performance level meter-gaugeYou’ve no doubt reviewed one of the Content Marketing Institute’s research reports on Content Marketing Budgets, Benchmarks and Trends. As a B2B online marketing strategist, my focus is with its B2B Content Marketing Research report, and one of the more important points I found lies within the organizational goals set for content marketing initiatives. Content marketing clients want to make sure their objectives are satisfying similar criteria as their peers’ efforts.

Here is the chart again for reference:

chart-organizational goals-b2b marketing

While this year’s top content marketing goals shouldn’t come as a surprise, in my mind, the biggest unanswered question is, how can B2B marketers demonstrate goal completion? In this article, I’ll outline how to demonstrate B2B content marketing performance in association with three primary challenges: brand awareness, thought leadership, and engagement.

Brand awareness

Even though page performance metrics found in Google Analytics are strong indicators of B2B content marketing success (check out Andy Crestodina’s article for a more in-depth discussion on content optimization through Google Analytics), they don’t fully illustrate the reach of the content that’s developed and marketed. Here are important reporting options for content marketers benchmarking brand awareness.

1. Google Webmaster Tools’ keyword report: Google continues to improve the information that’s accessible to site owners in its Webmaster Tools suite, especially in the wake of significantly increased “not provided” keyword referral data in Google Analytics.

Marketers logged into Webmaster Tools can navigate to “Search Traffic” –> “Search Queries,” clicking the “Top Pages” tab, to get an overview of the approximate clicks and impressions in organic search results that web pages have received. The latter half helps define reach of your efforts.

search queries-graph

Marketers should export and filter this report to find the web addresses associated with content marketing assets published. Take note: Webmaster Tool data is only accessible for the past 90 days, so you’ll need to export information on a periodic basis if you want to build out trending information.

Key measurement data to benchmark:

  • Impressions
  • Clicks
  • Keywords associated to page (you can manually select each web page to view specific keywords that the page appeared for in search engine results)

2. Bing Webmaster Tools: Bing also provides similar data in association to Bing search engine results, and the information it makes available extends back for 6 months.

bing-page traffic image

Once your site is registered, navigate from “Reports & Data” to “Page Traffic” to access this information.

3. Social media post performance: Social media platforms have significantly improved reporting data associated with activity measurement and benchmarking performance. These data points help prove reach and engagement of an organization’s presence in an applicable social media community.

B2B content marketers should seek to gain access to social media platform reports, to establish content marketing performance reports on content distributed in social media channels. Here is a basic breakdown on where to obtain the data, once logged into an applicable social media account:

  • Post performance in Facebook: Facebook insights have come a long way in offering actionable metrics to marketing managers and business owners. The most relevant locations for the measurement of content marketing asset performance include:

o   Individual Post Performance (Page –> Insights –> Posts)

individual post performance listing

  • Comprehensive data exports at the page and post level, breaking out specific engagement details of social media activity

export insights data

  • Post performance in Twitter: Twitter also offers a free set of traffic metrics directly accessible via Twitter Analytics and also from the “Twitter Ads” menu when logged into your Twitter profile.
  • From the Twitter reporting dashboard, users can get information on the performance activity (favorites, replies, retweets) associated with Twitter updates created for up to the last 90 days or 500 updates.

twitter-recent tweets listing

  • Post performance in LinkedIn: For LinkedIn company page administrators, the social platform has begun incorporating a much more comprehensive set of metrics in the company insights section of LinkedIn Pages. Page administrators can get a better understanding of visitor types (in terms of professional level of experience), and impressions and engagement percentages of company updates.

company updates listing

Thought leadership, and engagement

I bucketed thought leadership and engagement together because we use similar benchmarks for both in establishing performance success.

4. Social shares: The social media platform performance metrics detailed above provide a good indication of the visibility and engagement with your own social media posts, but what about the broader network? Paying attention to the volume of social sharing happening across platforms can be an important indicator for establishing improvements in thought leadership and broader engagement levels.

Generally speaking, marketers want to take note of the social share volume content marketing assets have, in the specific social platforms they are using. For B2B marketers, common examples include:

  • LinkedIn shares
  • Twitter shares (and possibly the social profiles that shared content)
  • Google+ updates
  • Facebook shares and “likes”

Here are a few resources that can aid in the aggregation of information associated to social media sharing:

  • SharedCount offers an easy-to-use interface for tracking social sharing metrics across content marketing assets. Simply input a web address in SharedCount to obtain various sharing metrics from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and more.

shared count-track url shares, likes, tweets

  • RavenTools provides simple-to-evaluate dashboards for gaining insight into Twitter and Facebook metrics associated with reach of shares and mentions. In addition, marketers can track performance over time in an effort to assess comparative data across specific time frames.

twitter metrics example

Finally, we can explore more automated methods for maintaining content marketing performance reports on social sharing and analytics reporting, since these numbers obviously shift over time. It’s possible to create your own automated reports using a combination of Google spreadsheets and API calls to Google Analytics and social media platforms. (To learn a bit more about this process, check out this article, from Tom Critchlow of Distilled).

5. Inbound link performance in webmaster tools: Both Google and Bing provide inbound link reports in their respective Webmaster Tool consoles. The value in measuring inbound link data lies with being able to establish the tie-in between quality content and attribution by third parties. You certainly want to know, and showcase, when your content is well-received by relevant audiences and influencers in your respective industries, by way of link references.

In Google Webmaster Tools, the inbound link report can be found by navigating through “Search Traffic” –> “Links to Your Site”. From there, marketers can review third-party sites linking in, as well as specific inbound links on individual web pages.

google-webmaster-inbound-links

For Bing, a similar report can be found by navigating from “Reports & Data” to “Inbound Links.”

bing-inbound links example

There are commercial SEO programs that also provide inbound link data (with a level of free access also), most notably RavenTools (detailed above), Moz’s Open Site Explorer, and Majestic SEO.

6. Web page referral reports: Don’t forget to check out referral data in Google Analytics as well. While the broader “Acquisition” report on third-party referrals provides site-wide data, marketers should filter landing page information in an effort to identify the specific sources of traffic.

To do this in Google Analytics, simply navigate, “Behavior” –> “Site Content” –> “All Pages” and select the applicable web address. Once accessed, use the “Secondary Dimension” filter to choose “Source” which will provide insight into the specific domains that sent traffic to that web page.

google analyitics  - pageview information

Marketers can use this report to track references and inbound links, leveraging the information to ascertain what types of content third-party sites find the most valuable as well.

Did I miss anything? How is your organization measuring the performance of B2B content marketing initiatives and their impact on brand awareness, thought leadership, and user engagement? I would love to read your perspective and feedback via comments below.

For more tips, tools, and techniques for tracking and measuring B2B content marketing performance, check out CMI’s eGuide on Measuring Content Marketing Success.

Cover image via Bigstock

 

ready for change-colored arrowsCase studies have long been a staple of B2B marketing — particularly in the tech industry — and are still among the most popular tactics used today. In fact, a 2013 survey of B2B marketers by LinkedIn indicated that customer testimonials and case studies are considered the two most effective content marketing tactics (with lead generation being the primary objective). In addition, the latest B2B research from CMI and Marketing Profs found that 73 percent of marketers use case studies, and 65 percent feel they are an effective tactic.

content marketing trends graph

Source: LinkedIn B2B Content Marketing Trends survey

However, with B2B buyers increasingly conducting independent research via search and social media and new information sources proliferating, does B2B marketing’s unchallenged love affair with case studies always make the most sense?

High up-front costs, limited shelf-life: It’s common to spend $2,000 to $5,000 of internal resource time to produce a case study. Approval can be arduous, particularly when dealing with a large client’s legal review process, and some companies have no-endorsement policies that prohibit their participation. These factors can make it difficult to produce a high volume of case studies, and even more difficult to keep them current. Technology evolves quickly, and a case study written 18 to 24 months ago may lose relevance before it really has a chance to reach a mass audience.

Vendor-produced content can suffer from lack of trust: Prospects can view vendor-produced case studies with some skepticism. While there is strong interest in hearing user stories, case studies are all too often seen as “chest beating exercises,” created for the sole purpose of extolling the virtues of a particular product. While prospects do very much care about hearing the benefits of a product, they’re just as interested in its limitations. A case study that omits these details will not be considered fully credible.

In a 2013 report by DemandGen, 98.8 percent of B2B marketers surveyed said they “place a higher emphasis on the trustworthiness” of the content they view, yet less than 30 percent place strong trust in vendor-created content. 

Why in-depth user reviews are positioned to replace case studies

In-depth user reviews provide information seekers with a more trusted alternative to vendor-produced case studies. Prospective buyers want to hear user stories, but want them to be unvarnished and provide a balanced discussion by including cons as well as pros. They want to hear what it’s really like to work with a vendor on a day-to-day basis, and they want to access multiple perspectives from peers with similar business needs and challenges.

I use the term “in-depth” review to distinguish them from software reviews on sites like the AppExchange, which focus on star ratings and provide very limited commentary. Such reviews provide buyers some level of guidance on sentiment about a product, but are not sufficiently informative to substitute for a robust case study.

Moreover, per the 2013 State of Demand Generation study by Pardot, almost 80 percent of B2B buyers use search to begin their information discovery process for a business purchase. As in-depth review content proliferates, it is likely to rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs) than case studies will, when prospective buyers type in common discovery search terms like “Product A vs. Product B.”

b2b buyers start-colorded circle

Where B2B buyers begin their research for purchases

A head-to-head comparison

To illustrate why I believe in-depth user reviews will replace case studies, I’ll share an example of a vendor-produced case study and contrast it with in-depth end-user reviews of the same product, (Marketo) by the same company (Navicure). The case study focuses on benefits, whereas the review gives a detailed perspective of what it’s really like to use the product. Below is a list of the key features of each content effort:

The case study:

  • A quote from the client’s CMO
  • Key numerical benefits
  • Marketing challenges faced by the client
  • A general description of the Marketo implementation
  • Recap of business benefits

The user review:

  • A quote from the client’s marketing database & analytics manager
  • A numerical score of the likelihood of recommending the product
  • Articulation of what the product does well, and where it could be improved
  • An explanation of specific ROI/business benefits achieved
  • A numerical score of the client’s likelihood of renewing, and an explanation of reasoning
  • A description of how the product is used inside the client’s company
  • A summary of resources required to use and maintain the product
  • The three to five most important use cases for the product in the client’s organization
  • Unexpected/innovative ways the client has been able to use the product, and additional ways it expects to be able to use it in the future
  • Which product the client switched from, and why
  • Other products the client considered, and the reasons it selected this product vs. the alternatives
  • How the client might change its evaluation process, were they to do it again
  • An explanation of the training the client received, and rating score for the training
  • A customer support rating, and a selection of positive/negative attributes
  • A usability rating and positive/negative factors contributing to usability, as well as a brief discussion of functions that are easy/difficult to perform
  • Ratings for product scalability, availability, and performance, and the reasoning behind this rating
  • An ease of integration rating (and its reasoning); systems the client integrated the product into, the technology it used, and general advice
  • An overall rating for the vendor relationship
  • Principal terms the client was able to negotiate, and advice for dealing with the vendor
  • Details on the client’s satisfaction with the upgrade process

In addition, the in-depth review has:

  • A link to the reviewer’s profile, including what other products they know/have reviewed, and their reputation score on TrustRadius (based upon the community’s perspectives of their reviews)
  • The ability for buyers to request a connection with the reviewer on LinkedIn to have a one-on-one conversation

If you were a prospective buyer of Marketo, which would you trust more and find more helpful?

Four immediate steps to take advantage of in-depth user review content 

  1. Pick a venue to focus on: While multiple review sites exist, it’s not effective to dilute your efforts. Focus on the site that you believe your prospects will find most valuable — i.e., has the most insightful content and can be found easily through search. You can evaluate the popularity of a site by its Alexa ranking, and the effectiveness of its search presence among your prospects, by running searches for your own product under the terms “product X review” and “product x vs. competitor product y.”
  2. Invite authentic in-depth feedback: Prospects are more trusting of balanced insights. It’s not sufficient for reviews to only talk about the positive aspects and benefits of your product. They also need to include honest accounts of where a product can be improved and what it’s truly like to work with a product and its vendor. As you invite customers to review your offerings, express that you are looking for honest feedback. Give them the option to review you anonymously should they prefer. Software review sites like TrustRadius offer this option.
  3. Comment on the reviews of your business: Inevitably not all feedback will be positive. Sometimes there will even be factual errors that need to be corrected. Just as managers for great hotels like the Ritz Carlton acknowledge feedback and respond on sites like TripAdvisor, it’s appropriate for vendors to also appropriately respond to reviews posted in relevant business review forums (where permitted). Responses should acknowledge issues and discuss resolutions without being defensive. Not only does commenting signal to customers that you take their feedback seriously, but it also demonstrates to others reading your reviews that you listen and adapt to feedback.
  4. Encourage prospects to read your reviews: While many prospects will stumble upon your reviews through search, you should actively share your reviews through your other content marketing efforts. Doing so demonstrates that you have nothing to hide, and helps strengthen your reputation as a business consumers can trust.

Do you have experience creating or using in-depth user reviews as part of your content marketing efforts? Please share your thoughts on where they succeed, and where they need improvement, in the comments below.

For more guidance on how to choose the tools and techniques that will take your content marketing to the next level, read CMI’s guide, How to Choose Content Marketing Technology. 

Cover image via Bigstock

illustration of globe filled with peopleHere’s an eye-opener: Less than 6 percent of the world’s population speaks English well enough to conduct business. Furthermore, many who speak English don’t know how to read it. In fact, 96 percent of the world’s consumers do not live in the United States.

Scott Abel, consultant and content futurist, explains the content marketing significance of these realities: “Many of us treat the worldwide web like the Ohio web or the American English web. Marketers are overwhelmed and unprepared to produce content for a global audience.” 

Nonetheless, Abel believes there’s tremendous opportunity for brands to reach consumers once unreachable due to differences in geography and language. This view is shared by author John Yunker, who claims the global market for international domain names (IDN) is greater than 2.5 billion people (and most are not native English speakers).

“We’re inching closer to a linguistically local Internet, in which people no longer have to leave their native languages to get where they want to go,” Yunker writes on his Global by Design blog. “This is a positive development for making the Internet truly accessible to the world.”

So how can content marketing practitioners prepare?

The first and obvious solution is to get your content professionally translated. While online translation tools like Google Translate make it easier to reach a larger audience, they will not capture the nuances of language that are essential to engaging an audience with your content marketing, such as colloquialisms, humor, and cultural sensitivities. A professional translator can ensure the trust you’ve built for your brand is not damaged by awkward missteps.

Next, understand the cultural differences of other countries, going beyond simple political correctness. According to marketing expert Rohit Bhargava and InterCultural Group Founder Paolo Nagari, it takes a principled approach to develop content to attract a global audience. They urge content marketers to view language as only part of the solution to creating global content: “It’s important to value the local point of view,” says Bhargava.

To do so, take into consideration a broad scope of cultural differences. While seemingly minor, certain off-cue remarks can alienate your audience. Pay special attention to such details as colors, holidays, religious references, sports, fiscal years, and even superstitions — missteps will signal you are an outsider.

For example, white is a color that is associated with death in China, so the traditional white-wedding imagery of Anglo countries may flop. Football in America is different than football in Europe, and different yet again to the football game played in Australia. Even a seemingly innocuous sentence like, “October is the time when most companies lock in plans and budgets for next year,” sends the message to your global audience you don’t understand how their business runs.

“The big question is how do you apply your global mindset to create content that works across cultures without building a huge team or relying on just translations,” says Nagari. His view is that most brands can ensure the global integrity of their content by engaging local subject matter experts to review everything before it’s published. Unless you’re a mega-brand like Coca-Cola, building a large team is unnecessarily expensive, since your core message is likely to remain unchanged from country to country.

It’s time to develop a healthy respect for the consumer living outside of your local boundaries. American marketers are often perceived as xenophobic in their content — a trait not tolerated in other markets. Unfortunately, the same is true of most other countries. As globalization takes hold in business, so too must it infiltrate every part of your content marketing strategy.

This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Chief Content Officer. Sign up to receive your free subscription to our quarterly magazine. 

red strategy-word cloud Creating content isn’t content strategy.”

That’s a simple statement I tweeted nearly two weeks ago. As a rush of retweets, favorites, and comments flowed in response, I was delighted so many people agreed with that distinction.

Then, some responses shifted to a blame game, best represented by this tweet:

contented.com tweet

The link goes to the blog post, How Content Strategy Got Hijacked by Content Marketing, which contends that content marketing confuses content creation with content strategy and, consequently, dilutes the definition of content strategy.

I couldn’t disagree more. I’m enthusiastic about the possibilities for content strategy and content marketing, as Robert Rose recently suggested. I see the main distinction between the two fields of practice as purpose. Content strategy is essential for a wide range of purposes — media products, technical support, customer service, sales, and marketing, to name a few. Content marketing focuses on strategy and implementation for — you guessed it — marketing. (I explain more about the distinction in one of my own recent posts.)

Since I first talked about the distinction between these two fields of practice, I’ve advised clients for purposes that span marketing, technical support, and media product development. During that time, I’ve drawn on both content strategy and content marketing knowledge and practices. I see opportunity for both fields of practice to inform each other as we move into 2014.

What content marketing and content strategy can learn from each other

What does content strategy have to offer content marketing? A lot. One opportunity I see, especially for mid-sized and large companies, is to help content marketing scale. Content strategy draws some inspiration from product management practices. That means many content strategists view content as a product (or as an important part of a product), with a long-term vision and plan. They use techniques to guide prioritizing what’s important to do when. If you’re scaling your content marketing across different brands, market segments, geographic regions, and more, then long-term thinking and thoughtful prioritization will serve you well. Otherwise, you risk investing a lot of time, effort, and resources without getting much in return.

What does content marketing have to offer content strategy? I could talk for a day or two about the possibilities. But, one opportunity that intrigues me is becoming more proficient at content engineering and evaluation. At times, content strategists act as if the only technology affecting content is a CMS (content management system). Many are blissfully — and in my opinion mistakenly — unaware of CRM (customer relationship management) and related technologies.

Let’s consider the key difference between CMS and CRM:

CMS, of course, handles content and its related data, while CRM handles people and their related data. Both jobs are critical, so it’s no surprise these technologies are merging to offer people the right content at the right time. As a simple example, HubSpot offers a CMS and integrates with CRM technologies such as SalesForce. What does this mean for content strategists? They can learn more about their customers/users/audiences and use that knowledge to create logic that surfaces the right content at the right time.

This new, more nuanced knowledge about the people using a business’ content is especially useful as media properties move beyond reaching a mass audience and strive to engage specific groups of people over a life cycle. You know WebMD.com? That site reaches a huge mass audience. At the same time, WebMD has started offering mobile apps that more deeply engage specific groups for an extended time. WebMD’s The Pregnancy App, for example, has various tools and information that can engage women in different ways throughout the course of their pregnancy.

kick counter on smartphoneMy point? Content strategists need a working knowledge of CRM technologies to understand how to define nuanced logic that surfaces the right content for specific people over a life cycle. Content marketing can help.

Again, I’m only scratching the surface, but I think you get a sense of the possibilities for content marketing and content strategy to benefit each other.

Down with condescension, up with collaboration

Seeing the opportunities to learn from each other is one thing. Making the most of those opportunities is another. I’m concerned we’ll miss these opportunities because the tone of our dialogue can be perceived, at times, as a bit condescending. Perhaps tone is what concerns me most about discussing content strategy as something content marketing has “hijacked” — as if content marketing has no right to contribute to its definition or nothing worthwhile to add. That doesn’t exactly encourage collaboration, which is so important to success.

For me, the bottom line is that in just the past few years, both fields of practice have accomplished more than I can possibly recount here. Both fields of practice have refined their knowledge into very useful expertise. Both fields of practice are evolving. Both communities deserve respect.

We’re at a crossroads where I believe content marketing and content strategy can achieve much more by working together than apart. We talk about the danger of content silos with our clients in one breath and, in another breath, insist that our fields of practice stay in silos. Let’s walk the talk, break down our own silos, and make 2014 the year of content and collaboration.

For more insight on scaling your content marketing efforts, join Colleen Jones as she takes the stage at Content Marketing World Sydney, March 31 – April 2, 2014.  

Cover image via Bigstock 

green stamp for dating thingsSometimes, we might think our best content deserves a bunch of flowers, a reasonably-priced pasta, and a glass of chardonnay at the local Italian bistro. But, bad puns aside, the decision whether or not to date your blog content (*groan*) is also about making the right impression on someone you hope will still be around when the coffee arrives: the reader.

Joe Pulizzi recently triggered a conversation on Facebook on whether marketers should date-stamp their content. And it was very interesting to see a clear split in opinions emerge in the comments. Many declared that they routinely ignore undated posts. However, others argued that removing the date from blog posts dramatically increased search traffic. (Notice the “reader versus publisher” attitudes there…)

So, who’s right? Is the whole notion of evergreen content undermined by dates that gradually erode the value many readers place upon it?

Does dating your content actually *ahem* date it?

Use-by date?

As a writer, I constantly use the internet for research. Therefore, it has become a habit for me to always look for the date on a post or article before reading, or even before clicking through from the search engine results.

The date is essential to help me assess the context of the information, as well as filtering the masses of content to find the most relevant facts and most recent statistics. This is why I commonly refine my Google searches to within the last 12 months.

Knowing when a post was written doesn’t impact the evergreen nature of a post if the content is still good, the information is still accurate, and the topic is still relevant.

What does impact the evergreen nature of a post is not the date it was written, but whether or not the subject matter itself is out of date. And without dating the post, the reader has no way of assessing that possibility.

Speed date?

Some topics constantly evolve, with every new day bringing new information, new ideas, and new rules. This makes the date extremely important to avoid mistakes.

My recent article for Chief Content Officer magazine on Facebook’s EdgeRank, Beware the Social Media Algorithm Chasers, was only in print for about a month before Facebook updated its algorithm, immediately making my column less relevant. With magazine deadlines running months in advance, and the digital landscape changing on an almost daily basis, I’m surprised that doesn’t happen to me more often.

Naturally, there are also many topics and categories of information that stay relevant and accurate for far longer. For example, the number of planets in our solar system can be assumed to be pretty much the same tomorrow as it is today. Therefore, can we assume any planetary themed content is evergreen? And if so, why date-stamp it?

Well, on August 24, 2006, that number did change when Pluto lost its membership card to the planetary club. What was nine became eight overnight. Importantly, the date became a line in the sand, marking every planetary article and textbook published before the 24th as a little less reliable and a little more outdated.

Yet, if you search the word “planets” in Google, the top listing (undated) is still The Nine Planets Solar System Tour. Granted, the site does include a correction further down to clear up the Pluto confusion; but by that stage, young Billy has already scribbled the wrong answer on his homework sheet.

nine planets solar system post

The same website was also the number one listing back in 2009 when I used this example for a magazine column on how the internet can make bad ideas and outdated information immortal. Back then (thankfully, not now) the second listing in those results — clearly dated prior to 2006 — still ranked Pluto as one of the nine, with no correction. Sure, the offending page has probably seen its search ranking for the term erode over the last five years because of the date on the post. But isn’t that how it should be if the search engines are to avoid devolving into inaccurate collections of outdated information?

The mere fact that I’m able to make the same argument five years later by using the same example sort of proves my point. Dating content helps clean things up, both in the search engines and in the mind of the reader.

Blind date?

Sure, removing dates may mean more people click through to older content from Google (unwittingly so?). But the difference in click-through rate is most likely because people want to see dates and are less likely to click-through to something that the search listing indicates isn’t fresh.

The dating information merely filtered these readers out before the click, instead of after. When they don’t see a date on the post they land on, how many might click back to find something more likely to be fresh, or might continue reading only to view the content as potentially unreliable or less relevant?

If more search traffic is the prime argument for removing the date stamp from blog content, then doesn’t it also prove that people care about dates? And if so, aren’t we being slightly deceptive in trying to conceal the context or relevance of a post in the name of more traffic? Content marketing is about heralding the quality, utility, and relevance of content above the SEO tricks designed to merely drive less qualified clicks, surely.

But you can have your cake and eat it too.

Post-date?

By postdating blog content, I don’t mean that we should put future dates on our posts in the same way we might postdate a check. But why can’t we revise the dates on our content “ex post facto”?

Ian Lyons is one digital marketer who has made postdating a best practice. Until recently, Lyons was responsible for BeReady, a major content initiative targeting business travelers. The project ended last year, but I was fascinated with Lyons’ approach to content dating:

“We never considered not dating our content,” comments Lyons. “One thing we did do, however, is [have] both the original ‘posted’ date and ‘updated on’ date so people knew that we had at least ensured the latest information was presented.”

For example, an article on how to get a SIM card at Hong Kong airport was updated with the new locations of telco provider booths as the airport terminal changed. The post remained relevant, useful, and highly popular for months, if not years.

“In the CMS, I had a ‘to be reviewed date.’ which varied by article type, but defaulted to 3 months post publish date,” explained Lyons. “This gave the editors a nice moving calendar of stories to re-assign to writers.” The site constantly and systematically reviewed and refreshed its content — alongside new articles — to keep everything as current as possible. And the dating of the content was an important part of this strategy.

“One pet peeve I have is lazy date formatting. Unless you’re doing up-to-the-minute news, there’s no need to clutter the UI.” Lyons recommends a simple, concise, and unambiguous format: Posted: Jan. 12, 2013 | Revised: April 12, 2013.

The BeReady team also implemented the dating markup at http://schema.org/Article so that the right dating information, including updates, would display in search engine results pages (SERPs).

Remember, this is digital. And digital content has the ability to adapt and change, unlike the printed page. Why should our content be locked in amber, a fossilized record of some other time, unable to grow and evolve? If our content dates, or even becomes extinct, it’s only because we allow it to. 

So maybe we need to think a little harder about how we use the dating of our content to signal context and relevance to potential readers.

What do you think? Does removing the dates from posts make the content “timeless” or less trusted?

Looking for additional best practice tips for creating quality content? Register now to join Jonathan Crossfield and many more content marketing experts at Content Marketing World Sydney, March 31 – April 2, 2014. 

Cover image via Bigstock

image-banner-CMI twitter chatsHiring an agency has always been more of an art than a science. And, according to the participants of a recent #CMWorld Twitter Chat with Paul Roetzer (@paulroetzer), author of The Marketing Agency Blueprint, it has become even more challenging in the era of content marketing.

One of the major problems is that a “gold rush” mentality has evolved around content marketing, so a large number of social media, SEO firms, ad agencies, and others have recast themselves as content marketing firms in order to claim a share of the business. This makes it significantly harder for marketers at medium- to large-sized brands to separate the pros from the posers.

During the #CMWorld Twitter Chat, participants offered many helpful suggestions to make the content marketing agency search and qualification process easier and more reliable.

Qualities to look for

Subject matter expertise: Outstanding, high-impact content marketing can’t be created without a thorough understanding of your brand’s industry or marketplace. In other words, subject matter expertise is a must.

Brands should always look for familiarity w/ their industry. If an agency doesn’t know how to navigate the vertical = bad news. — @lucasmillerwsu

This has always been an important factor in selecting advertising and public relations agencies. You want a partner who not only understands your industry or market, but has also established relationships with gatekeepers and key thought leaders that you can leverage in your content. In addition, you don’t want to be paying an agency to learn your business — that’s something that should be done on the agency’s own time.

Subject matter expertise is even more critical for content marketing initiatives because an agency can’t produce an ongoing stream of top-notch content if it doesn’t understand the challenges your customers face, your competitive situation, and the dynamics of your industry or market.

How can you gauge subject matter expertise? Follow the agencies you’re considering on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+, for starters. Review their content streams on these channels. Do they demonstrate a depth of knowledge about your industry or market? How do they respond in comments and online discussions? Do their responses demonstrate that the firm is respected by others in the group?

Another way to accurately determine the depth of subject matter expertise is to speak with the agency’s clients, if possible. As part of your due diligence, you should ask them questions not only about the work the agency performed on their behalf, but on the real depth of their industry or market knowledge.

That they practice what they preach: #CMWorld Twitter Chat participants were universal in agreement on this key point — content marketing agencies should not act like the “shoemaker’s children.” They must have successful content marketing and branding initiatives in place to promote their services and nurture potential clients into sales. How an agency promotes itself is an important early indicator of its competence in content marketing.

Look for agencies that are using content marketing to build and differentiate their brands. Lots say they do it, few deliver. —@paulroetzer

Agencies better have a good content strategy themselves or why would I hire? —@JakeDParent

Look for the consistency of their posts on these channels. If the agency’s presence is sporadic, that’s a potential warning sign that its commitment to content marketing isn’t as ardent as it should be.

Content Marketing thought leadership: There are several ways agencies can cultivate thought leadership and get the attention of prospective clients, including:

  • Giving presentations at events like Content Marketing World and other leading, industry-relevant conferences
  • Holding a series of content marketing webinars
  • Writing authoritative articles with an intriguing point of view
  • Participation in online forums 

Key questions to ask when interviewing agencies

Asking the right questions during the agency interviewing process is critical to finding a good fit your brand. Here are some of the questions #CMWorld Twitter Chat participants recommended that brands should ask of their potential partners:

Ask them to tell you about clients in similar industries or who have faced similar challenges: This can help you discern if an agency has experience in working with a brand like yours, for which they have helped to solve similar content challenges. This type of “proof of performance” is a big plus, but it isn’t always easy to get. Several potential ways to find this information without asking the agency directly include:

  • Look for relevant case histories: If the firm has recently expanded its services to include content marketing, these may be hard to find.
  • Search within LinkedIn Groups, Google+ Communities and other online forums using keywords related to your industry, and look for agencies that contribute their expertise.
  • Search for articles profiling the agency in local newspapers or advertising and marketing publications.
  • Attend local advertising and marketing association functions and ask your peers for their recommendations: Which agencies are they aware of that have experience in your industry or market? Posting this sort of question in an online group is not recommended, however, because the reaction may be akin to throwing meat into a shiver of sharks.

Ask to see examples of top-notch strategies they have created for clients: You need to get a close look at how the agency thinks — and how they have translated that into content that has delivered bottom-line results for its clients Don’t be afraid to press agency personnel for specifics on their case histories — especially relevant data that shows just how much of an impact their content marketing initiatives have made.

Don’t settle for vague explanations & commentary. Get facts & obviously researched data from candidates.” —@z_Paper

A competent agency should be able to show examples of editorial calendars and personas, demonstrate an understanding of the customer’s buying process, and discuss how they developed content to nurture them along that path.

Ask for a list of their clients you can talk to: Relying on a canned presentation of agency capabilities doesn’t give you enough information to make an informed decision, especially when many agencies are claiming to be content marketers, but really aren’t. Talking to an agency’s relevant clients is an important part of any brand’s due diligence. These discussions can give you a more accurate and complete picture of how the agency works — and the results it actually achieved on behalf of its clients.

Educate yourself as much as possible, ask the specific questions, ask for case studies and talk to some of their customers. —@Posmay

Participants also suggested that you ask questions aimed at helping you better understand the agency’s culture and values:

Do they have a key understanding of your business? Are their values and approach aligned with yours? —@KelseySpellman

This is a situation where being well connected within your industry or market can pay off. The agency will likely give you a “sanitized” list of clients for which it produced successful results. But if you network among your peers and judiciously ask questions, you may be able to tease out stories where the firm wasn’t as successful and learn a few things about its potential shortcomings. As always, take these stories with a grain of salt. Learn what you can from them, and approach the former client directly, if possible, to get its perspective on what really happened.

Above all, when you’re interviewing agencies, don’t rush the process. An excellent agency relationship is a combination of skills and chemistry. Do your due diligence. Ask lots of questions. And leverage your network to learn what others know about the agencies you’re interviewing. Gather objective data about each agency’s clients and track record. For the rest, trust your gut. If the chemistry doesn’t feel right, chances are the agency isn’t a good fit for your brand.

How to measure the effectiveness of agencies

#CMWorld Twitter Chat participants were asked how a brand can measure the effectiveness of the agencies it’s interviewing, when all it has to rely on is the agency’s sanitized PowerPoint presentations, case histories posted on its website, and its answers to your questions. These content marketing professionals recommended several key indicators to watch for:

Beware of the agency that has all of the answers before finding out the questions. —@SueBrady

Do they conduct research in your industry to see where your content will work best for your audience? —@ProjectSocializ

Make sure they ask you the right Q’s — do they prod you about your goals, target audience, etc? —@atxcopywriter

Has agency 1-listened & learned 2-developed appropriate objectives, 3-did they deliver. Effectiveness is all 3. —@angusmacaulay

Determining the actual results an agency achieved on behalf of its clients is likely to be one of the most challenging aspects of your due diligence. As you learn about each content marketing firm’s strengths and weaknesses, you must connect the dots between disparate pieces of information you’ve gathered and, more importantly, discern what you don’t know and what other questions you ought to ask. Here are several ways to do this:

  • Trust but verify: Ask a lot of questions of each agency, but then verify the accuracy of what you hear with its current and former clients, as well as with the “word on the street” from your peers.
  • Capture all of the data you’ve gathered into a mind map so you can view a complete picture of it and identify gaps and areas where you have uncovered conflicting information. This will help you generate follow-up questions you should be asking of agencies and peers who are familiar with their work.
  • Place your key agency selection criteria into a spreadsheet and develop a rating scale that you and your team members agree upon. Include a combination of “hard” (quantifiable data) and “soft” (the agency’s culture and your team’s comfort level with each agency team, for example) measures. Then, after agency presentations and visits, have each stakeholder rank each agency on these criteria. Compare rankings, and use any significant discrepancies you discover as jumping-off points for discussion. Often, one member of your team may have noticed something you didn’t, and vice versa.
  • Talk to former employees of the agency who are in your professional network. They may be able to provide you with an inside perspective on its strengths, weaknesses, and culture. If you don’t know any of its former employees, ask trusted members of your peer network who they know. They may be able to refer you to someone who may be willing to chat informally with you over a cup of coffee or lunch.
  • Pay attention to the agencies and campaigns that are winning awards for outstanding work in your industry, market, or metropolitan area. Attend awards banquets for local chapters of advertising and marketing groups, where you may have an opportunity to view some of the agency’s work firsthand and may get to hear more about the thinking behind their work in a non-pitch setting.

Handling content marketing in-house vs. outsourcing

Before a brand begins an agency search, it needs to get clear on what it can handle internally and what it should consider outsourcing. #CMIWorld Twitter chat participants were asked to share their tips on how to make this important decision.

One practical approach the group discussed is to look for skill gaps: Which content marketing competencies does your existing staff lack? Agencies can also help you accommodate spikes in your department workload, helping to keep your marketing programs flowing smoothly. But participants warned that quality control can be harder when you outsource to an agency:

Start w/ an assessment of your internal marketing team. Determine how talent aligns w/ goals. @paulroetzer

Use agencies to fill in skill gaps and manage workload. Fine tune based on where each get the best results. —@SFerika

How to identify content marketing agencies

How can brands find agencies with content marketing expertise? One excellent starting point is this list on the Content Marketing Institute’s website). CMI curated this list for educational purposes, and does not endorse any of the agencies listed in it.

Another way to locate agencies is to look for representatives who are sharing their experience and expertise in LinkedIn groups (like the one CMI operates). Once you’ve found someone whose perspective looks interesting, click on the company name in his or her LinkedIn profile. This should take you to the firm’s company page.

Finally, look for authoritative articles about content marketing on major websites, like CMI and MarketingProfs. Look for the author’s contact information and Google the name of the firm he or she works for.

Key takeaways

A content marketing agency can provide a valuable outside perspective. They’re not limited by your organization’s dynamics and internal politics, and can come at your content challenges with an unbiased view, as well as alert you to additional opportunities you may not be seeing. But utilizing an agency to handle part or all of your brand’s content marketing isn’t a slam dunk — nor does it make sense in all situations.

Content marketing has multiple facets; most agencies are not equally good at all of them. Look for a firm that has strengths that help you in the areas where you need them, and vice versa. Your goal is to have someone in place to cover all of the critical skills; whether they are internal or external is of secondary importance,” instructs Content Marketing Institute founder Joe Pulizzi. Don’t just assume that the agencies to whom you’re talking have all the bases covered, he warns: “Content production is only one small part of the content marketing process. Strategic planning aspects of mission statement creation, audience persona gathering, internal content integration, and measurement outside of content consumption metrics are often absent.

The bottom line for brands is to do your homework. Lay out all of the competencies of content marketing in a spreadsheet and assess where your internal staff adds value, and where you need help. Consider the requirements of your strategic content plan, and what that means in terms of skills and competencies. Then develop a clear plan for how and where it makes sense to use an agency. You need to have all of this in place before you start searching for, selecting and interviewing them.

Want to take part in the next big conversation on content marketing opportunities and challenges? Join CMI for #CMWorld Twitter chats every Tuesday at 12 p.m. Eastern.

tombstone-content marketing death prediction2014 is the year of content marketing!

Don’t take my word for it. Content Marketing Institute’s Joe Pulizzi said it best: “There will be a number of ‘content marketing is dead’ articles that flood the scene. Content marketing will finally make the big time.” 

This isn’t a surprising new revelation, since consumer trust in advertising and push marketing has eroded over time. In fact, the sources customers trust most are other customers and content marketing (according to a 2011 study by Nielsen).graph showing consumer trust

In response, marketers realized they need a cost-effective way to reach out and connect with their target audience. Given this, it’s no surprise that a 2013 Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs study found that more than 90 percent of B2B marketers use one or more forms of content marketing to reach and engage their prospects and customers.

Additionally in today’s connected world, everyone is a content creator — not just marketers and professional media entities. Social media, smartphones, and other connected devices enable and empower anyone to create content — even 13-year-olds!

This content adds to the ever-growing amount of information. KPCB’s Mary Meeker reported that content is growing at an exponential rate — expected to reach 8 zettabytes by 2015. That’s a lot of content!

graph showing digital info creation levels

While content production that exceeds our audience’s ability to consume it isn’t new, it does present a growing challenge for content marketers to use their resources wisely when creating content and helping it to stand out.

Not all content is created equal

To help prioritize content creation, content marketers need to understand the three key attributes of content:

  1. Content effectiveness: There’s a flood of information that’s not reader friendly. Look to avoid content filled with corporate-speak and empty, “me-too” content that fills many media sites and blogs.
  2. Content packaging: To succeed, content marketing needs more than just useful information. The information must also be packaged to naturally appeal to your key audience. I call this “dressing your content for success,” and recommend using an effective title, attractive image, and easy-to-scan text to outfit content for optimal attention.
  3. Content context: Information must be relevant to the times, places, and ways it is intended to be accessed. This translates to the ability to deliver the appropriate content to the right delivery channel at the right time. If your information isn’t present when the consumer needs it — no matter what device they are using to look for it — someone else’s will be found and consumed instead. 

content context diagram

Increase your content marketing value without increasing your budget

You can argue with your management team over the amount of additional budget you need to create more content that can compete for limited consumer attention. But chances are, if you’re like most marketers, you’re not going to get any incremental budget this year.

Therefore to make your business stand out and engage prospects, customers and fans with great content, you need to think beyond your marketing. You need to think holistically about all of the content created across your organization.

When you think this way, two things happen:

  1. The good news: This doesn’t require incremental budget.
  2. The bad news: You need to get others who’ve been creating content the old fashioned way to work with you and your team. (BTW: It always helps to have senior management and finance on your side.) 

3 strategies for stretching your content marketing budget

So how do you take advantage of these resources and leverage them to create epic content? Here are the three key strategies to stretch your content marketing budget.

  1. Rethink your content across your organization: Every company creates lots of information. Take the time to track this content and determine where you can re-envision ways to create useful content people want to consume. This means all of the information produced in your firm — including sales pieces, product information, instructions, customer service, your website, legal documentation, human resources, and investor relations. When repurposing content for marketing purposes, make sure you skip the anonymous boring corporate-speak —  write for humans, using language your target user can understand. In the process, assess where you can eliminate redundant content creation efforts so that you can spend more on content quality. This is why not all content marketing is incremental.
  2. Create a few pieces of really “breakthrough” content: By examining your content creation across your organization, you can determine where you can create major pieces that attract attention in ways that you can build on throughout your content and marketing efforts. Even better: Make sure you plan to share these pieces on your social media platforms.
  3. Distribute your existing content more effectively: You don’t necessarily need to continually create more and more content. Instead, take some time to plan how you will promote your content, to get the most benefit out of each piece you create. At a minimum, try to utilize each piece of content across all of your owned and social media channels. Then, look into how you can incorporate often overlooked ways to extend your content reach, such as linking your content to appropriate product pages on your website or including a link to your content or blog in everyone’s outgoing emails. 

Leverage the power of your organization’s content marketing to ensure that your business maximizes its earning potential in 2014. Expand quality content creation beyond your marketing department.

How do you plan to fund your content marketing plans?

Read CMI’s how-to guide on Process, for more ideas on how to get the most value form your existing content marketing team, tools, and resources. 

Cover image via Rhys Asplundh

chart for content auditCMI readers know that it’s possible to measure the effectiveness of content marketing efforts without keyword data — something we’ve had since 2011 to think about — but it shouldn’t just be a case of damage limitation for people who work with web analytics.

For content marketers, the removal of keyword data from Google represents a huge opportunity to overhaul the way we report on our online content. With this opportunity in mind, now is the perfect time for a content audit.

Hummingbird and the opportunities for content marketers

It’s no longer possible to trace a significant drop in traffic back to the loss of a certain keyword using analytics, so many businesses are adapting by rank-checking a greater number of keywords on a regular basis. It goes without saying that a drop in rankings is likely to cause a drop in traffic to your online content.

Combined with connotations of the Hummingbird algorithm update, which helps Google understand what its users are looking for without relying on what keywords they are using to search, “Not Provided” means digital marketers must learn to live without keyword data.

However, whether we deal directly with search engines or not, content marketers have never really been as interested in keywords as the SEO industry — which is why now is our time to shine. Finally we’re in agreement that how we’re finding content is less important than what we’re actually finding.

The need for a content audit

Although publishers check Google rankings of hundreds — or even thousands — of keywords each day, it’s how our content is performing that interests us. Tracking the performance of all these keywords without understanding the contents of the pages that rank for them means we’re selling ourselves short.

A CMI post from Chris Moritz demonstrated a great way to create a content inventory, which includes populating a spreadsheet with all of your content and detailing actions to take in relation to that content.

Compiling a report of all URLs on a website can be a mammoth task, though. Typically the number of pages that actually make up your site dwarfs the number of pages you’ll remember ever putting live – most sites have many stakeholders, plus Google has a frustrating tendency to invent duplicate pages. (Try using Screaming Frog to crawl your website; set the spider to look for what Googlebots looks for, and watch it compile a list of pages you never knew existed — the results will probably astonish you.) You can export a list of pages to a spreadsheet directly from Screaming Frog’s spider, including meta data, and even the number of words on each page. Creating an inventory from all these pages can take an extraordinarily large amount of time for a large site, and although it’s absolutely necessary, it’s also extremely inefficient.

A content audit is intended to identify “low hanging fruit,” so auditing a sample of pages is the most efficient way to do this. If you’ve undertaken any kind of keyword research, you’ll already have identified the pages that will provide you with the biggest opportunities.

How to audit content without keywords

1. Check which pages rank best for your target keywords

We’re looking to influence ranking pages, so the first step is to find out which pages are ranking most strongly for your chosen keyword set. We employ our own purpose-built rank checking software, but the Rank Tracker tool on Moz.com can do this for you, as well. It also provides a useful look at whether the ranking for your page has changed recently.

Choose your keywords and Moz will track their rank in Google along with the URL that appears — you can also search for keywords manually:

check rank for keyword

The results can then be exported to Excel directly from the Moz tools in CSV format:

keyword rankings results

It’s best to format the results as a table — this makes them easy to categorize and easier to filter for certain content types:

keyword ranking results table

2. Choose your KPIs

We need to measure how well our content is performing, and SEO professionals have long since learned that gauging how much Google likes our pages without looking at what users want is a recipe for disaster. In 2014, the search engines are rewarding sites that create rewarding experiences for users (rather than those that just pander to their algorithms), so incorporating engagement metrics such as page views, bounce rates, and exit percentages can provide a good indication of how useful the page actually is. For example, pages that rank well but have a huge bounce rate aren’t likely to rank well for long, so now is the time to do something about it.

The example below shows the bare minimum of metrics:

example of bare minimum metricsData such as pageviews, bounce rate and exit percentage can be easily exported from Google Analytics, and used to populate a table of ranking URLs by employing VLOOKUP (John Doherty created a useful guide on how to do this). However, to populate the rest of your table, you’re going to have to look through the pages manually (see Point 3, below).

Marking down the content type is extremely useful for trend spotting and allows us to scale our audit further, looking specifically at blog content, product pages, etc., by applying filters. In some circumstances a content marketer may only have influence over certain sections of the site (with the other page types falling under another department’s remit). Including conversion rates is also a good idea, if that’s something you can track through your analytics software. If a page isn’t driving sales, you’ll want to know why.

3. Dig into the data

Using marketing automation whenever possible is a good idea, but when auditing content, machines can only tell you what isn’t working and, at best, give you a vague idea of why. If you’re using a tool like Screaming Frog to crawl your site and get a list of pages, it’s easy to export information around meta data (e.g., are your title tags too short; are your titles missing, etc.) and the amount of content on a page (potentially a large margin of error, especially if your site has to contain things like disclaimers on product pages). However, the best way to work out what a user would do on a page is to have a look yourself. Google softened its Panda algorithm because only a real person can decide how useful a piece of content is — bounce rates and exit percentages might tell you that your content isn’t as useful as it could be, but to find out how to improve it you’ll have to read it. Look out for:

  • Titles that do not accurately describe the content
  • Obvious stock photography and low-quality images (Google may take action against sites that are over-using stock photos because users just aren’t buying them as authentic)
  • Broken links
  • Weak calls to action (are you telling users where they need to go next?) 

4. Prioritize your actions

A comprehensive catalog of your pages — and recommended actions to take with them — is the aim of the exercise, but this can be a daunting task. Here’s where the “content types” field can come in handy. Look for patterns — it may be that you find the descriptions on your e-commerce product pages are duplicated, for example — and make changes to sections of your site based on how damaging they’re likely to be on your rankings and conversion rates. This could be an extensive task, like rewriting all your product descriptions, or it could be relatively minor edits like changing headlines.

Pages with too little content or content that’s duplicated across your site should be your priority for optimization, as these are less likely to be included in Google’s search results. Make a judgment call: If you think the pages could add value they will require rewriting, whereas old pages that aren’t relevant anymore should just be removed.

If you have even just a few pieces of duplicate content, they can damage the rankings of your entire website. Of course, you wouldn’t create duplicate pages on purpose, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. These things have a habit of creating themselves, or being left around by other people!

Labeling pages to be deleted is straightforward — it can be as simple as highlighting spreadsheet cells in red. Depending on the complexity of your site, you might want to use a key, coloring pages to remove in red, pages to be redirected and consolidated in orange, etc., for example. A huge advantage of using a spreadsheet to track your content assets is that this process is completely bespoke (for sites with multiple stakeholders, it may be most useful to create an additional column and mark pages with remove/keep). This way, pages that aren’t yours to remove can be quickly and easily filtered out, leaving you with a much more actionable data set (and a shorter to-do list!)

Additional considerations

Dont worry about links: It might seem strange that a content audit intended to enhance the SEO value of your site is extolling the virtues of ignoring your backlink profile. But this profile is not a reliable indicator of how well a page will perform in Google’s search results, and it definitely doesn’t indicate how users will feel about it.

Your page will need some links, but if your page already has enough links to rank in the top five, it has enough links to rank at the top. If your content provides the definitive experience on a topic, backlinks may come naturally; and either way, your priority should be to ensure that your website is in the best possible position to capture sales or leads from the traffic that is reaching you. Once you’ve sorted this out, then you should start to think about link building.

Do something about high bounce rates: Pages with high bounce rates don’t necessarily need everything and the kitchen sink thrown at them. It could just be that you’re displaying the wrong page to users. For example, users searching for “gift ideas” and landing on your e-commerce site probably don’t want to be greeted with a page of product listings (if they want to randomly select a gift, they can browse Amazon at their leisure). Rather, “ideas” keywords show that users are looking for insight. Consider creating resources to target those keywords. A list of what’s hot on your site might be enough. It’s data you’ve already got!

Dont panic: If you’re tracking 2,000 keywords, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll have to look through 2,000 pages when you scale a content audit in this way. One page may be relevant for more than one term, and I would advise against creating a separate page for every single term you want to target. If you do have pages that serve a very similar function, consider combining them, as this will likely provide a much better user experience. Simply move copy across in your CMS, ensuring that you implement 301 permanent redirects from the old version to the new — the last thing you want to do as part of your content audit is to create brand new duplicate pages!

As marketers, we have to ensure that everything our brands are displaying to customers is of the highest possible quality if we’re to sell our services. Google has made it possible for those customers to easily find things we’d forgotten we ever created; a content audit is necessary to remind us how much we still rely on those things. In many cases we report on how customers are interacting with them on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis. Directly influencing ranking pages through content strategy ensures that the keywords we’re reporting on are performing as well as possible. It’s not manipulating the figures; it’s improving the value of the pages we’ve already identified as valuable.

Looking for more content marketing inspiration? Check out Content Marketing Framework: 7 Building Blocks to Success

pnr-this old marketing logoPNR: This Old Marketing with Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose can be found on both iTunes and Stitcher.

In our most contentious episode yet, Robert and I debate a declaration of the demise of guest blog content, argue with analysts’ view of the value of Twitter, and take issue with some blogs’ lack of transparent date stamping. Then, we take a deep breath before shifting our focus to an amazing, electricity-free content creation effort and an inspiring example of a video game company that is transforming itself into an educational resource on media for its customers.

This week’s show

Download this week’s PNR This Old Marketing podcast (new link!).

If you enjoy our PNR podcasts, we would love if you would rate it, or post a review, on iTunes

Show overview

1. Content Marketing in the News

  • Now Guest Blogging Is Dead, Too?: Google’s Matt Cutts threw a bomb at the search engine marketing community by declaring that links received through guest blogging will no longer make an impact in search rankings. Robert and I talk about the main benefits of guest blogging, and that the key objective behind creating this type of blog content doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with search (contributing article: Matt Cutts).
  • Twitter and Facebook Shares Are Not a Part of Google’s Algorithm: Matt Cutts had a busy week! In a separate discussion, Cutts also declared that Google does not currently take social signals from Twitter or Facebook into account in its search rankings. Robert believes that, though this isn’t Google’s current practice, all search engines will be leveraging social signals in the very near future (contributing article: Search Engine Land).
  • Why Analysts Are Wrong About Twitter: Robert and I also discuss an article from Eric Wittlake that details how and why analysts are getting Twitter’s valuation all wrong (contributing article: B2B Digital).
  • Magazine Labels Ad as News: A recent New York Times article berated Shape magazine for treating clear advertorial like it was news. We discuss the ramifications of this for both marketers and publishers (contributing article: The New York Times).
  • How Do Media Companies Create Scarcity?: We share a new take on an old thought about media companies creating truly unique content — and where the opportunities now lie for advertisers (contributing article: Forbes).
  • NewsCred Raises More Money: Content marketing platform NewsCred announced a $25 million dollar series C round. We note that 2014 is already off to a fast start, in reference to our earlier content marketing and venture capital predictions for this year (contributing article: TechCrunch).
  • Marketer Spending Is Up: Spending on both content marketing and mobile continues to take off, according to multiple research reports (contributing article: eMarketer).

2. Rants & Raves

  • Robert’s Rave: Robert shares an amazing story about how Fundacao EDP created a brochure without using any electricity or other energy sources. (The company even filmed a video about it without using electricity):
  • Joe’s Rant: While I discuss my general dislike of blog posts that lack a visible publishing date, I also reference some compelling comments made by Jay Baer, Brian Clark, and others in support of “no date” when I took my rant to Facebook. (You can view the full Facebook thread here.)

3. Listener Question

Through Twitter, Daniel Anderson asked us, “What’s our take on how to measure sales on content marketing?” — based on an AdAge article that talked about how marketers are struggling with measurement.

4. This Old Marketing Example of the Week

  • Mojang (the video game company behind the smash hit, Minecraft), holds an annual customer event called Minecon, in which half of the educational sessions discuss how players can create content platforms and build an online audience — rather than focusing on the game itself. (For even more details on the media implications in play here, check out my post about Minecraft’s customer event on LinkedIn.)

For a full list of the PNR archives, go to the main This Old Marketing page.

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boxing glove holding back others-biasI have a hypothesis that I tend to look at clocks when there is a pattern present. It always reads things like 11:11, 12:34, or 5:55. Happens all the time. I’ve told my wife this on more than one occasion. And every time I do… she tells me I am crazy. She thinks I look at the clock all the time but only remember — or point out — the times that a pattern is present. (This follows the same logic as people thinking they always choose the slowest line in the grocery store.)

Neither of these things reflects reality. These are examples of perception bias.

If you think honestly — really honestly — about how many times you are in line (at the grocery store, fast-food restaurant, gate at the ballpark, and so on) and how often your wait is actually longer than the people around you, the percentage simply isn’t that great. (This hasn’t stopped people from thinking they’re overwhelmed by Murphy’s Law and searching for pointers on how to avoid it.)

So now that I’ve seen the light on my clock theory, I have another hypothesis to share: People don’t hate marketing. 

It’s become popular to say people do, but it’s not necessarily true. People think they hate marketing because they are more apt to remember — and complain about — the times when they are interrupted by marketing and advertisements that they don’t want to hear.

The interesting thing about this new hypothesis is that experiments to prove its validity have already been done. A lot of them. Because people continue to be influenced by marketing and advertising every day, and they spend money on the things that they need and want with an eye toward name brands that resonate with them. Whether they saw it on TV, heard about it on the radio, were told about a product by a friend, or learned about a brand on Facebook, they were influenced, and happily took action.

But perception biases don’t come from nowhere. So let’s explore two possible origins, and discuss how the right content can neutralize them both:

The “misdirected marketing” that people seem to reject most fervently is that which is considered disruptive for one of the following reasons:

A. Marketing in the wrong place: It’s the right message, but it interrupts the wrong audience.
B. Marketing with the wrong message: It reaches the “right” audience, but the message itself doesn’t resonate, for various reasons.

In either case, the disruptive nature of the message is conspicuous, and is likely to trigger a perception bias/negative association with marketing on the whole.

(There’s also: C: It’s the right message, and gets in front of the right audience, but it also reaches others who aren’t interested. Don’t worry so much about this one. This can never be completely eliminated, and “collateral hate” usually doesn’t become significantly detrimental to a brand… even though some companies tend to overthink it — and overreact to it.)

So if the perception bias of hating marketing is due, essentially, to missing marks by using blast methods of marketing, what is the best way to avoid the vitriol yourself?

Effective content marketing, of course.

The right content plan can help you avoid the perception bias altogether, because a primary directive of content marketing is this: to provide the right value to the right person, at the right time, and in the right place. (Notice this is the antithesis of both A and B above.)

To create the right content marketing, you need to start with a clear understanding of your audience. This provides you, the marketer, with a greater ability to anticipate its needs, craft more relevant messages, and place them where the eager audience is most likely to find them — rather than interrupting them with it when they aren’t interested in the least. It’s about recognizing patterns, and planning the best way to capitalize on them.

There are simple, direct ways to find these patterns. Here are three:

1. Primary research: That’s right, the old standby of actually asking questions of the audience you want to connect with. What kind of information (value) are they craving? What channels do they prefer? What is the optimal frequency of communication? Asking one person isn’t enough, but if you have an audience of any size, you’ll see that people will give similar answers and you’ll be able to map patterns of the right messages, the right times, and the right places.

2. Social listening: Not everyone can afford primary research. Or, perhaps you don’t actually have an audience yet that you can talk to so openly. In these cases, social listening can provide powerful answers that will point you in the right direction — only this time, you’ll be looking as much for the questions as you will for the answers.

For example, take a look at the Twitter activity of people who work in your target industry. What questions are they asking about most — what is the gap in information — in relation to your offering? On LinkedIn, what are the discussions about in relevant groups? In the comments of relevant blogs, what are people challenging authors on? What are the opposing points-of-view they are voicing? Where are they linking in order to support “their side”?

Within these platforms lies a gold mine of questions for which your audience is craving answers. If you’re willing to dig, you’ll be better able to map these patterns, and build a plan focused on right messages, right times, and right places.

3. Mining your call center or other customer service channel: We are constantly amazed by how much fodder for powerful content slips right through the grasp of organizations — the questions that are asked (and answers that are given) every day that aren’t being repurposed into content that serves the good of the rest of the audience (i.e., those who aren’t actively asking the questions that are on their minds).

By simply documenting the questions posed to you through customer service channels, you can find patterns that reveal what types of information your audience craves most. And by simply documenting the answers that your knowledgeable reps are providing, you’ll have the makings of proactive content — the kind of messages that hit the right audience at the right time, no matter where they look to find them.

Case in point

Any of the three means above (or others that exist) could have led McDonald’s to all the insight it needed to create the “Our Food. Your Questions” site for its Canadian audience — a perfect example of using pattern recognition to identify content that people will love (as opposed to marketing they “hate”):

example-mcdonalds our food your questions

Yes, there are a lot of questions about McDonald’s food being raised all across the internet (and beyond). And many of those questions are based in not-so-flattering assumptions (like the commonly accepted thought that McNuggets are random chicken parts blended and pressed into friendly shapes). Now McDonald’s could make a commercial about their nuggets being all-natural (and they likely have). But the company would probably have to spend a lot of money to make such an ad, which 1) many people would ignore (A, from above); 2) others wouldn’t want to hear about in the first place (B); and 3) some non-customers would simply use as fodder to depict McDonald’s as a liar, or denigrate the brand in other ways (C).

But what about people who were actively seeking information about McDonald’s food? For this audience, “Our Food. Your Questions.” is exactly the content they need — at their exact moment of need. It’s an engaging experience that provides the content people are looking for, while avoiding the pitfalls of A and B (and C) that add to the perception bias of hated marketing.

McDonald’s identified this “pattern” because the company listens to the questions its audience is asking. Then, it created the right content, and found a way to put it in front of the right people at the right time.

So start looking for the behavior patterns your audience is expressing — and stop feeding perception biases that keep our industry from achieving greater success and acceptance.

For additional examples of content that delivers the right messages at the right time and place, check out CMI’s Content Marketing Playbook: 24 Epic Ideas for Connecting with Your Customers.

Cover image via Bigstock