The Power of Content Marketing Partnerships and Alliances

Though our culture reveres the power of genius and the magic that genius can conjure — as well we should — most of us work in realms where collaboration can be far more productive than forging our own path. Content marketing is one of those realms.

In content marketing, alliances and partnerships can prove the truth behind the idea that the whole can be more than the sum of its parts.

E-A-T

Despite looking like the name of a hipster, retro diner, E-A-T has nothing to do with food. It’s shorthand for Expertise, Authority, and Trust. These are three factors that Google considers in ranking websites.

On its own, E-A-T is important enough a factor to warrant an in-depth article. For today, we’ll use it as context for the value that partnerships can have in adding power to your content marketing.

You’re Experiencing the Power of Partnerships Right Now

Observant readers may have noticed that I am not an employee of Target Marketing. I run Andigo, a digital marketing agency. And I lend my expertise in digital marketing to the Target Marketing website.

I’m a nice guy and all, but I don’t write these columns merely out of the goodness of my heart. In exchange for my sweat and toil, Target Marketing stamps me with their seal of approval. That approval gives me a leg up in gaining your trust as an audience. (Because you’ve already come to trust Target Marketing’s judgement.)

That’s certainly a beneficial exchange for both of us, but there’s more. The reason the whole is greater than the sum of the parts in relationships like this is that both parties bring their own audiences with them. This expands my reach beyond what I could hope to achieve on my own, and does the same for Target Marketing.

Symmetrical Content Marketing Partnerships Work, Too

Of course, there’s an asymmetry to our relationship that adds to the power of working together. Each partner brings its own strength, with little to no overlap.

But more symmetrical relationships can work well, too. Co-creating a piece of content with a partner of similar “weight” still introduces you each to a broader audience than you’d achieve without a partner. But now, rather than the stamp of approval being one-directional, you are each endorsing the other as a trustworthy expert to your own audiences.

May I Introduce to You …

A warm introduction is an enormous leg up over being found via a cold web search. That introduction is what makes content marketing partnerships one of the best ways to establish expertise, authority, and trust — and to grow your audience in the process.

As you’d imagine, some thought is required to find appropriate partners. You should seek partners who work with the same target audience as you do and whose services are complementary to yours.

For example, a digital marketing firm might partner with a branding firm who works with the same B2B clients. They could also partner with a branding firm who works with B2C companies, but they would likely not see the same return on their time.

Similarly, that digital marketing firm could partner with a company providing break-room services to B2B companies, but there is less synergy there, even though both firms provide services to the same target market.

Finally, remember the adage about lying down with dogs and waking up with fleas. You must be comfortable with the integrity and reputation of your partners. Your good name won’t rescue a bad partner nearly as readily as their bad name will tarnish yours.

How to Formulate Your 2018 Content Marketing Strategy

Carolyn, a director of demand generation in the hospitality industry, shared that “It takes too much work to develop the wrong content.” In this month’s step of the revenue marketing journey, we are going to cover content marketing strategy and the steps to developing the best content editorial calendar.

Carolyn, a director of demand generation in the hospitality industry, shared that “It takes too much work to develop the wrong content.” Sadly, many organizations use a “spray and pray” methodology for content development and discover too late that much of their effort was wasted on the wrong content. Carolyn is not going that route and in this month’s article. In this month’s step of the revenue marketing journey, we cover content marketing strategy and the steps to developing the best content editorial calendar.

Step 1: Know What Content Is Valuable for Your Clients

Seems like a simple concept, right? When was the last time you surveyed your customers to find out what content topics they like, what channels they like, or their preferred content medium? In a recent interview, Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider Group and co-author of “The Content Formula,” shared that companies are only just now learning “how to utilize content to effectively meet the needs of their audience as opposed to meeting the needs of their business.” If the primary guide for your content decisions is the download reports from your website you are not on solid ground for planning your content calendar. So conduct a customer engagement survey, find out what content they like. Get free subscriptions to Buzzsumo and Grapevine6 and learn:

  • Which audience is interested in what topics
  • What type of content they are sharing
  • What sources of information are they using
  • Which influencers are most important

Step 2: Document Your Personas (5 to 7 Max)

Buyer personas are examples of real people who make up your customers and clients. They can also include individuals who may influence the buying decision in some way. A persona goes deeper than demographics. Personas are developed by asking questions about a buyer’s motivation and learning what holds the buyer back from making a purchasing decision. By taking the time to document and understand your customer in this way, your content team will develop content that resonates and engages, moving leads through the buyer’s journey to conversion.

Step 3: Document the Full Customer Journey Map

Marketing engages with prospect and customer not just when they are in the funnel for the first time, but throughout their lifecycle including adoption, value realization, loyalty and advocacy. This means that we need content suitable for every stage of the customer journey map.

Your customer journey map should inform your content marketing strategy.
Your customer journey map should inform your content marketing strategy.

Step 4: Audit Your Current Content

Now that you have the customer journey map and the personas, audit your content based on which personas suit what pieces of content and in which stages of the customer journey map can it be effective. Some additional criteria you might consider in the audit include content type, medium, consume-ability, centricity (product, company, or customer), level of engagement achieved, product/service served, industry, gated/ungated, purpose (reach, engagement, conversion, retention) etc. Build the audit in such a way that it can be used as an ongoing inventory of content and so new entries are added to it as they are developed. With the audit in hand, you should be able to see the gaps where more content is needed, but we’re not done yet.

8 Recommendations Before Hiring New Digital Direct Marketing Talent

If you’re an employer that recognizes you need new digital direct marketing approaches, you may be apprehensive about hiring new talent. Here is an eight-step plan to install the right digital marketing groundwork before hiring that new employee to make sure you are both successful.

If you’re an employer that recognizes you need new digital direct marketing approaches, you may be apprehensive about hiring new talent. When you hire new people, you risk a cultural misfit between the style and approach of a traditional direct marketer and a digital direct marketer. If it doesn’t work out between the employer and employee after a few months, there is a lot of lose-lose for all parties concerned.

The employer has made a costly mistake with the hire. The employee has possibly given up a good position and relocated. The employer gives up on digital direct marketing, declaring that it’s conceptually not a fit with traditional direct marketing, when it may actually have only been company cultural barriers, skills of the employee, or a lack of commitment to fund digital initiatives by the employer.

Consider, too, that there is the high demand these days for digital talent. Target Marketing’s recent article, 5 Trends in Direct Marketing Job-Hunting and Hiring, by Executive Recruiter Jerry Bernhart, raised excellent points about the state of human resource recruitment for direct marketing companies.

It’s clear, based on Bernhart’s experience, that candidates are getting multiple offers, suggesting that those individuals who are trained in digital marketing, or those who have reinvented themselves, are the folks getting not only offers, but competitive offers with higher pay.

But what if you’re among those “… tens of thousands of companies out there that have little more than a rudimentary Web presence,” referenced in the article? How do you, if you’re faced with the need to reinvent your marketing approaches, recognize the right talent for a new digital direct marketing position and process that’s unproven inside your organization?

Here are eight recommendations, with complete acknowledgement this is a biased perspective coming from my personal experience of having started new departments to lay the groundwork before hiring a new employee.

  1. Retain a Consultant First
    Bring on an independent consultant to work with your organization a few hours or days a week to create your new department, or your new digital direct marketing infrastructure. This individual should be expected to work with you for several months and be made responsible for several initiatives outlined in the following points.
  2. Create a Digital Direct Marketing Plan
    Your consultant should be versed in more than basic websites and email marketing. The plan probably includes development of a content marketing strategy, using multiple cross-channel media, that is designed to bring in leads. Perhaps the role includes the introduction of customer relationship management (CRM) software. The plan might also include acquisition of a marketing automation system that enables sophisticated nurture marketing programs to integrate direct mail, email, personalized microsites, social, mobile, content marketing and more.
  3. Fund It
    You must be ready to invest the money it will require to see results. Be prepared for this transition to take anywhere from six to 12 months of refinement before it’s clear how this can work for you. This can be challenging if your company is seeing slowly declining sales, but the alternative isn’t so rosy. If you wait too long, you won’t need to worry about funding it as your company slowly disappears into non-existence.
  4. Empower
    As a business owner or senior manager, obviously you’re going to want to have input in the digital marketing plan and how your company’s money is invested. But you must accept that to be successful you’ll need to empower people to make decisions on your behalf. Of course, with empowerment comes accountability on the part of the consultant and your staff.
  5. Your Company Culture May Be Stressed
    Chances are that if you’ve brought on a consultant (or fulltime new hire) to make change, your staff will feel threatened. Budget dollars that went to fund existing traditional direct marketing initiatives are likely diverted to new initiatives. That will create anxiety and stress from current long-time staff. And it’s human nature for people to become hostile, passive-aggressive, and even work to discreetly sabotage new efforts.
  6. The Org Chart May Change
    The consultant you contract with should be able to objectively evaluate individual staff’s strengths so they are placed in a role where your current employees come out winners. The organizational chart will probably evolve during this process.
  7. Be Flexible and Agile
    The future belongs to companies that are flexible and agile. If your culture is slow and overly methodical, ask yourself if you’re willing to leave your comfort zone. If not, reread the last sentence in No. 3 above.
  8. Your Plan to Transition From Consultant to Full-Time Staff
    The consultant’s responsibility will be to create a transition plan to hand off the keys to new initiatives and processes that have been created (and proven) for your new fulltime hire. Often, the consultant works with an executive recruiter to identify a replacement, and stays on for a few weeks after the new hire starts to ensure a smooth transition. Sometimes, a consultant is asked to stay on fulltime, but consider that a consultant is most likely energized by “the chase,” so to speak, and will want to move on to help reinvent the next company.

Following these eight steps will set up better odds for a win-win for employer and employee. By the time a new-hire is on board, the organization has had time to absorb and accept cultural change. Assuming the outcome is successful, this process gives confidence to not only the employer, but the new hire and the entire staff. Most importantly, you have broadened your approaches to reach your market through digital channels that are capturing more of their time and attention

The No. 1 Most Overlooked Video Content Marketing Strategy

Is your video content marketing strategy producing leads? Most B-to-B marketers are generating views, clicks, shares and likes, but netting few leads. Don’t be one of them. Generating leads and sales with video isn’t difficult if you get back to basics. The trick is publishing videos that create self-confidence in your viewers. This is a faster, easier way to create engaging discussion—and ultimately trust in you.

Is your video content marketing strategy producing leads? Most B-to-B marketers are generating views, clicks, shares and likes, but netting few leads. Don’t be one of them. Generating leads and sales with video isn’t difficult if you get back to basics. The trick is publishing videos that create self-confidence in your viewers. This is a faster, easier way to create engaging discussion—and ultimately trust in you.

What Does Confidence Have to Do With It?
Don’t let any gurus convince you that “social selling” is somehow mystical, new or different.

In video marketing, trust is rarely earned by what you say in videos or how you say it. Trust is earned by what your videos DO for prospects that gets them confident in themselves as buyers.

For example, have you ever watched and taken action on a short video? Maybe it was a direct TV infomercial where you saw a product demo. You probably didn’t need what was being sold, but you took action anyway. Why?

Confidence.

Even if it’s purely novel, after watching a product demo humans are “hard wired” to react. But only if we witness a transfer of confidence—from seller to buyer. Or from “the converted” to the skeptic.

If written, shot, edited and distributed correctly, videos of various lengths can produce leads consistently. These exceptional videos succeed because they do one thing better than others.

Why Confidence Works So Well
You might think going viral is the key, but it’s not. Videos that create leads work because they demonstrate raw, credible, believable confidence in action.

Videos that generate leads tap into skepticism, fear, annoyance and ambition—and put it to work for the seller. Again, think in terms of infomercials: from kitchen gadgets (skepticism) to fear (financial and medical) or ambition (college, weight loss).

Effective video “brings to life” the benefits of the emotional end goal of everyone on planet earth: confidence. No, not the functional benefits of the product, the emotional end benefit in its most raw state.

Where to Start: How to Create Confidence
Effective videos grab attention. They have a title that is simply irresistible and relates to a fear, ambition, goal or problem. Effective titles make a promise. An effective video content marketing strategy delivers that promise in a way that either:

  1. transfers confidence from someone on camera to the viewer or
  2. manufactures confidence by giving tips, actionable advice or “better ways.”

The best way to get started is a video treatment—a rough concept of how your video will flow. The easiest kind of video to produce is one that increases the success rate of prospects.

Right now, think about something you know that most customers don’t. What danger, risk or hidden opportunity do you know about that they don’t, right now. What would really move prospects’ needles if you had 60 seconds to tell them? Jot down your ideas.

Create a video treatment that demonstrates a better way, shows steps to solve a problem or provokes an emotional reaction (fear, excitement) in the viewer. Don’t be shy.

For example, ask a question customers need answered in a way that might scare viewers a bit. Then answer it in a way that leaves them wanting more details.

When and How to Make a Call to Action
The goal of your B-to-B video content marketing strategy is to get prospects so confident in themselves they take action. Everything else is wasting time. Forget about trying to influence prospects. Get viewers to act.

If you followed the above formula, you’re on track. Now we need to nudge viewers with a call to action. This nudge capitalizes on the momentary confidence you just created or transferred to the viewer.

At this point, customers should be starting to feel a sense of trust in your words. You’ve proven yourself to be bold, have something to say, ask the tough questions or give out “tough love” advice. Will they trust you enough to buy from you? Maybe, maybe not.

Prospects will, however, be willing to trade their contact information in exchange for more of that confidence you just gave them.

They’ll be more willing to become a lead. All they need is that call to action. Make it easy for prospects to act on that impulse you just created.

Effective Video Content Marketing Makes Prospects Crave More
Content that creates leads makes prospects think, “Gosh, I wonder what else the author of this article knows that I need to know!” or “Wow, I see the opportunity more clearly now; how can I get access to more of this kind of thinking?”

Maybe your offer will be to teach customers a new skill or go deeper into solving a problem for them. You might offer a multi-part video tutorial, ebook or stream of email tips that guide and motivate prospects each week.

There are a handful of options. The idea is to use a call to action to get viewers off your video and onto a lead nurturing process.

Remember: Trust is earned by what your videos do for prospects that gets them confident in themselves. If you follow these simple guidelines you’ll be making videos that sell for you. You’ll have an effective video content marketing strategy.

Good luck!

Generate Leads With Social Media by Provoking Thought, Not Leading It

Why is it so difficult to generate sales leads using social media? Probably because we’re all busy creating “quality content” (whatever that is!) rather than designing content to generate leads. At the risk of my wife divorcing me, I decided to take a year off and find out how businesses who actually are quietly succeeding with social media are doing it. A year’s worth of research confirmed my suspicions about the so-called “social media revolution” and revealed an exciting opportunity: A chance for more B-to-B and B-to-C marketers to generate tangible business leads and sales using tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, blogs and video.

Why is it so difficult to generate sales leads using social media? Probably because we’re all busy creating “quality content” (whatever that is!) rather than designing content to generate leads. At the risk of my wife divorcing me, I decided to take a year off and find out how businesses who actually are quietly succeeding with social media are doing it. A year’s worth of research confirmed my suspicions about the so-called “social media revolution” and revealed an exciting opportunity: A chance for more B-to-B and B-to-C marketers to generate tangible business leads and sales using tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, blogs and video.

The secret is now revealed: Selling with social media requires shifting the paradigm away from being thought leaders and toward being thought provokers.

These Brands Are Making Social Media Sell
My research revealed how people like Laura Messerschmitt of Intuit are convincing more and more customers to sign up for the Online Payroll product. I learned how investment and property management firm, Jones Lang LaSalle is generating tangible leads on seven-figure commercial real estate deals using YouTube. I discovered how Wisconsin’s AnchorBank and the Queensland Teachers’ Credit Union are increasing share of customers’ wallet and acquiring new customers at record pace.

This Is How They’re Doing it
What’s their secret? Turning friends, followers and content into sales, leads and subscribers means solving customers’ problems in ways that nurtures demand for larger solutions. These companies are helping customers gain clarity on complex problems and then leveraging that clarity. How? By answering questions in ways that make it increasingly rewarding for customers to take action, identify themselves as a lead.

Selling with social media demands brands become thought provokers, not just thought leaders.

Design to Sell, Become Addictive
Successful social sellers know: Engagement is not an outcome. It’s an opportunity to create response. But not by chance. Engagement must invite customers’ questions and respond to it in a deliberate way, as part of a social media-driven direct response marketing plan. This design gathers up customers’ itches (problems), scratches them (gives answers) in yet in incomplete ways. Holding back on providing the full solution is key.

The formula is incredibly close to the illegal narcotics trade. You give customers’ a sample providing momentary satisfaction, but not enough for the desire to be completely sated. In other words, here… have a little bit. You will feel something that you’ll enjoy but it won’t be enough, you’ll want to have more of it. In order to have more you’re going to have to talk to me—and you may even find yourself wanting to buy some from me!

Today’s true thought leaders are thought provokers. They are putting interesting, valuable, addictive thoughts “out there” in ways that prompt customers to ask for more, more often.

Take Action
Make social media sell. Ask yourself: are you giving customers a reason to talk to you on LinkedIn? Are your blogs so bold they provoke action? Does your content marketing strategy show customers ways to avoid risks they don’t yet know they have? Do your YouTube videos or white papers reveal hidden opportunity? Are your campaigns designed so that customers will contact you—so they your team can help them more clearly understand what you just provoked?

Never, Ever Outsource Your Content Marketing Strategy

Should you outsource your content marketing strategy? Don’t—unless you want your blogs, whitepapers, videos or webinars to blend in with those of your competitors. Good, effective content marketing cannot be outsourced. No matter how much you’re struggling to create a constant stream of content that effectively generates leads, keep it in house.

Should you outsource your content marketing strategy? Don’t—unless you want your blogs, whitepapers, videos or webinars to blend in with those of your competitors. Good, effective content marketing cannot be outsourced. No matter how much you’re struggling to create a constant stream of content that effectively generates leads, keep it in house.

Let’s be honest. All of us are racing to “produce quality content” and distribute it on blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social platforms. But what does “quality content” really mean and why is so much of it failing to generate leads for B-to-B marketers? And what can you do to make sure your articles, videos, white papers and webinars (content) produce leads? Keep it inside.

Despite what “the experts” say, effective content marketing has less to do with frequency or how often you produce it. Blogging often (and getting that blog retweeted) earns the fleeting attention of prospects at best. Content that generate leads:

  • Solves problems and/or dramatizes the emotional end benefit
  • Is designed to induce behavior (sometimes addictive)
  • Translates customer need (analyzes and feeds it back into design)

Eschew the “Experts”
Relative to these key success principles, having a constant stream of content emanating from your business will not produce sales. Despite what “the experts” keep saying, the most effective content is not that which gets discovered in search engines and gets people to your website. Nor is effective content that which has “your voice” or “reflects your culture” or “is authentic.” These qualities do not define effective content because they never have.

Content marketing is about as new as custom publishing (it’s not new at all). The most effective content produces measurable outcomes—leads and sales. Period.

I can hear the social media gurus screaming. OK, OK. Are all those things I just mentioned important pieces of the puzzle? Yes. But over-focusing on them will cause you to put far too much faith in them.

For instance, take frequency. Making content marketing produce sales is not purely (or even mostly) a numbers game, nor a matter of how much attention you earn from search engines or blog visitors. Believing this to be true will only cause you to—that’s right—outsource it!

The Key to Success
If leads and sales are what you’re after with content marketing, then you’ve got to come to grips with the truth: Effective webinars, blogs, videos, etc., take your target market beyond the realm of useful information. Sure, providing information is essential but you’ve got to go the extra mile—you’ve got to provide new, previously unknown knowledge that tells customers how to avoid risk or exploit opportunity.

Think about it this way: It’s difficult enough to hire an employee that a) understands this concept; b) knows enough about your competitive environment to know how and where to find what your customers truly need to know; c) can actually execute the research needed to produce effective (behaviorally provocative) content—and produce it over time. Good luck finding someone on the outside who can do all of that well enough!

Want your content to look like your competitors? Just outsource it to people who repackage information your customers already know. They’ll take your money and in return pass off what they create as thought leadership or insightful information. And then you’ll pass that junk on to your customers.

The Honest Truth
Ninety-five percent of content marketing is generating worthless information that everyone already knows surrounded by buzzwords. Need proof? Search the Web for whitepapers and give them a scan.

“I’m a huge fan of earned attention,” says Edward Boches, chief innovation officer at Mullen. “And owning content. And being in the publishing business. But the one downside of everyone and anyone—and that includes brands and companies—being a content creator is that just like cable television, the good stuff becomes a smaller and smaller percentage of all that’s out there.”

Want your content to produce leads and sales? Hire people who know how to produce written or multimedia materials that make readers/viewers say, “Hmm, I never thought of it THAT way … that’s scary” or “I see the opportunity in that, I better get in touch with these people to take action!”

This is what good social media marketing and content marketing does—induces responses that you can nurture toward an eventual sale.

Successfully Bring Your SEO Copywriting In-House

The marketing manager of a large e-commerce site recently filled me in on a challenge she was having. She knew her content needed an SEO copywriting intervention—but she didn’t have the budget for a keyphrase editing or rewrite campaign.

The marketing manager of a large e-commerce site recently filled me in on a challenge she was having. She knew her content needed an SEO copywriting intervention—but she didn’t have the budget for a keyphrase editing or rewrite campaign.

So I asked her, “Have you ever thought of bringing your SEO copywriting in-house?”

And I could almost hear the light bulb flickering on above her head.

The reality is, SEO copywriting is one task that can often be brought in-house. With the right people and a little training, your existing team members can produce your content—and your company will save money on your search marketing campaign.

If this is the direction you want your company to go, here are some things to consider:

Decide who does the writing. This may seem like a no-brainer, as it’s easy to think, “Well, we have five people in our marketing department, plus all of our sales staff. They can all write copy.” However, some folks are more qualified to write than others—and choosing the best writers will help make your campaign much more successful.

Try to pinpoint possible in-house SEO copywriters by:

  1. Experience: Print/online copywriters and journalists are the easiest to train.
  2. Being realistic: Just because someone is an awesome salesperson doesn’t mean he knows how to write. Review a person’s past writing and be very, very honest about his capabilities. You can train a good writer in SEO copywriting. But you can’t train a naturally bad writer to write better copy—at least, not without putting in some major effort.
  3. Interest: Some folks don’t like to write. Period. They’ll do it when they’re forced to, but the results are less than stellar. Giving writing tasks to these folks won’t help you a bit.

You may decide that you have to hire someone on a full or part-time basis to handle some of the writing. That’s OK. Better to hire someone with experience to fill in the gaps, then transform people into writers who, well, really shouldn’t be the ones writing content for your brand.

Make sure your writers have time to write. SEO copywriting is not an “other duties as assigned” gig. I’ve seen the best campaigns go bad because the SEO copywriters had other tasks to complete—and those duties took precedence over creating content. If you want your SEO copywriters to churn out premium content, that means they need the time to write. And that means good, uninterrupted time-free from meetings, phone calls and e-mail. If you honestly can’t give your writers space to write, you may see better (and faster) results from outsourcing.

Get the right training for your team. This step is crucial. Yes, it is possible to train your writers in SEO copywriting best practices. Yes, you can train folks to write benefit-rich copy that converts like crazy. But the operable word is training. I’ve seen too many companies send their writers to a conference with the task of “learning everything they can about SEO copywriting.” Guess what? I’m usually speaking at those conferences, and the information panelists can provide in 60 minutes or less is basic at best—and it’s certainly not customized for a company’s unique situation.

The right training depends on how much copywriting knowledge your writing team already has. If they are experienced online writers and strategists who just need to understand the SEO copywriting nuances, reading some books and taking a course like my SEO Copywriting Certification training should get them up to speed. If your company currently doesn’t have an in-house SEO copywriting strategy and your writers aren’t experienced online writers, a customized training that discusses copywriting theory as well as SEO copywriting is probably your best bet.

Whatever your company chooses, remember that it’s not fair to push someone into SEO copywriting who has no experience and no training. Not only will it be frustrating for your writer, it’s bad for your business—who wants Web pages written by someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing?

Determine your content marketing opportunities. It’s one thing to task people with handling your online content. It’s another to tell them exactly what they should be writing. I’ve trained a lot of in-house copywriters, and the key to success (other than training) is having a clear action plan. What initially seems easy, “We’ll just send out some tweets, create a Facebook page and start editing pages,” is actually much more complex. Questions to ask are:

  1. What are our analytics telling us about our current content? What keyphrases are working?
  2. Do we need additional keyphrase research?
  3. What do we expect to gain from (insert content marketing strategy here)? For instance, if Twitter is part of your strategy, make sure you know how you’ll actually measure success.
  4. What pages can be edited for keyphrases (some folks call this “on-site optimization”)? Which pages should be completely rewritten?
  5. Is the tone, feel and benefit statement focus still appropriate for today’s marketplace?

If your company doesn’t have a content marketing strategy in place, I would highly recommend hiring a content strategist who can help you determine your content marketing opportunities and figure out next steps. This person doesn’t have to be a permanent member of your team; bringing on an outsourced vendor is fine. But as I mentioned in a previous post on my business blog, these folks will “see” opportunities that a technical SEO person won’t (which makes sense—technical SEO folks focus on code, not marketing.) Yes, this will cost some money, but much, much less than outsourcing your content. Plus, you’ll have a step-by-step plan for how to proceed.

Create an editorial calendar. The best-laid plans mean nothing without implementation. It’s one thing to know what to do. It’s another to actually do it. Determine who is writing what and the deadlines, then work with IT to figure out when new/edited content will be uploaded. A monthly editorial calendar is a great way to stay on track—plus, having everything written down makes everyone accountable.

Keep the momentum going. I know how hard it is to keep the content marketing momentum going when business is booming and everyone is swamped. Even if you have more business than you can handle right now, I encourage you to stay the course and keep cranking out quality content—even a few pages a month is good. And if your business is going through a natural slow time, using that time to build content is a powerful way to prepare for the upswing. Think about it: There is a high probability you’re getting the business you are because of your content marketing strategy. If you start to pull back and push content to the back burner, you’ll lose momentum—and possibly allow a competitor to “catch up” with you. Just remember the formula Momentum = Money, and you’ll be fine.

5 Ways to Make Your Product Copy “Pop”

Yesterday, I got a call from a highly frustrated e-commerce marketer: “We have a smart in-house SEO and our platform is solid. The problem is, our product pages aren’t ranking. What are we doing wrong?”

Yesterday, I got a call from a highly frustrated e-commerce marketer: “We have a smart in-house SEO and our platform is solid. The problem is, our product pages aren’t ranking. What are we doing wrong?”

I surfed over to their site and noticed a major problem. Their product content was pulled directly from the manufacturers’ copy.

That may not sound like a big deal. But it is. Here’s why.

Imagine that you’re an e-commerce retailer selling, say, a high-end ergonomic office chair. And let’s say that you upload the exact verbiage that appears on the manufacturer’s site (which is the “official” product description).

Sure, this sounds like an easy way to go. After all, rewriting or “tweaking” thousands of product pages sounds like a daunting task. But here’s the problem …

Chances are, many of your competitors are using the exact same strategy—and their Web page copy will read exactly like yours. Exactly.

Suddenly, seeing prime search engine rankings is that much harder. You’re not just competing with other companies that sell the same product. Your company is competing in the search engines with hundreds (or thousands) of companies with the exact same sales copy.

Who do you think is going to be No. 1 for that product search? Unless you’re the manufacturer, it’s probably not your company; your site sounds the same as everyone else. Heck, your product page may not even position in the top 100 search results with that strategy.

The “winner” will be the company that spent the time to wordsmith its content—and make its product copy “pop.”

A huge untapped opportunity for a plethora of e-commerce sites is revamping (or significantly tweaking) their product copy. Think about it: Product-label copy isn’t keyphrase-rich. It’s not constructed to maximize its search engine ranking potential. Nor is it necessarily targeted towards your customer base.

In short, it’s great as offline product copy. But for online … not so much.

The key is to spend time writing your product copy in a way that pops off the page. You need to include the product specs and features, yes—and that may mean using some existing product copy.

But it also means having a savvy content marketing strategy in mind so your product copy does well with search engines and your customers.

Here are some things you can do:

1. Include user reviews. Reviews provide fantastic user-generated content, and they often naturally use the main page keyphrases (for instance, people would probably include a brand/product name like “Kodak EasyShare C180” in their review). Reviews provide your company “free” additional content that’s a huge value-add to your site visitors. Plus, keyphrase research shows that people search for “product review” keyphrases. Why not give your customers what they want to read?

2. Want to keep the product spec copy? Give yourself the best of both worlds. Include the product copy, but add some paragraphs to make the page keyphrase-rich, benefit-heavy and unique. You don’t have to wax poetic and write more than 1,000 words. Depending on what you’re selling, a paragraph or two is ideal. But those paragraphs can have a tremendous effect on your rankings and conversions.

3. Are certain products highly important to your bottom line? Completely rewrite those product pages. Yes, it’s a pain and yes, it can be expensive. At the same time, you’re ensuring the product copy is laser-focused towards your target audience. Companies that have created product pages from scratch often see better conversions compared to pages that weren’t rewritten.

4. Create a compelling, clickable title. Remember that your first opportunity isn’t when a customer hits your site—it’s the search engine results page. If you create titles like:

Kodak EasyShare C180 – 25% off and free shipping

… you’ll probably see better clickthroughs than with a title that reads:

Kodak EasyShare C180 – Buycameras.com

5. Don’t forget to weave in benefit statements. Remember, buying anything—from a new office chair to heavy machinery—means appealing to “what’s in it for your customer.” Focus your product copy on how your product will help your prospect. Will it save them money? Help them work more efficiently? Increase revenues? Penning specific benefit statements can transform your so-so copy into a high converting powerhouse.

Altering your product copy can seem overwhelming, especially when you have thousands of SKUs. But with the right content marketing strategy, you can have content that “pops” off the page—and see top-positioned content that converts like crazy.

5 Ways Marketers Mess Up Their Content Marketing Campaigns

I hear it all the time: “We tried content marketing and this ‘SEO copywriting stuff.’ But it didn’t work for us.” When I dig a little deeper, I unearth an important fact: The campaign didn’t work because the marketer got in its own way—and unfortunately, this fumbling caused its campaign to fail.

I hear it all the time: “We tried content marketing and this ‘SEO copywriting stuff.’ But it didn’t work for us.”

When I dig a little deeper, I unearth an important fact: The campaign didn’t work because the marketer got in its own way—and unfortunately, this fumbling caused its campaign to fail.

Let’s face it, marketers don’t mean to set themselves up for content marketing failure. Their intentions are good … but then something (politics, confusion, a “bright idea”) stops real results dead in their tracks. Instead of moving forward, the marketer inadvertently destroys any chances of search marketing success. As a result, it finds itself back at square one. With nothing to show for it.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, you’re not alone. Here are five of the most common ways I see smart marketers mess up their content marketing campaigns:

1. Not including a content marketing specialist in your online marketing meetings.
If I had a dollar for every time I asked, “How does this piece of content fit into your overarching content marketing strategy” and heard the answer, “Um, we just thought it was a good idea,” I’d be driving a shiny new Bentley instead of a well-loved Volvo.

I ranted about this in the post, “Just Hire a Content Marketing Strategist, Already,” on my SEO Copywriting.com blog. Content marketing experts can help you “see” your copy in a different way, so you can make smart, strategic choices. Can certain articles be repurposed? Can you “optimize” some content rather than rewrite it? These are questions to ask every quarter … and there’s an expert for that. Besides, if you’re going to spend the time and money it takes to build out content, shouldn’t you be sure that it supports (and doesn’t hurt) your other marketing efforts?

2. Writing copy solely for the purpose of search engine rankings.
Once upon a time, I created what I thought was a well-written article series for a client. The marketer loved the copy, approved it and proceeded to add 500, keyphrase-stuffed additional words. When I asked why, the response was, “Well, we added that for search engines.” Ouch.

Neither the search engines, nor your prospects, are going to reward you for nonsensical, keyphrase-stuffed content. Not to mention, how comfortable are you with having obviously bad copy on your site? Content marketing (and SEO copywriting) means writing for your prospects first, and the search engines second. Remember, the search engines don’t pay your bills. Your prospects do.

3. Deleting large chunks of content without checking with the content strategist.
Ah, the content review process. It’s not uncommon for marketers to make some tweaks to a Web page proposed by their content marketing specialist; many times, those tweaks improve the messaging. It’s a good thing. Unless, it’s … not.

The caveat here is that SEO content is written in a highly strategic fashion. Sometimes, a keyword really does need to be in a certain place for maximum search engine benefit. Rather than uploading edited copy that may not be effective after the changes, check with your strategist first. You can decide if the copy “tweaks” are worth it, and develop a solution that satisfies both search engines and prospects.

4. Not uploading pages.
Although this seems like a “no duh” tip, it’s amazing how many companies “forget” to upload their Web pages. Maybe it’s because IT got swamped, so adding new pages become a secondary priority. Or perhaps there was a staffing change, and the person spearheading the SEO initiative was transferred to another department. Sadly, spending the time (and effort) to create copy and not uploading it is a very common issue for many marketers.

If this has happened to you (or you’re afraid it will,) create an internal editorial calendar. Get everyone together who is involved in the content campaign (including IT people, since they’re the ones responsible for uploading the content), and set up some firm deadlines. Sometimes, what looks like inaction is only because other tasks seem more urgent (not because they really are). When you can attach a deadline to tasks, that urgency level is increased.

5. Tweaking titles without checking with your content marketing strategist.
This. Point. Is. Huge. Tweaking optimized titles without checking with your consultant first literally can unravel your SEO content efforts. Why? It’s because the page title is crucial for two reasons.

From a search perspective, the title helps the search engines understand what the page is about. If there aren’t keyphrases in the title, you’re hobbling your chances that the page will position well. And from the marketing perspective, a well-written title is like a headline, temping folks to click on your listing instead of the nine others on the search engine results page. Upsetting that “keyword and marketing balance” can have repercussions, so don’t title tweak (or make any other content marketing changes) without really knowing what you’re doing, m-kay? The health of your campaign depends upon it.

Marketers, Stop Ignoring Your Content Marketing Strategy

As I write this, I’m on the plane heading back from DMA09. While I was moderating the Search Marketing Experience Labs, one common element ran through every site review: When you ignore your SEO content marketing strategy, you’re hobbling your conversions, ignoring your customers and forfeiting your search engine rankings. Here’s why.

As I write this, I’m on the plane heading back from DMA09. While I was moderating the Search Marketing Experience Labs, one common element ran through every site review: When you ignore your SEO content marketing strategy, you’re hobbling your conversions, ignoring your customers and forfeiting your search engine rankings. Here’s why.

Seth Godin had it right when he said, “The best SEO is great content.” A well-written product page can skyrocket your conversions. A fantastic blog post can gain your company new leads and incoming links. The right Twitter tweet can gain not just followers but evangelists for your brand.

It’s really that important.

I’ve been in the SEO industry for 12 years. During that time, I’ve seen companies spend six figures on design, embrace five-figure monthly PPC costs and chase the latest “sexy” online marketing tactic.

Yet unfortunately, these same companies will ignore the foundation of their SEO and conversion success—creating customer personas, developing a keyphrase strategy, and developing useful, keyphrase-rich content that helps prospects across the buy cycle and engages customers.

Instead, the content becomes an afterthought. The one piece—heck, the only piece—of a company’s marketing strategy dedicated to engaging with customers becomes, “Isn’t SEO content supposed to be stuffed with keywords in order for me to get a high ranking?”

And that’s sad.

Think of your SEO content marketing strategy as your online salesperson, enticing your prospects to learn more and communicating with your audience. Your SEO content strategy could encompass many things, including:

  • Product/service pages.
  • Blog posts.
  • Articles, FAQs and white papers.
  • Twitter tweets.

Every word you write is a way to engage, inform and, yes, sell. But most importantly, a content marketing strategy helps you communicate with your prospects on multiple levels.

Fortunately, some companies “get it.” Forbes reported in its 2009 Ad Effectiveness Survey that SEO (and yes, that includes your content play) was the most effective online marketing tactic for generating conversions. Furthermore, Mediaweek reports in its article, “Marketing Must-Have: Original Web Editorial,” how AT&T created more than 100 how-to articles targeted to small business owners. Paul Beck, senior partner and executive director of Ogilvy Worldwide, is quoted as saying, “Having a core content strategy is the secret to engaging an audience.”

And at the end of the day, isn’t engagement what it’s all about? The company that engages, profits. The company that doesn’t—even big-brand companies that dominate the brick-and-mortar world—get left in the dust.

My monthly SEO & Content Marketing Revue posts will show examples of companies who “get it”—and what they’re doing right. I’ll share what’s worked for companies like yours, as well as what to avoid.

Most of all, I’ll share how the right SEO content strategy can gain your company the SEO and conversion “win” you may have been missing up to now.

And I’ll answer your questions (because, yes, you will have questions,) showing you how to leverage the power of strong, customer-centered content.

Stay tuned. This will be fun. Promise.