourself, “How did I arrive at this result?”

Imagine creating online training materials for senior managers. One skill you want to teach is conducting performance reviews that motivate staff members and make them more productive.

You can picture yourself going through the process:

  • How do you prepare?
  • How do you ask your team members to prepare?
  • How do you conduct the performance review?
  • What type of notes do you take?

You can mentally rehearse your latest performance reviews and break down the complicated parts. You can play back how you dealt with an underperforming team member. You can think about the questions you asked to help you understand what your team member was struggling with.

You’ll find that you often need to mix different types of digestible chunks, especially for complicated topics or advanced skills. For instance, in my Enchanting Business Blogging course:

  • You learn how to write headlines, subheads, opening paragraphs, the main body text, and closing paragraphs — these are all different parts of a blog post
  • You learn how to generate ideas, outline, write a first draft, and edit — these are all different stages of the blog writing process
  • You also learn how to tell a mini-story, use metaphors, and include specific examples — these are all different writing techniques

You have to dig deep to distinguish different parts, chop up a process, and pinpoint techniques. You have to understand the essence of your topic and the foundation of your skills.

In the Da Vinci course from Sean D’Souza at Psychotactics, for instance, you can learn how to draw cartoons. But first, what’s the foundation of drawing? The course begins with drawing circles.

Now you’ve reverse-engineered your process. You’ve created a lesson plan that’s logical and enticing. Each lesson has a clear learning objective, and your valuable lesson plan is nearly ready.

Step #4: Motivate students to implement your advice

Consuming information in digestible chunks is not the same as learning.

To give your students real value and create raving fans, encourage students to implement your advice. At the end of each lesson, create an assignment for them.

For example, my guide for writing About pages, co-written with Julia Rymut, is a five-day mini-course.

Each day features new information plus an assignment so you can implement what you’ve learned:

  • Learn how to order the key components of an About page to create an engaging flow. Review how your favorite websites communicate the essential components of an About page (analysis of other people’s work helps reinforce the lesson).
  • Learn how to generate ideas for your About page. Complete a 23-point questionnaire so writing about yourself becomes a breeze.
  • Learn specific editing tips for About pages. Edit your page to make your content credible, persuasive, and enjoyable.

Remember, a valuable lesson plan doesn’t simply share information. It inspires students to implement your advice by suggesting activities and assignments.

Step #5: Avoid the biggest pitfall in lesson creation

You’re an expert. You’re brimming with enthusiasm for your topic. You want to share your knowledge and teach your skills. You want to inspire people.

Your red-cheeked enthusiasm is both a huge advantage and an enormous potential pitfall.

While your teaching materials will likely reflect your enthusiasm and get students excited about your course, your enthusiasm may also make you prone to overwhelming your students.

Because you want to teach them everything. Each method. Each trick. Each example. Each exception. And you risk leaving your students gasping for air.

Sharing everything you know is not necessary. Go back to the objective of your course, and ask yourself, “What’s the minimum students need to learn to fulfill that objective?”

Then evaluate your lesson plan:

  • Can you eliminate any learning material that’s not absolutely necessary? (Instead of scrapping lessons, consider turning them into bonus material.)
  • Does each lesson have one, straightforward learning objective, or have you muddled your program by sneaking multiple objectives into one lesson? Try cutting lessons into smaller chunks.
  • For each exercise or assignment, have you covered the relevant knowledge and skills?
  • Do the learning objectives follow each other in a logical order?
  • What could prevent students from implementing your advice? And how can you help overcome those hurdles?
  • Have you warned students about common mistakes?
  • Do the learning objectives match your overall promise?

Too much information makes students feel overwhelmed and leads to inaction. Not enough information leaves students confused and defeated. Good teachers inspire their students by giving exactly the right amount of information.

When running a test drive or beta version of your course, keep a close eye on the questions people ask.

Is important information missing? Are specific assignments stumbling blocks? Do students need a pep talk halfway through your course because they’re losing confidence? Or do you need to slow down and recap the lessons so far?

As a good teacher, do more than share information. Encourage. Motivate. Inspire.

Set the foundation for a thriving online training business

Some say that online learning may be more effective than the traditional model of classroom learning.

People can study at their own pace. They don’t waste time traveling and can save energy by studying from home. They can connect with like-minded people across the world.

But online learning only works if we, as providers, deliver a valuable learning experience.

Creating a valuable lesson plan can be tricky. I’m sure you’ve taken courses that left you confused, cross-eyed, and without hair. Or perhaps you gave up long before that. Defeated, you moved on to the next shiny course. Without making progress.

Your students deserve better than that.

So don’t simply share your knowledge. Create a course that teaches a real skill. Make your course so inspirational that people are begging you to create another course next.

Your valuable lesson plan is the solid foundation of a thriving training business.

Can you hear that truck honking?

The driver leans out of the window, a smile on his face. He’s waving at you, ready to deliver a heap of dollar bills.

Free Webinar: How to Develop an Irresistible Online Course People Will Line Up to Buy (and Then Actually Use)

  • Are you currently planning or developing an online course and looking for a few key pieces of practical advice (from a proven expert) that will put you in a position to have a successful launch?
  • Do you already have an online course that you’re looking to improve before your next launch?
  • Or are you simply curious what this online course craze is all about?

If you answered “Yes” to any of the three questions above, then join Rainmaker Digital founder and CEO Brian Clark on Wednesday, December 7, 2016 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time for a free webinar.

By the end of the hour, you’ll have a much clearer understanding of how to develop an online course that your target audience needs … and that they will be compelled to pay for.

Learn More and Register for Free

Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on August 18, 2015.

The post How to Write a High-Value Lesson Plan that Makes Your Course Easy to Sell appeared first on Copyblogger.


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The 4-Step Plan to Construct Your Own Keyword-to-URL Map

Posted by Carson-Ward

Knowing how to find and effectively use keywords is probably the most important skill for an effective search marketer. Smart keyword planning and tracking should also heavily inform content planning and strategy. Unfortunately, most keyword research is done on the fly as a new page is created. Rather than helping marketers find new opportunities and plan strategically, keywords are usually found and applied to existing posts and in-flight projects.

If you’re an SEO or content creator and don’t have a living, regularly referenced keyword map, this post is for you. We won’t discuss how to optimize existing pages. There are lots of well-done technical SEO posts around if the optimization process is new to you. But if the concept of a keyword plan is new to you, this post should walk you through the process completely. If you’re experienced, you’ll probably pick up at least one new trick or application for keywords.

If you’d like to follow along with a keyword research template I’ve created, feel free to make a copy of this Google doc. You’ll see images of it throughout the post that might make more sense if you open it up.

Finding and selecting keywords

Obviously the first step to using keywords is finding what people search for. While thorough and hopefully helpful, there’s nothing shocking or ground-breaking in this first section. The real magic is in how you use your keywords.


Step 1: Build the “Big List”

Your goal in this first phase of keyword research is to gather every keyword that your business would want to appear for. You won’t achieve that goal, but set your sights high. Think outside the structure of your current site. Look beyond keywords you currently rank for and knowingly compete for.

Moz Keyword Explorer

Moz’s Keyword Explorer is a great tool, and I’m not just saying that because of Moz’s resident hypnotist. I must have missed its launch somehow, yet it’s quickly become my first stop for collecting lots of keywords quickly. The grouping function is great for finding head terms, and the sub-terms will be useful later on in either optimizing terms on existing pages or finding related pages worth creating.

Here I’m using the Moz keyword tool and excluding very low-volume keyword terms that I know I’ll be ignoring. Throughout this post I’m using our site, HighSpeedInternet.com, as an example.

Put in your known head terms and export them all using the “Export CSV” function. I’m impressed by the speed of the tool, and often use volume filters to avoid exporting terms I won’t actually use. That might sound small, but many tools force large exports prior to any estimation of search volume. Once you’re done gathering and exporting, you can remove duplicates and sort using Excel or a (slightly clumsier) Google Sheets script.

SearchMetrics

SearchMetrics is good for those who aren’t sure which keywords they want to rank for. We’ll need to input competitors’ sites to find keywords. For those who don’t know who competitors are, there’s a handy tool that shows likely candidates under “SEO research > Competitors.”

SimilarWeb (not shown) is also helpful in checking for competitors. If your site is new, simply plug in some of the queries you’d like to rank for and look those sites up. Once you’ve discovered some competitors, throw them into SearchMetrics and head over to the “Rankings” section under “SEO Research” and click “Long Tail.”

If this were a competitor’s site, I’d see a list of keywords they rank for and the potential traffic.

Other tools

  • SEMrush has a tool that can find keywords with search volume by site or related terms. One of the better all-in-one tools for keyword research.
  • UberSuggest spits out tons of related terms. It’s no longer a favorite, as many have found suggestions to be irrelevant or low-volume terms.
  • KeywordTool.io is a good complement to a more full-featured tool. It’s reliably better than most tools at finding mid-tail terms that others don’t find.
  • Google Keyword Planner offers free suggestions. One major downside is that your competitors will probably be using the tool the same way you do, resulting in lots of competition for the more narrow set of terms that Google suggests. Still, it would be fine to use this tool and nothing else if your tools budget is low.

There’s an almost unlimited number of keyword tools, but you really only need one or two. The more thorough your Big List process is, the more work you’ll save yourself later on. It’s usually worth it to spend a day or two gathering lots of keywords for a site you’ll be working on regularly.


Step 2: Get keyword volume

Use Excel’s handy function or a Google Sheets script to remove duplicate keywords. For most of us the next step is to import/paste sets of keywords into the Google Keyword Planner, export the volume, and repeat. There’s a limit to how many keywords Google will allow you to run at one time, so pre-filtering bad keywords might be a good idea. For example, I often pull out competitors’ branded terms.

Work-around for “low-volume” accounts (+extra precision)

Google recently continued its creeping war against those who use Google products for free by returning ranges in the keyword planner for low-spending accounts. These ranges (as in the image below) are so broad they’re essentially useless for anything but pre-filtering.

To get around this limit, you can just click the nice “Add to plan” button on any one of your terms.

If you’re only curious about volume for a few keywords, you can just click the “Add to plan” button for multiple terms. It’s easier to paste them in the next step for larger lists. Once you’ve added at least one keyword, click the “Review plan” button.

Now you’re on a new page where you’ll need to be careful about avoiding the “Save to account” buttons unless you actually want to start bidding. Click “Add keywords” to paste your terms in, then save it to a new ad group.

Now click the ad group. You’ll see a large table that’s mostly blank. Fill in a $ 999 bid and set the range to monthly. I also like to try different match types, but I typically use exact-match.

So why is this cool?

  • Impression count is more accurate, and not rounded like in the regular tool.
  • You can set custom date ranges if you want a more accurate figure for forecasting purposes.
  • You can play with match type again (which is something Google took away from the standard planner interface).
  • It works for free accounts.

At the end of Step 2, you should have a simple two-column list.


Step 3: Filter keywords

Notice I said we should filter keywords — not delete them. You’ll generally want to break keywords into three groups:

1.) Priority terms: Keywords you want to rank for immediately. A good priority term has the following attributes:

  • Related to current and near-future business
  • Implies a question you can answer well about a product you sell, OR implies a need you can fulfill
  • High-enough volume to be worth the investment

2.) Secondary terms: We’ll want to go after these some day, but not before we have our priority keywords locked in with query-responsive, well-optimized pages. Secondary terms usually have the following traits:

  • Doesn’t have buying intent, but has healthy volume and relates to what your site does
  • Implies a question you don’t have the expertise to answer
  • Low-volume terms that might convert

3.) Other terms: You might lay out some tertiary keywords (i.e those where you plan to expand the business), but you can generally stop there and label any others as keywords to “ignore for now.”

You’ll usually want to note why you are or are not pursuing a term so you don’t have to re-evaluate it every time you look for new keywords. Step three’s endpoint just adds a few columns:


Using keywords effectively

Now that you’ve gathered keywords it’s time to figure out how to use them. Your ultimate goals are to 1) find new opportunities on existing pages, and 2) find keywords for which you don’t have a good landing page so that you can create or suggest a useful new piece of content. Before we can do either, we’ll need to map the keywords to pages on your site.


Step 4: Map priority keywords

Just like you needed human judgment to determine priority keywords, you’ll need to use good judgment to map them to pages. You can skip the judgment steps and still come out with a final product, but it will ultimately be far less useful. Besides, this is why we have jobs that machines won’t be taking over for a while.

Scrape Google

First, scrape Google for your keywords and current ranking. Google frowns on rank tracking and SERP scraping, but consider it fair game for all the content they scrape and save. If you don’t want to scrape SERPs you can manually map each page, but it’s nice for larger sites to check yes/no rather than thinking through a list of potential pages every time.

There are tons of tools and services for this. AWR is probably the most common choice, as this is a one-time deal. You could also write a simple script with proxies or find a freelancer on one of a dozen sites. Moz Pro’s campaigns work up to your keyword limit, but the Moz tool is far better at helping after you’ve mapped keywords.

Mapping new & existing URLs

Once you have each keyword’s page and current rank, you’ll want to quickly check that the page matches the query.

  • How does this page help the user? (Don’t confuse this with what the user does next.)
  • Would the ideal version of that page do what you’d want if you typed this keyword into Google?
  • Would a page about this keyword or set of keywords only serve the query better?

You don’t want to create new pages for every tiny keyword variation, but we do want to make sure the page feels tailored to the user question. You’re trying to close the gap between what people want from Google and what your site does, so it shouldn’t be surprising if the questions you ask yourself feel UX-heavy.

After asking these questions a few hundred times it’ll become second nature. You won’t rank at all for some terms, so you’ll have to either manually select a page or create a new one. For some pages (especially those 50+), Google will just be plain wrong and you’ll have to re-map them.

The hardest choice is often whether an existing page could be optimized to be a better fit, or if a new URL is more appropriate. As a general rule, anything that would augment an existing page’s core purpose can be added, but anything that would detract or confuse the core purpose should be placed elsewhere. Don’t worry if it’s not immediately clear what the core purpose of the page is. Part of the value in this process is refining page purpose with keywords.

If you have a page in the top 5 or 10, it’s usually best to assume optimizing the page is a better path than creating a new page. If you have sets of conflicting keywords (meaning optimizing for both confuses the page) ranking on the same URL, you can generally choose the higher-value terms and then link to a new page about the second set.

For example, if we had a page appearing for “internet providers by zip code” and “satellite internet providers,” these would be considered conflicting. Trying to talk about satellite Internet (which is available almost everywhere) and zip code-specific Internet at the same time would be confusing. We’d create a new page for satellite Internet, delete the existing satellite Internet content, and link to the new page from the ranking URL.

Building new pages

If you’ve identified new pages that have opportunity, well done! Ensure that the amount of effort is worth the reward, and utilize the opportunities in your production process. Keyword research done well comes with a built-in business case. If you can show keyword volume and argue for keyword intent, you only have to make some assumptions on click, call, or purchase rates to put a potential dollar figure on the project.

Once you’ve mapped keywords to a new page, you should also have scope settled at a high level. Knowing what questions you’re trying to answer and what the page should do gives everyone the information they need to contribute and determine the best way to build it.

Optimizing existing pages

Improving existing pages is usually easier and less time-intensive, but don’t simply optimize page titles and call it a day. Actually look at the page and determine whether it’s a good fit for what you’d want to see if you were the one Googling. Also consider the competition and aim to be better.

There will be a larger list of existing terms ranking below the top spot where optimization and improvement need to be prioritized. Here are a couple examples of prioritization helpers:

  • Keyword opportunity: Find a click-through study, estimate the traffic you’re getting in your current position, and estimate how much traffic you’d get from the top spot. Consider both keywords and pages.
  • Competitive opportunity: Combine the opportunity above with competition metrics (e.g. PA/DA in the SERPs).
  • Crawl your pages to get titles and content, break the keyword into its individual words, and see how many of the words appear.

Use these figures as guides, and be smart about competition. It’s easy for analytical people to get too deep into a spreadsheet. Make sure you’re looking at your website and that of your competition, rather than making decisions on a pet formula alone.


A word to skeptical content strategists/marketers

I understand if you think this looks like a post for SEOs. Content that comes from highly searched keywords tends to be evergreen, but the result of writing keyword-targeting content is rarely something your visitors will rush to share. It’s very rarely inspiring, timely, fun, or otherwise sexy. Keep some things in mind, though:

  1. Depending on who you believe, organic traffic on average is 2–4x average referral traffic across the web. Don’t sell yourself short with a content strategy that only reaches half of your potential audience.
  2. You don’t have to create content the way everyone else has. In fact, please don’t! See a bunch of dull articles ranking for the term? Maybe make it an interactive tool. Write something that’s not dull. Answer the question better than anyone else has.
  3. You’ll drive more sales creating good content for boring searches than you will creating viral posts that get shared and linked to. Combine keyword hunting with shareable content for a truly business-changing organic/inbound strategy.

You don’t need an SEO’s permission to create useful content for things Google explicitly tells you your potential fans and customers are looking for. Incorporating a keyword strategy into a comprehensive content strategy almost feels like cheating.


Getting started: A spreadsheet template

If all of this sounds a bit overwhelming, I’ve created a template in Google docs that you can begin using. Just choose “File > Make a copy,” read through the comments, and start entering in your own data once you feel comfortable.

Get your keyword mapping template

The Google doc does a lot of the boring stuff for you, like calculating keyword opportunity, title optimization (if you put in page titles), and organizing your keyword map by page and keyword with opportunity, volume, and more.


When it’s time to automate

There are tools for doing much of what this spreadsheet does. The right tool will be worth the money as long as you keep some things in mind before you dive in and start paying:

  1. It’s wise to know what you want a tool to do before buying it. Use the keyword mapping template, experiment with what you actually want and use regularly, and then you can start looking for tools to help you map keywords and optimize pages. Avoid tool clutter by using them deliberately.
  2. Most tools will try to map keywords to pages, but none can reliably tell you when or how you should create new content. If you’re never actually looking at keywords with human judgment and asking, “Am I answering that query?”, then you’re probably over-relying on the tool.

For Moz Pro members, plugging in some keywords and playing around is a great place to start. Play around until you’re comfortable with rank tracking and page mapping, then look at some optimization suggestions. It’s now even better when combined with the keyword tool.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


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How to Create an Influencer Plan that Drives Your Content Marketing

Image of Red Phone

When we first launched the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) back in 2007, we had little more than two nickels to rub together. Today, the site averages 130,00 unique visitors per month, almost 300,000 page views, and more than 50,000 email newsletter subscribers (both daily and weekly).

In each category, this is double our performance from 2012, and almost all of our revenue at CMI, in one way or another, can be traced to one CMI blog post.

I share these results with you because I believe any company can reproduce the same kind of results by being eternally focused and diligently consistent with the creation and distribution of exceptional content.

Below you’ll find the case study of how we did it.

Getting started

With minimal resources and budget, we looked at all available options for creating content. After looking at the competitive landscape and audience need (our audience consists of marketing managers and directors in mostly enterprise organizations), we believed there was an opportunity for daily instructional posts about the practice of content marketing.

We started with a budget of $ 6,000 per month to cover five posts per week. (We didn’t start weekend posting until 2012. Today, we publish once per day, seven days a week.) Those funds needed to cover raw content costs, editing costs, proofreading, uploading into WordPress, and any images for individual posts. It goes without saying, but this was not much to work with. Most of our competition has 10 to 50 times this amount of budget.

The only feasible way we thought we could make this work was to reach out to outside contributors, without paying them, in exchange for promoting them on our site.

The influencer list

Luckily, we had a head start with a defined influencer list.

We defined an influencer as a blogger, competitor, or media organization that was creating content of interest to our target audience. We actually rated our influencer list quarterly in something called the Top 42 Content Marketing Blogs.

Initially, this list was made up of influencers we found by tracking keywords (like “content marketing”) in Google Alerts, authors in industry trade publications, those who were talking about the topic on Twitter, and other bloggers that we just found interesting. Although the main list included 42 people, there was a secondary database of more than 300 people that we tracked in one way or another.

Getting the attention of influencers

As influencers, these people are fairly important.

They generally have real jobs, and are extremely active on social networks, spending their time sharing content and blogging. Getting on their radar is not easy. So, to get their attention, we gave away content gifts.

We did this in a few different ways …

Social media 4-1-1

Originally coined by Andrew Davis, author of Brandscaping, Social Media 4-1-1 is a sharing system that enables a company to get greater visibility with social influencers.

Here’s how it works.

For every six pieces of content shared via social media (think Twitter for example):

  • Four are pieces of content from your influencer target that are also relevant to your audience. This means that 67% of the time you are sharing content that is not yours, and calling attention to content from your influencer group.
  • One piece can be your original, educational piece of content.
  • One piece can be your sales piece, like a coupon, product notice, press release or some other piece of content that no one will pay attention to.

While the numbers don’t have to be exact, it’s the philosophy that makes this work. When you share influencer content, they notice. And you share, without asking for anything in return … so that when you do need something someday, the influencers are more likely to say yes.

Big content gifts

As we tracked our “top content marketing blogger” list, we decided we could get better visibility with influencers by actually ranking the influencers and sharing it out with the masses.

This was an incredible success.

We hired an outside research expert to put together a methodology of how to rank the top bloggers, looking at areas like consistency, style, helpfulness, originality, and social sharing. Then each quarter, we would publicize the list, showcase the top 10, send out a press release, and try to make a big deal out of it.

Needless to say, the top 10 and the honored top 42 loved the list. (Copyblogger was a two-time winner.) Not only did most of this influencer group share the list with their audiences, approximately half of the top 42 influencers placed our widget (with their personal rank) on their home page, linking back to our site. So not only are we building long-term relationships with these influencers, we are getting credible links and traffic as well.

In addition to the top bloggers list, we started to put together large educational ebooks showcasing the influencers work.

For example, in 2009 and again in 2011, we launched the Content Marketing Playbook (the 2013 version is in production). The Playbook included over 50 case studies about content marketing, with many coming directly from our influencers. We made sure to note in the Playbook which examples came from which influencers.

When we released the Playbook and let the influencers know about the eBook, those we highlighted in the Playbook eagerly shared the content with their audiences.

Why was this important?

When we first started with this idea, CMI didn’t have a large audience, so we had to either pay for promotion of the eBook or get an incredible amount of social sharing. The influencer sharing is what made it possible for us to reach 50,000 downloads of the eBook in a fairly short time period.

The importance of a community blog

As we didn’t have the resources to pay for raw, educational content about content marketing, we knew exactly where we needed to turn … our influencers.

When we announced the original CMI blog, the first group we reached out to was our database of social influencers. Dozens of these influencers were more than happy to help us out, as we had promoted them for years, without ever asking for anything in return.

Michele Linn served as our content editor, organizing the editorial calendar and topics with each of the influencers. It was Michele’s job to heavily edit the influencer content we received. Yes, most of them were already pretty decent writers, but we wanted their content to really shine. Why? We believed that if we presented them as true rock stars on our site, with amazingly helpful content, the influencers would be more likely to share the content with their audience.

This was critical, because at the time we had very little reach and following online … we needed to leverage their networks in order for us to build our network.

Influencer program results

CMI started to see positive traffic patterns almost immediately simply because of the amount of social sharing from the network.

That, in turn, led to more social sharing and some amazing SEO results. The CMI blog platform has enabled us to launch the largest content marketing event in the world, a magazine, two webinars per month, and every other revenue-generating activity we have.

While you may or may not launch a blog that has outside contribution like ours, committing to maintaining a social influencer list is a critical component to your social sharing program. Oh, one outside benefit I wasn’t expecting — a good number of people on our social influencer list are now good friends of mine.

How’s that for social media magic?

Editor’s Note: This post was adapted from Joe Pulizzi’s third book, Epic Content Marketing: How to Tell a Different Story, Break through the Clutter, and Win More Customers by Marketing Less, released this month.

About the Author: Joe Pulizzi is founder of Content Marketing Institute, which puts on the largest in-person content marketing event in the world: Content Marketing World.  You can find Joe on Twitter @JoePulizzi. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange.

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How To Write A Marketing Plan

A marketing plan is a document that outlines a set of actions necessary in order to meet specific objectives.

It’s one of those things many of us, especially those who have been doing search marketing for a while, probably keep largely in our heads. We know roughly where we’re going, the strategies needed to get there, and the objective is to get great rankings and increased traffic. So who needs to write it down?

Here’s a couple of good reasons.

Writing forces an analytic approach. The act of writing something down often brings about new ideas because it gets us out of the routine of “just doing”. Secondly, writing plans helps us write better proposals. A marketing plan is about both an analysis and a form of communication. It’s a means to get across your ideas to clients and other partners and convince them of the merits of what we’re doing.

If your clients are anything above small business level, then they likely already have formal marketing plans, of which search marketing is a part, so doing this sort of planning makes us better able to talk their language.

This post looks at the steps involved in writing a marketing plan, and how to optimize it so it will be most effective.

What Is A Marketing Plan?

A marketing plan:

  • provides an analysis of the current situation
  • lists goals
  • outlines strategies, tactics and recommendations to achieve those goals

Above all, a marketing plan is a recommendation for a course of action.

How To Write A Marketing Plan

A marketing plan should cover the following topics:

  • Summary & Recommendations
  • Situation analysis
  • Objectives
  • Budget
  • Strategy
  • Execution
  • Evaluation

The summary and recommendations outline the state of the market and your recommendations for achieving goals. The rest of your document supports these recommendations.

A situation analysis covers what is happening both inside and outside the company – the internal and external conditions. There are various methods of defining these conditions including SWOT analysis, Five Forces, and 5Cs. Whatever method you choose, they will include these three areas:

  • The Customer
  • The Competitors
  • The Company

Customer: A company must serve the interests of the customer. What does the customer need?

Competitor: What do competitors offer? What are the points of difference between their company and yours? Do they serve the needs to the customer well? In what areas don’t they serve the needs of customers?

The Company – what makes sense in terms of existing resources? Could the company restructure to meet marketing goals? Could some product and service lines be switched?

A situation analysis is typically detailed and draws a picture of the state of play right now. It’s a list of known facts about internal and external forces.

The situation analysis is where you are now, the objectives are where you want to be and when. Objectives, as far as a business is concerned, are typically about the bottom line and increasing profitability.

Search marketers often think of micro-objectives in terms of rankings and positioning, but a question a client is much more interested in is how this ranking or positioning effort supports the macro-objective: greater profitability?

A high ranking might lead to more inquiries, and inquiries convert at X%, which are worth, on average, $ X to the business. Once you link search marketing objectives to business objectives it’s a lot easier to sell search marketing and convince people of your strategies, particularly to decision makers.

Objectives such as convert x % more customers, get x more customers to landing page y, get x% more signups are all valid marketing goals as they are quantitative and therefore concrete. “Getting higher rankings” may be measurable, but it doesn’t, in itself, align with a business goal. If we can marry those two things together – rankings and higher profits – then search becomes an easy sell.

Traffic is another measurement we could use, or break it down further into types of traffic i.e. tightly targeted vs loosely targeted traffic. Whilst these facts may be difficult to pin down, this type of analysis helps people think about exactly how much each visitor is worth to them, and why. If each visitor has measurable value, then the value of search marketing plans are easy to prove, so long as the total search marketing spend is lower than the added value the visitors represent. One way to illustrate this potential is by using Google Adwords search volume data, or for a more accurate barometer – a trial PPC campaign run against desired keywords.

Budget: How much will the plan cost to execute? Once you can demonstrate the value of search traffic, then it becomes easier for a company to allocate budget.

Strategy: the nuts and bolts of how you will achieve your goals. In search marketing, this is typically split into two areas, PPC and SEO. A marketing plan typically doesn’t go into exact detail in terms of ranking and positioning technique. Keep it high level, else it’s likely to confuse, or people are likely to get bogged down in unnecessary detail.

Execution: Define who is responsible for what and when. Include milestones.

Evaluation: Evaluation is critical in that you need to establish if the plan is on target to meet goals, or has met goals. If not, then you may need to revise goals and strategy in order to get the plan back on track.

Planning often seems dry, but the very act of putting together a marketing plan will help give you fresh ideas, help clarify your approach, and makes it all easier to communicate with stakeholders.

One problem at this stage is that the marketing plan is likely to be a dull read. I’ve seen chunky marketing plans that never get read – a lot of managers appear to just read the summary on such documents – because they are too dense. In the next section, we’ll look at ways to optimize marketing plans so that people will read them, remember them, and get enthusiastic about them.

It’s useful to split out the phases and a different type of thinking is required for each. Phase one is an analysis – a list of what is happening now. Phase two is all about strategy and tactics. It’s all about “how”. Phase three is about communication and getting people on side. It’s about making specific recommendations backed by analysis and strategy.

Optimizing Your Marketing Plan

Think of your audience. What would you want to see if you were reading a marketing plan?

You’d want to know what needs to be done, and even more importantly, why this is the best course of action. Recommendations need to be anchored by solid analysis and presentation of facts. If you assert something as a recommendation, ask yourself what questions such a recommendation invites, then have the facts to back them up. Always answer the “why are we doing this?” question.

A good way of engaging people is to use a story format. Stories pull people in as they have internal consistency whereby one sentence logically leads to another. A story is simply this: something that moves from status quo (your analysis), to a problem that must be resolved (the customers needs), to a new status quo. Show how you resolve that problem (target the customer and deliver what they need).

Example Marketing Plan

Some marketing plans are long and detailed, but that doesn’t need to be the case, especially on small, contained projects. Here’s an example of a brief marketing plan incorporating each of the steps outlined above.

Example:

Many people want to travel by private plane, but can’t afford it.

Many private planes sit idle, or make return journeys with no one on them. PrivateJet Inc has adapted their existing booking system to provide a service whereby people can book a seat on a private plane just like they can on a regular airline. When carriers have spare capacity, they post it to the system, and pre-approved customers who want to book a seat can easily do so.

Currently, private plane operators don’t have an easy way of making their spare capacity available, except as charters. There are no direct competitors in the private “book a seat” market. People who wish to travel on private aircraft don’t have an easy way of accessing this type of travel. There is space in the market for a nationwide booking system that pre-screens appropriate passengers and matches them up with available planes, much like a conventional aircraft booking system. PrivateJet Inc has this system, and this plan outlines a plan to reach our identified market segment of prospective cash-rich but time poor business customers who can’t afford to own or charter a private plane but would benefit from the convenience of being able to book a seat on one. Private Jet Inc already have a number of private aircraft operators lined up to provide the service.

The goal is to sign-up 2,000 interested members of the public to the prospects database by July 20th. We plan to achieve this goal by using pay per click advertising on Google. The budget for this activity is is $ 15,000. We’ve noted that there is significant search volume for “private plane charter” and various related keywords, so feel confident on achieving this goal given we an estimated conversion rate of 5%. We intend to set-up specific landing pages for each group of related keyword terms explaining the offer and requesting interested users sign up to our mailing list.

Search Inc will implement the plan immediately and report progress to PrivateJet Inc on a weekly basis. By July, PrivateJet will have 2,000 interested members signed up to their prospect database.

That’s a very simple plan for the purposes of illustration. Marketing plans are typically significantly longer and more detailed, but they will follow that same basic structure. It’s clear what the problem is, how it will be addressed, by whom, and when things will happen.

Further Reading:

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A 5-Step Plan to Improve Every Blog Post You Write

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Are your blog posts getting the results you want?

When you’re blogging to build or grow your business, you need each post to pull its weight.

That means writing articles that draw readers in. Articles that get shared and discussed and linked to. Articles that keep readers coming back for more.

Articles that persuade readers to take action.

If your posts aren’t getting the traction you want, you might think you’re not a good enough writer. But the truth is, every writer can follow a few simple steps to improve their posts. (And that goes for the old hands, too.)

Here’s your five-step plan for dramatically improving every blog post:

1. Create a plan before you write a single word

If you start with a blank page and put down whatever comes into your head, you’re not doing yourself or your readers any favors.

Free-flow writing is great as a warm-up exercise, if you’re struggling to get your fingers moving. It’s not a good technique for crafting a well-structured blog post.

Before you start your post, create a simple plan. Jot down the subheadings you want to include (or, for a list post, all the items for your post).

Do it: Spend five minutes planning your next post. If you’re not sure where to begin, create a mindmap, and record all the ideas that come to you. Later, you can decide which to keep.

2. Give extra value with examples and/or exercises

You might have lots of great information to share with your readers — but, for your post to be effective, this needs to be presented in a way they can easily grasp and use.

Readers don’t want abstract principles or theoretical discussions. Sure, they may be interested in understanding the why … but they also want to know what to do.

Examples help readers to “get” what’s being discussed. Here’s an example of a example:

He’d search Google with phrases like “[My closest city] [sport] ['Olympian' or 'world champion' or 'world record']” A search for “San Francisco bobsled Olympian” might get him a recently retired team doctor — the perfect lead to start with.

Exercises give readers a specific task, and help prevent overwhelm. (You might call them “Do this,” Your turn,” “Try it, or even simply “Exercise.”)

Do it: Look at a recent post. Could you add in a short example or exercise for each subsection or point?

3. Include a call to action at the end of each post

When a reader finishes your post, what do you want them to do next? Subscribe to your blog, leave a comment, join your mailing list, buy your product?

Unless you give readers some direction, they’re not likely to take action at all. They’ll just move on — probably to another blog.

A call to action is an instruction to the reader. You can work calls to action into the main body of your post — but the most effective place is usually at the end.

Here are a couple of examples of calls to action. Note the difference in length: if you’re asking readers to do something big, like sign up for a 20-part course, you’ll need to give them a bit more encouragement than if you’re simply suggesting they read another blog post:

If you’re interested in finding out more specifics on how to do that, I put together a free, 20-part course called Internet Marketing for Smart People that can give you a solid head start.

It talks about the delicate balance between audience relationship, selling, and traditional copywriting. Go snag it now, and start weaving a net of your own.

Do it: Next time you write a post, add a call to action, and measure the results. You might be surprised how effective they can be.

4. Edit your title, introduction, and conclusion

Very few bloggers can turn out a great post with one draft. Make sure you leave time in your blogging schedule for editing.

Your whole post is important, of course, but you’ll want to pay special attention to:

  • Your title — this alone will make or break your post. A fantastic post with a so-so title isn’t going to get seen.
  • Your introduction — you need to hook the reader and draw them into your post. If your introduction is vague, confusing, or too long, the rest of your post won’t get read.
  • Your conclusion — if someone reads to the end of your post, there’s a good chance they enjoyed your writing and liked what you had to say. Don’t lose them with an abrupt ending, or a weak call to action.

Do it: Plan time to edit your next post before you need to publish it. If you can, get help from a friend (ask them to choose between several titles, or a couple of versions of the call to action).

5. Format for easy readability

We’re all in a rush online. Readers don’t want to wade through big, long paragraphs of text — they want well-formatted posts that are easy to read.

Use subheadings, bold text, bullet points, and other formatting features to enhance your writing.

  • Subheadings act as signposts to the reader. Make them clear, not clever. (This is good for your SEO, too.)
  • Bold text is a great way to highlight key points, making your post easy to scan.
  • Bullet points add white space and make information easy to take in.

Do it: Next time you come across a blog post that seems effortless to read, take a close look at how it’s formatted — and see what features you could use too.

Over to you …

Providing great information isn’t enough to get your posts noticed in today’s crowded blogosphere. By making sure your posts are easy to read and engage with, and you’ll see much faster success.

Is one of the above steps a weak point for you? Focus on it this week.

And, if you’ve got any extra ideas to add, or if you want to share your experiences, just pop a comment below.

About the Author: Ali Luke will be offering blogging training in London from September 2012. Come along for a day course and learn more about blogging – with lots of examples, practical exercises and one-to-one support as part of a small group. Book your place now, as numbers are limited to 8 people per session.

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